Comments on The Messiah in the Old Testament – Genesis to Deuteronomy
I look to the first five books of the Bible for creations stories – Adam and Eve; Cain and Abel; Noah and the Flood; the tower of Babel. This is where we meet Abraham and Noah and read about the Law. I never thought to look to these books, referred to variously as the Pentateuch, the Law of Moses, and the Torah, for words about the Messiah. Yet, Kaiser lists two messianic prophecies in the primeval history (Genesis 1-11), two in the patriarchal era (Genesis 12-50), and two in the Mosaic epoch (Exodus-Deuteronomy) (Kaiser, p.36).
It begins with what some call the protoevangelium (first gospel), Genesis 3:15. After Eve and then Adam disobey God by eating the forbidden fruit, they move from the sparkle of innocence to the stain of sin. God speaks first to the serpent who tempted Eve. God says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” Kaiser comments, “The seed/offspring mentioned in this verse became the root from which the tree of the OT promise of a Messiah grew” (p.37-38).
The serpent, he feels, is a title, not a description of a reptilian animal. He points out something that should be obvious, unmistakable. And yet, I had not made this connection previously. God has already created animals that “creep and crawl”. And God “saw that it was good” (1:25). If you hate snakes or spiders or sharks or cockroaches or rats, take up your argument with God. In the opening chapter of the Bible, God declared these animals “good.” So, by the third chapter, the snake is not by nature evil. Nor is it endowed with the image of God as humans are (1:26).
Thus Kaiser feels that “serpent” is a title, and the demotion of the one called “serpent” in verse 15 is directly tied to the prophecy that the woman’s offspring will oppose him. In Revelation 12:9, Satan is associated with the serpent who invaded Eden. Kaiser also points out verse where Paul makes this connection (Romans 16:20; 2 Corinthians 11:13; see Kaiser’s footnote, p.39). Kaiser concludes “the identity of the tempter can be none other than Satan” (p.39).
While I understand Kaiser’s reasoning here and his logic makes sense, I am hesitant to go as far as he did in affirming with certainty that the Eden serpent = Satan. I am hesitant because I think the account of Adam, Eve, and the Serpent is legend, not history. Now let me be clear. This is does not mean I don’t think it is true. I do think the world was created “good.” I think that one of the major points of Genesis 1-3. I also think Kaiser demonstrates a masterful hermeneutic in identifying the serpent with the invasion of evil into the good God made. However, making a certain association with Satan goes too far.
Maybe the simplest way to elucidate why I can’t just say the serpent is Satan is my acknowledgment that I am not 100% sold on a literal Adam and Eve. I think evolution is a good explanatory framework offered by science for how God made the world. At some point, God endowed prehistoric humans with His Spirit. At that point the creature that had evolved to be what is today called Homo sapiens became God’s image-bearer. What I am offering here is a theological conclusion driven by faith. My thoughts here do not strip Genesis 1-3 of truth, but rather set those chapters as a theological statement.
I think Satan was real and played a role in drawing humans away from God and into sin. But even our understanding of Satan has undergone change over time. The idea of a divine council that included a role entitled ‘Hasatan,’ the accuser, is one that developed.
Originally, this Accuser was an important member of the council. He is not in opposition to God until 1 Chronicles 21:1 and Zechariah 3:1-2. In those passages, Satan is unquestioningly opposed to God and is thus evil. But in Job, it not nearly as clear. In Job, it appears that Satan is fulfilling the role indicated by his title. It appears God is the provocateur. A brief analysis of Job is coming, but I think it might anachronistic to suppose that ancient Israelite communities who lived with Genesis as their book of faith had any concept of Satan and if they did, it is not the understanding we have living in a post-New Testament world as we do.
This excurses on Satan is necessary to interact with Kaiser. I find his observation of the serpent as a cipher for the entrance of evil into the good God made as a brilliant explanation. A lot of people have made the connection, but I am particularly enlightened by the way Kaiser does it and the way he demonstrates that the seed of the woman who crushes the serpent’s head is in fact the Messiah. I feel like my understanding of God’s story has expanded due to this portion of Kaiser’s work.
I’ll pick the next identification he makes of a messianic prediction the Pentateuch in my next post.