One of the reasons I have always loved The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars books and movies is because of the violent struggles that take place in these epic stories. The Lord of the Rings centers around the struggles and battles between good and evil for Middle Earth that escalated when dwarves, elves, and humans were tricked into accepting rings of power under the dark influence of Sauron. Star Wars centers around the struggles and battles between the forces of light and dark and emphasizes the story of the family of Anakin Skywalker, who was prophesied to be the Chosen One that would bring balance to the Force. I still love returning to these stories from time to time to watch or imagine the battles that matter so much for their prospective universes.
One reason why I like the Bible so much is because it contains a similar struggle between good and evil throughout its narrative. As I discussed in my first post, God promised Eve that there would be enmity between her seed and the seed of the serpent. Eventually someone from Eve’s line would crush the head of the serpent, although the serpent would bruise the heel of Eve’s descendent. This prophesied descendant of Eve will remove the curses on humanity and the world through defeating the serpent.
In this post, I am going to cover the final major theme mentioned in my first post: the theme of the seed conflict. This is an interesting and violent theme that occurs in each major portion of the biblical narrative that has been mentioned in previous posts. The theme occurs throughout the Bible, but major conflict events occur in the Old Testament in Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, 1st and 2nd Chronicles, and 1st and 2nd Kings, and also in the New Testament, mainly in the Gospels and Revelation.
The Conflict Prophesied in Gen. 3
The biblical theme of the seed conflict begins in Gen. 3. Adam and Eve listen to the serpent who told them they could be like God if they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve believe the serpent, eat fruit from the tree, are cast out of God’s presence and the Garden of Eden, and receive curses that make their mission to spread God’s glory across the world much harder.
The key to the theme of the seed conflict (and the overall plot of the entire Bible) is found in God’s words to the serpent after the forbidden fruit is eaten. To the serpent, God says,
Because you have done this,
you are cursed more than any livestock
and more than any wild animal.
You will move on your belly
and eat dust all the days of your life.
I will put hostility between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel (Gen. 3:14-15).1
Here God announces that there will be hostility between the woman and the serpent and between the offspring of the woman and the offspring of the serpent. A male descendant of the woman will eventually kill the serpent, while the serpent will strike the heel of the descendant.
There is a longstanding Christian tradition that interprets the last sentence in this passage to be the first prophecy of the coming of the Messiah who would defeat the serpent (Satan) and lift the curses pronounced after the fall.2 As this prophecy was told directly to Satan, much of the narrative shows that he went hard at work trying to make it so the prophecy would not come true. Before discussing a handful of these attempts, it will be good to say a few words about God’s prophecy.
Remember that in Gen. 1, God gave Adam and Eve a mission to spread His glory across the world. Genesis 1:28 reads, “God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.’” Here God is giving Adam and Eve the authority to rule over the earth in His image, telling them to multiply and spread His glory across the world, and blessing them to ensure this will happen. Adam and Eve had God’s blessing to carry out their mission, yet they disregarded this blessing when they ate the forbidden fruit and disobeyed God.
The blessing from Gen. 1:28 is one thing that makes the story so interesting in Gen. 3. God had previously blessed Adam and Eve for their task, yet now He is pronouncing curses that are going to make their mission harder. They are supposed to be fruitful and multiply, yet God makes it so that childbirth and family life will be difficult (Gen. 3:16); they were supposed to subdue and rule over the earth, yet now they are subject to death and must spend their time working for their own food while also fighting against the offspring of the serpent (Gen. 3:15, 17-19). So, God’s prophecy at Gen. 3:14 stands out because it is giving the reader a first clue as to how the story may end.
Cain and Abel
The theme of the seed conflict begins almost immediately after God pronounces the curses. The narrative doesn’t mention it, but it is highly likely that Adam and Eve told both Cain and Abel about God’s prophecy that one of Eve’s descendants would crush the head of the serpent and lift the curses. So, when Cain kills Abel, this is shocking for at least two reasons. For one, it shows that Cain was spiritually corrupt in that he did not have respect or love for God’s commands and plan for humanity. In the Gospel of John, Jesus indicates that those who do not love God are the spiritual children of Satan and that Cain was influenced by Satan when he killed Abel (John 8:44). Cain killed his brother despite God’s command to spread across the earth in His image.
