Reflections on Genesis 3:15

“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’” (Gen 3:14-15).

Herein marks the announcement of God’s plan. A promise of defeat for Satan, a word of assurance to the angels, and a message of hope for fallen humanity. It is all contained here in kernel form.

The significance of this passage can scarcely be overstated. In one short statement the underlying theme and meaning of history is laid bare. Whatever one says about the history of mankind, therefore, whether they’re looking at the specks of some seemingly insignificant incident, or the grand movements of a mighty nation, if this overarching perspective is fundamentally absent from their thinking, the task of making sense of human experience, whether it be the past or the present or the future, will inevitably fail to reflect the deep currents of reality. As a result, the historian’s work of collating data into a meaningful whole will inevitably run astray. (1)

Given the importance of this pivotal declaration from God, here are four observations spinning out of the text.

Observation One: Two Kingdoms

In its most basic form, history is a clash of two kingdoms.

In Genesis 3:15, the division between these two kingdoms is made explicit. There is “your offspring” and “her offspring;” Satan’s kingdom and God’s kingdom; the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light (Col 1:13; John 18:36; 1 John 2:15-16).

It would take some time for this concept to fully materialize, but even in its earliest days, a division of allegiances would be clear to both men and angels. Abel is illustrative. He offered a better sacrifice than Cain, thereby showing a difference in heart commitment to God (Heb 11:4). Satan no doubt considered this pious man to be the “seed of the woman” who would dare crush his head. Intent on squelching the threat, he influenced Cain to murder Abel (1 John 3:12), thereby exercising one of the powers of sin (Heb 2:14), namely death. But immediately after this incident, we read in Genesis 4:26 that Eve bore another son named Seth who in turn bore a son named Enosh. Here the Scriptures teach that “at that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD.” God perpetuated a godly line, thereby revealing the existence and ever growing reality of His inbreaking kingdom.

Observation Two: Enmity

The relationship between these two kingdoms will be marked with hostility. As God put it, “I will put enmity between you and the woman.”

This enmity isn’t of a casual sort, as if the citizens of each kingdom are at a ballgame rooting for a different team. The antipathy and opposition will be nothing less than absolute, resulting in the shedding of blood and even the taking of life. It is warlike hostility (Rev 11:7, 12:7, 13:7, 19:11-19). It should be thought of in terms of swords and shields, not empty threats or an unwillingness to attend the same social event.

At the command of God, Joshua and David, key leaders in God’s kingdom, annihilated entire cities. Heads of enemy leaders would be literally chopped off, their bodies hacked to pieces (1 Sam 15:33, 17:51). Of course, God didn’t command them to do anything falling outside the pale of His own just actions. Here one need only recall the choking cries of the world during the days of Noah, or the fiery destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

While Satan’s motives wouldn’t be propelled by justice, he nevertheless utilized and employed the sword, as well as other instruments of destruction against the people of God. As the author of Hebrews writes,

“Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated– of whom the world was not worthy–wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Heb 11:35-38).

The nature of this hostility certainly carries with it an emotional component. God hates sin and Satan hates holiness. Here the emotional component is intrinsically linked to the ideological nature of the enmity. The disagreement isn’t over one issue, or even four issues, but a totality of issues. It is a conflict of worldviews. There is real antithesis.

This is why Paul can say, for example, that “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8:7-8). Jesus likewise taught that “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Mat 6:24, see also John 15:18-19).

This antithesis is so complete that the children of the Serpent cannot stand to even hear God speak. As Stephen said to the men of the synagogue of the Freedmen, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered” (Act 7:51-52). Rather ironically, his listeners grew enraged and stoned him to death (Acts 7:54-60).

There will be no terms of compromise in this war; no reconciliation of the governments; no fading feelings. God declared that He would crush the head of the serpent, thereby announcing in pictorial fashion, the final defeat of Satan. The cross would eventually deal the fatal blow, and in due time, the devil will be thrown into the lake of fire forever.

It should be stated clearly. The conflict is total and irreconcilable, and all of humanity occupies one of the two camps. There are no casual observers in the stadium of life.

