by Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The book of Genesis is rightly named; it means "birth," "beginning," "origin." In it God has recorded the sources and foundations of many nations, events, ideas and principles that we need to understand the past, present and future from God's perspective. This book of origins contains the basic building blocks of everything of any real importance.
This holds true for prophecy as well. Genesis holds the key to identifying many of the names of people and nations that play major roles in later prophecies. A large number of symbols also originate in the pages of this book, along with rudimentary principles of interpretation (for example, Joseph's interpretation of dreams).
Genesis also records the first prophecy in the Bible, found in Genesis 3:14-19. Often neglected in favor of more "exciting" prophecies, it holds the fundamental principles for understanding the nature of Satan's relationship to Christ and the church, woman's relationship with man, man's relationship with nature, and sin's role in human suffering. Few subjects are more important!
The setting of this prophecy provides the necessary background information we need to understand the full implications of God's pronouncements in these verses. Adam and Eve were still living in the Garden of Eden. Satan, speaking through a serpent, had just deceived Eve into eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. She, in turn, had persuaded Adam to do the same. These sins demanded the judgment of God, which He expresses as curses that would result from their disobedience.
At first glance, the curses seem severe. These two innocents—babes, really—had no armor "against the wiles of the devil" (Ephesians 6:11). However, they had received instruction from God on the very point in question (Genesis 2:16-17), and this should have been sufficient to deter them. From God's point of view, their actions were sheer rebellion!
In addition, when God inquired about their actions (Genesis 3:11), they neither admitted their transgressions nor sought forgiveness. Instead, they shifted the blame—Adam to Eve, and Eve to Satan (verses 12-13)! Their actions throughout this scenario told God plenty about their character, making his predictions certain.
Thus, what we see is that God did not curse them—they cursed themselves! Because of sin's predictable course, God merely voices the consequences of their actions in prophetic terms. This prophecy, then, includes Satan's ultimate guilt and punishment, mankind's battle of the sexes and struggle to survive, and the need for a Savior to repair the damage they had caused. What we see in microcosm is the plan of God!
So the Lord God said to the serpent:
Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. (Genesis 3:14)
Fossils tell us plainly that before this time snakes looked as they do now, so God did not strip the serpent of legs and/or wings at this time, as some suppose in reading this verse literally. [In the same way, God did not suddenly create rainbows in Noah's day, but gave them new significance (Genesis 9:8-17).] God's words fit the facts better when taken figuratively.
His curse on serpents covers what they symbolize to men, which we can see when the verse is correctly translated. "More than" in Genesis 3:14 has the sense of "apart from," meaning that God sets the snake apart from other cattle or beasts to represent the Devil, the ultimate cause and originator of sin.
Thus, that the snake would crawl on its belly and eat dust is not literal but symbolic. Both of these figures, written in parallel clauses, signify humiliation. Snakes symbolize abasement or ignominy because of sin.1 Why? God wanted the snake to be a constant reminder, not only to humanity but to Satan as well, that the Devil's ultimate fate will be the humiliation of his gargantuan pride. He will cower on his belly before God and eat dust!
Isaiah uses a different figure, but the result is the same: "Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit" (Isaiah 14:15). Since, as far as we know, Satan cannot be destroyed, he must be humiliated and imprisoned. During the Millennium, God will do this by locking him in the Bottomless Pit (Revelation 20:1-3), and after he is released "for a little while" at its end, God will then cast him into the Lake of Fire (verses 7-10).
Ezekiel also brings out this humiliating end:
Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor; I cast you to the ground, I laid you before kings, that they might gaze at you. You defiled your sanctuaries by the multitude of your iniquities, by the iniquity of your trading; therefore I brought fire from your midst; it devoured you, and I turned you to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all who saw you. All who knew you among the peoples are astonished at you; you have become a horror, and shall be no more forever. (Ezekiel 28:17-19)2
The Bible, from beginning to end, repeats the certainty of Satan's ultimate humiliation and punishment. In Genesis 3, God makes sure Adam and Eve know that they had chosen the losing side!
The Woman's Seed
God then predicts the war between the serpent and the woman and between their seeds:
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel. (Genesis 3:15)
As in the previous verse, the figurative sense overshadows the literal. True, women and snakes are bitter enemies, but the real hostilities are spiritual—between Satan and the woman, a symbol of the church (see Revelation 12:1-6; Ephesians 5:22-32; etc.).
Some ask, "If this is so, how can Satan, who cannot reproduce, have ‘seed'?" The answer, again, lies in the spiritual realm. Paul says in Galatians 3:26-27, 29:
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. . . . And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
No matter what their racial makeup, members of God's church become Abraham's spiritual descendants because, as Jesus says, "Abraham's children . . . do the works of Abraham" (John 8:39). Jesus goes on to explain that Satan has spiritual offspring also:
But now you [those in Jesus' audience] seek to kill Me. . . . You do the deeds of your father. . . . You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. (verses 40-41, 44)
Satan's seed are those who do Satan's will in rebellion against God.
In Ephesians 6:10-12, Paul writes of this enmity between seeds:
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Genesis 3:15 prophesies of this spiritual war between God's people and Satan's.
