The Tanakh – Really a Library
First, some facts about the Tanakh. It is a collection of books, written by many authors, organized into three groupings: Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvin. It took more than a thousand years for these books to all be written from start to finish. This makes the Bible a library and sets it apart from other ancient Great Books. If the Bible was written by just one author, or a group that knew each other we may not be surprised at its unity, but the authors of the Bible are separated by hundreds of years, as well as coming from different social positions and living in diverse countries. Though they wrote for the people of their day, and recorded the history of their times, embedded through the Tanakh are predictions or prophecies of the future. Their messages and predictions form unified themes. We looked at one theme on the re-gathering of Israel here. These writers claim that their writings were inspired by G-d, blessed be He. The oldest copies of the books of Tanakh that still exist today are from 200 BC and are known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. They are housed at the Israeli Museum Jerusalem in the Shrine of the Book.
The Riddle in the Garden
We see at the very beginning of the Torah another example of how these writings predict the future. Though it is about the Beginning, it was written with the End in mind. It occurs in the Garden of Eden in Genesis chapter 3 when G-d confronts His Adversay, the devil (who was in the form of a serpent) with a riddle just after the serpent had brought about the Fall of mankind. Hashem says to him:
“… and I (G-d) will put enmity between you (Satan) and the woman and between your offspring and hers. He will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)
You can see that this is prophetic with repeated ‘will’s in future tense. There are also five different characters mentioned. They are:
- I = G-d
- you = serpent or Satan
- The woman
- The offspring of the woman
- The offspring of serpent or Satan
The riddle predicts how these characters will relate in the future. This is shown below:
The riddle says that G-d will cause both the serpent/Satan and ‘the woman’ to have an ‘offspring’. There will be ‘enmity’ or hatred between these offspring and between the woman and Satan/serpent. Satan will ‘strike the heel’ of the woman’s offspring while the offspring of the woman will ‘crush the head’ of Satan/serpent.
So who might ‘the woman’ be? Here is an example of a unified theme weaving through the writings of the Tanakh. Notice how Hashem, speaking through various prophets in the Tanakh, refers to Israel.
O Israel, … I will make you my wife forever, … I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as the Lord. (Hosea 2:17-20)
1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,
till her vindication shines out like the dawn,
her salvation like a blazing torch….
5 As a young man marries a young woman,
so will your Builder marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
so will your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62: 1, 5)
Israel is pictured not only as a woman, but a woman married to Hashem. However, this marriage is not tranquil. When Israel descended into idolatry during the First Temple Period, building on the woman married to G-d image, this was called ‘adultery’ by the prophets. Ezekiel uses stark imagery of Israel as an adulterous wife in chapter 16 and continued with imagery of Judah as an adulterous sister (being in the First Temple period the Northern Kingdom of Samaria was the other adulterous sister). Ezekiel, as a prophet on behalf of G-d, charged
“‘You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband! (Ezekiel 16:32)
Jeremiah echoes a similar accusation:
But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me,”
declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 3: 20)
This ‘woman’ Israel is also pictured giving birth, like the woman in Genesis 3:15.
You have enlarged the nation, Lord;
you have enlarged the nation.
You have gained glory for yourself;
you have extended all the borders of the land. …
17 As a pregnant woman about to give birth
writhes and cries out in her pain,
so were we in your presence, Lord.
18 We were with child, we writhed in labor,
but we gave birth to wind.
We have not brought salvation to the earth,
and the people of the world have not come to life. (Isaiah 26:15, 17-18)
There had been an initial hope that the offspring of this birth would result in ‘salvation to the earth’ bringing of life to peoples ‘of the world’. But because of her sins, this hope is frustrated, and Israel only gives ‘birth to wind’. The fact that there was an initial high hope for the offspring of this woman was based on the promise of Genesis 3:15. That promise had raised expectations, but in vain (for the time being).
However, the Divine Program begun by Hashem would still see the anticipated offspring. First, the Woman needed to be restored.
4 I will build you up again,
and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt.
Again you will take up your timbrels
and go out to dance with the joyful…
21 “Set up road signs;
put up guideposts.
Take note of the highway,
the road that you take.
Return, Virgin Israel,
return to your towns.
22 How long will you wander,
unfaithful Daughter Israel?
The Lord will create a new thing on earth—
the woman will return to the man.” (Jeremiah 31: 4, 21-22)
5 For your Maker is your husband—
the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of all the earth.
6 The Lord will call you back
as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—
a wife who married young,
only to be rejected,” says your God.
7 “For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
With only superficial reading, most people assume that the ‘woman’ referred to in Genesis 3:15 is Eve. But this promise is not about her. Eve did not live in enmity with the Serpent/Satan. But Israel? Throughout her long history from Egypt even into our day Israel has experienced relentless ‘enmity’ – from all sides. When you think of the millennia of visceral anti-Semitic hatred of Jews that been perpetuated by so many nations all over the world (Pharaoh of Egypt, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians under Haman, Greeks in the time of Maccabees, Imperial Rome, Roman Catholic Church, Spanish expulsions, Russian pogroms, French Dreyfus affair, Nazi Shoah, extremist Islamic incitement against Israel, today’s BDS movement – to name just a few) one can see a diabolical enmity directed against Israel. For sure, the Woman Israel has experienced enmity.