Second, Cain is basically excluded from the prophecy when he kills his brother. God punishes him by casting him further from God’s locked garden (Gen. 4:11), and Cain’s skills as a farmer are no longer useful as God says that Cain’s work will never bare fruit again (Gen. 4:12). With both Cain and Abel out of the picture, the reader is left wondering how God’s prophecy will come to pass. Yet, God provides Eve with another son, and the hope of a Messiah is kindled once again.
In many instances, the seed conflict takes place between the spiritual children of Satan as it did in Gen. 4. However, sometimes the children in the conflict are literally the children of Satan and his demons. In Gen. 6, there is a passage that might seem strange if the reader does not have God’s prophecy in mind. Genesis 6 begins:
When mankind began to multiply on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of mankind were beautiful, and they took any they chose as wives for themselves. And the Lord said, “My Spirit will not remain with mankind forever, because they are corrupt. Their days will be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth both in those days and afterward, when the sons of God came to the daughters of mankind, who bore children to them. They were the powerful men of old, the famous men (Gen. 6:1-4).
The phrase “sons of God” is also used in the Old Testament in Job where the narrative mentions angels who were reporting to God (Job 1:6; 2:1) and the angels who witnessed God creating the earth (Job 38:7). So here in this passage, it seems that fallen angels were trying to thwart God’s plan for humanity by breeding with humans.3
Knowing the prophecy concerning a descendant of Eve, Satan and his demons were trying to supernaturally put an end to Eve’s bloodline. They were producing literal offspring who were spreading across the earth in Satan’s image (Gen. 6:5). Seeing this, immediately God declares that He will wipe humanity off the face of the earth (Gen. 6:7). So once again, the reader is left wondering how the prophecy could ever come true. Yet, as always, God provides a solution when He promises to bless the world through the descendants of Abram (Gen. 12:1-3).
The Jews eventually end up in Egypt awaiting the days when God will lead them back to the land that was promised to Abraham. At this point, God has indicated that the prophesied descendant of Eve will come through the Jews, the descendants of Abraham, but a major threat arrives through the king of Egypt. After noticing that the Jews were multiplying as God promised Abraham (Ex. 1:7), the king plans to oppress the Jews so they won’t be able to multiply further and possibly rebel against the Egyptians (Ex. 1:9-10). Eventually, he plans to wipe out the Jews by killing all their newborn males (Ex. 1:15-16).
Whether the king of Egypt knew about the prophecy of Gen. 3 or the promises to Abraham, his plans against the Jews were directly opposed to God’s plans for the blessing of the Jews and all of humanity. If the king of Egypt (probably under Satan’s influence) was successful, God’s promises would seem to be failing. But God provides a savior when He appoints Moses to free God’s people from their captives in Egypt and lead them to the land God promised to Abraham’s descendants.
The theme of the seed conflict continues throughout the Old Testament. Fueled by God’s promises, the Jews enter the Promised Land and attempt to wipe out the spiritually bankrupt Canaanites. However, the Jews are unsuccessful at completely banishing the Canaanites from the land (Jdgs. 1:27-36), and the Jews struggle greatly throughout the periods of the Judges and Kings.
Eventually the Jews are banished from the land that God promised they would possess as the Israelites are exiled to Assyria (2 Kings 17:23), and the Judeans are exiled to Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 24:14). This is where another major spiritual son of Satan, King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon, opposes God’s plans in the biblical narrative. Like the king of Egypt of Moses’ time, King Nebuchadnezzar took pleasure in subjugating God’s chosen people. Nebuchadnezzar deported the Judeans to Babylon, burned and pillaged Jerusalem and God’s temple (2 Kings 25:8-17), demanded Jews worship him (Dan. 3:4-6), and refused to give God glory for the kingdom he had received (Dan. 4:30).
As I discussed in a previous post, God’s promise to Abraham was clarified when God promised David (of the tribe of Judah) that one of his descendants would rule over God’s kingdom forever. So, the Babylonian exile is shocking in the story because it is a drastic turn from the height of the flourishing of the Jewish people under King Solomon, and God’s promises to Abraham and David appear to be far from fulfilled. Readers cognizant of the prophecy of Gen. 3 and the promises to the Abraham and David are likely exhausted at this point after experiencing the rollercoaster of blessings, curses, flourishing, and exile the Jews went through under the Mosaic Covenant. So much has happened in the narrative just to see the Jews banished from the Promised Land. Yet, God provides a way again, and readers see a glimpse of hope when a descendant of David is born to Joseph and Mary, and it is prophesied that He will save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).
