Genesis 3:15
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; it shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
Genesis 3:15. I will put enmity, &c. — The whole race of serpents are, of all creatures, the most disagreeable and terrible to mankind, and especially to women: but the devil, who seduced the woman, and his angels, are here meant, who are hated and dreaded by all men, even by those that serve them, but more especially by good men. And between thy seed — All carnal and wicked men, who, in reference to this text, are called the children and seed of Satan; and her seed — That is, her offspring, first and principally CHRIST, who, with respect to this promise, is termed, by way of eminence, her seed, (see Galatians 3:16; Galatians 3:19,) whose alone work it is to bruise the serpent’s head, to destroy the policy and power of the devil. But also, secondly, all the members of Christ, all believers and holy men, are here intended, who are the seed of Christ and the implacable enemies of the devil and his works, and who overcome him by Christ’s merit and power.

It shall bruise thy head — The principal instrument of the serpent’s fury and mischief, and of his defence; and also the chief seat of his life, which, therefore, men chiefly strike at, and which, being upon the ground, a man may conveniently tread upon and crush to pieces. Applied to Satan, this denotes his subtlety and power, producing death, which Christ, the Seed of the woman, destroys by taking away its sting, which is sin.

Thou shalt bruise his heel — The part which is most within the serpent’s reach, and on which, being bruised by it, the serpent is provoked to fix its venomous teeth, but a part remote from the head and heart, and therefore wounds there, though painful, are yet not deadly nor dangerous, if they be observed in time. Understood of Christ, the seed of the woman, his heel means, first, his humanity, whereby he trod upon the earth, and which the devil, through the instrumentality of wicked men, bruised and killed; and, secondly, his people, his members, whom Satan, in divers ways, bruises, vexes, and afflicts while they are on earth, but cannot reach either Christ their head in heaven, or themselves when they shall be advanced thither. In this verse, therefore, notice is given of a perpetual quarrel commenced between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the devil among men: war is proclaimed between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, Revelation 12:7. It is the fruit of this enmity, 1st, That there is a continual conflict between God’s people and him. Heaven and hell can never be reconciled, no more can Satan and a sanctified soul. 2d, That there is likewise a continual struggle between the wicked and the good. And all the malice of persecutors against the people of God is the fruit of this enmity, which will continue while there is a godly man on this side heaven, and a wicked man on this side hell. But, 3d, A gracious promise also is here made of Christ, as the deliverer of fallen man from the power of Satan. By faith in this promise, our first parents, and the patriarchs before the flood, were justified and saved; and to this promise, and the benefit of it, instantly serving God day and night, they hoped to come.3:14,15 God passes sentence; and he begins where the sin began, with the serpent. The devil's instruments must share in the devil's punishments. Under the cover of the serpent, the devil is sentenced to be degraded and accursed of God; detested and abhorred of all mankind: also to be destroyed and ruined at last by the great Redeemer, signified by the breaking of his head. War is proclaimed between the Seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. It is the fruit of this enmity, that there is a continual warfare between grace and corruption, in the hearts of God's people. Satan, by their corruptions, buffets them, sifts them, and seeks to devour them. Heaven and hell can never be reconciled, nor light and darkness; no more can Satan and a sanctified soul. Also, there is a continual struggle between the wicked and the godly in this world. A gracious promise is here made of Christ, as the Deliverer of fallen man from the power of Satan. Here was the drawn of the gospel day: no sooner was the wound given, than the remedy was provided and revealed. This gracious revelation of a Saviour came unasked, and unlooked for. Without a revelation of mercy, giving some hope of forgiveness, the convinced sinner would sink into despair, and be hardened. By faith in this promise, our first parents, and the patriarchs before the flood, were justified and saved. Notice is given concerning Christ. 1. His incarnation, or coming in the flesh. It speaks great encouragement to sinners, that their Saviour is the Seed of the woman, bone of our bone, Heb 2:11,14. 2. His sufferings and death; pointed at in Satan's bruising his heel, that is, his human nature. And Christ's sufferings are continued in the sufferings of the saints for his name. The devil tempts them, persecutes and slays them; and so bruises the heel of Christ, who is afflicted in their afflictions. But while the heel is bruised on earth, the Head is in heaven. 3. His victory over Satan thereby. Christ baffled Satan's temptations, rescued souls out of his hands. By his death he gave a fatal blow to the devil's kingdom, a wound to the head of this serpent that cannot be healed. As the gospel gains ground, Satan falls.Here begins the judgment. Sentence is pronounced upon the serpent in the presence, no doubt, of the man and woman. The serpent is not examined, first, because it is a mute, unreasoning animal in itself, and therefore incapable of judicial examination, and it was the serpent only that was palpable to the senses of our first parents in the temptation; and, secondly, because the true tempter was not a new, but an old offender.

