Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. (Genesis 3:1)
The other day, I was giving a tour of the Old House Chamber (now, National Statuary Hall), and I mentioned that the Snake that is next to Liberty represented Wisdom. One of the tourists asked me the origin of the association between the Serpent and Wisdom… and it made me think a bit. I responded that it was from the Bible, and I misquoted the above verse. I also mentioned that it probably tied back to Greek and Roman mythology (as with everything else in the Capitol). Upon returning to my office I began to research the connection between Wisdom (typically a positive trait) and the Serpent (typically seen in a bad light).
This post is just going to do a brief-concordance-style overview of what the Serpent is linked to in the Bible.
- Genesis 3 – The first, and most memorable, reference to a serpent in Holy Scripture is the story of Adam, Eve, the Apple, and the Serpent. The Serpent is described as being the craftiest of all of the animals that God had made. It also had the ability to talk, go figure. I’ve always found this intriguing because the Serpent didn’t exactly lie, he wasn’t telling the full truth either… They gained the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but lost the perfect and eternal bliss they had before. The whole Tree of Knowledge/Tree of Life concept is also very interesting to me. It seems almost like there were just magical trees that would grant the consumer special powers.
- Exodus 4 – Moses and Aaron cast down their staffs… they turned into snakes… the Egyptians did the same thing… Moses’s and Aaron’s staffs ate the other ones. I used to wonder if the staffs changed after they ate the other ones?
- Numbers 21 – The second mention of the serpent in the Exodus account. This time, there has been a plague of “fiery serpents” sent down on the Children of Israel. Moses is told to craft a snake of brass and place it on a pole. Anyone who looked up at the Serpent would be healed. 2nd Grade Bible Class said that this was a foreshadow of the coming of Christ. All Christians would have to do is look upon Christ to be saved.
- 2 Kings 18 – Apparently, Hezekiah destroyed said pole with attached Serpent because people were worshipping it.
- Isaiah – The book of Isaiah presents another interesting connection and observation about the Serpent. To quote the ever reliable Wikipedia,
- “Seraphim”, literally “burning ones”, is the plural of “seraph”, more properly sarap. The word sarap/seraphim appears three times in the Torah (Numbers 21:6-8, Deuteronomy 8:15) and four times in the Book of Isaiah (6:2-6, 14:29, 40:6). In Numbers and Deuteronomy the “seraphim” are snakes/serpents – the association of snakes as “burning ones” is possibly due to the burning sensation of the poison. Isaiah also uses the word in close association with words to describes snakes (nahash, the generic word for snakes, in 14:29, andefeh, viper, in 30:6).
- These Seraphim are the same beings that sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” around the throne of God at all times.
- Enoch – Written around the First Century BC, The Book of Enoch contains numerous references to the “Son of Man” coming to save the world and was extremely popular in the early Church. In the Book of Enoch, the Seraphim are associated with winged serpents.
…and next time, we’ll move on to the New Testament and Greek Mythology… and maybe some more in depth research.