Sermon: Genesis 3:17-19: Consequences for Adam
The Value of Hard Work
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Given 22-Feb-14; 79 minutes
Ever since I was a young boy, I have been kind of an armchair conservationist. Back in the early 70s when I was entering elementary school in Buena Park, California, what is now called environmentalism was still in its early stages. If you know anything about that movement, Rachel Carson’s now highly suspect book, Silent Spring—which is often credited with starting the environmentalist movement by getting DDT banned back in the mid-60s—was published in 1962. I started going to kindergarten in 1970, so that is the period of time—the early 70s—that we are talking about here.
We studied Ecology in school. They started impressing this upon us even when we were in the first grade or so. California has always been on the cutting edge of these sorts of things, as you know. But I enjoyed the units (obviously, they were not too deep; we were only little kids just out of crayons) that they gave us on marine life. Being there in Orange County, we were pretty close to the ocean and they could take us out for a field trip to tidal pool or what not.
We also studied the great trees—the redwoods and the sequoias—during that time. And we were not too far from the desert either, so there was desert flora and fauna to study. I remember I had a book on dolphins that has to do with marine life. But there were various things that really made me enjoy the wildlife and nature. I even had a subscription to Ranger Rick magazine for a year or two. I really liked that. I think it is still going pretty strong.
Now note that I said that I appreciate conservation. I did not say that I appreciate environmentalism (as a matter of fact, I abhor environmentalism). The two are really on opposite ends of the spectrum of human care for the earth. As many of you probably know, I tend to be pretty conservative in most areas of life and this one is no exception.
Conservationists wish to preserve wildlife and their habitats for human use and enjoyment so that there are lands to go hunting on, lands to go camping on, and that there are lands you can go out and see how nature is without a whole lot of human interference. But it is for men to use. People like Ward Burton, a former NASCAR racer, are really into conservation to help preserve wildlife lands out there for people to go on and hunt and all that sort of thing. And that is kind of the way I look at it too.
On the other side, environmentalists want to preserve those things for their own sakes. You preserve the forest for the trees. You preserve the forest for the animals. You dam the river or do not dam the river for a snail darter, or you do not cut down the trees because there is an owl there that supposedly cannot live anywhere else. That is how they look at things. Often, the way they think is that it is all at the expense of people. People are the ones that have to take the backseat to Mother Earth or ‘Gaia’ (this organism of the whole earth). So earth is alive, we must preserve her, and people then have to just shut up and take it when these lands are taken away. Or, like California now, they do not have any water.
It is because of environmental policies that they put in that treat the snail darter and other animals and their habitats as more important than human habitation and human life. So they affect society, our economic, and our social conditions. It has gotten to the point—and it has been for many years—that environmentalism has turned into a religion aimed pretty much solely to affect radical political change.
I am really not talking about environmentalism versus conservationism today, but a part of this is an introduction to what I am going to speak about, as I normally do, because it has to do with the care of the earth.
But there are good biblical reasons to support sound ecology.
God gave dominion over the earth. In my last sermon, we looked at that in Genesis 1:26 and 28 where God created man (male and female) and He gave them dominion over the fish of the sea, the fowl of the air and all that creeps on the earth, and so man was given the responsibility to care for the earth. So we are to tend and keep.
Another reason why we should support sound ecology is that even though mankind does indeed have dominion over the earth, they have the capacity to do great harm to the earth—to rape the natural resources, to cause a great deal of damage.
You are probably aware of this, but I would like to remind you that because man has this potential and because man is prophesied to cause a great deal of damage, Christ will come back with great power in order to destroy those who destroy the earth. He says that in Revelation 11:18. He is going to use some of His great power to judge men who have not kept their environment in the way that God had given it to them.
We know that harm can be done to the environment by war through nuclear weapons and chemical and biological agents. Men do it by industry through pollution and dissolute plundering of resources. Men damage the earth by agriculture through over-farming and over-grazing, through misuse and overuse of chemicals, and tinkering with genetics, now. There are lots of ways that we can harm the environment. Even our trash could cause severe problems in the world if we did not deal with it well. We can imagine that we could be swallowed by our own trash.
So we can see that this is something that men have always had to deal with—how to treat nature—because, throughout history, humanity has been in a life-and-death struggle with nature as we try to pull food from the ground. And oftentimes, it seems, nature wins—the earth wins, the wind wins, the rain wins; things happen—fire blows over the plains and takes all the crops, or chases all the animals away.
