I will put enmities between thee and the woman,
and thy seed and her seed:
she shall crush thy head,
and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.
Genesis 3, 15 (DRB)
The Protoevangelium (First Gospel) in the Book of Genesis is the first Messianic prophecy recorded in sacred Scripture, and it is pronounced by God Himself to the serpent in the wake of the fall of Adam and Eve. The prophecy does not speak of only the Divine Messiah, but also includes the free Woman of Promise whose fulfillment is ultimately reached in the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of our Divine Lord and Saviour. In view of Eve’s transgression and her moral involvement in the fall of Adam (אָדָם “mankind”), God declares to the serpent, in allusion to Mary, that He will put her (the woman) in complete opposition and hostility with it. This enmity between Mary and Satan shall be in the same likeness as that of her Divine Son’s with the Devil’s offspring: sinful and wicked humanity.
The woman’s offspring shall not be a descendant of Adam by the seed of man, but rather by the seed of the woman. He shall be of divine origin, and his conception and birth will be supernatural, but not to the preclusion of his full humanity. Thus, we may believe in faith that this verse implies Mary’s total lack of affinity with Satan together with her Son and thereby her exemption from all stain of sin, both original and personal. There is no surer way to be in complete hostility with the Devil or serpent than to be constantly in the state of God’s sanctifying grace. God ordered Mary and Satan to be in a total state of “opposition” to each other so that they should be “hostile” enemies with “hatred” for one another, which the Hebrew word for enmity (ebah/אֵיבָה) denotes. This was because Mary was chosen to be the mother of the Divine Messiah (Lk 1:31-33, 35).
It was all part of God’s perfect plan that the Son of Man be “made of a woman” (Gal 4:4), but not so much as for becoming a man in the likeness of Adam. The serpent, which was envious of Adam and Eve and all God’s creation, sought to destroy it. In its malevolence and shrewdness (‘aruvum), the serpent targeted Adam to accomplish what it was bent on destroying, for our primordial father was the head of the two covenants God had established: the one between God and Adam and his female "helpmate" and the marital one between Adam and the Woman. Adam was the human representative of both covenants which were rooted in faith and trust. However, in its craftiness, the serpent targeted Adam indirectly through his Helpmate. For its plan to be successful, the serpent would need the Woman to cooperate with it. And this it could manage to do by enticing and deceiving her with a lie.
As we know, the serpent did succeed in gaining the woman’s trust by appearing to have her best interest at heart, which allowed it to get the upper hand. The Woman rebelled against God in her misplaced faith and, as a result, her friendship with God turned into enmity. By helping to bring about the fall of Adam as the serpent’s instrument to offer him the forbidden fruit, the Woman made herself out to be an enemy of God. Thus, the Virgin Mary was chosen to be the Divine instrument to help reconcile mankind to God. It was imperative that she be at enmity with the fallen angel by co-operating with the angel Gabriel in faith and with complete trust in God so that her Offspring could undo the fall accomplished by Adam.
Mary would have been a friend of Satan if at any moment in her life she sinned against God and fell from His grace like Eve, which would have rendered her unworthy to be the mother of her divine Son, who was like us in all things but sin (Heb 4:15), with whom she was intimately associated to undo the evil that the devil had worked to the spiritual detriment of mankind. Eve was at enmity with God along with Adam, for they both did what was hateful in God’s sight and pleasing to the serpent by partaking of the forbidden fruit.
We have only to ask ourselves why it was that Jesus addressed his mother by calling her “Woman”. The answer lies in the Book of Genesis. Originally, Adam had referred to his wife as “woman” (Gen 2:23). It wasn’t until Eve had mortally sinned and fallen from grace that she was named Eve, which means “mother of all the living” (Gen 3:13-20). It is in this context that we can see what our Lord’s intention was by calling his mother “Woman” at both the beginning and end of his public ministry (Jn 2:3-5; 19:26-27). The Evangelist understood that Jesus was drawing a parallel between his mother and Eve. He knew that Mary was much more than the biological mother of Jesus; she was the woman of faith who God promised would be intimately associated with him in his redemptive work, and by being so, she would become the spiritual mother of all those who are alive in Christ and bear witness to him while observing God’s commandments (Rev 12:17). And what God willed with necessity was that she should be preserved free from the stain of sin.