If Genesis 3 refers to Israel this means that the nation Israel was foreseen, even ordained, by Hashem at the beginning of human history. The call of Abram in Genesis 12 was a logical step of the strategic promise uttered in Genesis 3, not a random event in history. If so, the calamities and triumphs of Israel cannot simply be explained by secular forces. There are plans and intentions that go deeper than that. But is there more we can uncover from this riddle in Genesis 3:15?
In the Brit Chadasha the riddle of Genesis 3:15 is expanded as it describes in vivid imagery the enmity this woman will experience:
12 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 4 Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born.5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.6 The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.
7 Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9 The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him….
13 When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach. 15 Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. 16 But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. 17 Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—… (Revelation 12:1-17)
This picture of a woman giving birth to an offspring in the presence of a dragon/serpent/Satan is a direct allusion to the promise in Genesis 3:15. From the point-of-view of Brit Chadasha ‘the woman’ in Genesis 3 is unequivocally Israel. In Genesis 3:15 the details are not filled in, but in Revelation they are. Since this concerns Israel, and her struggles with her enemy, it is prudent to at least be informed about this view point, and to understand what it means. It may be that your life will be caught up in this struggle. But before we delve too deeply into those details here, let’s return to the Garden Promise to reflect on the offspring of the woman.
Who is the Offspring?
Because the ‘offspring’ of the woman in Genesis 3:15 is called ‘he’ we can make some deductions. As a ‘he’ the offspring is male and therefore is not a ‘she’ and not a woman. As a ‘he’ the offspring is singular and therefore not a ‘they’, so not a group of people or a nation. As a ‘he’ the offspring is a person and not an ‘it’. The offspring is not a philosophy, teaching, political system, or a religion – since these are all ‘it’s. An ‘it’ like these would have been our preferred choice to fix the corruption since people are always thinking up new systems and religions. G-d had something else in mind – a ‘he’- a single male human. This ‘he’ would crush the head of the serpent/Satan.
Notice what is not said. It does not say that this ‘he’ will come from the woman and a man, but only mentions ‘the woman’. This is especially unusual since the Bible almost always records only the sons coming through fathers. Some see the Bible as ‘sexist’ because of this father-son bias. But here it is different – there is no mention of the offspring (a ‘he’) from a man. It says only that there will be an offspring coming from the woman, without mentioning a man.
These observations follow through in the Revelation passage. There the woman gives birth to a male child – a ‘he’. Again no involvement of a man is mentioned. When Revelation says that the male child “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter” it quotes Psalm 2:9 – the Psalm that first introduces the title and concept ‘Messiah’ in the Tanakh. The meaning is unmistakable – the male child born of the Woman Israel is the Messiah who “will rules all nations”. Once again we see this theme between Israel, the Messiah and the nations.
‘Strike his Heel’??
What does it mean that the serpent/Satan would strike ‘his heel’? One year I worked in the jungles in Africa. We had to wear thick rubber boots in the humid heat because snakes lay in the long grass and would strike the foot – our heel – to kill. After that experience the riddle took on new meaning. The offspring of the woman would crush ‘the head’ (i.e. destroy) of the serpent, but in return he would be killed.
The offspring of the Serpent?
Who is this offspring of Satan/serpent? Daniel in his book in the Tanakh saw a vision, many pages and thousands of years after the Promise in Genesis 3, of a coming person pictured as a horn on a beast. Note the description:
7 “After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast—terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns.
8 “While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a human being and a mouth that spoke boastfully.
9 “As I looked,
“thrones were set in place,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat.
His clothing was as white as snow;
the hair of his head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire,
and its wheels were all ablaze.
10 A river of fire was flowing,
coming out from before him.
Thousands upon thousands attended him;
ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
The court was seated, and the books were opened.
11 “Then I continued to watch because of the boastful words the horn was speaking. I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. 12 (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.)
13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
The Interpretation of the Dream
15 “I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me. 16 I approached one of those standing there and asked him the meaning of all this.
“So he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: 17 ‘The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth. 18 But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.’
19 “Then I wanted to know the meaning of the fourth beast, which was different from all the others and most terrifying, with its iron teeth and bronze claws—the beast that crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left.20 I also wanted to know about the ten horns on its head and about the other horn that came up, before which three of them fell—the horn that looked more imposing than the others and that had eyes and a mouth that spoke boastfully. 21 As I watched, this horn was waging war against the holy people and defeating them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the holy people of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom.
23 “He gave me this explanation: ‘The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. 24 The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. 25 He will speak against the Most High and oppress his holy people and try to change the set times and the laws. The holy people will be delivered into his hands for a time, times and half a time.
26 “‘But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever.27 Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’ (Daniel 7: 7-27)
This describes a conflict between the ‘he’ who will rule all nations – the Messiah – and the boastful horn of the beast. This conflict will engulf the ‘holy people of the Most High’ – the Woman described in Revelation. But it is first revealed in the Promise of Genesis, at the very beginning of the Bible, with details filled in later. The countdown to a global contest between Satan and Hashem started long ago in the Garden. It could almost make you think that history is really His-Story.