Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 3:14–15

Genesis 3:14–15
The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all the wild beasts and all the living creatures of the field! On your belly you will crawl and dust you will eat all the days of your life. 15 And I will put hostility between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring; her offspring will attack your head, and you will attack her offspring’s heel.”
(NET Bible)

A Failure to Rule — A Resulting Curse

When someone is unexpectedly struck down, we call it being “blind-sided.” As the term suggests, being blind-sided happens when someone loses sight of a threat which should not have been ignored.

Many people have lost sight of God’s rulership over every aspect of our world and the fact that he appointed us to rule for him over the physical and animal world. The first threat arose from that unexpected quarter in the animal-human relationship. Simply put, humanity failed to “rule over” (Gen. 1:28) the animal population in that Eve was deceived by the serpent.

What long-term consequences resulted from our blind neglect? How does our danger of being blind-sided manifest itself today?

Older folks will recognize the childhood taunt: “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me!” This saying is generally accurate except when God speaks a word against someone. That will hurt like fire and probably for a long time!

In the wake of deception and disobedience, the time for a reckoning has arrived, and the Lord will surely deliver it. He does so in inverse order of the sins named for those involved:

Sin of the man (Gen. 3:9-11)                        Judgment on the man (Gen. 3:17-19)

Sin of the woman (Gen. 3:12)                      Judgment on the woman (Gen. 3:16)

Sin of the serpent (Gen. 3:13)                     Judgment on the serpent (Gen. 3:14-15)[1]

This gives a literary order of ABCCBA (man=A, woman=B, serpent=C). Genesis is filled with such literary touches.

When God announces the consequences for what has happened, they have a consistent structure described by Hamilton: “To each of the trespassers God speaks a word which involves both a life function and a relationship. Thus the snake is cursed in his mode of locomotion, and his relationship with the woman and her seed is to be one of hostility.”[2] The way this structure works for the woman and the man will appear later in the study.

We are accustomed to the idea that one will experience consequences for actions, but in Genesis 3:14 it happens for the first time. God’s words purposely begin with the word “because” to emphasize the connection of consequences with sins. Cursing is the opposite of blessing. The shrewd serpent must now slither on its belly; the one who tempted the woman to eat must eat dust himself. Hamilton says: “Obviously, snakes do not eat dust, and no ancient writer ever thought they did. One has to take this passage symbolically, not literally. . . . The writer clearly intends these two facts to be expressions of humiliation and subjugation.”[3]

Genesis 3:15 contains a world of issues whose dimensions we may only outline here. It helps to remember the disrupted relationships (here the woman and the serpent, as also carried forward in their offspring). This section “is a curse on the serpent, not on mankind, and something less than a draw would be expected”[4] in the struggle between the serpent’s offspring and the woman’s offspring.

Next, it helps to see what stays the same in the verse and what changes. As to changes, the contrasts are “head” with “heel” and “her offspring” with “your offspring.” The hostile relationship between the woman and the serpent results in repeated attacks (carried on through the offspring), but the verb describing the attacks is the same in both cases. Most translations overtly retain this sameness (NET “attack . . . attack,” NASB “bruise . . . bruise”), but a few introduce an unwarranted variation (NIV 1984 and NIV 2011 “crush . . . strike”).

Wenham says, “Once admitted that the serpent symbolizes sin, death, and the power of evil, it becomes much more likely that the curse envisages a long struggle between good and evil, with mankind eventually triumphing.”[5]

From the revelation of the New Testament we know that the struggle will be won decisively and finally by Jesus Christ. The author of Hebrews tells us, “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil),” (Heb. 2:14).

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 196.

[2] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 196.

[3] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 196-197.

[4] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 80.

[5] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 80.


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