This sentence has a literal application to the serpent. The curse (Genesis 9:25, see the note) of the serpent lies in a more groveling nature than that of the other land animals. This appears in its going on its belly and eating the dust. Other animals have at least feet to elevate them above the dust; the serpent tribe does not have even feet. Other animals elevate the head in their natural position above the soil: the serpent lays its head naturally on the sod, and therefore may be said to eat the dust, as the wounded warrior bites the dust in death. The earthworm is probably included in the description here given of the serpent group. It goes upon its belly, and actually does eat the dust. Eating the dust, like feeding upon ashes, is an expression for signal defeat in every aim. The enmity, the mode of its display, and the issue are also singularly characteristic of the literal serpent.

It is the custom of Scripture jurisprudence to visit brute animals with certain judicial consequences of injuries they have been instrumental in doing to man, especially if this has arisen through the design or neglect of the owner, or other responsible agent Genesis 9:5; Exodus 21:28-36. In the present case the injury done was of a moral, not a physical nature. Hence, the penalty consists in a curse; that is, a state of greater degradation below man than the other land animals. The serpent in the extraordinary event here recorded exercised the powers of human speech and reasoning. And it is natural to suppose that these exhibitions of intelligence were accompanied with an attitude and a gesture above its natural rank in the scale of creation. The effect of the judicial sentence would be to remand it to its original groveling condition, and give rise to that enmity which was to end in its destruction by man.

However, since an evil spirit must have employed the serpent, since the animal whose organs and instincts were most adapted to its purpose, and has accordingly derived its name from it as presenting the animal type most analogous to its own spiritual nature, so the whole of this sentence has its higher application to the real tempter. "Upon thy belly shalt thou go." This is expressive of the lowest stage of degradation to which a spiritual creature can be sunk. "Dust shalt thou eat." This is indicative of disappointment in all the aims of being. "I will put enmity." This is still more strictly applicable to the spiritual enemy of mankind. It intimates a hereditary feud between their respective races, which is to terminate, after some temporary suffering on the part of the woman's seed, in the destruction of the serpent's power against man. The spiritual agent in the temptation of man cannot have literally any seed. But the seed of the serpent is that portion of the human family that continues to be his moral offspring, and follows the first transgression without repentance or refuge in the mercy of God. The seed of the woman, on the other hand, must denote the remnant who are born from above, and hence, turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.

Let us now mark the lessons conveyed in the sentence of the serpent to our first parents, who were listening and looking on. First. The serpent is styled a mere brute animal. All, then, that seemed to indicate reason as inherent in its nature or acquired by some strange event in its history is thus at once contradicted. Second. It is declared to be lower than any of the other land animals; as being destitute of any members corresponding to feet or hands. Third. It is not interrogated as a rational and accountable being, but treated as a mere dumb brute. Fourth. It is degraded from the airs and attitudes which may have been assumed, when it was possessed by a serpent-like evil spirit, and falls back without a struggle to that place of debasement in the animal kingdom for which it was designed. Fifth. It is fated to be disappointed in its aims at usurpation. It shall bite the dust. Sixth. it is doomed to ultimate and utter defeat in its hostile assaults upon the seed of the woman.

All this must have made a deep impression on our first parents. But two things must have struck them with special force. First, it was now evident how vain and hollow were its pretensions to superior wisdom, and how miserably deluded they had been when they listened to its false insinuations. If, indeed, they had possessed maturity of reflection, and taken time to apply it, they would have been strangely bewildered with the whole scene, now that it was past. How the serpent, from the brute instinct it displayed to Adam when he named the animals, suddenly rose to the temporary exercise of reason and speech, and as suddenly relapsed into its former bestiality, is, to the mere observer of nature, an inexplicable phenomenon. But to Adam, who had as yet too limited an experience to distinguish between natural and preternatural events, and too little development of the reflective power to detect the inconsistency in the appearance of things, the sole object of attention was the shameless presumption of the serpent, and the overwhelming retribution which had fallen upon it; and, consequently, the deplorable folly and wickedness of having been misguided by its suggestions.

