The first part of Genesis chapter 3 verse 1 states that the serpent was more subtil (clever/crafty/wise) than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. Who is this serpent? In order to understand, who the ‘serpent’ here refers to, we ought to go from the first book of the Bible to the last book of the Bible. Revelation 12:9 and Revelation 20:2 presents the Devil (Satan) as the old (ancient) serpent which deceives the whole world. Jesus calls the Devil, a murderer and a liar, from the beginning (genesis) (John 8:44). So the [old] serpent here refers to the Devil.
So now, with the understanding of who the ‘serpent’ refers to, we can move on to recognize that the Devil is a created being (that the Lord God had made). He is just another creature, subject to the power and authority of God the Creator, which he attempted to usurp.
The verse reads, the serpent (Devil) was subtil than any other beast of field – so how wise was the Devil? To measure the wisdom of the Devil, we ought to search the Scripture to find one who is declared wise and use that person as an yardstick. The Bible records in the book of Daniel, that in all matters of wisdom and understanding, Daniel and his friends were found to be ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers in the king’s realm (Daniel 1:17-21) and the Devil (referred to as the King of Tyre in the book of Ezekiel) is said to be even more wiser than Daniel (Ezekiel 28:3). So it is no surprise that the Devil is subtil and shrewd, deceiver of the world.
Finally, it is important to recognize that ‘serpents’ themselves are not evil for God created them as a beast and declared that it was good. Furthermore, the serpent is not figuratively the Devil nor is the Devil solely manifested in the form of a serpent. While this is not impossible for the Devil can transform himself into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), other parts of the Scripture reveal that the Devil (Satan) of his fallen angels (devils) can possess animals and humans and so it is plausible that one of the creatures (a serpent in the garden) was an agent of (possessed by) the Devil, for just as Satan entered Judas (Luke 22:3; John 13:27) and the legion of devils entered the pigs (Luke 8:33), animals and humans could be possessed. Though the details of the manifestation of the Devil as a serpent is inconsequential, what is of importance is for us to be on guard, lest we are deceived, by the subtil serpent and not let him enter (possess) us.
Points to ponder:
Let us not be deceived by the subtil serpent but let us be wise – wise as serpents (Matthew 10:16). How can we be wise? The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs 9:10). To fear God (be wise) and keep his commandments is the conclusion of the matter – the whole duty of all mankind (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Are you wise? Are I wise?
Genesis 3:1-2 (KJV)
1 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
Revelation 12:9 (KJV)
9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
Revelation 20:2 (KJV)
2 And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,