The Curses of Genesis 3
Table of Contents
I. Introduction *
II. Grammatico-Historical-Contextual Analysis *
1. The Passage – Gen 3:14-19*
2. Genre of Material*
A. Contextual Analysis *
1. Structural Outline of the Passage*
2. Alternative Structural Outline - Blessing/Curses*
3. Contextual Sketch*
a) Prior Context*
b) Post-passage Context*
c) Context of the Passage*
B. Detailed Exegesis of the Passage *
1. Verse 14 – Curse on the Serpent*
a) Identification of the Serpent*
2. Verse 15 - Emnity Between Serpent and Woman*
3. Verse 16 – Curse on the Woman*
4. Verse 17 – Curse on the Man*
5. Verse 18 – Thorns and Thistles*
6. Verse 18 – Sweat and Death*
III. Theological Conclusions *
This exegetical paper analyzes the curse of the Serpent, woman, and man as found in Genesis 3:14-19. This exegesis presented in the paper follows the three-part method of analysis of the Old Testament as suggested by John Bright. Finally, some theological conclusions are proposed.
This section contains the grammatico-historical-contextual exegesis of the Genesis 3:14-19 passage.
In Genesis 3:14-19 God curses the Serpent, woman, and man for their respective parts in the Fall.
Gen 3:14 And the LORD God said unto the Serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: 15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. 16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. 17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; 18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; 19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
The material contains a speech report. The speaker is the Lord God. The audience is the man, the woman, the serpent and in some sense, the earth itself.
The speech is a monologue. God completed investigating the situation and extracted a confession from the parties of their guilt. This speech is the rendering of God’s judgment with penalties.
Allis notes that the material of Genesis 3:17-19 has characteristic features of Hebrew poetry including repetition or parallelism in phraseology and content (parallelismus membrorum).
This section starts with two different structural outlines for the passage. The first outline is the outline of the passage itself without any consideration of the prior context. The second outline attempts to place the passage within the context of the fist few chapters of Genesis.
A proposed structural outline of the passage is:
Curse on the Serpent
Serpent will crawl on belly and eat dust
Serpent will be enemy of woman and her offspring
Offspring will bruise Serpents head
Serpent will bruise offspring on heel
Curse on the Woman
Sorrow in conception
Desire for husband
Husband as ruler
Curse on the Man
Curse on the ground
Sorrow in eating the fruit of the ground
Thorns and thistles
Eat the herb of the field
Return to the dust
An alternative way to view the passage is as an undoing of the previous blessings of God.
Gen 1:11 And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.
Gen 3:17b cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
Gen 3:18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
Gen 1:20 And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
Gen 1:22 And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.
Gen 1:24 And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
Gen 3:14 And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:
Gen 3:15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
Gen 1:26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
Gen 1:28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
Gen 2:15 And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.
Gen 3:17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
Gen 3:18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
Gen 3:19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
Gen 2:18 And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
Gen 3:16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
This passage is placed at a "hinge point" between the creation of Adam and Eve with their placement into the Garden of Eden, and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden into the world at large.
In the events leading up to this passage, God creates the cosmos, the animals and finally the first two humans. All is in a state of purity and innocence. Adam and Eve lived idyllic lives tending the Garden. The only thing that they were not allowed to do was to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The defining event is the temptation of the woman by the Serpent and the sin of the woman and man in eating the fruit. In eating the fruit, the man and the woman lose their innocence and hide from God.
After they eat of the tree, God speaks to Adam and Eve and tells them the consequences of their act for themselves and their posterity. God then casts Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and prevents Adam and Eve from re-entering the Garden of Eden by posting Seraphim as guards.
The Serpent is the first one addressed with a curse. The woman is the second one addressed. The man is the third one addressed. The passage is the penalty phase of the trail of Adam and Eve. God had completed His investigation and is now pronouncing the penalties. Further comments on the context of the passage are in the following exegesis.
This section contains a verse by verse detailed exegesis of the passage. Key words are also grammatically analyzed in the following sections.