A second thing, however, was still more striking to the mind of man in the sentence of the serpent; namely, the enmity that was to be put between the serpent and the woman. Up to a certain point there had been concord and alliance between these two parties. But, on the very opening of the heavenly court, we learn that the friendly connection had been broken. For the woman said, "The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat." This expression indicates that the woman was no longer at one with the serpent. She was now sensible that its part had been that, not of friendship, but of guile, and therefore of the deepest and darkest hostility. When God, therefore, said, "I will put enmity between thee and the woman," this revulsion of feeling on her part, in which Adam no doubt joined, was acknowledged and approved. Enmity with the enemy of God indicated a return to friendship with God, and presupposed incipient feelings of repentance toward him, and reviving confidence in his word. The perpetuation of this enmity is here affirmed, in regard not only to the woman, but to her seed. This prospect of seed, and of a godly seed, at enmity with evil, became a fountain of hope to our first parents, and confirmed every feeling of returning reverence for God which was beginning to spring up in their breast. The word heard from the mouth of God begat faith in their hearts, and we shall find that this faith was not slow to manifest itself in acts.

We cannot pass over this part of the sentence without noticing the expression, "the seed of the woman." Does it not mean, in the first instance, the whole human race? Was not this race at enmity with the serpent? And though that part only of the seed of the woman which eventually shared in her present feelings could be said to be at enmity with the serpent spirit, yet, if all had gone well in Adam's family, might not the whole race have been at enmity with the spirit of disobedience? Was not the avenue to mercy here hinted at as wide as the offer of any other time? And was not this universality of invitation at some time to have a response in the human family? Does not the language of the passage constrain us to look forward to the time when the great mass, or the whole of the human race then alive on the earth, will have actually turned from the power of Satan unto God? This could not be seen by Adam. But was it not the plain import of the language, that, unless there was some new revolt after the present reconciliation, the whole race would, even from this new beginning, be at enmity with the spirit of evil? Such was the dread lesson of experience with which Adam now entered upon the career of life, that it was to be expected he would warn his children against departing from the living God, with a clearness and earnestness which would be both understood and felt.

Still further, do we not pass from the general to the particular in the sentence, "He shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel?" Is not the seed of the woman here individualized and matched in deadly conflict with the individual tempter? Does not this phraseology point to some pre-eminent descendant of the woman, who is, with the bruising of his lower nature in the encounter, to gain a signal and final victory over the adversary of man? There is some reason to believe from the expression, "I have gotten a man from the Lord" Genesis 4:1, that Eve herself had caught a glimpse of this meaning, though she applied it to the wrong party. The Vulgate also, in what was probably the genuine reading, "ipse" (he himself) points to the same meaning. The reading "ipsa" (she herself) is inconsistent with the gender of the Hebrew verb, and with that of the corresponding pronoun in the second clause (his), and is therefore clearly an error of the transcriber.

Lastly, the retributive character of the divine administration is remarkably illustrated in the phrase. The serpent, in a wily but dastardly spirit, makes the weaker sex the object of his attack. It is the seed of the woman especially that is to bruise his head. It is singular to find that this simple phrase, coming in naturally and incidentally in a sentence uttered four thousand years, and penned at least fifteen hundred years, before the Christian era, describes exactly and literally Him who was made of woman without the intervention of man, that He might destroy the works of the devil. This clause in the sentence of the tempter is the first dawn of hope for the human family after the fall. We cannot tell whether to admire more the simplicity of its terms, the breadth and comprehensiveness of its meaning, or the minuteness of its application to the far-distant event which it mainly contemplates.

The doom here pronounced upon the tempter must be regarded as special and secondary. It refers to the malignant attack upon man, and foretells what will be the issue of this attempt to spread disaffection among the intelligent creation. And it is pronounced without any examination of the offender, or investigation of his motives. If this had been the first offence against the majesty of heaven, we humbly conceive a solemn precognition of the case would have taken place, and a penalty would have been adjudicated adequate to the magnitude of the crime and analagous to the punishment of death in the case of man. The primary act of defiance and apostasy from the Creator must have been perpetrated without a tempter, and was, therefore, incomparably more heinous than the secondary act of yielding to temptation. Whether the presence of the tempter on earth intimates that it was the place of his abode in a state of innocence, or that he visited it because he had heard of the creation of man, or that he was there from some altogether different reason, is a vain and unprofitable inquiry.

