Thursday, December 23, 2010

Did God Promise a Savior in Genesis 3:15?

Readers of today's Our Daily Bread devotional piece may have been confused by a Scriptural reference it included. Writer C.P. Hia claimed that Genesis 3:15, contains God's promise to Adam and Eve that He would send a Savior. In Genesis 3:15, God tells the serpent after he had tempted the pair into their disobedience of God:
I will put My enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.
What, some folks might have wondered, was Hia talking about? Where is the promise of a Savior?

It turns out that Hia is not alone in his understanding of this passage. It has been a traditional teaching among Christians of all theological stripes for centuries.

The eminent nineteenth century preacher, C.H. Spurgeon has been among many evangelical Christians to find this promise in Genesis 3:15. On November 26, 1876, in a sermon titled, Christ, the Conqueror of Satan, based on this single verse, Spurgeon explains:
These words were not directly spoken to Adam and Eve, but they were directed distinctly to the serpent himself, and that by way of punishment to him for what he had done. It was a day of cruel triumph to him such joy as his dark mind is capable of had filled him, for had he indulged his malice, and gratified his spite. He had in the worst sense destroyed a part of God's works, he had introduce sin into the new world, he had stamped the human race with his own image, and gained new forces to promote rebellion and to multiply transgression, and therefore he felt that sort of gladness which a fiend can know who bears a hell within him. 

But now God comes in, takes up the quarrel personally, and causes him to be disgraced on the very battle-field upon which he had gained a temporary success. He tells the dragon that he will undertake to deal with him; this quarrel shall not be between the serpent and man, but between God and the serpent. God saith, in solemn words, "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed," and he promised that there shall rise in fulness of time a champion, who, though he suffer, shall smite in a vital part the power of evil, and bruise the serpent's head. 

This was the more, it seems to me, a comfortable message of mercy to Adam and Eve, because they would feel sure that the tempter would be punished, and as that punishment would involve blessing for them, the vengeance due to the serpent would be the guarantee of mercy to themselves. Perhaps, however, by thus obliquely giving the promise, the Lord meant to say, "Not for your sakes do I this, O fallen man and woman, nor for the sake of your descendants; but for my own name and honour's sake, that it be not profaned and blasphemed amongst the fallen spirits. I undertake to repair the mischief which has been caused by the tempter, that my name and my glory may not be diminished among the immortal spirits who look down upon the scene." 

All this would be very humbling but yet consolatory to our parents if they thought of it, seeing that mercy given for God's sake is always to our troubled apprehension more sure than any favour which could be promised to us for our own sake. The divine sovereignty and glory afford us a stronger foundation of hope than merit, even if merit can be supposed to exist...

Nor, brethren, must you think it a slender revelation, for, if you attentively consider, it is wonderfully full of meaning. If it had been on my heart to handle it doctrinally this morning, I think I could have shown you that it contains all the gospel. There lie within it, as an oak lies within an acorn, all the great truths which make up the gospel of Christ. 

Observe that here is the grand mystery of incarnation. Christ is that seed of the woman who is here spoken of; and there is a hint not darkly given as to how that Incarnation would be effected. Jesus was not shadowed of the Holy Ghost, and "the holy thing" which was born of her was as to his humanity the seed of the woman only; as it is written, "Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel." 

The promise plainly teaches that the deliverer would be born of a woman, and carefully viewed, it also foreshadows the divine method of the Redeemer's conception and birth. So also is the doctrine of the two seeds plainly taught here—"I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed." There was evidently to be in the world a seed of the woman on God's side against the serpent, and a seed of the serpent that should always be upon the evil side even as it is unto this day...We see an Abel and a Cain, an Isaac and an Ishmael, a Jacob and an Esau; those that are born after the flesh, being the children of their father the devil, for his works they do, but those that are born again—being born after the Spirit, after the power of the life of Christ, are thus in Christ Jesus the seed of the woman, and contend earnestly against the dragon and his seed. 

Here, too, the great fact of the sufferings of Christ is clearly foretold—"Thou shalt bruise his heel." Within the compass of those words we find the whole story of our Lord's sorrows from Bethlehem to Calvary. 

"It shall bruise thy head": there is the breaking of Satan's regal power, there is the clearing away of sin, there is the destruction of death by resurrection, there is the leading of captivity captive in the ascension, there is the victory of truth in the world through the descent of the Spirit, and there is the latter-day glory in which Satan shall be bound, and there is, lastly, the casting of the evil one and all his followers into the lake of fire. 

The conflict and the conquest are both in the compass of these few fruitful words. They may not have been fully understood by those who first heard them, but to us they are now full of light. The text at first looks like a flint, hard and cold; but sparks fly from it plentifully, for hidden fires of infinite love and grace lie concealed within. Over this promise of a gracious God we ought to rejoice exceedingly.
We do not know what our first parents understood by it, but we may be certain that they gathered a great amount of comfort from it They must have understood that they were not then and there to be destroyed, because the Lord had spoken of a "seed." They would argue that it must be needful that Eve should live if there should be a seed from her. They understood, too, that if that seed was to overcome the serpent and bruise his head, it must auger good to themselves: they could not fail to see that there was some great, some mysterious benefit to be conferred upon them by the victory which their seed would achieve over the instigator of their ruin. They went on in faith upon this, and were comforted in travail and in toil, and I doubt not both Adam and his wife in the faith thereof entered into everlasting rest.
Spurgeon, as I say, isn't alone in seeing the promise of a Savior in Genesis 3:15. The Orthodox Study Bible, produced by Biblical scholars from the Greek Orthodox Church, contains this note about the passage:
The woman's seed is first Christ, and second His Church (Gal 3:16, 26). The serpent's seed are those who reject Christ and follow the devil (1 Jn 3:8-10). Christ destroyed the devil through the cross (bruise your head). [Be sure to read the linked passages here.]
That last paragraph cited from Spurgeon's sermon, I think, is something that even post-modern believers in the Bible can agree on, whether they see the promise of a Savior in these words of God or not. God is, and always has been, a comforter to sinners like you and me. God has always offered what I call "in spite of" love and provision. God would not force a relationship with Him on Adam and Eve, but He would make it available in spite of their rebellion. In Christ, God offers this same blessing to the whole human race. We simply need to repent and believe in Christ. (Though, given our inborn sin, that isn't nearly as simple to live as it is to say!)

By the way, the cited paragraphs above are just a fraction of Spurgeon's sermon. People expected long sermons in the nineteenth century and, in Spurgeon's case, liked them that way. 

If you want to read his entire sermon on Genesis 3:15, go here. The transcribers of the sermon have made something of a mess of Spurgeon's grammar and spelling, but, as one of our contemporary eminent Lutheran preachers, Ed Markquart noted in his book, Quest for Better Preaching, reading Spurgeon is always worthwhile. 

[This is a painting by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. It shows Christ crushing a serpent beneath his heel, as His mother, Mary, sits behind him. The woman on the right portrays Anna, the name in Christian legend given to Mary's mother, about whom there is no Biblical or other evidence at all.]

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