Sabbath Reflection for Friday, November 21 (’14)
14 (“Yahweh”) The LORD God said to the serpent,
______“Because you have done this,
________cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
__________on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity
________ between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
______he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.
What’s your take on history? Why are there wars? Famines? Conflicts of epic proportions? And what of families—why will you hear your kids sweetly playing at 4:00pm and, at 4:01pm, hear them tearing each other apart?
Genesis 3:14-15 shows four truths of history that explain the big wars of nations and the divisions in your home. Most importantly, we see four truths that explain the persecution of God’s people. And, as they say, knowledge is power. Knowing these truths acts like calming lavender: it may not take the pain away, but it helps you be able to endure it when it comes—and it will come.
First, in 3:14a, we see the Judge of history, “Yahweh God (“Elohim”) said to the serpent, Because you have done this….” Whoever you are, you don’t want to be on the other side of that statement. Here, the definitive and clear judge of all speaks forth his judgment upon a usurper to His throne. Important, too, is the pairing of “Elohim” (“God”) with “Yahweh” (“LORD”). Elohim is the only descriptive term used of the Creator in Genesis 1 and is used 35 times between 1:1 and 2:3 (which is a single unit of thought). The use of Elohim pulls the reader back to Genesis 1: the God who used his voice to to give every creature life now uses that voice again on a rebellious creature who has embraced death. His Words in Genesis 1 act as judgment to put all the chaos of 1:2 (“formless and void”, i.e., shapeless and uninhabited) back into place. His Words here in 3:14 begin to put things back where they are supposed to be. The Serpent has drawn the king, Adam, out of his natural place. Elohim is speaking, but just in case we are tempted—like Adam and Eve—to think this Elohim is an unkind, distant Judge caring only for the administration of justice, the author pairs “Yahweh” with Elohim. Who is this Yahweh? Exodus 34:5-7 reminds us the meaning of this specific name:
Yahweh descended (just as he did in Genesis 3!) in the cloud and stood with [Moses] there, and proclaimed the name of Yahweh. Yahweh passed before him and proclaimed, “Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
What Adam and Eve—even the Serpent—experienced in judgment is not just a detached judge, but a gracious and compassionate judge. He could have crushed them here and there. Instead, he sets history on a trajectory.
Christians are often mocked for belief in a God who is supposedly all-powerful and all-good and all-knowing but created a world like this one, full of horrible atrocities. The alternative never seems to cross their mind: here in Genesis 3:14, he could have said, “Because you have done this, I’m going to wipe the slate clean—start over.” Instead, we get Elohim Yahweh, and we get the trajectory of our salvation. I’m so glad the Ultimate Judge is gracious and slow to anger. I’m also glad he actually judges disobedience and doesn’t ignore it!
Second, we not only see the Judge of history, but also we see the character of history. History is characterized by conflict: warfare, big and small. As James 4 says, “Why are there fights and quarrels among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” Whereas Genesis 3:14 gives the big picture: two competing sides in a cosmic battle for domination, James reminds us we ourselves are the battlefield. Each of us carries within ourselves the seeds of our own destruction. I feel this every day. I know you do, too.
Essentially, the character of history is described by a single, horrible word: enmity. The result of the Serpent and Man in collusion was immediate. The Judge here describes and promises what will result: enmity—that strong and bitter hatred that is irreconcilable and results in action against the other. On the one hand, this is horrible news, and we feel the effects daily. On the other hand, this is wonderful news: God will not let evil take out the good. There will be war. Yahweh picks a fight!
Third, after seeing the Judge and Character of history, we see the Armies of history: the army of the Serpent and that of the Woman, “Between your offspring and her offspring” (3:15b). Genesis 4 shows us these two sides most clearly. Cain, the seed of the Serpent, and Abel, the seed of the Woman. One has faith, one doesn’t. Cain hates the Abel and is absorbed in beating him, while Abel is absorbed with worship of Yahweh. And this is, essentially, the key difference between the two: the army/seed of Satan defines victory as destroying the army/seed of God while the seed of God defines victory as believing God is able to do more than we can imagine, namely, saving us from sin and death (cf. Rom 5:8 and Eph 3:20-21). One trusts in itself. The other trusts in Yahweh.
Fourth, and very simply, Genesis 3:14-15 shows us the conclusion of history, “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (3:15b). Only one can win the day. While some battles in history result in stalemates and treaties (e.g., Battle of Kadesh), this battle has no possibility whatsoever for Armistice. One of these seeds gives the other a death-blow. The non-lethal sounding “bruise” doesn’t quite communicate it, and this word is only used in two other places in the entire Old Testament (Psalm 139 where it is translated as “cover” and Job 9:17 where the context is clearly life-threatening).
Essentially, Satan’s seed will harm a non-vital appendage (“you shall bruise his heel”) while Yahweh’s seed—from the Woman—will get in a head-shot (“He shall bruise your head”). It’s not love that wins. It’s Yahweh. Fast-forwarding history several thousands years, the Cross is the result. There, at another tree, life and death was given: the Death of the Seed of the Woman (Messiah) for the Life of his People, and the death of the Serpent and his hopes and dreams for the permanent life of God’s Kingdom.
This entire point on the conclusion of history is reinforced by the text arranged in a chiasm (review it up top): each colored line thematically matches its corresponding colored line (reds to reds, blues to blues, etc.). The central point (“…all the days of your life…“) is that the Serpent will face the curse forever. He can never win….
Why do we suffer? Why is there division? Why can’t my kids get along? The simplest answer is in these verses. Of course we could nuance it further (that’s what James 4:1-10 does so clearly). Simply put, Genesis 3:14-15 shows us the Judge of history, the character of history, the two sides engaged in the conflict, and the conclusion.
That last truth is the one that keeps us going with our heads up in eager engagement with the world rather than retreat showing our backsides in full flight. As Paul says,
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but snot forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies (2 Cor 4:8-10).
We ourselves have now become that Seed of the Woman, for we have been joined in union with Christ and are now “his body,” the Church (cf. Col 1:15-20). All those who, like our forefather Abel, have faith, can be sure that the conflict of history will reach not just our nations, but also our hearths and our hearts.
Like Jesus knew, the promise of suffering and persecution is a natural result of the grace the Judge showed in not destroying creation on the spot. What a gracious God! Like Paul, I’m OK with the persecution and suffering. Really. I know it is not to be taken lightly. It is, after all, war, and war is never sexy contrary to methods used by game designers to entice young men to play them.
I know, however, the result is the life of Christ—through our weakness—manifested for the world to see. The result is the glory and majesty of God displayed in our willing participation on the front lines of the battle. There is no retreat. The head-shot has been given. The conclusion is drawn. Now, we wait, and we fight, and we look forward to the return of the Judge to vindicate our name and his (cf. 2 Thes 1:5-11).