In the third chapter of Genesis, God pronounces the judgment on the serpent after he successfully tempts Eve, and then Adam through Eve, to disobey the one law God had given them. God then decrees enmity (v. 15) between the woman’s offspring and the serpent’s offspring. This finds its ultimate fulfillment in Christ, whose sacrificial death results in the defeat of Satan and undoes the power of the Curse for those who believe in Him. The final fulfillment of the work of Christ remains in the future, when Christ will defeat the “ancient serpent” as foretold in Revelation.
Throughout the narrative of Scripture, certain people or groups particularly typify ‘the offspring of the woman’, and other people or groups typify ‘the offspring of the serpent’. This theme is brought out in Scripture both to emphasize the struggle of the righteous against the sinful in this fallen world, and to affirm the progress of God’s salvific plan throughout history.
Genesis records that God created Adam so that he could rule over creation as His steward. Eve shared in this dominion over creation, as both she and her husband were equally created in the image of God. But in the first interaction recorded, instead of putting the serpent in his place, Eve takes his advice! At the least, it is clear that part of what went wrong in the Fall was that the dominion hierarchy (Genesis 1:26, 28) was reversed; Eve allowed the serpent to have equal footing with her, and even took its word over God’s, and Adam obeyed his wife instead of God. This may be part of the reason why after the Fall, though the hierarchy remains in place, there is now a tendency for conflict and abuse.
When Adam sinned, he became enslaved to sin. The whole creation, still under the stewardship of mankind, joined Adam in a related form of bondage. Paul in Romans 8:21 says that creation is in “bondage to corruption” (other translations say “bondage to decay”). But even as God was declaring the curses that went along with Adam’s sin, He gave a glimmer of hope for Adam’s race, for when He cursed the serpent He also declared:
But God is in control of this conflict:
Genesis itself does not tell us who the serpent was, only that he was a creation of God. But Revelation 12:9 calls the dragon “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world”. Revelation 20:2 repeats that the dragon is “that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan”. Jesus says of the devil, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Jesus’ description of Satan only makes sense if he is the same as the serpent, who was the first liar (hence ‘the father of lies’).
Genesis 3 sets up multiple levels of conflict. The first conflict is between the woman and the serpent. This started with the serpent’s deception of the woman. The second conflict is between the woman’s offspring (or ‘seed’) and the serpent’s offspring (or ‘seed’). The third conflict is between a specific ‘offspring’, a male descendant, and the serpent. The serpent will wound him, but this offspring will crush the serpent’s head.2 Even in the midst of tragic judgment God promised to redeem humanity, but the serpent’s judgment included no corresponding hope for redemption.
Eve apparently believed God’s promise; in fact, her belief in this promise is probably behind all her subsequent recorded speech. When she had her firstborn son, she explained Cain’s name with the statement: “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord” (4:1). A more literal translation would be, “I have gotten a man: the Lord”. This suggests that Eve’s theology was sophisticated, if misapplied! She knew her promised offspring would be both God and man. The meaning of the Hebrew word behind the name ‘Abel’ means ‘vanity’, which may suggest disappointment when she figured out that Cain wasn’t the promised offspring. But when she named Seth, she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him” (4:25). Seth’s name sounds like ‘he appointed’ in Hebrew. Perhaps this indicates Eve believed that God would have sent the deliverer through Abel’s line, but since he was killed, God gave Seth to her instead.
God started acting on His promise quickly. But Satan was also acting. Part of God’s promise involved Satan’s offspring, and we start to see his offspring early on. Cain was a wicked man; 1 John says that Cain was ‘of the evil one’ because he murdered his brother (3:12). Cain was not the physical offspring of the devil; we know that Cain was the result of Adam and Eve’s union. But spiritually he was a son of Satan. Rather than submitting to God’s will, he was given over to hatred and murder. In contrast, the New Testament portrays Abel as a righteous man (e.g. Hebrews 11).
The difference in Cain and Abel’s spiritual standing is illustrated by what happened when they offered sacrifices. Both brought some of the fruits of their labor; Abel brought the best of his lambs, but Cain brought some of the fruit of the ground. While Scripture later specifies different occasions where grain offerings are acceptable—even required—if this was a sacrifice for sin, part of the reason it would have been rejected was because it wasn’t a blood sacrifice.3 Hebrews states that Abel’s sacrifice was accepted because he offered it in faith (Hebrews 11:4), so conversely, Cain’s attitude was the main factor in God’s rejection of his sacrifice, possibly manifesting itself in what Cain offered.
