Little time passed before Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation and broke the Edenic Covenant (Genesis 2:15-17) by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Hence the dispensation of innocence gave way to the dispensation of conscience in Genesis 3:7. The biblical covenants contain an important and necessary continuity and they do not contradict previous covenants but rather build on the preceding ones. It is important to consider that God consistently acts towards humans on the basis of His covenant promises.
The Adamic Covenant is found in Genesis 3:14-19.
14 So the Lord God said to the serpent:
“Because you have done this, You are cursed more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you shall go,
And you shall eat dust All the days of your life.
15 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.”
16 To the woman He said:
“I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be [e]for your husband, And he shall rule over you.”
17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’:
“Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life.
18 Both thorns and thistles it shall [f]bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field.
19 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.”
Genesis 3:14 The Serpent is Cursed
In Genesis 3:14 reptiles are primarily the subject since the serpent is cursed more than the cattle and the beasts of the field though Genesis 3:15 switches to the Devil himself.[i] God initially ushered a sentence upon the serpent and then Satan who had used the serpent.[ii] It appears that the creature that Satan used was formerly upright because God humiliated it by placing it in the dust (Psalm 72:9; Isaiah 49:23; Micah 7:17).[iii]Parallels can be drawn concerning licking the dust like the serpent. In particular, compare Genesis 3:14 with Micah 7:17, “they shall lick the dust like the serpent” and Isaiah 65:25, “And dust shall be the serpent’s meat”.[iv]
Isaiah 65:25 is the culmination of a passage concerning the Messianic Age. Rabbeinu Bahya explains the connection.
The Torah tells us here that this curse would continue throughout the serpent’s lifetime. It would continue even during the messianic era when the enmity between man and beast would subside and, according to Isaiah 11,8 “an infant would play over a viper’s hole”, the serpent would still not become rehabilitated. The punishment of having to eat dust also continues beyond the messianic era as we read in Isaiah 65,25 זאב וטלה ירעו כאחד ואריה כבקר יאכל תבן ונחש עפר לחמו, “the wolf and the lamb shall graze together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent’s food shall be earth.”[v]
The Messianic Kingdom will see the curse lifted partly (Romans 8:21), but not entirely until the new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1-22:5) of the eternal state.[vi]It is only when we consider the Brit Hadasha (New Testament), that the figure of Satan behind the serpent is unmasked (Romans 16:20; Revelation 12:9; 20:2).[vii]
Genesis 3:15 The First Gospel and the Promise of a Redeemer
This verse contains the first prophecy in the Bible. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve had sinned by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and had broken the Edenic Covenant. God acts out of covenant relationship with humans. Or Ha Chaim noted that Adam and Eve’s act resulted in them becoming mortal, losing their immortality in this world.[viii] All God’s dealings with humans can be traced to this act of disobedience on behalf of Adam and Eve.[ix] But note the kindness of God by promising the coming Messiah before pronouncing sentence in the following verses.[x]
There would be enmity between Satan and the woman and between Satan’s seed and her seed. Satan would bruise the heel of her seed, though her seed would bruise his head which equates to a fatal punishment.
Satan tried to attack the offspring of the woman in an attempt to prevent Messiah from being born and of continued hatred against Messiah and His people. Notice Pharaoh and Herod tried to kill all the baby Hebrew boys in Egypt and Bethlehem respectively (Micah 5:1/2-where Messiah would be born) and Haman attempted to eliminate Jewish people in the 127 provinces of the Medo-Persian Empire. This has continued throughout history and thereafter.
It is striking that this prophecy concerns the ‘seed of the woman’. The biblical norm is to trace the lineage through the male line, not the female line.[xi] When this verse is considered alongside Isaiah 7:14, it becomes evident that the Messiah will be born of a virgin. Since the fall of mankind, the human race has been corrupted by the effects of sin thereafter. When David repented after Nathan confronted him concerning his sin with Bathsheba he acknowledged, “Behold I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me (Psalm 51:5).” Similarly Romans 5:12-21 explains that as a result of Adam’s sin death entered the world, but through Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah, His one act of righteousness (offering Himself as an offering to atone for sin), the grace of God now abounds to many.
