NAKHASH, SERAPH, TANNIN: Snakes, Seraphim, and Sea Serpents

SNAKE/SERPENT: Nakhash- (Strong’s 5175). נחש

FIERY SERPENT: Seraph- (Strong’s 8314). שרף

SEA SERPENT/SEA MONSTER/DRAGON: Tannin- (Strong’s 8577). תנין

Sounds like: nah’kawsh, s’rawf, tah’neen.

When we hear the word snake in the Bible most people’s minds go right to Genesis 3 and the crafty talking serpent in the Garden of Eden. But there is so much more!

There are three Hebrew words that get translated as serpent or snake: seraph, nakhash, and tannin. And on top of that there are at least five Hebrew words that get translated as various kinds of snakes, like vipers, adders, asps, cobras (see epheh (660), akshuv (5919), pethen (6620), tsepha (6848), sh’phi’phone (8207).

We’ll take a look at the three of the main words translated as serpent, starting with…


The first serpent in the Bible is the most famous one… the cunning snake who confused the humans with words:

Genesis 3:1-7

Now the serpent [w-ha-nakash] was more cunning than any animal of the field which YHWH God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God really said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” 

The woman said to the serpent [ha-nakhash], “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” 

The serpent [ha-nakhash] said to the woman, “You certainly will not die! For God knows that on the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will become like God, knowing good and evil.” 

When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took some of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves waist coverings.

The snake, who was created by YHWH (as we read in chapter 3, verse 1) was an agent of chaos, and it used words to muddle up Eve’s thinking. She tried to correct the snake (God didn’t say we couldn’t eat from any tree… just one tree) but she ended up making an erroneous declaration of her own (God said we couldn’t even touch the forbidden tree). God never said they could not touch the tree. By this point Eve’s mind had already been led astray.

Even the prolific New Testament writer, Paul, saw the Genesis 1 serpent as a trickster. In his letter to the Corinthians he said:

2 Corinthians 11:3

But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his trickery, your minds will be led astray from sincere and pure devotion to the Messiah. 

This first snake was never identified as ha-Satan (The Adversary) but his actions were undeniably adversarial to YHWH. The serpent made a derogatory accusation against God’s character, implying that YHWH held back the fruit of this one forbidden tree merely to maintain His dominance over humans… so that they would not “become like God” (even though He had already made them “in His image”). This was a character assault designed to cause chaos and confusion for the humans who had walked beside God in the Garden without ever doubting His character before. And it worked.

As soon as they bought into the snake’s lies and disobeyed God, they moved quickly from guilt, to fear, to blame. When God called upon Eve and Adam and pointed out their disobedience, Adam was quick to blame Eve, and Eve was quick to blame the snake:

Genesis 3:8-13

Now they heard the sound of YHWH God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of YHWH God among the trees of the garden. 

Then YHWH God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 

He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” 

And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree from which I commanded you not to eat?” 

The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me some of the fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 

Then YHWH God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent [ha-nakhash] deceived me, and I ate.” 

YHWH saw this quick progression of sin and cursed not Eve and Adam, but the source of the evil:

Genesis 3:14

Then YHWH God said to the serpent [ha-nakhash],

“Because you have done this,

cursed are you more than all the livestock,

and more than any animal of the field;

on your belly you shall go,

and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.” 

At the beginning of its story the snake was described as more cunning (arum) than all the beasts of the field, which was a positive trait. But at the end of its Garden story the snake was more cursed (arur) than all the beasts of the field. It’s a clever  little word play (from arum to arur) which highlighted a shift in the snake’s story.  This creature was not originally slithering on its belly in the dust, but after it caused damage to the human spirit, it was cursed to eat the dust from which humankind came… it was forced to eat the building blocks of what it destroyed. 

Genesis 3 was the story of humanity’s fall and how they went from seeing YHWH face to face, to being exiled from the Garden as a result of their own rebellion.  The snake was the agent of chaos and death… the crafty salesman of their destruction. After buying into the snakes deception the human nations eventually reflected the snake. Their intended image (bearing God’s reflection) became tarnished and instead they looked more and more like the seller of death, chaos and destruction… the crafty snake. 

