It is, in the first place, unquestionable that a real serpent was engaged in the temptation; so that the opinion of those who maintain that the serpent is only a symbolical signification of the evil spirit, cannot be admitted. There must be unity and uniformity in the interpretation of a connected passage. But the allegorical interpretation of the whole is rendered impossible by the following considerations: -- The passage stands in a book of a strictly historical character; it is connected with what follows, where the history of the same pair who, in this section appear as actors, is carried forward; the condition of mankind announced to them in this passage as a punishment, actually exists; there is the absence of every indication from which it might be inferred that the author intended to write an allegory, and not a history; there exist various passages of the New Testament (e.g., 2 Cor. xi.3; 1 Tim. ii.13, 14; Rom. v.12), in which the context of the passage before us is referred to as a real historical fact; -- and there are the embarrassment, ambiguity, and arbitrariness shown by the allegorical interpreters whenever they attempt to exhibit the truth intended to be conveyed; whereas perspicuity is a characteristic essential to an allegory. -- The subtlety of the [Pg 15] serpent, pointed out in chap. iii.1, is a natural attribute of that animal; and the comparison, in this respect, of the serpent with the other beasts, clearly indicates that a real serpent is spoken of. To such an one the denunciation of the punishment must necessarily, in the first instance, be referred. The last two reasons also exclude the opinion that Satan assumed merely the semblance of a serpent.
The serpent itself cannot, however, have acted independently; it can only have served as an instrument to the evil spirit. The position which the serpent would occupy, in the event of our considering it as the self-acting, independent seducer, would be in direct contradiction to the position assigned to the animal creation throughout Holy Scripture -- especially in the history of the creation -- and would break down the limits which, according to it, separate man and beast. By such an assumption we should be transferred from the Israelitish territory -- which is distinguished by the most sharply defined limitations of the respective spheres of God, angels, men, and beasts -- to the heathenish, were these are all mixed up together, and where all the distinctions disappear in the confusion. Such a fact would be altogether isolated and without a parallel in Holy Scripture. Nor is it legitimate to adduce the argument, that the conditions and circumstances of the paradisaic period were different from those of subsequent times. It is indeed true, according to the statements contained in the Mosaic account itself, that the animal world of that time was different from that of the present; but whatever, and how great soever, this difference may have been, it had no reference to the fundamental relation of the beasts; and hence we cannot, from it, explain the high intellectual powers with which the serpent appears endowed, and by the abuse of which it succeeded in seducing men. Man, as the only being on earth created in the likeness and image of God, is, in Gen. i., strictly distinguished from all other living beings, and invested with the dominion over them. Into man alone did God breathe the breath of life (ii.7); and, according to ii.19, 20, man recognises the great gulf which is fixed betwixt him and the world of beasts. This gulf would be entirely filled up, the serpent would altogether step beyond the sphere appointed by the Creator to the world of beasts, if there were no background in Gen. iii.1-5. Further, The words [Pg 16] of the serpent are an effect of wickedness: they raise in man doubts as to the love of God, in order thereby to seduce him to apostasy, and bring about the execution upon him of the fearful threatening, "On the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." The serpent does not stand in the truth; it speaks lies; it represents to man as the highest good, that which in truth is the highest evil. Such language cannot proceed spontaneously from a being, the creation of which falls within the work of the six days during which the whole animal creation was made. For everything created within this space of time was good, according to the remark constantly repeated in the history of creation. To this we must add the nature of the curse itself, in which a higher reference to an invisible author of the temptation shines clearly through the lower reference to the visible one; and, further, the remark in iii.1, "Now the serpent was more subtle," etc., evidently points to something beyond the natural subtlety of the serpent, as the result of which the subsequent words cannot be understood, but behind which we may discover the intimation: let him who reads, understand.
