By Sandy Mittelsteadt
Contributor, Valley Ag Voice
From Snakes to Dragons
Many stories have a plot of a monster who is slain by a hero and then peace is restored to the community, such as the movie named Jaws. Does this seem familiar to you? You may not have noticed, but this is also the primary plot of the Bible. God’s enemies are often described as snakes as in Genesis, or the leviathan of Job, or the dragon in Revelation. Even Paul stated in Ephesians 6:12 that our true battle was not with flesh and blood, but with the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly kingdom. The Bible uses all kinds of images to describe the spiritual forces of evil. They are called serpents, dragons, sea monsters, and other creatures of chaos. Finally, this dragon-slaying plot tells us about a snake-crushing Savior, who is Jesus, and who puts an end to the dragon and its authority in our world.
Even in the very beginning (actually page one) of the Bible in Genesis, 1:21, it (KJV) states that God created great whales in the seas on the fifth day of creation. The Hebrew word is tanniyn. In the NASB version of the Bible, tanniyn is translated as “great sea monsters,” but it can also mean “dragon,” or “serpent.” The Hebrew word tanniyn connotes evil and chaos any time that it occurs in the Bible. Genesis then continues and introduces a new character. The Hebrew word for this character is nachash, which can be translated serpent. This serpent is bad news and he is focused on disrupting God’s good and ordered world. This serpent is the Bible’s first portrayal of evil in the world. From this point on, when the authors of the Bible want to describe evil, they use serpent or dragon imagery. This serpent is not only intent on chaos, but he wants others to join him. The first humans are deceived and thus join the serpent and the pattern is established. Now, when we see or hear of human rebellion, we know that spiritual rebellion is behind it. But in verse 15 of Chapter 3 of the Bible, God promises to put enmity between the serpent and the woman and “between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.” This verse states that God will eventually restore peace and justice to earth by defeating the monster.
Now that you are aware of monsters in the Bible, you will start to see the monster imagery throughout all the book. Let’s take a peek for ourselves: Moses’ staff becomes a serpent and then turns back into a staff again. This is a clue that the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh has spiritual combatants involved and that God is not only saving His people from slavery to the Egyptians, but he is also saving them from the power of the serpent and its evil intentions. The Book of Psalms also contains references to God overpowering sea monsters. Psalm 74:13 & 14 states: “Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength; thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters. Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces…” When Isaiah wants to remind the Israelites that God has power to protect them, he chooses the image of the sea monster. In Isaiah 51:9, it says: “Awake, awake, put on strength O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon?” Ezekiel continues with the same theme in Ezekiel 29:3: “Speak, and say, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the mist of his rivers, …” Ezekiel is describing the dark power behind Pharaoh’s earthly throne. The last book of the Bible does not describe the monster as a slithering serpent as Genesis does, but as a mighty dragon. John sees the destruction of the dragon in Revelation 20: 1-3, which says that an angel comes down from heaven with the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain and “… he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit.”
Jesus Slays the “Satan” (the Dragon) and Frees the Enslaved People
Our hero, Jesus, first faces the evil dragon after his baptism. His enemy is called “Satan,” which is not a name but a description which means “the adversary.” Ultimately, three years later, satan “enters Judas,” who betrays his teacher. Jesus is killed at the hands of the dragon’s followers. However, by killing Jesus, the satan brings about his own destruction. God’s people escape the dragon’s power as stated in Genesis 3:15. Jesus, the snake-crushing hero, is himself crushed and broken. Hebrews 2:14 & 15 explains “that through death he [Jesus] might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Jesus’ death was really a victory because now the snake-crusher becomes the King as described in Ephesians 1:20. The plot of the Biblical story is now complete: the monster, the satan, is destroyed, the people are free, and peace and order are restored through the hero, who is now a king.
(Based on a British article by Andy Patton, a theologian from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)