April 15, 2024

The Central Promise of Scripture

Sinclair Ferguson
The Central Promise of Scripture

The entire Bible is held together by a promise God made in the garden of Eden. Today, Sinclair Ferguson turns to Genesis 3:15 to investigate the promised Redeemer who would triumph over Satan.


Every book has pages that are held together at the spine, and sometimes the publisher will tell you that this book has been Smyth sewn. That refers to the way the pages are bound together by groups of pages being sewn together so that the book will hold together, perhaps even for centuries. That all used to be done by hand until, sometime in the 1800s, a bright American by the name of David McConnell Smyth invented a machine that could do it, and ever since then people have spoken about books being Smyth sewn. Actually, if you have a high-quality Bible, it may well be Smyth sewn.

This week on Things Unseen, I want to make a very simple point: whether the Bible you use is physically Smyth sewn or not, it’s theologically Smyth sewn. I mean its pages, or—more accurately—what’s on those pages, is all held together by very strong threads. And one of the strongest of these threads is found, as you can probably guess, in Genesis 3:15. There, following the fall, God addresses the serpent and says:

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.

The first thing to say here is that the rest of the Bible makes clear that the serpent is an instrument and representative of Satan. Remember how the book of Revelation notes that the dragon who appears in the drama that John witnesses is that ancient serpent, the devil. After the serpent’s deception of Eve and his luring of Adam into eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, God pronounces these words of curse on the serpent. But they’re more than a curse; they’re also a prophecy. And they contain a promise, a promise of ongoing conflict between the serpent’s seed and Eve’s offspring that will eventually climax in a one-on-one conflict between the serpent and a single, particular offspring. And of that offspring, God says, “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

There are many reasons this verse is so important. The most obvious is that it indicates that the plot line of the whole drama of Scripture is going to involve ongoing conflict, and that’s a great clue to reading the Old Testament. Its many conflict events are not isolated incidents, but part of this history-long struggle between the two seeds.

To give only one example, but perhaps the most famous—as soon as we see this principle, we realize that the fight between Goliath and David was not just an isolated incident. It was part of this long story of the efforts of the serpent and his seed to destroy the seed of God’s promise, represented by His chosen people. And once we’ve seen that in one instance, a whole array of incidents will pop up in our Bibles, and we’ll begin to see them in a new light, not just as individual isolated events. We begin to see that the whole Bible story can’t be understood merely on the human level—this happened and then that happened. Instead, we see that what happens in history is the spillover of Satan’s hostility to our God. He acts behind the scenes. He doesn’t have God’s power, but blinded by hatred and pride, he seeks to destroy God’s purposes. If he can’t destroy God, he’ll seek to destroy us because we’re part of the creation in which God most delights.

That’s why Genesis 3:15 has often been referred to as the protoevangelium—the first announcement of the gospel. Perhaps some rainy Sunday afternoon, you can get out a piece of paper and trace through the Bible as many conflict situations as you can spot or remember. Keep that page in your Bible, and as you do your regular Bible reading, note down more of them as you read on. I think once you start looking, you’ll be surprised because there are many of them. They’re all an important part of this single plot line. But what you mustn’t lose sight of is this: there are wins and there are losses, there are winners and there are losers in these events, but from the beginning there has never been any doubt that in the end, the seed of the woman will triumph. And if you turn to the back pages of your Bible you’ll see exactly that.