Gen 3:14 And the LORD God said unto the Serpent,
The first to be cursed is the Serpent. The order of the curses is the reverse order of the act of the sins. The Serpent leads the woman into the sin. Therefore, the first one addressed by the Lord God is the Serpent. He will be quickly disposed of.
At the barest grammatical level, this passage contains an account of a talking Serpent. Even more shocking than that, God is portrayed as spending His time talking to the Serpent. This passage seems absurd since we don’t often run into talking animals, much less ones that are portrayed as being such cunning (reasoning) animals. These are the sorts of things that we normally associate with fables and fairy tales. Nor is it reasonable to assume that before the Fall all the animals could talk.
However, in this passage, there’s much more to this Serpent than merely a talking animal. This Serpent deliberately led Humankind into sin and the Fall was the result. These are hardly the acts of a mere animal.
Grammatically, there is also no simple escape. The Hebrew word used for Serpent refers to nothing more than a Serpent. Isaiah does use the same word to refer to a Serpent in a figurative sense, but there’s no real help to be found for understanding the Genesis passages in the Isaiah passage.
The Old Testament contains 34 references to Serpents, but only a couple of passages that may cross-reference this particular passage. Both of the two references are found in Isaiah. One of these is the reference to the lion lying down with the wolf. In the passage, the serpent is portrayed as eating dust, which is quite possibly a reference to the curse of the Serpent. The other passage is Isaiah 27:1 which describes God punishing the Serpent.
No Old Testament passages directly expose the Serpent as Satan. Yet, the description of the Serpent in Genesis fits Satan as described in the Old Testament theologically quite closely. Satan is seen acting behind the scenes in deception in many places in the Old Testament. The book of Job portrays Satan attempting to get Job to curse God. In the Old Testament, Satan is portrayed as the enemy of Humankind pitted against man.
Psalms says that God gave authority over the earth to man. It is commonly said that in the Garden man surrendered his authority over the earth to Satan, though this teaching is not completely consistent with certain Old Testament passages.
The theological purpose that the Serpent serves in the Old Testament text is as an external agent. God created a good creation, but with free wills so that humans could choose to not follow God. Thus, Humankind is fully responsible for the choice to disobey God. The New Testament book of James tells us that God does not tempt anyone.
Without an external agent to stir things up, how would Humankind possibly conceive of anything other than obedience? The Serpent allows man to make a wrong choice without making God the author of the evil. This pushes off the problem one level. The Genesis text is silent about how Satan Himself fell. That’s left to other Old Testament exegetes.
Was the Serpent actually inhabited by Satan? Or, did Satan appear as a Serpent? Or, is this passage allegorical as some Church Fathers taught? In extra-Biblical literature, Satan appears in various different forms. In the New Testament, demons are seen inhabiting animals, although there are no recorded cases of demons actually speaking through animals in the New Testament.
At a higher level, the Serpent is directly identified in the Book of Revelation as Satan. This is a clear allusion to the Genesis passage. In Revelation, the Serpent is once again seen deceiving the entire world. The binding of the Serpent for a thousand years is foretold. Finally, the Serpent receives his due for the deception of man when the Serpent is thrown into the bottomless pit to spend eternity with the fallen persons who have followed the Serpent.
Paul refers to the Serpent in the New Testament book, the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, but without providing any great amount of detail or further identification with Satan. Paul also referred to the deception of the woman by the Serpent, using it as a device to contrast his teachings from those of the false apostles.
At possibly the highest level (or the lowest to be more accurate) Satan is seen in the betrayal of Jesus as filling the heart of Judas. Psalm 109 is indirectly referenced by the writer of the book of Acts in the New Testament as referring to the role of Satan in the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. Certainly if Satan could fill the heart of Judas to betray Christ he could also fill the mouth of a Serpent to betray our Original Parents.
The Father of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, noted, "The devil was permitted to enter beasts, as he here entered the serpent. For there is no doubt that it was a real serpent in which Satan was and in which he conversed with Eve".
