on Genesis 3 :14
And the Lord God said unto the serpent - The tempter is not asked why he deceived the woman; he cannot roll the blame on any other; self-tempted he fell, and it is natural for him, such is his enmity, to deceive and destroy all he can. His fault admits of no excuse, and therefore God begins to pronounce sentence on him first. And here we must consider a twofold sentence, one on Satan and the other on the agent he employed. The nachash, whom I suppose to have been at the head of all the inferior animals, and in a sort of society and intimacy with man, is to be greatly degraded, entirely banished from human society, and deprived of the gift of speech. Cursed art thou above all cattle, and above every beast of the field - thou shalt be considered the most contemptible of animals; upon thy belly shalt thou go - thou shalt no longer walk erect, but mark the ground equally with thy hands and feet; and dust shalt thou eat - though formerly possessed of the faculty to distinguish, choose, and cleanse thy food, thou shalt feed henceforth like the most stupid and abject quadruped, all the days of thy life - through all the innumerable generations of thy species. God saw meet to manifest his displeasure against the agent employed in this melancholy business; and perhaps this is founded on the part which the intelligent and subtle nachash took in the seduction of our first parents. We see that he was capable of it, and have some reason to believe that he became a willing instrument.
on Genesis 3 :14
Here begins the judgment. Sentence is pronounced upon the serpent in the presence, no doubt, of the man and woman. The serpent is not examined, first, because it is a mute, unreasoning animal in itself, and therefore incapable of judicial examination, and it was the serpent only that was palpable to the senses of our first parents in the temptation; and, secondly, because the true tempter was not a new, but an old offender.
This sentence has a literal application to the serpent. The curse (Genesis 9:25, see the note) of the serpent lies in a more groveling nature than that of the other land animals. This appears in its going on its belly and eating the dust. Other animals have at least feet to elevate them above the dust; the serpent tribe does not have even feet. Other animals elevate the head in their natural position above the soil: the serpent lays its head naturally on the sod, and therefore may be said to eat the dust, as the wounded warrior bites the dust in death. The earthworm is probably included in the description here given of the serpent group. It goes upon its belly, and actually does eat the dust. Eating the dust, like feeding upon ashes, is an expression for signal defeat in every aim. The enmity, the mode of its display, and the issue are also singularly characteristic of the literal serpent.
It is the custom of Scripture jurisprudence to visit brute animals with certain judicial consequences of injuries they have been instrumental in doing to man, especially if this has arisen through the design or neglect of the owner, or other responsible agent Genesis 9:5; Exodus 21:28-36. In the present case the injury done was of a moral, not a physical nature. Hence, the penalty consists in a curse; that is, a state of greater degradation below man than the other land animals. The serpent in the extraordinary event here recorded exercised the powers of human speech and reasoning. And it is natural to suppose that these exhibitions of intelligence were accompanied with an attitude and a gesture above its natural rank in the scale of creation. The effect of the judicial sentence would be to remand it to its original groveling condition, and give rise to that enmity which was to end in its destruction by man.
However, since an evil spirit must have employed the serpent, since the animal whose organs and instincts were most adapted to its purpose, and has accordingly derived its name from it as presenting the animal type most analogous to its own spiritual nature, so the whole of this sentence has its higher application to the real tempter. "Upon thy belly shalt thou go." This is expressive of the lowest stage of degradation to which a spiritual creature can be sunk. "Dust shalt thou eat." This is indicative of disappointment in all the aims of being. "I will put enmity." This is still more strictly applicable to the spiritual enemy of mankind. It intimates a hereditary feud between their respective races, which is to terminate, after some temporary suffering on the part of the woman's seed, in the destruction of the serpent's power against man. The spiritual agent in the temptation of man cannot have literally any seed. But the seed of the serpent is that portion of the human family that continues to be his moral offspring, and follows the first transgression without repentance or refuge in the mercy of God. The seed of the woman, on the other hand, must denote the remnant who are born from above, and hence, turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.
Let us now mark the lessons conveyed in the sentence of the serpent to our first parents, who were listening and looking on. First. The serpent is styled a mere brute animal. All, then, that seemed to indicate reason as inherent in its nature or acquired by some strange event in its history is thus at once contradicted. Second. It is declared to be lower than any of the other land animals; as being destitute of any members corresponding to feet or hands. Third. It is not interrogated as a rational and accountable being, but treated as a mere dumb brute. Fourth. It is degraded from the airs and attitudes which may have been assumed, when it was possessed by a serpent-like evil spirit, and falls back without a struggle to that place of debasement in the animal kingdom for which it was designed. Fifth. It is fated to be disappointed in its aims at usurpation. It shall bite the dust. Sixth. it is doomed to ultimate and utter defeat in its hostile assaults upon the seed of the woman.
All this must have made a deep impression on our first parents. But two things must have struck them with special force. First, it was now evident how vain and hollow were its pretensions to superior wisdom, and how miserably deluded they had been when they listened to its false insinuations. If, indeed, they had possessed maturity of reflection, and taken time to apply it, they would have been strangely bewildered with the whole scene, now that it was past. How the serpent, from the brute instinct it displayed to Adam when he named the animals, suddenly rose to the temporary exercise of reason and speech, and as suddenly relapsed into its former bestiality, is, to the mere observer of nature, an inexplicable phenomenon. But to Adam, who had as yet too limited an experience to distinguish between natural and preternatural events, and too little development of the reflective power to detect the inconsistency in the appearance of things, the sole object of attention was the shameless presumption of the serpent, and the overwhelming retribution which had fallen upon it; and, consequently, the deplorable folly and wickedness of having been misguided by its suggestions.
