We've been looking at Genesis 3:14-19 and considering the judgments that God pronounces upon the serpent, the woman, and the man, because of their respective roles in disobeying the command God had given to Adam. But here we want to focus in on what is one of the most beautiful texts in all the Bible. It is the first promise Scripture records of the coming of the Messiah and the redemption He would accomplish for His people. And it is the inauguration of what we call the Covenant of Grace. It is the seed of the gospel, because from this seed promise spoken in Genesis 3:15 would sprout and grow all the promises that Scripture would make about Christ and the redemption He would accomplish for His people. They would all grow out of and be traced back to this first promise, recorded in Genesis 3:15.
So, lets read together Genesis 3:15. God said: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.”
1. The SUBSTANCE of the promise:
A) Enmity Between the Serpent and the Woman:
The Lord said to the serpent: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman. . .” What do we make of this? Well, Romans 8:7 says that, “the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God.” Every single person, since the fall of man, was born into this condition—hostility toward God—enmity toward God. And the reason every single one of us is born into this condition, is because when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, it was into this condition that they plunged themselves (and all humanity along with them). Adam and Eve's sin brought them into a state of being at enmity with God. But here the Lord is telling the serpent that now He will put enmity between the serpent and the woman. In other words, the Lord is promising here to reverse what Satan had done: “Adam and Eve had aligned themselves with Satan. But now the Lord would put enmity between the woman and the serpent.”1 Eve had been at war with God—now she would be at war with Satan. She had fallen into sin, but that would not be the end of the story. Eve had known the Lord as her Creator—now she would come to experience Him as her Redeemer.2
This is what God does when He saves us. He doesn't just forgive our sins—He gives us a new heart with new desires. The sin that we used to love, we now hate. Our sin used to be like an old friend—now it's our worst enemy. Why? Because we made a decision to follow Jesus? No. Because God made a promise: “I will put enmity between you and the woman. . .” Scripture is making it crystal clear here in Genesis 3:15 that “salvation is God's initiative.”3 It is God alone that would do this work in the woman and in us: “This is what God promises to man. . .that, by the insurmountable efficacy of his power he would perform and bring [this] about.”4 So if you have a new heart with new desires; if you find that you hate the sin you used to love—it's not because you made a decision to choose God. It's because God made a promise to redeem you.
Another quick word of application here: Don't be discouraged because of your struggle with sin. Your struggle with sin isn't a sign of spiritual death or even decay. Quite the contrary: It's actually a vital and necessary sign of spiritual life. There ought to be enmity between you and your sin if you belong to Jesus. If you're at peace with your sin there's something wrong: “It is when I am trying to deny that I have sin to deal with that I am in trouble, not when I am grieving over the continual fight against sin. . .This kind of warfare is the very evidence of life and grace.”5
B) Enmity Between the Seed of the Serpent and the Seed of the Woman:
The Lord continues, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. . .” What's God saying? Who is the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman?
I) The Seed of the SERPENT: Here the Lord is not referring to the serpent itself, but to the seed of the serpent: “I will put enmity. . .between your seed and her seed. . .” Who is the seed of the serpent? The seed of the serpent are the children of the serpent—the children of the devil—all those who are at peace with Satan (though they might never say that—or even think that). In 1 Samuel 2:12 we read a description of Eli's sons: “Now the sons of Eli were worthless men; they did not know the Lord;” but the literal Hebrew reads, “sons of Belial” (another name for the devil). John the Baptist called the Pharisees a “generation of vipers” (Matthew 3:7). Christ himself spoke of them in John 8:44, saying, “You are of your father the devil, and do the works of your father” (cf. John 8:38,41). So who are the seed of the serpent? The children of the devil.
II) The Seed of the WOMAN: Who is the seed of the woman? It wouldn't make sense to say the woman's seed is everyone who would come forth from the woman, as many of them are of the seed of the serpent. Even the woman's very first child, Cain, was said to be of the evil one (1 John 3:12). Cain was physically the offspring of Eve—but spiritually the offspring of the serpent.
