The late Homer Hoeksema was professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
The Lord God turns from the woman to the serpent. But now He no longer questions. He addresses the serpent in the well-known words of Genesis 3:14, 15: “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: 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.”
It must have been a deathly suspense in Paradise just prior to these words of the Lord. There was the consciousness of sin, but there was an attempt to hide and to shift the responsibility for that sin. We read nothing about a whole-hearted manifestation of true repentance. We must remember that as yet Adam and Eve knew nothing of a gospel, of Christ, of a sacrifice for sin, and of forgiving grace. Undoubtedly this is also the reason why the Lord does not dispute their false reasons which they give in replying to His questions. He simply addresses Himself to the serpent and to the devil first. Before He deals with Adam and Eve, the beginning of the gospel must be announced. This is announced very strikingly in this word of the Lord that is addressed, mind you, to the tempter, but in the hearing of Adam and Eve.
Modernistic criticism does not know what to do with these verses. If all this is a legend, a myth, then what is the meaning of this passage? The critic has great difficulty in producing any kind of half-plausible solution to this problem. It has been suggested, for example, that the author of these words writes this story originally, perhaps, as a protest against existing snake-worship. But let us note that higher criticism’s denial of the word of God at this point means that all is lost. The reality of sin, the reality of the gospel—it is all gone. Nothing remains. To us, on the other hand, all is reality. Paradise, the trees, the commandment, the snake as the instrument of the devil—all these are real. Then there is no difficulty whatsoever with the words of this passage. The serpent, and that, too, as the visible instrument of Satan, is here addressed. Moreover, he is addressed in the hearing of Adam and Eve. He is addressed in language which makes it clear that Jehovah maintains His covenant. This is the very heart of the gospel of salvation.
As we try to understand this word of cursing that is addressed, first of all, to the serpent, let us have clearly before our mind what had happened.
God had established His covenant originally in Paradise. This covenant is God’s relation of friendship and living fellowship with man. In that covenant of friendship man was to reflect God’s life, to serve Him and praise Him and extol the glory of God’s Name in the midst of and through the means of all the works of God’s hands around him. Thus, and thus only, would he enjoy life in the true sense of the word. Moreover, man must be of God’s party, both positively and distinctively, that is, antithetically. Over against the devil Adam must show that he was of God’s party by saying “No” to the devil.
Man, however, had violated God’s covenant. Satan, the devil, had come through the instrumentality of the serpent. He had opposed and slandered God and put his lie over against God’s truth. Man had turned to the devil and hearkened to him and had turned against God. As far as man was concerned, this violation of God’s covenant was the breaking of that covenant relation. Apparently God’s covenant was lost.
But God maintains His covenant. We must remember that this covenant is God’s. There are not two parties who conclude and establish that covenant by mutual action and agreement. There are indeed two parts, or two sides, in that covenant: God’s part and our part. But there is but one party in the covenant, namely, God’s. God establishes His covenant. God also maintains His own covenant. God is His own party as the covenant God, and man can only be of the party of the living God. Hence, He, and He alone, maintains that covenant. Man violates it, and, on his part, breaks it, breaks it irrevocably, so that if it were up to him that covenant would never be restored and would never function again. But God maintains His own covenant. That is why, in the events immediately after the fall, He quickly passes by Adam and Eve, and He proceeds to deal with the serpent and with the devil, in order to maintain His own covenant over against the devil.
This, we must remember, is the chief content of these words. Certainly, these words contain a promise ultimately of the Messiah. But they do not speak of the Christ directly and clearly and individually. However, they do express very clearly: I will maintain My covenant. Because God maintains His covenant, the sinner dies. Because He maintains His own covenant, the tempter is cursed. Because God maintains His covenant of friendship over against the devil and the power of darkness, enmity is announced, and fierce battle, and because He maintains His covenant, God’s victory, the triumph of the cause of His covenant, is promised and predicted.
Notice, in this connection, that Jehovah God addresses the serpent. He addresses him not in the sense that He spoke His word of blessing to the animals in Genesis 1:22. But the Lord addresses him as an individual, rational being: “Because thou hast done this….” It is plain from this address that the subject in the serpent is the devil. The devil is still in the serpent. He could not have left him after he succeeded in his temptation, for the Lord God would not let him depart until He had cursed him.