15. thy seed—not only evil spirits, but wicked men.

seed of the woman—the Messiah, or His Church [Calvin, Hengstenberg].

I will put enmity between thee and the woman—God can only be said to do so by leaving "the serpent and his seed to the influence of their own corruption; and by those measures which, pursued for the salvation of men, fill Satan and his angels with envy and rage."

thou shalt bruise his heel—The serpent wounds the heel that crushes him; and so Satan would be permitted to afflict the humanity of Christ and bring suffering and persecution on His people.

it shall bruise thy head—The serpent's poison is lodged in its head; and a bruise on that part is fatal. Thus, fatal shall be the stroke which Satan shall receive from Christ, though it is probable he did not at first understand the nature and extent of his doom.

Vers. 15. Though now ye be sworn friends, leagued together against me,

I will put enmity between thee and the woman; and the man too, but the woman alone is mentioned, for the devil’s greater confusion.

1. The woman, whom, as the weaker vessel, thou didst seduce, shall be the great occasion of thy overthrow.

2. Because the Son of God, who conquered this great dragon and old serpent, Revelation 12:9, who came to destroy the works of the devil, 1Jo 3:8, was made of a woman, Galatians 4:4, without the help of man, Isaiah 7:14 Luke 1:34-35.

Thy seed; literally, this serpent, and, for his sake, the whole seed or race of serpents, which of all creatures are most loathsome and terrible to mankind, and especially to women. Mystically, that evil spirit which seduced her, and with him the whole society of devils, (who are generally hated and dreaded by all men, even by those that serve and obey them, but much more by good men), and all wicked men; who, with regard to this text, are called devils, and the children or

seed of the devil, John 6:70, John 8:44, Acts 13:10 1Jo 3:8.

And her seed, her offspring; first and principally, the Lord Christ, who with respect to this text and promise is called, by way of eminency,

the seed, Galatians 3:16, Galatians 3:19; whose alone work it is to break the serpent’s head, i.e. to destroy the devil, Hebrews 2:14. Compare John 12:31 Romans 16:20.

Secondly, and by way of participation, all the members of Christ, all believers and holy men, who are called the children of Christ, Hebrews 2:13, and of the heavenly Jerusalem, Galatians 4:26. All the members whereof are the seed of this woman; and all these are the implacable enemies of the devil, whom also by Christ’s merit and strength they do overcome.

The head is the principal instrument both of the serpent’s fury and mischief, and of his defence, and the principal seat of the serpent’s life, which therefore men chiefly strike at; and which being upon him ground, a man may conveniently tread upon, and crush it to pieces. In the devil this notes his power and authority over men; the strength whereof consists in death, which Christ, the blessed Seed of the woman, overthroweth by taking away the sting of death, which is sin, 1 Corinthians 15:55-56;

and destroying him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, Hebrews 2:14.

The heel is the part which is most within the serpent’s reach, and wherewith it was bruised, and thereby provoked to fix his venomous teeth there; but a part remote from the head and heart, and therefore its wounds, though painful, are not deadly, nor dangerous, if they be observed in time. If it be applied to the Seed of the woman, Christ, his heel may note either his humanity, whereby he trod upon the earth, which indeed the devil, by God’s permission, and the hands of wicked men, did bruise and kill; or his saints and members upon the earth, whom the devil doth in diverse manners bruise, and vex, and afflict, while he cannot reach their Head, Christ, in heaven, nor those of his members who are or shall be advanced thither. And I will put enmity between thee and the woman,.... Between whom there had been so much familiarity, not only while they had the preceding discourse together, but before; for it is conjectured by some (y), that she took a particular liking to that creature, and was delighted with it, and laid it perhaps in her bosom, adorned her neck with its windings, or made it a bracelet for her arms; and being a peculiar favourite, the devil made choice of it as his instrument to deceive her; but now being beguiled hereby, she conceived an antipathy against it, and which is become natural between the serpent and man; man abhors the sight of a serpent, and the serpent the sight of man; and the spittle of a man and the gall of a serpent are poison to each other; and this antipathy is observed to be stronger in the female sex: and this was not only true of the particular serpent that deceived Eve, and of the particular woman, Eve, deceived by him, but of every serpent and of every woman in successive ages; and is also true of Satan and the church of God in all ages, between whom there is an implacable and an irreconcilable hatred, and a perpetual war:

