(Heb nahash; Gr. ophis), frequently noticed in Scripture. More than forty species are found in Syria and Arabia. The poisonous character of the serpent is alluded to in Jacob's blessing on Dan (Ge 49:17). (See Adder.)
This word is used symbolically of a deadly, subtle, malicious enemy (Lu 10:19).
The serpent is first mentioned in connection with the history of the temptation and fall of our first parents (Ge 3). It has been well remarked regarding this temptation: "A real serpent was the agent of the temptation, as is plain from what is said of the natural characteristic of the serpent in the first verse of the chapter (Ge 3:1), and from the curse pronounced upon the animal itself. But that Satan was the actual tempter, and that he used the serpent merely as his instrument, is evident (1) from the nature of the transaction; for although the serpent may be the most subtle of all the beasts of the field, yet he has not the high intellectual faculties which the tempter here displayed. (2.) In the New Testament it is both directly asserted and in various forms assumed that Satan seduced our first parents into sin (Joh 8:44; Ro 16:20; 2Co 11:3,14; Re 12:9; 20:2)." Hodge's System. Theol., ii. 127.
nachash. ("Subtle".) (Ge 3:1). The form under which Satan "the old serpent" tempted Eve (Re 12:9; 2Co 11:3). The serpent being known as subtle, Eve was not surprised at his speaking, and did not suspect a spiritual foe. Its crested head of pride, glittering skin, fascinating, unshaded, gazing eye, shameless lust, tortuous movement, venomous bite, groveling posture, all adapt it to be type of Satan. The "cunning craftiness, lying in wait to deceive," marks the particular serpent rather than the serpent order generally. The serpent cannot be classed physically with the behemoth, the pachyderm and ruminant animals; "the serpent was crafty above every behemoth in the field" (Ge 3:1); nor physically is the serpent "cursed above others"; it must be Satan who is meant. (See DEVIL.)
Wise in shunning danger (Mt 10:16). Poisonous: Ps 58:4; 140:3, "they have sharpened their tongues" to give a deadly wound, "like a serpent" (Ps 64:3). Lying hid in hedges (Ec 10:8) and in holes of walls (Am 5:19). Their wonderful motion is effected by the vertebral column and the multitudinous ribs which form so many pairs of levers, enabling them to advance (Pr 30:19); the serpent, though without feet or wings, trails along the rock (stony places being its favorite resort) wheresoever it will, leaving no impression of its way, light, gliding without noise, quick, and the mode unknown to us.
The curse in Ge 3:14 is mainly on Satan, but subordinately on the serpent his tool; just as the ox that gored a man was to be killed, so the serpent should suffer in his trailing on the belly and being the object of man's disgust and enmity. They shall eat the dust at last (i.e. be utterly and with perpetual shame laid low), of which their present eating dust in taking food off the ground is the pledge (Isa 65:25; Mic 7:17; Isa 49:23; Ps 72:9).
The nachash is the Naja haje. It "will bite without (i.e. unless you use) enchantment" (Ec 10:11). In Nu 21:4-9 the "fiery (causing inflammation by the bite) flying serpent" is the naja, which has the power of raising and bringing forward the ribs under excitement, so as to stretch the skin wing-like into a broad thin flattened disc, three or four times the width of the neck in repose, and then dart at its prey. Hindu mythology represents Krishna first as bitten in the foot, then as finally crushing the serpent's head beneath his feet; evidently a tradition from Ge 3:15.
The Hebrew word most commonly translated serpent is nachash, agreeing with fi" -->???? in the N.T., so called because of its 'hissing.' These words are used for the serpent that beguiled Eve, Ge 3:1-14; 2Co 11:3, and in other passages where Satan is alluded to. Isa 27:1; Re 12:9-15; 20:2.
Satan has succeeded in causing the serpent to be worshipped all over the world. Nachash is also the word for the serpents that bit the Israelites in Nu 21:6-9. In Nu 21:8, for the serpent that Moses was told to make, the word is saraph, 'FIERY SERPENT,' signifying that the poison burnt like fire, as we say 'a burning pain,' though the serpents may also have been of a red colour. From the bite of these serpents much people died.
The serpents mentioned in Isa 14:29; 30:6, are described as 'FIERY FLYING SERPENTS.' There is no known species of serpent that fly: the allusion may be to those which dart short distances from tree to tree; but in both the passages the language is figurative.
Three other words are translated 'serpent:' zachal, De 32:24; tannin Ex 7:9-12 (to what particular species these refer is not known); and ???????, Jas 3:7, this word refers to any creeping thing or reptile.
The Lord bade His disciples be as wise as serpents, probably an allusion to Ge 3:1. The word 'subtil' there is translated by the same word in the LXX as used in this passage. It is 'prudence.'
