Genesis 3:15
Great Texts of the Bible
The Conflict of the Ages

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.—Genesis 3:15.

1. This passage is known as the Protevangelium or earliest Gospel. It has obtained this name because of the promise contained in the words, “It shall bruise thy head.” The meaning of the words in the original is a little uncertain, but if we take the translation of the Authorized and Revised Versions we have the metaphor of a man crushing a serpent with his foot and a serpent fastening its teeth in a man’s heel. The crushing of the head is more than the biting of the heel; and thus is found in the passage the good news of God that Christ will trample Satan under foot and gain a complete victory over him, although He Himself may be wounded in the struggle.

2. The merely literal explanation of the verse clearly does not exhaust its meaning. There is something more in the words than a declaration that the human race will always view with feelings of instinctive aversion the serpent race. There is something more than a prediction that mankind will be able to assert superiority over this reptile foe among the beasts of the field. We need not doubt that, whichever of the alternative renderings of the verb be preferred, the underlying thought is that of a spiritual conflict between the race of man and the influences of temptation, between humanity with its gift of choice and the Principle of Evil which ever suggests the satisfaction of the lower desires. But, in addition to this main thought, a twofold encouragement is given to nerve man for the fray. He is endowed with capacities enabling him, if he will use them, to inflict a deadly blow upon the adversary. He stands erect, he is made in the image of God. Furthermore, the promise of ultimate victory is assured to him. How it is to be effected is not explained in the context. Both Jewish and Christian interpretation have given to the promise the significance of a Messianic prediction. From the time of Irenæus (170 a.d.) “the seed of the woman” has been understood in the Christian Church as an allusion to a personal Messiah. Calvin, followed by the majority of the Reformers, explained the words in a more general sense, regarding “the seed of the woman “as the descendants of the first woman, but yet as those from among whom, according to the flesh, the Messiah should come.

3. The most prominent note in the passage is not that of final victory but of the long-continued struggle. Christ will gain the victory and the victory will be ours in Him; but before that, there is the conflict with the serpent which every man is expected to take his part in. It is a conflict that is to be carried on throughout all the ages until Christ comes, and even after Christ has come and won the victory the conflict continues. Every man upon this earth must face temptation, and win his battle. The difference is that, whereas before Christ came all that man had to sustain him in the conflict was the promise of victory through a coming conqueror, in Christ the promise has been turned into a fact, and in order to gain the victory a man has now only to identify himself with Christ by faith.

4. The Protevangelium lays down a great ethical principle. There is to be a continual spiritual struggle between man and the manifold temptations by which he is beset. Evil promptings and suggestions are ever assailing the sons of men; and they must be ever exerting themselves to repel them. It is of course true that the great and crowning defeat of man‘s spiritual adversary was accomplished by Him who was in a special sense the “seed “of the woman, the representative of humanity, who overcame once and for all the power of the Evil One. But the terms of the verse are perfectly general; and it must not be interpreted so as to exclude those minor, though in their own sphere not less real, triumphs by which in all ages individuals have resisted the suggestions of sin and proved themselves superior to the power of evil. It is a prolonged and continuous conflict which the verse contemplates, though one in which the law and aim of humanity is to be to resist, and if possible to slay, the serpent which symbolizes the power of temptation.

“I have a theory,” says Hubert Bland in his volume of essays entitled, With the Eyes of a Man—“I have a theory that the nation which shortens its weapons wins its battles.” I am not clear as to how that theory would work out in the sphere of lower warfare; although even there the practice of long range artillery must be pressed home at the point of the bayonet if victory is to be secured. But in the sphere of the higher warfare it is certainly true; if you want to win you must shorten your weapons; you must look your enemy in the white of his eyes; you must come to close grips with him.1 [Note: E. W. Lewis.]

And evermore we sought the fight, but still

Some pale enchantment clouded all our will,

So that we faltered; even when the foe

Lay, at our sudden onset, crushed and low,

As a flame dies, so passed our wrath away—

And fatal to us was the battle-day.

Yet we went willingly, for in our ears

With shrill reiteration, the blind years

Taunted us with our dreams—our dreams more vain

Than on bare hills the fruitless fall of rain;

Vain as the unaccomplished buds of spring

Which fade and fall, and know no blossoming.