The skeptical challenges to the passages often take a historical critical form. For instance:
Some of the saviors or demigods of Egypt, India, Greece, Persia, Mexico and Etruria are represented as performing the same drama with the serpent or devil. "Osiris of Egypt (says Mr. Bryant) bruised the head of the serpent after it had bitten his heel." Descending to Greece, Mr. Faber relates that, "on the spheres Hercules is represented in the act of contending with the serpent, the head of which is placed under his foot; and this serpent guarded the tree with golden fruit in the midst of the garden Hesperides" -- Eden. (Origin of Idolatry, vol. i.p. 443.) "And we may observe," says this author, "the same tradition in the Phoenician fable of Ophion or Ophiones." (Ibid.) In Genesis the serpent is the subject of two legends. But here it will be observed that they are both couched in one.
Because thou hast done this,
Both the Serpent and the man have a "because you did this" indicating cause and effect. This is part of the judicial pronouncement. The animals were created to serve man not usurp authority over men. The man was responsible for ruling over the animals and should not have allowed one of the animals to lead him. The Serpent was the great deceiver and he knew quite well what he was doing by deceiving Humankind.
thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field;
The Serpent would be the lowest of all of the animals. This passage is not a curse on the rest of the animals, per se, but a result of this curse would be that the animals would be cursed as well. Even their existence would not be idyllic as it had been before the Fall. The creation had been placed in subjection to Humankind and now would suffer bondage along with Humankind.
upon thy belly shalt thou go,
The physical position of the Serpent is to be below the other animals. Leviticus states that animals that crawl on their bellies are unclean animals and cannot be eaten.
and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:
Skeptics have pointed out that snakes don’t actually eat dirt. It is true that Serpents don't actually eat dust but do consume dust along with their food. This refers more to the position of the Serpent on the ground than the dietary habits of the Serpent. This shows the lowering of the Serpent to the lowest level, and the death of the Serpent as well.
15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman,
and between thy seed and her seed;
The seed of the serpent are the natural descendents of the serpent. The seed of the woman is seen as the natural descendents of the woman.
There are two time-related aspects to this portion of the passage. The immediate aspect is the relationship of Eve to the Serpent. Because the serpent caused the Eve to be in a state of sin, the woman and the serpent would become mortal enemies for both of their lives.
Secondly, this portion is causative but it also has a prophetic nuance as well. God is the cause agent in creating this enmity between the Serpent and the Woman. To be more precise, the broken relationship between Humankind and God was due to the Serpent. Humankind would take this out on the Serpent through a traditional enmity over time. Man would resent the part that the Serpent played in the Fall and take out that resentment on snakes.
An interesting New Testament example of this relationship is the shipwreck of Saint Paul on Melita. Paul was met by helpful Islanders who were shocked when Paul was bit by a viper and shook it off into the fire. The Islanders watched Paul and when he failed to die from the snakebite they concluded that Paul must be a god. This led to an opportunity to share the Gospel on the island and minister to the needs of the people on the island. What was intended for evil was turned into an opportunity for good among the people of that island.
it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
This is the key part of the passage. Until this point, the seed is plural. The Woman would have offspring, as would the Serpent. Because the serpent is on the ground, the "natural relationship" would be that the descendents of the women would step on the serpent’s head and the serpent would bite the woman’s descendents heel.
However obvious this interpretation might seem on the surface, that is not the grammar of this passage. At this point a very significant grammatical shift occurs. The words, "it", "thy", "thou" and "his" are all singular. This refers to a specific individual. The passage does not say, "they shall bruise your head(s), and you(all) shall bruise their heels". This is significant in a couple of ways.
A table representing the flow of verse 15 is:
1 – Current
2 – Future – general
3 – Future – specific
One key point to note is that it is not a descendent of the Serpent, but the Serpent himself who would have this future encounter. In the encounter, the Serpent and the descendent of the woman would bruise each other. Also, there’s to be a difference in the outcome due to the relative positions of the two. The bruised head of the serpent and the bruised heel of the descendent of the woman show two different degrees of injury.