"Seed" in verse 15 is collective (like "team" or "family"), but the following pronoun, "He," is singular. As Christ's body (Romans 12:5; I Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 1:22-23), we are included as participants in the "enmity." However, the subjects of the "bruising" clauses are strictly Christ and Satan, the two leading opponents in the battle.
Paul also uses "Seed" in a singular sense in writing of Christ as "Abraham's Seed" in Galatians 3:16: "Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,' as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your Seed,' who is Christ." Revelation 12:5 illustrates the connection between the woman and the Seed:
And she [the woman] bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and to His throne.
Interpreting itself, the Bible shows that the singular "Seed" of the woman is indeed the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Just a Flesh Wound
The King James and New King James versions translate the "bruising" clauses word for word without making the sense obvious. Other translations render the verb as "wound," "crush," "strike," or "attack." The New International version provides a more descriptive translation: "He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." The difference is in degree of wounding: Crushing a snake's head destroys it, rendering him powerless, if not dead (see Hebrews 2:14); a snake's strike on the heel, though painful, is minor by comparison.
Another way to look at the comparison focuses on the site of the wounding, the head as compared to the heel. The serpent's wound affects the seat of his intellect and control of his powers, whereas the Seed's wound merely impairs His flesh for a short while—three days and three nights, to be exact.
These bruisings also carry on the theme of humiliation expressed in the preceding verse. The crushing of the serpent's head is understood to be by the heel of the Seed3 ("He will bruise and tread your head underfoot"—Amplified Bible), so the figure of being "under the heel" of the Messiah is present. This is a common biblical illustration of subservience, submission and mortification (I Kings 5:3; Lamentations 3:34; Malachi 4:3; Romans 16:20; I Corinthians 15:25; etc.)
Like the symbol of the "Seed," the wounding of the Messiah is another theme that crops up frequently in Scripture. In Numbers 21:8-9, God commands Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole so "that everyone who is bitten [by the fiery serpents], when he looks at it, shall live." Later, Jesus points to this as a type of His crucifixion, by which He spiritually heals our "serpent bites" (John 3:14-15).
In the Psalms, David writes of the Messiah's wounding: "For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption" (Psalm 16:10). Psalm 22 prophesies of Christ's reviling, scourging and death, showing that, rather than being an end, the Seed's wounding extends God's purpose to every generation! Many other Psalms repeat this theme (Psalm 31:5; 34:20; 41:9-12; 49:15; 69:7-9, 19-21; 109:1-5; etc.).
Isaiah 52:13-15; 53:1-12, the well-known "Suffering Servant" section, contains the very detailed prophecy of Christ's suffering and death. It explains that He, though sinless Himself, endured these ignominious afflictions as a result of our sins. In His wounding, Christ pays the penalty for all sin and qualifies to replace the serpent as ruler over the earth. This, of course, becomes the central theme of the entire New Testament, repeated in some form by nearly every writer.
The Gospel Preached
It is amazing to realize that God laid out these major players and events in His plan by the third chapter of the Book! Genesis 3:14-15 are remarkable in that in symbolic language God preaches the gospel in detail to the first sinners immediately after their first transgression. He made sure they were not ignorant of the truth.
When He became a man, Jesus, the Creator and Lord God of Genesis 3, continued to teach in this symbolic/prophetic way. Matthew comments:
. . . without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: "I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world." (Matthew 13:34-35)
He preached this way so that He could reveal the truth to those who were called and prepared to accept it, hiding it from others so that they would not lose their opportunity for salvation and eternal life (verses 10-15).
We have the keys to understanding these mysteries, these "enigmatic" prophecies, because God has personally opened our minds to His Word by His Spirit (I Corinthians 2:9-16). Jesus tells us, "But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear" (Matthew 13:16). By virtue of being chosen by God, we now know of the great spiritual battle in which we fight, and we know who wins! This should give us great faith as we "endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (II Timothy 2:3).
As part of the woman's Seed—the body of Christ—we have a share in the Messiah's victory over the Serpent and will reap the rewards in God's Kingdom!
Endnotes for "The First Prophecy"
1 Even Jesus Christ is symbolized as a snake in Numbers 21:8-9 and John 3:14-15. All the sins of the world fell on Him at His death (Romans 5:6-8; Hebrews 9:26-28; 10:12), and he suffered the shame of the cross (Philippians 2:5-8; Hebrews 12:2). Thus, He fits the type of a snake, which symbolizes humiliation because of sin, not His own, of course, but ours.
2 As in Genesis 3:14, we can take this literally or figuratively. Those who take it literally believe that Satan and the demons can be "unmade" or destroyed in the Lake of Fire. Those who take this figuratively feel that it is hyperbolic language describing his punishment to the maximum limit in human terms. Historically, the church of God has sided with the latter, believing that angels and demons, as beings composed of spirit, are immortal.
3 God's prophecy is so exact that this symbolic battle between the serpent and the Seed describes the fact that the Messiah's wound occurs in the same act that crushes Satan's power! By Christ's death Satan seems to score a blow, but that same death provides God with a crushing victory over sin and death (John 12:31-33; Hebrews 2:14-15; I John 3:8)!