The Background of Genesis 3:14-15
The first chapter of the Bible deals with God creating the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1-2:3). After a broad, over-arching explanation of creation, God turns our attention to a very specific and most important chapter in creation, the creation of the man and the woman (Gen. 2:4-25). After creating Adam and Eve, the details of their lives are ignored except for one specific and most important events, their experience of temptation and fall into sin. Mankind’s fall into sin is the key problem that the Bible examines and solves. The horrifying fall of our first parents into sin is covered in the opening thirteen verses of Chapter 3. Then the solution for this dreadful and awful state of affairs begins to blossom in verses 14 and 15.
With these circumstances in mind, we want to move into a closer look at Genesis 3:14-15. In order to do that in a responsible manner, we need to start with a more detailed look at the immediate context surrounding Genesis 3:14-15. Much of the material found in this study comes from a class in Messianic Prophecy taught by Pastor Louis Lapides, who was then affiliated with Ariel Ministries. Currently, he is the pastor of Beth Ariel Fellowship in Sherman Oaks, California.
The Conversation with the Tempter (Gen. 3:1-5)
We need to begin by reading the first five verses of Chapter 3.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “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 said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Here we are introduced to the serpent. This is a literal reptile that is being used as Satan’s conduit for communication. The serpent is a channel to express Satan’s plan for mankind. He uses three avenues to entice the woman and man to disobey. First, he launches an attack on the wisdom of God in verse two: “…he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?”
Second, he initiates an attack on the Word of God in verses 2-4. In verses 2-4 he undermines the Word of God by stating, for all intents and purposes, that the Word of God is a lie, “You surely will not die!”
Finally, he instigates an attack on the Will of God in verse 5. He states, in effect, that the Will of God is bad for the man and woman, rather than being good for them (Gen. 3:5). His insinuation is that God wants to withhold good from them. God wants to keep them in their place and hold them back from their rightful destiny. Their rightful destiny is to be like God and to know good from evil.
The woman, innocent and inexperienced, listens to the tempter. He has her in his trap. Satan’s trap springs shut with the committing of the sin in verse 6.
The Committing of the Sin (Gen. 3:6)
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 from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.
The woman may have been innocent and inexperienced, but she had been given a clear command by God to obey. The clear command came earlier in Genesis 2:16-17
The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”
The command not to eat of the tree was issued to Adam before the creation of Eve. However, Eve’s statement in verses 2-3 shows that she was very aware of the limitation. She had been responsibly and adequately instructed. Instead of obeying, instead of seeking counsel from God or Adam, she meditates on the tempter’s words. She eventually chooses to disobey and rationalizes her decision. Eating the fruit is practical, and, after all, the fruit is beautiful and eating the fruit would be beneficial. Her inner, mental assent to the serpent’s words leads to outer, tangible disobedience. Then, to take matters from bad to worse, she involves her husband, Adam, in her disobedience. He, likewise, and we are not told why in Chapter 3, chooses to disobey in his heart and acts out that decision externally.
The result of Adam and Eve’s sin is totally unexpected. Instead of reaping the practical, beautiful, and beneficial rewards of their decision, they experience the awful consciousness of sin.
The Consciousness of the Sin (Gen. 3:7-8)
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 loin coverings. They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
Instead of becoming aware of the practical, the beautiful, and the beneficial, Adam and Eve for the first time experience the guilt and the shame and fear that results from disobedience.
God in majestic holiness, love, and patience now moves to confront His wayward children.
The Confronting of the Sinners (Gen. 3:9-13)
Then the LORD 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 of which I commanded you not to eat? The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
Please do not get the idea that God is ignorant of all that has gone on and that He has to interrogate Adam and Eve to find out the circumstances. The scriptures teach that He is all-knowing. For example, Psalm 147:5: “Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite.” When God speaks to man in this manner, He is graciously condescending. He is humbling Himself to speak to us at our level and in ways we can understand. Two examples of this gracious and loving initiative God take are Psalm 113:5-6 and Psalm 103:13-14.
- Psalm 113:5-6
- Psalm 103:13-14
Who is like the LORD our God, who is enthroned on high, who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth?
Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.
God is not questioning Adam and Eve out of ignorance. He is reaching out in love as a kind and compassionate Heavenly Father. He will discipline them, but before He does, He wants them to understand and acknowledge their sin. He is questioning them to give them an opportunity to confess freely before Him. When they do, He deals with them in an appropriate manner.