The view, that the serpent was the sole independent agent in this transaction, is thus refuted by internal reasons. It is set aside by the testimony of tradition also. It was an opinion universally prevalent among the Jews, that Satan himself had been active in the temptation of the first man. It is found in Philo; and in the Book of Wisdom, ii.24, it is said, "By the envy of Satan, death came into the world." In the later Jewish writings, Sammael, the head of the evil spirits, is called [Hebrew: hnHw hqdmvni] "the old serpent," or simply [Hebrew: nHw] "serpent," because in the form of a serpent he tempted Eve. (See the passage in Eisenmenger's entdecktes Judenthum i. S.822.) In the sacred books of the Persians also, the agency of Satan in the fall of our first parents is taught. According to the Zendavesta (ed. by Kleuker, Th.3, S.84, 85), the first men, Meshia and Meshianeh, were created by God in a state of purity and goodness, and destined for happiness, on condition of humility of heart, obedience to the requirements of the law, and purity in thoughts, words, and actions. But they were deceived by Ahriman, "this mischievous one who from the beginning sought only to deceive, were induced to rebel against God, and forfeited their happiness by the eating of fruits." According to the same book (Th. iii. [Pg 17] S.62), Ahriman in the form of a serpent springs down from heaven to earth; and another evil spirit is called (Th. ii. S.217) the serpent -- Dew. (Compare Rhode, die heilige Sage des Zendvolkes, S.392.) These facts prove that at the time when the Persian religion received Jewish elements (compare Stuhr, die Religionssysteme des Orientes, S.373), and hence, soon after the captivity, the doctrine of Satan's agency in the temptation of our first parents was prevalent among the Jews.
But of decisive weight upon this point is the evidence furnished by the New Testament. We must here above all consider the important testimony supplied by the fact of the history of the first and second Adam being parallel (Rom. v.12 sqq.; 1 Cor. xv.45 sqq.), -- a testimony, the weight and importance of which have, in modern times, been again pointed out by Hahn in his Dogmatik. The necessity of Christ's temptation by the prince of this world, in order that He, by His firm resistance, might deprive him of his dominion over mankind, indicates that Adam was assailed by the same tempter, and, by being overcome, laid the foundation of that dominion.
Among the express verbal testimonies of the New Testament, we must first consider the declarations of the Lord Himself; and among these the passage John viii.44 requires, above all, to be examined. In that passage the Lord says: [Greek: humeis ek tou patros tou diabolou este, kai tas epithumias tou atros humon thelete poiein. Ekeinos anthropoktonos en ap' arches, kai en te aletheia ouch hesteken. hoti ouk estin aletheia en auto. hOtan lale to pseudos, ek ton idion lalei. hoti pseustes esti kai ho pater autou.] There is, indeed, an element of truth in the opinion, that Satan is in this passage called the murderer of men from the beginning, with reference to the murder by Cain -- an opinion lately brought forward again by Nitzsch, Luecke, and others. This is evident from a comparison of 1 John iii.12, 15, and of Rev. xii.3. (See my commentary on this passage.) Moreover, the words in ver.40, "Ye seek to kill Me," have a more direct parallelism in Cain's murder of his brother, than in the death which Satan brought upon our first parents; although it is altogether wrong to maintain, as Luecke does, that Satan at that time committed only a spiritual murder, which could not have come under notice. Bodily death also came upon mankind through the [Pg 18] temptation. (Compare Gen. ii.17, iii.19; Wisd. ii.24; Rom. v.12.) But when the reference to Cain's slaying his brother is brought forward as the sole, or even as the principal one, we must absolutely reject it. Cain's murder of his brother comes into consideration only as an effect of the evil principle which was introduced into human nature by the first temptation; as, indeed, it appears in the book of Genesis itself as the fruit of the poisonous tree, the planting of which is detailed in chap. iii. The same murderous spirit which impelled Satan to bring man under the dominion of death by the lie, "Ye shall not surely die," was busy in Cain also, and seduced him to slay his pious brother. The following reasons forbid an exclusive reference to the deed of Cain: -- 1. The murdering of man by Satan is brought into the closest connection with his lie. In connection with Cain's deed, however, there was not even the appearance of falsehood; while, in the case before us, lies, false and deceitful promises of high blessings to be attained, and the raising of suspicions against God, were the very means by which he seduced man, and brought him under the power of sin. The words of Jesus, when they are understood according to their simple meaning, carry us back to an event in the primitive times, in which murder and the spirit of falsehood went hand in hand.2. The co-operation