Genesis 3:15 is the first link in a whole chain of Messianic prophecies that provide us with a detailed picture of Messiah. It is known as the protoevangelium or the ‘first gospel’ and it is also the first prophecy with the promise of a Redeemer. On its own it gives us a broad outline and reassurance of a Deliverer though as we trace this prophecy and link Scripture with Scripture, an increasingly precise depiction of Messiah appears. It is like commencing a jigsaw puzzle by starting from the corners, filling in the lines and working towards the centre until a clear portrait emerges.
“And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.” (Genesis 3:15)
Commentators are divided on whether this passage is Messianic. Generally speaking, conservative and traditional authors view this verse as Messianic whilst those adopting a critical position state that this is inferred by reading into the text.[i] Early Jewish interpreters, particularly with reference to the respective targums recognised the serpent as Satan and that a victory would ensue in the days of King Messiah and similarly early church fathers such as Justin and Irenaeus regarded this as the first Messianic prophecy.[ii] Other interpreters do not comment on whether this is Messianic though do not explicitly try to negate that claim. To resolve this dispute I will look at how this passage fits in with the rest of Scripture and also consider historical interpretation of the same.
Early Jewish Commentary
There would be a conflict between the serpent and the woman and between their respective offspring. Although both parties would inflict a wound on the other, the seed of the woman would ultimately prevail. The Targum Jonathan clearly supports a view of Messianic prophecy in Genesis 3:15.
‘And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between the seed of thy son, and the seed of her sons; and it shall be when the sons of the woman keep the commandments of the law, they will be prepared to smite thee upon thy head; but when they forsake the commandments of the law, thou wilt be ready to wound them in their heel. Nevertheless for them there shall be a medicine, but for thee there will be no medicine; and they shall make a remedy for the heel in the days of the King Meshiha.’[iii]
This is further supported by Onkelos.
‘And I will put enmity between thee and between the woman, and between thy son and her son. He will remember thee, what thou didst to him (at) from the beginning, and thou shalt be observant unto him at the end.’[iv]
Merrill Unger helpfully points out the incredible act of faith on Adam’s behalf by naming his wife ‘Havar’ meaning life, considering she would have appeared to have been a mother of death since her deception caused her husband’s disobedience causing spiritual, physical, and eternal death into the human family.[v] Furthermore Havar (Eve) named their son ‘Cain’ since she had acquired a man from the Lord (Genesis 4:1), and she may have hoped that he would provide a solution to the problem of their sin and be the saviour. Though Cain killed Abel, Havar named their next son ‘Seth’ for God had appointed another seed instead of Abel whom Cain killed (Genesis 4:25).
Also, the Targum Jonathan concurs in that Havar (Eve), had great expectations and hope for the birth of Cain.
And Adam knew Hava his wife, who had desired the Angel; and she conceived, and bare Kain; and she said, I have acquired a man, the Angel of the Lord.[vi]
Interestingly Radak (David Kimchi-1160-1235), a medieval interpreter recognises this as a Messianic reference, linking it with Isaiah 11.
The hostility between the serpent and the human species will not be an unalterable condition of life, seeing that in the Messianic era this enmity will be resolved and as we know from Isaiah 11,8 in those days an infant will suckle at its mother’s breast next to a snake’s lair without worrying.[vii]
This is a key Messianic passage which shows that Messiah will come from the line of David (Isaiah 11:1), gives information about the character of the Messiah in Isaiah 11:2-5 and the Messianic Kingdom in Isaiah 11:6-16.
Genesis 3:15 and the Scriptures
Following Genesis 3:15, we uncover more information about the identity of Messiah through reading further on in Scripture. In Genesis 12:3 we discover that all families on earth will be blessed through the seed of Abraham and this would continue through the line of Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 26:4; 28:14). In Genesis 49:10 the lineage of Messiah is further narrowed through the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10) and again in Isaiah 11:1 we read about the Branch from Jesse.
Specifically relating to Genesis 3:15, there is a remarkable prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 which helps us to make sense of how the seed of the woman would result in the coming Messiah. “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.
Later in the Brit Hadasha (New Testament), Matthew provides the genealogy of Yeshua (Jesus) in Matthew 1:1-17 all the way back from Abraham and shows that He was both a descendant of Abraham and David and also recognises Him as Messiah “Behold the virgin shall be with child and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated. “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)
Paul explains further “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ.” (Galatians 3:16) Also, “But when the fulness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4)
Through the death and resurrection of Messiah, atonement for sin was made. Satan will be crushed under our feet shortly (Romans 16:20). At the end of the Bible, Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 confirm that Satan, who is the Devil is that serpent of old (Genesis 3:15), who will be punished forever (Revelation 20:10).
The Vital Message
Death entered the world and spread to all men through Adam resulting in condemnation. Immediately after the transgression, sin entered the world, and a Saviour was needed to restore their relationship and our relationship with the Creator and to save them and us from the judgement to come. This affects us all and the Scriptures are clear on this. There is none who does good, no not one (Psalm 53:1-3), for there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin (Ecclesiastes 7:20).
Blood was shed to provide garments for Adam and Eve to wear and hide their nakedness since they were no longer innocent. Messiah could be identified through His fulfilment of prophecy, lineage and miracles and gave Himself as His blood was shed providing atonement for sin. This was where Messiah was wounded and His heel bruised, though He will crush Satan under our feet. Through one Man’s righteous act we can be made righteous and can be reconciled to God by turning from our sins and by trusting, and following the promised Messiah, Yeshua.
[i] Victor P. Hamilton The New International Commentary on the Old Testament The Book of Genesis Chapters 1-17 (William B. Eerdmans, 1990; Grand Rapids), p197
[ii] Gordon J. Wenham Word Biblical Commentary Genesis 1-15 (Thomas Nelson, 1987; Grand Rapids), p80-81
[iii] Targum Genesis on Genesis 3 https://www.sefaria.org/Targum_Jonathan_on_Genesis.3.15?lang=bi&with=About&lang2=en
[v] Merrill Unger Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament (AMG, 2002; Chattanooga), p20
[vi] Targum Jonathan on Genesis 4 https://www.sefaria.org/Targum_Jonathan_on_Genesis.4.1?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en
[vii] Radak on Genesis 3:15 https://www.sefaria.org/Radak_on_Genesis.3.15.1?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en