The very first prediction of the Messiah in the Hebrew Scriptures is found in Genesis 3:15, a verse that has historically been called, “The First Good News.” But some people object that this verse isn’t a messianic prediction at all–they claim it is merely about people and snakes. Which is it?
After Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, disobeying God and bringing sin into the world, the Lord confronted all the participants with words of judgment. First, God cursed the serpent that tempted Eve and then He assigned judgment to Eve and Adam, saying women will bear children with pain and men will work hard to earn their bread. But this first prophecy is found in the section of the curse on the serpent, declaring, “I will put hostility between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
People object to this being a messianic prediction because it would contain a measure of hope in the midst of a judgment passage. One Old Testament scholar says there are no examples of grace and hope in judgment passages anywhere in the Bible. Of course a quick reading of Genesis shows God judging Cain and then graciously giving him a mark to keep others from killing him, revealing grace in the midst of judgment. Then God determines to judge the whole earth because of its sin but also chooses to rescue Noah and his family from that judgment, showing grace in the midst of judgment. Another example is when God delivered Lot and his family out of the judgment of Sodom, giving yet another example of mercy in the midst of judgment. So of course, why would anyone be surprised that God would offer the hope of mercy, grace and hope in the midst of His judgment of the sin of Adam and Eve.
Another objection is that this can’t be a messianic prediction because it’s merely a “just-so story,” about why there’s a perpetual hatred between snakes and humanity. For this to be a messianic prediction, it would need to be about a curse on Satan and his followers, not merely snakes. Although those who make this claim are correct in saying that Genesis 3 seems only to be talking about a serpent, it does seem that there is more than a serpent involved. Think about it—this snake talks and the story takes place in the Garden of Eden, not in Narnia. Even in the Bible, animals don’t talk without a supernatural being opening their mouths. But it’s not God who opened this snake’s mouth. This serpent wants to corrupt Eve and get her to disobey God, even calling God a liar. Since the Bible says that “God saw all that He made and it was very good” (Gen 1:31), this couldn’t be an ordinary snake. There was a malevolent, evil force animating it and giving it the ability to speak. Although Genesis 3 doesn’t name that supernatural being, as we keep reading Scripture we realize that this can’t be anyone other than Satan. John Collins wrote that the serpent is “The mouthpiece of a Dark Power, whom later texts would call Satan.” And that’s why this promise is not just a curse on snakes but a promise of the ultimate defeat of the Devil, the great enemy of humanity.
A final objection to the messianic nature of this prediction is in its use of the word “seed.” The passage promises that the seed (or offspring) of the woman will strike or crush the seed (or offspring) of the serpent. Some people contend that the word “seed” always refers to a collective group of descendants not an individual. But this is simply untrue. For example, in the very next chapter, at the birth of Seth, Eve declares that “God has given me another child in place of Abel” (Gen 4:25). But in Hebrew, the word translated “child” is actually “seed” or “offspring” and it clearly refers to an individual, Seth. In fact, in Hebrew, when there’s a singular pronoun referring back to the word “seed” as found in Genesis 3:15, it always means that the word “seed” should be understood as an individual and not a group.
So what is Genesis 3:15 predicting? We might think that the first messianic prediction of the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament, would be about the birth of the Messiah. Not so! The very first prediction of Messiah’s coming is about His death. God foretold that one day, a descendant of the woman, the Messiah, would strike that Serpent on the head, delivering a death blow. At the same time, the Serpent would strike the Messiah on the heel. The kind of serpent described in this passage always bites with a deadly force. This verse is saying that in defeating Satan, the power behind the serpent, the Messiah would also die. And that’s exactly what happened.
When Yeshua (Jesus) died for us, not only did He take the punishment we deserved, but in dying, He also defeated the enemy of our souls. Hebrews 2:14-15 says that Jesus became a man so that “through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death–that is, the Devil–and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death.” Because Jesus died and rose again, we don’t ever need to be fearful, either as we live life in difficult times or even as we face death.