The Seed of the Woman. (Gen.3:15)
Sin had no sooner come into the world than God announced atonement for it. If God took up man, become now a sinner, in the way of blessing, He must needs, in care for His own glory, as well as mercy even to man himself, declare the terms upon which alone He could bless. And although He did not and could not yet speak with the plainness or fullness of gospel-speech, yet He did speak in such a way as that, (in spite of six thousand years of wanderings further from the light,) the broken syllables echo yet in the traditions of Adam's descendants, in witness to divine goodness, alas! against themselves.
It is in the judgment denounced upon the serpent that we find the promise of the woman's Seed; a promise indeed, as men have ever and rightly held it, though couched in such a form. To Adam as the head of fallen humanity it could not be directly given, for reasons which we have already seen; for in fact the first Adam and the old creation were not to be restored, but replaced by another. The woman also, with the man, was to share only in the fruits of Another's victory, whom grace alone has brought down to the lowly place of the woman's Seed. The announcement is therefore designedly given in the shape of judgment upon the serpent — judgment which is to be the victory of good over evil, the issue of a conflict now in full reality begun. In righteous retribution, through the woman's Seed the destroyer of man should be destroyed; but this is connected with enmity divinely "put" between the tempter and the tempted, in all which God's intervention in goodness for the recovery of the fallen is plainly to be seen. The victory of the woman's Seed is a victory of divine goodness in behalf of man.
This victory is not gained without suffering. The heel that bruises the serpent's head will be itself bruised. The Conqueror must be the Sufferer.
Moreover, the Conqueror is the woman's Seed. We are apt to miss the force of this, just by our familiarity with it. Not yet had the mystery of human birth been accomplished upon earth. The lowliness of origin, the helpless weakness and ignorance of infancy, so long protracted beyond that of kindred bestial life around, — this, by which God would stain the pride of man, was that through which Adam and his wife had never passed. The Seed of the woman implied all this. With what astonishment we may well conceive Satan to have contemplated the childhood of the first-born of the human race; and to have thought of the word, whose certainty he could not doubt (for Satan, the father of lies, is no unbeliever), that the heel of One so born and nurtured was to be one day upon his own proud angelic head!
Not strength was to conquer here then, but weakness known and realized weakness. Of that the promise spoke. And God, who needed not the help of creature-strength, had chosen to link Himself with weakness and with suffering to accomplish His purposes of righteousness and goodness. How and in what way to link Himself remained for future disclosures to make known.
But that bruised heel, bruised in the act of victory on behalf of others, is not left without further revelation of its nature on the spot. For when Adam's faith, bowing to the divine word, names the woman — her through whom death had entered, — Havvah (Eve) or "life;" then we read, "Unto Adam also, and to his wife, did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them." Thus the shame and the fact of their nakedness were together put away. It would now have been unbelief for Adam to say, as with his fig-leaf apron he had still to say, that he was naked. God's own hand had clothed him. No need for him to hide himself from His presence as before. The clothing His hand had given was not unfit to appear in before Him.
But what gave it that fitness? Clearly something apart from suitability in the way of protection of a being naturally defenseless, and now exposed to the vicissitudes of a world disarranged by sin. The nakedness which Adam realized in the presence of God was moral rather than physical, the consciousness of the working of lusts at war in the members. The covering too, then, for God must have some moral significance, — must speak at least of that which would cover, not merely from a human, but from a divine standpoint; therefore put away sin really, for how else could it be "covered" from His sight?
Now, in Scripture, "covering" is atonement — i.e., expiation, putting away of sin. To atone is caphar, to "cover" only in an intensive form, which is of striking significance and beauty. Atonement is covering of the completest kind.
We have not the word yet in this first page of the history of the fallen creature, but we have surely what connects with it in a very intelligible way. For death had now come in through sin, and as judgment upon it. Death would remove the sinner from the place of blessing he had defiled, and thus far maintain and vindicate the holiness of God; but in judgment merely, not in blessing. Atone for his sin in any wise such death could not. Yet here is declared the fact that the death of another, innocent of that which brought it in, could furnish covering for the sinner according to God's mind. Only the typal shadow yet was this: it was four thousand years too early for the true atonement to be made. Yet shadow it was: would not faith connect it, however dimly, with the bruised heel of the woman's Seed?
In this clothing God's hand wrought, and not man's. God wrought and God applied. Man's first lesson, which it were well if after forty centuries he had really learnt, was, that he could do nothing but submit to the grace which had undertaken for him. The fig-leaf apron had summed up and exhausted his resources, and demonstrated only his helplessness. He had now to find that helplessness made only the occasion of learning the tender mercy of God. God wrought and God applied to these first sinners the covering for their nakedness. And so it has been ever since, and so will be, to the last sinner saved by grace.
But the gospel at the gate of Eden is not finished yet. We must take in, plainly, what the next chapter gives, before we can realize how much already in Adam's days God had, though necessarily as it were in parables, declared.