Note, further, that the Lord curses the serpent as animal. His form and his mode of living are changed. He is made to creep in the dust and to swallow dust with his food. He is cursed above all cattle and above every beast of the field. This does not mean to say that the other animals were cursed in the serpent. They are subjected to vanity because of the fall of their king. But the serpent is brought down from his former high position and is more humiliated and despised than any other animal. Moreover, he will not be represented with the other animals, in the new creation. When the creatures shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption, the serpent will not share in the glorious liberty of the children of God. God’s curse remains on him (Is. 65:25).
But why is the serpent cursed? The answer is: because God maintains His covenant. The very visible instrument of the devil’s opposition and wicked attempt to destroy God’s covenant must bear testimony of this fact. But even here, we must remember that not only the serpent is involved. The subject in the serpent is the devil. The degradation of the serpent, his tool, is for the devil the constant symbol of his own curse. As the serpent is most deeply degraded, so the devil is degraded, cursed forever. The Lord maintains His covenant. And the enemy of that covenant is accursed!
It is in this same light that we must understand the enmity which the Lord here announces: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed.”
We must pay attention, first of all, to the idea of this enmity as such. It implies, in the first place, that friendship had been established through the temptation and fall between the devil and mankind. An unholy alliance, a spiritual fellowship of wickedness, an affinity had been established between the devil and the woman. The reference here, let us note, is directly to the manner in which the temptation and fall took place. The bond had been established first between the devil and the woman, and through the woman with the man, and through Adam, remember, with all mankind. This spiritual fellowship was a fellowship of enmity against God. God’s covenant, as far as mankind was concerned, had been broken and laid in ruins by the woman’s fall and through the instigation of the devil.
But the Lord will put enmity between them. In the place of that friendship there will be mutual hatred. There will be enmity between them, that is, on both sides and on the part of both. God will do that, of course, by changing the heart of the woman and her seed. For we must remember that the positive side of this enmity against Satan is covenant friendship. Even as the friendship of the world is enmity against God (James 4:4), so the enmity against the devil and his seed is friendship of the living God. God, therefore, will maintain His covenant in their hearts. He will root out the devil’s darkness and make the woman and her seed children of light again. When the love of God is shed abroad in their hearts, this love will reveal itself as enmity against the serpent and against the devil and all that is of him. The antithesis of the light over against the darkness will come into being. On the other hand, the very establishment of God’s covenant with the woman and her seed will cause them to be the objects of the devil’s hatred. This is the enmity of which the Lord here speaks.
We can see, as Adam and Eve at that time could not see, the realization of all this in the light of Scripture. Centrally, this enmity is realized in and through our Lord Jesus Christ. It is in Christ, whether in the old dispensation by way of promise or in the new dispensation by way of fulfillment, that the woman and her seed are justified and are victorious. It is by the power of Christ that they are regenerated and that the devil’s darkness is rooted out of their hearts. It is Christ who makes them the party of the living God. It is Christ who makes them enemies of the devil.
In the second place, we must take note of the parties in this enmity that is announced. The enmity is between mankind and the serpent, first of all. No doubt, the serpent as animal is meant here, too. This is plain from the very language of this announcement. It speaks of the bruising of the heel of man and of the crushing of the head of the serpent. The reference is literally to the injury inflicted by the serpent on man and to the death-blow inflicted by man upon the serpent, and thus to the hatred between man and the serpent.
Secondly, and essentially, this enmity is between the woman and the serpent as tempter, that is, therefore, between the woman and the devil. And it is between their respective seeds. That seed of the woman and that seed of the serpent are from a natural point of view both the woman’s seed. But from now on that natural seed of the woman will be divided into two camps, into two seeds, from a spiritual point of view. From that spiritual point of view, there will be the spiritual children of the covenant, the holy seed, in the line of the generations of the elect, on the one hand. That seed is, in the highest sense, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of Mary, David, Judah, Israel, Abraham, Shem, Noah, Seth, Adam—born of a virgin, without the will of man. On the other hand, there will, from a spiritual point of view, be the seed of the serpent, the children of their father the devil, the reprobate-wicked of this world—a seed which culminates in the Antichrist and which has its king in the devil.
