World Wide Study Bible


a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary


I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and hers;

he will strike your head,

and you will strike his heel.”

Select a resource above

15. I will put enmity. I interpret this simply to mean that there should always be the hostile strife between the human race and serpents, which is now apparent; for, by a secret feeling of nature, man abhors them. It is regarded, as among prodigies, that some men take pleasure in them; and as often as the sight of a serpent inspires us with horrors the memory of our fall is renewed. With this I combine in one continued discourse what immediately follows: ‘It shall wound thy head, and thou shalt wound its heel.’ For he declares that there shall be such hatred that on both sides they shall be troublesome to each other; the serpent shall be vexatious towards men, and men shall be intent on the destruction of serpents. Meanwhile, we see that the Lord acts mercifully in chastising man, whom he does not suffer Satan to touch except in the heel ; while he subjects the head of the serpent to be wounded by him. For in the terms head and heel there is a distinction between the superior and the inferior. And thus God leaves some remains of dominion to man; because he so places the mutual disposition to injure each other, that yet their condition should not be equal, but man should be superior in the conflict. Jerome, in turning the first member of the sentence, ‘Thou shalt bruise the head;’192192     “Conteres caput.” The version of the Vulgate is, “conteret caput.” But this does not affect the validity of Calvin’s criticism, his object being to show the inpropriety of translating the same Hebrew word by Latin words of such different meaning as contero and insidior. — Ed. and the second, “Thou shalt be ensnared in the heel”,193193     Insidiaberis calcaneo.” does it without reason, for the same verb is repeated by Moses; the difference is to be noted only in the head and the heel, as I have just now said. Yet the Hebrew verb whether derived from שוף (shooph,) or from שפה (shapha,) some interpret to bruise or to strike, others to bite194194     See Cocceius, Gesenius, and Professor Lee, sub voce שוף. — Ed I have, however, no doubt that Moses wished to allude to the name of the serpent which is called in Hebrew שפיפון (shipiphon,) from שפה (shapha,) or שוף (shooph).195195     There would appear greater force in Calvin’s criticism if this had been the name given to the serpent in the narrative of Moses. The word here used, however, is נחש, (nachash,) which gives no countenance to the supposed reference; besides, the word quoted by Calvin only refers to a particular kind of serpent, not to the whole species. — Ed

We must now make a transition from the serpent to the author of this mischief himself; and that not only in the way of comparison, for there truly is a literal anagogy;196196     Anagogy. This word is inserted from the original for want of a more generally intelligible term in our own language to express the author’s meaning. It is from the Greek Αναγωγή, which signifies “a raising on high, especially elevation of the mind above earthly things to abstract speculations, (in ecclesiastical writings,) to the contemplation of the sublime truths and mysteries of Holy Scripture.” The meaning of Calvin is, that there was an intentional transition from the serpent to the spiritual being who made use of it. — Ed because God has not so vented his anger upon the outward instrument as to spare the devil, with whom lay all the blame. That this may the more certainly appear to us, it is worth the while first to observe that the Lord spoke not for the sake of the serpent but of the man; fur what end could it answer to thunder against the serpent in unintelligible words? Wherefore respect was had to men; both that they might be affected with a greater dread of sin, seeing how highly displeasing it is to God, and that hence they might take consolation for their misery, because they would perceive that God is still propitious to them. But now it is obvious to and how slender and insignificant would be the argument for a good hope, if mention were here made of a serpent only; because nothing would be then provided for, except the fading and transient life of the body. Men would remain, in the meanwhile, the slaves of Satan, who would proudly triumph over them, and trample on their heads. Wherefore, that God might revive the fainting minds of men, and restore them when oppressed by despair, it became necessary to promise them, in their posterity victory over Satan, through whose wiles they had been ruined. This, then, was the only salutary medicine which could recover the lost, and restore life to the dead. I therefore conclude, that God here chiefly assails Satan under the name of the serpent, and hurls against him the lightning of his judgment. This he does for a twofold reason: first, that men may learn to beware of Satan as of a most deadly enemy; then, that they may contend against him with the assured confidence of victory.

