Genesis 3:14
And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:
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(14, 15) Unto the serpent.—As the serpent had tempted our first parents purposely and consciously in order to lead them into sin, he stood there without excuse, and received a threefold penalty. The outward form of the condemnation is made suitable to the shape which the tempter had assumed; but the true force and meaning, especially in the last and most intense portion of the sentence, belong, not to the animal, but to Satan himself. The serpent is but the type: diabolic agency the reality. First, therefore, the serpent is condemned to crawl. As he is pronounced to be “cursed above (or rather, among) all cattle”—that is, the tame animals subjected to man’s service—and also “among all beasts of the field”—that is, the wild animals, but a term not applicable to reptiles—it has been supposed that the serpent was originally erect and beautiful, and that Adam had even tamed serpents, and had them in his household. But such a transformation belongs to the region of fable, and the meaning is that henceforward the serpent’s crawling motion is to be to it a mark of disgrace, and to Satan a sign of meanness and contempt. He won the victory over our guileless first parents, and still he winds in and out among men, ever bringing degradation with him, and ever sinking with his victims into deeper abysses of shame and infamy. Yet, even so, perpetually he suffers defeat, and has, secondly, to “lick the dust,” because his mean devices lead, as in this place, only to the manifestation of God’s glory. In the Paradise Lost Milton has made Satan a hero, though fallen; really he is a despicable and mean-spirited foe, whose strength lies in man’s moral feebleness. Finally, there is perpetual enmity between the serpent and man. The adder in the path bites man’s heel, and is crushed beneath his tramp. It has been noticed that in spite of the beauty and gracefulness of many of the species, man’s loathing of them is innate; while in hot countries they are his great enemy, the deaths in India, for instance, from snake-bites being many times more than those caused by the carnivora.

Her seed . . . shall bruise thy head.—We have here the sum of the whole matter, and the rest of the Bible does but explain the nature of this struggle, the persons who wage it, and the manner and consequences of the victory. Here, too, we learn the end and purpose for which the narrative is cast in its present form. It pictures to us man in a close and loving relation, not to an abstract deity, but to a personal and covenant Jehovah. This Being with tender care plants for him a garden, gathers into it whatever is most rare and beautiful in vegetation, and, having given it to him for his home, even deigns at eventide to walk with him there. In the care of this garden He provides for Adam pleasant employment, and watches the development of his intellect with such interest as a father feels in the mental growth of his child. Day by day He brings new animals within his view; and when, after studying their habits, he gives them names, the Deity shares man’s tranquil enjoyment. And when he still feels a void, and needs a companion who can hold with him rational discourse, Jehovah elaborately fashions for him, out of his own self, a second being, whose presence satisfies all his longings. Meanwhile, in accordance with the universal law that hand in hand with free-will goes responsibility, an easy and simple trial is provided for man’s obedience. He fails, and henceforward he must wage a sterner conflict, and attain to victory only by effort and suffering. In this struggle man is finally to prevail, but not unscathed. And his triumph is to be gained not by mere human strength, but by the coming of One who is “the Woman’s Seed;” and round this promised Deliverer the rest of Scripture groups itself. Leave out these words, and all the inspired teaching which follows would be an ever-widening river without a fountain-head. But necessarily with the fall came the promise of restoration. Grace is no after-thought, but enters the world side by side with sin. Upon this foundation the rest of Holy Scripture is built, till revelation at last reaches its corner-stone in Christ. The outward form of the narrative affords endless subjects for curious discussion; its inner meaning and true object being to lay the broad basis of all future revealed truth.

As regards the reading of the Vulgate and some of the Fathers, ipsa conteret, “she shall bruise,” not only is the pronoun masculine in the Hebrew, but also the verb. This too is the case in the Syriac, in which language also verbs have genders. Most probably a critical edition of the Vulgate would restore even there ipse conteret, “he shall bruise.”

Like a large proportion of the words used in Genesis, the verb is rare, being found only twice elsewhere in Scripture. In Job 9:17 the meaning seems plainly to be to break, but in Psalm 139:11, where, however, J the reading is uncertain, the sense required is to cover or veil, though Dr. Kay translates overwhelm. Some versions in this place translate it observe; and the Vulgate gives two renderings, namely, “She shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt lie in ambush for (his or her) heel” (gender not marked—calcaneo ejus). The translation of the Authorised Version may be depended upon as correct, in spite of its not being altogether applicable to the attack of a natural serpent upon a wayfarer’s heel.

