The first prophecy of a savior.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 December 2016

The first time a savior was foretold in the Old Testament.

We have no idea whether Genesis was the first written book of the bible. Some Christians speculate Job was (and they’d be totally wrong; Job was written in a later version of biblical Hebrew, and took place in Edom). Others figure Moses wrote his psalm before he wrote the bible. In any event the first hint we have in the scriptures that humanity might need a savior, is found in Genesis 3—the story of humanity’s fall.

As the story goes: Eve and Adam, the first humans, lived in paradise. God told ’em not to eat off a particular tree. A serpent tempted Eve to eat off it anyway, and Adam followed suit. The consequence: They couldn’t live in paradise any longer, ’cause the Tree of Life was there. They were driven out; Adam was cursed to fight nature in order to gain his sustenance, Eve was cursed with painful childbirth and male domination, and the serpent was cursed like so:

Genesis 3.14-15 KWL
14 The LORD God told the serpent, “Because you did this,
you’re cursed more than any animal, more than any living thing in the wild.
You’ll walk on your belly. You’ll eat dirt every day of your life.
15 I declare war between you and the woman, between your seed and hers.
He’ll crush your head. You’ll crush his heel.”

I’ve heard young-earth creationists claim snakes used to have legs when they were first created, but because of this curse they became the legless creatures they now are. I like to mess with ’em by pointing out this sounds like a special case of evolution—and if God did this with serpents, why not other creatures? (Really bugs ’em.)

Okay, most of us Christians leap forward to Revelation and notice this serpent was actually Satan:

Revelation 12.7-9 KWL
7 War came to the heavens: Michael and its angels battling the dragon;
the dragon and its angels battling back 8 and failing.
No place was found for them anymore in the heavens.
9 The great dragon was thrown out, the primeval serpent which is called devil and Satan.
The deceiver of all civilization was thrown to earth,
and its angels were thrown out with it.

Revelation sets this event right after the birth of Jesus. Rv 12.1-6 But Christian mythology tends to put Satan’s fall at the beginning of history, at some point between creation itself and the fall of humanity. According to the myths, after Satan was bounced, it decided to ruin humanity in revenge, snuck into paradise, became (or pretended to be, or possessed) a serpent, and led Eve and Adam astray.

But I should point out: The first versions of this myth date from our third century. They’re based on a first-century apocalypse, which got mixed up with the 15th-century-BC creation story. Which, I remind you, is at a whole different point in the timeline. Satan got booted after the birth of Jesus, remember? Lk 10.18 Did I not make that obvious?

So what did happen here? Well, yeah the serpent is Satan. But this wasn’t Satan getting revenge for a fall which hadn’t happened yet. This was Satan testing Eve. ’Cause that was its job, whether assigned (which I doubt) or self-appointed: Testing creation to see whether it’d hold up. Testing Eve to see whether she’d violate God’s will. Pushing the test too far, and slandering God in the process, which is why God was rightly pissed at it. The humans shoulda passed this test. Instead they unraveled creation.

And after Eve and Adam violated God’s will… well, God had to resort to plan B. ’Cause plan A, where they’d be his people and he’d be their God, Ex 6.7, Lv 26.12, Jr 30.22, 2Co 6.16 was shot to hell. Now God had to fix his broken creation so he could return to plan A. Which he’d do through the woman’s seed, who’d crush the serpent’s head. And we Christians figure Christ Jesus is the woman’s seed. Ga 4.4

A literal serpent?

In looking through ancient history, y’might notice how often their cultures include a serpent in their origin stories.

Difference is, those other stories’ serpents were bigger and badder and more ancient. They predated the gods. Yep, the gods of those cultures weren’t timeless and always existing, like the LORD: They had a beginning. Either they spontaneously generated—they just crawled out of some hole in the universe, or just were—or they were the kids of elder gods, like when Kronos and Rhea made Zeus. But before there were gods, there were the great serpents, running amok, contributing to the chaos. The gods had to fight ’em and conquer ’em first. Usually in some big long heroic poem or something.

In contrast Genesis—which was written to correct these myths, and tell the Hebrews what really happened at creation—had no such LORD-vs.-serpent smackdown. God created serpents. Ge 1.21 Same as he created everything else in the universe. He didn’t fight ’em for dominance; he’s infinitely dominant.

