And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. (Genesis 3:14-15 KJV)

Is that punishment (upon thy belly shalt thou go) directed to the animal - "the serpent" - only, or does it have some symbolic meaning?

  • A very good question. It would be nice if the answers were to stick to the question that is about the possible symbolism of the punishment. – gideon marx May 15 '14 at 9:38
  • There is a related Q&A at biblical hermeneuticsSE: this answer by James Shewey may answer a part of your question. – KorvinStarmast Jan 5 '20 at 16:01
  • It may also be worth reviewing the serpent as symbol in the Bible – KorvinStarmast Jan 5 '20 at 16:40

I think is important to look at this as a whole, not just "upon thy belly shall thou go". This is symbolic, as a lot is in the Holy Writ. We have the advantage over the devil, and if we desire, we can resist him, and he will flee from us. He has no more power then we give him.

This is personal interpretation: If something/one is crawling, and I am walking, I immediately have a vantage point and power over that individual. Satan was not given a body because of his rebellion, so he cannot literally crawl upon his belly.


As near as whether or not 'upon thy belly' has any symbolic meaning there is no indication that I find in the Bible to answer that.

In the passage in which this punishment was given to the Serpent, there is much that can be extracted;

Genesis 3:14 and 15 And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

In the statement, thou art cursed above all cattle, we are left to wonder if before that curse the Serpent had legs, which God took away or not, which seems plausible, because if the Serpent was already legless would there be any punishment in crawling on his belly.

The second part about eating dust is also part of the punishment since being low to the ground it would now be impossible for the Serpent to avoid the dust and would be forced to do so for as long as he lived.

The last part of that is where the nebulous meaning comes in:

Genesis 3:15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

What does God mean by putting enmity between the Serpent and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed?

There are two things of importance that we must understand in this statement.

  1. Enmity-The quality of being an enemy; the opposite of friendship; ill will; hatred; unfriendly dispositions; malevolence. It expresses more than aversion and less than malice, and differs from displeasure in denoting a fixed or rooted hatred, whereas displeasure is more transient.

This indicates a deep rooted hate, not to the point of trying to annihilate the Serpent species, but that there will always be animosity between them.

  1. God said her seed and not man's seed.

Why this becomes important is because Jesus was born with the seed of Mary, but not the seed of man, and it is commonly thought to be a prophesy of the battle between Satan and Jesus for the souls of mankind.

  • What you do in this answer is to say right at the beginning that you cannot answer the question. But ... ! You can answer another question. – gideon marx May 15 '14 at 9:39
  • @gideonmarx perhaps you misread, my statement was that the Bible does not appear to resolve that question, and in saying that, indicated that any answer would not be backed up by Scripture unless someone knew something I did not. Instead I tried to help him with what I could elicit from the Scriptures in order to help him form his own opinion. – BYE May 15 '14 at 13:08
  • I am completely lost. Help 'him form his own opinion' of what? The son asks you for bread you give him water. Just remove your answer. – gideon marx May 17 '14 at 10:08
  • 1
    @gideonmarx I'm sorry that you cannot understand my answer. It was meant to help him to analyze Scriptures for himself. Two people apparently did understand because it has two up votes. once it is voted on, the poster cannot delete an answer, but I do not see any reason to delete it anyway. Learning to analyze scripture is important for Christians, and is the reason there are so many commentaries. If you are that unhappy with my answer you can vote it down and/or vote to close it, but after rereading my answer I do not feel it needs to be deleted. – BYE May 17 '14 at 12:32

First, let me say that this is based on my having studied the scriptures for 35 years.

I think it important to remember to whom the verse is referring. Although the verse uses the term “serpent”, Lucifer is referred to as the “dragon” by John, the Revelator. In this context, John outlines how Lucifer was the “a morning star” and that through his desire to obtains God’s glory by becoming the christ, instead of Jesus. His rebellion caused a third of the hosts of heaven to follow him.

These hosts, or spirits, were cast down to earth. We know this because John explains that the Dragon is waiting, jaws open, to devour Christ and his apostles when they, in turn, come to earth.

