The Serpent's Curse (Genesis 3:14-15)
We often speak of the consequences man faced when they sinned in the garden, but we often forget the magnitude of the consequences the serpent faced for his deception. It is easy to read verses 14-15 and give a cursory interpretation based on a traditional understanding of this text: Satan bruises Christ’s heel in Christ’s death, but Christ crushes Satan’s head in his resurrection. I believe Scripture shows this to be limited in its scope. My goal this evening is to freshly approach this text by seeking its meaning in light of passages that reference this event. When God curses the serpent he sends the message that his deception was no small matter. My hope is for us to gain a greater appreciation of God’s plan to destroy his works and to see how we fit into that plan.
Cursed Are You
Genesis 3 seems to emphasize that to Adam and Eve this was a mere serpent. He is the craftiest animal (3:1), was cursed above all livestock (3:14), and must now slither on the ground (3:14). While he seemed like a mere serpent, the rest of the Bible refers him as much more. The most explicit reference to this serpent’s true identity is in Revelation 12:9, “And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world…” God’s prophecy in verse 15 warns of the danger of underestimating this serpent by prophesying the continuation of turmoil between the serpent and the woman throughout their generations.
The enmity is predicted to continue with strife between the woman’s offspring and serpent’s offspring. But who are these offspring? This Hebrew word “zera” is a collective singular noun usually translated as “offspring” in the ESV and “descendants” in the NASB. It refers to one group with many individuals in it just like other collective singular nouns like “flock” and “herd.” This means this prophecy refers to a plurality of individuals belonging to each offspring. Here, “offspring” refers to two opposing families at war, not two individual offspring. In some ways, it only makes sense to interpret this as two families battling each other. Traditionally, “offspring” is interpreted as an individual with the woman’s offspring being Christ. But if the woman’s offspring is an individual, we have to say the same for Satan’s offspring. Who would that one great descendant of Satan and enemy of God be? Hopefully you see the problem. We know of no such follower of Satan. By extension, we should also question the traditional conclusion that Christ alone is this offspring.
But who is doing the attacking at the end of verse 15? Who is the “he” who bruises the head? Whose heal is being bruised? The NET translation clarifies this. “And I will put hostility between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring; her offspring will attack your head, and you will attack her offspring’s heel.” This makes more sense of verse 15. Who else does “he” refer to but the woman’s offspring that has enmity with the serpent and his offspring (See Genesis 16:10, 22:17, and 24:60 for examples of a singular pronoun referring to a collective singular noun. See Genesis 28:14 for an example of a singular “you” referring to one’s offspring.)? We learned in grade school to not use a pronoun without a reference point. Certainly, it points back to the previous line. But how does this prophecy play out in the future? I used to think this verse was fulfilled only in Satan bruising Jesus’ heel through the cross, and Jesus crushing Satan’s head through resurrection. But if we study what the Bible says about this picture, we will find a fuller understanding that includes us in the fulfillment.
Who Are the Offspring?
Paul makes the most direct reference to the picture of the offspring crushing Satan. In Romans 16 Paul exhorts the congregation to watch out for divisive people and then references this Genesis 3 scene. Romans 16:17-20, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” The description of divisive people sounds extremely similar to a description of Satan. Paul connects Satan and these evil people in verse 20 by speaking of Satan’s eminent destruction. Notice how it is under these saints’ feet that Satan will be crushed. Pairing this with our knowledge from Genesis 3:15, we can see how these deceptive people could be called the offspring of the serpent while saints are the offspring of the woman who crushes them.
This is not out of character to refer to people as offspring of the serpent. In Matthew 3:7, John the Baptist calls the Pharisees and Saducees a “brood of vipers.” Jesus does the same thing in Matthew 23:33, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.” And in John 8:44, “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.” Even the religious leaders of Israel are named as Satan’s offspring. The offspring of Satan are those who act like their father did in the garden. Here, they are deceitful liars and murderers of God’s people. The reference to Abel shows us that Cain is considered the first offspring of Satan. From the beginning God’s messengers have suffered at the hands of the serpent’s offspring. But in Romans 16 Paul declares that God will crush Satan under the saints’ feet. (cf. Matthew 13:36-43 for another the prophecy of Satan’s “sons” or offspring being defeated.)
The Last Enemy
But how will God and the grace of Jesus crush Satan and his offspring under the saints’ feet? This age where people in the kingdom of God prevail over serpents is spoken of in Messianic prophecies. Isaiah 65:25, “… Dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,’ says the LORD.” Psalm 91:13, “You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.” These can be read as symbolic references to Satan and his power not being feared by God’s people.