It was Mary who God foretold would participate with her Son (the new Adam) in his work of undoing the sin of Adam and Eve and reconciling the world to Him as his “helpmate” (Gen 2:18). Moreover, by calling his mother “Woman,” Jesus was affirming her being in a perpetual state of sanctifying grace. Mary resembled Eve before her fall from grace at which time her husband still referred to her as “the woman”. We have good reason to believe, therefore, that our Lord was alluding to his mother’s Immaculate Conception and freedom from the stain of personal sins which result from the pride of life and concupiscence of the eyes and of the flesh.
Sacred Scripture confirms the ancient Catholic tradition of Mary being the spiritual mother of all the living: the new Eve who never once fell from grace (Lk 1:28), God’s re-creation of our universal biological mother. Both Eve and Mary were daughters of a covenant with God. Eve was the daughter of the first covenant between God and Adam: ‘The Lord commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for on the day you shall eat from it you will surely die.” ‘(Gen 2:16-17). The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die’” (Gen 3:2-3).
Mary was a daughter of the Sinai covenant between God and Israel: “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully… I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me … For I, the Lord, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, but showing loving kindness to thousands to those who love me and keep my commandments” (Deut 5:1-10). Both Eve and Mary were under a pledge of obedience in their covenants with God since God had given each of them a free will to choose between life and death by either accepting or rejecting His will for them.
Eve’s disobedience ultimately resulted in the fall of “mankind” (Adam/אָדָם). Because of the fall, all human beings are conceived and born deprived of the original justice and sanctity that Adam forfeited for his descendants by his sin. ‘The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”'(Gen 3:12-13). Mary, on the other hand, observed God’s will, and so, she brought forth the living Font of all grace who would reconcile mankind to God. Mary said: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).
By her act of faith working through love, Mary untied the tight knot of Eve’s grave transgression. Mary’s soul “magnified the Lord”, whereas Eve’s soul was affected by her own vanity and curiosity which rendered her vulnerable to the serpent’s deception and temptation. She knew that God had forbidden her and Adam to partake of the forbidden fruit. But, nonetheless, she decided to experience and judge for herself what was good and evil for them, despite God’s will for what was best for the couple. Adam and Eve raised their own will above God’s will by acting upon the serpent’s devious suggestion, making themselves out to be like God, but apart from God and before Him.
Fortunately, for both her and all humanity, Mary chose “life and prosperity” rather than “death and adversity” after hearing the words of the angel Gabriel. She heard and observed the word of God as a true servant of Israel in the spirit because it was “very near to her and in her heart.” In the spirit of Daughter Zion, Yahweh’s loving and faithful spouse, our Blessed Lady humbly refused to bow down to an idol that the ancient serpent may have presented to her in his jealous hostility with the woman (cf. Deut 30:11-12). Thus, because of her fidelity to God and desire to please Him in her covenant with Him, by her salutary consent to be the mother of our Lord and Saviour, Mary helped destroy the ravages of sin that the serpent had managed to work in the beginning. Because she welcomed the will of God with outstretched arms in faith and love, our Redeemer chose to come into the world (Rev. 3:20). Peter Chrysologus assures us that “without Mary neither death could be done away with, nor life restored” (Sermon 64).
“You shall be holy to me; for I the Lord am holy,
and have separated you from the peoples,
that you should be mine.”
Evidently, the nascent Church perceived Mary to be the exemplary personification of Daughter Zion. The faithful saw the culmination of Israel’s steadfast love and trust in God embodied in her person. St. Luke bears witness to this early Marian tradition in our Blessed Lady’s Canticle of Praise (Lk.1:46-49; cf. Isa.61:10; Zech.9:9; Zeph.3:14-15, 20; Ps.102:13; 126:1-3; 147:12-13). The connection between the election of Israel and the election of Mary in God’s plan of redemption was clear to them. As Israel was elected to be the people from whom the Messiah would come, so Mary was chosen to bring Him to birth as Saviour of the world. Both Israel and Mary had the divine privilege of bringing the Messiah into the world. And because of their common vocations, both had to be specially prepared by God.
