14. Genesis 3:14,15

I. B. 3. continued

b) The Consequences for the Dragon (Genesis 3:14, 15)

We come now to the so-called curses of the Fall. But to label God’s pronouncements in this passage as “curses” is to misunderstand them. A curse is a punishment; it is the sentence that a judge pronounces once the trial is over and the jury has brought in the conviction. Pronouncing a sentence is not really what God was doing here. Their sentence had already been pronounced: “in the day you eat of it you shall surely die.” These so-called curses were really a way of setting boundaries for death. They spelled out the details of what death would be allowed to do, how far it would be allowed to go. Death would not be permitted simply to be infinite; it would be enclosed, contained within certain limits. These pronouncements assume, in the form they are given, that God did not accept the Fall as the last word. God was not throwing up His hands here and saying, “Oh, well. I tried to make things good, but now it will just be death forever.” Hope is implicit in every one of the pronouncements, hope that there would be a point to it. The so-called curses were actually the means of setting up the environment in which redemption could be accomplished.

The alternative to the “curses” of the Fall was annihilation. If the creation was to continue to exist, to be outside of the nothing it was made from, then there must be the choice on God’s part to keep the creation going, and that implies God’s intention to redeem. There was never, at any point, the possibility of God simply walking away from the creation, from the Covenant, of giving up and letting it all collapse into silence; or worse, keeping it going its own way unhindered, evil and misery perpetuating themselves forever with no possibility of relief.

The logical thing to do when a project is ruined beyond repair is to tear it down and start over again. The question is whether we really believe that any of God’s projects can be ruined beyond His ability to repair them. And if the creation had been ruined past even God’s ability to redeem, then wouldn’t He have let it return to nothingness? He would easily have let it disappear and then started over with another “Let there be light”. But are the designs of God to be so easily frustrated? Are the plans of God simply to fail, to be abandoned?  Do we imagine God being forced to give up? May it never be! That we exist right now, that the world exists, is proof that we are being saved. That God limited the scope of death after the Fall was an expression of mercy and commitment to put it all to rights. What Christian theology usually does is a rather pathetic compromise with total defeat: we allow Him to redeem some of it. It is not clear to me that our theology truly honors God.

But why, in this context, did God address the dragon at all? It is not commonly believed in Christian teaching that Satan will be redeemed in any manner, but the redemption of Satan is implied, not only by his continued existence as I just argued about the creation, but also by the word God addressed to him. If we take seriously that God created all things of nothing, and that He holds them in being and maintains their existence, and that God is all merciful and compassionate, then to believe that God has no intention of redeeming Satan but nonetheless preserves him in a state of evil and misery is self-contradictory. Only the most merciless and cruel among us, only someone whose intent was torture, would keep a creature alive simply to extend its misery, with no hope of cure. On the other hand, theologians are right to be restrained on the question. Of the redemption of the devil we are told nothing and we know nothing. We have enough to be concerned with involving our own plight.

Nonetheless, God spoke to the dragon and it is worthwhile listening in. From the viewpoint of God’s intentions toward him, what were the consequences of the Fall for the dragon? The dragon was already evil so there was some history between God and the dragon that we are not privy to. The dragon had committed some act which had turned him to evil, but what that act was, and what the consequences of that act were, we are simply not told. However, for this act, for the act of entering this new world and deceiving Eve, there were consequences, which presumably were combined with the consequences the dragon already was bound by. Satan was not condemned to death here as Adam and Eve were, and so he must have already been dead in some sense, in whatever sense that kind of creature experiences death. It seems likely that it was the consequences he already was enduring that brought him to the garden in the first place.

For this act, this tempting, this infecting of a new creation with evil, the dragon was first of all cursed above all cattle. If the ancient traditions were correct, the motive of spoiling this creation was to get “revenge” on God, to get back at God somehow for assigning the angels to be ministers to the humans. The angels were among the most glorious of all God’s creatures, and yet when He made the rather pitiful creatures called men, out of dirt no less, He had assigned the angels the job of serving them. Lucifer, the Light, the most glorious of the angels, had been offended by such a lowly office and had fallen into rebellion.

