The Curse And Cure Of God

Genesis 3:14-19 The LORD God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
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.”

16 To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
but he shall rule over you.”

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.”

INTRODUCTION

Every week in the sermon’s introduction I try to help you understand why you should care about the passage I’m preaching on (beyond the simple fact that it is God’s word). I want you to feel what’s at stake. To that end, consider with me a few of the massive implications of this passage on the curse and cure of God.

There are very few passages in the bible that are able to explain why your life is like it is as well as this passage. There is no area of your life right now that is not touched by these six verses. On the highest level, it explains why there is so much conflict and struggle and lack in the world. Among other things, on a very individual level it explains why it hurt so much when you had your last child, why you had so many difficulties in your marriage last week, and why your job was so frustrating recently. Again, literally, the things you experience every moment of every day only make sense in light of this passage. It is not an overstatement to say that this passage is a key to unlocking real understanding of your life. The point here is that you should care about this passage because it has massive explanatory power for your life.

And yet, in my experience half of those in the Church seem to have failed to grasp this and the other half seem to have rejected it. That is, half of those professing faith in Christ live with Genesis 3 amnesia while the rest live with Genesis 3 denial. Let me be even more clear. On the one hand, well meaning, godly Christians very often fail to appreciate the depth of the curse described here. That shows up in that we so often fail take this passage into account when life is hard (and so we focus on our spouse or kids or boss or circumstances as the main problem). And we’re not much better when it is good (failing to realize that this is not our home, that we were made for more than this, and that even the best things in our life are under the curse). On the other hand, many others who claim to be Christians reinterpret this passage in a way that almost entirely rejects the inherent sinfulness of mankind, the judgment of God, and the true nature and root of the challenges that this passage promises and describes. They, therefore, create entirely new ways of reading Genesis 3 which entirely alter their understanding of God, sin, suffering, mankind, marriage, life, and salvation. The point here is that you should care about this passage because even though you’re in the church you’re likely missing a great deal of it.

At the same time the world around us (outside of the church) is going to staggering lengths to explain the effects of this passage without knowledge of the passage. That is, it’s clear to everyone that there is suffering and difficulty and brokenness in the world around us. But how do those who don’t believe in God explain the existence of all of that? Without Genesis 3, explaining these things is like trying to explain why a car without gas won’t run without accepting that cars need gas to run. How do you do that? Imagine the imagination and creativity it would take to come up with a reasonable sounding alternative explanation of reality. Again, it takes even greater creativity and imagination to try to explain the condition of the world today without this passage. And yet, which is exactly what the world around us is doing their best to do so. And the point here is that you should care about this passage because it will help you to fill in the reality gaps for the non-Christians in your life as you reach out to them with the gospel.

Finally, we are able to experience the fullness of life described by Jesus (John 10:10) only when we have the fullest explanation of the world we live in; not only where it’s been and where it is, but also where it’s going. Subtly, but truly embedded in this passage gives the first hint of the plan of God to make all things right. We have hope for the hardship we experience as a result of the curse described in this passage ONLY because of the cure promised in this passage. The point here is that while this is mainly a passage on the curse of God, you should care about it because it is also a passage on the cure of God that we so desperately need.

Hopefully that’s sufficient motivation for you to lean way in on this passage. Let’s pray, then, that it would be so and that God would grant us true, Holy Spirit empowered understanding and application of this passage.

THE CURSE OF GOD

God made his will for the man and the woman clear (care for the garden and eat of everything in it except the tree of knowledge of good and evil). Likewise, he made the consequences for violating it plain (death). Nevertheless, Eve, having been tempted by the serpent, and Adam, having been tempted by Eve, promptly violated God’s will. God confronted them. And then after a brief exchange, mostly consisting of Adam and Eve trying to get out from under the weight of their sin, both admitted to having disobeyed God. The man and the woman had nothing to do at that point other than to wait for God’s judgment. Our passage for this morning is that: God’s judgment. It is clear and swift for all of the offending parties (the serpent, the woman, and the man), beginning with the serpent.

The Serpent’s Curse (3:14-15)

Before getting to the curse itself you’ll notice that unlike the man and the woman God gave no opportunity for the serpent to plead his case. God talked to the man and the woman before pronouncing judgment upon them, but that was not the case with the serpent. God didn’t even give the serpent a chance to exercise his craftiness in responding. In part, this shows God’s unique love for mankind and the unique role of mankind in God’s plan. With that, listen again to God’s curse on the serpent.