Observation Three: Reclamation

Implicit in God’s declaration is an unwillingness to forfeit the earth, as well as a portion of the inhabitants of the earth to Satan. Like the kingdom of God, this concept of repossession would develop and mature over time, culminating, ultimately, in a creative act whereby the very heavens and the earth are purified and made new (Isaiah 65:17ff; Rev 21:1ff). The new earth isn’t designed to be an empty abode full of sweet smelling flowers, but it’s specifically crafted for a group of people who are nothing less than new creations themselves (2 Cor 5:17; Rom 8:20-21). Therefore, as is hinted at in the phrase “seed of the woman,” God is intent on redeeming a people from among the mass slave market of fallen humanity. As Peter writes in his first epistle, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1Pe 2:9).

The story of redemption is a story of reversals.

Here the words of Satan to Jesus in the wilderness are more than a little provocative and relevant. Taking Jesus to a very high mountain, Satan bid the Messiah to consider the splendor of the kingdoms of this world. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:9)  Asking Jesus to worship him was absurd. But was it absurd for him to offer the kingdoms of the world as a reward? Could he legitimately present this to Jesus, or was it a bold faced lie?

Some believe that it was nothing more than a lie. And why not? Satan is a liar par excellence. Moreover, doesn’t Psalm 24:1 say that “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein”?

Satan is a liar. And the earth is the Lord’s. Nevertheless, as with so many biblical doctrines, one must allow the totality of the biblical data to nuance specific texts. God as Creator owns the deed to the world. This world, however, has become infected with sin, and is occupied by foreign armies. It is this latter fact that allows Satan to, in a very real sense, offer the kingdoms of the world to Christ (2 Cor. 4:4).

Unlike the first Adam, the second Adam, Jesus Christ, overcomes Satan’s temptations and subdues the foul beast, thereby reclaiming all rights to the world. As the God-man, this king will eradicate evil and expand his kingdom to the four corners of the globe, effectively driving out Satan’s presence. In the end, every enemy will be made Christ’s footstool (Heb 10:12-13), and the world will be made right again.

Observation Four: Ignominy

The serpent is going to be crushed, and it’s going to be done in a way that abases him, even humiliates him. This is seen in the curse God pronounces upon the serpent. The text reads, “On your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life” (Gen 3:14).  The idea of being brought low or humbled is bound up with the concept of being made to crawl along the ground and eat dust. It is a phrase designed for one’s enemies.

Similar expressions are used elsewhere in Scripture. While invoking blessings for the Davidic throne, the psalmist declares, “May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth! May desert tribes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust” (Psa 72:8-9)!

A similar thought is expressed in the seventh chapter of Micah,

“The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might; they shall lay their hands on their mouths; their ears shall be deaf; they shall lick the dust like a serpent, like the crawling things of the earth; they shall come trembling out of their strongholds; they shall turn in dread to the LORD our God, and they shall be in fear of you.” (Mic 7:16-17; See also Isaiah 49:23; Psalm 44:25).

With their usual insight, Keil-Delitzsch explains the matter this way,

“Going upon the belly was a mark of the deepest degradation… Although this punishment fell literally upon the serpent, it also affected the tempter in a figurative and symbolical sense. He became the object of the utmost contempt and abhorrence; and the serpent still keeps the revolting image of Satan perpetually before the eye.”

It is this theme of “deepest degradation” that most threatens the proud. Suffering defeat is an unpleasant thing. But there is no greater pain for those with a haughty spirit than to suffer the sting of defeat, while being made to look like a fool. As Martin Luther once quipped, “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.”

Indeed, the proud cannot bear to be mocked. It is for this reason that God causes the devil to lick the dust.

(1) For example, is our history a Neo-Darwinian tale of tooth and claw, an evolutionary struggle of biological progress; or might it be the cyclical view of the Greeks; or perhaps Hegel’s endless and anti-climactic story of synthesis; or perhaps it is Marx’s vision of a triumphant proletariat?

 

4 Comments

  1. Phil Pockras March 5, 2015 at 6:54 pm #

    In the reclamation, God tells of the crushing and bruising, or what we call the Protevangelium, the first shadowy prophesy, the first Word of the Gospel. With the Word came Sacrament in v 21. Jehovah strips away the self-made covering of shame (the pathetic fig leaves) and clothes with “another”. Blood of an animal is shed, and Adam and Ishshah (she’s not re-named Hevah or Eve, yet) are covered by another. It is a picture and seal of the Gospel already preached. The Seed Who would come (Who *has* come, for us!) would shed His blood so that the godly would be covered in His righteousness.

    Another well-thought-out and edifying article, Austin. Thanks.

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