So goes the legend, the tradition, from outside the Scripture. It need not be taken too seriously, but it is plausible enough as far as it goes. The dragon, though he clearly hated God, was still holding on to some vestige of his former status and glory. Now he lost even that. His status was reduced lower than that of a cow, lower than that of any of the mere beasts of the field. “On your belly you will go” means that he was reduced from a dragon to a mere snake. Once he had been a Glorious One, and the form of the dragon would represent the vestigial remains of that glory, but from this point on he would be reduced to the point of begging even to be allowed to live in a herd of pigs. I will henceforth call him a snake or a serpent; dragons had become extinct.

When the serpent was sentenced to eat dust all of his life, there was a figurative meaning, a spiritual meaning; literally neither snakes nor demons eat dust. The serpent was to eat dust, and I believe that we are the dust that he eats. We had been made of dust, after all. The way the serpent eats us is by possessing us. This is the point at which demon possession was initiated, and it is as much a misery for the demon as it is for the person possessed. The demon seeks to possess a person, or even an animal, because it has something like a hunger to fulfill. But its hunger for the human soul is repulsive to it while simultaneously irresistible. The creature Satan, who had begun by despising these creatures whom God had exalted over him, had been reduced to feeding on them, feeding and gagging as he fed.

Perhaps there had been a war in heaven during the long ages of creation, a war between the angels and the demons, and the demons had been cast out of heaven and imprisoned on the earth. And now the army of dragons had been made into an army of snakes, writhing away in the broken world they had themselves ruined. If so, God’s sentence on the serpent was proof that any such war was superfluous, that there was no question as to who was in control, that a mere word from God established whatever He chose it to establish. The serpent was, after all, just a creature; he had been made by a “let there be” command at some point. God could take him out anytime He wanted. The mystery of evil is this: that God did not and does not choose to take him out, nor apparently does He intend to. His purpose, His good purpose in and for these snakes, has not yet been accomplished.

There was to be enmity between the serpent and the woman and this enmity was to be permanent, handed down from generation to generation. But it means much more than perpetual conflict. As soon as the passage begins to speak of the seed of the serpent, we know that we are on symbolic grounds again. The serpent, the devil, according to the little that we know of angelic beings, does not have offspring, and so the seed of the serpent would mean something other than literal descendants. The easiest reading, and one of the traditional ones, is that the seed of the serpent refers to that part of the human race that follows or belongs to the devil. Later Jesus would say to certain Pharisees that they were sons of their father, the devil, and perhaps He had this passage in mind. In this case, the seed of Eve would be that part of the human race that opposes and resists the devil. God would have been promising to raise up part of the human race to fight the serpent and the works of the serpent.

In some sense, once Adam had chosen to disobey God, the world had become the serpent’s property, his domain, but in this pronouncement God told the serpent that he would never fully take control of his occupied territory.  There would always be a state of civil war, of revolution against his rule. He would never be at peace. Further the serpent was assured that he would be defeated. The woman’s seed would bruise his head, and he would bruise the heel of her seed. The picture painted here is the capturing of the snake, of the victor planting his heel on the head of the snake so that it becomes helpless, incapable of further movement and incapable of striking; it is the destruction of the snake, the destruction of his authority, the destruction of his ability to harm.

But there is still more hidden in this pronouncement. It is a singular person, not a plural group, which will inflict the final blow; he, not they, will bruise serpent’s head, and be bruised in return on the heel. This is the first promise of a Messiah, a Deliverer, a Hero who will come, born of a woman, and who will deliver all of us from the works of the devil. There is a sharp difference between the way the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent is described. The seed of the woman culminates in the single individual who will accomplish the victory. The seed of the serpent culminates not in some other individual but in the serpent himself.