Genesis 3:14. God said unto the serpent — In passing sentence, God begins where the sin began, with the serpent, which, although only an irrational creature, and therefore not subject to a law, nor capable of sin and guilt, yet, being the instrument of the devil’s wiles and malice, is punished as other beasts have been when abused by the sin of man, and this partly for the punishment, and partly for the instruction of man, their lord and governor.

Upon thy belly shalt thou go — And “no longer on thy feet, or half erect,” say Mr. Henry and Mr. Wesley, (as it is probable this serpent, and others of the same species, had before done,) “but thou shalt crawl along, thy belly cleaving to the earth,” the dust of which thou shalt take in with thy food. And thou, and all thy kind, shall be reckoned most despicable and detestable, (Isaiah 65:25, Micah 7:17,) and be the constant objects of the hatred of mankind. But this sentence, directed against the serpent, chiefly respected the infernal spirit that actuated it, and his curse is intended under that of the serpent, and is expressed in terms which, indeed, properly and literally agreed to the serpent; but were mystically to be understood as fulfilled in the devil; who is “cursed above all irrational animals; is left under the power of invincible folly and malice, and, in disgrace, is depressed below the vilest beasts, and appointed to unspeakable misery when they are insensible in death.” — Brown.

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.

Ge 3:14-24. The Sentence.

14. And the Lord God said unto the serpent—The Judge pronounces a doom: first, on the material serpent, which is cursed above all creatures. From being a model of grace and elegance in form, it has become the type of all that is odious, disgusting, and low [Le CLERC, Rosenmuller]; or the curse has converted its natural condition into a punishment; it is now branded with infamy and avoided with horror; next, on the spiritual serpent, the seducer. Already fallen, he was to be still more degraded and his power wholly destroyed by the offspring of those he had deceived.

Unto the serpent; or rather, this or

that serpent, which, as was said before on Genesis 3:1, was no ordinary serpent, but a serpent acted and assisted by the devil; and therefore this sentence or curse is pronounced against both of them:

1. Against the serpent itself, which though an unreasonable creature, and therefore not subject to a law, and consequently not capable of guilt or sin, Romans 4:15, yet, being the instrument of the devil’s malice, is rightly punished; as other beasts being abused by man’s sin did suffer together with him, Exodus 32:20 Leviticus 20:15-16, not for their crime, but partly for the punishment, and partly for the benefit of man, who is their lord and owner, Psalm 8:6; for whose sake seeing they were made, it is not strange if they be punished for his use, that in their punishment man might have a demonstration of God’s anger against sin, and a motive to repentance. See Poole on "Genesis 6:1", and following verses to Genesis 6:22. See Poole on "Genesis 7:1", and following verses to Genesis 7:24.

2. Against the devil, who is here principally intended, though as he lay hid in the body of the serpent which he possessed and used, so his curse is here mentioned under the cover of the serpent’s curse, and under the disguise of such terms as properly and literally agree to the serpent, but are also mystically to be understood concerning the devil; with whom the Lord entertaineth no conference, as he did with Adam and Eve, whose sin was less than his, and whom God meant to bring to repentance; but immediately denounceth the curse against him, as one that sinned against much greater knowledge, and from far worse principles, not from mistake or misinformation, but from choice and rebellion, from hatred of God, and from mere envy and implacable malice against men.

Because thou hast done this, deceived the woman, and tempted her to this sin, thou art cursed; or, shalt be from henceforth, both really and in the opinion of all mankind: or, be thou.

Every beast of the field; as in other respects, so particularly in that which here follows;

upon thy belly shalt thou go. If the serpent did so before the fall, what then was natural, is now become painful and shameful to it, as nakedness and some other things were to man. But it seems more probable that this serpent before the fall either had feet, or rather did go with its breast erect, as the basilisk at this day doth; God peradventure so ordering it as a testimony that some other serpents did once go so. And so the sense of the curse being applied to this particular serpent, and to its kind, may be this: Whereas thou hadst a privilege above other kinds of serpents, whereby thou didst go with erected breast, and didst feed upon the fruits of trees and other plants; now thou shalt be brought down to the same mean and vile estate with them,

upon thy belly (or rather, breast, as the word also signifies)

shalt thou go, & c. as they do;

and dust shalt thou eat. Dust is the food, as of earthworms, scorpions, and some other creatures, so also of some serpents, as appears both from Isaiah 65:25 Micah 7:17, and from the testimony of Nicander, Theriac, ver. 372, and Philo, an Arabic writer. Or, the dust is the serpent’s sauce rather than his meat; whilst creeping and grovelling upon the earth, and taking his food from thence, he must necessarily take in dust and filth together with it. These two clauses being applied to the devil, signify his fall from his noble state and place to earth and hell; the baseness of his nature and of his food, his delight being in the vilest of men and things, it being now his meat and drink to dishonour God and destroy mankind, and promote the esteem and love of earthly things.