of Satan in Cain's deed is not expressly mentioned in Genesis. That there was any such we can with certainty infer, only if this event be viewed in close connection with what Satan did against our first parents, -- if, behind the serpent, Satan be concealed. Whensoever Jesus has to deal with Jews, He does not teach any mysterious doctrines, but makes an open appeal to the events narrated in Scripture.3. The words, "Ye are of your father the devil," point to the seed of the serpent spoken of in Gen. iii.15.4. The words, "From the beginning," direct to an event which happened at the first beginnings of mankind, and in which our first parents took a part. Whatever this may be, the event in question must be the first in which the devil manifested himself as the murderer of man. Now, as by the Jews of that time the temptation of the first man, in consequence of which death entered the world, was attributed to sin -- and this appears not only from what has been already said, but also from a passage in the Sohar Chadash, referred to by Tholuck, in which the wicked are [Pg 19] called "The children of the old serpent which has slain Adam and all who are descended from him" -- it is evident that, by "the murderer of men from the beginning," Jesus can mean only the first tempter of men. That the words, "from the beginning," refer to the fall of the first man, is also clearly shown by the parallel passages 1 John iii.8, and Rev. xii.9, xx.2.5. Jesus says: Satan stands not in the truth, does not move in its element, because there is no truth in him. This points to a well-known event, in which Satan displayed his lying nature; and such is found only in the account of man's fall.6. Jesus calls Satan not only a liar, but, by way of emphasis, He designates him as the father of lies. But Satan can be designated thus, only with reference to a lie of his which is charged against him by Scripture, and which preceded all lies on earth. Now that is the lie of which we have an account in Gen. iii.4, 5. The words, "and the father of it," correspond with the words, "from the beginning."
Another declaration of our Lord is found in St Matthew xiii.38: [Greek: ta de zizania eisin hoi huioi tou ponerou] (i.e., mali, masculinum, according to Bengel), compared with ver.39: [Greek: ho de echthros ho speiras auta estin ho diabolos.] The children of the wicked one, or of the devil, who are spoken of in this passage, are the seed of the serpent who is mentioned in Gen. iii.15, and to whom allusion is made in the words [Greek: ho speiras auta] also. Less incontrovertible is the passage in St Matthew xxiii.33, where the Lord addressed the Pharisees as [Greek: opheis, gennemata echidnon]. (Compare Matt. xii.34, iii.7.) Olshausen, in his commentary on Matt. iii.7, gives it as his opinion that the serpent designates the diabolic nature. But, according to Matt. xii.34, the point of comparison is only the wickedness ([Greek: poneroi ontes]), and it is quite sufficient to refer it to Ps. cxl.4, where David says of the future enemies of his dynasty and family foreseen by him, "They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent; adders' poison is under their lips" (compare also Ps. lviii.5; Deut. xxxii.33; Isa. lix.5), -- a passage to which special allusion is made in the words, [Greek: pos dunasthe agatha lalein], Matt. xii.34, and in the connection of serpents with vipers, which would be strange when referred to the history of the fall of the first man.
Let us now turn from the Lord to His disciples. Just as is done in the account of the transaction itself, Paul, in 2 Cor. [Pg 20] xi.3 ([Greek: hos ho ophis Euan exepatesen en te panourgia autou]), places the invisible cause of the temptation in the background, and speaks of the visible one only. But that behind the serpent he beholds Satan, appears immediately from ver.14 and 15: [Greek: Kai ou thaumaston. autos gar ho Satanas metaschematizetai eis angelon photos. Ou mega oun ei kai hoi diakonoi autou metaschematizontai hos diakonoi dikaiosunes], where the [Greek: metaschematizetai] is explained by Bengel: "Transformat se: Praesens, i.e., solet se transformare. Fecit id jam in Paradiso." The Apostle alludes to an event narrated in Scripture, where Satan shows himself in this character. But such an occurrence is not found anywhere else than in Gen. iii.4, 5, the only passage where Satan represents himself as the friend and saviour of men. We have here the explanation of the [Greek: exepatesen] in ver.3. -- In Rom. xvi.20, the words, [Greek: hO de Theos tes eirenes suntripsei ton Satanan hupo tous podas humon], contain an allusion to Gen. iii.15, too plain to be mistaken. The Apostle recognises, in the promise of the victory over the serpent given there, a pledge of the victory over Satan. The words of Paul to Elymas in Acts xiii.10, "O thou child of the devil," likewise contain a distinct reference to that which, in the history of man's fall, is written concerning the serpent. In the charge of subtlety, mischief, and enmity to all righteousness which he brings against him, there is an evident allusion to Genesis.