The way I understand this pronouncement to the serpent is as a promise, a promise that a Mighty One would arise and destroy Satan and all his works, and that in that destruction Satan also would be delivered. The promise to kill is simultaneously the promise to redeem, and the death sentence is simultaneously the hope of rescue from death. In order for Lucifer to be redeemed, the snake he had become must be destroyed. Death was the penalty for the Fall, and that penalty was never revoked. But death need not mean merely the end; in God’s hands it becomes the means to new life.

Our redemption is finally realized not by escaping the penalty, but by suffering the penalty in a redemptive way. The death of our old nature must be accomplished to leave the birth of a new nature as the ultimate reality. There is no salvation without execution; there is no resurrection without crucifixion.  The consequence of Adam’s choice is never to be revoked; God never cancelled the result, He will never clear the guilty. But he did transform the penalty from being a final fate to being a tool for His own purpose. When God promised warfare against Satan and promised his final destruction, He was promising his rescue as well as ours.

But there is still more. God put enmity between the serpent’s seed and the woman’s seed. On the face of it, this is a strange phrase to use. There will be continual warfare against evil as represented by the serpent, and apparently it will be the woman, and perhaps women in general, who are the vanguard of the battle. Why there should be a war at all is not made clear – it could be so easily settled by fiat – but setting that question aside, normally one thinks of the “seed” as belonging to the father.  In general, the “seed” are the descendants, and it is common to interpret the seed of the woman as her male descendants. Certainly the ultimate seed of the woman is a particular male descendant who will crush the head of the serpent. But to specify the Messiah as the woman’s seed rather than a man’s seed is to speak in an unusual way.

To me this suggests that it is women who carry the burden of the war against the serpent. Granted, women have not played a prominent role in the record of history, but there is no reason to think that the most important warfare of all should be prominently visible in men’s records of their own deeds. On the contrary, while the men have been busy with pointless wars among themselves, the seed of the woman have been waging the invisible and critical war. Granted also that women have not played a prominent role in the history of our redemption in the Bible. But that is also rather like God, to keep what is most important just out of view. It is yet another way in which the first shall be last and the last shall be first, I should think.

It could also be that the “seed of the woman” may refer, not only to the Messiah, but to a woman, the woman who would be God’s chosen instrument to bring the Messiah into the world. When Mary said “all generations will call me blessed” she could have meant all of them, from the first (Eve herself) to the last. When Mary described why all generations would call her blessed in Luke 1:48, the phrase απο του νυν is usually translated “from now on”. But more literally it is translated “because of this present event”, or “because of this now”. Perhaps Mary as well was the “seed of the woman”, who crushed the serpent’s head simply by being the instrument of Incarnation. Perhaps the serpent was defeated simply and completely by the Messiah being born. In this case, it was the Incarnation that defeated the power of the devil; it was the Crucifixion that defeated the power of death; and it was the Resurrection that healed all things and made a new beginning.

It is riveting, is it not, the fact that it is the seed of the woman, and not the seed of the man, whom God singled out as the enemies of the serpent. I keep italicizing the phrase because it seems so critical and yet so easy to overlook. Though the whole world was about to become patriarchal, though the genealogies were all given through the father with hardly a mention of the mother, though the whole structure of male dominated death and power and slavery was about to be instituted, nevertheless it was the seed of the woman that would wage war on the serpent and all his works and would win.

The world is always inside out from God’s viewpoint relative to ours. Even among men, the real heroes are the fringe element of society, the people with no status or worldly position but who quietly, and with no help from the world, work to bring in the righteousness of God. The genealogies to come would all be traced through the fathers, but every once in a while God had the writers mention a woman to show how He was tracing the lineage. The Messiah was to be Himself a man, but emphatically He was the seed of a woman rather than the seed of a man. From the first moment of the Fall, the Messiah’s father has always been a step-father. The doctrine of the virgin birth begins here. And so in the course of time, Mary was born and grew up and the angel Gabriel came to her with some very strange news.

 

 

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