And the Lord God said unto the serpent,.... And to the devil in it; for what follows may be applied to both; literally to the serpent, and mystically to Satan; both are punished, and that very justly, the serpent in being the instrument Satan made use of, and is cursed for his sake, as the earth for man's; and the punishing the instrument as well as the principal, the more discovers God's detestation of the act for which they are punished, as appears in other instances, Exodus 21:28. Nor could it have been agreeable to the justice of God, to punish the instrument and let the principal go free; and therefore the following sentence must be considered as respecting them both: and it must be observed, that no pains is taken to convince Satan of his sin, or any time spent in reasoning and debating with him about it, he being an hardened apostate spirit, and doomed to everlasting destruction, and without any hope of mercy and forgiveness; but to show the divine resentment of his crime, the following things are said:

because thou hast done this; beguiled the woman, and drawn her in to eat of the forbidden fruit:

thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; the serpent is the most hateful of all creatures, and especially the most detestable to men, and Satan is accursed of God, banished from the divine presence, is laid up in chains of darkness, and reserved for the judgment of the great day, and consigned to everlasting wrath and ruin, signified by everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:

upon thy belly shalt thou go, or "breast", as Aben Ezra, and others; Jarchi thinks it had feet before, but were cut off on this account, and so became a reptile, as some serpents now have feet like geese, as Pliny (x) relates; or it might go in a more erect posture on its hinder feet, as the basilisk, which is one kind of serpent, now does; and if it was a flying one, bright and shining in the air, now it should lose all its glory, and grovel in the dust, and with pain, or at least with difficulty, creep along on its breast and belly; and this, as it respects the punishment of the devil, may signify, that he being cast down from the realms of bliss and glory, shall never be able to rise more, and regain his former place and dignity:

And dust shall thou eat all the days of thy life; meaning not that particular serpent, and as long as that should live, but all of the same kind, as long as there were any in the world, even to the end of it: it is probable, that when the serpent moved in a more erect posture, it lived on herbs and plants as other creatures; but when it was obliged to go upon its belly or breast, it licked up the dust of the earth, and which it could not well avoid in eating whatsoever food it did; and some serpents are said to live upon it. This is applicable to Satan, designs the mean and abject condition in which he is, and the sordid food he lives upon; no more on angels' food and joys of heaven, but on the base, mean, earthly, and impure lusts of men; and this will be his case, condition, and circumstances, for ever.

(x) Nat. Hist. l. 11. c. 47.

And the LORD God said unto the serpent, {m} Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and {n} dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:

(m) He asked the reason from Adam and his wife, because he would bring them to repentance, but he does not ask the serpent, because he would show him no mercy.

(n) As a vile and contemptible beast, Isa 65:25.

14–19. The Sentence

14. cursed art thou] The word “cursed” is only used in addressing the serpent, as the originator of the temptation, and in reference to “the ground” as the sphere of man’s penalty (Genesis 3:17). Jehovah does not pronounce a curse either upon the man or upon the woman.

above] Better, as R.V. marg., from among. Taken from among the other animals, the domestic cattle and the wild beasts, the serpent alone receives the curse. So LXX ἀπό, Vulg. “inter.” An objection to the rendering “above” is, that it would imply a curse of some sort upon all animals, and a special one upon the serpent.

upon thy belly, &c.] It appears from this sentence that the story considered the serpent to have been originally different in appearance and mode of progression. Its crawling movement on the ground and the apparent necessity for its swallowing dust are regarded as the results of the curse pronounced in the garden.

Prostrate, no longer erect, and feeding on the dust which man shakes off from his foot, the serpent-race typified the insidious character of the power of evil, to which the upright walk of man was the typical contrast.

all the days of thy life] Not the individual serpent, but the whole serpent-race. These words, together with the details of the curse, conclusively shew that Jehovah is addressing an animal, and not the spirit of evil.