In 1 John iii.8, [Greek: hO poion ten hamartian, ek tou diabolou estin. hoti ap' arches ho diabolos hamartanei], allusion is made to a most heinous sin committed by Satan at the first beginnings of the human race. But of such a sin there is no account, unless Satan be concealed behind the serpent. -- In Rev. xii.9 (comp. xx.2), Satan is called the great dragon, and the old serpent; the last of which designations refers to the passage now under consideration.
The agency of Satan in the fall of man has been controverted, on the plea that, had such been in operation, it ought to have been mentioned. But the absence of any such mention may be explained on the ground that it is not the intention of the holy writers to give any information respecting the existence of the devil, but rather to give an account of his real manifestation, to which, afterwards, the doctrine connected itself. The judgment of the reader should not, as it were, be [Pg 21] anticipated. The simple fact is communicated to him, in order that, from it, he may form his own opinion.
Further, -- It has been asserted that, in the entire Old Testament, and until the time of the Babylonian captivity, no trace of an evil spirit is to be found, and that, hence, it cannot be conceived that his existence is here presupposed. But this assertion may now be regarded as obsolete and without foundation. Closely connected with the affirmation, to which allusion has just been made, is the opinion which assigns the Book of Job to the time of the captivity, an opinion which is now almost universally abandoned. This book must necessarily have been written before the time of the captivity, because Jeremiah refers to it, both in his Prophecies (e.g., Jer. xx.15 sq., which passage evidently rests on Job iii.) and in his Lamentations. (Compare, for a fuller discussion of this subject, Kueper's "Jeremias libror. Sacrorum interpres atque Vindex") The reference in Amos iv.3 to Job ix.8, and several allusions occurring in the Prophecies of Isaiah (e.g., chap. xl.2 and lxi.7, which refer to the issue of Job's history, which is here viewed as a prophecy of the future fate of the Church; the peculiar use of [Hebrew: cba] in xl.2, which alludes to Job vii.1; chap. li.9, which rests on Job xxvi.13), lead us still farther back. The assertion of those also who feel themselves compelled to acknowledge the pre-exilic origin of the book, but who maintain, at the same time, that the Satan of this book is not the Satan of the later books of the Old Testament, but rather a good angel who only holds an odious office, is more and more admitted to be futile; so that we must indeed wonder how even Beck (Lehrwissenschaft i. S.249) could be carried away by it, and could make the attempt to support this pretended fact by the supposition, that the apostasy of part of the angels from God, and their kingdom of darkness, are ever advancing and progressing. The principal evil spirit is, in Zech. iii.1, introduced as the adversary of the holy ones of God; and this very name is sufficient to contradict such a supposition, for the name is descriptive of the wickedness of the character. He who, under all circumstances, is an "adversary," must certainly carry the principle of hatred in his heart. He moves about on the earth for the purpose of finding materials for his accusations, and grounds on which he may raise suspicions. It is a characteristic [Pg 22] feature, that he whose darkness does not comprehend the light, knows of no other piety but that which has its origin in the hope of reward. It is quite evident that it is the desire of his heart to destroy Job by sufferings. The only circumstance which seems to give any countenance to the supposition is, that he appears in the midst of the angels, before the throne of God. But this circumstance is deprived of all its significancy, if the fact be kept in view -- which, indeed, is most evident -- that the book is, from beginning to end, of a purely poetical character. The form of it is easily accounted for by the intention to impress this most important thought: that Satan stands in absolute dependence upon God; that, with all his hatred to the children of God, he can do nothing against them, but must, on the contrary, rather subserve the accomplishment of the thoughts of God's love regarding them. -- Isaiah likewise points to evil spirits in chap. xiii.21, xxxiv.14. (Compare my Comment. on Rev. xviii.2.) -- But even in some passages of the Pentateuch itself, the doctrine regarding Satan is brought before us. It is true that it has been erroneously supposed to be contained in Deut. xxxii.17 (compare on this opinion, my Comment. on Ps. cvi.37); but only bigotry and prejudice can refuse to admit that, under the Asael, to whom, according to Lev. xvi., a goat was sent into the wilderness, Satan is to be understood. (The arguments in support of this view will be found in the author's "Egypt and the Books of Moses," p.168 ff.)