It is no easy task to take or nurture a seed or a bud on a tree throughout a growing season all the way to maturity. There are so many things that could get in the way so that seed or that bud never ends up as a vegetable or a fruit that one can eat. So many factors can stun it or kill it outright. Not enough sun? It dies. Too much sun? It dies. Not enough water? It dies. Too much water? It dies. Not enough nutrients in the soil? It dies. The wrong nutrients in the soil? It dies. Or, too much of one thing or another: Too many insects? It dies. But get rid of all the insects? It dies. Too much wind, too much cold? It dies. Up blows a hailstorm, it dies. Too many squirrels in your apple trees? No fruit.
That happened to me a few years ago. The apple tree in my backyard was just beautiful and full of fruit, but those squirrels—my dog could not kill enough of them. They would come from all over the neighborhood, climbing along the fences, going across the roofs; up one tree and over, crossing down another; and look this way and that way for Sidney, whether she was around; and then they dart to the street and take one bite out of the apple and drop it to the ground. So I know what I am talking about. It was terrible. Think of all the apple pies that I did not eat!
Many ascribe the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s to too little rain and too much sun and wind, and those certainly played a major part in the Dust Bowl. But a great deal of the blame could be laid at the feet of greedy human beings. It was not just nature, it was people too—the sin of people—who caused that great chaotic decade when nothing would grow. Even though those farmers were out there, in their own minds, just trying to make a living, actually, during the good years, they were making a killing out there on the High Plains. They actually caused a lot of that problem. There is a good book called, The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan. The cover of it reads “The Untold Story of Those Who survived The Great American Dust Bowl.” But it could just as well read “The Untold Story of Those Who Caused the Great American Dust Bowl.”
It is not just that the land was not suitable for farming; it actually is not that suitable for farming—it is marginal land at best, even when irrigated, because it only averages, out there on the High Plains, about 15 or 16 inches a year, and it is so hot and windy out there that it actually seems like a lot less than that. That much falls from the sky, but it evaporates so quickly that it is not usable. And so maybe it is around 10 or 11 inches a year that actually can go into the ground.
The problem though—beyond the fact that it was not really good land—was that millions of acres of grassland that had been there for, who knows how long, centuries, if not millennia, had been turned over all at once within just a couple of years and then cultivated heavily and recklessly for about two decades during pretty good times (good times in terms of rainfall). Of course, that started out pretty much with a plow and horses tearing the land apart. But in that time (we are talking about the early part of the 20th century), along came the automobile and they quickly made tractors, and they were able to slice it up.
Millions and millions of acres of land went under the plow (as the cowboy said, “They just turned the ground over”) and the ‘wrong’ side was up. They could not longer put cows on the land (of course, they killed all the buffalo that had been before) and so they just used this land to grow wheat. They grew wheat while the rains were coming down, while they could pull water out of the aquifer underneath.
But pretty soon things changed. The law of averages began to work in the other direction and the dry times came. So when that happened and the grass was all gone, there was nothing left to hold the soil in place. Remember, I said it is hot out there and it is windy. And the winds came up. A lot of times the winds averaged about 30 miles an hour, which is enough to pick soil up off the ground, and that is what it did. It picked up all that soil and sent it off into the atmosphere and it just blew all over the plains. And because of the jet stream and the natural course in the northern hemisphere, it moved it east and even moved it 200 miles east of the Atlantic coast and coated ships out in the Atlantic Ocean. Now at least some of that nice prairie soil sits at the bottom of the ocean. I am sure there is some of it here too because it just blew and blew. And it was not just one year; it was pretty much the entire decade of the 30s.
The High Plains is the area where Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska come together. It is a long narrow corridor right there somewhere between the plains proper and the Rocky Mountains. We call them the High Plains. So it is because it is high in elevation, it gets cold. Because there are no trees and nothing to stop it, the wind blows all the time. It was just a crisis and a tragedy in the making when they started plowing all of that land under at once.
So the prairie grass that had been there that they plowed had served a good ecological purpose. It had held the soil down and it was of a variety that could take the wind and the heat and the cold of winter. The buffalo loved it. They thrived on that grass. But once it was gone, the elements had their way.
One of the farmers who had lived high on the hog just a decade before—one of the examples in Rachel Carson’s book—was a lady who owned a large spread. She made $75,000 a year at a time when a good lunch would cost you a quarter. She made money hand over fist and even bragged that only Babe Ruth made more money than she did.