The Consequences of the Sin (Gen. 3:14-24)
Pronouncement of Judgment Because of the Sin (Gen. 3:14-19)
There are three sets of consequences that flow from Adam and Eve’s disobedience which involve the following: first for the serpent.
- Serpent (Gen. 3:14-15)
- The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you will go, and dust you will eat all the days of your life; and I will put enmity between you 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.”
Second, consequences are stated for the woman.
- Woman (Gen. 3:16)
- To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children; yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
Third, God pronounces consequences for the man.
- Man (Gen. 3:17-19)
- Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
The chapter closes with two items. First, God provides Adam and Eve with a covering for sin.
Provision of a Covering Because of the Sin (Gen. 3:20-21)
Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living. The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.
Finally, God issues a command to preclude eating from the tree of life.
Precaution Against Eating From the Tree of Life (Gen. 3:22-24)
Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like on of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” – therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.
This is the context in which the key verses of this study, verses 14 and 15, fall. With this in mind, now is the time for us to look in detail at verses 14-15. In verses 14-15 are found the first Messianic Prophecy of the Bible. With this in mind, we back track to verse 14 and the punishment of the serpent.
The Punishment of the Serpent (Gen. 3:14)
The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field, on your belly you will go, and dust you will eat all the days of your life.
Note that the snake is cursed “above all” creatures. This is not some minor, insignificant affair. The serpent has been used as Satan’s tool, and the curse, the consequence, must correspond to the magnitude of the crime. A unique and heavy affliction now falls upon the serpent. The first aspect of the consequence is humiliation. The humiliation the serpent will experience is described by two phrases.
Both descriptions are pictures in the Ancient Near East of conquered enemies laid face down, prostrate before a conquering king as a footstool for his feet (Amarna Tablets 100:36).
“You shall go on your belly”
The emphasis of this phrase is being conquered. This is a mark of deepest degradation from an exalted position. This outward curse symbolizes Satan’s judgment. He was exalted (Isa. 14:9; Ezk. 28) as the most perfect, wise, and beautiful creature. One of the ways he has abused his lofty position is by orchestrating the fall of man. He will suffer defeat for his rebellion.
“You shall eat dust”
The emphasis of the first phrase is defeat. The emphasis found in this second phrase is disgrace.
Some commentators feel that the humiliation of the serpent is the fact that he will join he humble, creeping things of the created world. However, to say that the serpent will join the creeping things is not enough. God created creeping things, and in Genesis 1:25, He said they were “good.” This physical act describes more than just joining a class of creatures which were good in God’s sight. The idea of degradation is seen in this statement.
To eat dust speaks of humiliation in the scriptures. When one wants o describe the defeat of an enemy, he says, “He’s crawling in the dust.” Three examples of this would be Psalm 72:9; Isaiah 49:23; and Micah 7:17.
- Psalm 72:9
- Isaiah 49:23
- Micah 7:17
Let the nomads of the desert bow before him, and his enemies lick the dust
“Kings will be your guardian, and their princesses your nurses. They will bow down to you with their faces to the earth and lick the dust of your feet; and you will know that I am the LORD; those who hopefully wait for Me will not be put to shame.
They will lick the dust like a serpent, like reptiles of the earth. They will come trembling out of their fortresses; to the LORD our God they will come in dread and they will be afraid before You.
The principle at work here and the principle that will be seen throughout the Bible is the principle, “you reap what you sow” (Gal. 6:7). The serpent participated in the Fall by helping Satan deceive Eve into eating from the tree. As a result, the serpent will eat dust. The length of time that the serpent will be under this curse is brought out in the next phrase
“All the days of your life.”
The serpent will be in this position of humiliation continually, even, according to Isaiah 65:25, during the Millenium.
The wolf and the lamb will graze together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox; and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain,” says the LORD.
The fact that the serpent will eat dust even during the glorious Messianic Kingdom is a picture of the eternal defeat of Satan.
Now the emphasis changes. God moves from describing the punishment to describing the punisher in Genesis 3:15.
The Punisher of the Serpent (Gen. 3:15)
The Divine Instigation of Hostility
“And I will put enmity between you 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.”
The first phrase clearly states that God is the instigator of hostility. He says, “I will put enmity…” The word enmity is the Hebrew word ayvah. It is very properly translated enmity or hatred. The word only refers to hostility between morally responsible agents in the Hebrew Scriptures (cf. Num. 35:21-22; Ezk. 25, 35:5). The Greek equivalent echthros as found in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) and the New Testament (Gal. 5:20; Eph. 2:14, 16; Jas. 4:4) support this claim. The word is never used of hostility between man and animals. God is looking beyond the natural level here to the supernatural realm. Satan has come into view.