The Hebrew word nachash is the generic name of any serpent. The following are the principal biblical allusions to this animal its subtlety is mentioned in
its wisdom is alluded to by our Lord in
the poisonous properties of some species are often mentioned, see
the sharp tongue of the serpent is mentioned in
the habit serpents have of lying concealed in hedges and in holes of walls is alluded to in
their dwelling in dry sandy places, in
their wonderful mode of progression did not escape the observation of the author of
... who expressly mentions it as "one of the three things which were too wonderful for him." ver. 19. The art of taming and charming serpents is of great antiquity, and is alluded to in
and doubtless intimated by St. James,
who particularizes serpents among all other animals that "have been tamed by man." It was under the form of a serpent that the devil seduced Eve; hence in Scripture Satan is called "the old serpent."
and comp. 2Cor 11:3 Hence, as a fruit of the tradition of the Fall, the serpent all through the East became the emblem of the spirit of evil, and is so pictured even on the monuments of Egypt. It has been supposed by many commentators that the serpent, prior to the Fall, moved along in an erect attitude. It is quite clear that an erect mode of progression is utterly incompatible with the structure of a serpent; consequently, had the snakes before the Fall moved in an erect attitude they must have been formed on a different plan altogether. The typical form of the serpent and its mode of progression were in all probability the same before: the Fall as after it; but subsequent to the Fall its form and progression were to be regarded with hatred and disgust by all mankind, and thus the animal was cursed above all cattle," and a mark of condemnation was forever stamped upon it. Serpents are said in Scripture to "eat dust," see
these animals which for the most part take their food on the ground, do consequently swallow with it large portions of sand and dust. Throughout the East the serpent was used as an emblem of the evil principle, of the spirit of disobedience and contumacy. Much has been written on the question of the "fiery serpents" of
with which it is usual to erroneously identify the "fiery flying serpent" of
and Isai 30:6 The word "fiery" probably signifies "burning," in allusion to the sensation produced by the bite. The Cerastes, or the Naia haje, or any other venomous species frequenting Arabia, may denote the "serpent of the burning bite" which destroyed the children of Israel. The snake that fastened on St. Paul's hand when he was at Melita,
was probably the common viper of England, Pelias berus. (See also ADDER; ASP] When God punished the murmurs of the Israelites in the wilderness by sending among them serpents whose fiery bite was fatal, Moses, upon their repentance, was commanded to make a serpent of brass, whose polished surface shone like fire, and to set it up on the banner-pole in the midst of the people; and whoever was bitten by a serpent had but to look up at it and live.
The comparison used by Christ,
adds a deep interest to this scene. To present the serpent form, as deprived of its power to hurt, impaled as the trophy of a conqueror was to assert that evil, physical and spiritual, had been overcome, and thus help to strengthen the weak faith of the Israelites in a victory over both. Others look upon the uplifted serpent as a symbol of life and health, it having been so worshipped in Egypt. The two views have a point of contact, for the serpent is wisdom. Wisdom, apart from obedience to God, degenerates to cunning, and degrades and envenoms man's nature. Wisdom, yielding to the divine law, is the source of healing and restoring influences, and the serpent form thus became a symbol of deliverance and health; and the Israelites were taught that it would be so with them in proportion as they ceased to be sensual and rebellious. Preserved as a relic, whether on the spot of its first erection or elsewhere the brazen serpent, called by the name of Nehushtan, became an object of idolatrous veneration, and the zeal of Hezekiah destroyed it with the other idols of his father.
SERPENT. In Egypt and other oriental countries, a serpent was the common symbol of a powerful monarch; it was embroidered on the robes of princes, and blazoned on their diadem, to signify their absolute power and invincible might, and that, as the wound inflicted by the basilisk is incurable, so the fatal effects of their displeasure were neither to be avoided nor endured. These are the allusions involved in the address of the prophet, to the irreconcilable enemies of his nation: "Rejoice not thou, whole Palestina, because the rod of him that smote thee is broken; for out of the serpent's roots shall come forth a cockatrice, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent," Isa 14:29. Uzziah, the king of Judah, had subdued the Philistines; but taking advantage of the weak reign of Ahaz, they again invaded the kingdom of Judea, and reduced some cities in the southern part of the country under their dominion. On the death of Ahaz, Isaiah delivers this prophecy, threatening them with a more severe chastisement from the hand of Hezekiah, the grandson of Uzziah, by whose victorious arms they had been reduced to sue for peace; which he accomplished, when "he smote the Philistines, even unto Gaza, and the borders thereof," 2Ki 18:8. Uzziah, therefore, must be meant by the rod that smote them, and by the serpent from whom should spring the fiery flying serpent, that is, Hezekiah, a much more terrible enemy than even Uzziah had been. But the symbol of regal power which the oriental kings preferred to all others, was the basilisk. This fact is attested by its Arabian name melecha, from the Hebrew verb malach, "to reign;" from its Greek name ??????????, and its Latin name regulus: all of which, it is asserted, referred to the conspicuous place it occupied among the regal ornaments of the east. The basilisk is of a reddish colour, and its head is decorated with a crest in the form of a crown; it is not entirely prostrate, like other serpents, but moves along with its head and half the body erect; the other parts sweep the ground behind, And wind its spacious back in rolling spires.