The prophet Micah used this dust eating imagery to describe the foreign nations, saying:

Micah 7:17a-18

“They [nations] will lick up dust like a snake [k-nakhash], like reptiles of the earth.”

We are meant to be the image bearers of God, but we look ever so much more like snakes in the grass, licking up the dust.

Power over the Serpent

By the time Moses came onto the scene YHWH made it clear that He had power over the rebellious agent of death. 

When God told Moses that He would send him to the Pharaoh to set His people free, Moses had some apprehension:

Exodus 4:1-5

Then Moses said [to YHWH], “What if they will not believe me or listen to what I say? For they may say, ‘YHWH has not appeared to you.’” 

YHWH said to him, “What is that in your hand?” 

And he said, “A staff.” 

Then He said, “Throw it on the ground.” 

So he threw it on the ground, and it turned into a serpent [l-nakhash]; and Moses fled from it. 

But YHWH said to Moses, “Reach out with your hand and grasp it by its tail”—so he reached out with his hand and caught it, and it turned into a staff in his hand— “so that they may believe that YHWH, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.”

YHWH could turn a staff into a snake and a snake into a staff. The snake had no power over Him but He had complete power over it. The serpent as the agent of death in the Garden had no power in the presence of the Agent of Life. This miracle (turning wood into a serpent) was the inspiration Moses needed to give him the strength to face Pharaoh.  YHWH, the God of Life, was on his side.

Job described YHWH as the Great Creator and he noted that Sheol (the grave) had no power over God (Job 26:6). The fleeing snake, as the symbolic agent of death, would be pierced through:

Job 26:13

“By His (YHWH’s) breath the heavens are cleared;

His hand has pierced the fleeing serpent [nakhash bariakh]”.

Death, evil, and chaos would not win. Even when it ran to escape into the shadows, YHWH would find it and destroy it.

The Bite & Venom of a Snake

YHWH’s victory over death and evil would be the triumphal end to the epic story of humanity. But in the meantime the serpent would have plenty of time to attack and do significant damage.

When Jacob prophesied about his many sons he said this of Dan:

Genesis 49:17-18 

Dan shall be a serpent [nakhash] in the way, a horned viper in the path,

that bites the horse’s heels, so that its rider falls backward.”

In poetic form Jeremiah reflected the fate of Israel at the hands of the Babylonians using similar words from Jacob’s prophecy of Dan:

Jeremiah 8:16-17

From Dan there is heard the snorting of his horses;

At the sound of the neighing of his stallions the whole land quakes;

For they come and devour the land and its fullness, 

the city and its inhabitants.

“For behold, I am sending serpents [n’khashim] among you,

vipers for which there is no charm; and they will bite you,” declares YHWH.

God sometimes allowed the nations against Israel to defeat them. He wanted to bring His people back to Him but they were so lost that they fell prey to the enemy. 

Amos 9:3b 

[YHWH:] And though they hide themselves from My sight on the bottom of the sea,

I will command the serpent [et ha-nakhash] from there, and it will bite them.

They were bitten by the evil ones, and brought to a very low point. At the depths of despair, when there’s nothing humanly possible to be done about the situation, humans inevitably turn their Creator. The lower we go, the quicker we look up and seek God’s help. YHWH just waited for the call so He could express His faithfulness and bring them back to Him:

Jeremiah 29:13-14

And you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will let Myself be found by you,’ declares YHWH, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’

But it wasn’t just the nations of idolatry who were like snakes. According to Proverbs, being addicted to alcohol was like being bit by a snake:

Proverbs 23:29-35

Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaining?

Who has wounds without cause? Who has red eyes?

Those who linger long over wine, those who go to taste mixed wine.

Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup,

when it goes down smoothly;

In the end it bites like a snake [k-nakhash] and stings like a viper.

Your eyes will see strange things and your mind will say perverse things.

And you will be like one who lies down in the middle of the sea, 

or like one who lies down on the top of a mast.

“They struck me, but I did not become ill; they beat me, but I did not know it.

When will I awake? I will seek another drink.”

