The Subtle Serpent: Lessons on Spiritual Warfare from the Bible

[fbshare type=”button” float=”right” width=”100″] By Adam Blai

Spiritual warfare in the Bible, Genesis, Revelation 12, Mary crushes the serpent's head

In Genesis we read the beautiful story of God’s creation of the universe. After physical creation is completed Adam and Eve are present in the garden. The very first of God’s laws is introduced: Do not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the middle of the garden. Into this situation enters the serpent, who was “more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made” (Gen 3:1).

The war in heaven was won by two things: the blood of the Lamb (Jesus’ sacrifice) and the testimony of the martyrs (see Rev 12:11). So this battle between spirits with no bodies was a battle of words, followed by the action of Jesus. Michael leads the loyal angels and his name means “who is like God?” This is likely a clue as to the words that defeated Satan. From this it is clear that it is the power of Jesus and positions taken in faith that defeated the Devil.

In Revelation 12, Satan was cast down to the earth and not into hell. There is a mystery to this. There seems to be a kind of hell damned souls are in, but this isn’t yet the lake of fire described at the end of the book of Revelation. From this it has traditionally been concluded that Satan and the fallen angels were cast down to earth. Not only was he clearly cast down to the earth, but the earth and the sea are warned that he has come down to us “in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Rev 12:12). This is affirmed by Jesus when the seventy-two return rejoicing that the demons they encountered were subject to them because of His name, and He says “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Lk 10:18). Peter also warns us to “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour” (1 Pet 5:8).

After they were placed in the Garden and were tempted by Satan in the form of the serpent, Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They were then cast out of the Garden of Eden to work, toil, and die. The long story of salvation and the repair of this partially broken relationship with God had begun.

The story of human history then develops through a number of books in the Bible, with many instances of temptation and falling to evil being described. We next see the Devil enter the story of salvation in a dramatic way with “a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God, and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1).

A conversation between the Lord and Satan takes place in the first chapter of the Book of Job. The Lord asks Satan where he has been, and he replies that he has been roaming the earth. The Lord asks him if he has noticed Job, saying there is no one on earth like him. Satan complains that Job is only God-fearing because he has had no hardship and is wealthy. Satan challenges God that if He would remove His protection from his possessions, Job would curse God to his face. What follows are a series of trials Job goes through, each beginning with Satan asking permission from God to visit even greater difficulty and suffering on Job. In the second trial God allows Satan to harm Job’s body, but not kill him. A number of Job’s friends and family talk to him through the trials, sometimes telling him to give up. Job does complain to God in prayer, but he never rejects God.

In the end the absolute sovereignty of God is reaffirmed and Job confesses that “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted . . . therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2, 6). God then restores everything to Job, and blesses him with even greater abundance, family, and long years. We see no more mention of the Devil, as he has been defeated by Job who never rejected God and repented.

The Book of Job has two clear lessons: God is all-powerful and cannot be hindered, and the Devil has to ask permission from God for everything that he does. We see that both temptation and trials come from Satan, but it is God’s protection and decrees which are important, not the Devil. The Devil is presented as a predictable creature who will always seek to test men and incite rejection of God. People, particularly people the most committed to God, are targeted by the Devil and God allows them to be tested. We see this play out in the life of Job and in the lives of many of the saints, who are often tested fiercely by the Devil as they draw closer to God. The end reward of this struggle is the restoration of all that Satan was allowed to wound, and abundant graces beyond that in the form of an eternal life in heaven with God.

King David cries out in many of the psalms that he is beset by enemies who deny God and seek his destruction. He never gives up on God, but again and again begs God to rise up and assist him. In exorcism work, we see that the psalms cause a particular rage and fear in the demons, likely because they encourage the reader to stay close to God and trust Him.


Adam Blai is an expert on religious demonology and exorcism for the Pittsburgh Diocese. He has been an auxiliary member of the International Association of Exorcists in Rome for a number of years. Blai is the author of Hauntings, Possessions, and Exorcisms, a field guide to defense against the demonic.