“And the Lord God said unto the serpent … I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”
Genesis 3:14-15 (KJV)
What does seed of the woman mean?
This very ancient promise refers to a descendant of Eve who would defeat the serpent, or Satan. The unique part of the promise is that seed in Hebrew is normally equivalent with semen, which a man contributes toward a pregnancy. A woman does not have a seed, but an egg; she is the one in whom the seed grows. So the seed of the woman refers to a person born without the help of a man, i.e., a virgin birth.
Who is the seed of the woman?
The seed of a woman could hardly refer to anything except the virgin birth of Jesus, in which he was not born of a man’s seed. The most famous verse of the Bible in English is John 3:16: “for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that he who believes in him would not perish, but have everlasting life.” The phrase “only begotten” is somewhat confusing for at least two reasons:
1. Christian orthodoxy has always held that Jesus existed before he was born as a human, and birth was not the beginning of existence for him. (John 8:58) This aspect is especially confusing to Muslims.
2. John says that Jesus grants us the right to be born as “children of God” (John 1:12-13). If we become sons and daughters of God through the new birth, then Jesus is not God’s only son.
The Greek word is a unique compound word, monogenes, which many interpret to mean “uniquely begotten” or “singly born”—a probable reference to the virgin birth.
How does this promise figure in the rest of the Book of Genesis?
When Cain was born, it is quite possible that Eve thought that he was the promised seed of the woman. After all, she was the only woman around, and she had brought him forth “from the LORD” (4:1, KJV). When Seth was born Eve celebrated that God had “appointed another seed” for her (4:25). If Eve indeed thought that either Cain or Seth was her promised seed, then, as is the pattern in human life, she had misestimated God’s timetable for bringing his promises to pass.
Genealogies became important because there is a promised seed that would come forth in a specific way, and repeated promises in Genesis indicate that this “seed” will come from a specific lineage (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob). Many cultures have very high views of genealogy, and many Middle Eastern cultures still relate their tribes back to the book of Genesis without interruption.
Noah also was a man of promise, since his father prophesied that he would comfort them concerning the work of their hands (Gen. 5:29). Mankind was preserved through him, but it would be many more generations before the promised seed of the woman would come.
Abraham is commanded to count the stars because “thus will his seed be.”1 Although the meaning could refer to the number of Abraham’s descendants, Paul points out “Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ.” (Galatians 3:16, NIV) The seed of Abraham and the seed of the woman are one and the same.
Isaac, more than anyone else in the book of Genesis, bears the weight of the coming seed. Abraham is given more seed promises than anyone else in the Bible, and the most immediate application would be his son. Since Ishmael is excluded from the promise, now we understand the significance of God’s request that Abraham sacrifice his son. His son was the only means he had of fulfilling God’s promise, and God asked him to sacrifice him. When he goes alone with Isaac, Abraham says, “we will go, and we will return.” The writer of Hebrews says that Abraham showed his faith in the resurrection from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19).
The purpose of election continues as God decides that Jacob and not Esau will be the source of the promised seed. Paul writes to the Romans about these twins, saying that God used them to make it obvious that God does not choose the best, brightest, or holiest to join him in his plan, so “that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth” (Romans 9:11). Election here means choice, and God’s choice is key to following both the narratives and the genealogies of the book of Genesis. All of these are tending towards the fulfillment of the promise that was spoken at the beginning.
Even Joseph’s story, centers around the preservation of this covenant people and the “seed of the woman.” Even though the scepter fell to Judah, Joseph preserved the family through whom salvation would be revealed. He received riches and wealth in the story, but he tells his family that the express purpose of God was to preserve his family through the crisis (Gen. 45:4-8, 50:15-21, Ps. 105:16-17).
In the first half of Genesis, God speaks, promises, and explains himself over and over. He appears to Abraham twice in chapter 12, and once in almost every chapter from there until Abraham’s death.
In the second half of Genesis, there is much more action and much less of God’s voice. From chapter 36 to chapter 45, there is no mention of the seed of the woman or the promise of the land. Jacob and Joseph only see in retrospect that God’s redemptive purposes were at hand. So Jacob says that God has “redeemed” him from all trouble (48:16), and reminds himself and his family of all the promises that God had spoken so many years before (48:3-4, 48:21).
After Genesis, the story of the seed of the woman does not advance significantly until God begins sharing the promise with David in the book of 1 Samuel. However, this promise becomes a background to understanding the promise of the land, the Exodus, the conquest of Joshua, and the rejection of God as king in 1 Samuel. The entire Old Testament leads us toward the victory and resurrection of Eve’s seed, our virgin-born Messiah.
1 Although the view is eccentric, E. W. Bullinger believed that God had spoken to Abraham using the constellations as a pre-biblical revelation of Jesus, “the seed of the woman.”