But, anyway, those farmers lost it all. Almost all of them lost everything. Over a decade, they could not plant anything; they could not make any money. The only way they could make money was to do the public work projects that the Roosevelt administration began to put through in about 1932 or 1933.
Thousands of animals died. A lot of them which died were choked to death. And they would open them up and they would find big balls of earth inside them. Mud was just throughout their stomachs and intestines because that is what they were eating.
People died of lung ailments—dust had got in their lungs too. There were others that got caught outside in a dust storm—and because it was so dark, they could not see where they were going and they got lost and disappeared. They even warned people not to go out during a dust storm, not to be alone. They said even if you had something to cover your mouth and nose, it would be worthless after just a couple of hours—you could not get any air through it.
Most people left for greener pastures (pun intended). That is why the Okies left for California and other places. Some went to Oregon, some went to Washington. Pretty much they went anywhere where the ground was not up in the air, just to get away from that place. A lot of people tried to stay and there are still people in the area obviously, but it was a really rough time in our history.
Seventy-five years later, the Great American High Plains have not fully recovered. Some of it is still sterile and some of the land is still drifting. In an attempt to return it to its natural state, the Forest Service, since the late 30s, have overseen three national grasslands where they have reintroduced the native grasslands and they are even putting buffalo on it now because there is a kind of symbiotic relationship between them.
Studies have shown that there have been no more dust bowls since the 30s for a very good reason: farmers were re-educated to think of the land as a whole. Not just to think of their 40 acres or 80 acres or 160 acres or whatever they had, but to think of that whole High Plains area as one great conservation district, realizing that they could not turn all of it over and plant wheat in all of it because the same thing would happen again. So, like the Federal government has done, they have turned a lot of it back into grassland. Some of it is still being used for agriculture, but a lot less because it cannot support it. And they have to rotate it around to make sure they get anything really good out of it. So now they leave a great deal of the land unplowed. They had to learn the worst hard lesson in order to gain that little bit of wisdom.
The Dust Bowl is just one of the consequences of sin that men have faced through the years and it illustrates God’s judgment oracle on Adam in Genesis 3:17-19. Those verses deal primarily with the great life-and-death struggle men would experience because of the curse in contending with uncooperative nature. In order to scratch a living from the earth, man would have to work hard and everything it seems would be against him.
But, despite this curse—despite the fact that God made a judgment like this—there is underneath a hidden hope, a hidden wisdom that is there. That is the thing that we are going to get to.
Let us turn to the book of Genesis. Like I did last time with the curse on Eve, I want to give some background facts, background truths—foundational things—so we can understand the curse in its context. So these verses in Genesis 2 are going to establish these facts for us so that we get an understanding of why God made the judgment that He made. First of all, we are going to start in verse 7 and then we will go down to verse 18—because this all goes together—and we will also read verses 21 and 22.
Genesis 2:7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground [that is an important phrase], and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
So we see Adam being formed and if we go down to verse 18, we see that he was formed first.
Genesis 2:18 And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”
Genesis 2:21-22 And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.
So that is how it happened. We see God made Adam (let us say, He made him early in the day—early on the sixth day— which is probably the case) and He gave him this instruction and then He told him “Look around and see if there’s something around here that’s suitable for you” and obviously there was not. So He made Eve for him because there was no other suitable companion among the animals, obviously—God wanted for Adam one that was like him.
So He made Eve and Eve was from Adam. God did not make Eve separately from the dust of the ground. Eve was made from the rib of Adam. We have here a story—some imagery—that gives us a principle that comes out of this, which the apostles, particularly Paul, used a great deal in the epistles.
Adam was created first by God and then the woman was made from one of his ribs. This may seem to be rather simple, but the biblical principle is that because God made Adam first, He gave him the headship of the family or of the husband-wife relationship. Because he was first, he was the one that was supposed to be most responsible. He was the one that God had instructed originally before Eve was even made. So we see that to Adam was given a great duty. It was a role that he had to fill.
Now, in today’s world, this sounds awfully sexist and I would probably be strung up on the nearest tree if I said this out in public because they do not believe the Bible. But this is what God says. It is not a sexist thing at all. It is a divine pronouncement, a divine order, a divine way of living—a divine way of being, you might say—because it is going to cause the best to be produced. God does not do things willy-nilly. He could have probably ‘chosen better’ had He chosen Eve to lead, and not Adam, because she seemed to be natural at it (of course, she went the wrong way, but at least she was out there trying to say “Okay, this is what we should do”).