But we must advert to two additional considerations. First, -- To every one who is in the least familiar with the territory [Pg 23] of divine revelation, and who has any conception of the relation in which the Books of Moses stand to the whole succeeding revelation, it will, a priori, be inconceivable, that a doctrine which afterwards occupies so prominent a position in the revealed books should not have already existed, in the germ at least, in the Books of Moses. Secondly, -- We should altogether lose the origin and foundation of the doctrine concerning Satan, if he be removed from, or explained away in, the history of the fall. That the first indication of this doctrine cannot by any means be found in the Book of Job, has already been pointed out by Hofmann, who remarks in the Schriftbeweis i. S.378, that Satan appears in this book as a well-known being, as much so as are the sons of God. Nor is Lev. xvi. an appropriate place for introducing, for the first time, this doctrine into the knowledge of the people. The doctrinal essence of the symbolical action there prescribed is this: -- that Satan, the enemy of the Congregation of God, has no power over those who are reconciled to God; that, with their sins forgiven by God, they may joyfully appear before, and mock and triumph over, him. The whole ritual must have had in it something altogether strange for the Congregation of the Lord, if they had not already known of Satan from some other source. The questions: Who is Asael? What have we to do with him? must have forced themselves upon every one's mind. It is not the custom of Scripture to introduce its doctrines so abruptly, to prescribe any duty which is destitute of the solid foundation of previous instruction.
If thus we may consider it as proved, (1) that the serpent was an agent in the temptation, and (2) that it served only as an instrument to Satan, the real tempter, -- then we have also thereby proved that the curse denounced against the tempter must have a double sense. It must, in the first place, refer to the instrument; but, in its chief import, it must bear upon the real tempter, for it was properly he alone who had done that which merited the punishment and the curse. Let us now, upon this principle, proceed to the interpretation of our passage.
It is said in ver.14: "And Jehovah Elohim said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou shalt be cursed above all cattle and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust thou shalt eat all the days of thy life." -- If we do not [Pg 24] look beyond the serpent, these words have in them something incomprehensible, inasmuch as the serpent is destitute of that responsibility which alone could justify so severe a sentence. There is no difficulty attached to the idea that the serpent must suffer. It shares this fate along with all the other irrational earthly creation, which is made subject to vanity (Rom. viii.20), and which must accompany man, for whose sake it was created, through all the stages of his existence. But the question here at issue is not about mere suffering, but about well-merited punishment. The serpent is not, like the whole remaining earth, cursed for the sake of man (Gen. iii.17), but it is cursed because "it has done this." Punishment presupposes being created in the image of God, and, according to chap. i., such a creation is peculiar only to man. But as soon as we assume the co-operation of an invisible author of the temptation, by whom the serpent was animated, everything which is here threatened against the visible instrument acquires a symbolical meaning. The degradation inflicted upon the latter, -- the announcement of the defeat which it is to sustain in the warfare with man, -- represent in a figure the fate of the real tempter only. The instrument used by him in the temptation is at the same time the symbol of the punishment which he is destined to endure.
Although it be said that the serpent should be "cursed above all cattle," etc., this does not necessarily imply that the other animals are also cursed, any more than the words, "subtle above all the beasts," imply that all other beasts are subtle. It is certainly not always necessary that the whole existing difference should be pointed out. The sense is simply: Thou shalt be more cursed than all cattle. In a similar manner it is said, in the song of Deborah, concerning Jael, "Blessed above women shall Jael be," Judges v.24; for this does not imply that all other women are blessed, but means only that, whether they be blessed or not, Jael, at all events, is the most blessed.