Wherefore we, being weary of the days

Which dumbly passed and left no word of praise,

And ever as the good years waned to less,

Growing more weary of life’s barrenness,

Strove with those dreams which bound our spirits fast,

Lest even death should prove a dream at last.

So evermore we fought—and always fell;

Yet was there no man strong enough to quell

Our passionate, sad life of love and hate;

Tireless were we and foes insatiate.

Though one should slay us—weaponless and dim

We bade our dreams ride forth and conquer him.2 [Note: Margaret Sackville.]

The subject, then, is the struggle of man with temptation. It is represented as a conflict between the seed of the woman, for every man must take his part in it, and the seed of the serpent, for the struggle will be according to the circumstances of our own time and our own life. Let us look first at the origin of this conflict, next at the progress of it, and then at the end of it.


The Origin of the Conflict

i. Its Beginning

1. Creation of Men and Angels.—God made three different orders of creatures. The first we call Angels; the second Men; and the third includes the lower animals and all other created things. He created them all for obedience. But with a difference. The third order—the lower animals and all other lower things, whether living or dead—He created for obedience pure and simple; but angels and men He created for obedience through love. The beasts obey because they have no choice. The sun rises and sets with unvarying regularity, and we use it to point the moral of punctual obedience.

It never comes a wink too soon,

Nor brings too long a day.

But it has no credit for that. It simply cannot help it. It was made to obey, and it has no choice but unwavering obedience. Angels and men were made for obedience also, but not for mechanical obedience. They were made to obey through love. The sun was made to do God’s bidding; angels and men were made to love the Lord with all their heart. Now love implies choice. There must be freedom. I cannot love if I cannot do else but love. I cannot love unless I am also free to hate. There must be freedom of choice. So angels and men were left free to choose good or evil, and it is recorded that some angels and all men chose evil.

2. Fall of Angels and of Men.—The fall of the angels is not fully related in Scripture, since it does not concern us to know its circumstances. We do not even know for certain what was the cause of it. Shakespeare makes Wolsey say—

Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition:

By that sin fell the angels.

And we have accepted that view of it. But whatever was the cause, we know that some of the angels chose the evil and fell. Man chose the evil and fell also. The story of his Choice and Fall is told in this third chapter of Genesis. And the first point to notice about it is that it was brought about through the temptation of one of the fallen angels. The narrative in Genesis speaks of the serpent. And throughout the narrative the language is accommodated to the beast. But he would be a dull interpreter who saw no more in this story than an old serpent myth. We interpret Scripture by itself. And it is certain that in later Scripture it is freely recognized that the author of Eve’s temptation was Satan, the first of the fallen angels. What does that mean? It means that when an angel falls, he falls more utterly than man. No one tempted the angels to their fall. They deliberately chose the evil of themselves. And so their fall was into evil—evil absolute. Henceforth the fallen angels are only evil in will and in purpose. And their work is to do evil continually. So the prince of the fallen angels comes, and, out of the evil that is in him, tempts man to his ruin.

3. Redemption of Men, not of Angels.—Thus both angels and men have fallen, but the difference in their fall is very great. First, men have not fallen into evil absolutely like the angels. Their moral darkness is still pierced with some rays of light. And, secondly, men may be redeemed from their evil; the fallen angels may not. For there is an organic unity among men. There is a human nature. And when men fall they fall together—it is man that falls, not men. There is no angel nature; for, are we not told that “they neither marry nor are given in marriage?” Each of the fallen angels fell by himself alone. Deliberately he chose the evil for himself. So, when he fell, he fell never to rise again. Robert Burns may say—

Auld Nickie-ben,

O wad ye tak a thought an’ men’!

Ye aiblins might—I dinna ken—

Still hae a stake:

I’m wae to think upo’ yon den,

Ev’n for your sake!

But it is a purely human sentiment. There is no warrant for such expectation or possibility in Scripture. The warrant is very plainly all the other way. But man falls that he may rise again. For there is a solidarity in man. One touch of nature makes the whole world kin. And if One will but come and take this human nature on Him, enter this flesh of sin and condemn sin in the flesh, then will the way be open to man to return to the love and obedience of his God. And He has come. And when He came “he took not hold of angels; but he took hold of the seed of Abraham” (Hebrews 2:16).

ii. Its Meaning

Thus the great conflict began. Tempted by Satan, man fell, but not utterly or irrecoverably. He will henceforth keep up a continuous warfare with Satan. There will be enmity between Adam and Satan, and between their seed, from generation to generation, till One shall come to win the victory for man.

