14 The Lord God 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.”
I am going to post notes from a few commentators, regarding these two verses, before I provide some of my own thoughts. These are worth reading because they will provide a lot of context for how people, widely, think and believe about these verses. However, if you want to skip past to my thoughts, you can scroll down a bit beyond the large quoted sections.
From David Guzik:
1. (Gen 3:14-15) God’s curse upon the serpent.
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. 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.”
a. And the LORD God said to the serpent: When God spoke to Adam and to Eve, He asked them each questions. God didn’t ask Satan (the being animating the serpent) any questions, because there was nothing to teach him.
b. You are cursed more than all cattle: The first part of the curse is directed at the animal that Satan used to bring the temptation. God commanded the serpent to slither on the ground instead of walking on legs like any other animal.
i. Adam and Eve must have been terrified as this once-beautiful creature called a serpent was transformed into the creeping, slithering, hissing snake we know today. They must have thought, “It’s our turn next!”
ii. I will put enmity between you and the woman: In addition, there is a natural aversion between mankind and serpents, especially on the part of women.
c. You shall eat dust all the days of your life: This was true of the serpent as an animal, but it is also true of Satan. To eat dust has the idea of total defeat (Isaiah 65:25, Micah 7:17). God’s judgment on Satan is for him to always know defeat. He will always reach for victory, but always fall short of it.
i. Satan was, in his own thinking, majestic and triumphant over Jesus on the cross, but he failed. In attacking Jesus, Satan made his own doom certain.
ii. In Jesus, we share in the victory over Satan: And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. (Romans 16:20)
d. Enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed: The second part of the curse is directed against Satan himself. God placed a natural animosity between Satan and mankind. Enmity has the idea of ill will, hatred, and a mutual antagonism. Satan’s hatred of Eve was nothing new; it was already present – but now man will, generally speaking, have antagonism towards Satan.
i. The “friendship” Eve and the serpent seemed to enjoy earlier in the chapter is finished. There is now a natural fear of Satan in the heart of man.
ii. If we are born naturally rebellious against God, we are also born cautious and afraid of Satan. One must be hardened to willingly and knowingly serve Satan. Instinctively, we don’t serve God or Satan; we serve ourselves (which is fine with Satan).
e. He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel: In this, God prophesies the doom of Satan, showing that the real battle is between Satan and the Seed of the Woman.
i. There is no doubt this is a prophecy of Jesus’ ultimate defeat of Satan. God announced that Satan would wound the Messiah (you shall bruise His heel), but the Messiah would crush Satan with a mortal wound (He shall bruise your head).
ii. The heel is the part within the serpent’s reach. Jesus, in taking on humanity, brought Himself near to Satan’s domain so Satan could strike Him.
iii. This prophecy also gives the first hint of the virgin birth, declaring the Messiah – the Deliverer – would be the Seed of the Woman, but not of the man.
iv. Genesis 3:15 has been called the protoevangelium, the first gospel. Luther said of this verse: “This text embraces and comprehends within itself everything noble and glorious that is to be found anywhere in the Scriptures.” (Leupold)
f. He shall bruise your head: For God to see the defeat of Satan at Satan’s first flush of victory shows God knew what He was doing all along. God’s plan wasn’t “set back” when Adam and Eve sinned, because God’s plan was to bring forth something greater than man in the innocence of Eden. God wanted more than innocent man; His plan is to bring forth redeemed man.
i. Redeemed man – this being who is greater than innocent man – is only possible because man had something to be redeemed from.
From the Pulpit Commentary:
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: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 3:15And 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.Verse 15. – And I will put enmity between thee and the woman. Referring –
1. To the fixed and inveterate antipathy between the serpent and the human race (Bush, Lange); to that alone (Knobel).
2. To the antagonism henceforth to be established between the tempter and mankind (Murphy); to that alone (Calvin, Bonar, Wordsworth, Macdonald). And between thy seed and her seed. Here the curse manifestly outgrows the literal serpent, and refers almost exclusively to the invisible tempter. The hostility commenced between the woman and her destroyer was to be continued by their descendants – the seed of the serpent being those of Eve’s posterity who should imbibe the devil’s spirit and obey the devil’s rule (cf. Matthew 23:33; 1 John 3:10); and the seed of the woman signifying those whose character and life should be of an opposite description, and in particular the Lord Jesus Christ, who is styled by preeminence “the Seed” (Galatians 3:16, 19), and who came “to destroy the works of the devil” (Hebrews 2:4; 1 John 3:8). This we learn from the words which follow, and which, not obscurely, point to a seed which should be individual and personal. It – or he; αὐτος (LXX.); not ipsa (Vulgate, Augustine, Ambrose, Gregory the Great; later Romish interpreters understanding the Virgin) – shall bruise.
1. Shall crush, trample down – rendering שׁוּפ by torero or conterere (Vulgate, Syriac, Samaritan, Tuch, Baumgarten, Keil, Kalisch).
