he late Homer Hoeksema was professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
We must remember, however, that the real personality, the subject speaking through the serpent in the temptation of Adam and Eve, was Satan, the devil.
It is, rather striking that the devil is not directly mentioned in the narrative in Genesis 3. He is not mentioned in the account of the temptation, nor is he mentioned in the curse that is pronounced after the Fall. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that Genesis simply narrates the events as they took place and as they might have been perceived by the senses had we been present in Paradise at the time. Then we might have perceived the serpent speaking to Eve as recorded in Genesis 3.
Nevertheless, it is plain from all the rest of Scripture that the real subject in the temptation was not merely a serpent, but the devil, Satan himself.
We may note that this is already suggested very clearly in the Genesis record. The contents of the tempter’s speech in Genesis 3 reveal very plainly that the subject of that speech, is not a mere animal, but a moral, rational subject. It suggests, too, that this rational, moral subject is a wicked subject, lying against and slandering God, and contradicting God’s word. This moral, rational, lying, slandering subject in the temptation is, in the light of all Scripture, the devil.
This is plain, in the first place, from the fact that always the devil appears in Scripture as the tempter and as the accuser of the brethren and as the opponent of God and of God’s cause in the world. Thus the devil appears in the history of Job. He appears there as Job’s accuser when he asks the question, “Doth Job fear God for nought?” He appears also as Job’s tempter. The Lord gives him the power to tempt Job, first by putting all that Job possesses in Satan’s power, and later by giving Satan power to touch Job’s bone and his flesh. Satan’s intent is to make Job curse God (cf. Job 1:9, 12; 2:4-6).
Also in the prophecy of Zachariah the devil, Satan, is pictured as the adversary of God’s people: “And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him” (Zech. 3:l).
In the Parable of the Sower, it is the devil who is represented as snatching away the good seed, the seed of the Word, as soon as it is sown.
In the Parable of Tares, it is the devil who is represented as sowing the tares, the evil seed, in the field.
Moreover, it is the devil who tempts our Lord Jesus Christ at the beginning of His public ministry with a threefold temptation, and who tempts Him during His entire ministry.
At the end of our Lord’s earthly sojourn, it is the devil who entered into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the betrayer.
Hence, the role of the devil throughout Scripture is that of the tempter and the accuser of the brethren and the opponent of God’s cause, and it is not difficult to recognize the operation of that same devil in the temptation of our first parents.
In the second place, we may note that Scripture always posits a very close relationship between the evil words and works of men and the world of evil spirits of which the devil is chief. It is the devil who is the prince of this world, who rules this world in the ethical sense of the word, though not sovereignly (John 12:31). In Ephesians 2:2 it is said of men who are dead in trespasses and sins that they walk according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience, that is, the devil. As is well known, Scripture tells us that the battle of the people of God is against this devil: “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:11, 12). This situation points to an originally formed alliance between the world of evil spirits and the world of men, an alliance that operates throughout the ages of the old dispensation and of the new.
Principally that alliance is overcome by our Lord Jesus Christ. At the death and exaltation of the Lord Jesus, the devil is cast out of heaven, so that he can accuse the brethren no more before the face of God. But even thereafter he harasses the church on earth, furiously persecuting the seed of the woman. Finally, for a short time he gives his power to the Antichristian beast that is pictured in Revelation 13. That alliance, which is finally destroyed when the devil is cast into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone (Rev. 20:10), was originally established in the beginning, when sin was introduced into the world of men in Paradise.
There can be no question about it, therefore, that while the serpent was the instrument employed in the temptation, Satan was the rational, moral subject of the temptation, who employed the serpent as his instrument.
As to the identity of Satan, we learn from Scripture that he is a fallen angel.
This presupposes the creation of the angels and the introduction of sin into the realm of the heavenly spirits and the fall of part of them. While the Bible tells us very little in detail as to the creation of the angels or the fall of the angels, but rather presupposes these facts throughout, there are certain facts which may definitely be established in the light of Scripture.
1) Scripture always presents the angels, both good and evil, as very real and as very really functioning among men and in the history of the church and the world. They were originally created as heavenly spirits. As such both angels and devils are invisible to our earthly eyes, but they are nonetheless real and may be perceived by their functions. The good angels are so many ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be the heirs of salvation (Heb. 1:14). The evil angels always function among fallen humanity in pride and rebellion against God.
2) Satan was originally a prince among the heavenly hosts. In fact, it is not impossible that originally he stood at the head of the entire angel world, although this cannot be established with certainty. But that he was a prince among the angels is plain from the fact that he is still called the prince of the devils (Matt. 12:24), as well as the prince of this world (John 12:31). It is plain, too, from the fact that according to Jude 9 even Michael, the archangel, considered it presumptuous to bring a railing accusation against Satan when they were disputing about the body of Moses. From Revelation 12:7 we know that Satan still has his angels, fallen with him, over whom he is prince and whom he leads in the battle against God’s people.