Evil bites in many ways. It seeps into our nations, it seeps into our brains, it seeps into our habits and slowly, but surely, it poisons everything it touches. The venom of a snake was the perfect poetic metaphor to describe the actions of the wicked:

Psalm 58:3-5

The wicked have turned away from the womb; these who speak lies go astray from birth.

They have venom like the venom of a serpent [nakhash]; like a deaf cobra that stops up its ear,

so that it does not hear the voice of charmers, or a skillful caster of spells.


Psalm 140:1-3

Rescue me, YHWH, from evil people; 

protect me from violent men who devise evil things in their hearts;

They continually stir up wars.

They sharpen their tongues like a snake [nakhash];

the venom of a viper [khamat awkshuv] is under their lips. Selah


Image by Leandro Fregoni

Nakhash Saraph (the snake that burns!)

The word saraph comes from the verb “to burn” and the three mentions of saraph, found in the Torah (twice in Numbers 21 and once in Deuteronomy 8), are all accompanied by nakhash. Fiery very likely was referring to pain caused by the serpent’s bite… it burned like fire.

In the book of Numbers the Hebrew people, wandering in the wilderness, were attacked by serpents that burned:

Numbers 21:4-9 

Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey. So the people spoke against God and Moses: “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we are disgusted with this miserable food.”

Then YHWH sent fiery serpents [et ha-n’khashim ha-s’raphim] among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 

So the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against YHWH and against you; intercede with YHWH, that He will remove the serpents [et ha-nakhash] from us.” And Moses interceded for the people. 

Then YHWH said to Moses, “Make a fiery (serpent) [saraph], and put it on a flag pole; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, and looks at it, will live.” 

So Moses made a bronze serpent [n’khash n’khoshet] and put it on the flag pole; and it came about, that if a serpent [ha-nakhash] bit someone, and he looked at the bronze serpent [n’khash ha-n’khoshet], he lived.

It’s quite interesting that the Hebrew word for serpent [nakhash] shared the same root as the Hebrew word for bronze [nekhash] as well as the Hebrew word for divination/omens [nakh’ash]. The bronze serpent linguistically stood out as two very similar sounding words: n’khash n’khoshet and it represented a great (shall we say fiery) signal of God’s power.

This dramatic omen in the wilderness was a lesson not to be forgotten:

Deuteronomy 8:11, 15-16

“Be careful that you do not forget YHWH your God by failing to keep His commandments, His ordinances, and His statutes which I am commanding you today…

[It was] He who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents [nakhash saraph] and scorpions, and its thirsty ground where there was no water; He who brought water for you out of the rock of flint. In the wilderness it was He who fed you manna which your fathers did not know, in order to humble you and in order to put you to the test, to do good for you in the end.  

Interestingly, centuries after Moses lived on the earth this bronze snake figure was kept for posterity and the people turned it into an item of worship. The Hebrew people even named it Nekhushtan; it’s meaning was a cross between the Hebrew word for serpent (nakhash) and the Hebrew word for bronze (nekhoshet). 

But God never wanted His people to worship this metallic, man-made, item. The bronze serpent had one purpose and it was fulfilled during the wilderness wandering of the Hebrew people. Humans were never to worship any image, most certainly not a bronze serpent made by human hands. The item, through which God expressed His power, had become an idol long after God stopped using it. But a king of Judah would step in and take down the lifeless serpent that Moses had once raised up for God’s purpose:

2 Kings 18:1-4

Now it came about in the third year of Hoshea, the son of Elah king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah became king. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned for twenty-nine years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. He did what was right in the sight of YHWH, in accordance with everything that his father David had done. 

He removed the high places and smashed the memorial stones to pieces, and cut down the Asherah. He also crushed to pieces the bronze serpent [nakhash ha-nakhoshet] that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel had been burning incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan [Bronze Serpent: N’khush’tan]

This fascinating story of venomous snake bites and the healing bronze serpent was referred to by Yeshua (Jesus) when He spoke to Nicodemus in their evening meeting:

John 3:14-15

[Jesus to Nicodemus:] No one has ascended into heaven, except He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes will have eternal life in Him.