2. Shall pierce, wound, bite – taking the verb as – שָׁפַפ, to bite (Furst, Calvin).
3. Shall watch, lie in wait = שָׁאַפ (LXX., τηρήσει – Wordsworth suggests as the correct reading τερήσει, from τερέω, perforo, vulnero – Gesenius, Knobel). The word occurs only in two other places in Scripture – Job 9:17; Psalm 139:11 – and in the latter of these the reading is doubtful (cf. Perowne on Psalm in loco). Hence the difficulty of deciding with absolute certainty between these rival interpretations. Psalm 91:13 and Romans 16:20 appear to sanction the first; the second is favored by the application of the same word to the hostile action of the serpent, which is not treading, but biting; the feebleness of the third is its chief objection. Thy head. I.e. the superior part of thee (Calvin), meaning that the serpent would be completely destroyed, the head of the reptile being that part of its body in which a wound was most dangerous, and which the creature itself instinctively protects; or the import of the expression may be, He shall attack thee in a bold and manly way (T. Lewis). And thou shalt bruise his heel. I.e. the inferior part (Calvin), implying that in the conflict he would be wounded, but not destroyed; or “the biting of the heel may denote the mean, insidious character of the devil’s warfare” (T. Lewis).
A Jewish interpretation (though not the only one) of these verses is more straight-forward, and as you might expect, it rejects the Christian effort to read a prophetic inference of Jesus Christ into the verses. The following excerpt is from Judaism Resources.
The Christian sees deep significance in the words: “her seed” referring to Eve. The argument of the missionary is that since we only have reference to the “seed of the woman” and no mention is made of the seed of a man so we have a prophetic announcement of a “virgin birth”.
This argument fails for several reasons. According to this line of reasoning; every time that the Scriptures address an individual concerning their progeny using the term: “your seed” we ought to conclude that we are talking of a virgin birth (in those situations where a female is being addressed such as Genesis 16:10) or of a birth that is achieved through a male without a female (where a male is being addressed such as in Genesis 3:15 – the serpent). If this were true then we would have many virgin births announced in the Bible.
Furthermore; how could anyone know if this prophecy was ever fulfilled?
Missionaries see another “significant prophecy” in this verse. They understand the serpent to be the devil and they read this passage as a prediction that the one who will strike the devil’s head will be born of a woman without a man.
The simple reading of the text tells us that the snake will bite the heel of Eve’s progeny while Eve’s progeny will smite snakes on the head. This is simple and straightforward. Just as the previous verse (Genesis 3:14) speaks of snakes crawling on their bellies with no reference to a specific future event so it is with this passage. It simply describes the state of enmity between snakes and humans that will endure until the Messianic era (Isaiah 11:8; 65:25).
Furthermore, even if the missionary interpretation would have a smidgen of truth to it (which it does not) – a cursory glance at history will tell us that the “devil” was not “smitten on the head” with the advent of Christianity…
Does anyone believe a literal talking snake tempted Adam and the Woman? Perhaps some people. But the predominant view seems to be that the story is either A) a metaphor filled with symbolism – using a literal talking snake as part of said metaphor, or B) a tale involving a divine being taking the form of a serpent.
A third alternative might be that the story is C) a combination of both A&B.
As we discussed earlier in the chapter, serpent is translated from “nachash.” However, the word “nachash” `has other meanings also.
נַחַשׁ nachash, nakh’-ash; from H5172; an incantation or augury:—enchantment.
נָחַשׁ nâchash, naw-khash’; a primitive root; properly, to hiss, i.e. whisper a (magic) spell; generally, to prognosticate:—× certainly, divine, enchanter, (use) × enchantment, learn by experience, × indeed, diligently observe.
נְחָשׁ nᵉchâsh, nekh-awsh’; (Aramaic) corresponding to H5154; copper:—brass.
נָחַשׁ nâchash, naw-khash’; a primitive root; properly, to hiss, i.e. whisper a (magic) spell; generally, to prognosticate:—× certainly, divine, enchanter, (use) × enchantment, learn by experience, × indeed, diligently observe.
Numerous people who speak the language cite the word as also meaning “shining” – which comes from the copper / brass translations.
As a result, and in my opinion, a person who wants to treat the story as entirely symbolic, or as a metaphor, concerning a literal snake… has justification.
However, a person who wants to treat the story as a more literal story about a divine being, taking the form of a serpent, to deceive Adam and the Woman… has justification. A shining, deceiving, speaking serpent, certainly sounds to me like it could be more than just a snake. The language allows for that type of interpretation.
For the people who view the nachash here as more than just a snake, there are several other uses of nachash throughout the Old Testament. I will leave it to you – or the translation from which you are reading – to draw an interpretation in each instance. The word is most often translated as either “serpent” or “copper / brass” with context providing the clue as to which.
There is another type of divine being that seems to have a relationship with snakes: Seraphim.
- The Hebrew word “saraph” is used 7 times in the Hebrew Scriptures (Num. 21:6,8; Deut. 8:15; Is. 14:29; 30:6; Is. 6:2-6)
- Most of the translations are either, “fiery serpent” or “serpent.”
