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by Robert Dean
Series:Holiday Specials
Duration:55 mins 16 secs

Serpents, Seeds and Scepters

 

When we were young we would never have thought that Christmas would be as controversial as it is today. There are people who when you just mention the word Christmas they just almost stroke out. They get all purple in the face, start to vibrate, etc. They don't want anything to do with Christmas, and then they turn right around and want to celebrate, give gifts and have parties in the last week or two of December. If it weren't for Christmas being historically celebrated on 25 December they wouldn't have any kind of celebration at the end of the year at all. If you take Christ out of Christmas there is no reason of any kind to have a celebration at the end of the year other than maybe just because of history. In fact, even in its celebration among Christians hasn't always been what we see it today. The reality is that most of what we consider today to be part of Christmas worship really has its origins in Victorian tradition in England in the 19th century. If we went back to the 17th century in England when the Puritans dominated English thought and society Christmas was outlawed because the culture had become so secular and pagan (Sound familiar?) that people just used Christmas as an opportunity to party, get drunk, and carry on in all kinds of different ways. It had nothing to do with Jesus so the Puritans basically outlawed it. The Puritans never observed Christmas because it just had come to hold all of these pagan practices with it. So the fact that Christmas has become so controversial today is really nothing new.

 

The word "Christmas" itself, though, is not always understood by most people. Christmas, if we have any understanding of the Bible, recognizes the birth of Christ. The word itself has its origins in old English where there was the combination of the word Christ plus an old English word "mass" which meant a festival or a celebration. The word wasn't actually coined in English until around the tenth or eleventh century and it means a time to celebrate Christ, to celebrate His birth. That is the focal point. But then we should ask: What is the meaning of Christ? To what does Christ refer? The word "Christ" comes into English from a Greek word, christos [Xristoj], which means someone who was anointed or appointed to a particular position. In the Greek New Testament and the Greek Septuagint of the Old Testament the word christos is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word mashiach which is translated Messiah, which means the anointed or appointed one.

 

What is so important about a Messiah? Do we really need to have a Messiah? Is there really anything messianic about the Old Testament? Is there a Messiah in the Old Testament? Are there clear prophecies about a Messiah in the Old Testament, or is this just something that second temple period Jews, i.e. those who lived in the two or three centuries prior to Christ, sort of invented? Or is it something that Christians read back into the Old Testament but wasn't really there?

The word mashiach is used approximately 39 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. It is used mostly to describe an individual, so it is often used with another noun. E.g. anointed priests, anointed kings, even a Gentile unbeliever by the name of Cyrus, the leader of the Persian empire who was called God's anointed because he was appointed to a specific role in history, to decree that the Jewish people in captivity in Babylon could return home to Jerusalem. It is interestingly used of the pre-fall creature we refer to as Satan or the devil. His pre-fall name was Lucifer and referred to in Ezekiel 28 as the anointed [mashiach] cherub who covers in terms of his relationship to the throne of God. But the terms is used in a more restrictive sense in approximately 12 passages in the Old Testament. There is some controversy over one or two of these but there are some that are specifically clear. Psalm 2:2, a predictive prophecy of David which focuses on an end time event where the kings of the earth have allied themselves together against God. NASB "The kings of the earth take their stand And the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD [Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel] and against His Anointed [mashiach]." Two things come out of Psalm 2—the Messiah is royal; the Messiah is also divine.

Daniel 9:25, 26 also focuses on the end time period for Israel, Daniel's seventieth week NASB "So you are to know and discern {that} from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince {there will be} seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end {will come} with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined." Again we see a reinforcement of the idea that the Messiah is a royal personage. This is a prediction that at some time Messiah the prince will come and that He will be cut off, a word indicating that He will be killed or destroyed in some manner.

Some other Scripture that also refers to the Messiah as an individual that is distinct from a priest or a king but a future ruler who will come to usher in a kingdom for Israel that is characterized by perfect peace and justice. 1 Samuel 2:10, 35 in the song of Hannah; 2 Samuel 22:51; 23:1; Habakkuk 3:13; Psalm 20:6; 28:8, 9; 89:51 which is a meditation upon the Davidic covenant, the promise God made to David that one of his descendants would be an eternal king who would sit upon His throne in Jerusalem. Again, it is in that promise that He is viewed as eternal that we see that there is a hint that He will be both human as a descendant of David as well as divine because He is eternal; Psalm 132:17.