In one sense, the seed of the woman is referring to believers—those whom God has chosen among the woman's seed who, by God's grace, would be turned from enmity with God to enmity with Satan.6 We have an analogy of this in Revelation 12, where we read of a woman and a great red dragon who hated her. The woman was about to give birth to a unique child (representing Christ), and the dragon wanted to devour that child. But when he couldn't, we read: “So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” (12:17).
So, there are two seeds7 — and there's only two — the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. And this is exactly what we see played out in Genesis 4-5: two lines; two seeds. The seed of Cain—who was of the seed of the serpent, and the seed of Abel—who was of the seed of the woman (and after Abel was murdered by his brother,8 the seed of Seth). Then in Genesis 4 we have a record of the genealogy of the unbelieving seed of Cain; and in Genesis 5 we have a record of the genealogy of the believing line of Seth, from whom eventually Noah would come.
Why is it that some men receive the offer of the gospel, while others sitting right next to them reject that offer? The ultimate answer is found in Genesis—some are of the seed of the woman; but others are of the seed of the serpent. This is the reason our Savior gave for why some responded to His preaching and others didn't. Jesus said to the Jews, “you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish. . .” (John 10:26-28). Only those who are regenerated through the power of the Holy Spirit will respond to the call of the gospel.9
So, in one sense, the seed of the woman is referring to believers. But in the truest and most proper sense, the seed of the woman is Christ. We know this because the last clause in verse 15 understands the seed of the woman to be referring to a singular individual: “He shall bruise you on the head. . .”10 So, in the most proper sense, the seed of the woman is Christ. And enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman is the enmity of the sons of the devil against Jesus Christ. The children of the serpent will ever be at war with Jesus (see Psalm 2).
C) Enmity Between the Seed of the Woman and the Serpent:
Returning once again to our text, we read in Genesis 3:15, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” How are we to understand the last clause here in this verse?
It's speaking of the one particular seed of the woman who would defeat Satan: Jesus, the unique seed of the woman, would come to destroy the serpent—He would crush the devil—but in doing so, He would be bitten on the heel.11 This is a reference to the cross. Christ would accomplish victory, but He would suffer a blow from Satan in the process. Christ would accomplish redemption for His people, but it would come at a great cost. Satan would “bruise” the promised Messiah, even as He dealt the crushing blow to Satan through His atoning death and resurrection.
There's an allusion to this verse in Romans 16:20: “The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.” In Genesis 3:15 the seed is referring explicitly to a single individual, but the victory that Christ accomplishes in crushing the head of the serpent is on behalf of a great multitude of the seed of the woman. Christ triumphs, but we reap the benefits of His victory.
So, we see how this promise in Genesis 3:15 is the seed of the gospel. As another put it: “This promise of Christ, the woman's seed (verse 15), was the gospel; and the only comfort [of the Old Testament people of God].”12 Old Testament believers weren't saved because they had a faith in God in just a general sense. Adam and Eve, and Abel, and Seth and Enoch, Noah, and the patriarchs, and all who would come after them were saved just as we are: By grace alone through faith alone in the Messiah—the Messiah whom God had promised to send them in Genesis 3:15.
2. The BREADTH of the promise:
So, we can learn at least this much from Genesis 3:15: “In this promise was revealed, [that]: 1) Man's restoration [un]to the favor of God, and his salvation; [was] not to be effected by man himself, and his own works, but by another. . . 2) That this Savior was to be incarnate, to become man, 'the seed of the woman' . . . 3) That he [would have] to suffer; his heel, namely his humanity, to be bruised to death. . . 4) [and] that by his death he should make a full conquest over the devil. . .and so recover the captives out of his hand, 'he shall bruise thy head'. . .This encounter was on the cross; there Christ treading on the serpent, it bruised his heel, but he bruised its head. . .”13 Praise be to God.
