Lessons From the Old Testament: The Power of a Promise

So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
       “Cursed are you above all the livestock
       and all the wild animals!
       You will crawl on your belly
       and you will eat dust
       all the days of your life.

And I will put enmity
       between you and the woman,
       and between your offspring and hers;
       he will crush your head,
       and you will strike his heel.” 
(Genesis 3:14,15)

After Adam shifts blame for his disobedience to God and his wife (“The woman You gave me…”), Eve, ever the quick learner, shifts blame for her disobedience to the serpent.  So Yahweh starts with the serpent and pronounces consequences that will follow in his life because of his disobedience.  Why would God hold an animal responsible for being possessed by Satan (my assumption as to the real voice behind the beast)?  It is not as if the serpent or any other beast, for that matter, is guilty of making a wrong moral choice.  Nevertheless, as in the case of a beast that kills a human, its life must be forfeited in exchange for taking a life (Genesis 9:5,6; Exodus 21:28-32).  Presumably, the animal represents any devaluing of human life and the lesson for all to learn is powerful.  So with the serpent, even though Satan is the immoral force at work through him, he too must suffer judgment.

Verse 14 seems to be addressed solely to the beast known as the serpent, and not to Satan, the power behind the serpent.  The beasts form is changed so that he  crawls on his belly and eats dust.  Satan does not have a body so this would not be an appropriate punishment.  Satan, on the other hand, seems to be addressed in verse 15.  He is the one who is going to be perpetually in conflict with human beings and whose head must be crushed in order to issue back in the garden of Eden that has just been lost.  The garden represents God’s kingdom in which every created thing acts in accord with God’s prescribed plan.  Satan is responsible for leading humans to reject God’s authority, so he must finally be dealth with to ensure that there is never another such failing and as a just response to his despicable behavior.

What surprisingly unfolds from God’s pronouncement of consequences, however, is, in effect, a promise.  He is promising that he will use the offspring of the woman to bruise or crush the serpent’s head.  In the process the serpent will bruise the offspring’s heel, but that is obviously a much lesser blow.  The offspring of the woman will suffer but he will be victorious over the serpent.  Who is this offspring?  When will this happen?  What will be the ultimate outcome of it?

This is the power of a promise.  It gives hope in the midst of despair, helplessness or pain.  In this case God’s promise is the hope of the entire human race at the point of its deepest failure and hopelessness.  It builds an expectation in the one who believes the promise.  In this case it prompts the human race to look for a hero who will deliver us from the oppression of our enemy.  And it admits of many smaller installments in the fufilling of the promise.  In this case the promise of continued conflict between those who embrace the devil’s mutiny and those who seek to position themselves under the loving authority of God will undoubtedly see many small victories by Satan but many overcoming victories by the offspring of the woman.  The promise begins to be fulfilled immediately with Cain and Abel.

Of course, a promise only offers this kind of hope and builds this kind of expectation when the character of the one making the promise is rock solid and offers evidence that there is every intent and every ability to keep the promise.  That is why we dare not make a promise unless we have certainty that we can bring it to a satisfying conclusion.  And of course, humans do not have such certainty (we can fail to maintain the abilities to keep our word or we can die before we fulfill the promise).  This gives a certain kind of provisionality to all our promises, but we must keep making them in good faith, whether they be marriage promises, business promises, family promises or even just the promises we make to strangers.  We just have to recognize that we need God’s help to fulfill them and be willing to do so even to our own hurt.

This promise in Genesis 3:15 is the “seed” promise (literally) of the Bible.  It is the basis for all the other promises we find in the covenants God made with His people.  It is the promise that has birthed the hope in the human race of one day having a perfect planet on which to live in total peace and joy.  Thank you God for not giving up on us.  Thank you for being so trustworthy that we can count on this promise to determine our happy future.  Thank you that You gave no conditions for the fulfilling of this promise.  May we rest in Your promise-keeping ability and may we emulate it in our own lives.

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