If you’re from an Appalachian snake-handling church, I’m sorry to disappoint. This is not THAT kind of post. Instead, it’s a post about how the Bible portrays snakes, serpents, and dragons. More than that, it’s about how a mighty warrior defeats the serpent to rescue his precious bride. If that story sounds familiar to you, it’s because so many great children’s tales of the past echo this same story.
You see, the Bible presents three main characters: 1) The Serpent (the villain—Satan), 2) The Damsel in Distress (the people of God), and 3) The Serpent Slayer (the hero—Jesus).
It’s worth noting that “Serpent” is a biblical catch-all term that includes both snakes and dragons. In other words, serpent is an umbrella category while snakes and dragons are more specific. Also worth noting is that the ancients did not think of dragons as fire-breathing creatures with wings. Rather, they thought of them as giant serpents. Throughout the Bible, serpents take on either form depending on the situation. Biblical scholar Andrew Naselli remarks, “As a general rule, the form a serpent takes depends on its strategy. When a serpent in Scripture attempts to deceive, it’s a snake. When a serpent attempts to devour, it’s a dragon.”
With those anecdotes in mind, let’s start from the very beginning.
The Serpent in the Garden
The very beginning was pure bliss. A perfect, holy God decided to share his goodness so he created a universe ex nihilo. As the crowning jewels of God’s creation, humans walked in fellowship with him in the garden. However, they let their guard down and allowed the serpent to enter. Genesis 3:1 notes, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.”
Crafty (or deceitful) describes this serpent perfectly. For immediately, he questioned Eve, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Notice the serpent’s tactic. He called into question God’s Word. He implanted doubts in the woman’s mind so that she began to entertain alternative options. After the woman said that eating of the tree in the middle of the garden would lead to death, the serpent went on contradict God’s Word altogether. He declared, “You will not surely die.” And then he called into question God’s motives. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
The serpent succeeded. Eve ate the fruit, gave some to Adam, and he ate too. And immediately everything changed. Their innocence was lost, and they knew they were naked. Because of their shame, they tried to hide themselves from God but to no avail. God confronted them over their disobedience. Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent. She remarked in 3:13, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” As a result, God banished them from his holy presence where they would live in exile. Now recall that when the serpent takes on the form of a snake, his primary tactic is to deceive. And this is what he has done.
God, however, would not allow the serpent to have the final word. He judged the serpent and promised to one day destroy him when he asserted, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15). The rest of Scripture traces the ongoing battle between the seed of the woman (the people of God) and the seed of the serpent (enemies of God and his people). Ultimately, the singular seed of the woman (Gal 3:16), will utterly destroy the serpent even though the serpent will injure him in the process.
Serpents Portrayed Negatively
Before we look at a few examples of the seed of the serpent waging battle on the seed of the woman, I simply want to draw our attention to the fact that serpents are associated with evil throughout Scripture.
Consider the following texts:
The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies. They have venom like the venom of a serpent, like the deaf adder that stops its ear, so that it does not hear the voice of the charmers or of the cunning enchanter (Psalm 58:3-5).
They make their tongue sharp as a serpent’s, and under their lips is the venom of asps (Psalm 140:3).
Serpents often symbolize God’s enemies:
The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might; they shall lay their hands on their mouths; their ears shall be deaf; they shall lick the dust like a serpent, like the crawling things of the earth; they shall come trembling out of their strongholds; they shall turn in dread to the LORD our God, and they shall be in ear of you (Mic 7:16-17).
The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you (Luke 10:17-19).
As was alluded to earlier, the serpent takes on the form of a dragon when he wants to destroy. The following texts describe the dragon as a sea monster called Leviathan and Rahab.
In that day the LORD with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea (Isa 27:1).
By his power he stilled the sea; by his understanding he shattered Rahab. By his wind the heavens were made fair; his hand pierced the fleeing serpent (Job 26:12-13).
See also Job 41 which describes God’s sovereignty over the monstrous sea serpent Leviathan.
The Egyptian Serpent
The storyline of Scripture portrays the seed of the serpent (God’s enemies) in conflict with the seed of the woman (God’s people). Perhaps the clearest example of the seed of the serpent is Egypt and its Pharaoh. The Lord says to Pharaoh in Ezekiel 32:2, “You are like a dragon in the seas.” Remember that the dragon seeks to destroy the seed of the woman, and this is what he set out to do when he ordered the death of all the Israelite babies (Ex 1:15-22).