1. There is a gospel in the very strife itself. For to begin no battle is to leave the victory with the Serpent. To open no world-wide conflict is to leave the world to the Prince of the world. To put no enmity between the seed of the Serpent and the seed of the Woman is to see no difference at last between them.

When you send your boy to college or into the world, you do not ask for him a wholly easy life, no obstacles, a cordial, kindly reception from everybody. You do not expect to see him free from anxious doubts and troublesome experiences of soul, and cruel jarrings of his life against the institutions and the men whom he finds in the world. It would be very strange if they did not come to him if he is genuinely good and pure. “Marvel not,” said Jesus Christ to His disciples, “if the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.”1 [Note: Phillips Brooks.]

2. The enmity between man and sin has been the great impressive truth of human history. Mankind has never been reconciled with sin, never come to have such an understanding with it that the race everywhere has settled down and made up its mind to being wicked, and asked nothing better, and been at peace. That is the greatest fact by far, the deepest fact, the most pervasive fact, in all the world. Conscience, the restlessness that comes of self-reproach, the discontent that will not let the world be at peace with wrong-doing—it runs everywhere. No book of the remotest times, no country of the moat isolated seas, no man of strongest character, no crisis of history so exceptional, but that in them all you find man out of peace because he is in sin, unable to reconcile himself with living wrong—the enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. It is the great fact of human existence.

Hercules, the fabled deliverer of Greece, always wore on head and Shoulders the skin of a lion killed in his first adventure, which Ruskin thus interprets: “Every man’s Nemean lion lies in wait for him somewhere It is the first ugly and strong enemy that rises against us, all future victory depending on victory over that. Kill it; and through all the rest of life, what once was dreadful is your armour, and you are clothed with that conquest for every other, and helmed with its crest of fortitude for evermore. Alas, we have most of us to walk bareheaded.”1 [Note: Ruskin, Queen of the Air, § 173.]

3. And is it not a blessed fact? Think how different it would all have been if this fact had not been true from the beginning, if man had been able to settle comfortably into sin and be content. Men read it as a curse, this first declaration of God in Genesis, after the Fall. Is it not rather a blessing? Man had met Satan. Then God said, “Since you have met him, the only thing which I can now do for you, the only salvation that I can give you, is that you never shall have peace with one another. You may submit to serve him, but the instinct of rebellion shall never die out in your heart.” It was the only salvation left. It is the only salvation left now when a man has begun to sin, that God should perpetually forbid him to be at peace in sinning. It is what has saved earth from becoming hell long ago—this blessed decree of God that, however man and sin might live together, there should always be enmity between them, they should be natural foes for ever. No man has ever yet been bold enough, even in any mad dream of poetry, to picture the reconciliation of the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, man’s perfect satisfaction in sin, as the consummation and perfect close of human history.

There is an Indian fable that a swan came down to the shore one day, where a crane was feeding. This bird had never seen a swan before, and asked him where he came from. “I came from heaven,” said the swan. Said the crane, “I never heard of such a place. Where is it?” “Far away; far better than this place,” said the swan. The old crane listened to the swan, and at last said, “Are there snails there?” The swan drew itself up with indignation. “Well,” said the crane, “you can have your heaven then. I want snails.”1 [Note: L. A. Banks, The King’s Stewards, 281.]

There is an awful possibility of giving over prayer, or coming to think that the Lord’s ear is heavy that He cannot hear, and His arm shortened that He cannot save. There is a terrible significance in this passage, which we quote from a recent book: “Old Mr. Westfield, a preacher of the Independent persuasion in a certain Yorkshire town, was discoursing one Sunday with his utmost eloquence on the power of prayer. He suddenly stopped, passed his hands slowly over his head—a favourite gesture—and said in dazed tones: ‘I do not know, my friends, whether you ever tried praying; for my part, I gave it up long ago as a bad job.’ The poor old gentleman never preached again. They spoke of the strange seizure that he had in the pulpit, and very cheerfully and kindly contributed to the pension which the authorities of the chapel allowed him. I knew him five-and-twenty years ago—a gentle old man addicted to botany, who talked of anything but spiritual experiences. I have often wondered with what sudden flash of insight he looked into his own soul that day, and saw himself bowing down silent before an empty shrine.”2 [Note: W. R. Nicoll, The Garden of Nuts, 224.]

