Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Seed Promise

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and your shall bruise his heel.” 
Genesis 3:15

These words were spoken by God to the serpent shortly after Adam and Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit.  God speaks of both judgment and salvation.  On the one hand, God pronounces judgment on the serpent, but, on the other hand, he announces salvation to the human race.  Christian theologians have recognized from the beginning of the Church that this is the first promise of the gospel in the Bible.  In Latin they called it the Protoevangelium (first gospel).  It is the seed promise that contains all the other gospel promises in the Old Testament.  Here God promises an offspring (older versions translated this as ‘seed’) who shall bruise the head of the serpent.  Although Genesis never identifies the serpent as Satan, context makes it clear that he is the Evil One who first seduced Eve.  And if we doubt that the serpent is Satan, John later tells us in Revelation 12:9 that he is indeed “that ancient serpent.”  Unfortunately, many Christians simply skip over this seed promise not realizing that it is the promise that God seeks to clarify throughout his redemptive story beginning in Genesis and climaxing in Revelation.  In the verse God teaches us that there will be a continual conflict between the offspring of the woman and the offspring of the serpent.  The Hebrew word ‘offspring’ always appears in singular grammatical form (never ‘offsprings’ when the plural is intended), and the context determines whether the meaning is collective (offsprings) or individual (offspring).  So the struggle between the woman’s offspring and the serpent’s offspring may simply mean that there will be a struggle between two races: the offspring of the woman (the children of God) and the offspring of the serpent (the children of the devil).  The verse divides humanity into two spiritual classifications and promises that these two groups will engage in spiritual war.  This fits well with the context because the next chapter reveals an example of this spiritual struggle.  Cain, the offspring of the serpent, kills Abel, the offspring of the woman.  God then appoints Seth as a replacement for Abel.  Keep in mind that this is a spiritual conflict.  From a biological point of view both Cain and Abel were the offspring of the woman.  But the point is that by seducing the woman the serpent has secured an offspring from the race of men.  Humanity is now fallen and in rebellion against God.  And yet the only hope for humanity is for a righteous offspring to bruise Satan’s head as Adam should have done in the first place.  Now even though there is a collective idea in the battle between the two offsprings, we can see that there is an individual referent in the singular offspring who actually bruises the serpent’s head.  We can see this on account of the use of the personal pronoun ‘he.’  In Hebrew there are singular and plural pronoun forms; so this is the way that Moses shows us that he intends a singular offspring.  And this means that Genesis 3:15 envisions a singular offspring who shall come to bruise the head of the serpent.  And how shall he do this?  He shall do this by bruising his own heal.  In other words, he shall wound the serpent by being wounded.  Crushing the head of Satan will require his own suffering.  So God is promising hope of deliverance.  On the one hand, God pronounces judgment on the serpent who is the incarnation of Satan, but, on the other hand, God promises salvation for the offspring of the woman in a singular offspring who shall defeat the devil.  We should think about this verse during the Christmas season because it means that the ultimate triumph over the devil comes through a human being, the offspring of the woman.  This should be understood in light of the Incarnation.  Adam failed in the Garden.  He failed to crush the serpent’s head.  He was silent and sinned.  But the last Adam, Jesus Christ, must prevail where the first Adam failed.  He must do what Adam should have done.  And when he does, there will be redemption.  This, of course, is why Genesis (and a great deal of the Bible) is concerned with genealogies (tracing offspring from one generation to another).  In chapter 5 we have the genealogy from Seth (the righteous offspring as Abel’s replacement) to Noah.  In chapters 10 and 11 we can follow Noah’s genealogy through Shem to Terah.  And Terah fathered Abram.  So by the time we come to the call of Abram in Genesis 12 we should be thinking in light of God’s original seed promise.  For God shall also make a promise about Abraham’s offspring that further clarifies what the offspring of the woman shall accomplish.  In Abraham’s offspring all nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:3; 22:18; Galatians 3:8, 11).    

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