In chapter 1 of Genesis we are introduced to God the Creator. In chapter 2, we are introduced to the God who rested and then the details of how God created man in His image. In chapter 3, we veer from the concepts of rest to the undoing of creation by sin on the day when rest was broken.
Recall that in a previous post we looked at how God rested Adam in the garden to serve Him as priest and to guard the garden. As chapter 3 begins, we have an encroachment upon the garden, a usurper to the authority and priesthood of Adam, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.”
Two things should immediatly come to mind with this verse, the first is that God is the Creator of this serpent and second that Adam was given dominion over all the beasts of the field, despite this particular level of craftiness in the serpent. It is with this simple introduction of the serpent that the fall of mankind begins.
Next we find this serpent’s deception as he presents doubt to the truthfulness of the words of God, twisting them in his deception to Eve. Meanwhile, we are not yet informed of Adam’s presence, his role as king-priest upon the arrival of this new threat, nor his efforts to guard his wife or the garden.
As the deception progresses from words to deeds, Eve falls for the temptation of the serpent and partakes of the fruit, thus disobeying God. Adam, as we are now informed, is beside her, “and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”
The familiar passage unfolds as Adam and Eve are confronted by God who questions them and then levies upon them a curse before expelling them from the garden. The first words of the curse are directed towards the serpent who is informed that there will be enmity between he and the woman and more significantly between he and the offspring of the woman. This statement culminates in the protoevangelion or first gospel in Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Ultimately we know that this was a promise of the coming Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ who would crush the head of the serpent at the cross.
The next words of the curse are addressed to Eve, who is informed that she will bear children, though in pain, and will have a desire to rule over her husband, thus creating a tension between her desire for authority and the God-given authority given to Adam. Finally, we arrive at the words of the curse directed toward Adam in Genesis 3:17-19, which is critical to the concept of rest that was developed in the earlier posts cited above.
In order to feel the proper weight of this curse and to realize its full implications, it is important to revisit the context out of which this curse arises. First, Genesis 2:5-9
5 When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, 6 and a mist[c] was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— 7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. 8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Then Genesis 2:15-17
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Glancing back over these verses, we find that the field, or literally “open country”, was desolate because God had not caused it to rain, nor was there a man to work the ground. Then we see the creation of man, the planting of a garden, and God “resting” man in that Garden, as we’ve already seen. In that Garden, God made every tree spring up for food, including the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (and the tree of life), which we find mentioned again in the second citation, carrying with it a prohibition against eating from it and the consequences of death for disobeying that command.
It’s out of this context that the curse directed towards Adam is brought forth.
17 And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
First we see the reason why the punishment is coming. Like a father with his children, God is communicating the offense to ensure that his child understands the reason for the punishment, lest there be any notion or cry of injustice. Next comes the punishment, “cursed is the ground”. The serpent’s curse is physical, emotional (strife with the woman and her seed) and ultimately results in (eschatological) destruction, with the coming promised skull-crushing seed. Eve’s curse is physical and we might say emotional as well, while Adam’s is purely physical, but also impacts creation.
God expounds upon this with the following:
- In pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life
- Thorns and thistles it (the ground) shall bring forth
- You shall eat of the plants of the field
- By the sweat of your face, you shall eat bread
- Til you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken.
If, as so many have supposed, there is in Adam, pre-fall, the doctrine of vocation, that is that Adam was created to work as some sort of Edenic gardener, then we must conclude that this curse isn’t all that provocative. Perhaps we could just conclude that he gardened pre-fall without breaking a sweat or that maybe the land cooperated more prior to the fall, or maybe the real curse is thorns and thistles, but even these would seem to neuter the effects of the fall and subsequently the curse that God has levied.
However, if, as we concluded in the post Adam’s rest, that Adam was made for worship and that this included serving God in His garden-temple as a type of king-priest and also that Adam had a symbiotic relationship with the ground, that brought forth food effortlessly at the command of God, then we may begin to feel the weight of this curse. Now, as it is levied against Adam, all of those pre-fall benefits are lost. Adam is stripped of his royal-liturgical role and His intimate relationship with God is forever changed and he is expelled from his place of rest in God’s garden. His original functions, tend and keep, when held together implied priestly service. Now, they are separated with guardianship of the garden given to a cherubim (Genesis 3:24) and tending or tilling of the land, outside the garden, now a necessity of Adam’s in order to live and provide for his family.
22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. Genesis 3:22-24
Here, on the outside, Adam will now be forced to labor for his bread. The land, out of which he was created – symbolizing their symbiotic relationship-was now cursed causing him not only physical work, but bringing obstacles, thorns and thistles, against his efforts to bring forth fruit from the land. This battle with the land would continue until Adam returned to the land, coming full circle with ground out of which he was created.
Sin resulted in a disruption of the rest that God had entered Adam into. It resulted in the disruption of the relationship between Creator and His prize creation, that was in His image, man. This broken rest also resulted in a disruption of the harmony between man and creation, which he once held dominion over. It is this curse that all mankind have inherited, in Adam (though we might well mention the painful childbirthing that was passed to all womankind as well). It is because of this curse that all creation even to this day groans, including humans (Romans 8:22-24). This groaning comes from a longing to restore these once broken relationships, to make right was sin has made wrong. All which will be reconciled and restored in Christ, who has even now begun His new creation, beginning with man and culminating with a New Heavens and Earth.