The eating of dust must not be interpreted literally, as if the serpent were to feed upon dust; but, since it is to creep on the ground, it cannot be but that it swallow dust along with its food. Thus we find in Ps. cii., in "the prayer of the afflicted," ver.10, "For I have eaten ashes like bread," used of occasional swallowing of ashes. As an expression of deepest humiliation, the [Pg 25] licking of dust is used in Mic. vii.17, where it is said of the enemies of the Church, "They shall lick dust like the serpent." In Is. xlix.23, compared with Ps. lii.9, the licking up the dust of the feet is likewise inflicted upon the humbled enemies. If, undoubtedly, there be, even in these passages, a slight reference to the one before us, the allusion to it is still plainer in Is. lxv.25, where it is said, "And dust shall be the serpent's meat." Of the denunciation in Gen. iii.14, 15, the eating of dust alone shall remain, while the bruising of the heel shall come to an end. And while all other creatures shall escape from the doom which has come upon them in consequence of the fall of man, the serpent -- the instrument used in the temptation -- shall, agreeably to the words in the sentence of punishment, "All the days of thy life," remain condemned to a perpetual abasement, thus prefiguring the fate of the real tempter, for whom there is no share in the redemption.
The opinion which has been again of late defended by Hofmann and Baumgarten, that the serpent had before the fall the same shape as after it, only that after the fall it possesses as a punishment what before the fall was its nature, stands plainly opposed to the context. Even a priori, and in accordance with Satan's usual mode of proceeding, it is probable that he, who loves to transform himself into an angel of light, should have chosen an attractive and charming instrument of temptation. This view loses all that is strange in it, if only we consider the change of the serpent, not as an isolated thing, but in connection with the great change which, after the fall of man, affected the whole nature (comp. Gen. i.31, according to which the entire animal creation had, previously to the fall, impressed upon it the image of man's innocence and peace, and the law of destruction did not pervade it, Gen. iii.17; Rom. viii.20); and if only we keep in mind that, before the fall, the whole animal world was essentially different from what it is now, so that we cannot by any means think of forming to ourselves a distinct Image of the serpent, as Luther and others have done.
The serpent is thus, by its disgusting form, and by the degradation of its whole being, doomed to be the visible representative of the kingdom of darkness, and of its head, to whom it had served as an instrument. But the words, when applied to the head himself, give expression to the idea: "extreme contempt, [Pg 26] shame, and abasement shall be thy lot." Thus Calmet remarks on this passage: "This enemy of mankind crawls, as it were, on his belly, on account of the shame and disgrace to which he is reduced." Satan imagined that, by means of the fall of man, he would enlarge his kingdom and extend his power. But to the eye of God the matter appeared in a totally different light, because, along with the fall, He beheld the redemption.