      14 The LORD God said to the serpent,
      “Because you have done this,
      cursed are you above all livestock
      and above all beasts of the field;
      on your belly you shall go,
      and dust you shall eat
      all the days of your life.
      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.”

As we’ll see shortly, there is a difference between the curse of God on (1) the serpent and the ground, and the curse of God on (2) the man and the woman. The text says that God directly cursed the serpent (v.14) and the ground (v.17), but it doesn’t directly say that about the man and the woman. More than likely, again, this is simply a foreshadowing of God’s unique plan of salvation for mankind.

You’ll notice also that God gave the reason for the serpent’s curse, “Because you have done this”. That is, the text explicitly says that the serpent was cursed because he tempted the man and the woman to disobey God. God held Eve, and especially Adam, responsible for their sins (as we’re about to see), but that did not mean the serpent’s tempting work would go unpunished. There’s no evidence that the serpent sinned by eating of the tree himself, but his crafty seduction of the man and woman to that end was a sin in itself. Remember that Grace. Tempting others to sin is a sin. As Jesus said in Matthew 18:7, “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!” We must be careful in all we do to avoid speaking and acting in ways that would entice others to ungodliness. On the contrary, we are to speak and act in ways that help people to see what it means to follow Jesus. Do your words and actions build others up in holiness and love and unity or do they tempt others to sin?

With that, how specifically would God punish the serpent? There are four aspects to the serpent’s curse. (1) The serpent was cursed above all livestock and beasts (this is simply a declaration of the curse), (2) the serpent was to spend all his days on his belly (a sign of lowliness), constantly eating the dust of the ground (a sign of defeat, as in Micah 7:16-17), (3) the serpent and all his offspring would live in continual enmity with the woman and all of hers (there would be constant conflict in the world), and finally, (4) the serpent’s ultimate end was to have his head crushed by a child of the woman (more in a bit).

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that the NT teaches us that this was no mere serpent. It was Satan himself working in/through this serpent. Scholars debate which aspects of the curse were for the animal and which were for Satan, but there is universal agreement that the heart of the curse is that from this time forward there would be a constant battle between good and evil, between Satan and mankind. Indeed, from this point on in Genesis and throughout the rest of the bible this plays itself out in Technicolor. Where God had designed the world to exist in harmony, peace, and prosperity, this curse meant that this would no longer be the case—at least not until the offspring of the woman would finally crush the head of the serpent (again, more on that in a bit).

This is an absolutely critical perspective for us to read the rest of the bible well and to understand our lives properly. Truly, every external sin and temptation presented to mankind is in a sense the offspring of the serpent working against the offspring of the woman.

The Woman’s Curse (3:16)

From the serpent, the LORD God moved to the woman. Listen again to God’s curse of the woman.

      16 To the woman he said,
      “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
      in pain you shall bring forth children.
      Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
      but he shall rule over you.”

The two key aspects of God’s curse on the woman (and women) relate to childbearing and marriage. The specifics aren’t as clear as we might like. Is the pain emotional, physical, or both? Are childbearing and bringing forth children the same or are there any differences? Are these things related to pregnancy and delivery only or do they include the raising of children as well? Does the second aspect of the curse mean that husbands and wives will necessarily be at odds in their desires? Does the ruling of the last clause mean that husbands will lead oppressively or that though leading well, women will not like it?

There are decent arguments for both sides of most of these questions. And there might be a context in which really chasing each of them down would be good, but this is not that context. The main points for us to see—ladies especially—are that as a result of Genesis 3:1-8 (1) having children is harder than it was originally designed to be and (2) the relationship God designed between husbands and wives will often be more combative and competitive than complimentary. There will be hardship when there should have been harmony.

I’ll come back to some of the implications of this in a bit. For now, I simply want you to see that as a result of the first woman’s sin, two key aspects of womanhood are painful instead of comfortable, sources of conflict rather than peace, and frustrating rather than fulfilling. Remember that, ladies when you’re having a hard day (or week or month or year) and, instead of forgetting that it is the result of the curse and turning inward in your frustration and discouragement, turn upward in gratitude for the One who took the curse upon himself for you.

The Man’s Curse (3:17-19)

And that brings us to God’s judgment upon the man. Listen again to God’s curse for him.

      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.”

While no specific reason was given to the woman for her curse, like the serpent, God gave one to man, “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.'” Man’s failure to lead as God had designed him, coupled with his direct disobedience to God’s command brought a curse upon him and everyone after him. Let me say that again, men, Adam’s abdication as well as his active sin brought about his curse. Our passivity, as well as our activity, are under God’s judgment. Not doing what God calls us to do is every bit as treasonous and curse-worthy as doing what he calls us not to do.