Because Lucifer and his followers rebelled and were cast out they did not keep their “first estate”. This means they will not come to earth and obtain a physical body and will remain spirits.

This means Lucifer and his followers will always be “lower” than Adam and the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. Hence, on his “belly thou shalt go”. Satan is given power to bruise his heel, through temptation, but Adam has power to crush his head, through the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and overcome the world.


What is meant by the punishment for Satan in Genesis 3?

The short answer is, Satan speak a lie to Eve. The serpent was believed to have arms & legs. And God by removing the serpent arms & legs, means a "lie spoken has no leg to stand on".

Sources on the phrase "a lie has no leg to stand on."

  1. Concise Dictionary of European Proverbs (2013) by Emanuel Strauss

Eng: a lie has no legs and cannot stand, but it has broad wings and flies far a lie hasno legs but scandal has wings a lie.

  1. The Little Giant Encyclopedia of Proverbs (2001) by David Macfarlane

Chinese A lie has no legs, but a scandal has wings. — English One seldom meets a lonely lie. — American You can get far with a lie, but not come back. — American Gossip/Rumor Listen to what they say of others and you will know what they ...


A lie has no legs You can't get away with a lie,


How about the arms? The mystery word "touch" whose origin was not clear if Eve was the source or the Serpent uttered this mysterious word to deceive Eve. But since the serpent was not only punished but cursed, it appear that the word "touch" originated from the serpent. Did the serpent "touch" Eve? St.Hildegard a Doctor of the Church thru her poem implied yes.

"She destroyed her pure womb by her ignorance."(St.Hildegard)

So, it appears that Satan or the serpent indwelt by Satan was punished because of the serpent action related to the word "touch".

The Fall

3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

The keyword for Satan punishment is in the mysterious word "touch" as God never mentioned or commanded this word to Adam, and the narration was not clear if Eve heard this from Adam or it was the word used by the serpent to deceived Eve.

Different sources and references: The serpent has leg

  1. When snakes had legs https://cosmosmagazine.com/palaeontology/when-snakes-had-legs

  2. Did the Serpent Originally Have Legs? by Bodie Hodge on January 26, 2010

Conclusion The more logical answer is that the serpent originally had some form of legs or appendages, and these were either lost or reduced (consider how many reptiles crawl on their bellies and yet have legs, e.g., crocodiles). This seems to correlate with the plainest reading of the passage and the comparison of a curse (“on your belly you shall go”) as compared with cattle and other beasts of the field, which do have legs.

Thorns and thistles were brought forth due to the curse (physical changes to vegetation); there were physical changes to the man and woman (increased sorrow in childbearing and increased pain in work that has been passed along). There is no reason to assume the serpent didn’t undergo physical changes as well—he was a prime culprit. These physical changes due to the curse help explain certain defense and attack structures (DAS) in animals and plants that currently dominate the world. https://answersingenesis.org/genesis/garden-of-eden/did-the-serpent-originally-have-legs/

  1. https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=pYkn5RbltmwC&pg=PA267&lpg=PA267&dq=the+serpent+has+legs+church+fathers&source=bl&ots=LCQi-MplKm&sig=ACfU3U1f93LlC06YLPywxTsX9Vs-R2wYVg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjNmO_0n-vmAhV1IqYKHavjDQsQ6AEwC3oECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=the%20serpent%20has%20legs%20church%20fathers&f=false

If the declaration; that the punishment; ( upon thy belly shalt thou go) is directed to the "serpent" only, is a question? The answer is yes.

Or it has some symbolic meaning; if the "it" is a question about the serpent, being upon its belly, as symbolic? The answer is no.

If the "it" is referring to that part of the punishment as symbolic? the answer is no.

However, the punishment as established in Genesis 3;15, is in actuality, the promise of redemption.

  • This is a good start to an answer, can you complete it? For example, when you say "the answer is yes" or "the answer is no" that is what calls for support, in each bit of this that you have broken down. Example: the answer is yes because ______(something in scripture or in theological writing or teaching, or by parsing the idioms of the original language used in the OT) – KorvinStarmast Jan 5 '20 at 15:48

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