In addition to instigating antagonism, God also initiates the concept of opposites. The idea of opposites moves in a distinct pattern. The flow of the text moves from the individual level to the corporate level and then back to the individual level again.
The text of verse 15 starts at the individual level describing the relationship between the serpent and the woman. The outcome of this pair of opposites is the fact that Eve will detest the serpent who betrayed her. On the other side of the coin, the serpent will hate her because she is the object of God’s redemptive love. The woman will be aligned with God’s purpose and bring the Messiah into the world (Rev. 12).
From the individual level, the text now moves to the corporate level with comments regarding the seed of these two opposites – the serpent’s seed and the woman’s seed. On the level of the corporate seed, the text is no longer dealing with the physical arena but has moved into the spiritual area. Now the text is dealing with spiritual progeny. The serpent’s seed are the people who accept the rule of Satan. For example, in John 8:44 Yeshua states to his antagonists, “you are of your father the devil.” In contrast, the woman’s seed are those who accept God’s rule. They are the godly remnant of mankind. The conflict of forces will continue throughout humanity’s existence. It involves coming generations and will endure until the one Messianic Seed will come to defeat Satan.
As we move through the text to the final phrase, we return to the level of the individual seed. The pair of opposites in view now is the individual Satan and the individual Messiah. Why does the text move back from the corporate level to the individual level? The answer to that lies in the context. The context demands that a single, supernatural deliverer should appear for two reasons. 1) The idea of the seed is determined by the nature of the enemy. A supernatural foe (Satan) demands a supernatural deliverer (Messiah). 2) The ultimate struggle is not between two groups but between two individual – Satan and God.
The Divine Task of the Deliverer
This brings us to a decription of the work of the deliverer. THe enmity of the corporate seed of the woman now climaxes in the battle of the individual seed against Satan. Two important concepts highlight this battle – the heel and the head.
The heel and head speak of what is inferior and superior. The heel speaks of the means of Satan’s defeat and the head speaks of the goal. He will attack Messiah’s heel but that very heel will destroy him.
“He shall bruise you on the head” describes what the Messiah will do to Satan. This is the goal of the Messiah’s work. This goal will be realized at two distinct points in time. First of all, it will be realized through the judgment of Satan at the Second Coming. Romans 16:20 states:
The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.
Secondly, the bruising of Satan’s head will be seen through the judgment of Satan at the end of the Millenium (Rev. 20:7-10) when he is cast into his final destiny, the Lake of Fire. The bruising of Satan’s head will be catastrophic, just as crushing a serpent’s head is fatal. The bruising of Satan by the Messiah will lead to Satan’s final, complete, and absolute ruin.
Now the text turns to a description of what Satan will do to the Messiah. Satan will bruise the Messiah on the heel. “You shall bruise him on the heel” means that the Seed of the Woman will be hurt in battle against Satan. In other words, the Messiah must suffer, but the suffering, while serious, will not be fatal. A bruised heel can be nursed back to health.
From our vantage point, we understand that the Messiah will undergo horrific suffering. However, Messiah’s suffering will be healed through the resurrection. The seed of the woman was bruised on the heel when He hung on the cross. The prophet Isaiah brings both of these concepts into view in one very important sentence in Isaiah 53:10.
But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.
The Messiah’s suffering is in view when we read that the Messianic person will be crushed. However, through that suffering, through that bruising, the seed of the woman defeated Satan and brought about Satan’s ruin. The resurrection of the Messiah then ascends into view when we read that the Messianic person will see offpring, prolong His dyas, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand. The question we have to ask is this, “How can a sacrificail offering, a guilt offering that is slain upon an altar, see offspring and prolong His days?” The answer is that He will be resurrected from the dead.
One point that we must not miss is brought out in the statement that the Messiah will be the “seed of the woman.” Please not that the supernatural deliverer will be reckoned after “the seed of the woman.” In the biblical system this immediately goes contrary to what will become the biblical norm. Normally, genealogical records are maintained on the basis of the father’s line, not on the basis of the mother’s line. Often we find genealogical records consisting of long lists of men and hardly a woman is mentioned. Women are occasionally mentioned if they play a significant role in Jewish history.
Normally, by biblical standards, it is the man that determines the person’s identity. This is the primary method of determining identity. If the father is a Jew, then the children are Jews. If the father is a Gentile, then the children are Gentiles. This is true for tribal identity as well. If the father was from the tribe of Judah and the mother was from the tribe of Benjamin, the children were classed as being from the tribe of Judah.
