In Greek mythology, Achilles is a great warrior who dies from a poisonous arrow that lodges in his heel. Prior to his birth, a prophecy had foreseen his untimely and early death. So when he was born, his mother dipped him in the River Styx that was thought to give magical protection. Holding him by the back of the foot, she let the waters wash over his body. Achilles’ heel was the one place that remained dry and unprotected.
This mythical account of a mighty warrior’s vulnerable heel may sound familiar to readers of the Bible. In the first pages of Genesis, we find a foreshadowing of a son of Eve who would heroically crush the head of a great deceiving Serpent while taking a mortal strike to the heel (Genesis 3:15).
For thousands of years, this obscure prophecy remained a mystery. Yet the lies and deception that gave rise to the prediction are woven into the bigger story of the Bible.
Just a few chapters later, Genesis introduces us to another deceiver who also went after the heel of his victim. This time, however, the aggressor and victim showed up in the innocence of newborn twins. As they came into the world, the second of the two infants grabbed the heel of his firstborn brother. The younger brother was therefore given the name Jacob, which means “heel-grabber” or “supplanter.”
For whatever reason, the name was prophetic. Jacob became a brother and son who did not deserve to be trusted. While still a young man, he defrauded his older brother out of his firstborn inheritance and family blessing. Then, to make matters worse, Jacob repeatedly lied to his father who was too old and blind to see what was happening (Genesis 27:1-29). Jacob’s deceit was so bold that he had to leave home to avoid being killed by the older twin he had defrauded.
Yet this is where the story becomes even more difficult to imagine. After all of Jacob’s lies, God appeared to him in a dream and predicted that, like his grandfather Abraham, Jacob had been chosen to be part of a legacy that would bring blessing to all the families of the world (Genesis 28:13-14). In the process, God promised to be His ever-present provider and protector (Genesis 28:15).
The prophecy seems to defy moral logic. Jacob didn’t deserve such honor. He was a born liar. How could God bless someone who seemed to have so much in common with the original snakelike deceiver of Eve? How could such a man become the father of the 12 tribes of Israel?
Yet, in the unfolding drama of the Bible, Jacob turned out to be a picture of “everyman.” The prophet Jeremiah describes all of our hearts as being more deceitful than any of us can imagine (Jeremiah 17:9).
Now fast forward to the event that throws light on the complex intrigue and mystery of an ancient prophecy. As the sun set over Jerusalem, a rabbi by the name of Jesus shared a Passover meal with fellow sons of Jacob. As he broke bread with His friends, God’s innocent Passover Lamb suggested that one of them was going to lift a heel against Him (John 13:18).
In Jesus’ day, the idea of lifting a heel against another person had become a Middle Eastern way of expressing disrespect and contempt. Whether it was an idiomatic expression that can be traced back to the prophecy of the garden might be difficult to prove. But what can be said is that nowhere does “lifting one’s heel” in contempt come to greater significance than in the way the ancient prophecy of Genesis 3:15 was about to be fulfilled. Nor could anyone have imagined that the One who would use His heel to crush the head of the Serpent would first liken Himself to a snake.
Yet, sometime before the Last Supper, Jesus had done just that. Just before saying what God was going to do to show His love for the world (John 3:16), Jesus had predicted, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness [Numbers 21:9], so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:14-15 NIV).
Now the mysterious words leading up to John 3:16 were happening. Jesus was about to be treated like a snake. In an ultimate act of contempt, Satan entered Judas to lift a heel against the best of men (Luke 22:3).
Jesus let it happen. The Serpent struck His heel through the nails of crucifixion. The blow was fatal. Jesus died.
Yet, three days later, Christ broke the power of death. Rising from the dead, He crushed the head, and the case, of the accuser of our souls.
What wisdom and irony that God would use Satan’s attempt to lift the heel against Jesus as a means of putting the Serpent himself under the crushing foot of God.
Father in heaven, we never could have imagined such grace and mercy. Finding ourselves in Jacob brings us to our senses. Seeing our great Savior in the heel that was so wounded, for us, brings us to our knees.