In the great Church of the Capuchins at Rome there is a famous picture, by Guido Reni, of the Archangel Michael triumphing over the Evil One. The picture represents the Archangel clad in bright armour and holding in his hand a drawn sword, with one foot planted upon the head of Satan, who in the form of a dragon or serpent grovels and writhes beneath him. A sense of victory, not unmingled with defiance, shines on the Archangel’s face; while Satan’s every feature is distorted with suffering and hatred. And as we look at the picture, we can hardly fail to see in it the image, the representation, so often depicted, so earnestly longed for, of the final victory of good over evil. What, however, to many at any rate, gives to this picture a peculiar interest is the famous criticism passed upon it in a well-known modern work of fiction, Hawthorne’s Transfiguration. The Archangel—so it is there objected—has come out of the contest far too easily. His appearance and attitude give no idea of the death-struggle which always takes place before vice can be overcome by virtue. His sword should have been streaming with blood; his armour dented and crushed; he should not have been placing his foot delicately upon his frustrate foe, but pressing it down hard as if his very life depended upon the result.1 [Note: G. Milligan.]

O bird that fights the heavens, and is blown beyond the shore,

Would you leave your flight and danger for a cage, to fight no more?

No more the cold of winter, or the hunger of the snow,

Nor the winds that blow you backward from the path you wish to go?

Would you leave your world of passion for a home that knows no riot?

Would I change my vagrant longings for a heart more full of quiet?

No!—for all its dangers, there is joy in danger too:

On, bird, and fight your tempests, and this nomad heart with you.2 [Note: Dora Sigerson Shorter.]


The History of the Conflict

It is a conflict which every man must enter. If any man refuses to engage in the struggle, he declares himself to be no man. The gospel that is in the words, “It shall bruise thy head,” does not take away from any man the necessity of entering into this affray and facing this foe. The gospel gives the assurance of victory; it does not prevent the strife. It is impossible, therefore, to write the history of the conflict fully. All that can be done is, under the guidance of the Old Testament, to select outstanding events in it.

1. Eve seemed to think that it was to be a short struggle. When her first-born came she said, “I have gotten a man from the Lord.” But Cain grew up to manhood, and Abel his brother; “and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.” The hoped-for victor is man’s first murderer.

2. Lamech thought he had found the Deliverer. “This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed.” And he called his son’s name Noah. Now in the conflict Satan has so steadily won that it is needful to sweep man from off the face of the earth, and make, as it were, a new start. But Noah cannot save his brethren. He barely escapes with his own family. And the flood is only past when even Noah himself has suffered from the bite of the Serpent.

3. Men have got a new start, however. Will they cope with Satan now? Not so. Steadily again Satan wins. And the earth grows so corrupt that God chooses one man and takes him out of the surrounding abomination, to keep him apart and train him and his family for Himself and His great purpose. That man is Abraham. Not that God now leaves the rest of the human race to the unresisted will of Satan. In no place, and at no time, has God left Himself without witness. Or, as another apostle more personally puts it, He kept coming amongst men in the Person of the Word, and whenever any one was found willing to follow the Light, power was given to him to become a child of God. This choice of Abraham and his family is a new departure, that through him and his seed all the families of the earth may be blessed. Is this new departure successful? Does the family of Abraham now gain the victory over Satan, and gain it always? No; not even for themselves; still less for the rest of mankind. As the same evangelist has it, “He came unto his own and his own received him not.” But God’s purpose is not in vain, nor even thwarted for a moment. Man will be redeemed, and the redemption is delayed only that it may be to love and new obedience, the will to choose being still left free.

4. And now we can trace the gradual closing of the promise on a single Person. “A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you.” “Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” “The Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple.” “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” Meanwhile, the world is suffering more and more from the low cunning and bite of the serpent. Read that terrible yet true description of the morals of men which St. Paul gives us in his Epistle to the Romans. Read also the scathing exposure in the Gospels of the irreligiousness of the religion of Israel, the hypocrisy and greed of the leaders and rulers of the people. Satan seems to have gained the victory along the whole line.