This word is used in these 12 passages or so as a clear reference to this human descendant of king David who will also rule this earthly kingdom from Jerusalem forever, and that this kingdom is characterized by peace and justice. That is basically the definition of the Messiah in the Old Testament. But He is not only called the Messiah. There are other passages that refer to Him as the Branch, as the Holy One, as Adonai, as the Servant of the Lord, as well as the title the Son of Man. So it is not simply the term "Messiah" that identifies this particular individual.

If we look at the Hebrew Old Testament what we discover is that not only is the entirety of the Hebrew Old Testament messianic in its focus, i.e. it focuses again and again on the future provision by God of this individual that is appointed for a particular role to rule over mankind, but that each individual book or section focuses on the provision of this anointed/appointed one, the King that God will provide. Not only do the major sections all focus on the Messiah but each book focuses on the Messiah.

Observations related to Messiah in the Torah

1.  The writer of the Torah (Moses) focuses on the Messiah. It is the focal point that we see in each of the parts of the Torah. It may not always be apparent initially but it doesn't take much analysis to begin to understand and see this.

2.  In terms of the overall organization and structure we see this as a sort of pattern. Genesis is a sort of historical introduction to the Law. The Law is actually given in Exodus 20. Everything up to that is a historical background, prelude as to why God is giving the Law to Israel. Why not somebody else? In Genesis is a structure of basically narrative or story or historical development in the first 48 chapters. Then there is a poem in Genesis 49, the prophecy of Jacob over his 12 sons. And then there is a final statement or epilogue in Genesis chapter 50. This pattern of narrative followed by a poem and then another narrative or epilogue is found throughout the Pentateuch. These poetic sections function as focal points or exclamation points on the Messiah. So there is narrative and history, then a poem that focuses on the end times and the promise of a coming King.

3.  The exclamation points in the Torah are these four key poetic sections: Genesis 49; Exodus 15; Numbers 23-24; Deuteronomy 32-33. All of them except Exodus 15 focus on the last days of the coming King. Exodus 15 focuses on the redemptive deliverance that had just occurred when God redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt. So these poems are designed as a meditation that grows out of all that has preceded it to that point and then there is a focus on the future driving the attention of the reader to God's provision of this future ruler.

4.  Each of these poems focuses on a coming ruler, a coming King who will eventually be worshipped by all the people. Genesis 49:8-11. We see in Numbers 24 that this ruler will also rule over all of the nations, including the kingdom of God.

5.  As we go back to the beginning of the Pentateuch and into Genesis we learn that this ruler is initially by the term "seed." He is called the seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15 and then this seed is meticulously traced throughout the Hebrew Old Testament. That is what all the genealogies are about: tracing the line of the seed so that the seed of the woman can be clearly identified as the Messiah when He arrives.

6.  By the end of the Torah Moses identifies this one not only as a coming King but also as a prophet who will be like Moses. What distinguished Moses from all the other prophets was that God spoke to Moses face to face.

7.  So in conclusion we see that one of then major themes of the Torah is the promise, the lineage and the predictions for the identification of this end-time ruler who will bring glory to God's people Israel. The Torah is messianic. Again and again God is identifying for His people Israel the characteristics of the one who will come in the future so that when He comes they will be able to recognize Him. He is not going to be hidden.

The first of these messianic predictions, one that has been disputed and been somewhat controversial for the last thousand years, is Genesis 3:15 NASB "And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel." This comes within the context of God's announcement of judgment as a result of the disobedience of Adam eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden. What is outlined in the last part of Genesis 3 is the consequence of that judgment—to the animal creation, to Adam and Eve, and to nature itself because sin has entered the universe. Therefore redemption not only applies to the personal relationship of man to God but as we see in Romans chapter eight it will also affect creation. That is why when the Messiah comes in the future and establishes His kingdom there is a role-back of the curse, as Revelation teaches, on the animal creation as well as the physical creation of the universe. It doesn't restore it all the way back to perfect environment, but fairly closely.