The mother’s background usually had no bearing on the matter of national or tribal identity. However, there is a secondary method that does consider the mother’s identity. In the book of Ezra (Ez. 10), many Jewish men had married non-Jewish women and had children by them. The decision in Ezra 10 is to be divorced from the non-Jewish women and their children. In other words, the children were considered non-Jews even though their father was Jewish. The identification of the child was determined by the mother in this instance. If that was not the case, the children would have been considered as Jewish because their father was Jewish, and they would have been sending Jewish children away to live with non-Jewish, heather mothers.
The Artscroll Tanach Commentary on Ezra (p. 196) makes this remark:
The children of the gentile wives were themselves gentiles, in accordance with the Torah law (Yevamos 23a, derived from Deut. 7:4) that a child born of a Jewish father and a gentile mother is not a Jew (R’Yeshayah MiTrani; Ibn Ezra).
The point of the preceding statement is the fact that the mother’s status determines the status of the children. Likewise, the rabbi’s analysis of Deuteronomy 7:4 follows these lines:
…a child born of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father is regarding as thy son, i.e. a Jew, but not if born of a non-Jewish mother and a Jewish father.
…it was deduced therefrom that the child is to be regarded as being on the same race and faith as the mother. Consequently, the child of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother follows in Jewish Law the religious status of the mother.
There is a precedence in Jewish thinking that allows Jewish identity to be determined by the mother’s status even though this is not the primary method found in the scriptures.
In addition, Timothy’s parentage in the New Testament (Ac. 16:1-3) follows this pattern. Timothy’s father was non Jewish and his mother was Jewish. Neither was Timothy circumcised.
Timothy is such an outstanding young believer that Paul wants to take him along on his mission “to the Jews first and also to the Greek.” That mission would have been hindered had he not circumcised Timothy. Paul did not want Timothy’s uncircumcision to detract from the message. Dr. David H. Stern provides some helpful remarks regarding Timothy’s identity.
Had Timothy been a Gentile there would have been no problem. Jews were glad to welcome Gentile “God-fearers.” It is because Timothy was in fact Jewish by virtue of having a Jewish mother, yet uncircumcised because his Gentile father had not had him circumcised and because this was widely known (they all knew that his father was Greek…), that there was danger of the Gospel’s being misrepresented as contrary to Judaism.
The result of this information lies in the fact that the biblical norm is to consider an individual as Jewish based on the father. However, in the case of a mixed marriage, when the father is not Jewish, the child is considered Jewish through the mother, with the condition that a son has to be circumcised as was the situation with Timothy.
Returning to Genesis 3, in the case of the Messiah, His lineage will be reckoned through His mother. He will not be reckoned after the seed of the man but rather after the seed of the woman. Why this is so is not explained at this point. In fact, this situation will not be explained until Isaiah 7. To Isaiah will be revealed that the Messiah will be born of a virgin, therefore the Messiah will no have a human father. His entire humanity will come through His mother. Likewise, His national and tribal identity will be based on His mother only. Therefore, you have to trace the Messiah’s genealogy through the mother. So in verse 15, we have the first hint of the virgin birth. Note that the virgin birth is not explicitly taught here, but we see a shadow of it.
The Summary of Genesis 3:14-15
- The curse of the serpent is literal, but it pictures the defeat of Satan.
- The curse involves a three step enmity between 1) the serpent and the woman, 2) the descendants of the serpent and the woman, and 3) Satan and the Messiah (individual, corporate, individual).
- The plan to overthrow Satan will progressively be unfolded through the godly seed of mankind, the nation of Israel, and ultimately through the Messiah.
- The seed of a woman implies that the Messiah’s descent is through the female line only. God could have said, “his seed,” referring to Adam since Adam was standing there too. However, God deliberately says “the seed of the woman.” This reference to the “seed of the woman” implies that the conqueror of the serpent will enter the world in a unique way.
At this point it is time to examine the next question in our study, “Does the Jewish community consider Genesis 3:14-15 to be Messianic as well?”
- ^ New Geneva Study Bible, Nashville: Thomas Nelson (electronic ed. 1997, c1995)
- ^ Cohen, Dr. A., Soncino Books of the Bible, (New York, NY: The Soncino Press, Ltd., 1992). The Soncino Chumash, p. 1026
- ^ Hertz, Dr. J.J., The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, (London, England: Soncino Press, 1987), p. 775
- ^ Stern, D.H., Jewish New Testament Commentary, (Clarksville, MD: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1992), p. 283