But let us just go to the New Testament where Paul makes use of this in I Timothy 2. Here he is talking about leadership in the church and the way things go in the church. Verse 12 has been excoriated up and down by feminists, but we will read it anyway because it is still in the Bible.
I Timothy 2:12 And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.
I think it would have been okay if he had stopped with “over a man,” but it is the “to be in silence” that really gets them.
I Timothy 2:13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve.
That is the principle he pulled out of there. Because Adam was formed first, he was given a measure of authority. He was told that he should lead. He should be the one to make the final decisions, should there ever be any argument about it. So even though it applies, particularly in this case, to the church, it applies in the family as well.
The principle is that God does things in order, and His first human creation—the man—was given the role of leadership. It was not given to boost Adam’s ego. That was not the thing. He was not making man better; He was just giving him a job. It was not something that he was supposed to wear like a reward or a badge on his lapel like he was something, but he was given a job of great seriousness. It is a responsibility to lead. It is a position to create order and social stability. And when it is applied properly, it works. We know this. We could probably go and get statistics.
When American families were done like this (more than they are today), America was strong and it was great. Sure, there were always problems, but when this is done more than when it is not done, it really does makes things a lot better in society. Society is a lot more stable. We do not have crime. We do not have illegitimate births. We do not have a lot of these things that we see now because this has been pretty much jettisoned out the airlock.
Let us go to I Corinthians 11 and see where Paul uses it again. The subject here is head coverings—whether a woman should have her head covered when she prays. We are not going to go into that because it is not really pertinent to what we are talking about.
I Corinthians 11:2-3 Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
What he is doing here is establishing that there is a hierarchy of order and authority, not just in the church, not just in the family, but in the entire universe. And he says even our Master, Christ, has a Head. So do not think that you are being overly burdened by having a head over you—someone who is supposed to be your leader, someone who is supposed to make decisions for the group. This goes all the way to the top.
If a woman’s head is supposed to be her husband, he has a Head too that he is supposed to be following and that is Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ does nothing outside of the will of the Father who is His head. It goes all the way up. We are all under authority. So we should not get all out of whack about this.
I Corinthians 11:7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.
This goes back to the fact that God created Adam out of the dust of the ground, but Eve was made out of the rib of Adam. So Adam was to God’s glory because He made him out of the dust of the ground. The woman is man’s glory because she was made out of him. God takes a great deal of pleasure in man, and men can take a great deal of pleasure in women.
We can say that a man’s wife is his crowning glory. She makes him look good. That is true in most cases, but that is the way it looks. His greatest joy is to see his wife do things well and that she does all the things to make him look good. This is what Paul is getting at.
The translation is a little strange because it makes it sound weird. It just sounds funny. But he is actually being quite complimentary here in saying it. He says if we approach this right, we will see that a woman’s beauty, her producing of the children, or the things that she does, all reflects well on her husband. It obviously reflects well on her too, but men get a great deal of proper pride out of that. In the same way, the men are to do that for God.
Now let us go into his reasoning on this.
I Corinthians 11:8 For man is not from woman, but woman from man.
This is referring back to the fact that God made Adam of the dust of the ground, but she came from his rib.
I Corinthians 11:9 Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.
This goes back to Genesis 2:18 where it says that God made Eve because there was nothing else suitable for man. She was made as a companion for him. Let us drop down to verse 11.
Then he says, “Nevertheless.” I think he could probably understand that at this point people have been getting a little bit riled because of the language that he was using. So he says:
I Corinthians 11:11-12 Nevertheless [even though it seems like men have an advantage being the leader here, in this situation], neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.
Verse 11 tells us that men and women (husbands and wives) are in this together. That is what he is saying. Woman is not independent of the man; the man is not independent of the woman. Remember what it says in Genesis 2:24: They are to become one flesh. So he is saying here that it is like they are both the same being, in a way, they are united as one, and they cannot be outside of this union as husband and wife—they are always in that union. They cannot go independent of one another or it is not going to work, and especially in the Lord.
When you see “in the Lord” in situations like this, it is shorthand for “in conversion,” meaning in this case, with both of these people in the marriage converted, it is supposed to work in a wonderful, united way. So what we can say here is that in this situation both man and woman are working towards the same goals. To illustrate this, he uses the fact that it takes both a man and a woman to create a child (I Corinthians 11:12: “man also comes through woman”). So you cannot take one of those out of the equation and hope to produce what God wants. They have got to both be there.