- In Isaiah 6, the word Seraphim (the plural of saraph) is used directly rather than be translated from an ancient language.
- The last two times “seraphim” is used, in Isaiah, the seraphim are said to be able to fly.
Looking at the above information, seraphim seem to be angels with some relation to snakes. In fact, fiery flying snakes, with wings… that sounds like a dragon.
“The Seed of the Serpent” First, again, it could be taken more literally and as part of a metaphor concerning literal snakes. Snakes beget snakes. On the other hand, if we take the “divine being” interpretation of “nachash”… what then?
This gets weird.
Serpent seed, dual seed or two-seedline is a controversial religious belief which explains the biblical account of the fall of man by saying that the serpent mated with Eve in the Garden of Eden, and the offspring of their union was Cain. It appears in early Gnostic writings such as the Gospel of Philip (c. 350). Irenaeus (c. 180), an early church father, explicitly rejected the doctrine as heresy, a view which was echoed by subsequent mainstream Christian theologians. The serpent-seed doctrine has occasionally been promoted in more recent times, such as by American religious leaders Daniel Parker (1781–1844), William M. Branham (1909–1965), and Arnold Murray (1929–2014). This belief is also held by the Unification movement and some adherents of the white supremacist theology known as Christian Identity, who claim that Jews are descended from the serpent.
The idea of a divine being mating illicitly with a human woman, and producing offspring, is a concept (widely held throughout the ancient world) revisited again in Genesis 6:4.
4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.
A careful reading of the Old Testament shows that the offspring of these types of unions continue to crop up in the text, before and after the Flood, (particularly later in Genesis and again in Joshua.) We most often meet these offspring in the form of giants. If *this* is the meaning here, in Genesis 3, then the implication is that the seed of the Woman will be engaging in a cosmic battle against a bloodline(s) of these beings.
It is not surprising to see that Ancient Aliens has looked at this, with some reference to Gnosticism, as a potential origin point for “reptilians” or “archons.”
We will spend a lot more time on this topic in a couple of chapters, but I want to put on your radar that this belief exists and is held maybe a little more widely than some of you realize.
Are there alternative interpretations of these verses, in Genesis, to the one where nachash sires a race of human-adjacent beings? Yes, of course. The Pulpit Commentary describes the seed of the serpent as those of Eve’s posterity who should imbibe the devil’s spirit and obey the devil’s rule (cf. Matthew 23:33; 1 John 3:10). By this view, then, the seed of the serpent is a spiritual state of being rather than a literal bloodline. [This seems to be the most commonly held belief regarding “the seed of the serpent.”]
In rabbinical Judaism, the contrasting groups of “seed of the woman” and “seed of the serpent” are generally taken as plural, with the promise “he will bruise your head” applied to Adam and mankind bruising the serpent‘s head. There is a Jewish tradition where a messiah is said to be a remedy to the bruising of the heel of the “seed of the woman.”
Christian teaching and literature has long associated “the seed of the woman” with the person of Jesus Christ.
Identification of the “seed of the woman” with Christ goes back at least as far as Irenaeus, and the phrase “seed of the woman” is sometimes counted as one of the titles of Jesus in the Bible. A tradition found in some old eastern Christian sources (including the Kitab al-Magall and the Cave of Treasures) holds that the serpent’s head was crushed at Golgotha, described as a skull-shaped hill at the centre of the Earth, where Shem and Melchizedek had placed the body of Adam. More commonly, as in Victorian homilies, “It was on Golgotha that the old serpent gave the Saviour the deadly bite in his heel, which went quite through his foot, fastening it to the cross with iron nails.”
Let’s wrap up by talking about the end of verse 15. We can start with the translation of “bruise.” שׁוּף shûwph, shoof; a primitive root; properly, to gape, i.e. snap at; figuratively, to overwhelm:—break, bruise, cover.
The seed of the woman will snap at, overwhelm, break, bruise, and/or cover the nachash’s head.
Head = רֹאשׁ rôʼsh, roshe; from an unused root apparently meaning to shake; the head (as most easily shaken), whether literal or figurative (in many applications, of place, time, rank, etc.):—band, beginning, captain, chapiter, chief(-est place, man, things), company, end, × every (man), excellent, first, forefront, (be-)head, height, (on) high(-est part, (priest)), × lead, × poor, principal, ruler, sum, top.
In return, the nachash will snap at, overwhelm, break, bruise, and/or cover the seed of the Woman’s heel.
“Heel” = עָקֵב ʻâqêb, aw-kabe’; or (feminine) עִקְּבָה ʻiqqᵉbâh; from H6117; a heel (as protuberant); hence, a track; figuratively, the rear (of an army):—heel, (horse-) hoof, last, lier in wait (by mistake for H6120), (foot-) step.
I find this topic to be completely fascinating. I hope anyone reading this gets something out of my notes and musings, too.