The fact that Genesis 3:15 has been historically understood as messianic is without dispute. In the Midrash a rabbinical commentary on Genesis that was written around the time of the first century states: "Eve had respect to that seed which is coming from another place. And who is this? This is the King Messiah." Here we see that the seed coming from another place is clearly understood to be King Messiah. So in second temple Judaism there was a clear understanding that this statement by God in Genesis chapter three talking about the seed and the conflict between the seed and the woman and the serpent is a messianic prediction. They also understood that the Messiah is going to be royal: He is a King. In the 12th century AD another very significant rabbi who was responsible for revising a number of doctrines in Judaism up to that point and he said Isaiah 53 wasn't really talking about an individual, it was talking about Israel as a whole and that they are bearing the sins of the world. This was the first successful attempt they had had to try and reinterpret Isaiah 53 so that it wouldn't look as if it was talking about Jesus. But he did understand that Genesis chapter three was talking about the Messiah. He said: "Messiah the son of David shall wound Satan." Today in much of modern Judaism they don't believe in Satan. They don't believe in a fallen angel, they just think of Satan as an adversary to God but he is not a demonic person. But that is only of recent origin. 

In the 11th century a rabbi usually referred to by the nickname Rashi redefined and popularized a medieval method of interpretation that had been used by rabbis for several generations. He redefines this and it was a more literal interpretation in which he tried to make all messianic prophecies in the Old Testament refer to something that had already occurred historically and was fulfilled in history. He had an incredible impact not only on Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament after that but also upon a number of Roman Catholics at that time and later upon Protestants. Even John Calvin thought that Genesis 3:15 was just talking about this ongoing conflict between snakes and people. This idea that Genesis 3:15 really isn't talking about the devil but is talking about snakes and people is one that has continually popped up for the last thousand years or so.

So when we look at this episode where God is addressing the serpent we need to answer the question of why the serpent is more than a snake. Six reasons:

1.  In this episode the serpent can talk. It is not normal and it is not normal in the Bible. They don't talk in the Bible. When they do on two occasions (we also have Balaam's ass) it is because another power has taken over the individual animal and is speaking through that animal. So this was not the serpent or the snake talking but a power speaking through the serpent.

2.  The serpent as part of creation, like all the other animals in God's creation, was pronounced good; there was as yet no sin, no evil in creation. So the serpent as tempter of Eve to sin was not the serpent itself but a power that has taken over the serpent's body.

3.  If we carefully read the Genesis 3:15 verse it is not the serpent's seed that will be crushed, it is the serpent that is crushed. "He (the seed of the woman) will crush you," God said. Looking at the time frame, it is going to be a while before the seed of the woman shows up and that serpent, that individual creature, isn't going to live for four thousand years. So obviously it is talking about the power that is behind the serpent and enabling the serpent; that power will still be around at the time the seed of the woman shows up to crush him.

4.  New Testament revelation. Romans 16:20 and Revelation 12:9 identify the serpent of old as the dragon and as Satan. Even though that revelation isn't given to someone until later it makes it clear that that is how we should understand Genesis chapter three.

5.  The readers in the ancient world understood this to predict a long conflict between good and evil, and not a long conflict between snakes and humanity.

6.  God said that there would be enmity between the two. The word used for enmity and hatred is a word that is always used to refer to enmity and animosity between moral agents. That indicates it isn't just a snake because a snake isn't a moral agent.

Then we get into looking at the text itself. Genesis 3:15 NASB "And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel."