So what was the nature of God’s judgment upon him? The ground itself will be hard and less productive, growing food (and not weeds) will require pain and sweat and difficulty, and that will be the constant state of life until death.

Again, there are a handful of questions about the precise meaning of some of the clauses, but the essence is this: for man, the most basic task of life (getting food) will be hard all the days of his life. Instead of a life of working with genuine productivity and satisfaction, man will spend his life working in and frustration and pain. Why is it so often so hard to work for God’s glory, your joy, and with genuine efficiency and productivity? It’s all because of this curse. Again, when work on Monday is filled with inefficiencies and office politics or broken machines or inept sub-contractors, let’s not forget that this curse is the reason for those things and then look up to Jesus.

THE CURE OF GOD

Is that it, though? Is there anything else to this story? Are we destined, as Ecclesiastes laments, to live lives that are nothing more than working hard in vanity day after day, doing so alongside someone difficult, painfully passing on the curse to the next generation, and then returning to dust? Is this judgment of God final and irreversible? Is there any hope for mankind in this curse?

As I mentioned earlier, embedded in God’s curse upon the serpent is a promise (subtle though it is) of hope of rescue and redemption.

      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.”

Theologians call this the proto-evangelium. R.C. Sproul describes it this way,

Verse 15 is known as the proto-evangelium — the first Gospel. It proclaims that God’s people will finally triumph over the serpent (see 1 John 3:12). The “seed of the woman” is a collective noun, indicating corporate victory. However, if left to ourselves, we cannot win this war. No, it took Jesus, Eve’s seed par excellence, to deliver the crushing blow (Col. 2:15), and if we are in Him, we share in and extend His victory (Matt. 28:19; Rev. 20:4).

Thus, when we come to the NT, we read of Jesus, the Great Head-Crusher, fulfilling this promise of God and crushing the head of the serpent once for all. Jesus did this on the cross. His heel bruise was suffered while dying on our behalf. Truly, he was the seed of the woman (not man, as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit), and the fulfillment of this proto-evangelium. Paul says this plainly in Galatians 3:13, “[Jesus] Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us- for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree…’”. We were doomed to live under the curse and then die under wrath until Jesus fulfilled Genesis 3:15!

CONCLUSION

I want to conclude by drawing your attention back to a simple, practical implication of this text. It begins with noticing the connection between God’s purposes for and blessing on mankind (named in chapters 1-2) and his curse on mankind in this passage. God made man to work and lead his wife (that’s at the heart of the very reason he was made), and his curse was that his work would be hard and his marriage would be difficult. God made woman to help and be fruitful (again, as part of her very essence), and her curse was that she would be frustrated by her husband and that childbearing would hurt. The man and the woman sinned by eating forbidden fruit and so their curse was that it would be hard to find food. And, as we’ll see next week, mankind was made for fellowship with God, but his curse is to be driven out of the garden of fellowship. In other words, the point I’m trying to make is that this passage teaches us that the things most integral to our personhood and the things we’re most responsible for in life will be most difficult.

On a practical level, then, this passage means that the most important things we must do in this life will be hard and inefficient. To give your life to the things that matter, the things you were made for, is to give your life to hardship. So what does that mean? It means (as the NT reminds us over and over and over) that we need to constantly fight against the curse-fueled temptation toward discouragement, discontentment, frustration, criticalness, feelings of futility, and the desire to simply give up.

But how do we fight against that and what’s the alternative? Simply, we fight against it by reminding ourselves that this is not the end of the story. We fight well by reminding ourselves that this passage teaches not only of a curse, but also a cure which has been perfectly secured by Jesus Christ. The curse is not the end, then, for those who will trust in Jesus. He has taken the curse upon himself for all whose hope is truly in him. That does not mean that becoming a Christian gets us out from under the effects of the curse in this life. But it does mean that we have sufficient hope and help in this life to persevere in it and ultimate healing from it in the next.

What’s the alternative? The alternative is to love our spouses, not as they deserve, but as Christ loves us. The alternative is to parent our children not mainly in light of the challenges they present, but in unending, Spirit-given waves of grace. The alternative is to engage our work, not as ones surprised and discouraged by a lack of efficiency, but as ones eager to labor faithfully in the name of Jesus. And the alternative is to tell of this good news to the entire world that they too might know ultimate freedom from this curse in Christ. In other words, living as Christians in light of the curse, means living as ones whose hope is not ultimately in this world, for the Seed of the woman has come and he has crushed the head of the seed of the snake. The cure has been secured and so our hope is certain in Jesus.