There’s no help in the immediate context to determine who this individual might possibly be. The passage doesn’t give any guidance and there are no direct references to this passage in the Old Testament. It’s left open as an enigmatic passage, although there are possibly some hints in a number of Old Testament passages.
Some of these sorts of enigmatic passages are well answered in the New Testament. In the clearest New Testament passage, Romans 16:20, Paul refers to the bruising of Satan by the church. This eschatological understanding is part of a blessing Paul gives to the church at Rome at the end of his Epistle.
The end of Mark also shows believers fearlessly picking up snakes without fear as a sign that they are true believers. This reverses the curse of Genesis, at least in some sense.
This passage is frequently referenced as the first "messianic passage" or protoevangelium, in the Old Testament. In this interpretation, the bruising of the (singular) seed is the death of Christ. Also, the bruising of the Serpent is seen as the triumph of the cross over the Serpent. In killing Jesus, the Serpent seals his own fate.
The temptation of the woman and the man can also be contrasted on at least several levels to the temptation of Christ. Where Adam and Eve failed, Christ succeeded.
An interpretation that has been offered by some is that the passage refers to the Anti-Christ as the incarnation of the Serpent that would have his head bruised. The strength of the argument is that the Anti-Christ receives a fatal blow, but he recovers. The problem here is that the passage doesn’t refer to the offspring of the Serpent, but to the Serpent himself.
Some commentators even take this passage as a veiled reference to the virgin birth. This is fueled since this passage contains a rare reference to woman's seed and most Biblical references are to men's seed. It is noted as significant that the particular Genesis passage does not refer to the offspring of the man, but refers to the offspring of the woman. The passage is clearly meant as prophetic since it refers to events that have not yet happened. Another possible New Testament cross-reference to this passage is found in Gal 4, where Paul describes Jesus as "born of a woman".
But, does the "he" in the passage refer to Jesus? It seems quite probable that the author himself did not have that intent. Theologically, from the Christian perspective, Jesus is the particular descendent of the woman, and he is the Messiah who reversed the curse of the Serpent on Humankind. Also, on the cross, Jesus is pierced by the nails in his feet. Failing any other Old Testament identification of interpretation to the contrary, Jesus is the prime New Testament candidate for fulfillment of the prophetic element of this passage, but it’s not likely that was what the author of the passage had in view.
16 Unto the woman he said,
There is no "because you", like there is for the Man and the Serpent, the Woman was asked already what had happened and she confessed her part. The Serpent had deceived Eve. God had given the instructions about the trees to Adam before Eve was created. However, the woman knew about and understood the instructions because she correctly repeated them back to the Serpent when questioned by the Serpent about the instructions.
I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception;
This has any number of possible interpretations including, miscarriages, death of husband and children, the added physical effort needed for life. The interesting phrase is "multiply conception", does this mean having more children is a part of the Fall? If so, surely it mitigates against the phrase, "be fruitful and multiply". This doesn’t seem to be a likely interpretation. Another question raised by the passage is if women would have sorrow at all if it had not been for the Fall. It seems that they would not.
in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children;
This probably refers to the physical pain of childbirth. There are a large number of references in the Old Testament to the pain of childbirth. The loss of life at birth was common in ancient world with poor medical care. The lack of effective anesthesia for difficult cases brings little relief to the pain. The multiplication of children brings with it a multiplication of pain.
and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
There is some disagreement between commentators on this passage. Does the passage refer to the desire to be ruled by the husband or is it the desire to rule over the husband? It is beyond the scope of this paper to determine which interpretation is correct.
Some of the more radical feminist scholars take this to mean that the woman is cursed to live in a patriarchal society. Before the fall, the woman is portrayed as the helper not the subject. The establishment of the hierarchy of God ruling over the husband who is in turn ruling over the wife, instead of the husband being equal to the wife seems to be in view here. The problem here is that after the Fall of Eve and before the Fall of man, she had sought to control man by taking him where he should not go. Thus, this is a proper penalty for her actions. Because she improperly sought to control her husband, she would herself be controlled by her husband.