I should mention here that he keeps adding just little phrases to let us know that God is over all of this and He is working within it—He is working within the relationship, He is working within the activities that take place in the relationship, and He is all working toward His purposes in the relationship and in those activities. So you could say that over all the man-woman relationship and the activities that take place within it are God and His purposes. And that is why this has to be followed ‘in the Lord.’ It is so important.
It will work outside the church in a physical way—it will do good—but its primary purpose is for those who are converted because only through converted people is it going to actually work toward the purposes of God.
So we can say that this is a God-ordained ideal, and the most ideal situation for it to occur in is in the church between two converted people. And even then there are problems because we have human nature. But on this God-ordained ideal is His stamp of approval. This is the way God wants it to be. It is the way that works the best. And if we choose to do otherwise—if we choose to follow the path of our first parents, Adam and Eve—we are going to have problems. We will have to face the consequences like Adam and Eve did, and we know that they are not pretty consequences. Look out in the world. It is a vivid example of not doing it God’s way. We have social chaos.
Let us go to Genesis 2 again because we need to get the second foundational fact before we go on. I have alluded to this a couple of times. Adam has been created out of the dust of the ground and we learn, as we go through verses 8 through 14, about the garden and its purposes.
Genesis 2:15-17 Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 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.”
So what we have here is that even before Eve was created (that does not occur until verses 21 and 22), we have Adam being put into the Garden, shown the Garden, told that he must dress and keep the Garden, and then we get the specific instructions in verses 16 and 17. Notice that He did tell him the penalty—the consequences—for sin. He told him there he shall surely die.
Of course, we know that Adam did not eat the fruit and then he was dead. That is not the way it happened. The idea that comes out of that is that he is as good as dead. The sentence will fall automatically at that point. He disobeys and the sentence falls—he is guilty of sin. And then we know the wages of sin is death. So it is going to happen. So we could say that the sentence is automatic: As soon as sin occurs, the penalty for disobedience—death—is going to fall.
Someone asked me today how I was doing and I said “Alive and dying.” That is kind of what is going on here. I am a sinful man, I am alive, but I am dying. Sin has occurred, I have asked for forgiveness, but the consequence of a human life is I am going to die eventually. It is appointed for man once to die, and after this, the judgment (Hebrews 9:27). That is just the way it is.
So Adam knew very clearly what the consequences of sin are. That is the most important takeaway that we can get from this. Adam knew the rules. He knew the boundaries. He knew the consequences of breaking the rules. He was an intelligent man—more intelligent than we are. He had a mind that was young and fresh. He could grasp this type of things. He understood that God was serious. And so, when he sinned, he was without excuse as anybody has ever been without excuse. God had told him personally what to do, what not to do, and what the consequences were. He knew.
I decided to go through Genesis 3:6 again because I want you to see another three perspectives. What we have in this verse is Eve’s perspective on this sin. All these things that are said here are how she looked at things.
Genesis 3:6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food . . . .
She saw that the fruit was edible and it would probably be tasty. But God had said that is not a fruit for food; that is not for human consumption. By His command, He said: “You shall not eat of it.” But she looked at that fruit and she judged with her own little gray cells that it was good for food. God said, “These things are not meat for you.” It is the same thing. God said, “No.” He does not even have to have a reason. It could be the most nutritious thing out there, but if God says “Don’t eat it”, then we do not eat it.
Genesis 3:6 [But she looked at it and she saw] that it was pleasant to the eyes . . . .
She looked at it and it just looked so good. God had said that it was sin, but she looked at it and saw something beautiful. Even though God had decreed that it was not beautiful—that it was ugly actually; it was sin; in that was death—she considered it and judged it beautiful. This was her perspective on things.
Genesis 3:6 [And she also saw that it was] a tree desirable to make one wise . . . .
What we see here, in this description, is that she had taken the bait from Satan the Devil. This is where she was deceived—right here. The other thing she could have figured out on her own. She could look at this fruit and say, “Wow! That’s probably edible. It looks like all the other edible things in this place. I could probably eat it.” And she looked at it and she said, “Wow! It’s a beautiful fruit. It’s the most beautiful fruit in the garden. It looks so good. It looks so tasty.”
But here—that “the tree desirable to make one wise”—she could not have taken from just looking at it, by observing it, by touching it. This was something that would not come through the five senses. This is something that had to come from an idea implanted by Satan the Devil, which he had just said:
Genesis 3:5 For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.
