15 And I will put hostility[a] between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring;[b] he[c] will strike your head, and[d] you[e] will strike[f] his heel.”[g]
Genesis 3:15tn The Hebrew word translated “hostility” is derived from the root אֵיב (ʾev, “to be hostile, to be an adversary [or enemy]”). The curse announces that there will be continuing hostility between the serpent and the woman. The serpent will now live in a “battle zone,” as it were.
Genesis 3:15sn The Hebrew word זֶרַע (zera‘, “seed, offspring”) can designate an individual (Gen 4:25) or a collective (Gen 13:16) and may imply both in this line. The text anticipates the ongoing struggle between humans (the woman’s offspring) and snakes (the serpent’s offspring). An ancient Jewish interpretation of the passage states: “He made the serpent, cause of the deceit, press the earth with belly and flank, having bitterly driven him out. He aroused a dire enmity between them. The one guards his head to save it, the other his heel, for death is at hand in the proximity of men and malignant poisonous snakes.” See Sib. Or. 1:59-64. For a similar interpretation see Josephus, Ant. 1.1.4 (1.50-51). The text may also allude to a larger conflict, as Tremper Longman (Genesis [The Story of God Commentary], 67) suggests that the author and the ancient audience of Genesis would have seen the serpent as representing spiritual forces of evil. This verse can be seen as a piece of the same fabric discussing the conflict between good and evil, where the serpent also represents Satan (cf. Rev 12:9) and the woman’s seed also represents God’s people and the Messiah. The promise of seed in the Books of Moses and the rest of the Old Testament is a developing motif of anticipatory hope. After referring to humanity here, in subsequent contexts it refers to Israel (Abraham’s seed), the Davidic line, and to the Messiah. Interpreters who understand this verse as an allusion to the spiritual conflict vary in how incipient or developed they view the theme to be here.
Genesis 3:15tn The singular pronoun refers to the offspring. As a collective noun, זֶרַע (zeraʿ, “seed, offspring”) may be replaced by a plural pronoun (Isa 65:23; Ezra 2:59; Neh 7:61). When the referent is singular it must have corresponding singular forms. But it may also take a singular verb (Gen 16:10; 22:17; 24:60) or be replaced by a singular pronoun even when referring to a collective group (Deut 31:21). So by form alone, the referent may be to a group or an individual. The LXX translates “seed” with a neuter noun (σπέρμα, sperma) but then uses the masculine singular pronoun, indicating the translator may have taken the pronoun to refer to a person. Gordon Wenham (Genesis 1-15 [WBC] 80-81) notes that the Palestinian targums (Pseudo-Jonathan, Neofiti, Fragment-Targums), and possibly the Targum Onqelos in the East, had a messianic interpretation.
Genesis 3:15tn Or “but you will…”; or “as he attacks your head, you will attack his heel.” The disjunctive clause (conjunction + subject + verb) is understood as contrastive. Both clauses place the subject before the verb, a construction that is sometimes used to indicate synchronic action (see Judg 15:14).
Genesis 3:15sn The address in the second person singular can extend to the descendants of the one being addressed. For example in Gen 28:14, the Lord says to Jacob, “Your offspring will be like the dust of the earth, and you [second masculine singular] will spread out to the west, east, north, and south.” Jacob will not personally “spread out” in all directions, but rather his offspring will. Applied here the reference is to the ongoing conflict between humans and snakes. Not viewing this device at work here would distinguish the continuing battle of this snake against humanity, suggesting to some interpreters that the serpent stands for Satan.
Genesis 3:15tn The nuance of this rare verb is difficult to know with certainty. The woman’s offspring and the serpent’s offspring are both said to שׁוּף (shuf) at each other. Some have supposed two homonymous roots meaning “to bite” and “to crush,” but this appears to force the context (the results of striking) into the verb. Cognates in West and South Semitic include meanings of spreading, rubbing out, smearing, stroking, and polishing (HALOT, 1446). Perhaps a back and forth motion is central to the meaning and this can easily be pictured in a confrontation between a person and a snake, whether striking at each other or swaying before the attack. LXX uses τηρέω (tēreō) “to watch, keep, guard,” apparently envisioning the two watching each other in anticipation of attack. Others emphasize the act of striking, “bring blows against” (Josephus Ant. 1.1.11) or the result of the striking motion, “bruise, bite.” In the other two uses of the verb the subjects are darkness (Ps 139:11) and a storm (Job 9:17). Gordon Wenham (Genesis 1-15 [WBC], 80-81) suggests “batter,” as a storm would strike in Job. For Ps 139:11 a conjectural reading from סָכַך (sakhakh; “to cover”) has become widely accepted in place of שׁוּף. Others propose that שׁוּף (shuf) and שָׁאַף (shaʾaf) are related, the latter including meanings “to pester, to attack” (HALOT, 1375). snRom 16:20 may echo Gen 3:15 but it does not use any of the specific language of Gen 3:15 in the LXX. Paul’s Greek word for “crush” in Rom 16:20 may reflect use of the Hebrew of Gen 3:15 rather than the LXX. Paul chose imagery of God soon crushing Satan’s head under the feet of the church. If Paul was interpreting Gen 3:15, he was not seeing it as culminating in and limited to Jesus defeating Satan via the crucifixion and resurrection, but as extending beyond that.
Genesis 3:15sn Ancient Israelites, who often encountered snakes in their daily activities (see, for example, Eccl 10:8 and Amos 5:19), would find the statement quite meaningful as an explanation for the hostility between snakes and humans. (In the broader ancient Near Eastern context, compare the Mesopotamian serpent omens. See H. W. F. Saggs, The Greatness That Was Babylon, 309.) This ongoing struggle, when interpreted in light of v. 15, is a tangible reminder of the conflict introduced into the world by the first humans’ rebellion against God. Many Christian theologians, going back to Justin Martyr (a.d. 160) and Irenaeus (a.d. 180), additionally understand v. 15 as the so-called protevangelium, prophesying Christ’s victory over Satan (see W. Witfall, “Genesis 3:15 – a Protevangelium?” CBQ 36 : 361-65; and R. A. Martin, “The Earliest Messianic Interpretation of Genesis 3:15, ” JBL 84 : 425-27). According to this view, the passage would give the first hint of the gospel. Satan delivers a crippling blow to the Seed of the woman (Jesus), who in turn delivers a fatal blow to the Serpent (first defeating him through the death and resurrection [1 Cor 15:55-57] and then destroying him in the judgment [Rev 12:7-9; 20:7-10]). In this view, v. 15b must be translated in one of the following ways: “he will crush your head, even though you attack his heel” (in which case the second clause is concessive) or “he will crush your head as you attack his heel” (the clauses, both of which place the subject before the verb, may indicate synchronic action).
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