Moses’ bronze serpent had been lifted up to heal all who looked upon it. Yeshua would also be lifted up. He was raised up on the cross and all who truly saw and believed in Him would be healed. He was the new exalted image we were to look upon; He was the Healer we all needed.


In the Torah the word saraph (fiery/burning) was matched with the word serpent (nakhash), but by the time Isaiah wrote about these creatures he dropped the word serpent. Isaiah was the only writer in the Nevi’im portion of the Bible (the Prophets) that mentioned seraph/seraphim. Although Isaiah did not use the phrase nakhash saraph, it had been well established in the Torah so that Isaiah could safely drop the word serpent but still maintain the image. 

He spoke twice of winged saraphs [saraph m-ohpheph]  (Isaiah 14:29 and Isaiah 30:6) and in the sixth chapter of his writings he reflected a poetic vision of fiery, winged, snake-like creatures who surrounded the throne of YHWH: 

Isaiah 6:1-8

In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim were standing above Him, each having six wings: with two each covered his face, and with two each covered his feet, and with two each flew. And one called out to another and said,

“Holy, Holy, Holy, is YHWH of armies. The whole earth is full of His glory.” 

And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said,

“Woe to me, for I am ruined!

Because I am a man of unclean lips,

And I live among a people of unclean lips;

For my eyes have seen the King, YHWH of armies.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your guilt is taken away and atonement is made for your sin.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”

Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” 

These snake-like winged creatures purified Isaiah with burning coal. Not all Biblical serpent creatures were agents of chaos and death. The seraphim were God’s divine purifying agents… in a similar manner to how God’s bronze serpent, yielded by Moses, healed and purified all who looked upon it.


Our final Hebrew word that has been often translated as “serpent” is the word tannin. 

When Nehemiah walked through Jerusalem inspecting the walls that had been broken down during the Babylonian invasion he, went out at night by the Valley Gate in the direction of the Dragon’s Spring [eye of the sea serpent: en ha-tannin] and on to the Dung Gate” (Nehemiah 2:13).

The Hebrew words for Dragon’s Spring was en ha-tannin, literally “eye of the sea monster/sea serpent”. It was likely a descriptive name for the city fountain or spring, likely the Gihon Spring, Jerusalem’s main water source. The word tannin, which came from the same root as the Hebrew word for jackal (tan), was primarily associated with water.

We first come across this word in Genesis 1:

Genesis 1:21

And God created the great sea creatures [ha-tanninim] and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind; and God saw that it was good.

The tannin were created on the fifth day of the creation account. This was the day before land animals and humans were created. Tannin were the great creatures that lived in the water. 

Job 7:12

[Job to YHWH:] “Am I the sea, or the sea monster [tannin]that You set a guard over me?”

As we mentioned earlier, when Moses was challenged by God to face Pharaoh, Moses questioned why Pharaoh would pay any attention to him. In response God had Moses throw his spear down. The spear immediately turned into a nakhash (snake). When Moses picked up the staff again, it returned to its original wooden form.  Only a few chapters later Moses was challenged by Pharaoh and his sorcerers. This time YHWH called on Aaron to throw down his staff, and this time the staff turned into a tannin

Exodus 7:8-13

Now YHWH spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “When Pharaoh speaks to you, saying, ‘Work a miracle,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh, so that it may turn into a (sea) serpent [l-tannin].’” 

So Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh, and so they did, just as YHWH had commanded; and Aaron threw his staff down before Pharaoh and his servants, and it turned into a (sea) serpent [l-tannin]

Then Pharaoh also called for the wise men and the sorcerers, and they too, the soothsayer priests of Egypt, did the same with their secret arts. For each one threw down his staff, and they turned into (sea) serpents [l-tanninim]. But Aaron’s staff swallowed their staffs. Yet Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, just as YHWH had said.

The Egyptian sorcerer’s sea monsters were illusions and they were swallowed up by YHWH’s great, living, tannin… a sea creature summoned onto dry land. YHWH upped His game. It wasn’t just a land snake, this time He produced a sea serpent. YHWH never failed to impress!