If the people of Israel were to receive God Incarnate in their midst as one of them, they would have to be made exclusively worthy by means of a special holiness imparted by the Old Covenant. Far more was expected from the Israelites than from the people of the surrounding nations because of the holiness that was required of them in anticipation of the Incarnation. If that were true of the people of Israel, it would be even truer of Mary in whose maternal womb the holy Son of God became incarnate. How becoming it would be if she in some way received a means of singular holiness that would separate her from sinful humanity by a special grace through God’s intervention. Mary was the living personification of faithful Daughter Zion and not just a metaphor: “clothed in the garments of salvation” and “wrapped in a mantle of justice” (Isa 61:10).
You have seen what I have done to the Egyptians,
how I have carried you upon the wings of eagles,
and have taken you to myself.
Exodus 19, 4
As we have seen, the Hebrew word for enmity (ebah/אֵיבָה) is derived from the verb ayab or אָיַב which means “to be hostile to.” This prim root assumes the form of the noun “enemy” ( אוֹיֵֽב ). In Exodus 15:6, for instance, we read: ‘Thy right hand, O Lord, is magnified in strength: thy right hand, O Lord, hath slain the enemy.’ This verse is part of the Song of Moses and the Hebrew people who joyfully and gratefully praise God for having caused the Red Sea to swallow up Pharaoh’s chariots of men in their pursuit of the Israelites after their liberation from slavery and departure from Egypt. The fall of the Egyptian army is celebrated in song, for it has resulted from Pharaoh’s obstinate pride and arrogance in his opposition to God. In her Canticle of Praise, Mary proclaims: “My spirit rejoices in God my savior; for he has looked with favor on the lowliness (humility) of his handmaid” (Lk. 1:47-48). The lord raises the lowly and casts down the mighty from their thrones (Lk 1:52; Ps 147:6). The Annunciation happened because of Mary’s humility and purity of heart. She was a friend of God.
Not unlike Moses, who humbled himself before God to be His servant and instrument of salvation, our Blessed Lady joyfully and thankfully praises God for having saved her from the clutches of the enemy, viz., the serpent or dragon which is Pharaoh’s proto-type. It was the angel Lucifer who fell from heaven because of his pride and arrogance (Isa 14:12-17). And because he opposed God in his vanity and was cast out from heaven, he wished to rally mankind against Him; whereby humanity, in its rebellion against God in league with Satan, would fall, too, from His grace and end up under the Devil’s dominion as his captives together with all the other fallen angels, enslaved to sin and subject to death in its sinful condition.
Mary rejoices in God her savior because He has mercifully redeemed her by a singular grace, having been chosen to be the mother of our Lord and humanity’s Saviour, who shall redeem mankind and deliver it from the clutches of the dragon and man’s enslavement to sin. (Rev 12:10). She knows, that together with God, she has been chosen to stand in opposition to Satan to help undo his works. It is by her act of faith and love that our Blessed Lady helps turn the devil’s proud and arrogant opposition to God into his humiliating defeat. Mary’s humble state is a means by which God becomes incarnate and dashes Satan’s pride into pieces along with his rule over humanity. In her humility, Mary stands opposed to the Devil’s pride in his opposition to God. She stands with God as His faithful helpmate in His opposition to the inimical serpent.
The free Woman of Promise becomes the Mother of the Son only because she refuses to do what is hateful to God and pleasing to the serpent out of pride, unlike Eve who submitted to the will of God’s adversary and was cast out from paradise because of that same pride which cast the Devil out from heaven. Eve made herself out to be an enemy of God and His “adversary” by her rebellion in collaboration with the serpent in his revolt (Ex 23:22; Isa 63:10). Mary made herself out to be a friend of God and a disciple of the Son whom she would bear by faithfully assenting to the divine knowledge that was made known to her through the message of the angel (Jn 15:15).
Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he
might devour her child as soon as it was born. And she gave birth to a son, a male
child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched
away and taken to God and to his throne; and the woman fled into the wilderness,
where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one
thousand two hundred sixty days…. But the woman was given the two wings of
the great eagle, so that she could fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to her
place where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. And the dragon
cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to
be carried away of the flood.
Revelation 12, 4-6, 14-15
There are basically four prevailing themes pertaining to the wilderness in the Hebrew Old Testament. To begin, the imagery of wilderness may signify a place where one has a very close encounter with God, notably when they are called for an important task during a time of crisis. Also, for the Jewish people who were delivered from slavery in Egypt by God’s intervention, the wilderness was where they received the Torah (the Divine instructions) so that they could be set apart from all the surrounding nations to become God’s very own and be prepared as a holy nation in the anticipation of the coming Messiah. The Talmud says:
And the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai…
The azure sky encompasses the parched and barren land:
an untouched, silent vacuum devoid of mortal ploys.
