Tag Archives: death

Genesis 3:17-19 – God’s Judgment – Adam

Genesis 3:17–19 (ESV) — 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.”



The Problem:

1) God reminds Adam of the one command he was given earlier on – “You shall not eat of it”.

  • Genesis 2:17 (ESV) — 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.”
  • This command was given directly to Adam.
  • Implying that he was the one responsible for insuring it was obeyed.
  • Eve was not yet on the scene.


2) God spells out for Adam where he went wrong.

  • Because you have listened to the voice of your wife…


In the OT, this language – “listened to the voice of” is idiomatic.

  • It means, “obey” – Wenham.
  • Exodus 18:24 (ESV) — 24 So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said.


So the idea here is not that the problem was that Adam obeyed Eve.

  • “Obeying his wife rather than God was man’s fundamental mistake” – Wenham.


Therefore the text does not intend to suggest that men/husbands are never to obey women/wives.

  • Clearly, there are innumerable circumstances where we should.
  • As we discussed last time, each marriage is unique with respect to husband/wife strengths.
  • Additionally, there are countless times outside of marriage where men are to obey women!


Some Biblical examples:

  • Judges 4:14–15 (ESV) — 14 And Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the Lord go out before you?” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men following him. 15 And the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak by the edge of the sword. And Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot.
  • Acts 18:26 (ESV) — 26 He (Apollos) began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.
  • Apollos had to “obey” the corrections taught to him by Priscilla and her husband.


Again, the point is that Adam’s obedience to Eve resulted in disobedience to Yahweh.

  • God is always to be our primary allegiance – even over our spouses.
  • And this goes both ways.
  • Obviously a wife is not to obey her husband when doing so results in disobedience to God.


3) The result of having obeyed Eve instead of God – Adam ate “of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘you shall not eat of it’”.

  • Adam ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.


So the problem summarized – God gave a command; Adam obeyed Eve instead; Adam ate the forbidden fruit.

  • Following this comes judgment.


The Judgment:

“…cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 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.”


God proceeds to spell out a number of consequences for Adams disobedience.

  • (1) “cursed is the ground
    • “in pain you shall eat”
    • “thorns and thistles”
    • “eat plants of the field”
    • “sweat of your face you shall eat bread”
  • (2) “to dust you shall return


(1) Cursed is the Ground:

Due to Adam’s disobedience – “because of you” – the ground becomes cursed.

  • Where as “to bless someone is to put that person under God’s protection, enjoying God’s favor. To curse is to remove from God’s protection and favor” – John Walton.


The way this “removal” of God’s favor plays out effectively reverses the relationship Adam had with creation.

  • “The man’s natural relationship to the ground—to rule over it—is reversed; instead of submitting to him, it resists…him” – Bruce Waltke.
  • The curse “has brought us full circle from creation’s bliss to sin’s burden.” – Mathews.


And, importantly, the curse (the removal) specifically relates to food.

  • in pain you shall eat
  • eat plants of the field
  • sweat of your face you shall eat bread


So why food and why can we call this judgment a reversal?


Food Before the Curse:

Adam’s food situation before the curse is fairly simple.

  • Genesis 1:29 (ESV) — 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.
  • Genesis 2:8–9 (ESV) — 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.
  • Genesis 2:16b (ESV) — 16b “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden”.


Prior to the curse, food was not an issue.

  • It was a need of image bearers to perform their image bearing/dominion responsibilities.
  • God freely provided it.
  • It was not obtained through sweat or toil.


BTW – We saw a few weeks ago that the dominion responsibilities of Gen. 2:15 –  “work it and keep it” – were sacred service responsibilities not agricultural.

  • Adam wasn’t farming for food before the fall.
  • The Hebrew phrase “work it and keep it” conveys the idea of “human service to God rather that descriptions of agricultural tasks” – Walton.


Sailhamer points out that the this priestly translation jives with “several early manuscripts”.

  • In them, the phrase means, “to worship and obey”.
  • “Man’s life in the garden was to be characterized by worship and obedience. He was to be a priest…” – John Sailhamer.


Food After the Curse:

But after the curse, the same “pain” associated with Eve’s post-fall childbirth now accompanies Adam’s securing of food.

  • This “pain” as we saw then has a number of meanings.


(1) One is the obvious idea of physical effort.

  • in pain”; “thorns and thistles”; “sweat of your face


(2) The other meaning involves mental anguish and anxiety.

  • It also becomes something that brings anxiety.
  • Why?


