God’s grace first appears in the middle of sin—in Genesis 3:15—as God announces the consequences of the first disobedience. The defeat of the serpent is promised, as is humanity’s victory. This is known as a protevangelium, the first announcement that God would provide redemption through the One who would ultimately and finally crush Satan. This is the first promise of Jesus Christ.
We’ll divide this cryptic announcement into four lines so we can examine each more carefully (Gen. 3:15 HCSB):
- I will put hostility between you and the woman,
- and between your seed and her seed.
- He will strike your head
- and you will strike his heel.
Based on two grammatical oddities in the text, we can see that God is up to something monumental. First is the imbalance in the description of the opponents through the lines of the verse. Lines 1–2 show same-generation opponents: the serpent versus the woman (line 1), then the serpent’s seed versus the woman’s seed (line 2). But lines 3–4 switch things up: the woman’s seed (“He”) does not battle the serpent’s seed but rather the serpent himself. The serpent is doomed to live through the ages and be met in every generation by fresh reinforcements springing forth from the woman.
The second oddity stems from the word translated “seed” (Hebrew zera‘). This Hebrew word is a collective noun. Like the English word sheep, it is grammatically singular but can be used as both singular and plural. To discern whether a collective noun is to be singular or plural, we must understand the context. If a farmer says, “I’m going to shear my sheep,” we don’t know whether he has one sheep or a flock of sheep. But if he follows that sentence by saying, “It won’t be easy because she’s a little ornery,” then we know he’s talking about just one animal.
The context of Genesis 3:15 indicates that both singular and plural meanings are intended. The most natural reading is to take the serpent’s “seed” and the woman’s “seed” as plural—multiple offspring. But the singular “he/his” in lines 3–4 suggests the possibility that a true singular is intended. It seems that God is communicating that although there will ultimately come one who is the seed of the woman and will destroy evil forever, in the meantime all human offspring have the potential to be destroyers of Satan’s work.
If we had only Genesis 3:15, all we could do is scratch our heads and wonder what God is saying. Looking back from the progression of revelation through the rest of Scripture, though, we can see that at the precise moment of sin’s entrance into the world, God began unfolding his plan of redemption as big as a canvas covering the sky.
The picture revealed as this canvas unfolds takes our breath away. It is of a man on a cross who, in his dying, condemns humanity’s tormentor and, in his resurrection, secures forever the victory God planned from the beginning. Jesus ultimately and finally defeats Satan. In the meantime, Eve’s descendants—such as Abraham (Gen. 22:17–19; Gal. 3:16–17) and David (2 Sam. 7:12–15), with whom God initiated covenantal relationships—are the “seed” through whom God carries out his Satan-crushing work. Ultimately, all those who believe in Jesus also participate in defeating Satan. As Paul said in Romans 16:20, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”
This, then, is our call: to partner with Christ in His redemptive work. Certainly, we can only begin by inviting Him to stamp out the evil in us, but we were never meant to stop there. Rather, we become carriers of this “good infection” and to then allow Him to use us to rid the world of darkness.
This is an excerpt from Understanding the Faith: A Survey of Christian Apologetics by Jeff Myers, available in Summit’s bookstore.