That thought had gotten into her mind, and it was just like a little weevil or something that had burrowed in and began to work on her. And she said, “Wow, this fruit, if I eat it, will make me wise like God. It’ll make me powerful. It’ll make me more than I am now.” Did you notice all the pronouns in there—me, me, me? “It’ll elevate me above my status. God has put me second to this man. He has given him authority. But if I eat of this fruit, I can be wise like God. I can have all the knowledge that need, all the wisdom that I need to make decisions on my own.” It was a very selfish impulse in her that made her think that this fruit could make her wise, would set her apart, make her her own woman.
But, like I said, this was the one factor that had to have come from Satan because there is nothing in the fruit that, if you opened up, had the writing on it that said “This is going to make you wise.” It was just a piece of fruit. And because Satan had told her that it would make her wise, she judged that it would.
So she ate it (it says, “she took of its fruit and ate”) and she gave some to her husband for him to eat, and he ate. Just this verse sounds like she listened to the serpent; she went up to the tree, looked it all over, considered it, and decided for both of them; and doled out the fruit. That was Eve’s point of view.
Drop down to verse 12. Now let us look at Adam’s point of view—because God said, “What are you doing? Why are you hiding? What have you done?” And he says:
Genesis 3:12 Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”
He essentially tells the same story as Eve. Now we do not know if they colluded at all (probably not; it does not matter, one way or another), but he blames Eve: “She gave me the fruit—that woman You made me” (and so he blames God too). “It was that woman and You put her in my life; and if you hadn’t put her in my life, like You did, then things would’ve been different. But she gave it to me and I ate. So she did it. She gave me some of the fruit, I ate it. I’m the innocent victim here, God. She did it all—that woman!”
Now, out of his own mouth, he is condemning himself here because God did not create him to be the victim. God created him to be the leader. He was the one that was supposed to know God’s will because God had specifically told him what His will was, and then he was supposed to lead his family in doing right. But he did not; he failed completely. He did not even put up a fight: She gave it to him and he ate.
Let us find out what really happened, because verse 17 is God’s perspective. Remember, this is a judgment oracle—it is God making a judgment because of sin. But He is also making a prophecy. So this is what we are seeing here as we begin this particular section. This is God’s perspective because this is like He is sitting at His judgment place and He is giving His judgment. But, in verse 17, He not only gives His judgment but He gives the reasons for His judgment, which is very important here. Let us just read the first part—the part that is not in poetry.
Genesis 3:17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it . . . .’ [and then He goes into His judgment]
But notice here that God gives us the story about how it really happened. Notice, in verses 6 and 12, all that was said was that Eve took of the fruit, gave it to her husband, and he ate. Do you notice what God says here? He was listening. It says, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife.” They talked about it, he listened to her, and we get the impression that he did not put up much of a counter argument. He simply heeded the voice of his wife. Whatever argument he may have put up, if he even put up any, was pretty feeble because he gave in very quickly.
Whatever the case, the indication is that Eve simply repeated the lies of Satan (because he had deceived her and she was totally convinced that the snake was right, and so she regurgitated this to Adam).
But we find out that Adam was not deceived, which is very interesting. Even though Eve repeated the lies of Satan to Adam (or maybe Adam had heard them firsthand, and Eve just talked them up a bit), the indication is that he was not deceived. I almost get the indication that Adam simply gave in to her and said, “Okay, I’ll eat it.” It was a sin where he decided to go against what God had said. He chose her before he chose God. He wanted to please her rather than to please God. So whether he did it just to keep the peace between them, or he did it thinking “I can give in here and later she’ll have to do something for me,” sin was already working on them, their human nature was already going.
So he just gave in and decided to sin. He knowingly abdicated his role that God had given him to uphold God’s way of life, and that is what God nailed him to the wall on—“Because you heeded the voice of your wife, instead of leading.” It is not there, but that is what it means. “Because you listened to her deceived argument and didn’t put up God’s argument to counter it and to overcome it, you are guilty.”
Let us go to I Timothy 2 where this is said very plainly—at least the part about Adam just willingly sinning. Verse 13:
I Timothy 2:13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. [Now notice verse 14:] And Adam was not deceived . . . .
There is a little bit missing here, it is supposed to be understood. We could put it in here: “And Adam was not deceived, but fell into transgression; but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” They both fell into transgression, they both sinned, but it was Adam who sinned without deception. There was a willingness or willfulness in his sin that she did not have. She was tricked, he was not; they both sinned; and he was the one who was more culpable in it. And it comes out time and again. Let us go to Romans 5 just to pick up this one little bit.
Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.