In Scripture, God’s people often sin and fall short of perfection, but what differentiates them from wicked people is that they repent and return to God. God counseled Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7). Cain’s response shows that, spiritually, he was a ‘son of the serpent’, for he then kills his righteous brother.
This is further illustrated by Cain’s actions after the murder. His father deflected when confronted by God about his sin, but Cain gives an outright lie: “I do not know, am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). When God judged Adam and Eve, He never cursed them as He cursed the serpent and the ground; this may be because He had formerly blessed them and could not contradict Himself by cursing them. But Cain is the first human being directly and explicitly cursed by God, as the serpent was. The punishment that Cain receives, however, sounds similar to his parents’; his sentence is that the ground will no longer yield produce for him; he will have to wander the earth. But even in the midst of this curse there is mercy, because God promises to avenge Cain if someone murders him, and He signifies this promise by means of a mark. We can’t know what this was, but it would have been clear to anyone who happened upon him.
The narrative suggests that Cain continued to rebel against God, however, because the very next thing that the text attributes to Cain is settling in the land of Nod (which means ‘wandering’ in Hebrew), and building a town which he named after his son, Enoch (not to be confused with Seth’s descendant of the same name). And it seems that his descendants continue to rebel against God; Adam’s seventh-generation descendant through Cain is Lamech, who was the first recorded polygamist, violating God’s will for monogamy as exemplified by Adam and Eve (i.e., God created one woman for Adam, not a harem). Lamech’s speech recorded in 4:23–24 reveals, if nothing else, his determination to defend himself, rather than relying on God to defend him. So by the seventh generation, the sinful human race has ‘progressed’ from sinning to the glorification of sin (it is likely not a coincidence that one of Lamech’s sons is named after Cain).
Apparently, the messianic promise was passed through the generations, because Lamech (the son of Methuselah in the line of Seth) referred to it when he named Noah. Lamech explained Noah’s name (which sounds like the Hebrew word for ‘relief’) by saying, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands” (Genesis 5:29). This is clearly referring back to the Curse—Lamech thought Noah was the special offspring God had promised Eve.
Indeed, he was part of the line of the Messiah (and, in fact, the ancestor of everyone who would be alive after the Flood). But, like Cain and like Seth, he was not the Messiah.
It is interesting that at this time, there are also possibly literal sons of fallen angels (although not of Satan himself). It is clear that the world in Noah’s day was given over to extraordinary evil, and one thing that characterized this evil was that the ‘sons of God’ married the ‘daughters of men’, and these unions produced sons called Nephilim. There are different ideas about who the ‘sons of God’ are:
One misinterpretation of the idea of ‘serpent seed’ depends on there being a peculiar distinction and enmity between the line of Cain and the line of Seth in particular. But we know that Adam and Eve had many other sons and daughters as well; they simply aren’t named in the narrative because they aren’t important in the events Scripture is recounting. So to say that there were two lines simply isn’t in line with what Scripture teaches. The only distinction between Adam and Eve’s sons the NT ever emphasizes is righteous Abel and unrighteous Cain. Seth’s righteousness may be implied, but it is never explicitly contrasted with Cain’s unrighteousness.
To interpret this passage, we have to turn to the New Testament. Peter says:
Notice the structure here:
So believers are to draw comfort from the precedent of God preserving Noah while condemning the sinning angels and rescuing Lot from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. This indicates that the sinning angels are somehow connected with Noah and the disaster from which He was preserved.
Jude has a parallel statement:
To interpret these two passages together—at the time of Noah, there were angels who were involved in sexual sin, which involved leaving their God-intended positions, and these angels were punished by being confined, chained up in gloomy darkness (presumably so they don’t get the chance to do it again) until they face judgment. Conveniently, Job also calls angels ‘sons of God’ (1:6). From context, Satan wasn’t one of the angels who fathered the Nephilim, because then he would also be locked up. But undoubtedly he was one of the ones encouraging this new perversion of God’s created order.
This was actually a great threat to God’s promise, because Eve’s offspring had to be fully human to act as the Last Adam; presumably, if there was any non-human ancestry in Him at all, He wouldn’t be a valid Redeemer. So it’s important that Noah is called “perfect in his generation”. The word used is the same one that’s used when Scripture speaks of a sacrificial animal without blemish, though it can also indicate moral uprightness. Part of what the text is conveying seems to be that Noah does not have any ‘Nephilim’ in him. In fact, part of the reason for such a devastating judgment could have been to make sure all the Nephilim were utterly destroyed.
As a result of Satan’s work and God’s judgment, the whole human race was reduced to one family.4 But Satan failed to eradicate the human line; Noah and his family would multiply to fill the world again.
