What is the “hostility” that God put between the woman and the serpent?

Q. In the account of the Fall in Genesis, God tells the serpent that he is going to put put “hostility” between the serpent and the woman. What is that “hostility”? Is it Jesus?

It seems that previously the woman and the serpent had gotten along, or at least that the woman had felt she had no reason to distrust the serpent, since she was having a conversation with him in the midst of the Garden of Eden. The woman actually went along with what the serpent suggested, even though it was contrary to what God had commanded.

So after the disobedience of the woman and the man, God took the measure of putting “hostility” between the serpent and the woman. Some Bibles translate this word as “enmity” or “animosity.” A few state it in a simple way that I think is accurate and helpful: “I will make you and the woman enemies to each other.” So this “hostility” is not a person, it is a hostile state of relationship.

God specified that this situation would continue down through the generations. So on the simplest level, this meant that snakes would be dangerous to people, and people would try to protect themselves from snakes even if that required attacking and killing them.So this was, on one level, a further punishment of the serpent, beyond having to go around on the ground.

But there are much more profound meanings as well. For one thing, the state of hostility would keep the woman from trusting the serpent again. That would protect her from the temptations that the serpent would otherwise have continued to offer. The hostility also prevented the woman and the serpent from agreeing together on a course of action that was contrary to what God wanted. In that sense, the hostility was like the division of human languages at the Tower of Babel that kept people from joining together in opposition to God.

And ultimately Jesus does come into the picture, at the point where God says to the serpent about the “seed” or “descendant” of the woman, “He will crush your head.” In light of how God’s plan of redemption unfolds over the rest of the Bible, we can understand this statement to be a reference to and prediction of the victory of Jesus on the cross over sin and death.

So Jesus is not the “hostility” that kept the woman and the serpent apart so that the serpent could no longer deceive the woman. Instead, he is the “seed” of the woman who ultimately defeated the serpent, that is, the devil, definitively at the cross.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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