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?
Subtil or subtilty, our modern subtle or subtlety, refers to a shrewd and clever individual, sly in plotting and schemes. This is someone who is full of guile and devices to corrupt and pervert those around him. His type is almost applauded in our culture as resourceful and a “winner” and someone who is likely to get the upper hand.
That Satan came in the guise of a serpent has long been understood by Christians. A serpent, in the history of the mythologies of the world, can also be a dragon and called a worm. It is a powerful motif in many cultures. This is not merely a talking snake. This serpent would have been a magnificent creature.
In the books of Isaiah and Ezekiel the prophets the writers may be talking about a human king and yet also give a description of Satan himself as human kings are often possessed of the traits and self-aggrandizing characteristics of Satan. This is part of the multi-dimensional layout of the Bible. Where the author is giving a description of Satan, as well, is clear to most readers. Here are some descriptions of Satan buried in writing about a human king.
Ezekiel 28:11 ¶ Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 12 Son of man, take up a lamentation upon the king of Tyrus, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty. 13 Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created. 14 Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. 15 Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee. 16 By the multitude of thy merchandise they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned: therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. 17 Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness: I will cast thee to the ground, I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee. 18 Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities, by the iniquity of thy traffick; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee. 19 All they that know thee among the people shall be astonished at thee: thou shalt be a terror, and never shalt thou be any more.
Isaiah 14:12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! 13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. 15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.
In these passages you get a glimpse of Satan’s majestic appearance, his original position, and his pride. One can imagine him resenting man’s position as having dominion over God’s creation greatly and plotting a way to take man’s place. Satan envies not only Adam. He envies God. It is that pride and ambition that has condemned him.
Satan twists God’s words in his trick. Did God say you can’t eat of every tree in the garden? The ultimate con-man will let his mark talk themselves into the deception. In this way the woman becomes part of the con.