We are returning to the major themes in O. Palmer Robertson’s The Christ of the Covenants in this series of posts. We hope to cover the major elements of the Covenant of Redemption, which is the main theme of the Bible from the fall of humanity to the book of Revelation.
Robertson breaks down the Covenant of Redemption into seven phases that overlap and culminate in Christ’s Covenant of Consummation.
Phase 1: Adam and the Covenant of Commencement
Phase 2: Noah and the Covenant of Preservation
Phase 3: Abraham and the Covenant of Promise
Phase 4: Abrahamic Covenant (of Nationhood)
Phase 5: Moses and the Covenant of Law
Phase 6: David and the Covenant of the Kingdom
Phase 7: Christ and the Covenant of Consummation
Jesus fulfils the redemptive purpose of all of the phases of the covenant. This post will begin the discussion of the first phase of the Covenant of Redemption: Adam and the Covenant of Commencement.
Phase 1: Adam and the Covenant of Commencement
In Genesis chapter 3 man ruptures the relationship with his God by eating the forbidden fruit. Even as God pronounces judgment, however, His gracious character shines through.
Death enters the world, but along with it comes the hope of redemption. “The very words that pronounce the curse of the covenant of creation also inaugurate the covenant of redemption. This inseparable connection of the covenant of creation with the covenant of redemption stresses the restoration goal of the covenant of redemption. From the very outset, God intends by the covenant of redemption to realize for man those blessings originally defaulted under the covenant of creation.” (P. 91)
What continues from the Covenant of Creation into the Covenant of Redemption is man’s responsibility to govern the creation. According to Dr. Robertson marriage, labour and the Sabbath continue as key provisions of the covenant of redemption.
While I disagree with him regarding the Sabbath as an ordinance, I think he is correct in noting that Sabbath seems to be built into the creation. It does seem to point back to God’s completed creation. It also seems to point ahead to a redeemed creation. As such, it certainly does become a feature of later covenants in various forms, as noted in Part 2 of the Covenants of Christ series.
Moving specifically to the pronouncement of God to Adam and Eve, God introduces several changes from the Covenant of Creation.
God’s creation has been “disharmonized.” God’s glory has been maligned by defamatory statements. His creation has been undermined and rendered chaotic. Because of these things, we need to see that redemption involves a far greater sphere than the merely human. His whole visible and invisible creation is at stake and needs redemption. For these reasons God addresses the serpent, the woman and the man in order of the transgressions.
God’s Word to the Serpent
God first humbles the serpent by making him crawl as symbolic of ultimate defeat. God also sets enmity between the woman and the serpent and between the woman’s “seed” and the serpent’s “seed.” God also states that there is a certain “seed” – singular – who is to “bruise” Satan’s head as Satan “bruises” his heel. Bruising the head probably means to “crush” – a mortal wound.
Robertson points out something we often miss in the account: God’s divine initiative in creating the war between the two and their respective “seeds.” Since Satan has disharmonized the created order, God assures that in each generation there will be disharmony between humankind and Satan. This warfare appears to occur on three fronts: woman vs. serpent, woman’s seed vs. Satan’s seed, and “he” vs. Satan. Robertson attempts to identify the three levels of antagonists.
Woman vs Serpent
Notice that it is the woman who becomes the enemy of the serpent, not the man. The woman was deceived, not the man.
God may have been telling the man that he cannot solve the problem of alienation from God without his wife. Therefore, abusing her for the sake of God’s will is not an option. (The apostle Peter says something similar in 1 Peter 3:7. “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.”)
God may also have been focusing on the fact that a woman would be the one who bears the One who will redeem humankind – God’s own Son.
Robertson believes that “the woman” refers to women in general, though not necessarily to every woman. Rather he believes it to refer to the basic principle that womankind will have a significant role in redemption.
Robertson seems to have a point here. I note that it was women who often were the most helpful in the practical aspects of the ministries of Elijah, Jesus and Paul. It was Moses’ mother and sister who preserved his life. It was Egyptian midwives who refused to kill Israelite boys. It was a woman who hid the Israelite spies in Jericho. A woman was the only Judge of Israel about whom no fault is found in the Scriptures. There are many heroines of the faith to be found in the Scriptures.
Woman’s seed vs. Serpent’s seed
According to Robertson,
The woman’s see could be identified with the totality of humanity. However, the immediately succeeding section in Genesis narrates Cain’s murder of this brother Abel (Gen. 4). The New Testament explicitly determines the significance of these two persons in the cosmic struggle between God and Satan. Cain originates from ‘the evil one’ (1 John 3:12). Though descended from Eve just as his brother, he cannot be regarded as belonging to the “seed” of the woman as described in Genesis 3:15. Instead of being opposed to Satan, he is the seed of Satan. The “seed” of the woman cannot be identified simply with all physical descendants of womankind.
The key to identifying the “seed” of the woman in this conflict resides in the God-originating character of the enmity described. God himself sovereignly sets enmity within the heart of the natural descendants of the woman. By the process of natural birth, the fallen woman brings forth a depraved seed. But by grace God establishes enmity within the heart of particular descendants of the woman. These individuals may be designated as the woman’s “seed.”
On the other hand, Jesus himself states that his opponents are of their “father the devil” (John 8:44). We find the basis for conflict throughout the ages as the “seed of the woman” and the “seed of the serpent” live side by side in each generation.
“He” vs. the Serpent
Although singular in number, this masculine pronoun can and does refer to plural entities in the Scriptures. In Romans 16:20 no less a luminary than the Apostle Paul, writing to the Roman church as a whole, says, “the God of Peace shall bruise Satan under your (plural) feet shortly.” [With all due respect to Dr. Robertson, it is “the God of Peace” who bruises Satan in this passage, not the Roman church.]
Dr. Robertson goes on to establish that Jesus is obviously meant as the singular “he” in this prophecy, since it has narrowed the “seed” down to a singular “he.”
Inherent in this imagery of the accomplishment of redemption through the victorious overthrow of the seed of Satan lies a principle of God’s dealings which has continued throughout the ages. The deliverance of God’s people always comes through the destruction of God’s enemies.
This basic principle supplies the only adequate solution to some of the most difficult problems of Old Testament interpretation. What is the justification of the cherem-warfare of Joshua’s day, in which whole cities including women and children were devoted to destruction? Once it is recognized that interspersed among humanity is a seed of Satan hostile to all God’s righteous purposes, the intrusion of God’s just judgments must be acknowledged as the only appropriate means of salvation for God’s people.
Fortunately it is not our job to identify those, according to Jesus’ parables of the nets and the wheat and the tares.
No word of blessing is addressed to Satan in these verses. He stands enveloped under the condemning curse of God.
Yet blessing is inherent in these words for the seed of the woman. An ultimate victory over the Wicked One shall be achieved. Indeed it has been and is continuing to be achieved through Jesus Christ.
The next post will cover God’s address to the man and the woman in Genesis 3.