Abel's offering is that by which, as the apostle says, he, being dead, yet speaketh. "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain; by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and by it he being dead yet speaketh." In him we are given to see, just at the threshold of the world's history, the pronounced acceptance of a faith which brought, not its own performances, as Cain the labor of his own hands which sin had necessitated and stained, but the substitute of a stainless offering. The character of it shows clearly that sacrifice was an institution of God: "by faith Abel offered;" not therefore in will-worship. Nor could human wit have imagined as acceptable to God what, except for its inner meaning, could have had no possible suitability nor acceptance at His hands. The coats of skin, confessedly of His own design, give here indubitable evidence that the whole thought and counsel was of Him. Here again death, covers the sinner; but now in proportion to the clearness with which the sacrificial character of the covering comes out, so do we find God's voice plainly giving its testimony to the righteousness of the offerer: "God testifying of his gifts." As with one of His ministers, in a day yet far distant, — but only with regard to bodily healing — the shadow of Christ, as here in sacrifice, is of power to heal the soul.
Thus in the order of these two cases the manner and nature of appropriation are plainly seen. First, God appropriates the value of Christ's work to the soul; for faith must have God's act or deed to justify it as faith; and then it sets to its seal that God is true. It is not faith's appropriation that makes it true, as some would deem. It is the receptive nature that holds fast merely what God has put already in its possession. To those who take shelter still under the atoning death of the great Victim, God attests its value on their behalf. It is for them to believe their blessedness on the word of One Who cannot lie, nor repent.
Let us notice here, as ever henceforth, the victim is of the flock or herd, or what at least is not the object of pursuit or capture; which plainly would not harmonize with the fact of man's lost condition, or with the voluntary offering of Him who freely came to do the will of God. The blood of no wild creature could flow in atonement for the soul of man. The precise commandment as to this comes indeed much later, but to it from the first both Abel's and every other accepted sacrifice conform. Of blood no mention is made either here; of the fat there is: "And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof;" — the fat being that in which the good condition of the animal made itself apparent. Fat is always in Scripture the symbol of a prosperous condition, although, it may be, of such temporal prosperity as might result in an opposite state of soul. "Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked," says the lawgiver in his last prophetic "song;" "thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness: then he forsook God that made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation." Connected with this is the Psalmist's description of the wicked: "They are inclosed in their own fat; with their mouth they speak proudly." Then by an easy gradation of thought: "Their heart is as fat as grease." Where offered to God, fat is the symbol of that spiritual well-being which expresses itself, not in the energy of self-will, but of devotedness. Even in the sin-offering afterward, where burnt upon the ground, the fat is always therefore reserved for the altar; but of this elsewhere.
The "firstling of the flock" again represents Him who is the "first-born among many brethren" by Him sanctified. "For both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one; for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren." The consecration of the first-born sanctifies the whole.
What mind of man could have anticipated thus the thought and purpose of God as does Abel's offering? In it the lesson of the coats of skin is developed into a doctrine of atonement henceforth to be the theme of prophecy and promise for four thousand years, till He should come in whom it should find its fulfillment, and all vail be removed. Until then, prophets themselves knew but little of what they prophesied. "The Spirit of Christ which was in them" spake deeper things than they could even follow, as the apostle testifies; though we must not imagine all was dark.
That sacrifice, on the other hand, was of God's appointment, not of human device, His words to Cain are full proof. — "If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, a sin-offering coucheth at the door." So, I am persuaded, this ought to be read. "Sin" and "sin-offering" are the same word whether in Greek or Hebrew; but what would be the force of "if thou doest not well, sin coucheth at the door"? That the last expression refers to an animal seems plain: some interpreters take it figuratively, as if sin as a wild beast were in the act to spring. Too late, surely, when one has already sinned! Rather would it not be the provision of mercy for one in need of it — an offering not far to seek, but at the very door! and in what follows, the assurance of his retaining still the first-born's place with regard to Abel — "Unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him"?
God thus, then, declares His appointment of sacrifice. And in this way the mystery of the suffering of the woman's Seed finds its explanation in the necessity of atonement. The bruised heel of the Victor in man's behalf enlarges and deepens into the death of a victim, slain for atonement. It is not really the serpent's victory even thus far, though it may seem so: the serpent may bruise the heel, but only as the unwitting instrument of divine goodness in accomplishing man's deliverance. The bruised heel is his own head bruised: the suffering is the victory of the Sufferer.
But who is this, to whom death — and such a death! — is but the heel, the lowest part, bruised? What a thought of the majesty of His person is here! Already there is a gleam of the glory of Him whom after-prophecy, supplementing this, shall speak of as the virgin's Son, Immanuel. But the question is only raised as yet, to which Isaiah gives this answer. We can see it is the fitting and necessary one.