It is the strength of the base element that is so dreadful in the serpent; it is the very omnipotence of the earth.… Watch it, when it moves slowly, with calm will and equal way—no contraction, no extension; one soundless, causeless march of sequent rings, and spectral procession of spotted dust. Startle it;—the winding stream will become a twisted arrow, the wave of poisoned life will lash through the grass like a cast lance. It scarcely breathes with its one lung; it is passive to the sun and shade, and is cold or hot like a stone; yet it can outclimb the monkey, outswim the fish, outleap the zebra, outwrestle the athlete, and crush the tiger. It is a divine hieroglyph of the demoniac power of the earth—of the entire earthly nature. As the bird is the clothed power of the air, so this is the clothed power of the dust; as the bird the symbol of the spirit of life, so this of the grasp and sting of death.1 [Note: Ruskin, Queen of the Air, § 68.]

When in my shadowy hours I pierce the hidden heart of hopes and fears,

They change into immortal joys or end in immemorial tears.

Moytura’s battle still endures and in this human heart of mine

The golden sun powers with the might of demon darkness intertwine.

I think that every teardrop shed still flows from Balor’s eye of doom,

And gazing on his ageless grief my heart is filled with ageless gloom:

I close my ever-weary eyes and in my bitter spirit brood

And am at one in vast despair with all the demon multitude.

But in the lightning flash of hope I feel the sun-god’s fiery sling

Has smote the horror in the heart where clouds of demon glooms take wing,

I shake my heavy fears aside and seize the flaming sword of will

I am of Dana’s race divine and know I am immortal still.2 [Note: A. E., The Divine Vision, 76.]


The End of the Conflict

The victor comes in Jesus of Nazareth. “On the morrow John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” Jesus of Nazareth has come as man’s representative and redeemer to atone for the sins of the world. But first, He is Jesus of Nazareth. He is a man. Before He begins His work of atonement, before He takes upon Him the redemption of the world, He must fight His own man’s battle. To every man upon this earth that battle comes. It comes to Jesus also. Therefore before the public ministry begins, before He begins to heal the sick or raise the dead or preach the gospel to the poor, “the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil”

i. His Temptation as a Man

This is the place of the Temptation in the Wilderness. Jesus is a man, and He must face the foe whom every man has to face. He must fight the battle which every man has to fight. And He must win. If He does not win, how can He atone for the sins of the world? If as a man He does not win His own man’s battle, why, then, He has His own sins to reckon with, and how can He even come forward as the Redeemer of the race? Jesus must fight and Jesus must win, just as we all have to fight, but not one of us has won. That is the place of the Temptation. And that is why the Temptation in the Wilderness is recorded. It is every man’s Temptation. It may be spread over our life; it could not have been spread over the life of Jesus, otherwise He could not have begun His atonement till His life was at an end; but it is the same temptation that comes to every man. It is the temptation that came to Eve. Point for point the temptations of Eve and the temptations of Jesus correspond. Eve’s temptations were three; so were the temptations of Jesus. Eve’s temptations assailed the body, the mind, and the spirit; so did the temptations of Jesus.

1. The First Temptation.—The first temptation was a bodily temptation. She “saw that the tree was good for food.” “If thou art the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread.” There is the difference, certainly, that Eve was not hungry, while Jesus was. The sin of Eve was the greater that she sinned not through the cravings of hunger, but merely through the longing for forbidden, or it might be daintier, food. But though the temptation was more intense for Jesus, it did not differ from Eve’s essentially. It was the desire for food. It was the longing to satisfy a bodily appetite. And it does not matter how imperious that appetite may be, it is not to be satisfied unlawfully. Eve saw that she had the opportunity of satisfying it, Jesus saw that He had the power. Eve was tempted to satisfy it by using an opportunity which God had not given her, Jesus by using a power which had been given Him for another purpose. It does not matter essentially whether it is to avoid starvation or merely for greater luxury, we sin with Eve if we seize an opportunity or take advantage of our position to do that for our body or outward estate which God has commanded us not to do.