Adam was the one held accountable. His sin was the one that broke things wide open because he did it willingly. He was not deceived. So the sin here is clearly laid at Adam’s feet. He should have known better. Note here that this is a preamble—it is set off from the rest of the curse—because it is laying out the reasons for God’s sentence to him.
And so, the two parts that he had failed in was that he had not fulfilled the God-given role he had been given to lead and to uphold God’s will, and secondly (which is the one that is easy to see), he had clearly disobeyed God’s direct command not to eat of the fruit of the tree. So God had ample reason—two points—to bring the hammer down on Adam.
We see very clearly in this one little image of Adam’s sin that he had failed completely: He had failed Eve, by not leading; and by failing Eve, he failed all of us—all the rest of his progeny—because he brought sin into the world. Secondly, and more importantly, he had failed God. That is what sin is: Sin is failure—failure to live up to a standard, failure to hit the mark, failure to do what God clearly told you to do.
Let us go into the curse now. Let us just go ahead and read the last part of verse 17.
Genesis 3:17 Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life.
So God curses the ground from which we all get our food. It says that he will have to toil. It is not just plow a little bit, plant a little bit, water a little bit. This is hard labor that He is talking about. It is the same kind of hard labor that He talked about in terms of Eve having hard labor in bearing children. Adam would have equally hard labor in bringing crops out of the soil. It is not the same—it is different work—but it is the same measure of labor. Both are cursed with this overwhelming toil that they have to do just to stay ahead.
So, clearly, with God cursing the earth, the earth will not yield easily. It will not collaborate with man, which we presume would have happened in Eden had there not been the sin: The earth would have cooperated with man (though there would have still been work, but it would not have been the hard labor—things would have come much more easily). Even though Adam would still have had to tend and keep, it would have been less strenuous, it would have been less stressful. He probably would have had more free time to pursue other things. The crops would have been more certain because he would not have had to worry about adverse conditions so much. And the work would have given him a great deal more pleasure.
But, with this curse, nature became competitive with man for dominance. It became ‘Man versus Nature’, not ‘Man cooperating with Nature.’ So even though man was originally told to subdue the earth (in that case it would have been pleasurable, it would have been a joy), now he would really have to subdue the earth and he would have to do it with toil and sweat and heartache and death.
The important words in this whole curse are the last three words of the first line of the curse: ‘for your sake’ (the most important line of the whole curse). Some modern translations render this phrase as ‘because of you’ or ‘on your account’—that the ground would be cursed because of his sin. But that is actually a secondary way to render this phrase. There is no reason for this to be said in this way because God had already told Adam why he was being cursed (He said that in the preamble—Adam was cursed because he heeded the voice of his wife and because he had disobeyed God’s command). So He does not need to say it again.
We should probably take this phrase to mean what it primarily means when it is used, and that is ‘for your sake.’ He is doing this for man’s advantage—for his good. God cursed the ground for the good of man. As a kind of a contradictory way to say it—a kind of a paradox—it was a beneficial curse. The curse was for man’s benefit. It was for his advantage. It was to do him good.
Now this seems contradictory to the fact that this is a judgment, but we have to remember that God’s judgments are always true and always wise and always loving and always good. They always work out for the best. They always have positive ends. Even when they seem on the outside to be bad, they end up doing good. That is just the way God is.
Even His judgment on those who reject Him is for good—it is for their good, it is for everyone else’s good that is going to live eternally. We do not want somebody that is going to constantly be in rebellion against God with us forever. It is good that He makes that judgment that they be cut off forever. Now that person might not think it is really good but, overall, it is a good thing. It is a good judgment.
In this way, this is a good judgment as well. It is a beneficial curse. On the outside, it looks bad, and as you are going through it, it looks pretty bad, it feels bad; you do not like it very much. But, in the end, something good comes out of it.
Let us look at this. God did this time and time again and He keeps doing it. Let us go to Deuteronomy 8. I just want one verse because it packs enough of it to understand the principle. He had just told them that He had done all these things to the children of Israel as they came through the wilderness.
Deuteronomy 8:16 . . . who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do you good in the end.
So God put them through all of these privations—He put test after test after test in front of them—to see if they would react right. He made them thirst. He made them hunger. He did all of these things. He brought people out of the nooks and crannies to attack them. One thing after another, nothing seemed to have gone right and they had to get every little bit of their nourishment from God Himself in order to make it. And He said, “Now let’s look back at these 40 years and you can see that I brought you through all of these things—all of these tests—to humble you, to do you good.”