Adam and Eve are still called to be fruitful and multiply.

  • Yet now God’s provision of food is removed from the equation.
  • Additionally, the production of food will be up to Adam.
  • And it will be subject to the uncertainties of weather and other conditions.
  • All of these factors create a situation ripe for anxiety.


Our text even gives the example of bread.

  • Apparently Adam will have to harvest plants of the field to make bread.
  • But this task will be made difficult due to the presence of thorns and thistles.


Moses’ Message:

Interestingly, the text speaks of growing wheat and bread making as if Adam would know what God is talking about.

  • To this point in his existence, Adam’s food source was fruit from trees.
  • So is this language anachronistic?
  • How would he know what this language meant?
  • Did Adam even know what a thorn or thistle was?


My point with these questions is that we have more Moses’ Messaging going on here.

  • In Moses’ context of leader of the Israelites, there is an important concept he wants his people to know.
  • One that finds its origins in Genesis 1-3.
  • One that explains their circumstances at any given moment.


Moses plays it out for us in Deuteronomy.

  • Deuteronomy 28:1–5 (ESV) — 1 “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. 2 And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. 3 Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. 4 Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. 5 Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
  • Deuteronomy 28:45–48 (ESV) — 45 “All these curses shall come upon you and pursue you and overtake you till you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that he commanded you. 46 They shall be a sign and a wonder against you and your offspring forever. 47 Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, 48 therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you.


Obedience leads to an approximation of the Promised Land preparations of Genesis 1 and 2 (Sailhamer).

  • Disobedience leads to the Promised Land curse of Genesis 3.


Remember, the creation story and fall didn’t exist in a vacuum.

  • They were written to a certain people in a certain context.


(2) To Dust You Shall Return:

“Till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”


The second part of God’s judgment was death.

  • The language used to convey this was the standard OT language of death – dust.
  • Job 10:9 (ESV) — 9 Remember that you have made me like clay; and will you return me to the dust?
  • Job 34:15 (ESV) — 15 all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.
  • Psalm 103:14 (ESV) — 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
  • Ecclesiastes 12:7 (ESV) — 7 and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.


Like the ground curse, death is also a reversal of conditions from before the Fall.

  • In fact, it represents the ultimate contrast of the life had in the Garden.
  • Why?


Adam came from the dust.

  • Genesis 2:7 (ESV) — 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.


And with the Fall he will return to the dust.

  • return to the ground”; “to dust you shall return”.


How are we reminded of the fall in our relationship with creation?

  • In the same way as Adam and Eve?


We will talk more about death’s relationship to the Garden next week.

  • For now we need to make note of something.


Centrality of Death:

The problem of death is a central part of the Fall narrative.

  • “Death is exactly what God had forewarned and what the serpent had denied” would happen – Mathews.
  • Genesis 2:17 (ESV) — 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.”
  • Genesis 3:4 (ESV) — 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.


And of course, today’s text tells us:

  • Adam will “return to the ground”; “to dust you shall return”.


And lest we forget Paul’s comments:

  • Romans 5:12 (ESV) — 12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—


So given the centrality of death in the Fall, most believe we have the answer to a crucial question.

  • Who bears the most responsibility for the Fall – Serpent, Eve or Adam?
  • “It is the man who bears the greater blame for his conduct [because he] is the direct recipient of God’s death sentence” – Kenneth Mathews.
  • And textually (verse 17), “Emphasis on the second person ‘you’ and ‘your’ sharpens God’s focus on the man’s individual fault” – Mathews.


Moreover, we already mentioned that the command about the tree was given directly to Adam.

  • With this in mind, Wenham adds that “The sentence on the man is the longest and fullest, since he bore the greatest responsibility in following his wife’s advice instead of heeding God’s instructions personally given to him” – Gordon Wenham.


What is the significance of understanding Adam’s responsibility?

  • Understanding Adam’s responsibility is important for understanding the theology behind the Fall.
  • Something we will get into in a couple of weeks in Romans 5:12.


Suffice it to say, the Fall has made clear that a number of things have taken place that need remedying.

  • The need for serpent crushers.
  • The need for a reversal of the curse on the ground.
  • And as we have just seen, the need forward a reversal of death.


As we have said a few weeks ago – the rest of OT declares the coming defeat of death and dust.

  • Isaiah 26:19 (ESV) — 19 Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.
  • Daniel 12:2 (ESV) — 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.


And Paul brings it all home to Christ.

  • 1 Corinthians 15:42–49 (ESV) — 42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.