Because of the thorns and thistles that will come up amongst the edible crops of the world, it will require hard work to produce and gather what we need to eat. Genesis 3:19 begins with this idea of strenuous labor. It reads, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread…” Nothing will be easy for the man. A Jewish commentator, Ben Ezra, wrote, “They will have to slave at winnowing and grinding and kneading and cooking—unlike the way the animals eat.” Another one, Hizkuni said, “Adam’s curse applies only to farmworkers, but Eve’s greater curse applies to all women; she not only sinned, but caused Adam to sin.”[1] Well, that’s wrong! It doesn’t matter what work you do; it will become difficult and take effort because our nature will oppose it to some extent. The big issue is that man will have to do what he doesn’t want to do to stay alive. I would add that it’s true also for just staying healthy.

My Dad was a very hard laborer. He did plaster patching in the winters in order to stay out of the weather. He did external stonework whenever the weather permitted. Neither me nor my brother wanted to work for him. My cousins did better but they didn’t like it either. It required carrying 94 pound sacks of Portland cement, mixing cement in a mortar box, carrying 5 gallon buckets of water and sand and carrying the finished product to him so he could apply it. He would yell, “Mud! Mud!” That meant he was running out and we needed to hurry up. You were supposed to keep up with him. We all found that was nearly impossible! I did not want to “sweat” like that for a living so I got into office work. I wanted to do anything but “carry mud!” In the Navy I became a chief administrator and later a recruiter. When I retired, I became a pastor and preached for my living. But it didn’t take long to figure out that I needed to “sweat.” McCalip has it right when he writes, “God said that man would have to sweat for a living, and those who have cushy office jobs are recognizing that sweat is just what we need to be healthier.”[2] You either lift buckets of mud, bales of hay, bags of cement or weights in the early morning or late evening. It doesn’t matter. God said you have to sweat! So, if you want to stay healthy, you better do some sweating.

But the curse is more than physical. There’s a social and psychological dimension to work. There is, as Solomon says in Ecclesiastes, “vanity of vanities.” It’s all useless outside of a connection with God. David Helm writes, “Man’s attempt to live outside the rule of God results not in his becoming like God, as the serpent promised; rather, it results in a never-ending struggle for survival. Without God, there is little more than futility in our work. The twentieth-century mystic Simone Weil put it this way: ‘He exhausts himself in order that he may eat, and he eats in order that he may have the strength to work, and after a year of toil, everything is as it was when he began.” Helm goes on to quote Studs Terkel’s book, “Working.” He says, “This book, being about work, is by its very nature, about violence—to the spirit as well as to the body. It is about ulcers as well as accidents. About shouting matches as well as fist fights. About nervous breakdowns as well as kicking the dog around. It is, above all (or beneath all) about daily humiliations.’”[3] Is the only relief from such a fate death? No! Swindoll says, “The perspiration that dripped from his skin came because of his quest for independence, and it provided an ongoing reminder of the need to live in faithful dependence on God. That lesson may lie behind Luke’s reference to sweat in another garden, Gethsemane. In His most excruciating moment of submission to the will of the Father, Jesus’ sweat fell to the ground like drops of blood (Luke 22:44). He was identifying with fallen humanity…”[4]

[1] Carasik, Michael, ed. 2018. Genesis: Introduction and Commentary. Translated by Michael Carasik. The Commentators’ Bible. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society.

[2] McCalip, Steven Melvin. 2002. Where’d That Come From?. Chattanoga: AMG Publishers.

[3] Helm, David R., and Jon M. Dennis. 2001. The Genesis Factor: Probing Life’s Big Questions. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[4] Swindoll, Charles R., and Roy B. Zuck. 2003. Understanding Christian Theology. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.