The Messiah Would Be the Seed of the Woman
This verse comes early in the book of Genesis, after Adam and Eve disobey God by eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God pronounces judgment on the serpent who deceived Eve into eating, followed by judgment against Eve, and then Adam. Genesis 3:15 is part of God’s judgment on the serpent. In the context of Genesis and the rest of the Bible, the prediction is of an ongoing conflict not merely between snakes and humans but between Satan (the embodiment of ultimate evil) and humanity. The singular “he shall bruise your head” suggests a particular individual; the contrast between head and heel may suggest that the blow against Satan and evil will be lethal, but not so the blow against the individual. Just as Genesis sets the stage for everything that follows in the Bible, this verse sets the stage for the coming of someone who would inflict a death blow on Satan and on evil. As a result, many understand this to be the first hint of a coming one who will be victorious over evil. It is too early in the Bible for him to be called the “Messiah”; that title would come later. But it is noteworthy that the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that comes from the first few centuries before Jesus) and the later Targums1 (paraphrases of the Hebrew Bible into the daily language of Aramaic) understood this verse to speak about the coming Messiah.
The New Testament alludes to Genesis 3:15 in several places. Romans 16:20 speaks of victory over Satan with the image of crushing underfoot, as one might do to a snake. Galatians 4:4 refers to Jesus being “born of woman,” reminding us that the phrase in Genesis refers to the seed (offspring) of the woman. Hebrew 2:14 refers to Jesus destroying – through his own death – Satan. Some think that the blow against the heel in Genesis 3:15 actually would be lethal, since snakes were often poisonous. In that case, Genesis would not be talking about a lethal vs. non-lethal blow, but both would be mortal wounds. In Jesus’ case, however, it was exactly his death that led to redemption. Finally, Revelation 12:9 and 17 allude to the war of Satan against “the woman” and “the rest of her offspring” – a clear reference back to Genesis 3:15 which ties the first and last books of the Bible together. Jesus may be the ultimate seed of the woman, but his followers are also in battle against Satan against which they will be victorious (compare Romans 16:20 above).
1. Targums Pseudo-Jonathan, Neofiti, and Onqelos.