This relationship is to be a functional hierarchy rather than a malevolent dictatorship, although this passage doesn’t deal with commandments for the man in that regard.
17 And unto Adam he said,
The man was held responsible and God had first asked the man what happened. Man was afraid of God and hid from God. Adam is the last one addressed in the curses. Adam was the one to whom the command was given directly originally.
The Old Testament has surprisingly few references to the cursing of Adam as found in this passage although there is a reference to Adam in the book of Job. This reference is interesting since there are few other markers in the book of Job to indicate dating.
In contrast, Paul makes extensive theological use of the event in Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 1 Timothy. The sin of Adam, per Paul, was the sin of one man that caused all Humankind to become guilty. Similarly, the righteousness of Christ is the way that all can escape the death that Adam brought into the world.
Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife,
Eve is not referred to by name in this passage, but Adam is. Eve is referred to as "the woman" and "thy wife" before the Fall. Adam didn’t name Eve until after the Fall.
This follows the previous naming pattern where Adam named each of the animals.
Adam had listened to his wife instead of God. Eve had listened to the Serpent instead of Adam or God.
This raises the hypothetical question, what if Adam had not eaten along with Eve? Would she alone have been cast out? Like most hypotheticals of this sort, there is no evidence to draw a firm conclusion in the passage.
It’s worth noting that Eve’s sin was due to deception, but Adam's sin was deliberate. This is shown theologically in the New Testament. Contrary to popular homiletical usage, this is not a commendation of men.
and hast eaten of the tree,
There were two trees to eat fruit from; one was the tree of life, the other was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve ate from the wrong tree, the one they were told not to eat. There was no prohibition from eating the fruit of the other tree.
This raises another hypothetical possibility. What if Adam had gotten to the tree of life before God came down to the Garden for His evening stroll? This is yet another unanswerable question. Adam and Eve were too busy making clothes for themselves from the leaves of the trees to apparently think of it. Yet another tree became the source of their coverings. God had to expell Adam and Eve from the Garden before they took the fruit of the tree and lived forever in their sinful state. This is again a foreshadow that God had something better for them than remaining in their sin.
There are few other Old Testament references to the tree of life. One of the few is in Proverbs referring to wisdom. This is another enigmatic subject that is mostly neglected in the Old Testament and later picked up again in the New Testament.
The tree of life reappears in the New Testament in the book of Revelation. Its fruit is promised to those who overcome the present age and make it to Paradise. The tree of life is in the middle of the New Jerusalem. A good deal of additional information about the tree is added in the book of Revelation including details of when it bears fruit and the uses of the fruit. Finally, the tree of life is given as a promise to those who do the commandments of God. This is another "undoing" or reversal of the curse God placed on mankind in the Garden.
of which I commanded thee,
God reminded Adam that He had given this as a direct commandment. In fact, it was the only commandment and Adam and Eve broke it. There is much here that speaks to us of our condition. Adam was not repentant, just embarrassed.
saying, Thou shalt not eat of it:
God reiterated the commandment He had given that Adam was not to eat of the tree. Part of the original warning was the statement, "in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die". Yet, Adam and Eve did not die the day that they ate of the tree. There are a couple of possible explanations.
One is that God used it as a warning, but gave grace. Certainly, it was God’s prerogative to determine whether or not He would terminate their existences. This has the negative of making God appear as One who gives idle threats.
To be sure, Adam and Eve set in action a course of events that would result in their own physical deaths and the deaths of all of their offspring. It was delayed, but not forever.
A more popular view, albeit one that has Christian overtones, is that Adam and Eve died spiritually that day. In breaking their relationship with God, they died to God. They no longer had that intimate fellowship that they had once enjoyed with God. No longer would the Lord-God take walks in the Garden with them. Their relationship with God would now be adversarial and long-distance.
cursed is the ground for thy sake;
The curse went beyond Adam and Eve and touched the earth itself. Previously, the Garden had produced freely for Adam and Eve. This would no longer be the case. The trees themselves had come out of the earth and given fruit, but even the ground was now cursed.