and between thy seed and her seed; the posterity of Eve, mankind, and the production of serpents, between whom the antipathy still continues, and mystically the evil angels and also wicked men called serpents; and a generation of vipers on the one hand, and the people of God on the other, the seed of the church; the latter of which are hated and persecuted by the former, and so it has been ever since this affair happened: and especially by the seed of the woman may be meant the Messiah; the word "seed" sometimes signifying a single person, Genesis 4:25 and particularly Christ, Galatians 3:16 and he may with great propriety be so called, because he was made of a woman and not begotten by man; and who assumed not an human person, but an human nature, which is called the "holy thing", and the "seed of Abraham", as here the "seed of the woman", as well as it expresses the truth of his incarnation and the reality of his being man; and who as he has been implacably hated by Satan and his angels, and by wicked men, so he has opposed himself to all them that hate and persecute his people:

it shall bruise thy head; the head of a serpent creeping on the ground is easily crushed and bruised, of which it is sensible, and therefore it is careful to hide and cover it. In the mystical sense, "it", or "he, Hu", which is one of the names of God, Psalm 102:27 and here of the Messiah, the eminent seed of the woman, should bruise the head of the old serpent the devil, that is, destroy him and all his principalities and powers, break and confound all his schemes, and ruin all his works, crush his whole empire, strip him of his authority and sovereignty, and particularly of his power over death, and his tyranny over the bodies and souls of men; all which was done by Christ, when he became incarnate and suffered and died, Hebrews 2:14.

And thou shall bruise his heel; the heel of a man being what the serpent can most easily come at, as at the heels of horses which it bites, Genesis 49:17 and which agrees with that insidious creature, as Aristotle (z) describes it: this, as it refers to the devil, may relate to the persecutions of the members of Christ on earth, instigated by Satan, or to some slight trouble he should receive from him in the days of his flesh, by his temptations in the wilderness, and agony with him in the garden; or rather by the heel of Christ is meant his human nature, which is his inferior and lowest nature, and who was in it frequently exposed to the insults, temptations, and persecutions of Satan, and was at last brought to a painful and accursed death; though by dying he got an entire victory over him and all his enemies, and obtained salvation for his people. The Targums of Jonathan and Jerusalem paraphrase this passage of the days of the Messiah, and of health and salvation in them: what is here delivered out in a way of threatening to the serpent the devil, carries in it a kind intimation of grace and good will to fallen man, and laid a foundation for hope of salvation and happiness: reference seems to be had to this passage in Psalm 40:7 "in the volume", in the first roll, , as in the Greek version, at the head, in the beginning "of the book, it is written of me, to do thy will, O my God."

(y) See the Universal History, vol. 1. p. 126. (z) Hist. Animal. l. 1. c. 1.

And I will put enmity between {o} thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy {p} head, and thou shalt {q} bruise his heel.

(o) He chiefly means Satan, by whose action and deceit the serpent deceived the woman.

(p) That is, the power of sin and death.

(q) Satan shall sting Christ and his members, but not overcome them.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
15. and I will put enmity] The first meaning of this sentence refers to the instinctive antipathy of mankind towards the serpent, and the frequently deadly character of the wounds inflicted by serpents upon human beings.