Now, you’ll notice mythology’s serpents aren’t snakes. They’re supernatural creatures.
Detail of the serpent from Michelangelo’s “Peccato Originale e Cacciata dal Paradiso Terrestre” (“Original Sin and Expulsion from Earthly Paradise,” usually called “Fall and Expulsion from Garden of Eden”) Wikimedia
Kinda like the kheruvím/“cherubs” we see later in the chapter. Ge 3.24 Or šarafím/“seraphs,” which are historically depicted as six-winged burning serpents. Nu 21.6, Is 6.2 Myths tend to make ’em massive and dragon-like. So when people try to describe the serpent as some snake in the tree, like Kaa in The Jungle Book, they’ve got the wrong idea in mind. It’s not a snake. It’s a heavenly being which happens to have an earthly-sounding name. Artists had fun speculating how it might look; some of ’em drew dragons and pythons, half-woman-half-snake hybrids (like Michelangelo, left), Cthuhu or Hydra or some other mythology’s monster. But we don’t know what the serpent looked like… and speculation isn’t gonna get us far. So let’s get to the point.

If we’re not meant to interpret a passage of scripture literally, because we can’t take it literally without sounding ridiculous, it means we’re dealing with metaphors. Legitimate metaphors. Too often, Christians wanna dodge God’s commands and Jesus’s teachings by turning what was clearly said, into something metaphorical—and impotent. This is not that. There’s a valid place for metaphorical interpretation. This is one of ’em.

Since the serpent is a supernatural being, we can’t treat God’s curse on the serpent as if it was God’s punishment to all earthly serpents. So “walk on your belly” doesn’t mean God literally removed the serpent’s legs, like Josephus claimed. Antiquities 1.1.4 Whatever God has done in the creation of snakes, through natural and divine processes, has nothing to do with this story. Remember, it’s a metaphor. God had it take to its belly and eat dirt. That’s a metaphor for humiliation. And it’s not just one of our English metaphors, which we’re incorrectly and non-historically reading back into the bible; it’s in the bible. Ps 72.9 It does mean humiliation.

Likewise the serpent’s “seed” aren’t its literal snake babies, or serpent descendants. It’d be anyone who embraces and spreads the devil’s corrupt thinking. It’s Satan’s like-minded followers, witting or unwitting. It’s for this reason Jesus called the Pharisees “serpents” and “sons of poisonous snakes.” Mt 23.33 No, they weren’t literal serpents and snakes. Obviously. But they were engaged in devilish thinking, and they would’ve recognized Jesus’s insult as meaning exactly this.

John 8.43 KWL
43 “How come you can’t recognize my speech? You aren’t able to hear my message!
44 You’re from your father—the devil. You want to do what your father desires.
From the beginning, it’s been into manslaughter. It doesn’t stand in the truth; truth isn’t in it.
Whenever it speaks lies, it speaks its own language. Lying is also its father.
45 Because I tell the truth, you don’t believe me. 46 Who among you accuses me of sin?
If I tell the truth, how come you don’t believe me? 47 The one from God, hears God’s words.
For this reason you don’t hear me: You aren’t from God.”

God declared war—literally eyvá ašít/“put hatred,” created enemies—between the woman and her “seed,” and the serpent. What’s the woman’s “seed” mean? After all, zaráh/“seed” tends to be the Hebrew euphemism for “semen”—and women don’t make that.

Well, God meant to contrast the woman’s seed from the serpent’s seed. The serpent’s seed represents people who think like the devil. So the woman’s seed represents people who think like the woman.

Wait, wasn’t that a bad thing? No.

The woman’s seed.

Part of the serpent’s temptation to Eve was based on her wish to be like God. Ge 3.5-6 Christians often criticize Eve for daring to presume such a thing. Which is nuts: Aren’t we supposed to wanna be like God? Aren’t we taught to be like Jesus? That’s the very same thing, y’know. We wanna take on God’s good characteristics, and produce fruit of the Spirit. Not only is there nothing wrong with that, there’s everything right about it. God encourages us to obey him and do just that. God wants us to be wise. God wants us to know the difference between good and evil—and do good.

Eve’s problem was she went about it the wrong way. Instead of petitioning God for wisdom, as we’re all encouraged to do, Jm 1.5 she believed she found a shortcut… and violated God’s command. She’s hardly the first person to make this mistake. Plenty of us try to take shortcuts to holiness which weave through hypocrisy, lies, and sin. We can’t be like God through disobeying God!

Still, Eve did want to be like God. And that’s her seed: People who wanna be like God. People who want to do his works, as opposed to the devil’s. People like Jesus, who does God’s works, perfectly. Jesus is the best description of the woman’s seed—and not merely because he didn’t have a biological father.