Ver.15. "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; and it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise its heel." In the two other passages where the word [Hebrew: wvP] occurs (Ps. cxxxix.11 [compare my commentary on that passage] and Job ix.17), it undeniably signifies: "to crush," "to bruise." This signification, therefore, which is confirmed by the Chaldee Paraphrast, and which Paul also follows in Rom. xvi.20 ([Greek: suntripsei], whilst the LXX. have [Greek: teresei]), must here also be retained. It is only in appearance that, in the second passage referred to, the signification "to crush" seems to be inappropriate; for there, "to crush" is used in the sense of "to destroy," "to annihilate," just as in Jonah iv.7, "to strike" is used of the sting of an insect, because its effect is similar to that produced by a stroke. The words [Hebrew: raw] and [Hebrew: eqb] are a second accusative governed by the verb, whereby the place of the action is more distinctly marked out. That by "head" and "heel" -- a majus and a minus -- a victory of mankind over the seed of the serpent should be signified, was seen by Calvin, who says, "Meanwhile we see how graciously the Lord deals even in the punishment of men, inasmuch as He does not give the serpent power to do more than wound the heel, while to man is given the power of wounding its head. For the words 'head' and 'heel' point out only what is superior and what is inferior." That these words are by no means intended to describe the mutual antipathy between men and serpents, is rendered evident by the consideration, that, if such were the intention, no special punishment would be denounced against the serpent, while, according to the context, such denunciation is certainly designed by the writer. The words treat of the punishment of the serpent; it is only in ver.16 that the sentence against man is proclaimed. It is true that the bite of a serpent is dangerous when it is applied even to the heel, for the poison thence penetrates the whole body; but to this fact in natural history there is here [Pg 27] no allusion, nor is the biting of the serpent at all the point here in question. The contrast between head and heel is simply that which exists between the noble and less noble parts, -- those parts of which the injury is commonly curable or incurable. The objection: "The serpent creeps, man walks upright; if then an enmity exists between them, how can it be otherwise than that man wounds its head, and that it wounds his heel?" entirely overlooks the consideration, that, according to ver.14, it is in consequence of the divine curse that the serpent creeps in the dust. In this degraded condition -- a condition which is not natural, but inflicted as a punishment -- it is implied that the serpent can attack man at his heel only. This plain connection between ver.15 and 14 is evidently overlooked by those who hold the opinion, that this mutual enmity is pernicious equally to man and serpent. The very circumstance that the serpent is condemned to go on its belly, and to eat dust, whilst man retains that erect walk in which the image of God is reflected, paves the way for the announcement of the victory in ver.16.
Experience bears ample witness to the truth of the divine sentence, that there shall, in future, be enmity between the seed of the serpent and mankind, in so far as this sentence refers to the instrument of the temptation; for abhorrence of the serpent is natural to man. Thus Calvin remarks: "It is in consequence of a secret natural instinct that man abhors them; and as often as the sight of a serpent fills us with horror, the recollection of our apostasy is renewed."
But, in the fate of the serpent which is here announced, there is an indication of the doom of the spiritual author of the temptation. It has been objected that any reference to Satan is inadmissible, because the "seed of the serpent" here spoken of cannot designate wicked men, who are "children of the devil;" for these, too, belong to the seed of the woman, and cannot, therefore, be put in opposition to it. But against this objection Storr, in his treatise, de Protevangelio, remarks: "We easily see that many of the seed of the woman likewise belong to the seed of the serpent; but they have become unworthy of that name, since they apostatized to the common enemy of their race." It is quite true that, by the seed of the woman, her whole progeny is designated; but they who enter into communion [Pg 28] with the hereditary enemy of the human race are viewed as having excommunicated themselves. Compare Gen. xxi.12, where Isaac alone is declared to be the true descendant of Abraham, and his other sons are, as false descendants, excluded. Moreover, not only wicked men, but also the angels of Satan (Matt. xxv.41; Rev. xii.7-9), belong to the seed of the serpent.
The greater number of the earlier Christian interpreters were of opinion that, by the seed of the woman, the Messiah is directly pointed at. But to this opinion it may be objected, that it does violence to the language to understand, by the seed of the woman, any single individual; and the more so, since we are compelled to understand, by the seed of the serpent, a plurality of individuals, viz., the spiritual children of Satan, the heads and members of the kingdom of darkness. Further, -- As far as the sentence has reference to the serpent, the human race alone can be understood by the seed of the woman; and to this, therefore, the victory over the invisible author of the temptation must also be adjudged. The reference to the human race is also indicated by the connection between "her seed" in this verse, and the words, "Thou shalt bring forth sons," in ver.16. Finally, -- As the person of the Messiah does not yet distinctly appear even in the promises to the Patriarchs, this passage cannot well be explained of a personal Messiah; inasmuch as, by such an explanation, the progressive expansion of the Messianic prophecy in Genesis would be destroyed.
If, however, by the seed of the woman we understand the entire progeny of the woman, we obtain the following sense: "It is true that thou hast now inflicted upon the woman a severe wound, and that thou and thine associates will continue to assail her: but, notwithstanding thine eager desire to injure, thou shalt be able to inflict on mankind only such wounds as are curable; while, on the contrary, the posterity of the woman shall, at some future period, vanquish thee, and make thee feel all thy weakness."