The Enemy Dragon

The enemies of Israel were frequently alluded to as tannin. Jeremiah referred to king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, as a tannin who had swallowed him up (see Jeremiah 51:34). Ezekiel called Egypt the great tannin that lived in the canals (see Ezekiel 29:3-6).

Isaiah referred to the time when YHWH made a pathway in the sea for the Hebrew people to cross over. It was because YHWH pierced the tannin (translated by many versions as “dragon”) that the Hebrew people could escape Egypt, cross the Red Sea and travel towards the promised land:

Isaiah 51:9-11 

Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of YHWH;

Awake as in the days of old, the generations of long ago.

Was it not You who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon [tannin]?

Was it not You who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep;

Who made the depths of the sea a pathway for the redeemed to cross over?

And the redeemed of YHWH will return and come to Zion with joyful shouting,

and everlasting joy will be on their heads.

They will obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Those who trusted in YHWH would be protected and they would obtain the power of YHWH to take out the tannin (the monsters) in their lives.

Psalm 91:11-13

For He will give His angels orders concerning you,

to protect you in all your ways.

On their hands they will lift you up,

so that you do not strike your foot against a stone.

You will walk upon the lion and cobra,

You will trample the young lion and the (sea) serpent [w-tannin].

Every created thing, from the great sea monsters to the kings of nations, every soul, young and old, were to praise YHWH:

Psalm 148:7-13

Praise YHWH from the earth,

sea monsters [tanninim], and all the ocean depths;

fire and hail, snow and clouds; stormy wind, fulfilling His word;

mountains and all hills; fruit trees and all cedars;

animals and all cattle; crawling things and winged fowl;

kings of the earth and all peoples; rulers and all judges of the earth;

both young men and virgins; old men and children.

They are to praise the name of YHWH, for His name alone is exalted;

His majesty is above earth and heaven.


If the enemies of Israel were referred to as tannin. Then the greatest tannin was the greatest enemy. Leviathan stood out as the most formidable sea creature which YHWH made:

Psalm 104:24-28

YHWH, how many are Your works!

In wisdom You have made them all; the earth is full of Your possessions.

There is the sea, great and broad, 

in which are swarms without number, animals both small and great.

The ships move along there, 

and Leviathan, which You have formed to have fun in it.

They all wait for You to give them their food in due season.

You give to them, they gather it up; 

You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good.

Leviathan was to have fun in the sea… the word translated as fun has also been translated as “frolic” and “play” and the word comes out of the root word meaning “to laugh”. The great Leviathan was created by YHWH and it was made to have fun in the sea.

Leviathan, a formidable beast of the sea, was feared by humans who did not understand that big did not always mean brutal. Nevertheless, the Leviathan became a metaphor for the big enemy of God’s people. 

In one of Asaph’s Psalms (74) God was the King who conquered the great tanninim, the greatest of which was Leviathan:

Psalm 74:12-14

Yet God is my King from long ago,

who performs acts of salvation in the midst of the earth.

You divided the sea by Your strength;

You broke the heads of the sea monsters [tanninim] in the waters.

You crushed the heads of Leviathan;

You gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.

Isaiah also represented the Leviathan as a symbol of God’s enemy. He used both nakhash and tannin, bringing us back to the adversarial serpent (nakhash) in Genesis 3 and the great dragon/sea serpent (tannin) described in Job 41. Leviathan represented God’s adversaries and God would not be defeated by them. He would conquer them:

Isaiah 27:1

On that day YHWH will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent [nakhash bariakh],

with His fierce and great and mighty sword,

even Leviathan the twisted serpent [nakhash a’qallatohn];

and He will kill the dragon [et ha-tannin] who lives in the sea.


Snakes in the New Testament

Snakes in the B’rit Chadashah (New Testament) were primarily associated with evil… from Satan and anyone who reflected His image.

In John’s vision, which was densely packed with Old Testament metaphors, he directly named the snake. This great serpent/dragon was the Satan, the mighty Accuser and God’s Adversary:

Revelation 12:9-12 (see also Revelation 20:1-2)

And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying,

Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Messiah have come, for the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down, the one who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. For this reason, rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you with great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.”

This was the Good News at the end of the story. The blood from the Lamb of God would overthrow the serpent of old.