2. The Second Temptation.—The second temptation was to the mind. “And that it was a delight to the eyes”—thus the temptation came to Eve. He “showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time”—thus it came to Jesus. Now the temptation to the mind does not come to every one. It does not come to those who are absorbed in the things of the body. The three temptations came to Eve because Eve is typical of the whole human race. And the three temptations came to Jesus, because He is typical also, and because He resisted them all. The temptation to the mind is higher; it is a nobler temptation than the temptation to the body. There are those to whom the fragrance or beauty of the apple makes irresistible appeal, who would never be driven to do wrong merely in order to have it to eat. It is a subtler temptation also. We are willing to starve that we may hear good music or give ourselves a scientific education. And we cannot perceive that we are falling before a temptation. But music or science may be pursued for purely selfish ends. In their pursuit, too, some nearer duty may be neglected. And the fall is often obvious enough: a doubtful companionship, such as music sometimes introduces us to; or a denial of God such as science sometimes leads us to.

But the temptation to Jesus was nobler, we do not doubt, and more subtle than the temptation to the mind has ever been to any other man. He saw the kingdoms of the world at a glance, and the glory of them. He was offered them as His own. Now, He desired to have the kingdoms of the world as His own. All the difference seemed to be that the Devil offered them at once without the agony of winning them—the agony to Him or to us. He was offered them without the agony to Himself. Some think that He did not know yet what that agony was. He did not know that He was to be despised and rejected of men. He did not know that He was to lose the sense of the Father’s well-pleasing. He did not know what the Garden was to be or what the Cross. They say so. But how can they tell? One thing is sure. He knew enough to make this a keen temptation.

But He was also offered the kingdoms of the world without the agony to us. That temptation was yet more terrible. For when the Cross was past, the agony to us was but beginning. And He felt our agony more keenly than He felt His own. What a long-drawn agony it has been. Two thousand years of woe! and still the redemption is not complete. To be offered the homage of the human heart, to be offered its love—such love as it would have been where there was no choice left—to end the poverty and the sickness and the blindness and the leprosy and the death, not by an occasional laying on of the hands in a Galilean village, but in one world-embracing word of healing; to end the sin without waiting for the slow movements of conscience and the slow dawnings of faith—it was a sore temptation. But it must not be. To deliver from the consequence of sin without the sorrow for it, to accept the homage of the heart of man without its free choice of love, is to leave the Serpent master still. The world is very fair to look upon as He sees it in a moment of time from that mountain-top; but it cannot be His until He has suffered for it, and until it has suffered with Him.

3. The Third Temptation.—The third temptation was a temptation to the spirit. Eve saw “that the tree was to be desired to make one wise.” Jesus was invited to cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, trusting in God and in the promise that no harm should befall Him. The “wisdom” which Eve was promised was spiritual wisdom. It was the wisdom of God. “Ye shall be as gods,” said the Serpent, “knowing good and evil.” And this wisdom became hers when she had eaten. “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.” It was such wisdom as God has. And God is a Spirit. It was spiritual wisdom. Man is both spiritual and material As a spiritual being he has certain spiritual experiences. But as long as the spirit is in touch with the body its experiences are limited in their range. God is a Spirit, and His experience knows no bounds. When man attempts to pass the bounds of human experience and enter the experience of God, he sins.

Eve was so tempted and fell. Jesus also was so tempted, but He resisted the temptation. As God He can throw Himself from the pinnacle of the temple with impunity, just as He can walk upon the water. And the Devil reminds Him that He is God. But this is His temptation as a man. As a man He cannot, as a man He has no right, to tempt God by casting Himself down. To Eve and to Jesus it was the temptation to an enlargement of experience beyond that which is given to man. And it lay, as it always does, in the direction of the knowledge of evil. There are those who, like Eve, still enter into evil not from the mere love of evil or the mere spirit of rebellion, but in order to taste that which they have not tasted yet. They wish to know “what it is like.” There are men and women who can trace their drunkard’s lifelong misery to this very source.

To Eve the sharpness of the temptation lay in the promise of larger spiritual experiences. Let us not say it was a vulgar curiosity. The promise was that she would be as God, that she would know what God knows. Perhaps she even felt that it would bring her into closer sympathy with God, the sympathy of a larger common experience. To Jesus this also was the sharpness of the temptation. He was God, but He was being tempted as a man. It was not merely, as in the first temptation, that He was invited to use His power as Redeemer for His own human advantage. It was that He was invited to enter into the experience of God, to enter into the fulness of knowledge which belongs to God, to prove Himself, and to feel in perfect sympathy with the whole range of experience of the Father. It seemed like trust: it would have been presumption. We sometimes enter into temptation saying that we will trust God to deliver us. No one ever yet entered into temptation, unsent by God, and came forth scathless.