But, the Garden was not cursed. It was closed off to Adam and Eve. The ground of the rest of the Earth which had been blessed and told to be fruitful in beginning would no longer be cooperative with Adam. The previous blessing was not completely undone. The land would still produce, but with much toil.
in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
Adam and Eve would have a particularly pointed sorrow due to their memory of the Garden. If only they had not sinned, they could have stayed in that beautiful garden. Instead of the fruit of the Garden, they got the fruit of their sins, a limitation of lifespan and sorrows.
Also there would be sorrow because the garden required much less labor. Adam went from the keeper of the Garden to someone who had to work to get anything at all to grow. Particularly as the outside world had no previous tenants and would have been quite bare.
18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee;
Instead of automatically producing fruit, the ground would produce thorns and thistles. One only needs to go to visit areas where there is no farming to see this. The natural state is quite hostile. This would play out quite soon after they left the Garden where Cain was a farmer.
and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
This passage has led some to speculate that humans were vegetarians between the Creation and the Flood. After the flood, God tells man that He had given man herbs before, and that he was now giving man both vegetable and animal life for food. If this is so, why did Abel raise sheep?
Additionally, what seems to be in view here is the loss of fruit and switch to vegetables. No longer would Adam be able to live from the fruit that freely grew from the trees but Adam would be forced to scratch his sustenance from the ground. Like the Serpent, this is a movement down.
It may be significant that the coverings that Adam and Eve made for themselves were plant leaves, but the covering that God made for man was skins, presumably animal. This has Old Testament continuities with the animal sacrifices of the Law. In these sacrifices, the life of the animal is given as an exchange for the sin of the one making the sacrifice. This theme has its highest expression in the Old Testament in the Passover where the blood of the lamb was placed over the lintels of the children of Israel and the Destroyer passed over their house.
This theme is picked up in the New Testament where Jesus is the Passover lamb. Instead of the blood of an animal, it is the blood of the Son of God that is sacrificed as a final offering for the sins of the people.
19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,
This again points to the labor required to get food contrasted to Garden where food came relatively effortlessly.
till thou return unto the ground;
Adam was created from the ground and Adam was to return to the ground. This was a reference to the physical death of Adam. God had threatened Adam that the day he ate of the tree of life he would die. That threat is now delayed indefinitely, but it will happen.
for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
Chemically, the physical composition of man is the same as the ground. This is obvious in that we grow from small to large by what we eat. All that we eat comes ultimately from the ground even if it is animals. Thus we still derive our lives from the ground. At death, man would be reduced to elemental organization and returned to the ground.
Death is at the end of the monologue. There are notes of hope in the monologue, but by and large it is a terminal point which has no undoing in the Old Testament. It’s not until the New Testament that the curse is reversed. Death is the ultimate release from the toil that man was cursed to perform, but even death had uncertainty.
This passage marks a transition from the prior state of the man and the woman to the present condition. It has explanatory power for the question of why men and women find themselves in a state of sin and death.
The role of the Serpent is also pivotal. God is not responsible for our present condition, the temptation of the Serpent, and the willing obedience of the man and the woman to the Serpent, rather than God, is the cause of the present condition.
This passage provides explanatory power in answering the question of how this world got so messed up. After all, if God is good and only makes things that are good, yet the world is clearly not good, the question of how it got this way is a fundamental question that needs to be answered. The Genesis narrative as a whole serves this purpose.
Other theological systems have either a Pantheon of Gods with their petty jealousies between the Gods or a series of lesser gods emanating as lesser lights. In the Genesis account, there is a single intermediate agency, the Serpent, which is used to explain the mediation of evil into the world. Free will required a choice between alternatives and the woman and man freely made the choice, albeit they were not told the truth by the Serpent.
Even in the curses, there’s a seed of a promise.
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