"And You Shall Bruise His Jacob"
The Typological Wordplay Between “Heel” and “Jacob” in Genesis 3:15
In the first promise of the gospel in Genesis 3:15, God cryptically promised that the offspring of the woman would bruise/crush the head of the serpent. By contrast, the serpent’s offspring would merely bruise/crush the heel of the woman’s offspring. One would strike a mortal blow, while the other would merely wound.
There is an interesting wordplay on the word “heel” (עָקֵב; ‘āqēb): it is the word from which the name “Jacob” comes from (יַעֲקֹב; ya‘ăqōb). Jacob, of course, is the one whose name is changed to “Israel,” thus becoming the head of the nation of Israel. God’s promise sounds like he is saying that the serpent will bruise Jacob.
Implications for the Bruising of Jacob
I see two important theological implications from this evocative language:
First, this underscores the fact that Israel is the offspring of the woman. This point is clear enough in the rest of the book of Genesis, which traces the promised offspring’s lineage from Abraham, through Isaac, and in Jacob/Israel (Gen. 17:10; 21:12; 25:23; 28:13–14). All God’s promises will be fulfilled through the lineage of this offspring.
Second, this points to the fact that the salvation of God will require the wounding of Jacob/Israel. Certainly, the end of Genesis sets this point up in a limited sense, when Jacob moves his whole family to Egypt, where they will languish until God redeems them out of their bondage. Jacob will be wounded in Egypt by the cursed offspring of the serpent (cf. Gen. 9:25; 10:6).
Of course, Israel’s sojourn in Egypt isn’t the whole story. The significance of the promise anticipates a much greater fulfillment.
The Offspring of Promise vs. the Brood of Vipers
In this context, it is remarkable that John the Baptist identifies the Pharisees and Sadducees as a “brood of vipers” (e.g., the offspring of serpents) in Matthew 3:7. Then, he immediately informs them that they are not the offspring of Abraham, even if they can claim biological descent from Abraham (Matt. 3:9). Indeed, God can raise up children for Abraham from stones.
Right from the outset of the New Testament, we have a clear identification of the offspring of the serpent, in a context where they might otherwise be confused with the offspring of the woman.
So, the last old covenant prophet declares that not all those who were descended from Israel truly belong to Israel (Rom. 9:6-7). Those who are the true sons of promise live by faith in God’s Messiah (Gal. 3:7–9), while the sons of the serpent oppose him.
This is one more sense in which Jesus Christ must become true Israel, completing the task that the nation of Israel failed to finish. Ultimately, this promise pointed forward to the crucifixion of Jesus, whose hands and feet were nailed to the cross, in order to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8).
Jesus is the ultimate offspring of the woman whom God promised in Genesis 3:15, for he is the ultimate Jacob whose heel was bruised for our salvation (Matt. 1:2; Gal. 3:16).