During a service recently we looked at Genesis 3. There really is so much in this chapter that we didn't have time to cover it all fully. In a series of blog posts I thought I'd try to go into a little more depth.
The first question we'll try to answer is, "Who is the Serpent"? In classic images of this important story, Eve is being tempted at the site of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil by what is clearly a snake.
But ought we to think that this character is a snake? Personally, I don't think so. Instead I think we should understand that this tempter is Satan himself and that 'the Serpent' is one of his titles or names. Certainly Revelation 12:9, 15; 20:2 name him this way.
This means that it is not a snake who speaks to Eve in the garden but Satan himself. As Adam and Eve are in Eden - the garden from which they are banished to the Earth - we shouldn't be surprised that they were able to speak to 'heavenly' beings.
I believe this understanding makes the most sense of many of the details of the text itself as well as the Bible overall. It explains why the Serpent could speak to Eve (snakes, as we know, don't speak). It explains why the serpent's 'craftiness' is highlighted to us in verse 1. Snakes are not more crafty than other animals as Genesis 3:1 states, and they don't tempt us to evil - but Satan certainly does. It explains the important verse 15 which is the first prophecy of the Lord Jesus coming into the world. He came not to crush snakes but to destroy the work of the Devil, or Satan (Hebrews 2:14, 1 John 3:8). And it explains why Scripture always suggests that Satan is the chief opponent and tempter of mankind. Snakes are nowhere mentioned in this manner.
And so who is this Serpent? Well passages that are worth studying on this theme include Isaiah 14:12-19 and Ezekiel 28:12-19. Both passages discuss different kings of the nations but in language that seems to be addressed to the spiritual king of these nations - Satan. Read in this way we learn that Satan was originally created good - even being described as a guardian cherub (Ezekiel 28:14, 16). But self-centred pride and vanity led him to turn to wickedness including, as Jesus puts it, lies and murder (John 8:44). For more on Satan's pride see also 1 Tim 3:6.
This means that when God declared the world to be 'very good' in Genesis 1:31, at that time it was. Even Satan himself was included under this declaration. He was part of the very good creation until he fell through his vanity and pride and his decision to kill the human race through temptation.