I was recently reading through Genesis and paused when I got to Genesis 3:14-15. I have always been taught that Genesis 3:15 was directed not at the physical serpent (that is, the creature itself), but the spiritual ‘serpent’ (who is Satan). But in my recent reading, I asked myself: Are we right to interpret Genesis 3:15 in this way? This post contains my conclusion on the subject after thought and investigation.
Genesis 3:14-15 (in the NASB) reads:
“14 Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you will go, And dust you will eat All the days of your life; 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.”
I believe these two verses can be broken down as follows:
- Verse 14 - This verse clearly refers to the physical creature because of the comparison to other creatures (“more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field”) and the description of the physiological changes that were to occur in the creature (“on your belly you will go, and dust you will eat all the days of your life”).
- Verse 15 (first clause) - May be referring to both the physical and spiritual serpent, but it is certainly directed at the spiritual serpent (Satan) and, if it applies to both, is to be read as apply more or most clearly to Satan rather than the creature. This argument is based primarily on the fact that the word “enmity” is used. This word, referring to intense hatred or a ‘blood-feud’ (to borrow the words of one commentary*), is only used in three other places in the Old Testament (Numbers 35:21-22, Ezekiel 25:15, and Ezekiel 35:5.). In each of these locations, it captures intense animosity between two conscious parties who are intentionally antagonizing one another. As such, it appears more appropriate that this clause is primarily referring to the hatred that will come between the seed of Satan and the seed of Eve rather than the seed of the creature we call a serpent. Snakes may be smart, but it seems a stretch to use the relatively rare term “enmity” to describe the relationship between men and snakes.
- Verse 15 (second clause) - This verse is focused directly at Satan. This is proved by the use of the singular pronoun “He” to describe the seed of Eve that will crush Satan’s head. There will be animosity between Eve’s seed (plural) and Satan’s seed (plural), but there will be one specific seed (singular) that will deal a deadly blow to Satan (singular).
In short, yes, it is appropriate to interpret Genesis 3:15 such that it is being applied to Satan rather than the physical serpent. This is why many have called this verse the “Protevangelium”, hailing it as an early proclamation of the Gospel. There is one man who came from Eve’s seed who will permanently defeat Satan!
* - http://biblehub.com/commentaries/cambridge/genesis/3.htm