Verse 14. - Confession having thus been made by both delinquents, and the arch-contriver of the whole mischief discovered, the Divine Judge proceeds to deliver sentence. And the Lord God said unto the serpent. Which he does not interrogate as he did the man and woman, "because

(1) in the animal itself there was no sense of sin, and

(2) to the devil he would hold out no hope of pardon" (Calvin); "because the trial has now reached the fountain-head of sin, the purely evil purpose (the demoniacal) having no deeper ground, and requiring no further investigation" (Lange). Because thou hast done this. I.e. beguiled the woman. The incidence of this curse has been explained as -

1. The serpent only (Kalisch).

2. The devil only (Macdonald).

3. Partly on the serpent and partly on Satan (Calvin).

4. Wholly upon both (Murphy, Bush, Candlish).

The difficulties attending these different interpretations have thus been concisely expressed: -

1. Quidam statuunt maledictioncm latam in serpentem solum, quia hic confertur cum aliis bestiis, non in diabolum, quid is antea maledictus erat.

2. Alii in diabolum solum, quid brutus serpens non poterat juste puniri.

3. Alii applicant ver. 14 ad serpentem, ver. 15 in diabolum. At vero tu et te idem sunt in utroque versu.

4. Alii existimant earn in utrumque latam" (Medus in 'Poll Commentsr.,' quoted by Lange). The fourth opinion seems most accordant with the language of the malediction. Thou art cursed. The cursing of the irrational creature should occasion no more difficulty than the cursing of the earth (ver. 17), or of the fig tree (Matthew 11:21). Creatures can be cursed or blessed only in accordance with their natures. The reptile, therefore, being neither a moral nor responsible creature, could not be cursed in the sense of being made susceptible of misery. But it might be cursed in the sense of being deteriorated in its nature, and, as it were, consigned to a lower position in the scale of being. And as the Creator has a perfect right to assign to his creature the specific place it shall occupy, and function it shall subserve, in creation, the remanding of the reptile to an inferior position could not justly be construed into a violation of the principles of right, while it might serve to God's intelligent creatures as a visible symbol of his displeasure against sin (cf. Genesis 9:5; Exodus 21:28-36). Above. Literally, from, i.e. separate and apart from all cattle (Le Clerc, Von Bohlen, Tuch, Knobel, Keil); and neither by (Gesenius, De Wette, Baumgarten) nor above (Luther, A.V., Rosenmüller, Delitzsch), as if the other creatures were either participators in or the instruments of the serpent's malediction. All cattle, and above (apart from) every beast of the field. The words imply the materiality of the reptile and the reality of the curse, so far as it was concerned. Upon thy belly. Ἐπὶ τῷ στήθει σου καὶ τῇ κοιλίᾳ (LXX.); "meaning with, great pain and, difficulty." As Adam s labor and Eve's conception had pain and sorrow added to them (vers. 16, 17), so the serpent's gait" (Ainsworth). Shalt thou go. "As the worm steals over the earth with its length of body," "as a mean and despised crawler in the dust," having previously gone erect (Luther), and been possessed of bone (Josephus), and capable of standing upright and twining itself round the trees (Lange), or at least having undergone some transformation as to external form (Delitzsch, Keil); though the language may import nothing more than that whereas the reptile had exalted itself against man, it was henceforth to be thrust back-into its proper rank," "recalled from its insolent motions to its accustomed mode of going," and "at the same time condemned to perpetual infamy" (Calvin). As applied to Satan this part of the curse proclaimed his further degradation in the scale of being in consequence of having tempted man. "Than the serpent trailing along the ground, no emblem can more aptly illustrate the character and condition of the apostate spirit who once occupied a place among the angels of God, but has been cast down to the earth, preparatory to his deeper plunge into the fiery lake (Revelation 20:10; Macdonald). And dust shalt thou eat, I.e. mingling dust with all it should eat. "The great scantiness of food on which serpents can subsist gave rise to the belief entertained by many Eastern nations, and referred to in several Biblical allusions (Isaiah 65:25; Micah 7:17) - that they cat dust" (Kalisch). More probably it originated in a too literal interpretation of the Mosaic narrative. Applied to the devil, this part of the curse was an additional intimation of his degradation. To "lick the dust" or "eat the dust" "is equivalent to being reduced to a condition of meanness, shame, and contempt" (Bush); "is indicative of disappointment in all the aims of being" (Murphy); "denotes the highest intensity of a moral condition, of which the feelings of the prodigal (Luke 15:16) may be considered a type' (Macdonald; cf. Psalm 72:9). All the days of thy life. The degradation should be perpetual as well as complete. Genesis 3:14The 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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