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The Heel Snatcher

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.

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8 Responses to “The Heel Snatcher”

  1. bubbles says:

    Thank you, Father, for your love, MERCY, and grace.

    We also see that God made a promise with Abraham that through him all families of the earth would be blessed, the Savior would come through his seed. And God kept that unilateral promise. His promise was not based on what man did, but on what He said He would do.

    I am thankful that God’s love is not based on what we do or do not do. It’s wonderful to know that God forgives and loves when we fail Him and mess up. Mercy is truly humbling.

  2. SFDBWV says:

    Interesting that while the past two topics are still present in my thinking I read in this one such action words as *strike* and *crush*. Hardly the submissive and passive actions some consider Christians should be using.

    Yet Paul gives us a view of the warrior in armor as we contend with the evils of this world and though Jesus allowed his human body to taste the sting of death on the cross, his action is reported as crushing the head of the serpent.

    Always a parallel existence of what seems in contention; one in the physical realm and one in the spiritual.

    Jesus was whipped beaten and killed, yet we are told He still lives and as a result defeated the serpent/Satan. However evil still reigns in the world and evil people still abuse, control and inflict misery upon un-numbered masses of peoples.

    It is because people see the world the way it is that they have trouble believing the Bible and especially the story of Jesus.

    If we just believe we are *saved*. Saved from what? Believers have been murdered, drowned, crushed, killed in natural disasters and man made alike with no distinction between believer and non; so of what value is it to accept the story of the serpent in the garden and the man on the cross?


    Life in this world is unfair, cruel and merciless; by *believing* God and *trusting* Him our *faith* in Him has some supernatural power over the effects of all the woes of this world, and if the woes of this world are a result of the influence Satan has of it, then it is by this *faith* and *belief* that we also *crush* the head of the serpent and his influence no longer has any effect on us.

    We are free and can have *hope* in any situation.

    Even in death we can *hope* to live again in a paradise made just for us.

    The struggle then becomes between what we *see* in this existence and what we can’t yet *see* in the future. This is where *faith* comes in, faith being the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things yet seen.

    This *faith* rests on the abilities of Jesus of Nazareth to deliver and our faith in Him, in spite of everything contrary to what we see and may be experiencing.


  3. remarutho says:

    Good Morning Mart & Friends –

    We do see our rebellious, conniving and greedy selves in Jacob ben Isaac! Then, out on the plain by the river God comes to Jacob. See how he meets him (us) on his own terms. He wrestles with the (hu)man just as the man has struggled, scratched and clawed with those around him. Finally, sprained and limping, Jacob receives a blessing from God’s messenger whose name is too wonderful to say.

    After he is shaken and afraid of what Esau will do to him – when he believes in the God of his Fathers more than he believes in himself, the Lord pours out huge blessings upon him – the full heritage of Abraham, the friend of God. What a story of transformation – immense love and favor from God come to this heel grabber. No one is a lost cause – a total waste – in the hands of the living God!

    We on this side of the cross of Christ have so much more reason to rejoice in the Seed of Abraham – the very One who swallows up death in life. Our hope is in Him. What a wonder that he took up this life – and willingly and joyfully laid it down for our sake! This gift is the most precious in the universe. So, we may see the wicked intentions of the serpent in the Garden of Eden supplanted – obliterated and sent to the lake of fire. Jesus removes the curse and replaces it with the blessing of life with him. I rejoice in this today. Thanks Mart.


  4. poohpity says:

    I am still to this day amazed by that great act of mercy and grace!!!

  5. BruceC says:

    Amazing how God can work His will through fallen humanity all throughout history. He even takes Satan’s evil schemes and plots and turns them into His glory and the enemy’s shame and defeat. His Holy Name be praised!

    Soli Deo Gloria!

  6. belleu says:

    It is an amazing grace how God forgives what we have done and meets us as he met Jacob, who must have felt guilty, alone and lost. The heel references are interesting. I’m so thankful Jesus went through that betrayal and suffering for us.

  7. bubbles says:

    Thank you for this post. This and the ODB reading and devotional have stayed with me all day. 1. We should be thankful, and 2.The mercy that is constantly showered upon us is a blessing. This makes me feel loved by God today.

  8. Jwigg says:

    Mart, Your collection of the “heel” references from the Bible reminds me of a favourite pursuit of the ancient Jewish rabbis: Collecting together all instances in Scripture of a particular word or theme and using them to interpret one another e.g. all instances of the occurrence of ten items in Scripture.

    The exercise is, in the case of the heel of the Seed of the Woman, very instructive.

    The great surprise is that Jacob, the heel-snatcher, has to have his thigh put out of joint before the Angel of the Lord blesses him and renames him at Peniel. With no where and no means to carry on running from our past and from ourselves, we can be transformed from beggars on sin’s rubbish dump to sons and daughters of the Royal Household of Heaven.

    The Styx of Classical mythology was a river leading into the heart of Hades, the world of the spirits of the dead. Achilles’ baptism in its waters wasn’t enough to make him immortal. Our Lord Jesus the Author of life became dead but rose again and He lives forever. Jesus, unlike Achilles, not only conquered Hades and Death – He took the keys with Him when He did so!

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