3. The RESPONSE to the promise:
We read in Genesis 3:20, “Now the man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.” What's the significance of what we read here in Genesis 3:20? Well, it could be that Adam's merely making the statement that all humankind would come forth from Eve. Now, even if this is all that is meant here, that alone is something of massive significance. Why? Think about all the things he could have named his wife after what had just happened. He could have named her “Gullible,” or “Susceptible,” or “Conspirator.” But he doesn't. He names her “Eve,” which means “living,” or “life.” In the name he gives her, Adam is dealing kindly with her; he is looking past her part in the offense; he is showing her respect and honoring her (cf. 1 Peter 3:7).14 Even if he was merely referencing life in the physical sense, he could have taken that honor upon himself—after all, he was the father of all the living as much as she was the mother of all the living—but he gives the honor to her. And in that, I believe, we see the first evidences of God's grace at work in Adam.
But it's very possible that in this new name, Adam's referring to more than just physical life. He had already given her the name “woman” in Genesis 2:23; why give her another name now? And why would Adam name her “Eve” — what significance would the meaning have now that it didn't before?
It's likely that Adam is referring back to the promise God had made in Genesis 3:15 when he names his wife Eve. Because of their sin, Adam and his wife expected (and deserved) nothing but death. But instead of giving them over to death, God gave them a promise of life. And so, it seems that Adam “called his wife Eve, from his faith in God's promise, believing, according to the word of God, that no man should have true life, but what would be derived from her.”15 Eve would be the mother of all the living, because from her would come forth the One who would bring life to all the world.
4. The SIGN of the promise:
Finally, we read in Genesis 3:21, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.” After Adam and Eve had sinned, they sewed fig leaves to cover themselves. But the coverings they tried to make for themselves wouldn't do. Like them, we sense our guilt and feel the shame of sin; and though we try to fix things ourselves, we can't. Only God can truly and completely cover the guilt and shame we carry because of our sin. And so here in Genesis 3:21, God himself makes coverings for Adam and Eve to replace the ones they had tried to make for themselves.
God deals with our first parents in grace. Instead of leaving them in their guilt and shame, the Lord covers them with garments that He himself provided. It's significant what God is doing here. In Genesis 3:15, God had made a promise to send a Savior; here in Genesis 3:21 God is giving a picture of how that Savior would accomplish redemption. Hebrews tells us, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (9:22). And so, when the Lord clothes Adam and Eve, it came at a cost. Scripture tells us that God clothed them with animal skins. This means that an innocent animal was slain in order to clothe Adam and Eve. Innocent blood was shed on behalf of the guilty.
The blood of the animal signified that God was atoning for the guilt of their sin; the skin of the animal signified that God was covering them from the shame of their sin. This is what God does for us in justification; He clothes us with the garments of His righteousness: Isaiah 61:10 says, “I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, my soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness.” In Genesis 3:15, God had promised to put enmity between the woman and Satan; God would perform a radical, inward change. But the Lord wouldn't just do a work of grace in Adam and Eve—He would do a work of grace for them.
A Savior would come. He would save His people from their sin. He would cover us from the shame of our sin. He would atone for the guilt of our sin. He would be pierced through for our transgressions, He would be crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace would be upon Him, and by His scourging we would be healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord would cause the iniquity of us all to fall upon Him.
1 From the O Palmer Robertson audio lectures on Covenant Theology.
2 Henry Ainsworth says: “Enmity: This is opposed to the amity and familiarity which had been between the woman and the serpent, which God would break. And here begins the first promise of grace and life, to [Eve] and mankind now dead in sin.” (Annotations, Genesis 3:15). And Herman Hoeksema likewise writes: “The positive meaning of the enmity against Satan, which was announced by God, is the covenant fellowship of the Most High. As the friendship of the world is enmity against God (James 4:4), so also the enmity against the serpent and his seed is friendship of God. . .The promise of God in the protevangel is that God will put enmity in the heart of man against Satan and his seed. This implies regeneration.” (Reformed Dogmatics, pp369-70). Vos also notes: “Enmity between the woman and her seed, on the one hand, and the serpent and its seed, on the other, points to a relationship of friendship with God. After all, man had renounced friendship with God and had allied himself with Satan. Where friendship with Satan has now turned into enmity, this can mean nothing other than that friendship with God has been restored.” (Reformed Dogmatics, V2, p125). And Waltke echoes all this: “In sovereign grace God converts the depraved woman's affections for Satan to righteous desire for himself.” (Genesis, p93).
