Genesis 3:15 — The Protoevangelium
Genesis 3:15 is frequently identified as the protoevangelium — the first annunciation of the gospel, and well it is. The context of Genesis 3:15 is the fall of man. God had created man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to care for the Garden. God instructed Adam saying, “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17). When man perceived his need for a companion, God created a help meet for him. The couple lived in childlike innocence in the Garden.
The serpent deceived Eve into disobeying God and she, in turn, persuaded Adam to eat of the forbidden fruit. God confronted Adam and Eve with their sin and then pronounced judgment against them for their sin. In pronouncing his judgment against the serpent, the embodied Devil, the Lord said,
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: 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 (Gen. 3:14-15).
The judgment against the serpent involved two things: (a) he would move upon his belly; (b) he would “eat dust.” There is discussion among commentators about whether the author implied that the serpent stood erect before the curse or that his manner of moving about was given a significance by divine revelation. The phrase to “eat dust” is not to be understood in a literal sense to mean that serpents eat dust. They eat rodents and other small animals. To “eat dust” is used in a metaphorical way to mean to suffer defeat and humiliation. Consider its use in the following passages:
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord (Isa. 65:25).
They shall lick the dust like a serpent, they shall move out of their holes like worms of the earth: they shall be afraid of the Lord our God, and shall fear because of thee (Mic. 7:17).
They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust (Ps. 72:9).
And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me (Isa. 49:23).
The phrase signifies defeat and subordination. He will be defeated by the seed of woman and eat dust. The serpent will be treated with this contempt all the days of its life.
In verse 15, the judgment against the serpent expands to include the serpent’s seed and the woman’s seed: “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.” This judgment is not aetiological to explain why men hate snakes. The Lord’s judgment is much too profound for that simplistic explanation. The statement is God’s pronounced judgment of defeat of the serpent, the embodied Devil. Seed is from zerao “sowing, seed, offspring . . . seed = offspring . . . of mankind, coll. = descendants, posterity” (BDB 282). The “seed” of the serpent must be the children of the devil (see John 8:38, 41; 6:70; Matt. 13:38; Acts 13:10; 1 John 3:8-10, 12). The seed of the woman are those who are in opposition to the seed of the serpent, hence the children of God. The prophecy is a prophecy of the inveterate warfare between the children of the devil and the children of God.
The prophecy moves toward a more specific statement of a personal individual conflict in “it” and “his.” A particular seed of woman will bruise the head of the serpent and the serpent shall bruise his heel. The word “bruise” is the same in both places, but the significance is between “head” and “heel.” Charles Augustus Briggs wrote, “The wound on the head is a crushing, a mortal wound; a trampling under foot, a victory. The wound on the heel might also be regarded as mortal, if we think of the venom of the serpent’s sting. But this is inappropriate to the Messianic idea. There is a contrast between head and heel which suggests a contrast between a crushing defeat and a slight injury to the victor” (Messiania Prophecy 76).
There is no reason to conclude that “seed of woman” is used in contrast to “seed of man” as a reference to the virgin birth, which is plainly taught in the gospels.
New Testament References to Genesis 3:15
That we are correct in this interpretation of Genesis 3:15 is seen from New Testament references and allusions to this passage. Jesus is called the “seed of woman” (Gal. 4:4), which is not to be limited to its being an allusion to the virgin birth but to call our minds back to Genesis 3:15. In Romans 16:20, Paul wrote, “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly,” which is obviously an allusion to this passage. The serpent of Genesis 3 is identified in passages that refer to the fall of Eve, as well.
But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ (2 Cor. 11:3).
And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14).
Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it (John 8:44).
These passages confirm for us what is obvious: the serpent was the embodied Devil who attacked man in the Garden.
Revelation 20:2 alludes to this passage as well: “And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years.”
Revelation 12: An Inspired Interpretation
of Genesis 3:15
The most extensive allusion to Genesis 3:15 appears in Revelation 12. In beginning the second main division in the book, the author removes the curtain of human history to see the great spiritual battle that is occurring in the unfolding of human history. Here is what he wrote:
And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.
And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.
And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child. And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth. And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
Notice that both narratives have same participants: (a) The woman; (b) Her seed, including the specific man child that is born; (c) The serpent, dragon, or Devil. In the unfolding of the drama in Revelation 12, the woman was giving birth in hostile circumstances. The serpent was present to devour her seed. The serpent was unable to destroy the infant who is unanimously identified as the Christ, the seed of the woman. He was caught up into heaven, escaping the serpent’s destruction.
The serpent followed the child into heaven and made war against him. The serpent suffered a terrible defeat (he was bruised on his head); he was cast out of heaven. Frustrated in his efforts to destroy the child, he turns to destroy the woman (“I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed”), only to be thwarted because the Lord came to the woman’s assistance. Then, he turned to attack her seed.
The book of Revelation closes with the mortal wound being inflicted on that serpent in chapter 20. The same creature is under discussion (20:2 — “And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years”). But the victory belongs to Christ: “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Rev. 20:10).
Obviously, Genesis 3:15 is the framework for Revelation 12. To John, there was no doubt what Genesis 3:15 foretold. The Holy Spirit inspired the writing of Genesis 3:15 and gave the inspired interpretation of it in Revelation 12 and 20, albeit in apocalyptic figures. What better guide can one have for the understanding of Genesis 3:15 than the one who spoke it in the first place?
We are reminded of God’s eternal plan for human redemption from a study of Genesis 3:15. As Paul wrote, “Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:8-11).
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Truth Magazine Vol. XLIV: 13 p2 July 6, 2000