Genesis 3:14–15 (ESV) — 14 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. 15 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.”
Having successfully tempted Adam and Eve with a sneer…
- And thereby leading them to question God’s goodness and eating the fruit…
- God, grounded in His holiness and justice, judges the Serpent.
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.
The curse invoked against the Serpent by God is twofold:
- “on your belly you shall go”
- “dust you shall eat all the days of your life”
- We will see what these mean momentarily.
Concerning curses in the OT generally:
- “Only God can actually impose [them], and thus it supposes, even if spoken by a man [as they are elsewhere in the OT]” that only God can carry them out – Mathews.
What is striking, however, is that apparently God’s curse of the Serpent leaves no room for its redemption.
- “[God] only has words of condemnation for the serpent, whereas the man and woman receive God’s continued concern and provision in the midst of their punishment” – Mathews.
Throughout the OT, God’s judgment often seeks to bring about restoration.
- The language of God is often something like, “return to me and I will return to you”.
- And yet, it appears God has no concern for the restoration of the Serpent.
- Is this because of the Serpent’s will or God’s sovereign ordaining?
Application of Curse:
Now, how one understands the application of God’s curse to the Serpent depends on how one views the Serpent.
- In other words, the meaning of “on your belly” and “dust you shall eat” depends on what the Serpent was.
- As we saw a few weeks ago – the NT identifies the Serpent as Satan.
- But, we saw that there are a number of ideas as to how Satan relates to the Serpent.
We saw at least three views…
- (1) As a literal talking snake.
- (2) As a serpent like creature “used” by Satan.
- (3) As “A divine being who conversed with Eve and deceived her” – Heiser.
BTW – Ezekiel’s King of Tyre passage (King of Tyre = Satan) is cited as textual support for (3).
- Ezekiel 28:13–14 (ESV) — 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created they were prepared. 14 You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.
How Curse Plays Out:
1) So for those that hold to number (1) (and possibly (2)), the curse plays out as follows:
“The serpent was uniquely cursed by being made to slither on its belly. It probably had legs before this curse. Now snakes represent all that is odious, disgusting, and low. They are branded with infamy and avoided with fear” – John MacArthur.
This view might create an unnecessary conflict between God’s world and God’s word.
- This is simply because snakes make huge, positive contributions to an ecosystem’s health.
- In fact, this contribution actually saves image-bearers lives.
- Snakes reduce pest populations – mice and rats – pests spread disease and are hosts for ticks that spread disease.
- And snake venom is used in drugs that benefit humans.
For those of us who have a high view of Scripture – we need to remember something…
- The literal meaning of a text may not be the same as taking the text literally.
- The figurative meaning can be the literal meaning and intent of the author.
- So to best understand our text – both 14 and 15 – we might need to consider laying aside the idea of a talking snake with legs.
In other words, Moses’ intent may not be to explain why:
- Snakes are hated.
- Why they crawl on the ground.
Moses’ intent might be to reveal certain things about the Serpent in the context of Redemptive History as he unfolds it in the Pentateuch.
- Under view (3), for example, the Serpent language tells us that the divine created being (identified as Satan in the NT) is in opposition to God – evil.
- Walton says, “It would have been evident to the Israelite audience that the serpent represented something evil” – Walton.
- Heiser says the Serpent language “indicates that the serpent [is] God’s cosmic enemy” – Heiser.
In other words, ANE symbolism is at work here.
- The Serpent reveals that this creature is something that opposes God’s order, purpose and function for creation.
2) This leads us to the second possibility for what the belly and dust language mean.
- “The writer clearly intends these two facts [belly and dust] to be expressions of humiliation and subjugation” of the rebellious Serpent – Hamilton.
- As Heiser puts it, “the Serpent…has been made docile (i.e., he is defeated)” – Michael Heiser.
- The intent is not to tell us that snakes live on dust (which they don’t), “rather it is figurative for abject humiliation, especially of [God’s] enemies” – Gordon Wenham.
“The curse on the serpent can be understood as wishing upon it a status associated with docility (crawling on belly) and death (eating dust).” – John Walton.
This take on the figurative meaning of “dust” as humiliation is supported textually elsewhere in the OT.
- Psalm 72:9 (ESV) — 9 May desert tribes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust!
- Isaiah 49:23 (ESV) — 23 Kings shall be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers. With their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you, and lick the dust of your feet. Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.”
- Micah 7:16–17 (ESV) — 16 The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might; they shall lay their hands on their mouths; their ears shall be deaf; 17 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.
BTW – As these OT texts reveal, this view of the curse also means that through this humiliation and subjugation of the Serpent/Satan –
- The Serpent “will know that I am the Lord” (Isaiah 49:23).
- Or certainly be constantly reminded of such.
- God is Creator – Serpent is Creature
BTW 2 – What did Jesus presumably wipe off of the disciples feet?
- Surely, the symbolism of His act of selfless service extends to the OT meaning of dust.
- Jesus was wiping away death and humiliation by taking it upon Himself.
There is also a New Testament allusion to this humiliation of the Serpent by Jesus.