3 Julian Zugg from his Covenant Theology course (From the MINTS website).
4 From Witsius, Economy of the Covenants.
5 Application and quote taken from Ligon Duncan's course, Covenant Theology.
6 Witsius explains this double meaning of “seed” in this way: “Just as the seed of Abraham is sometimes to be understood more largely, at others more strictly. . . sometimes more especially believers of his posterity, who walk in the steps of the faith of their father Abraham. . .Romans 4:12-13; sometimes most especially that eminent one in the seed of Abraham, who was to be the spring of every blessing. . .which is Christ, Galatians 3:16. . .Thus also [it is] here.”
7 Two—but not three—I used to want to put myself in a middle third category (believer in Jesus but not His follower).
8 Which was actually a fulfillment of this very prophecy—the enmity between the ungodly seed of the serpent and the godly seed of the woman.
9 Application gleaned from O Palmer Robertson.
10 Jack Collins draws this out beautifully in his article in the Tyndale Bulletin (48.1: 1997), A Syntactical Note (Genesis 3:15): Is the Woman's Seed Singular or Plural? Like English, the Hebrew word for seed (zera) can refer to either a singular seed in particular or to a collective group (IE, posterity). Collins first notes that the Hebrew pronouns referring back to the seed in Genesis 3:15 (he will bruise you. . .you will bruise him. . .) are singular. He then goes on to show that in Scripture, when the Hebrew word seed denotes a collective posterity (a plural understanding), the corollary pronouns are always plural (cf. Genesis 15:13; 17:7-10; Exodus 30:21; Leviticus 21:17; Deuteronomy 10:15; 2 Kings 17:20; Isaiah 61:9b; 65:23; Jeremiah 23:8; 30:10; 33:26; Ezekiel 20:5; Psalm 106:27; Ezra 2:59), whereas when the Hebrew word seed in Scripture is referring to a particular individual, it appears with singular pronouns, adjectives, and verb inflections (cf. Genesis 4:25; 22:17c; 2 Samuel 7:12-15). Further, from what we can tell (in some cases there is some overlap between Greek masculine and neuter tenses), the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Septuagint) marked this distinction in its translation by rendering seed in a masculine (rather than a neuter) tense when referring to a particular individual (even though the Greek word for seed itself is neuter). Thus, the nature of the singular pronouns in Genesis 3:15 takes on all the more significance. The seed is referring to Christ.
11 Ainsworth notes of this clause in Genesis 3:15, “Hereby is meant Satan's overthrow and destruction in respect of his power and works (John 12:31; 1 John 3:8), for the head being bruised, strength and life is perished. . .Christ was to vanquish that old serpent, which overcame our first parents. . .By the heel, or foot bruised, is meant Christ's ways, which Satan should seek to suppress by afflictions, and death for our sins, here foretold; as appears by the reference which other Scriptures make to this prophecy. . .and so his foot, not his head, was bruised by the serpent. Who yet brought upon him a death that was shameful, and painful, and cursed, because he was 'hanged on a tree,' (Galatians 3:13), for it is probable, that partly in remembrance of this first sin, by eating of the tree of knowledge(which tree was a sign of curse and death if man transgressed) God's law after accounts such as die on a tree, to have in more special manner, the sign of curse upon them (Deuteronomy 21:23). But Christ swallowed up death in victory (Isaiah 25:8), through whom, God also 'giveth us the victory,' (1 Corinthians 15:57). . .”
12 From the Marrow of Modern Divinity, p45.
14 Especially so in light of the fact that it was truly Eve's sin that began to plunge the whole world into death (rather than life).
15 From Witsius, Economy of the Covenants.