But this explanation does not exhaust the full meaning of the verse. The narrator tells the story, not in the spirit of a compiler of folk-lore, but with the purpose of embodying in it the truths of religion. The hostility between the serpent and the woman, between the serpent’s seed and the woman’s seed, typifies the unending conflict between all that represents the forces of evil on the one hand, and all that represents the true and high destiny of mankind on the other. Upon this antagonism Jehovah has, as it were, set His seal from the very beginning. He has ordained it. There must be war between every form of evil and the children of man. This verse has been called the Protevangelium. There is no prediction of a personal victor, or even of an ultimate victory. Commentators used to see in the words, “thou shalt bruise his heel,” a prediction of the sufferings and crucifixion of our Lord, as “the seed” of the woman; and in the words, “it shall bruise thy head,” the victory of the Crucified and Risen Son of Man over the forces of sin and death. We are not justified in going to the full length of this interpretation. The victory of the Cross contains, in its fullest expression, the fulfilment of the conflict, which God here proclaims between Mankind and the symbol of Evil, and in which He Himself espouses the cause of man. The Conflict and the Victory are oracularly announced. But there is no prediction of the Personal Messiah.

enmity] An unusual word in the Hebrew, occurring elsewhere in O.T. only in Numbers 35:21-22, Ezekiel 25:15; Ezekiel 35:5. LXX ἔχθραν, Lat. inimicitias. It denotes the “blood-feud” between the man and the serpent-race.

bruise] The Hebrew word rendered “bruise” is the same in both clauses. Suitable as it is in its application to the “crushing” of a serpent’s head beneath a man’s foot, it is unsuitable as applied to the serpent’s attack upon the man’s heel. Accordingly some scholars prefer the rendering “aim at,” from a word of a similar root meaning to “pant” or “pant after.” So the R.V. marg. lie in wait for (which, however, the root can hardly mean). The LXX has watch, τήρησει and τήρησεις, probably with the same idea. Vulg. has conteret = “shall bruise,” in the first clause; insidiaberis = “shalt lie in wait for,” in the second clause. It has been conjectured that the root shûph = “bruise,” may have had some special secondary meaning in which it was used of the serpent’s bite.

The Vulgate ipsa conteret caput tuum is noticeable. By an error, it rendered the Heb. masc. pronoun (“he” = LXX αὐτός) by the feminine pronoun “ipsa,” ascribing to the woman herself, not to her seed, the crushing of the serpent’s head. The feminine pronoun has given rise to some singular instances of exegesis in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary.Verse 15. - And I will put enmity between thee and the woman. Referring -

1. To the fixed and inveterate antipathy between the serpent and the human race (Bush, Lange); to that alone (Knobel).

2. To the antagonism henceforth to be established between the tempter and mankind (Murphy); to that alone (Calvin, Bonar, Wordsworth, Macdonald). And between thy seed and her seed. Here the curse manifestly outgrows the literal serpent, and refers almost exclusively to the invisible tempter. The hostility commenced between the woman and her destroyer was to be continued by their descendants - the seed of the serpent being those of Eve's posterity who should imbibe the devil's spirit and obey the devil's rule (cf. Matthew 23:33; 1 John 3:10); and the seed of the woman signifying those whose character and life should be of an opposite description, and in particular the Lord Jesus Christ, who is styled by preeminence "the Seed" (Galatians 3:16, 19), and who came "to destroy the works of the devil" (Hebrews 2:4; 1 John 3:8). This we learn from the words which follow, and which, not obscurely, point to a seed which should be individual and personal. It - or he; αὐτος (LXX.); not ipsa (Vulgate, Augustine, Ambrose, Gregory the Great; later Romish interpreters understanding the Virgin) - shall bruise.

1. Shall crush, trample down - rendering שׁוּפ by torero or conterere (Vulgate, Syriac, Samaritan, Tuch, Baumgarten, Keil, Kalisch).