This interpretation is found as early as in the Targum of Jonathan, and in that of Jerusalem, where, by the seed of the woman, are understood the Jews, who, at the time of the Messiah, shall overcome Sammael. Thus, too, does Paul explain it in Rom. xvi.20, where the promise is regarded as referring to Christians as a body. It has found, subsequently, an able defender [Pg 29] in Calvin and, in modern times, in Herder. The treatise of Storr, too (in the Opusc. ii.), is devoted to its defence.
Even according to this interpretation, the passage justly bears the name of the Protevangelium, which has been given to it by the Church. It is only in general terms, indeed, that the future victory of the kingdom of light over that of darkness is foretold, and not the person of the Redeemer who should lead in the warfare, and bestow the strength which should be necessary for maintaining it. Anything beyond this we are not even entitled to expect at the first beginnings of the human race; a gradual progress is observable in the kingdom of grace, as well as in that of nature.
It is certainly, however, not a matter of chance that the posterity of the woman is not broken up into a plurality, but that, in order to designate it, expressions in the singular ([Hebrew: zre] and [Hebrew: hva]) are chosen. This unity, which, in the meanwhile, it is true, is only ideal, was chosen with regard to the person of the Redeemer, who comprehends within Himself the whole human race. And it is not less significant, and has certainly a deeper ground, that the victory over the serpent is assigned to the seed of the woman, not to the posterity of Adam; and though, indeed, [Pg 30] the circumstance that the woman was first deceived may have been the proximate cause of it, yet it cannot be exclusively referred to, and derived from, it. By these remarks we come still nearer to the view of the ancient Church.
Footnote 1: So, e.g. Cramer in the Nebenarbeiten zur Theologischen Literatur, St.2.
Footnote 2: The positive reasons by which I there proved the reference to Satan, have not been invalidated by the objections of Hofmann in his Schriftbeweis i.379. He says: As an adjective formed in a manner similar to [Hebrew: qlql] (Num. xxi.6) must have an intransitive signification, it cannot mean "separated," but according to its derivation from [Hebrew: azl] = [Hebrew: ezl], it means: "altogether gone away." But this argument has no force. The real import of the form of the word is gradation, and frequent repetition. Instances of a passive signification are given in Ewald's Lehrbuch der Hebr. Sprache, Sec.157 c.: compare, e.g., Deut. xxxii.5. There is so much the stronger reason for adopting the passive signification, that in Arabic also, -- which alone can be consulted, as the comparison with the Hebrew [Hebrew: azl] has no sure foundation on which to rest, -- the root has the signification: remotus, sepositus fuit, and the participle: a ceteris se sejungens. Compare Egypt and the B. M., p.169.
Footnote 3: He says, -- This, therefore, is the sense of the passage: "The human race, whom Satan had endeavoured to destroy, shall at length be victorious. But, meanwhile, we must bear in mind the mode in which, according to Scripture, that victory is to be achieved. According to his own pleasure, Satan has, through all centuries, led captive the sons of men, and even to this day he continues that sad victory. But, since a stronger one has come down from heaven to subdue him, the whole Church of God shall, under her Head, and like Him, be victorious."
Footnote 4: Briefe das Studium der Theologie betr. ii. S.225 (Tueb.1808): "The serpent had injured them; it had become to them a symbol of evil, of seduction, and at the same time of God's curse, of contempt and punishment. To men the encouraging prospect was held out, that they, the seed of the woman, were stronger and nobler than the serpent, and all evil. They should tread upon the head of the serpent, while the latter should be able to avenge itself only by a slight wound in their heel. In short, the good should gain the ascendancy over the evil. Such was the prospect. How clear or how obscure it was to the first human pair, it is not our present purpose to inquire. It is enough that the noblest warrior against evil, the most valiant bruiser of the serpent's head from among the descendants of Eve, was comprehended in this prospect, and indeed pre-eminently referred to. Thus, then, only an outline, as it were, was given to them in a figure, the import of which only future times saw more clearly developed."