Jesus’ followers got a taste of that in Luke 10:17-20, “The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’” They refer to the demons being subject to them and Jesus equates that with God’s people being given authority to walk all over Satan. Verse 19 says Jesus gives them this authority. The “offspring of woman” cannot walk all over the enemy on their own; it is only through Christ. An important result of this that they should rejoice in is this: their names are written in heaven. There is no longer a fear of Satan and his powers, but a security and confidence. Similar to Zechariah 13:1-2, the unclean spirits are being removed from the land and permanent cleansing of the sins Satan so vehemently accuses us of is being accomplished. The Messiah’s rule is being established, the kingdom is coming, and those in his kingdom are beginning to prevail. The prophecy is being fulfilled as the offspring of woman begin to crush the offspring of Satan.
Hebrews 2:14-15 is very helpful in showing the means by which Christ gained power over Satan. “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Satan’s power is death and it is through Christ that he and death are rendered powerless. We would love to be able to say the death and the serpent’s head have been definitively crushed once and for all. But the last enemy is death - a power that still plagues us. 1 Corinthians 15:24-26, “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” The end has not come. But Christ has inaugurated his kingdom and God is subjugating all his enemies, putting them under his feet. The powers that be still stand by Satan wielding the death weapon, but Satan and these powers are discovering that death no longer has quite the power it once had over the offspring of the woman.
But how has Christ been able to suck the power of death away? Hebrews says that it is through his death. Many people often say Satan “bruised Christ’s heel” when Christ died, but Hebrews says Christ’s death is what rendered Satan powerless. We needn’t look too far to the horrors done by evil people in this world to see how Satan bruises heals today. When mankind lost access to the Tree of Life, physical death became a fearful reality that drove mankind to grab all the gusto and chase the pleasures of sin while they can. As Hebrews says, we were subjected to lifelong slavery because we feared death. But Christ shared in our flesh and blood by going to the cross and proving his power over death through his resurrection. Physical death no longer carries the fear it once carried. Satan may hold death, but Christ is the resurrection and Christ’s offspring live on.
Revelation 12 connects how Christ and the saints conquer this serpent together, Revelation 12:11, “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Limiting Genesis 3:15 to Christ alone destroying the serpent misses the full picture. It is the saints who conquer the serpent through the blood of the lamb. They conquer because they trust the blood of the lamb and do not value their lives when physical death is threatened because they have seen the lamb’s resurrection. The picture throughout Revelation is that the true saints are enduring suffering at the hands of their persecutors, but they eventually defeat the serpent and are dressed in white robes. The serpent’s promised defeat becomes a reality. Satan can bruise our heals and threaten us with physical death, but we attack the head of the serpent and nullify his and his offspring’s power to kill when we love not our lives, even if it means our physical deaths.
The Offspring of Woman Can Attack. This can be massively encouraging to us as the offspring of woman. God has promised from the beginning with serpent’s curse that Satan and his offspring will be destroyed. Though we live in a place of relative peace, the true children of God have lived in turmoil at the hands of the offspring of Satan from the beginning of time. And that peace may exist more insidiously because God’s people have made peace with Satan’s offspring. His offspring murdered Abel as they murdered the Son of God. When you become discouraged and feel as though Satan and his offspring are triumphing, take courage. The offspring of woman will overcome as surely as Christ overcame the grave. The power of the enemy is being crushed underneath our feet.
The Serpent Continues to Attack. We must recognize that his deception is still alive today. If Adam and Eve failed with the Tree of Life in plain view as they ate the forbidden fruit, how much more can we too fall into deception when the Tree of Life seems so far away. The path to true life is open, but Satan wants us to believe only he gives true life. Through the curse God is warning us, “He is trying to kill you!” As I consider the power that the serpent exerts over my family and friends, it is depressing. We are attacked constantly and often do not notice. The serpent is lying in wait for each one of us right now, and I’m nervous we may not take that as seriously as we should. We must not allow the apathetic attitude of the world toward sin affect us. John says in 1 John 3:8 that “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” Sin is everything God is destroying. Making a practice of sinning is how we try to make war on the Lamb. We are called to hate sin and stomp it out, not embrace it! The serpent still comes by innocent means to deceive us with grand promises. Let’s join in the cosmic battle God has sworn we will win. Death is awful, but we should not fear it as others do since it cannot take us away from true life. Instead of fearing us, let us hate it and how it still attacks us. Let us crush Satan’s works in our life and let God’s eternal nature live in us.