2. Shall pierce, wound, bite - taking the verb as - שָׁפַפ, to bite (Furst, Calvin).

3. Shall watch, lie in wait = שָׁאַפ (LXX., τηρήσει - Wordsworth suggests as the correct reading τερήσει, from τερέω, perforo, vulnero - Gesenius, Knobel). The word occurs only in two other places in Scripture - Job 9:17; Psalm 139:11 - and in the latter of these the reading is doubtful (cf. Perowne on Psalm in loco). Hence the difficulty of deciding with absolute certainty between these rival interpretations. Psalm 91:13 and Romans 16:20 appear to sanction the first; the second is favored by the application of the same word to the hostile action of the serpent, which is not treading, but biting; the feebleness of the third is its chief objection. Thy head. I.e. the superior part of thee (Calvin), meaning that the serpent would be completely destroyed, the head of the reptile being that part of its body in which a wound was most dangerous, and which the creature itself instinctively protects; or the import of the expression may be, He shall attack thee in a bold and manly way (T. Lewis). And thou shalt bruise his heel. I.e. the inferior part (Calvin), implying that in the conflict he would be wounded, but not destroyed; or "the biting of the heel may denote the mean, insidious character of the devil's warfare" (T. Lewis). The sentence follows the examination, and is pronounced first of all upon the serpent as the tempter: "Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed before all cattle, and before every beast of the field." מן, literally out of the beasts, separate from them (Deuteronomy 14:2; Judges 5:24), is not a comparative signifying more than, nor does it mean by; for the curse did not proceed from the beasts, but from God, and was not pronounced upon all the beasts, but upon the serpent alone. The κτίσις, it is true, including the whole animal creation, has been "made subject to vanity" and "the bondage of corruption," in consequence of the sin of man (Romans 8:20-21); yet this subjection is not to be regarded as the effect of the curse, which was pronounced upon the serpent, having fallen upon the whole animal world, but as the consequence of death passing from man into the rest of the creation, and thoroughly pervading the whole. The creation was drawn into the fall of man, and compelled to share its consequences, because the whole of the irrational creation was made for man, and made subject to him as its head; consequently the ground was cursed for man's sake, but not the animal world for the serpent's sake, or even along with the serpent. The curse fell upon the serpent for having tempted the woman, according to the same law by which not only a beast which had injured a man was ordered to be put to death (Genesis 9:5; Exodus 21:28-29), but any beast which had been the instrument of an unnatural crime was to be slain along with the man (Leviticus 20:15-16); not as though the beast were an accountable creature, but in consequence of its having been made subject to man, not to injure his body or his life, or to be the instrument of his sin, but to subserve the great purpose of his life. "Just as a loving father," as Chrysostom says, "when punishing the murderer of his son, might snap in two the sword or dagger with which the murder had been committed." The proof, therefore, that the serpent was merely the instrument of an evil spirit, does not lie in the punishment itself, but in the manner in which the sentence was pronounced. When God addressed the animal, and pronounced a curse upon it, this presupposed that the curse had regard not so much to the irrational beast as to the spiritual tempter, and that the punishment which fell upon the serpent was merely a symbol of his own. The punishment of the serpent corresponded to the crime. It had exalted itself above the man; therefore upon its belly it should go, and dust it should eat all the days of its life. If these words are not to be robbed of their entire meaning, they cannot be understood in any other way than as denoting that the form and movements of the serpent were altered, and that its present repulsive shape is the effect of the curse pronounced upon it, though we cannot form any accurate idea of its original appearance. Going upon the belly ( equals creeping, Leviticus 11:42) was a mark of the deepest degradation; also the eating of dust, which is not to be understood as meaning that dust was to be its only food, but that while crawling in the dust it would also swallow dust (cf. Micah 7:17; Isaiah 49:23). Although this punishment fell literally upon the serpent, it also affected the tempter if a figurative or 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. This degradation was to be perpetual. "While all the rest of creation shall be delivered from the fate into which the fall has plunged it, according to Isaiah 65:25, the instrument of man's temptation is to remain sentenced to perpetual degradation in fulfilment of the sentence, 'all the days of thy life.' and thus to prefigure the fate of the real tempter, for whom there is no deliverance" (Hengstenberg, Christology Genesis 1:15). - The presumption of the tempter was punished with the deepest degradation; and in like manner his sympathy with the woman was to be turned into eternal hostility (Genesis 3:15). God established perpetual enmity, not only between the serpent and the woman, but also between the serpent's and the woman's seed, i.e., between the human and the serpent race. The seed of the woman would crush the serpent's head, and the serpent crush the heel of the woman's seed. The meaning, terere, conterere, is thoroughly established by the Chald., Syr., and Rabb. authorities, and we have therefore retained it, in harmony with the word συντρίβειν in Romans 16:20, and because it accords better and more easily with all the other passages in which the word occurs, than the rendering inhiare, to regard with enmity, which is obtained from the combination of שׁוּף with שׁאף. The verb is construed with a double accusative, the second giving greater precision to the first (vid., Ges. 139, note, and Ewald, 281). The same word is used in connection with both head and heel, to show that on both sides the intention is to destroy the opponent; at the same time, the expressions head and heel denote a majus and minus, or, as Calvin says, superius et inferius. This contrast arises from the nature of the foes. The serpent can only seize the heel of the man, who walks upright; whereas the man can crush the head of the serpent, that crawls in the dust. But this difference is itself the result of the curse pronounced upon the serpent, and its crawling in the dust is a sign that it will be defeated in its conflict with man. However pernicious may be the bite of a serpent in the heel when the poison circulates throughout the body (Genesis 49:17), it is not immediately fatal and utterly incurable, like the cursing of a serpent's head.

