I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.â€
And now it all goes wrong.
It’s not my intention here to explore the dynamics of the Fall itself – I did that in my Oxford dissertation. Rather I want to draw out one crucial point, that this first messianic prophecy is rooted in the first command given to the two humans. The procreative order from God (“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth“) is the means by which salvation will come into the world. It is the offspring of the archetype humans who will crush Satan’s attack upon them and their descendants. Yes, Satan will cripple them (“bruise his heel”) but the one who is to come will destroy his power in turn (“bruise your head”) as pictured graphically in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”.
That the prophecy is both given in and fulfilled in a garden is no mere coincidence. Eden is poetically described in Genesis 2 as the first place where vegetation springs up at God’s command (less a contradiction with Genesis 1 and more an enhancement on the grain plants and fruit trees of Gen 1:9, themselves the symbols of sacrificial and sacramental offering – grain, olives and wine) and is itself therefore a symbol of procreative reproduction. The name of Gethsemane (lit. “olive press”) picks up that theme and of course olives and olive oil (“press”) play a crucial role in delineating messianic authority and primacy (1 Kings 6:23-34, Psalm 52:8, Gen 8:11, Zec 4, Rev 11:4).
The messianic procreative promise though is tinged with sorrow. Childbirth will be painful (Gen 3:16), and this is both a physical truism and a spiritual foretelling. For humanity to get from Adam to the second Adam will involve the pain (and death) of childbirth alongside the generational suffering of fallenness. Truly humanity brings forth its children in pain.
Finally, within the poetry of God’s curses on the serpent, the woman and Adam, we find a peculiar observation which once again emphasises the fruit of the sexual union of the man and the woman.
||Because you have done this,
||Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, â€˜You shall not eat of it,â€™
||cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, andÂ dust you shall eat all the days of your life.
||cursed is the ground because of you;
||I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring andÂ her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.
||I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.
||in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Although both the man and the serpent have guilt and a curse proclaimed over them, these aspects are missing from God’s proclamation to the woman. The pain of childbirth is not itself a curse, nor a sign of guilt, and thus the messianic dimension of delivery (and the woman who delivers) is free from these binds. That the fallen world has painful childbirth in it is true – that the pain is a specific curse connected to a specific guilt is not true. That the woman (as all who follow her) is oriented towards desiring and being ruled by her husband is true – that the subordination of the wife is a curse because of guilt is untrue.
Might it even be the case that the reason why the wife has no guilt or curse ascribed to her, despite being the one who sinned first, is because the husband takes upon himself her punishment?
We shall return to this key observation in later verses and see how it has deep significance for the Christological icon of the sexual act and the marital relationship.
The impact of the curse on the serpent is that there will be enmity between his children and the woman’s, but for the woman herself the impact of the wider curses is upon the second physical act of procreation she engages in (the delivery of the child as opposed to conception). The impact on the woman (giving birth) precedes that of the serpent’s (the child that has been given birth too in conflict with the serpent’s offspring) and indeed one creates the other for without childbirth there is no conflict with the serpent’s offspring. Again in messianic terms the primacy here is the appearance of the promise.
We’re three chapters in, so let’s just reflect on the core theme we have seen. The first command to the humans is procreative and it is the fruit of procreation which encompasses the nature of the curse and proclamation to the serpent and the woman. The second command is to subdue the earth and this is the nature of the curse on Adam. Chapters 1 to 3 of Genesis, though arguably drawing on a number of primary sources have been weaved together to create a coherent whole. The events of the Fall in Genesis 3 rely heavily upon earlier themes established in the first two chapters. Despite the claims of some that the procreative elements of the first command to a married couple are not important in the wider concepts of covenant relationship, we see that actually they form the hub around which the first three chapters of Scripture become a coherent whole.