One also thinks of the episode where Aaron’s staff transformed into a snake and swallowed the staffs/snakes of Pharaoh’s magicians (Ex 7:8-13). Most likely, Aaron’s staff turned into a cobra which also happened to be featured on Pharaoh’s headdress. This headdress symbolized divine power and protection and was fashioned after an Egyptian goddess named Uraeus. By wearing the Cobra headdress, Pharaoh was able to channel the powers of the deity.
Thus, “when Moses had Aaron fling the rod snake before Pharaoh,” argues archaeological scholar John Currid, “he was directly assaulting that token of Pharaonic sovereignty—the scene was one of polemical taunting. When Aaron’s rod swallowed the staffs of the Egyptian magicians, Pharaonic deity and omnipotence were being denounced and rejected outright. Pharaoh’s cobra-crested diadem had no power against Yahweh.”
Reflecting back on the Exodus out of Egypt, the biblical authors saw it as a victory over the serpent. Psalm 74:12-14 declares:
Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
While the ultimate victory still awaited, God was already foreshadowing how he was going to one day crush the head of the serpent.
Goliath the Serpent
One of the best-known stories from the Old Testament is David’s defeat of Goliath. This story portrays Goliath as a giant serpent who seeks to devour the seed of the woman. We know this because as 1 Samuel 17:5 makes clear, Goliath “was clothed with scale-armor” (NASB and NIV). While some translations simply translate this as “a coat of mail” (ESV), the most literal rendering is “armor of scales.”
The Hebrew word for “scale” appears seven other times in the Old Testament, and each time it refers to the scales of fish—including sea dragons. It’s noteworthy that God also calls Pharaoh the “great dragon” with “scales” in Ezekiel 29:3-4. Pharaoh and Goliath are the only two people in the Bible who are said to have “scales.”
As the story of 1 Samuel 17 unfolds, David proclaims that the battle is the LORD’s and then proceeds to sink a stone into the forehead of the giant serpent who then falls face-first into the ground to eat dust like the serpent of old (Gen 3:14) Once more God foreshadows how he will crush the head of the serpent and deliver his people.
The Serpent in the Gospels
We find several instances where the seed of the serpent tries to destroy the seed of the woman. Just like the ancient Pharaoh, King Herod tried to kill all the Bethlehem boys in an attempt to kill the singular seed of the woman (Matt 2:16-18).
Repeatedly, we find that the Pharisees and Sadducees are portrayed as the seed of the serpent. Jesus says to them, “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44). When John the Baptist saw them coming from afar, he cried out, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our Father” (Matt 3:7-9). Similarly, Jesus cries out to the Pharisees in Matthew 23, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” In short, the Pharisees and Sadducees are the seed of the serpent who wage war on the seed of the woman.
The Dragon is Slayed
We round out this discussion by going to the very end where the book of Revelation proclaims the final demise of the serpent. Revelation 12:3-5 notes:
Behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne.
Here we read that that this powerful, red (blood-thirsty) dragon seeks to devour the seed of the woman. Yet, God delivered the seed from the dragon’s pursuits.
Revelation 12:7-9 continues:
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
Notice that the dragon is none other than Satan himself—that ancient serpent and deceiver of the whole world. And he is thrown down. But how? Did the archangel Michael destroy the dragon all by himself?
Revelation 12:11 declares
And they have conquered [the dragon] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
Satan was ultimately defeated by the blood of the Lamb! It was Jesus Christ who conquered Satan. That moment on the cross, when it looked as if the serpent was going to prevail, his head was crushed by the seed of the woman (Gen 3:15).
Fast-forward to Revelation 20, right on the heels of the Millennium, we read in verse 10:
And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
In the end, the mighty serpent-slayer defeated the ancient serpent and rescued his bride so that she can no longer be deceived or devoured. Or to put it another way, the prince slayed the dragon and got his girl.
 Andrew Naselli, The Serpent, and the Serpent Slayer, 18.
 Ibid., 18.
 Ibid., 18.
 John Currid, Ancient Egypt, 93-94.
 Andrew Naselli, The Serpent, and the Serpent Slayer, 90.
 Ibid., 15.
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Ryan Leasure holds a Master of Arts from Furman University and a Masters of Divinity from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Currently, he’s a Doctor of Ministry candidate at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as a pastor at Grace Bible Church in Moore, SC.
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