When Yeshua sent his disciples out to minister to the people they came back feeling quite good about themselves. They had authority over demons! But Yeshua was quick to point out their focus was on the wrong goal:

Luke 10:19-20

Now the seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name!” 

And He said to them, “I watched [the] Satan [Greek: ton Satanan] fall from heaven like lightning. Behold, I have given you authority to walk on snakes [opheon] and scorpions, and authority over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”

But it wasn’t just Satan, the great Adversary… anyone who took an adversarial stance against YHWH was like a snake. Yeshua (Jesus) called the Pharisees and scribes “hypocrites, snakes, and the offspring of vipers heading in the direction of hell” [Greek: gehenna] (Matthew 23:29-33). Yeshua did not hold any verbal punches back:

Matthew 12:34-40

[Jesus to the Pharisees:] You offspring of vipers, how can you, being evil, express any good things? For the mouth speaks from that which fills the heart. The good person brings out of his good treasure good things; and the evil person brings out of his evil treasure evil things. But I tell you that for every careless word that people speak, they will give an account of it on the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” 

But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves a sign; and so no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was in the stomach of the sea monster for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.

Yeshua faced the serpents and all the harbingers of death and destruction and He died on the cross at their hand. Yeshua went to the grave, but He did not remain there. He conquered death, rose up after three days and re-claimed life for anyone who wanted it. The snake in Genesis had tricked humanity and forced them out of God’s presence, but Yeshua paid the entrance fee for everyone who wanted to return to YHWH in the Garden. No snake bite and no poison would hold us back from YHWH now.

In Genesis 3 the snake was cursed with more than just eating dirt:

Genesis 3:15

“And I will make enemies of you [the serpent] and the woman,

and of your offspring and her Descendant;

He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel.”

Yeshua would stamp out Satan but not before Satan would bite back. Yeshua would beat death but not without struggle and not without suffering. The cross was a painful way to triumph… but triumph He did. The great dragon, and all the little biting serpents of evil, would never win.

The prophet Isaiah looked forward to the end of humanity’s story when no agent of evil could harm those living in God’s sacred space:

Isaiah 65:24-25

It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; while they are still speaking, I will listen. The wolf and the lamb will graze together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox; and dust will be the serpent’s [w-nakhash] food. They will do no evil or harm on all My holy mountain,” says YHWH.

The serpent would no longer be a biting threat to God’s people; it would be left to bite the dust of its own curse. And YHWH’s people would no longer be reflections of the snake of death, destruction and chaos, but they would return to their true reflection as pure image bearers of God. It’s a beautiful conclusion to the epic human story of exile, redemption and salvation.

Next week: Revisiting WISDOM

5 thoughts on “NAKHASH, SERAPH, TANNIN: Snakes, Seraphim, and Sea Serpents”

  1. Or that it will be him in the future. Anyway about the part where it said serpent instead of serpents tell us this serpent was cunning. It didn’t say serpents were cunning. Since that it said serpent as in one, it tell us that only this being was cunning. Literal snakes aren’t tricking us, but the adversary is. The adversary is cunning. Sometimes the word serpent doesn’t always mean a literal snake in the Bible. Ever thought about the curse for verse 14 and 15 being for the adversary (the serpent) and God using a literal serpent as a tool to show the enemy that will be him? Maybe the curse wasn’t for literal snakes. It was for the devil. But God curse the regular snakes to show that devil that this will be him. It was a reminder. Again Revelation did say the devil was the serpent and I doubt Eve was trick by a mere snake. Maybe a posses one or supernatural being who look like a snake.


  2. Again snakes do crawl on their bellies, but they don’t eat dust. Like I said previously, maybe verse 14 and 15 aren’t supposed to be taken literal. After all notice how the Bible said the serpent was more cunning instead of serpents. And notice how the word other is not in the verse. This tell us it wasn’t an animal. Crawl on your belly and dust was probably a symbol or a metaphor. Even if it was literal, it could be that God use the snake as a tool to show the supernatural entity that this is him.


    1. Dr. Michael Heiser has done wonderful work in this arena. The Unseen Realm is a book that I recommend.


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