Let us not undervalue the blessing which would come to us if Jesus Christ were simply one of us, setting forth with marvellous vividness the universal conflict of the world, the perpetual strife of man with evil. Surely that strife becomes a different thing for each of us, when out of our own little skirmish in some corner of the field, we look up and see the Man of men doing just the same work on the hilltop where the battle rages thickest. The schoolboy tempted to tell a lie, the man fighting with his lusts, the soldier struggling with cowardice, the statesman with corruption, the poor creature fettered by the thousand little pin-pricks of a hostile world—they all find the dignity of their several battles asserted, find that they are not unnatural, but natural, find that they are not in themselves wicked but glorious, when they see that the Highest, entering into their lot, manifested the eternal enmity between the seed of the serpent and our common humanity at its fiercest and bitterest.1 [Note: Phillips Brooks.]

When gathering clouds around I view,

And days are dark and friends are few,

On Him I lean, who not in vain

Experienced every human pain;

He sees my wants, allays my fears,

And counts and treasures up my tears.

If aught should tempt my soul to stray

From heavenly wisdom’s narrow way;

To fly the good I would pursue,

Or do the sin I would not do;

Still He, who felt temptation’s power,

Shall guard me in that dangerous hour.

If wounded love my bosom swell,

Deceived by those I prized too well;

He shall His pitying aid bestow,

Who felt on earth severer woe;

At once betrayed, denied, or fled,

By those who shared His daily bread.

If vexing thoughts within me rise,

And, sore dismayed, my spirit dies;

Still He, who once vouchsafed to bear

The sickening anguish of despair,

Shall sweetly soothe, shall gently dry,

The throbbing heart, the streaming eye.

When sorrowing o’er some stone I bend,

Which covers what was once a friend,

And from his voice, his hand, his smile,

Divides me for a little while;

Thou, Saviour, mark’st the tears I shed,

For Thou didst weep o’er Lazarus dead!

And O! when I have safely past

Through every conflict but the last;

Still, still unchanging, watch beside

My painful bed, for Thou hast died!

Then point to realms of cloudless day,

And wipe the latest tear away.1 [Note: Robert Grant.]

ii. His Work of Redemption

Jesus was tempted of the Devil and resisted all the temptations. What it cost Him we cannot tell. We know it cost Him much. Angels came and ministered unto Him. He needed their ministrations. But He won His battle. No one could convict Him of sin. He is ready now to be the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.

1. His Works.—When He begins His work of Redemption He can use His powers as the Son of God. The Devil’s temptation, “If thou art the Son of God,” is a temptation no longer. He begins His works of wonder. He heals the sick; He preaches the gospel to the poor; He accepts the cup and drinks it; He cries, “It is finished.”

2. Song of Solomon of Man.—While the Temptation in the Wilderness was the temptation of a man, the atonement for sin was the atonement of the Son of Man, man’s representative; the atonement of the race in Him. This is the essential thing in the Cross. He took hold of our nature; in our nature He suffered and died. Our nature suffered and died in Him. This is the essential thing, that He made the atonement as Man, that man made the atonement when He made it. After the Temptation in the Wilderness the Devil left Him for a season. When he came back he did not come back to a man. He came back to the race of man, represented and gathered into one in Christ. He came back not to seek to throw one human being as he had thrown so many human beings before. He came to fight for his kingdom and his power.

3. Victory.—It did seem as if the Devil had won this time. As the fight closed in, Jesus Himself said, “This is your hour, and the power of darkness.” The Devil had the whole world on his side in the struggle. The religious leaders were especially active. And the end came—death and darkness. It did seem as if the Devil had won this time, and this was the greater battle to win. But “except a corn of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth alone.” Without death Jesus was sinless. In death He gathered many to His sinlessness. Death and the Devil got hold of Him but lost their hold of us. It was the Devil’s greatest triumph. It was his greatest defeat.

4. Faith in the Victor.—One thing remains. We must accept Him. The kingdom of heaven is open, but it is open to all believers. He could not have this fair world without the agony; we cannot have Him without it. For it is love that is wanted. Nothing is wanted but love. It is the love of the heart that makes Paradise. And love must be free. There is no compulsion. Sin must be felt and repented of; a Saviour must be seen and made welcome. By faith we must become one with Him as He has become one with us.