No stamp of human grandeur
imprints the endless sand;
no thoroughfares are chiselled
through the undulating dunes.
Standing in the wilderness
we wait with open hearts:
we may yet tend the desert
and find our way to Eden.
The Talmud says further: “One should be as open as a wilderness to receive the Torah” (Nedarim 55a). Some Jewish commentators understand this statement to mean that God’s chosen people have been called to open themselves to God’s moral demand of living an entirely new way of life that differs from that of the pagans who do not know God, regardless of how intimidating it might be to the Israelites. In preparation for the coming Messiah, God established a covenant with His people through Moses at Sinai so that they would be moral and godly people, unlike His adversaries. For this purpose, God gave the Israelites the Torah or moral Law. Only those who conducted their lives in accordance with the moral precepts of the Divine law reached the promised land after their sojourn in the desert. The unfaithful Jews who failed to “tend the desert” or persevere in faith in the wake of many hardships and trials never found their “way to Eden.”
Moreover, the wilderness can be described as a place untouched by human developments and settlement. In the form of imagery, it represents a moral haven. For the Israelites, the wilderness contrasted with Egypt which was polluted with the vain grandeur of this world and the many false idols that alienated the Egyptian captors from God and even corrupted many of Abraham’s descendants while living there. The Exodus happened so that the Hebrew people would be free to worship the God of their fathers as He desired that they righteously should in the land that He had initially promised to Abraham (Gen 17:7). The wilderness was where God’s emancipated people could be spiritually refined and come to know God, as to walk in his ways without any worldly distractions that might hinder them. The wilderness provided the straight path that would help enable them to become a holy nation set apart by God and consecrated to Him as worthy of begetting the promised Messiah.
Indeed, in sacred Scripture, the wilderness is portrayed as the site of the dispensation of divine grace where God disciplines, purifies and transforms His chosen people by imparting singular holiness to them through His covenant. It was at the outset of the Israelites’ forty-year sojourn in the desert that God assured Moses: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Ex 33:14). On this occasion, God didn’t simply offer his chosen people guidance but promised to guide them to the promised land Himself. The wilderness was where the Israelites had to learn to place their undivided trust in Divine providence. Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden for their failure in trusting God and placing all their hope in Him. The Jews who lost their trust in God and their trial of faith never made it to the promised land.
Here it was where God came down from His heavenly domain to dwell among His people and instruct them in His ways by physically manifesting His presence through the Ark of the Covenant which also served as a channel of His grace (Ex 25:8, 22; Josh 3:5-17; 6:2-5). Outside of Egypt, the Israelites could encounter a personal God who related to them in a loving and caring way and who sought nothing other than their true happiness, albeit the physical hardships they had to endure to prove themselves worthy of being in His favor. ‘The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend’ (Ex 33:11). Through Moses, God would speak to all His people by His theophanies.
Finally, there are many passages in the Old Testament that present the wilderness as an aspect of the goodness of God’s creation which inspires awe because of its sublimity. For instance, the prophet Isaiah creates an allegory that pertains to the spiritual condition of the Hebrew nation. The language in the text expresses a moral and spiritual desolation in the life of the Jews. Such was the condition of the Judeans before God allowed the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem and take His chosen people into captivity and exile because of their apostasy and idolatry.
Still, the prophet anticipates the time that will come when the moral and spiritual wasteland the Jews had created for themselves will be restored to its former beauty which God intended, like “the glory of Lebanon” with its plush cedar trees and fertile land. The “glory of God” shall be manifested in the rejuvenation of His chosen people by His grace which restores them to a new life in the spirit (cf. Ezek 36:26-27). A “crocus” (rose) shall beautifully blossom out of what was a desolate wasteland, now that God’s judgment against His people is past and the nation redeemed of its sins through its suffering and subsequent change of heart by means of discipline (cf. Ezek 20:36-38).
The majesty of Zion that once was will be restored, now that God’s chosen people have left that pathless desert of alienation from God and spiritual desolation which they had stumbled upon through their infidelity. The excellency of Carmel and the fertility of Sharon will now be restored by God’s grace and renewed blessings in the wasteland that Zion created for herself to her own spiritual ruin. By God’s merciful grace of forgiveness and salvation, His people will now set themselves on the right path in a land fertile with reinvigorated piety in the knowledge of God and His covenant with them (Isa 35:1-4).
