The curse on the serpent in Genesis 3:14–15 sets the stage for the subsequent course of redemptive history. Obvious New Testament allusions to this passage occur in places such as Luke 10:19; Romans 16:20; and Revelation 12:17. Yet from this point in the book of Genesis, the theme of “enmity between offspring/seed” characterizes the biblical narrative. This passage is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the consummate “seed of the woman” who crushes the head of the serpent. In the three curse-speeches given in Genesis 3:14–19, the plotline of history is sketched out.
The intensity of these speeches can be traced as follows. At its height, a curse is given directly to the serpent: “Cursed are you” (v. 14). With Adam, there is a slight mitigation: the ground is cursed because of Adam, but he is not cursed directly as the serpent was (v. 17). Finally, with Eve, the word curse is not even used.
The curse of the serpent climaxes in verse 15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring [seed] and her offspring [seed]; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Eve did not die on the very day she ate of the tree (see 2:17). She lived long enough to bear children. Pain in childbirth was multiplied, but childbirth nevertheless occurred (3:16). Adam named Eve appropriately: “The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living” (v. 20). Through Eve would come life.
What a comfort to know that in Christ, God has reconciled us to Himself.
From this point on, Genesis depicts two lines of “seed” engaged in holy war. When Eve bore Cain, her confidence in God’s promise was strong: “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord” (4:1). And yet this man, Cain, was actually of the evil one (1 John 3:12) and killed his righteous brother Abel. Cain proved to be of the serpentine line, which seemed initially to gain the upper hand. God’s judgment on Cain alluded to the curses in Genesis 3: “And now you are cursed from the ground” (4:11). Cain was like his biological father, Adam, in being cursed from the ground, but he was also like his spiritual father, the devil, in that he received the curse himself: “You are cursed from the ground” (v. 11, emphasis added).
What we see next is the contrast between what we might call two “patriarchs” of different seed. Cain was the head of the line of the serpent, and Seth of the line of the promise.
Cain proceeded to build an evil empire. Though Adam and Eve were sent east of Eden, Cain willingly went even farther east from God’s presence. He built a city, had a son, Enoch, and named the city (literally “called it”) after him. (Note that the next time we read of someone building a city, it is another serpentine city in the east, Babel [Gen. 11].) In spite of the cultural achievements of Cain’s line (4:18–24), we see it culminating in the birth of Lamech, the seventh generation. God promised sevenfold vengeance in Genesis 4:15 upon anyone who would murder Cain, but Lamech acted as though he were greater than God, capable of meting out seventyfold vengeance. Had the serpentine seed of Cain mounted a true challenge to God’s promise?
In Genesis 4:25, we read of the line of the promise. Eve bore a replacement for righteous Abel, Seth. With Seth’s son, there is a continued interest in the names of people: “To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord” (v. 26). Seth’s line culminates in the birth of a better Enoch than the Cainite Enoch. This Enoch was the seventh generation from Seth, but he was the opposite of the seventh-generation Cainite, Lamech. Where Lamech boasted of being greater than God, Enoch walked with God (5:22) and did not taste death (v. 24; Heb. 11:5). Next came a better and different Lamech, a Sethite who fathered a son, Noah (Gen. 5:28–29). Upon Noah’s birth, Lamech said, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” Noah was a type of Christ, being a righteous man among an adulterous people. His line was saved, but the serpentine line mostly perished.
The flood, however, was not the consummate striking of the serpent’s head. Noah’s son Ham would carry on the serpentine line. Yet the day would come when the promised seed—Christ Himself—would arrive (Gal. 3:16). This seed would deliver the definitive blow to the serpent. In the new creation, no Ham will be left to lead a new resistance. Genesis 3:14–15 contains the redemptive story line of the entire Bible, promising that though holy war will be waged between the two lines, God will provide salvation fully and finally in the work of Christ. What a comfort to know that in Christ, God has reconciled us to Himself.
Rev. R. Andrew Compton is assistant professor of Old Testament studies and director of the master of theological studies program at Mid-America Reformed Seminary and associate pastor of Redeemer United Reformed Church in Dyer, Ind.