At War with the World—in the Old Testament
This is Part 2 in an ongoing series by PhD graduate Jon Cheek. Click here for Part 1.
If Genesis 3:15 provides the statement of conflict for the remaining plot line of Scripture, then the reader should expect the ensuing storyline of Scripture to demonstrate the outworking of the enmity between the seeds. This is exactly what we see in the early chapters of Genesis, which display the development of two contrasting seed lines, one living in obedience to Yahweh and the other following the pattern of the serpent.
Cain, who is “of the evil one” (1 John 3:12), becomes the first human example of the seed of the serpent, and his actions against Abel set the pattern for how the serpent will work against the seed of the woman throughout the redemptive story. The reader may wonder whether Cain or Abel will be the descendant who will crush the serpent. The serpent, however, works to ensure that neither of Eve’s sons will be that seed.
The serpent’s attack against Cain is to win his spiritual allegiance; once Cain gives his allegiance to “the evil one,” the serpent uses Cain to eliminate Abel, threatening the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15. The serpent’s plan of attack is two-fold: (1) gain the spiritual allegiance of humans so that they will not fight against him and (2) eliminate the human(s) who could achieve victory over the serpent. These two objectives govern the storyline of the rest of the OT.
The Survival of the Seed of the Woman
The remainder of the Book of Genesis contrasts two seed lines in the descendants of Cain and of Seth (chs. 4–5), in the “sons of God” and “daughters of men” (ch. 6), in the descendants of Shem/Japheth and those of Ham (chs. 9–11), and in Abraham’s lineage and the surrounding nations (chs. 12–50). Throughout these accounts, enmity persists between the seed lines; the seed of the serpent seek to hinder the success of the seed of the woman.
At the beginning of Exodus, the Egyptians are oppressing the seed of the woman, but Yahweh is victorious over the seed of the serpent by delivering his chosen seed from Egypt. During the Exodus, the conquest of Canaan, and the rest of Israel’s history in the OT, the surrounding nations seek to fight against, subjugate, or eliminate the nation of Israel. Psalm 83:4 clearly states the intention of the nations: “Come, let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more!”
Enmity against the seed of the woman becomes prominent in the efforts of Saul, influenced by a “harmful spirit” (1 Sam 16:14–16, 23; 18:10; 19:9), to kill David, the particular king through whom the ultimate seed of the woman would come. Significantly, a number of specifically Davidic Messianic Psalms describe the threat to the physical survival of David/Messiah (e.g., Pss 2, 22, 68, 69, 109, 110, 118). At future points in Israel’s history, the Davidic seed line will dangle by a thread (e.g., 2 Chr 22:1–12; 2 Kgs 25:6–7), but the thread is not broken.
The Spiritual Allegiance of the Seed of the Woman
Yahweh clearly identifies Israel as the seed through whom he will bless the nations (Gen 12:2–3). When Yahweh delivers his people from Egypt, he establishes a covenant with them as a nation. In Exodus 19:4–6, Yahweh presents his covenantal expectation for Israel and speaks of them as a “treasured possession” in contrast to the other nations. Because of this unique status, God assigns Israel two primary responsibilities: (1) to serve as a kingdom of priests and (2) to be a holy nation.
As a kingdom of priests, the whole nation is to serve in a priestly role among the other nations. Responsibilities of a priest include mediation between God and men, interpreting and teaching God’s law, and displaying the holiness of Yahweh to make him known to the people. Israel, then, is expected to mediate the knowledge of God to the nations to reveal Yahweh to them. Perhaps Deuteronomy 4:5–9 best describes how this role would work out.
While serving as priests to bring the nations to Yahweh, Yahweh expects Israel, as a holy nation, to be distinct from the other nations in behavior and worship. If Israel fails to fulfil its role, it will be ensnared by the contagious ways of the nations (Exod 23:23–24, 33; 34:12–16; Lev 18:3–4; Lev 20:34–25; Deut 7:2–5; 18:9–14). Throughout the OT “the nations” becomes a sort of technical term denoting unbelievers in contrast to the people of God.
The rest of the OT recounts how Israel fails to consistently fill its role as a kingdom of priests because of its constant urge to live like the nations. The people perpetually display a pattern of wanting to be like the nations, primarily in their idolatrous worship (Exod 32; Num 25; Judg 2:11–17; 1 Kgs 11–12). In this idolatrous worship, those who are supposed to oppose the ways of the serpent instead follow in the ways of the serpent, particularly since the gods of the nations represent demonic beings (cf. Deut 32:17), who represent the seed of the serpent. Instead of spiritual allegiance to Yahweh, the people commit spiritual adultery with the enemy (Hos 1–4; Ezek 16, 23). The serpent and his seed are actively working either to eliminate the seed of the woman or to entice the seed to forsake their allegiance to Yahweh.
God’s intention for his people is clear: they are to be unapologetically distinct from the other nations in their worship and their behavior. The NT presents God’s expectation for Israel among the nations in the OT as the paradigm for the church’s relationship to the unbelieving world. The question is whether the church will become like the world as Israel became like the nations.