Observations: The word "seed." Seed is the Hebrew word zera which can refer to an individual seed or it is also a collective noun and can refer to a group. So the seed can refer in some places to a collection of someone's descendants. God promised Abraham that his seed would be without number. It is also in many cases a singular noun and it can shift back and forth even in the same verse, and that is what we have here in verse 15. We know this because when the collective noun is used to refer to a large number there is a plural verb with it. When it is referring to an individual then there is a singular verb associated with it as well as having a singular pronoun to refer to the seed. Here we have the phrase "between your seed and her seed" in a collective sense—those who follow your path in the sense of evil and her path, i.e. her descendants, the line of descent from Eve. But in the next phrase, "He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel," the Hebrew uses a singular third person verb form which indicates that the word "seed" should be understood as a single and not a collective sense. And the third person singular pronoun "He" should be understood to refer to an individual and not to a collective group. This is how it is translated in most English translations, with two interesting exceptions. The Jewish Publication Society translation of the Old Testament in both the 1970 edition and 1985 edition translate the third person masculine singular pronoun as a masculine plural pronoun, "they." That avoids the messianic implication and reinforces the idea that this is a battle or conflict between the descendants of Eve and the descendants of Satan.

When we look at this verse we see also that there is an emphasis on an attack on each by the other. "He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel." The verb that is used here indicating the bruise is the Hebrew word shuph which according to the lexicons means to bruise, to crush, to strike. Sometimes it has been translated "trample." It is the same word used on both. This has often been taught as saying that He, the seed of the woman, shall bruise you on the head or crush your head, indicating a fatal wound to the serpent, and "you shall bruise him on the heel" indicating a less than fatal wound. However, the indications are that when we are talking about a serpent and use this verb with a serpent who is striking it usually refers to a venomous bite. A venomous bite by a serpent is also a fatal bite. But what happened on the cross? Jesus died. They both died, but in the process of giving a mortal wound to the serpent the seed of the woman dies, which seems to be correlated and corroborated by what the writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 2:14 NASB "Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil." The indication then would be that Genesis 3:15 is predicting that the way the seed of the woman will destroy the serpent is through His own death—which fits the pattern that we see in the fulfilment of Scripture, that it is through Christ's death on the cross that He destroys and defeats Satan. But of course Jesus didn't stay in the grave, He rose from the dead and so His death was not permanent.

What we see from this is as we go forward in the Torah, in Genesis, this concept of seed plays a major role. It is used in Genesis 9:9 with reference to Noah. NASB "Now behold, I Myself do establish My covenant with you, and with your descendants [seed] after you."  Between Genesis 3 and Genesis 9 we have this long genealogy in Genesis 5 that traces the seed down through the line of Seth. At the end of chapter 4 there is the tracing of the seed through Cain but it ends because of the judgment at the flood. The line through Seth continues down to Noah, and Noah and his family survive the flood so that we can trace the seed of the woman from Eve to Noah and his three sons. But then there is a problem. As they expand we see some of the genealogy listed for Japheth and for Ham but with Shem we get detail. The line, the seed of Shem takes us down to Abram. Abram is given a promise by God and several times it is reiterated, each time using the same word, "seed." Genesis 12:7 NASB "The LORD appeared to Abram and said, 'To your descendants I will give this land…'"  Genesis 13:15 NASB "for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever." Genesis 17:6 NASB "I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you." So now there is an orientation to royalty in the seed line. [7] "I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you." Then the last time God reiterates this covenant with Abraham and emphasizes the seed we have another interesting problem in translation. Genesis 22:17 NASB "indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed (collective sense) as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies." The words "their enemies" is a third person masculine singular pronoun, his. This means God shifts from a collective use of seed in the first part of verse 17 to the individual seed, "your seed shall possess the gate of his enemies." This is indicating that the seed of the woman is now going to have victory over His enemies. He will be royal and He will have victory over His enemies.  Genesis 35:11, 12 NASB "God also said to him, 'I am God Almighty; Be fruitful and multiply; A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, And kings shall come forth from you. The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give it to you, And I will give the land to your descendants after you.'" There God speaks to Jacob and reiterates this idea of royalty. This is made clear in Genesis 49:10 when we have the promise: "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him {shall be} the obedience of the peoples."

Where this takes us is that we see this promise in Genesis that evil will be defeated. It is defeated through the sed of the woman, indicating humanity. We learn from these statements to Abraham, to Jacob and to Judah that He will be royalty, and we learn from the statements to Abraham that He will defeat all of His enemies. This sets the stage for what will be revealed in the rest of the Torah and on into the prophets in the Old Testament, that it is clearly a messianic prediction.