- Luke 10:17–18 (ESV) — 17 The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18 And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.
Michael Heiser sums up this discussion beautifully:
“The serpent is a divine [yet created] enemy of God rather than a member of the animal kingdom. As such, this text contains a prophecy indicating that animosity and spiritual war will ensue between the serpent and humanity” – Heiser.
This leads us to verse 15.
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.
God goes on to articulate a new state of affairs between the Serpent and humanity.
- God will “put enmity” between the Serpent and Eve.
- And more than that, also between their offspring.
- As a result of this “enmity” both sides shall be bruised.
- And the Serpent will come out on the losing end.
“Enmity” means that the relationship is now one of hostility.
- The idea is that the Serpent will now be treated as the enemy.
- As Wenham points out, “Those who had been in league against their creator will from now on be fighting against each other” – Wenham.
- “The language of the passage indicates a life-and-death struggle between combatants” – Mathews.
- And, “More than a change in the serpent’s position is involved here—it is now a question of his existence” – Hamilton.
So what is up with the bruised/strike/crush/attack language?
Victor Hamilton suggests this paraphrase:
- “He shall lie in wait for your head” and “you shall lie in wait for his heel.”
The significance of the passage lies in the contrast between head and heel.
- “The impact delivered by the offspring of the woman ‘at the head’ is mortal, while the serpent will deliver a blow only ‘at the heel’” – Mathews.
Or in its Christological implications…
- “Satan could only ‘bruise’ Christ’s heel (cause Him to suffer), while Christ will bruise Satan’s head (destroy him with a fatal blow)” – John MacArthur.
But who exactly are the combatants?
- Or to put another way, who are the offspring?
We have already mentioned in class the idea that Christ is the Serpent Crusher.
- Does the text support this?
The debate centers on the meaning of “offspring”.
- Is it singular – as in a single person?
- Or is it plural – as in a line of people?
- In other words, is Christ immediately in view here?
Answer and Why Significant:
John Sailhamer suggests patience and caution.
- “In Genesis 1-11 the ‘seed’ is both a select individual and a line from which that individual will come” – John Sailhamer.
“It can thus be a costly mistake to read too much into the text. It can empty the passage of just the kind of meaning one seeks to find already there. Genesis 3:15 is not so much a picture of the messianic redeemer as it is a hint and an affirmation that such a redeemer will come” – John Sailhamer.
- In other words, the text creates an expectation of someone to come and speaks of those already there.
Why is this important to not jump straight to Jesus?
- “The verse is depicting a continual, unresolved conflict between humans and the representatives of evil” – John Walton.
- This historical conflict is part of God’s Redemptive History and the Gospel.
- To discount it is to skip the Gospel work of God as revealed in the Pentateuch and OT.
- God didn’t skip this work, why should we?
- God didn’t go right to Jesus…we need to follow the trail that God gave us.
In fact, throughout the OT there is an expectation that God will provide someone to resolve the conflict.
- This is exactly how the writers of the LXX see Gen. 3:15.
“The oldest Jewish interpretation found in the third century b.c. Septuagint, the Palestinian targums (Ps.-J., Neof., Frg.), and possibly the Onqelos targum takes the serpent as symbolic of Satan and look for a victory over him in the days of King Messiah” – Wenham.
NT and Offspring as Christ:
Even when we get to the NT, we shouldn’t be too hasty in our path to Christ as the Serpent Crusher.
The NT makes clear that the Church (like Israel – Adam and Eve’s offspring) is actively involved in the conflict.
- We are not off the hook.
- We are combatants.
- Romans 16:20 (ESV) — 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your [the Church’s] feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
But, alas, ultimately the demise of Satan comes from Jesus Christ.
- “The NT clearly presents Jesus as the ultimate human descendant of Eve who defeats the great enemy” – Heiser.
- Revelation 12:9–11 (ESV) — 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
In fact, Luke’s genealogy partly serves to show Jesus’ connection to Adam.
- And thereby establishes that He is the offspring.
- Luke 3:38 (ESV) — 38 the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.
So the Serpent Crusher is both, the elect of Israel, the Church AND Jesus Christ.
- Yet, as we have seen, Israel and the Church ultimately were/are unable to deliver the deathblow.
- So, as Seth Postell suggests, the OT understands that there is unfinished business – the Serpent must be subdued.
Protoevangelium (First Gospel):
This leaves the door wide open for Jesus.
- “The ultimate victory envisioned in the campaign is not the result of human achievement; it is grounded solely in the sovereign will of God, which will achieve its purpose only by means of the chosen ‘seed’” – John Sailhamer.
- 1 Corinthians 15:24–26 (ESV) — 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
How does Satan strike the heel of the Church?
- How does the Church strike the head of the Serpent?
And who exactly are the offspring of the Serpent?
“Between the perfection described in Genesis 1:31 (‘behold, it was very good’) and the appearance of evil in Genesis 3, something happened. The good creation was corrupted. The little book of Jude and 2 Peter in the New Testament give us clues as to what happened. Jude 1:6 says, ‘The angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day’” – John Piper.