“The Promise of God”
The LORD God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
The passage above is sometimes called the protoevangelium by biblical scholars because it is the very first announcement of the “good news” in Scripture. What is so striking about this promise is that it occurs immediately after sin first enters the world. This shows not only God’s foreknowledge of events but his predestined plan to defeat evil and save humanity. Much later, the apostle Paul calls this plan of salvation God’s “eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:11; cf. 1:10-11). In Genesis 3, God actively sets this plan, which was “foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:20), into motion.
Adam and Eve’s rebellion in Eden (Gen. 3:1-7), resulted in the fracturing of God’s world. The natural order was turned on its head: instead of man leading woman and ruling over the beasts of the field together, which was God’s intention (Gen. 2:28), the beast (the serpent) led the woman, who led the man, which resulted in creation being “subjected to futility” (Rom. 8:20). Evil and death spread over creation and had severe effects on humanity.
The Curses — God presented a series of “curses” pertaining to the three beings involved in humanity’s downfall. These “curses” were not arbitrary punishments from God but the natural results which corresponded to the choices made and the people who made them. Adam and Eve would both suffer “pain,” prolonged toil and misery, in their respective roles.
The man, who was created from the ground, would struggle to get the ground to produce food. Adam’s primary “work” of farming would result in prolonged “pain” (Gen. 3:17-19), whereas the woman’s unique role in “childbearing” would be increasingly painful. This “pain” does not merely refer to the physical pain women suffer in childbearing but also includes the emotional suffering of childrearing (the word found here carries both meanings), that is, the pain of raising children in a sin-sick world (cf. Gen. 4:8).
The curses upon the man and woman were severe but they were indirect and mediated. The ground was cursed, not Adam. Eve’s womb and role as wife and mother were cursed not Eve herself. Their life was certainly made more difficult but the serpent was cursed directly (“cursed are you…” Gen. 3:14). There is hope for humanity but none for the serpent. Thus began the “enmity” between the serpent and the woman.
The Serpent — The identity of the serpent is later revealed as the devil or Satan, the adversary of God and humanity (Rev. 12:7-9; 20:1-3). It is a creature in rebellion against God who wants other created beings to doubt God’s goodness and set themselves against God’s purposes. He is opposed to life and all that is good.
The Seed — Notice how Gen. 3:15 develops. In 3:15a, the “enmity” is singular, a personal enmity between the serpent and the woman. In 3:15b, the “enmity” extends to the “offspring” of the serpent and the woman. “Offspring” or “seed” is a collective noun referring to a group or line of descendants. The Bible presents these groups clearly: the serpent’s “seed” are those who follow him and fall under his curse, while the “seed” of woman are those who oppose the serpent (see Gen. 4:12, Jn. 8:44; 1 Jn. 3:8-10).
Finally, notice how the woman’s “seed” becomes singular and the serpent comes back into view (“he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel”). Out of this mysterious language a picture emerges. Eve, the representative woman, would someday bear a son who would crush the serpent’s head and destroy evil at its source. However, during the battle, the serpent will bite the son’s heel and both will die in a mutual destruction (God’s words suggest that the serpent is poisonous). Grabbing the heel is a Hebrew idiom for supplanting (Gen. 25:26) and trampling the head is an idiom for the complete subjugation of an enemy (Psa. 8:6; 110:1). Both are bruised but the more devastating blow is on the serpent’s “head.”
Interestingly, the serpent’s defeat comes not through the man but through the woman. It is “her” seed not “his.” The woman’s unique child-bearing capability would be the means of the serpent’s defeat. In Eden, the serpent used the woman for evil, but in Christ, God turns the tables (1 Tim. 2:13-15).
This all leads us to Jesus, God’s Son who, “when the fullness of time had come,” was “born of woman…” (Gal. 4:4). Jesus had no earthly father fulfilling Genesis 3:15’s “her”-seed-not-“his” promise (Mic. 5:2-3; Isa. 7:14; cf. Mt. 1:23). His death on the cross was that fatal snakebite. But this was no victory for the serpent, for, on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead never to die again, defeating both sin and death. Though there is no New Testament passage which explicitly states the fulfillment of God’s curse upon the serpent, there are many allusions (1 Tim. 2:15; 1 Cor. 15:25; 2 Cor. 11:3-15; Gal. 4:4; Eph. 1:20-22; Rev. 12).
Genesis 3:15 is not exclusively a prophecy about Jesus. Amazingly, all those who are in Jesus also share in his victory over evil. Paul says that “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:20). Just as David fought Goliath as Israel’s representative, and Israel, through David shared in his victory, Jesus conquered Satan on our behalf, and we, through him, share in his victory!