You can see how there’s war between those who want to follow God, and the devil’s followers who don’t. In God’s curse, the consequence is casualties on both sides. But here, the metaphor takes an interesting turn. The woman’s “seed” is plural, but God’s next reference to it is with the singular pronoun hu/“he.” This one seed will crush the serpent’s head. Ge 3.15 Not the heads of the serpent’s seed, but its head, the serpent’s head. And in turn the serpent will crush this individual’s heel.

The verb-root shuf/“crush” sometimes gets translated “bruise” (KJV) or even “protect” (Septuagint). Lots of translators hedge their bets and render it “strike” or “attack” or “wound.”

Since this isn’t a prophecy describing how Cain, Abel, or Seth personally comes after this particular serpent, finally pounds its skull into the ground, and gets crippled in the process, we’re again dealing with metaphors. Through it God foretold how, in future, a particular “seed” of the woman would show up and do battle with this serpent. The serpent would successfully harm the seed somehow. But this seed would destroy the serpent—and with it, its evil.

Sound like anyone we know?

Fulfilled by Jesus. And his followers.

Now yes, the writers of the New Testament figured any seed of the woman—anybody who’s trying to follow God—is gonna have the ability to crush the serpent’s head. It’s why we find verses like this one:

Romans 16.20 KWL
The God of peace will crush Satan under your feet quickly!
May our Master Jesus’s grace be with you.

Nope, it’s not solely Jesus crushing Satan’s head. (Although he does.) We crush the serpent too—by following Jesus instead of the devil.

But notice it’s through following Jesus that we can do this. He grants us the ability to do it—wait, I’ll use his words. (And no, he wasn’t talking about literal snakes and scorpions… though there is that story where Paul shook off a snakebite, Ac 28.3-6 but don’t go turn that into a worship practice or anything.)

Luke 10.19 KWL
“Look, I give you the power to step on snakes and scorpions—
on every ability of the enemy, and nothing can harm you.

Proper English tends to soften that triple negative Jesus used in the last clause: Nothing can not never harm you. Yeah, evil humans can still smack us around, but as far as the devil’s concerned, Jesus has made us curse-proof. Thanks to Jesus’s power and authority, we can crush the serpent’s head, same as him.

So if you wanna know how to follow God, how to be like God, how to truly be the woman’s seed: Listen to Jesus. Study Jesus. Look at Jesus. Follow Jesus. He’s the image of the invisible God. Cl 1.15 You wanna follow God, you follow him.

If you don’t, you’re not—and kinda defeating Jesus’s purpose.

1 John 3.8-10 KWL
8 Doing sin is from the devil: The devil sinned since the beginning.
God’s Son was revealed for this reason: He can destroy the devil’s works.
9 Everyone from God doesn’t do sin: God’s seed lives in them.
They’re not empowered to sin: They were rebirthed by God.
10 God’s children, and the devil’s children, are known for this reason:
Everyone who doesn’t do right, who doesn’t love their Christian family, isn’t from God.

If we’ve embraced a fruitless, sinful lifestyle—if we’re claiming we can sin, and it’s okay because God’s grace makes it possible for us to sin ourselves sticky with no lasting consequences—we’re not of God. We’re not the woman’s seed. We’re not God’s seed. We have no connection with God’s Son.

Righteousness and holy living is part of the package.

The Pharisees and the earliest Christians figured Messiah would be a teacher of righteousness—someone who’d explain to us how to follow God properly. And Jesus absolutely is that. He shows us how to resist the devil so it’ll flee. Jm 4.7 He shows us how to deny its corrupting influence and rebuke it.

Matthew 4.10 KWL
Jesus told it, Oh, get out of here, Satan.
For it’s written you’ll worship your Lord God and serve only him.”

So the reason Christians consider it a big deal that Jesus was born of a virgin, born of a woman but not with any man’s DNA, is because it marks him in particular as the woman’s “seed,” the descendant of Eve who’d crush the serpent. After all, one can’t say Jesus is the “seed” of any man—so the connection to Genesis 3 is way more obvious.

(In fact, some Christians teach the reason Jesus addressed his mom as Gýnai/“Woman” Jn 2.4, 19.26 was to remind us of this point: He’s the “seed” of this woman. I don’t buy it, ’cause Jesus addressed every woman like that, Jn 4.21, 28.15 as you’d do in that culture. Sounds neat, but it’s baseless.)

God’s Genesis curse upon the serpent allows us to deduce someone, some human, is eventually gonna come to set things right, and defeat the serpent. You’d think someone more powerful than a human would have to do the job, like a cherub with a flaming sword, Ge 3.24 or Michael and all the warring angels of heaven, Rv 12.7 or the Almighty himself. And in fact it was the Almighty himself—but after he became a human. Betcha the devil didn’t see that coming.