After dealing with the Serpent and the woman, God now turns his attention to the man. It was to Adam that He gave the directions about not eating from the forbidden fruit so it feels like this is the bottom line. Genesis 3:17 says, “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.” God cursed the serpent and He pronounced some serious consequences on the woman and now He curses the ground. He does not curse man! In their discussion on how best to translate the Hebrew word for Adam, the Handbook for translators tell us that this is the first appearance of the proper name. In other words, it appears that God addresses Adam by his personal name instead of saying “the man.” The indictment begins with the cause of the curse. It’s because he listened to his wife. I’ve told many jokes about this phrase over the years. Abraham listened to his wife also when she gave him Hagar to bed in order to have children. Listening to your wife can be dangerous. But then again, so can not listening. But it wasn’t the listening that was the problem. Several times in the Bible God tells men to listen to their wives. The Handbook rightly concludes, “It is not listening as a passive act, but rather doing what he hears her say.”[1] Sometimes doing what he hears his wife say is good. God instructed Abraham to listen to his wife concerning Hagar and her son.

Before the ground was cursed, it gave of its produce generously. But now, as Hughes observes, “Ironically, the very ground that had been such a source of joy when Adam cared for the garden now became the source of his ongoing pain. The earth became an enemy.”[2] Briscoe compares the state in which Adam finds himself with that of a war torn England after World War Two. He writes, “Winston Churchill, standing in the wreckage of war-torn Europe, told the House of Commons on the 13th day of May, 1940, ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat’—words strangely reminiscent of the solemn words spoken long before to a man standing in the wreckage of a glorious garden. Life would become a struggle for survival, a battle against a world strangely reluctant to yield its benefits.”[3]

Churchill’s use of “blood, toil, tears, and sweat” sound appropriate. The word for “pain” here means “hard labor.” Just as the woman will produce children through “hard labor” so too will man provide food only through “hard labor.” Yes, blood, toil, tears and sweat have become the lot for man and woman both. God had in his generosity told Adam that of the trees of the garden he may “freely” eat! Not anymore! There is no such thing as a free lunch anymore, or so the saying goes. In the reversal of this curse, Jesus offers us a free lunch. It’s more than that. In John 6:34, “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’” Furthermore, according to the book of Revelation, we will be given access once again to the “tree of life” from which we may freely eat.

[1] Reyburn, William David, and Euan McG. Fry. 1998. A Handbook on Genesis. UBS Handbook Series. New York: United Bible Societies.

[2] Hughes, R. Kent. 2004. Genesis: Beginning and Blessing. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[3] Briscoe, D. Stuart, and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. 1987. Genesis. Vol. 1. The Preacher’s Commentary Series. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.