3) We know also that the devil and his angels, who constituted a large part of the original host of angels, had already fallen at the time of the temptation and fall of man. It is not at all necessary to assume that he fell before the end of the creation-process; it is rather proper to think that he fell soon after the seventh day. Nor does Scripture inform us as to exactly how sin was introduced into the angel-world. The reason for this is that it is not necessary for us to know: the Bible is not concerned about this, but rather about the introduction of sin into the world of mankind, and that only with a view to the revelation of the work of God’s grace whereby He saves His covenant people from sin and death.
4) But about the nature of the sin of the angels there can be no question in the light of Scripture. That sin was pride and rebellion against God, the sinful desire and attempt to dethrone God and to be God in the place of God. The fallen angels, originally powerful and glorious creatures, are described in Jude 6 as not having kept their first estate and as having left their own habitation. Moreover, the reference to the sin of the devil is clear in a passage like I Timothy 3:6. There the apostle lays down the requirement that an elder be not a novice, “lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.” If we put these references of Scripture together with a description of the devil’s lie in Genesis 3:5, where he tempts our first parents that they shall be like God, it is plain that the fall of Satan consisted in the sin of pride and presumption, the desire and the attempt to usurp the place of God Himself. His sin was an attack upon the very sovereignty of God!
In this light we can understand the names which Scripture uses to describe him. They express what he is. He is the devil, that is, the mudslinger, the slanderer, the liar. He is Satan, that is, the opponent, or adversary. This describes what he is in relation to God. He is the slanderer of God Himself, and the adversary of the living God and of His cause.
This explains Satan’s coming to Paradise. He is the adversary of the living God. But he cannot directly attack and oppose God Himself. For the devil is but a creature, with all the limitations which characterize a creature, and God is the sovereign Creator. Satan, therefore, if he would attack God, must attack God in His works and in His Name, His revelation, and His Word. Having succeeded in fomenting rebellion among the heavenly spirits, he aims to usurp God’s place in the earthly creation and to form an alliance with man, the king of the earthly creation, against the living God, whose servant man was created to be. This is his evil purpose as he comes to Adam and Eve in the garden.
But let us remember that someone else was very really present in this scene. There was Eve, and Adam, and the serpent, and the devil. But God was also there! And certainly we must remember that what took place in Paradise did not take place apart from, but according to the sovereign counsel of the Lord of heaven and earth. No devil could invade Paradise; no Satan could employ the serpent as his instrument; and no tempter could reach Adam and Eve, but by the sovereign counsel and providence of the Lord our God. Remember that! All creatures, including the devil – for the devil is also only a mere creature – all creatures are so in God’s hand, the hand of our heavenly Father, that without His will they cannot so much as move.
Hence, apart from the devil’s reason for the temptation, there is still the question: why did the Lord our God will? This question we can view from a moral viewpoint.
Then the answer is, negatively, that our God is not in any sense the author of sin. God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man (James 4:13). That is true of us; that was true of Adam in Paradise. God was not the author of Adam’s temptation; the devil was the author. But the devil was not sovereign! It was exactly his temptation that he wanted to get man to acknowledge him as sovereign instead of God. But God is the eternally sovereign Lord, and the devil does not usurp that sovereignty even temporarily.
Positively, the answer is, from a moral viewpoint, that God’s will was that man should keep the garden, should be God’s friend-servant, should be of the party of the living God. That will was plainly expressed in the command God gave Adam. The very premise of that command is the sovereignty of the good God. He alone has the right to impose His will upon His own creature. Hence, man’s calling was: curse that serpent, and say “No” to his temptation. It makes no difference whether Eve or Adam had any clear knowledge of the devil. The serpent spoke plain language, and that language was the language of enmity against God. Man was king, called to exercise dominion in God’s Name. His calling was plain.
That same question, however, we may ask from the point of view of God’s eternal counsel and purpose: why did the devil come to Paradise, and why did God so decree and providentially direct? Then the answer of Scripture is that God willed a greater glory than that of the first creation. He willed a greater and higher revelation of His own infinite glory. He willed a greater glory for His people. That glory was to be revealed and achieved only in the antithetical way of sin and grace.
It is this purpose that the devil serves according to the sovereign decree and providence of the Lord of heaven and earth. There is no dualism in history. There is no fight between God and the devil. The God of our salvation is the God who from moment to moment performs all His good pleasure, even in and through the very opposition of the devil and the power of darkness. All creatures, good and evil, are subject unto Him and execute His will, even in spite of themselves. According to God’s sovereign good pleasure, the devil, though purposing opposition and rebellion against the living God, nevertheless must needs serve God’s purpose. He must serve to create that opposition and rebellion against God only to show ultimately how all will be defeated that oppose God, and only to serve the revelation of God’s marvelous grace in Christ. Jesus, whereby He saves His people from sin and death and delivers them from the power of the devil and raises them, through Christ, unto the glory of heavenly perfection.
This is revealed in Christ. The Son of God comes in the likeness of sinful flesh. He crushes the serpent’s head. He makes all things new. .He delivers His people unto greater salvation. And, in and through Him, all who believe on His Name are victors, more than conquerors.
Toward the revelation of that Christ all history, from the very beginning, moves.