But what is the meaning of the bruising of Messiah’s heel and Satan’s head? This wound occurred at Calvary when the Saviour triumphed over Satan and the heel wound speaks of suffering and physical death though not ultimate defeat.[xii] Though Jesus was crucified, He rose from the grave victorious over sin, hell, and Satan.[xiii]
Again God’s kindness is noticeable in Genesis 3:21 by providing Adam and Eve with tunics of skin. The fig leaves were inadequate. “Sinners clothe themselves with morality, sacraments and religious ceremonies; they are as worthless as Adam’s apron of fig leaves.[xiv] Animals would have to be killed to cover their nakedness and that was a foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice that Messiah paid to redeem humans. When Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac, the Lord provided a ram in place of him, that pictures the Lord Jesus making substitutionary atonement.
The enmity still continues. Romans 16:20 gives the promise that “the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly.” Revelation 20:1-10 explains that Satan will be bound for 1000 years during the time of the Messianic Age, will be released for a short while and finally punished forever after.
Genesis 3:16-To the Woman
The consequence of the fall of mankind affects us all and has been passed down the line through our original parents. Adam and Eve died spiritually since their perfect relationship with God was broken. They would also die physically, though formerly there was no ageing process. Life would become more difficult, the whole of creation was affected (Romans 8:20-21), and human relations would become strained.
Childbirth which would have been painless previously was now accompanied by sorrow. Nevertheless the Lord is gracious since although there is much sorrow for a woman during childbirth, the anguish is replaced by joy since a child has been brought into the world (John 16:21).
Adam and Eve would previously have enjoyed a perfect and innocent relationship though that was also tainted by the fall and has affected each subsequent generation thereafter. Eve’s desire would be for her husband and he would rule over her. It is sad and ungodly when the original intention to love and cherish one’s spouse is transformed ‘to desire and dominate’.[xv]
Genesis 3:17-19 To Adam
Adam shifted the blame to Eve and Eve in turn blamed the serpent. Eve should have listened to God rather than the serpent and Adam should have obeyed God rather than heeding the voice of his wife. There is a lesson for everyone to listen and obey God above everyone else.
Now the ground would be cursed, and work would suddenly become laborious. Thistles and thorns would now emerge which contrasted with his original assignment of tending the garden of Eden under the Edenic Covenant (Genesis 2:15), which would have been an altogether pleasant an enjoyable vocation. It is important to realise that work itself is not a curse and in fact it is more often a blessing, but rather the sorrow, toil, frustration and perspiration and weariness connected with it, that is the curse.[xvi]
This would continue until Adam returned to the dust, reminding him of his name and that he was formed from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7). But notice that Adam called his wife’s name Eve, since she was the mother of all living (Genesis 3:20). Though Adam and Eve had sinned and their perfect relationship with God had been broken, the promise remained that the seed of the woman would bruise Satan’s head. A Messiah was promised who would bring redemption and through His one sacrifice and act of obedience would atone for sin and provide reconciliation.
The earth would remain under a curse until the Messianic Kingdom (Isaiah 65:20-25), when a partial restoration shall take place. Adam and Eve were not able to eat from the tree of life and it would not be desirable to live forever in a fallen condition. But in Revelation 22:2, near the close of the Bible, there is a tree of life, yielding fruit every month and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
[i] William MacDonald Believer’s Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson, 1995; Nashville), p36
[ii] Warren W. Wiersbe The Wiersbe Bible Commentary (David C. Cook, 2007; Colorado Springs), p29
[iii] Ibid, 29
[iv] J. W. Ferguson Genesis What the Bible Teaches (John Ritchie Ltd, 2000; Kilmarnock), p44
[v] Rabbeinu Bahya on Bereshit 3:14 https://www.sefaria.org/Rabbeinu_Bahya%2C_Bereshit.3.14.5?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en
[vi] Merrill F. Unger Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament (AMG Publishers, 2002; Chattanooga), p18
[vii] Derek Kidner Genesis Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (IVP, Leicester; 1979), p70-71
[viii] Or Ha Chaim on Genesis 3:14 https://www.sefaria.org/Or_HaChaim_on_Genesis.3.14?lang=bi
[ix] John F. Walvoord & Roy B. Zuck The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Victor Books, 1989; USA), p33
[x] MacDonald, p36
[xii] MacDonald, p36
[xiii] Ibid, p36
[xiv] George Williams William’s Complete Bible Commentary (Kregel Publications, 1994; Grand Rapids), p10
[xv] Kidner p71
[xvi] MacDonald, p36