Every earnest man grows to two strong convictions: one, of the victory to which a life may come; the other of the obstacles and wounds which it must surely encounter in coming there. Alas for him who gains only one of these convictions! Alas for him who learns only confidence in the result, and never catches sight of all that must come in between—the pains and blows and disappointments! How many times he will sink down and lose his hope! How many times some wayside cross will seem to be the end of everything to him! Alas also for him who only feels the wounds and sees no victory ahead! How often life will seem to him not worth the living! There are multitudes of men of this last sort; men with too much seriousness and perception to say that the world is easy, too clear-sighted not to see its obstacles, too pure not to be wounded and offended by its wickedness, but with no faith large enough to look beyond and see the end; men with the wounded heel that hinders and disables them, but with no strength to set the wounded foot upon the head of the serpent and to claim their triumph.1 [Note: Phillips Brooks.]

I do not doubt that many of you noted, as I did, the description given in the newspaper dispatches of the visit of Theodore Roosevelt to the tomb of Napoleon, and you perhaps noted how he took up the sword which the great warrior carried in the battle of Austerlitz, and waved it about his head and examined its edge, and held it aloft, seeming in the meantime to be profoundly impressed. And we may well imagine and believe that the hero of San Juan Hill was stirred in every drop of his soldierly blood as he stood on that historic spot with that famous sword gripped in his right hand. But if we could gather together all the famous swords kept in all the capitals of the world, in memory of princes and warriors and heroes who have carried them on historic battlefields, they would be insignificant in comparison to that “sword of the Spirit,” of which Paul speaks in his letter to the Ephesians—a sword by which millions of humble men and women, and even boys and girls, have put to flight the alien armies of hell and maintained their integrity against odds as the faithful children of God.2 [Note: L. A. Banks, The World’s Childhood, 344.]

The far winds brought me tidings of him—one

Who fought alone, a champion unafraid,

Hurt in the desperate warring, faint, fordone;

I loved him, and I prayed.

The far winds told the turning of the strife;

Into his deeds there crept a strange new fire.

Unconquerable, the glory of his life

Fulfilled my soul’s desire.

God knows what mighty bond invisible

Gave my dream power, wrought answer to my prayer;

God knows in what far world our souls shall tell

Of triumph that we share.

I war alone; I shall not see his face,

But I shall strive more gladly in the sun,

More bravely in the shadow, for this grace:

“He fought his fight, and won.”


Arnold (T.), Sermons, vi. 9.

Arnot (W.), The Anchor of the Soul, 68.

Banks (L. A.), The King’s Stewards, 274.

Banks (L. A.), The World’s Childhood, 337, 350.

Barron (D.), Rays of Messiah’s Glory, 255.

Brooks (P.), Seeking Life, 277.

Brooks (P.), Twenty Sermons, 93.

Campbell (R. J.), Thursday Mornings at the City Temple, 30.

Gibson (J. M.), The Ages before Moses, 98.

Glover (R.), By the Waters of Babylon, 218.

Hall (C. R.), Advent to Whitsun-Day, 90.

How (W. W.), Plain Words, ii. 64.

Kuegele (F.), Country Sermons, i. 9.

Leathes (S.), Truth and Life, 14.

Macgregor (W. M.), Some of God’s Ministries, 11.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions: Genesis.

Milligan (G.), in Great Texts of the Old Testament, 267.

Nicoll (W. R.), The Garden of Nuts, 221.

Parker (J.), Studies in Texts, vi. 156.

Pressensé (E. de), The Redeemer, 1.

Robinson (S.), Discourses of Redemption, 57.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xxii. No. 1326.

Steere (E.), Notes of Sermons, No. 24.

Vaughan (C. J.), Christ the Light of the World, 112.

Vaughan (C. J.), Family Prayer and Sermon Book, i. 148.

Vaughan (J.), Sermons (Brighton Pulpit), xi. No. 873.

Winterbotham (R.), Sermons and Expositions, 8.

Young (D. T.), The Enthusiasm of God, 79.

Christian World Pulpit, xxix. 154 (Leathes).

Clergyman’s Magazine, 3rd Ser., i. 110 (Leathes).

The Great Texts of the Bible - James Hastings

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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