But even in this sentence there is an unmistakable allusion to the evil and hostile being concealed behind the serpent. That the human race should triumph over the serpent, was a necessary consequence of the original subjection of the animals to man. When, therefore, God not merely confines the serpent within the limits assigned to the animals, but puts enmity between it and the woman, this in itself points to a higher, spiritual power, which may oppose and attack the human race through the serpent, but will eventually be overcome. Observe, too, that although in the first clause the seed of the serpent is opposed to the seed of the woman, in the second it is not over the seed of the serpent but over the serpent itself that the victory is said to be gained. It, i.e., the seed of the woman will crush thy head, and thou (not thy seed) wilt crush its heel. Thus the seed of the serpent is hidden behind the unity of the serpent, or rather of the foe who, through the serpent, has done such injury to man. This foe is Satan, who incessantly opposes the seed of the woman and bruises its heel, but is eventually to be trodden under its feet. It does not follow from this, however, apart from other considerations, that by the seed of the woman we are to understand one solitary person, one individual only. As the woman is the mother of all living (Genesis 3:20), her seed, to which the victory over the serpent and its seed is promised, must be the human race. But if a direct and exclusive reference to Christ appears to be exegetically untenable, the allusion in the word to Christ is by no means precluded in consequence. In itself the idea of זרע, the seed, is an indefinite one, since the posterity of a man may consist of a whole tribe or of one son only (Genesis 4:25; Genesis 21:12-13), and on the other hand, an entire tribe may be reduced to one single descendant and become extinct in him. The question, therefore, who is to be understood by the "seed" which is to crush the serpent's head, can only be answered from the history of the human race. But a point of much greater importance comes into consideration here. Against the natural serpent the conflict may be carried on by the whole human race, by all who are born of a woman, but not against Satan. As he is a fore who can only be met with spiritual weapons, none can encounter him successfully but such as possess and make use of spiritual arms. Hence the idea of the "seed" is modified by the nature of the foe. If we look at the natural development of the human race, Eve bore three sons, but only one of them, viz., Seth, was really the seed by whom the human family was preserved through the flood and perpetuated in Noah: so, again, of the three sons of Noah, Shem, the blessed of Jehovah, from whom Abraham descended, was the only one in whose seed all nations were to be blessed, and that not through Ishmael, but through Isaac alone. Through these constantly repeated acts of divine selection, which were not arbitrary exclusions, but were rendered necessary by differences in the spiritual condition of the individuals concerned, the "seed," to which the victory over Satan was promised, was spiritually or ethically determined, and ceased to be co-extensive with physical descent. This spiritual seed culminated in Christ, in whom the Adamitic family terminated, henceforward to be renewed by Christ as the second Adam, and restored by Him to its original exaltation and likeness to God. In this sense Christ is the seed of the woman, who tramples Satan under His feet, not as an individual, but as the head both of the posterity of the woman which kept the promise and maintained the conflict with the old serpent before His advent, and also of all those who are gathered out of all nations, are united to Him by faith, and formed into one body of which He is the head (Romans 16:20). On the other hand, all who have not regarded and preserved the promise, have fallen into the power of the old serpent, and are to be regarded as the seed of the serpent, whose head will be trodden under foot (Matthew 23:33; John 8:44; 1 John 3:8). If then the promise culminates in Christ, the fact that the victory over the serpent is promised to the posterity of the woman, not of the man, acquires this deeper significance, that as it was through the woman that the craft of the devil brought sin and death into the world, so it is also through the woman that the grace of God will give to the fallen human race the conqueror of sin, of death, and of the devil. And even if the words had reference first of all to the fact that the woman had been led astray by the serpent, yet in the fact that the destroyer of the serpent was born of a woman (without a human father) they were fulfilled in a way which showed that the promise must have proceeded from that Being, who secured its fulfilment not only in its essential force, but even in its apparently casual form.

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