That is the thing God did here with all of humanity in Genesis 3. He puts man through hardships and privations to do us good in the long run. The stresses of the trials and the tests provide lasting lessons, and, if you are of the right mind, they create good character.
So what we have here is that since the idyllic conditions of Eden had been irreparably ruined by sin, God merged smoothly into the process that He knew all along that He was going to have to use with mankind in order to prepare them for the Kingdom of God, and that is test them, try them, make them suffer, make them hurt, make big obstacles for them to have to jump over and overcome or push through.
Do you want to see this? We are going to Matthew 10. I am just going to read this and go on without any commentary. Jesus says:
Matthew 10:38-39 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.
Acts 14:21-22 And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying [this is Paul and Barnabas], “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”
Romans 8:16-17 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.
II Timothy 3:12 Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.
Now Christ Himself.
Hebrews 2:10-11 For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren.
Hebrews 2:14 Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.
Hebrews 2:17-18 Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.
So what we see is a consistent principle in Scripture that we are perfected through trial and suffering and hardship by overcoming obstacles and weaknesses, and what that produces is character. We see that in I Peter 1.
I Peter 1:6-7 In this you greatly rejoice [that they have been called], though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
I Peter 4:19 Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.
I Peter 5:10 But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.
So we can go just about anywhere and see the same principle being taught that it is by hardship, privation, trial, that God is crafting us to be His sons and daughters. He did this in type with all of mankind by giving them this curse of having to work hard in the soil.
Let us read the rest of the curse in Genesis 3. After God curses the ground, He expands on it.
Genesis 3:18-19 Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.
So God kind of closes the loop that He started there in Genesis 2:7, that man was created out of the dust of the ground, and after a lot of hard work—a lot of pain and suffering in trying to live his life—he would go right back into the dirt. That is the imagery that is here.
The man would be out in the field. He would plant, he would cultivate, he would water, he would do this and that, and he would do it day after day. He would be sweating out there in the sun. He would be shivering in the cold. The wind would blow his hat off down the field. He would have to dig out thorns and thistles. He would always be having trouble with insects. He would always be doing all of these things in order to bring just a little bit out of the ground for his family to eat. And then one day, he would have a heart attack in the middle of the road, he would die right there in the field, and those who come after him would simply plow him under—he would go back to the dust. That is the mental imagery we are supposed to get out of this.
Man’s life was going to be concentrated in work—hard work, strenuous work—overcoming obstacles that nature would put in his way; and if he wanted to get anything out of life, he would have to overcome those and enjoy it because that is what his life would be. It would be made up of a lot of hard strenuous work. And he would never be assured of success.
It would not be just the hard work—he would have the sweat of work—but he would also sweat in worry. He was never sure whether that cloud up there would just pass over benignly and give him some shade, or whether it would send down hail and ruin his crop. There was always the worry that things were going to go bad—and often they did. There would be good years but there would also be bad years, and it would all equal out in the end. And all of this fighting against nature would take its toll on him and he would die old, hunched over, grizzled, and tired. But if he had the right mindset, out of all of this trouble would come something of eternal consequence (if he could grasp it).
My father has gone through those portions of Ecclesiastes 2 and 3 that talk about work, that we are supposed to get our joy out of work and that it is actually God’s gift. That is what we have got to understand. This curse is actually a gift from God. Even though it sounds so bad, it is a gift from Him.
Ecclesiastes 2:26 For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight.
It is talking in terms of work, that if we are good in His sight—if we are trying to live as God wants us to live—then we have those gifts from God from our work, and it is a wonderful thing.
So, like I said, it is a divine gift that if we use it properly, this curse that was given to Adam can lead a man and a woman (because Eve was cursed in a similar way) to merge their lives of hard work with the work of God—putting the two together. And amidst this struggle, we learn the lessons that lead to eternal life.
Apart from God, man has no idea what God is doing. That is what Ecclesiastes 3 is all about: Man cannot find what God is doing. But a person who is called to a relationship with God has had it revealed to him. And then this principle of overcoming, hardship takes on a new, deeper, and eternal meaning.
I would like to finish in Philippians 2 where it shows that this is our lot as Christians. Paul says:
Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
Our work is a work of salvation, not to earn it (we cannot earn it by our work). But it is a process by which we can grow in the grace and knowledge and character of Jesus Christ, turning that curse on our first parents into good fruit. And though we end up as all men do (they will put us under, just as they put everybody else under)—returning to the dust—we have something greater beyond that to hope in. We have the hope and promise of the resurrection from the dead and the immortal, incorruptible life that God will freely give us, if we cooperate.