Now, though all do not dissent in their minds from Satan yea, a great part adhere to him too familiarly — yet, in reality, Satan is their enemy; nor do even those cease to dread him whom he soothes by his flatteries; and because he knows that the minds of men are set against him, he craftily insinuates himself by indirect methods, and thus deceives them under a disguised form.197197     “Et les decoit en se masquant de la personne d’autruy.” — French Trans. In short, it is in grafted in us by nature to flee from Satan as our adversary. And, in order to show that he should be odious not to one generation only, God expressly says, ‘between thee and the seed of the woman,’ as widely indeed, as the human race shall be propagated. He mentions the woman on this account, because, as she had yielded to the subtlety of the devils and being first deceived, had drawn her husband into the participation of her ruin, so she had peculiar need of consolation.

It shall bruise198198     “Ipsum vulnerabit.” This passage affords too clear a proof of the great ignorance, dullness, and carelessness, which have prevailed among all the learned men of the Papacy. The feminine gender has crept in instead of the masculine or neuter. There has been none among them who would consult the Hebrew or Greek codices, or who would even compare the Latin copies with each other.199199     See the Vulgate. “Ipsa conteret,” — She shall bruise. The following judicious note from Professor Lee’s Hebrew Lexicon confirms the criticism of Calvin: — “The attempt that has been made gravely to justify a blunder of the Vulgate, which here reads ipsa for ipse, is a melancholy proof of the great neglect of the study of Hebrew in this country. Any one acquainted with the first elements of the grammar would see that, to make the Vulgate correct, we must substitute תשופר for ישופך, and תשופנה for תשופנו,” — that is, both the form and the affixes of the verb would require alteration, in order to accommodate themselves to the change of gender. — Ed Therefore, by a common error, this most corrupt reading has been received. Then, a profane exposition of it has been invented, by applying to the mother of Christ what is said concerning her seed.

There is, indeed no ambiguity in the words here used by Moses; but I do not agree with others respecting their meaning; for other interpreters take the seed for Christ, without controversy; as if it were said, that some one would arise from the seed of the woman who should wound the serpent’s head. Gladly would I give my suffrage in support of their opinion, but that I regard the word seed as too violently distorted by them; for who will concede that a collective noun is to be understood of one man only? Further, as the perpetuity of the contest is noted, so victory is promised to the human race through a continual succession of ages. I explain, therefore, the seed to mean the posterity of the woman generally. But since experience teaches that not all the sons of Adam by far, arise as conquerors of the devil, we must necessarily come to one head, that we may find to whom the victory belongs. So Paul, from the seed of Abraham, leads us to Christ; because many were degenerate sons, and a considerable part adulterous, through infidelity; whence it follows that the unity of the body flows from the head. Wherefore, the sense will be (in my judgment) that the human race, which Satan was endeavoring to oppress, would at length be victorious.200200     The judicious reader will hardly acknowledge the reasoning of Calvin to be valid. The whole subject here referred to is discussed with great learning and acuteness, as well as with great force of language, by Bishop Horsley, in his second Sermon on Peter 1:20, 21. — Ed. In the meantime, we must keep in mind that method of conquering which the Scripture describes. Satan has, in all ages, led the sons of men “captive at his will”, and, to this day, retains his lamentable triumph over them, and for that reason is called the prince of the world, (John 12:31.) But because one stronger than he has descended from heaven, who will subdue him, hence it comes to pass that, in the same manner, the whole Church of God, under its Head, will gloriously exult over him. To this the declaration of Paul refers,

“The Lord shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly,”
(Romans 16:20.)

By which words he signifies that the power of bruising Satan is imparted to faithful men, and thus the blessing is the common property of the whole Church; but he, at the same time, admonishes us, that it only has its commencement in this world; because God crowns none but well-tried wrestlers.