14 The LordGod said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
Imagine living your entire life under a legal system that had only one law: be absolutely perfect and live; think, do, or say anything less than perfect and die.
That was the system of government under which Adam and Eve lived in God’s perfect garden-temple in the primordial land of Eden. Adam and Eve were the only two people who could possibly live under such a law because, before their rebellion, they WERE perfect. They never felt distant from God or from one another. They never wondered where their next meal was coming from. They never felt ill and never got grumpy. They never spoke unkindly to one another. They never had to sit in traffic or live next to a noisy neighbor. They had no bills or taxes and didn’t need clothes (even the climate was perfect).
Be perfect and live. Be imperfect and die. Adam and Eve willingly and freely chose imperfection. Under the circumstances, God’s promise that a Seed of the Woman would crush the serpent-dragon’s head was completely unexpected. God’s law demanded death. No take-backs, no excuses. But not only was God promising Adam and Eve children (and that they would not immediately physically die), he was promising them a particular child who would go to battle with the enemy and win certain victory. Grace is always unexpected because all of us are creatures of law. We are born with God’s holy law written upon our hearts. We live with the “little ‘l’ laws” of striving to be the most perfect me I can be. We have a conscience that accuses us when we break God’s laws and our own. Grace is an alien concept to us. Imagine how that felt for Adam and Eve who had no clue of any other way of life beside “Do this and live; do that and die.”
Grace is unexpected because God plants it right in the middle of a scene of judgment. Adam and Eve had trusted the serpent-dragon’s word rather than God’s word. They had chosen to do what seemed right in their own eyes and then ate a symbolic meal to celebrate their new religion. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil became a tree of judgment. Adam and Eve substituted their judgment of what was truly good for God’s judgment. Adam and Eve became immediate subjects of God’s perfect judgment at that tree. “Do this and live; do that and die.” How terrified they must have been as they heard God’s footsteps.
The form of death Adam and Eve immediately earned doesn’t really sound that bad to you and me because we were born into it. All we really know is separation from God. Childbirth has always been painful. Husbands and wives always struggle. People always have to work hard for a living. Good and evil exist side-by-side in our world. Christians must struggle for spiritual discipline to renew their minds in scripture and prayer and sacrament and fellowship with other sinful believers.
There is always something competing for our time and attention that belongs to our Covenant Creator God. Plenty of circumstances make it easier for us to find other things to do on Sunday mornings than come receive Word and Sacrament. But for Adam and Eve, God’s covenant curses (the curses of the COW) were a huge shift from the ordinary, a radical change in their nature and their relationships. Being cut off from fellowship with God is true death. This is why Jesus said, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly” (Jn. 10:10).
But here, in the middle of the COW’s curses, is the announcement of Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday rolled into one verse – the Promised Seed. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” [i]The first part of God’s announcement of grace seems dark. God promises conflict, not peace. He pronounces ill will, hatred, mutual antagonism between Satan and Eve and their offspring. God himself creates this conflict, so it must be good. The context explains how it’s good. You may recall that Satan is a fallen angel whose original sin consisted in trying to replace God as the chief being in the universe and in trying to gain worship for himself rather than worship God. His attempt failed and he was condemned to life apart from fellowship with God.
Satan appeared in God’s garden-temple to do among the new race of humans what he failed to do earlier among the angels. He planned to seduce our parents from worshipping God to gain their worship of him. He succeeded in the first part of his plan. He did break Adam and Eve’s fellowship with God. But God put a stop to the second part because God puts enmity between the serpent-dragon and the woman. Satan already hated Eve. That was nothing new because Satan hates God and all God’s creatures, particularly those that bear God’s image. The new thing is that now Eve and Adam’s true offspring will hate the devil and his followers as one aspect of God’s gracious redemption of humanity now under the curse of the Covenant of Works (COW).
This enmity is a blessing. James Boice writes:
We think many times of the love, joy, and happiness that the coming of Jesus Christ brought us, and we thank God rightly for those things. But we should not forget to thank him for a corresponding hatred of sin, sorrow at sin’s ways, and increasing misery when we find ourselves ensnared in sin’s tentacles. When we sin, we often find that we like the sin but want to escape sin’s consequences. We would like to destroy ourselves in comfort, like the addict destroying himself in the dreamlike stupor of debilitating drugs or booze. We would like to go to hell happy. But it is one aspect of grace that God does not allow that to happen. God makes sin miserable and sets up an antagonism between ourselves and Satan that modifies the hold of sin and makes it possible for us to hear God’s loving voice, even in our misery.[ii]
GOSPEL IN “SEED” FORM
This enmity was not simply a personal conflict between Eve and Satan. It was to be a conflict between two offspring, two seeds. Satan has no literal offspring. He is a fallen angel. Although a powerful creature, he has no power of creation. So, all those occult horror movies about someone being the literal son of the devil, like Rosemary’s Baby,[iii]make for great fantasy but have no biblical reality. Yet, the dragon-serpent does have spiritual offspring. This promise in 3:15 refers to the godly descendants of the man and woman, influenced by God himself, and the ungodly descendants of the man and woman, influenced by Satan. The Book of Genesis goes on to distinguish between the two humanities in chapters 4 and 5. There is a divinely created animosity between the people of God and those who are not his people, and it is for our good. It is to sharpen our will to serve God.