Genesis intentionally draws parallels between the Flood and creation after the Flood ends. Comparing the two we see, according to Schreiner:
So even after a terrible judgment that left just eight people alive, God showed His commitment to bring about ultimate salvation for the human race.
The continuing narrative leaves no question as to the sinfulness of humanity. While Noah’s drunkenness is not condemned as sinful outright, yet elsewhere in Scripture “drinking followed by nakedness denote[s] shame and loss of dignity (see Hab. 2:15; Lam. 4:21)”.6 In a way, the fruit leading to shameful nakedness may point back to Adam and his sin.
While Canaan’s descendants as a group were under a curse because of their forefather’s sin, there were still individuals who expressed faith in God, and thus it would be inappropriate to suggest that all Canaanites in ancient times (and indeed, some descendants of Canaan still survive today, in all probability) were cursed, or that they were unable to come to faith because of the curse. In fact, God makes it clear in Scripture that the Canaanites were thrown out of their land, not because of their ancestor, but because of their extreme immorality and their idolatry.
Indeed, showing that God can redeem even the worst of family lines, one of Canaan’s descendants, Rahab, was in the lineage of Christ, and she was commended in Hebrews for her faith. This shows that even when a people group is condemned in Scripture, individuals are still responsible, and commended or condemned for their own actions. And in Christ, all racial and ethnic divisions are broken down, meaning that anyone who comes in faith can be saved by His sacrifice.
Incidentally, this shows why it is important to refer to Christ as the Last Adam, as Paul did, rather than as the ‘second’ Adam. Scripture presents many Adam figures, all of whom are recipients of divine blessing but fall into sin and disgrace. Christ was the only one who succeeded in defeating sin. All others failed; hence He is the Last Adam; no other Adam figure is needed.
When Noah was passed out drunk in his tent, Ham went in and saw his father’s nakedness. We don’t know at what point he actually sinned. Perhaps he happened upon his father by accident, and only sinned when he told his brothers rather than acting to restore his father’s honor. Or perhaps he dwelt inappropriately on his father’s nakedness.
His brothers reacted righteously, though, and covered their father while refusing to shame Noah by looking at his nakedness. So Shem and Japheth are presented as righteous, while Ham is presented as unrighteous. Thus, while the Nephilim were killed in the Flood, the sinful rebelliousness that characterizes the spiritual children of Satan lived on in Ham. Schreiner writes, “Ham’s dishonoring of his father demonstrates that the children of the serpent were not extinguished by the flood but rather were alive and well upon planet earth.”7
Regarding the curse on Canaan, Currid suggests, “The point may be to specify that Ham’s lineage is in the seed of the serpent (and indeed, his descendants, the Canaanites)”.8 Just as God promised the defeat of the serpent at the hands of the woman’s descendant, Noah predicts that Canaan’s line will be subject to the most abject slavery. And this prediction was fulfilled when Israel conquered Canaan (Joshua 17:13).
While Shem and Japheth acted righteously, their offspring did not follow their example. One theme running throughout Scripture is that, while the promised offspring of Eve is her true biological ‘seed’—Jesus really did become the physical descendant of Eve, Abraham, David, and so on—the offspring of the serpent are ‘offspring’ in a spiritual sense. Similarly, those redeemed through Christ are spiritual offspring of God.
God’s command to Noah was, “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). But at Babel, his descendants, probably led by Ham’s descendant Nimrod (10:8–11), proclaimed an intent to thwart God’s purposes: “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (11:4).
This speech displays several instances of rebellion. First, the tower is to have ‘its top in the heavens’, but the heavens are the dwelling place of God. This is similar to Satan’s desire expressed in Isaiah: “I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High” (14:13–14).9
Second, they wish to “make a name for themselves” instead of glorifying God. Third, the intent in building the city is to prevent themselves from being spread over the earth as God wanted them to do.
As grand as the tower may have been from a human perspective, it is ultimately insignificant. God descended to inspect humanity’s work: “And Yahweh came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built” (11:5). Obviously, God is omnipresent so did not have to literally go from one location to another; this is an anthropomorphism to ridicule the puny efforts of the human race. As Currid explains:
After every other judgment, there is still a clear ‘open door’ where there is assurance of God’s continuing salvific plan for humanity. But here there is no righteous remnant standing out. There is no indication that humanity is anything other than uniformly rebellious, mirroring God’s statement in 8:21, after the Flood subsided, that every thought of man’s heart was only evil, from his youth. Even the descendants of righteous Shem seem to be participating. And where is Noah in all this? Five generations have entered the world since the Flood, and it seems that the whole earth fell into idolatry. But the seeming victory of the serpent was only an illusion.