Now notice, in the third place, the Subject who here announced this enmity and its creation. Jehovah God says: “I will put enmity….” Take careful note of this. That means that it is all of God. The covenant is God’s! He maintains it; He establishes it; and He realizes it. Even through the deep way of the fall and sin, He leads that covenant on to the higher glory in Christ.
Thus it is, in the light of Scripture. For it is God who sends our Lord Jesus Christ to gain the victory, to crush the head of the serpent, and to rear up the glorious covenant of grace, the eternal tabernacle of God with man. But it is also God who through the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ actually establishes that covenant and realizes its fellowship of friendship in the hearts of whomsoever He wills. Herein lies the beautiful certainty and assurance of the gospel of the promise. There is nothing of man in it. The establishment and realization of that covenant are not man’s work at all. It is all of God. Man, that is, elect man, the seed of the woman, is of God’s party through His grace.
Moreover, it is all by divine appointment, by sovereign election. For there was no seed of the woman, and there was no enmity. There was only the seed of the serpent and enmity against God—that is, as far as man was concerned. But God had determined upon this enmity from eternity, and He had determined to put it into the hearts of His own people, those whom He had chosen in Christ Jesus from before the foundation of the world. This is the gospel of the promise, announced in Paradise. This is the revelation of the wonder of grace.
But there is more. For that promise is also the promise of sure victory.
Indeed, that victory shall be attained through the way of suffering. For the serpent and his brood shall bruise the heel of the woman and her seed. Here is the prophecy which implies all the history of the old dispensation.
Again, first of all, the language is applicable to the serpent. He crawls behind man and bites his heel. This is typically serpent-like. But it is also devil-like. We must understand, then, that the chief reference of the text is to the suffering inflicted upon the church by the devil and his seed throughout history. There is a battle, a spiritual battle, between the woman and the devil and between their seeds. In that battle the heel of the seed of the woman is repeatedly bruised. This bruising of the heel signifies the infliction of intense pain and of an injury which impedes the advance of him who is so injured. The church will suffer. The advance of the church through the world will be opposed and made extremely difficult by the opposition of the devil and his seed. Having her heel wounded, the church will leave a bloody trail behind her all through the course of history.
Nor is it difficult to trace that trail. In the old dispensation, you behold the bruising of the heel of that seed in the persecution and suffering of the church before the Flood; you see it in the history of Israel in Egypt; you mark that bloody trail clearly in Babylon’s attempt to destroy God’s people; and you can see it again shortly before the coming of Christ in the persecution of the holy seed in the time of that old dispensational type of the Antichrist, Antiochus Epiphanes. These are but a few examples. Always, throughout the ages, there was a struggle, a bloody struggle, in which the devil and his seed always aimed to destroy the holy seed, the seed of the woman. But always, though often it seemed as though the devil would succeed and would do far more than bruise the heel, the victory belonged to the seed of the woman, and the holy seed was preserved—by the power of the promise.
Centrally, of course, you behold both the struggle and the victory in Christ Jesus our Lord. At the hand of the world, the carnal seed, the devil and his allies, Christ must suffer and be in terrible agony. But also the church after Him must suffer all through her history. How true it is that also in the new dispensation the history of the church has been written, figuratively, in the blood of the saints! It is a history of continual struggle and suffering. Moreover, the severest suffering and persecution is yet coming. There are bloody days coming for the church, when she shall be persecuted to the death by the power of Antichrist.
But God’s is the victory!
That victory is realized in nature also: the serpent’s head is crushed though he may succeed to bite the heel of man.
But especially is the reference, again, to the church in Christ Jesus. Centrally that victory is in Christ. He, through the blood of atonement and in the resurrection from the dead and His ascension to the right hand of God, where He wields all power in heaven and on earth, has the victory. He crushed the head of the devil and all the power of darkness. But in Christ the entire church is victorious, too. They cannot possibly be overcome. For God is their God, in Christ Jesus, and they are of His party in the midst of the world. In the old dispensation that victory is by way of promise, and always because the great Seed is in the loins of the seed of the woman. In the new dispensation that victory is centrally and principally realized. In the day of Christ it shall attain to its everlasting and full realization and perfection.
In this light we must understand the protevangel. In that protevangel, the sure promise of God, we must see the design of all the coming history.