A second thing, however, was still more striking to the mind of man in the sentence of the serpent; namely, the enmity that was to be put between the serpent and the woman. Up to a certain point there had been concord and alliance between these two parties. But, on the very opening of the heavenly court, we learn that the friendly connection had been broken. For the woman said, "The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat." This expression indicates that the woman was no longer at one with the serpent. She was now sensible that its part had been that, not of friendship, but of guile, and therefore of the deepest and darkest hostility. When God, therefore, said, "I will put enmity between thee and the woman," this revulsion of feeling on her part, in which Adam no doubt joined, was acknowledged and approved. Enmity with the enemy of God indicated a return to friendship with God, and presupposed incipient feelings of repentance toward him, and reviving confidence in his word. The perpetuation of this enmity is here affirmed, in regard not only to the woman, but to her seed. This prospect of seed, and of a godly seed, at enmity with evil, became a fountain of hope to our first parents, and confirmed every feeling of returning reverence for God which was beginning to spring up in their breast. The word heard from the mouth of God begat faith in their hearts, and we shall find that this faith was not slow to manifest itself in acts.
We cannot pass over this part of the sentence without noticing the expression, "the seed of the woman." Does it not mean, in the first instance, the whole human race? Was not this race at enmity with the serpent? And though that part only of the seed of the woman which eventually shared in her present feelings could be said to be at enmity with the serpent spirit, yet, if all had gone well in Adam's family, might not the whole race have been at enmity with the spirit of disobedience? Was not the avenue to mercy here hinted at as wide as the offer of any other time? And was not this universality of invitation at some time to have a response in the human family? Does not the language of the passage constrain us to look forward to the time when the great mass, or the whole of the human race then alive on the earth, will have actually turned from the power of Satan unto God? This could not be seen by Adam. But was it not the plain import of the language, that, unless there was some new revolt after the present reconciliation, the whole race would, even from this new beginning, be at enmity with the spirit of evil? Such was the dread lesson of experience with which Adam now entered upon the career of life, that it was to be expected he would warn his children against departing from the living God, with a clearness and earnestness which would be both understood and felt.
Still further, do we not pass from the general to the particular in the sentence, "He shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel?" Is not the seed of the woman here individualized and matched in deadly conflict with the individual tempter? Does not this phraseology point to some pre-eminent descendant of the woman, who is, with the bruising of his lower nature in the encounter, to gain a signal and final victory over the adversary of man? There is some reason to believe from the expression, "I have gotten a man from the Lord" Genesis 4:1, that Eve herself had caught a glimpse of this meaning, though she applied it to the wrong party. The Vulgate also, in what was probably the genuine reading, "ipse" (he himself) points to the same meaning. The reading "ipsa" (she herself) is inconsistent with the gender of the Hebrew verb, and with that of the corresponding pronoun in the second clause (his), and is therefore clearly an error of the transcriber.
Lastly, the retributive character of the divine administration is remarkably illustrated in the phrase. The serpent, in a wily but dastardly spirit, makes the weaker sex the object of his attack. It is the seed of the woman especially that is to bruise his head. It is singular to find that this simple phrase, coming in naturally and incidentally in a sentence uttered four thousand years, and penned at least fifteen hundred years, before the Christian era, describes exactly and literally Him who was made of woman without the intervention of man, that He might destroy the works of the devil. This clause in the sentence of the tempter is the first dawn of hope for the human family after the fall. We cannot tell whether to admire more the simplicity of its terms, the breadth and comprehensiveness of its meaning, or the minuteness of its application to the far-distant event which it mainly contemplates.
The doom here pronounced upon the tempter must be regarded as special and secondary. It refers to the malignant attack upon man, and foretells what will be the issue of this attempt to spread disaffection among the intelligent creation. And it is pronounced without any examination of the offender, or investigation of his motives. If this had been the first offence against the majesty of heaven, we humbly conceive a solemn precognition of the case would have taken place, and a penalty would have been adjudicated adequate to the magnitude of the crime and analagous to the punishment of death in the case of man. The primary act of defiance and apostasy from the Creator must have been perpetrated without a tempter, and was, therefore, incomparably more heinous than the secondary act of yielding to temptation. Whether the presence of the tempter on earth intimates that it was the place of his abode in a state of innocence, or that he visited it because he had heard of the creation of man, or that he was there from some altogether different reason, is a vain and unprofitable inquiry.
on Genesis 3 :14
3:14 To testify a displeasure against sin, God fastens a curse upon the serpent, Thou art cursed above all cattle - Even the creeping things, when God made them, were blessed of him, Ge 1:22, but sin turned the blessing into a curse. Upon thy belly shalt thou go - No longer upon feet, or half erect, but thou shalt crawl along, thy belly cleaving to the earth. Dust thou shalt eat - Which signifies a base and despicable condition.