April 16, 2024

God’s Unfailing Promise

Sinclair Ferguson
God’s Unfailing Promise

Adam and Eve didn’t know every detail about the promised One who would triumph over the tragedy of sin. But they knew God would fulfill His Word. Today, Sinclair Ferguson considers God’s faithfulness and His people’s faith.


Yesterday in Things Unseen, I was saying how basic Genesis 3:15 is for our understanding of the whole plot line of the Bible’s drama:

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.

Every conflict in the Bible, big or small, is actually an unfolding of this prophecy. If you think about it, while it was a curse, it also contained a wonderful promise to Adam and Eve. Here, they were fast bound in sin and nature’s night in a condition that was hopeless and helpless. But God was promising to intervene. Yes, there would be conflict, but one of Eve’s offspring would prevail.

That must have been glorious good news for our first parents, don’t you think? But while it was good news, the promise came in a very condensed form. Think of the famous questions newspaper reporters are supposed to ask: Who? What? Where? When? How? and Why? There’s not much in the way of detail in Genesis 3:15 is there? Of course, we now know the answers. But nobody in the Old Testament had all those answers, least of all Adam and Eve. Remember how Peter says that the Old Testament prophets were all asking the questions, “Who?” and “When?” and didn’t live to see the answers? But here’s a question: Did Adam and Eve actually believe this promise? I think they did. That’s the only answer that makes sense of Genesis 4:1: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.’”

If you use the English Standard Version and have still relatively decent eyesight, you’ll be able to read the little footnote at the word “gotten” that tells you that the name Cain sounds like the Hebrew for “gotten.” Now, it would seem very strange if we’d called our first born son “Gotcha Ferguson.” But it would certainly make you ask, “Why on earth did you call him ‘Gotcha’?” You’d assume there must be a story behind the name, and I think that’s the point of Genesis 4:1—there is a story behind the name Cain.

Childbirth must have been a very frightening experience for Eve, but she’s doing more here than simply thanking God for getting her through it. If that was all she meant, her son would probably have been given a name like Azariah or even Ezra, both of which reflect the idea of God’s help.

Now, the choice of name has to do with the promise God had given that she would have a seed who would crush the serpent’s head: “I’ve got him.” Her hopes had been raised. Perhaps now, soon, the conflict would be over. The tragedy of their sin would soon be behind them. There would be victory, and with victory might come restoration and they could begin again. What she didn’t realize until later was that her firstborn son was not the seed of the promised victory, but the seed of the serpent. The sad conflict promised would actually continue right before Eve’s very eyes in her own family. Cain displeased the Lord, developed a hatred of Him, and expressed it by murdering the brother who trusted in the Lord, as Hebrews 11:4 indicates.

Did Adam and Eve feel that perhaps God’s promise had failed? Well, no, they continued to believe it. Eve gave birth to Seth. Seth sounds like the Hebrew word for “he appointed.” Again, imagine we’d called a son, “Appointed Ferguson.” And people would surely assume there was a reason. Yes, indeed, there was a reason why he was called “Seth.” Yes, indeed, they believed that God’s appointed promise would not fail. But it had a much longer history in view than they anticipated, and so they and their descendants must continue to trust that God would send the seed who would crush the serpent’s head, even if they were left with unanswered questions. Who is he? What will he do? When will he come? Where will he be? How will he do it? They knew only the answer to the question, Why? How privileged we are to know that the Lord Jesus answers all these questions.