King Herod the Great
Another character opposed to God’s plan quickly appears after Jesus’ birth. King Herod the Great learns from the magi that the King of the Jews was recently born (Matt. 2:2). Herod is troubled because he doesn’t want to lose his throne and orders that all male Jews, two and under, must be killed (Matt. 2:16). Had Herod been successful, the prophecy of Gen. 3 would have been ruined, but an angel had previously warned Joseph to flee with Mary and Jesus to Egypt (Matt. 2:14).
Satan himself makes several attempts during Jesus’ time on earth to thwart the prophecy of Gen. 3. In the wilderness of Judea, Satan tries to tempt Jesus as he tempted Adam and Eve (Matt. 4:1-11). If Satan could get Jesus to disobey God, the prophecy of Gen. 3 would fail, and Satan would win. Yet, Jesus stays faithful to God and continues His sinless life through the temptations and throughout His ministry.
Finally, the prophecy of Gen. 3 comes to a climax as Jesus is crucified and dies on the cross at Golgotha (Matt. 27:50). It appears that Satan has won, but it becomes clear after three days that Jesus’ death was temporary (Matt. 28:6), and Satan was only successful at “bruising the heel” of Jesus, the promised descendant of Eve. Here the story takes an interesting turn, however, as Satan’s head is not crushed, and Jesus’ ascends into heaven after commanding His disciples to spread God’s glory across the earth through the power of the gospel.
After the Jesus’ Church is established, the seed conflict continues as Satan and his demons take every opportunity they have to undermine God’s plans. Satan’s forces sow hatred, distrust, doubt, and false doctrine throughout the world. They deceive the nations and attempt to hinder the ministries of believers, causing fear, shame, and division in the Church.
A last major player in the seed conflict is another son of Satan: the anti-Christ. The anti-Christ will be like the ultimate Pharoah/Nebuchadnezzar/Herod figure. Despite all of the obvious wonders and judgments that are occurring during the Great Tribulation, the anti-Christ will make war and conquer believers during the tribulation, accept worship from other humans, cause other humans to worship Satan, defile God’s temple, and attempt to rule the world in place of Jesus’ (Rev. 13:1-10). Yet, Satan’s sad plan to copy God the Father by rising up the anti-Christ to be like God the Son will be thwarted, and the Gen. 3 prophecy will be fulfilled finally when Jesus crushes the head of the serpent by throwing Satan, the anti-Christ, and Satan’s demons into the lake of fire and sulfur (Rev. 19:20; 20:10). The curses will finally be lifted (Rev. 21:4; 22:3), and God’s glory will fill the New Heavens and New Earth with a redeemed humanity living in the image of God (Rev. 21:23-24; 22:4-5).
It is still yet to be seen how the official story of the Skywalker family will come to an end and how the prophecy of the Chosen One who is supposed to bring balance to the Force will be fulfilled. However, it is no secret that The Lord of the Rings trilogy comes to a glorious end when Frodo Baggins, with the help of Samwise Gamgee, destroys Sauron and his ring of power. These epic stories continue to entertain me as I return to them over and over again.
But I have found that the biblical story is the most satisfying. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible contains an epic plot involving God’s prophecy of a coming Messiah who will remove the curses on humanity and the earth and bless all peoples. Not only is the story epic, full of adventure, thrilling, and suspenseful, the story is about me! While the other stories I have enjoyed over the years usually help people escape from reality, the story contained in the Bible helps me understand my place in reality. It explains how humans got here and where we are headed. And the best of all, it is true.
This posts brings to an end this series on the plot of the Bible and the major biblical themes. Going forward, I am going to publish much shorter blog posts touching on biblical stories, events, and characters. I also plan on discussing apologetics and theology every once in a while. But first, now that I have covered the plot of the Bible and its major themes, I would next like to write a post reflecting on the unity of the Bible and how this points to its divine inspiration.
For visual learners, here are two videos created by Timothy Mackie and Jonathan Collins of The Bible Project that touch on the biblical theme of the seed conflict; the first video emphasizes Jesus’ role in the conflict, and the second video emphasizes Satan’s role in the conflict:
Christian Standard Bible.
See Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, vol. 1a of The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, ed. E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 1996), 247.
Another possibility that has been suggested is that the godly line of Seth began taking wives from the ungodly line of Cain. If this is the correct interpretation, then this would be another case where Satan tempts God’s chosen people to disobey God’s commands and bring judgment on themselves.
*The featured image of Cain killing Abel is from The Beginning, a comic by Kingstone Comics. Image used with permission: © 2010 Kingstone Comics.