All the other species of serpents are said to acknowledge the superiority of the real or the fabled basilisk, by flying from its presence, and hiding themselves in the dust. It is also supposed to live longer than any other serpent; the ancient Heathens therefore pronounced it immortal, and placed it in the number of their deities; and because it had the dangerous power, in general belief, of killing with its pestiferous breath the strongest animals, it seemed to them invested with the power of life and death. It became, therefore, the favourite symbol of kings; and was employed by the prophet, to symbolize the great and good Hezekiah, with strict propriety.
2. The cerastes, or horned snake. The only allusion to this species of serpent in the sacred volume occurs in the valedictory predictions of Jacob, where he describes the character and actions of Dan and his posterity: "Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder, ??????, in the path, that biteth the horse's heels, so that his rider shall fall backward," Ge 49:17. It is indisputably clear, that the patriarch intended some kind of serpent; for the circumstances will not apply to a freebooter watching for his prey. It only remains to investigate the species to which it belongs. The principal care of the Jewish writers is to ascertain the etymology of the name, about which their sentiments are much divided. The Arabian authors quoted by Bochart inform us, that the sephiphon, is a most pernicious reptile, and very dangerous to man. It is of a sandy colour, variegated with black and white spots. The particulars in the character of Dan, however, agree better with the cerastes, or horned snake, than with any other species of serpent. It lies in wait for passengers in the sand, or in the rut of the wheels on the highway. From its lurking place it treacherously bites the horse's heels, so that the rider falls backward, in consequence of the animal's hinder legs becoming almost immediately torpid by the dreadful activity of the poison. The cerastes is equally formidable to man and the lower animals; and the more dangerous, because it is not easy to distinguish him from the sand in which he lies; and he never spares the helpless traveller who unwarily comes within his reach. Like the cerastes, Dan was to excel in cunning and artifice, to prevail against his enemies rather by his policy in the cabinet than by his valour in the field.
3. The seraph, or fiery flying serpent, to a Biblical student, is one of the most interesting creatures that has yet been mentioned. It bears the name of an order among the hosts of heaven, whom Isaiah beheld in vision, placed above the throne of Jehovah in the temple; the brazen figure of this serpent is supposed to be a type of our blessed Redeemer, who was for our salvation lifted up upon the cross, as the serpent was elevated in the camp of Israel, for the preservation of that people. It is the only species of serpent which the almighty Creator has provided with wings, by means of which, instead of creeping or leaping, it rises from the ground, and leaning upon the extremity of its tail, moves with great velocity. It is a native of Egypt, and the deserts of Arabia; and receives its name from the Hebrew verb seraph, which signifies to burn, in allusion to the violent inflammation which its poison produces, or rather to its fiery colour, which the brazen serpent was intended to represent. Bochart is of opinion, that the seraph is the same as the hydrus, or, as Cicero calls it, the serpent of the waters. For, in the book of Isaiah, the land of Egypt is called the region from whence come the viper and flying seraph, or burning serpent. AElian says, they come from the deserts of Libya and Arabia, to inhabit the streams of the Nile; and that they have the form of the hydrus.
The existence of winged serpents is attested by many writers of modern times. A kind of snakes were discovered among the Pyrenees, from whose sides proceeded cartilages in the form of wings; and Scaliger mentions a peasant who killed a serpent of the same species which attacked him, and presented it to the king of France. Le Blanc, as quoted by Bochart, says, at the head of lake Chiamay are extensive woods and vast marshes, which it is very dangerous to approach, because they are infested with very large serpents, which, raised from the ground on wings resembling those of bats, and leaning on the extremity of their tails, move with great rapidity. They exist, it is reported, about these places in so great numbers that they have almost laid waste the neighbouring province. And, in the same work, Le Blanc affirms that he had seen some of them of immense size, which, when hungry, rushed impetuously on sheep and other tame animals. But the original term ?????? does not always signify flying with wings; it often expresses vibration, swinging backward and forward, a tremulous motion, a fluttering; and this is precisely the motion of a serpent, when he springs from one tree to another. Niebuhr mentions a sort of serpent at Bassorah, which they call heie thiare. "They commonly keep upon the date trees; and as it would be laborious for them to come down from a very high tree, in order to ascend another, they twist themselves by the tail to a branch of the former, which, making a spring by the motion they give it, throws them to the branches of the second. Hence it is that the modern Arabs call them flying serpents, heie thiare. Admiral Anson also speaks of the flying serpents that he met with at the island of Quibo, but which were without wings." From this account it may be inferred, that the flying serpent mentioned in the prophet was of that species of serpents which, from their swift darting motion, the Greeks call aconitias, and the Romans, jaculus. The original phrase will bear another interpretation, which, perhaps, approaches still nearer the truth. The verb ??? sometimes means to sparkle, to emit coruscations of light. In this sense, the noun ????frequently occurs in the sacred volume; thus Zophar says: "The coruscation, ????, shall be as the morning." T