God Curses the Serpent

God curses serpent (2)

1) Gen 3:14: This verse comprises the beginning of center of the A-B-C-C-B-A chiasm concerning God’s interrogation of the guilty and his decree of judgment (Gen 3:9–19).[1]

Thus, the focus of the entire passage falls upon Gen 3:14–15.

Unlike with Adam and Eve, the Lord neither questioned the serpent nor permitted him to explain his behavior.[2]

Only to the serpent and to Cain did God pronounce, “Cursed are you” (Gen 4:11).[3]

The crafty (arum) one is now cursed (arur).[4] As a result, snakes consist of the archetypal unclean animals (Lev 11:41–45).[5]

In Lev 11, the mandate “You must be holy (qadhosh) because I am holy” frames the command “You must not make yourselves unclean with all the swarming things which creep upon the earth” (Lev 11:44–45).[6]

This implies that we must give our allegiance to the Lord, rather than to the serpent.

Spells within the Egyptian Pyramid Texts from the second half of the third millennium BC were designed to force a serpent to “fall down and crawl away,”[7] keeping its face on the ground to make it unable to rear up and strike.[8]

In Egypt, this concept persisted until at least 311 BC. Devised to control the monster who swallowed the sun every night and his horde of attendant demons,[9] this incantation says:

Get thee back, Apep (Apophis), thou enemy of [the sun god] Ra, thou winding serpent in the form of an intestine, without arms [and] without legs.

Thy body cannot stand upright so that thou mayest have therein being, long is [thy] tail in front of thy den, thou enemy; retreat before Ra.

Thy head shall be cut off, and the slaughter of thee shall be carried out. Thou shalt not lift up thy face, for his (i.e., Ra’s) flame is in thy accursed soul.[10]

Similarly, God’s curse in Genesis 3 limits the aggressive nature of snakes. It does not suggest that they once walked.[11]

This verse employs symbolism, as we are aware of no ancient writer who believed that serpents truly ate dust.[12]

Not only does eating dust represent humiliation and total defeat (Ps 72:8–9),[13] it also depicts the grave, where dust fills the mouths of the dead.

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Enkidu dreams on his deathbed about the netherworld as a dark place “where dust is their fare and clay their food.”[14]

Similarly, the Descent of Ishtar to the Nether World describes “the land of no return…the dark house…the house which none leave who have entered it…wherein the entrants are bereft of light, where dust is their fare and clay their food.”[15]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


a) Read Gen 3:14. How would Moses’s original readers have understood the effect of the Lord’s curse upon the serpent in this verse?




Go to The First Good News


[Related posts include Serpents in the Ancient Near East (Gen 3:1); A World-Altering Conversation (Gen 3:2–5); Succumbing to Temptation (Gen 3:6); Their Eyes Are Opened (Gen 3:7); Hiding from God (Gen 3:8); A Day of Reckoning (Gen 3:9–13); The First Good News (Gen 3:15); Cursed from the Ground (Gen 4:11‒14); and Ancient Literature]


[Click here to go to Chapter 7: The Seed of the Serpent and the Seed of the Woman (Genesis 3:14–15)]


[1] In this case, it forms an A-B-C-C-B-A pattern.

[2] Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 93.

[3] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 78.

[4] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 196.

[5] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 73.

[6] Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “קָדַשׁ” (qadhosh), BDB, 8723, https://archive.org/stream/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft#page/872/mode/2up. This word also means “set apart” and “consecrated.”

[7]Ramadan B. Hussein, “Recontextualized – The Pyramid Texts ‘Serpent Spells’ in the Saite Contexts,” Institut Des Cultures Mediterraneennes et Orientales de L’Academie Polonaise Des Sciences 26 (2013): 274–90, 289n 50, http://www.academia.edu/5240927/Recontextualized_the_Pyramid_Texts_Serpent_Spells_in_the_Saite_Contexts.

[8] Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 3:15.

[9]E.A. Wallis Budge, Legends of the Gods The Egyptian Texts, Edited with Translations (London: British Museum, 1912), 2, https://archive.org/details/pdfy-xdlRmtA_vlvJ9uLy/page/n3.

[10]Budge, Legends of the Gods The Egyptian Texts, 76, https://archive.org/details/pdfy-xdlRmtA_vlvJ9uLy/page/n77.

[11] Walton, Genesis, 225.

[12] Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 196.

[13] Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 93.

[14] “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” ANET, lines 7:33–7, 87.

[13]E. A. Speiser, trans., “The Descent of Ishtar to the Nether World,” in ANET, obv.  lines 1–8, 107.