We can imagine the normal characteristics of a desert: a solitary and dry place (ציה or tsı̂yâh), without springs and streams of water which doesn’t produce any verdure and cannot sustain life. But only in this desolate state can it blossom forth to new life by being restored to its original plush condition as God’s re-creation by His regenerating grace. Analogically, the spiritual plight of the ancient Hebrews points to mankind’s need for baptism and reconciliation to God by means of sanctification or justification.
Hence, when God fashioned Mary’s soul and sanctified it at the first instant of her conception in the haven of her mother’s womb, He put her at enmity with the serpent. All it had wrought at the creation of the world did not affect Mary. God preserved her from being subjected to the spiritual desolation of humanity because of original sin. Mary was God’s re-creation of mankind before the fall. She was untouched by the spiritual ruin Adam had brought upon himself and all his descendants by nature. The majesty of Eve that once was had been restored in Mary. Our Blessed Lady did not set foot upon a pathless desert of alienation from God when she was born. She did not enter this world as a “wandering daughter”. Her soul was fertile and plush in its sanctified state, as she blossomed like a rose by the power of God’s grace, which restored her to the original state of justice and holiness that Adam had forfeited for all his offspring because of his idolatry and infidelity to God.
God set Mary apart from all the descendants of Adam and Eve who would be born in exile and slavery to sin, as to be holy and consecrated to Him in preparation for the Divine Maternity, just as He had freed the Israelites from slavery and separated them from the surrounding pagan nations to be His very own people, holy and consecrated to Him, from whom would come the Divine Messiah. “Thus, shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; Ye have seen what I did unto to the Egyptians, and how I bear you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself” (Ex 19:3-4). God bore Mary on the wings of His grace when He kept her from being taken captive with the rest of humanity and morally subjected to having to dwell enslaved in the dominion of God’s ancient adversary. God looked with favor on the lowliness of His handmaid when he removed her from the rest of sinful humanity by bearing her away on His wings of grace to be His very own virgin bride and the mother of the Son- “clothed in the robes of salvation” and “wrapped in a mantle of justice” (Isa 61: 10). The floodwater could not reach and engulf our Blessed Lady Zion as it had sinful humanity at the time of Noah (Gen 6:17-18) and Pharaoh’s army of chariots.
In the spirit of the faithful remnant of the Israelites or Daughter Zion, Mary received the Divine commands and kept them in the depths of her heart and soul. She personified the renewal of Israel after having been liberated from bondage and exile by being spared enslavement to sin and the prospect of mortal corruption that plagues fallen humanity. There was no place for the vain idols of this world in her soul. How she conducted herself throughout her entire life was impeccable by the plenitudes of grace God bestowed on her. Mary observed the word of God and kept it (Lk 11:28). Not once did she profane God’s holy name by thought, word, or deed. Our Blessed Lady embodied in her person the ideal standard of a redeemed and resurrected people of God but in a singular and most perfect way.
When God sanctified Mary’s soul and preserved her free from the stain of original sin and all its ill moral effects, He intended, by His almighty power, to keep her from ever stumbling and falling from His grace (Jude 1:24). God clothed His handmaid in the radiance of the light of His justice. She was enrobed with the sun of His justice. What paled in comparison within the soul of humanity lay under her feet like a waning moon. Our Blessed Lady had crushed the head of the Serpent. The Blessed Virgin Mary blossomed like a crocus among thorns and thistles in the desolate wasteland of fallen man.
God “tilled the land that was desolate” and had it “become like the garden of Eden” by restoring in Mary what Adam and Eve had reduced to a wasteland. God replanted in her what was uprooted from humanity by their transgression (Cf. B’midbar 1:1; Nedarim, 55a). God put His spirit within our Blessed Lady and a heart of flesh that would never turn to stone. And by the efficacious influence of His grace, God caused Mary, without violating her free will, to observe all His commandments and to walk in His statutes free from all abomination that infests sinful humanity (Ezek 36: 16:37). Mary was indeed the creation of God’s sublime handiwork, His greatest masterpiece of grace in all creation, who in awe all generations shall pronounce blessed. The Lord had done "great things" to her, for holy is His name (Lk 1:48-49).