The UK Bible Students Website
Christian Biblical Studies
THE ADAMIC CURSE
All Scripture references are to the New International Version,
UK edition (1984) unless stated otherwise.
Q. Please explain Gen. 3: 17-19: Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.
A. This text describes the penalty which God inflicted on a rebellious Adam when he and his wife were expelled from Eden. The composition of the soil outside the garden apparently resisted easy cultivation. ʻIt will produce thorns and thistlesʼ shorthand for the work involved in tilling the land and removing stubborn and unwanted growth. ʻCursed is the ground because of youʼ may carry more than one meaning.
First, the implication that Adam was to blame for the imposition of the Curse and its consequences. The cursing of the ground would be the most obvious, for Adam and his wife had lived in a region of the earth where drudgery was unknown.
Second, the cursing of the ground, and its resulting complications, would be to his detriment, making life harder, wearing him out and eventually killing him.
Third, the lessons learned by Adam and his descendants under such a life-and-energy-sapping regime would be to their eternal benefit. The aptly-named ʻpermission of evilʼ under which mankind has laboured for thousands of years, has taught them lessons which will at length inform their understanding of sin versus righteousness when Christʼs kingdom is set up on earth and the curse is rolled back. This beneficial use of the expression ʻfor your sakeʼ is illustrated by the following texts: Gen. 12:16; 18:26; 26:24.
God made Man the species, male and female in His ʻimage and likenessʼ. The term suggests inherited traits, and also implies that Man was a semblance of the divine on earth, with free moral agency and rulership (sway) over the earth (Gen. 1:26, 27; compare 5:3: ʻAdam . . . had a son in his own likeness, in his own image . . .ʼ). Adam and Eve after him were created perfect, morally and biologically. Being perfect their genes coded for life, not death they could have gone on forever. Once they chose to disobey God, the process was disrupted, and they passed the defect on to all their offspring, along with an ever-shortening life span.
In the Genesis narrative Adam is the one on whom the Curse is pronounced, because he bears the principal responsibility for the defection. From now on he would have to slog his way through a difficult existence, cultivating the ground to feed himself and his family, wearing himself out and dying from the exertion. We can only dimly comprehend the regrets and anxieties which plagued him.
The statement in Gen. 3:18 that ʻyou will eat the plants of the fieldʼ, has sufficient latitude for us to conjecture what manʼs intended diet might have been had he remained perfect. Regardless, the curse of dying and death was passed on through the DNA to the entire human race. The ages-long struggle for the basic necessities of life food, comfort, shelter and happiness proves this is so. In her translation, At the Start: Genesis Made New (Doubleday; 1993), Mary Phil Korsak renders Gen. 3:19, ʻsoil you are and to the soil you shall returnʼ. This is tantamount to saying that Adam was condemned to dig his own grave. Grim though this view is, mercifully it is not the end of the matter. For there is hope in Christ.
Religion which does not have Jesus at its centre worships a falsehood and can never grasp the full implication of Manʼs fall and his alienation from God or the permission of suffering and evil. Everyone has need of a Redeemer, who is Christ alone. Belief in Christ is the only prescribed way to salvation. For Adams unbelieving offspring mankind in general their opportunity for salvation must wait until Christʼs return and the establishment of His kingdom on earth. Using the figure of a mountain to represent this kingdom, Isaiah 25: 7 tells us that
On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; . . .
The word ʻsheetʼ is from the Hebrew word for molten, a term also used in connection with the golden calf-image of Ex. 32:4. More or less impenetrable, this figurative cover has overshadowed humanity, filtering out the light of truth. But in that day of worldwide deliverance the human family will come to know that their experiences with sin and suffering have brought them everlasting benefits, and they will rejoice to see a bright future opening up. Isa. 25:8 continues:
He will swallow up death for ever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.