There is also a more specific meaning to this verse. As the Book of Genesis unfolds, we see God calling out Israel as a special nation through whom he would work, and we see the animosity of Satan (who heard and well understood this prophecy) directed particularly against Israel. This divine animosity stretches all the way through scripture and ends only at the end of the age depicted in the book of Revelation. The dragon attempts to destroy the woman and her seed, and despite his increasingly severattempts, God preserves a people to bear his name in this present sin-cursed world.[iv]
First, there is the promised antagonism between Eve and Satan. Second, there is the promised antagonism between the church and the devil. Finally, there is the specific promise of antagonism between a specific Promised Seed and the great serpent-dragon. In 250 B.C. when Jewish scholars translated the Bible into Greek, giving the world the Septuagint translation, they interpreted the word “seed” (“offspring” in the ESV) as a single individual: “he will crush your head.” The Septuagint translators, who could not possibly have had any Christian presuppositions, understood the seed of the woman to be a future individual who would deal a deathblow to the serpent. When the word “seed” is singular (as it is here in Genesis 3: 15) it always denotes a specific descendant and that when it is an individual, the pronoun will be masculine.[v]
Last week we heard how Jesus applied Genesis 3:15 to the Jewish leaders who wanted to kill him:
43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.[vi]
Jesus taught that the first gospel of Genesis 3:15 moves from the general concept of two opposing seeds to one specific seed. Adam and Eve received the breath of life from God, who raises their dead hearts to life through faith in the Promised Seed. We know this because Eve names her first child “Acquire.” She says, I have acquired [or“made”] the man with the help of the Lord (4:2). They raise their first son, Cain, to be Messiah. But they name their second son Chabel, “useless; breath; vapor; wind; nothing.” Even in a life of faith, the effects of sin linger on. Cain, as we will see, is a kind of promised seed – the seed of the serpent-dragon. Adam and Eve did not yet know that the promised Seed of the Woman, to whom they were to look for life, would not come for many thousands of years.
The bedrock theology of Jesus as the Promised seed is sustained by the fact that in Galatians 3:16 Paul argues, on the basis of the use of the singular “seed” in God’s promise to Abraham, that the word “seed” refers to Christ:
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.
Here in Genesis 3:15 we have a prophecy of the cross when Satan would crush the heel of Christ (the suffering on the cross), but Christ would crush Satan’s head (through his death and glorious resurrection). All those who are trusting into Christ participate in the crushing through Christ, so that Paul could write in the conclusion of the book of Romans, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (16: 20).[vii]
SNAKES ON A PLANE
Jesus understood that he himself was the antidote to the serpent’s venom. In fact just prior to declaring “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3: 16) Jesus said, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (vv. 14, 15). Jesus was referring to Numbers 21, where due to Israel’s sin God sent venomous snakes into Israel’s camp on the plane of the Red Sea so that many people died and were dying. Moses prayed for the people and God told Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.” [viii]
The plague of snakes was a perfect representation of the people’s sin. It was the serpent-dragon who tempted Eve in God’s garden-temple, polluting human nature with the venom of depravity. Lifted up on a pole, the people could look upon the very image of their sin and find saving grace to relieve the curse of the COW. Romans 8:3-4 say, “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us….[ix]Paul says in 2 Cor. 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” [x]
The visible representation of the work of the Promised Seed comes by pictures even before the Lord covers Adam and Eve with the skins of animals. The Gospel promise was pictured in the two trees. The Tree of Lifewas the tree of promise. It represented the promise of living in sinless harmony with God forever. That is why God then set a flaming swordat the entrance to the Garden – to keep man away from the sacramental meal of tree of life. God said to man, “If you want access to the promise of lifethen you must come through the fire of my judgment.This is what Jesus did for us: He passed through God’s judgment to give us life with God.
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil becomethetree of judgmentor the tree of cursing. It was there that man brought judgment upon himself by failing to rest in the judgment of God. What once hung upon that tree as a beautiful and pleasing fruit had become the very symbol of sin and cursing itself. When Adam ate it, he ate of the fruit of his own curse. We see both of these trees again in scripture.
When Paul writes in Galatians about how the Law shows us the curse of sin, he says this in 3:13, “13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’”.[xi]Peter proclaims in 1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” The tree of judgmentappears again in scripture at Calvary. It was the tree upon which Christ lifted up as payment for the sin of Adam and all sins of God’s people. Paul ties all of Genesis 3 together in Romans 5:12-21 where we read:
12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.[xii]
Adam could not keep the covenant of works; he succumbed to the temptation to make himself the center of his own religion. He judged sinfully at the tree of judgment. The very promise of the Seed of the Woman is that God Himself makes a new covenant, the Covenant of Grace (COG) – one that only HE keeps! You can do nothing to earn the grace of God. God does it ALL because Adam failed.
Where Adam failed, Christ triumphed. Christ kept the covenant of works perfectly; He overcame the temptations of the serpent-dragon; he bore the Father’s judgment of sin on the tree of judgment;and He earned for His people peace with God and eternal Sabbath rest. The tree that was for Christ a tree of judgmentbecomes for you who receive and rest in Him alone a tree of life! Christ hung as cursed fruit on the tree of judgmentso that the Holy Living God might provide for you the blessed fruit from the tree of life.
And it is because of the work of the last Adam, that we can now eat the fruit of the tree of life. For Jesus promises in Revelation 2:7, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”And again, the Lord says in Revelation 22:14, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.”
We invite you to come to the gospel trees and partake of the fruit of the sacrifice of Christ, the Seed of the Woman. Repent of the worship of yourself and worship the living God by thanking Him for hanging his own Son upon the judgment treeso that Christ might become for you the Promised Seed and the fruit of the tree of life. Then you too may partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life from the paradise of God.
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
[i]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 3:15.
[v]Hughes, 86. Kindle Edition.
[vi]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 8:43–45.
[vii]Hughes, 86. Kindle Edition.
[viii]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Nu 21:8–9.
[ix]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 8:3–4.
[x]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 5:21.
[xi]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ga 3:13.
[xii]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 5:12–17.