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3 Lessons From ‘The Serpent And The Serpent Slayer’

The story of Nyami Nyami tells of a water snake with godlike powers who gives wonderful blessings to his people. The tale ends sadly when Nyami Nyami goes to fetch his wife, but cannot return because Christian missionaries have built a bridge over the Zambezi river. This is a cautionary tale that the colonialism of the Christian West, and perhaps even Christianity itself, is in conflict with African roots and cultural values. While Christianity is by no means a “Western religion,” it does have a fundamentally different view of the world to many Africans. In this African story, the water snake is a source of great blessing. But in the Bible, it is exactly the opposite. Below I discuss three lessons that we can learn from what the Bible teaches regarding the serpent. All of these flow from my review of The Serpent and the Serpent Slayer.

1. The Serpent is Our Great Enemy

Genesis 3 tells of how the snake deceives the first two human beings and ushers in the era of sin and death. This is the foundational act of war against God and his creation, setting up the Bible’s grand narrative which Andrew Naselli describes as, “Kill the dragon, get the girl.” Naselli also advocates for distinguishing between the two types of serpents the biblical writings use: snakes and dragons. This distinction is based on the method by which Satan fights against God’s people: snakes deceive, dragons devour. In other words, the biblical authors use snakes when Satan intends to deceive God’s people (Genesis 3; Matthew 3:7; 12:34; 23:33; Luke 3:7; John 8:44) and dragons when he plans to destroy God’s people through violence (Daniel 7:23; Revelation 12:4).

The Bible uses snakes when Satan intends to deceive God’s people and dragons when he plans to destroy them through violence.

Naselli emphasises Genesis 3:14-15 as the critical text driving this conflict. Humanity, specifically God’s people represented by a Messianic figure (the seed of the woman), will crush the serpent’s head and its seed (Satan and his human allies, both corporately and individually). In contrast, the serpent and its seed will bruise the seed of the woman’s heel (indicating temporary injury). Therefore, the fundamental conflict in the world is not between nations like Russia, America, China, Israel or Iran. Neither is it the clash of cultures. It is the war between God and Satan, waged through their human representatives.

2. The Serpent, and Its Seed, Must Be Crushed

In Genesis 3:15, we see that in the midst of his judgment God makes a promise. He says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring [or seed] and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This verse sets up a story about a conflict. It is a conflict between “seeds,” the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. In Evangelical circles, we readily recognise this as a reference to Jesus, as he crushes Satan and his works. However, the verse is somewhat more complicated. A couple of questions arise as we read it:

In the midst of his judgment God makes a promise.

1. What or who is the serpent’s seed?

2. How will this conflict play out?

There are a number of well-thought-through answers to these questions, and the answer to the first will largely determine how you answer the second. So let’s consider the three most convincing options for the first question.

What is the Serpent’s Seed?

First, the serpent’s seed could be sin itself. The serpent, through its temptation of Eve, gave birth to sin. We see that sin and the temptation to sin then flows through the whole of humanity, starting with Cain (Genesis 4:7). God exhorts Cain to rule over or conquer sin. In this sense, sin seems to be “alive” and fights against humanity.

Second, the serpent’s seed could be the demonic world. We know that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

If the seed of the serpent is sin, then it is ‘crushed’ at the cross.

Third, the serpent’s seed could be human beings who ally themselves with Satan, fighting against God’s Messiah and his people. Contrast to the second option, we can trace this through the book of Genesis, as conflicts between brothers and bloodlines abound. Furthermore, both John the Baptist and Jesus indicate that this is the way to interpret the conflict. They respectively call the Pharisees and other religious leaders the “brood of vipers” (Matthew 3:7) and say “of [their] father the devil” (John 8:44).

How will This Conflict Play Out?

Whichever answer you choose to the first question, the answer to the second follows. If the seed of the serpent is sin, then it is “crushed” at the cross. Secondly, if the seed is evil powers, it is “crushed” in Jesus’ dominion over Satan, defeated at the cross. Third, if the seed of the serpent is human beings who ally themselves with Satan, then they are “crushed” on the day of judgment.

All three answers are quite plausible, and it may be that the Bible intends all three of these ideas.

3. Jesus is the Serpent Crusher, and so are Christians

This may be the most surprising lesson of all. We know that Jesus crushes the serpent through his life, ministry, death and resurrection. Ultimately he will conclude this work at his second coming. What you may not realise is that you are also a serpent crusher, if you trust in him. How is that possible?

First, we need to realise that you are either the “seed” of the serpent, or the “seed” of Abraham, through your faith in Jesus. Those are the two options according to Jesus and Paul (John 8:39-47; Romans 4:13-5:1; Galatians 3:1-18). We also know based on the Genesis promise, that there will be a conflict between these two “seeds”. Therefore, if you are a “seed” of Abraham, you will have conflict with the “seed” of the serpent (whether that is sin, the demonic world, or hostile unbelievers). Therefore, it follows that all Christians will crush the “seed” of the serpent. In case you don’t believe me, Paul says exactly this:

If you are a ‘seed’ of Abraham, you will have conflict with the ‘seed’ of the serpent.

“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (Romans 16:17-20).

Beware the many Seeds of the Serpent

False teachers are the “seed” of the serpent.

Look at the length passage quoted above again. It begins by speaking about divisions caused by those who are unfaithful to sound teaching and “sneaky” in the way that they tempt people to follow them (Romans 16:17). In this way, Paul effectively echoes Jesus and John the Baptist that false teachers are the “seed” of the serpent. The passage ends with a promise: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” We will be victorious. This victory is ultimately because of Jesus’ work, but that does not mean we have nothing to contribute. On the contrary, we are supposed to be active in exposing false teachers in our midst.

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