STUDY THIRTEEN: CURSE AND CONDEMNATION [Genesis 3:14-24]
© Rosemary Bardsley 2013
[Note: the content of this study is largely taken from the Biblical Foundations of Marriage studies on this site.]
The expressions of death and division that we looked at in the previous study are the automatic effects of our choice of disobedience in Genesis 3. There we, in Adam, opted for the impossibility of ‘life’ severed from God. There we, in that choice, in that reaching for independence, found that instead we obtained only a fractured, fragmented, fragile existence that God calls ‘death’ and in which we are separated, divided, alienated from ourselves, from others and from God. As we look around our world, as we look into the depths of our own souls, we find that this is all too horribly true.
But we come now to a second part of the sin factor that impacts us in a tragic way. Here we encounter God’s word of judgement in which he introduces changes to the very fabric of creation and to the relationships and responsibilities in which man exists. These changes, which are still with us, were not part of the original creation, not part of God’s creative purpose for man. From this point on human existence is not ‘normal’ – it is abnormal.
A. THE CURSE
The Genesis 3 ‘curse’ is not addressed directly to the man and the woman, but to the serpent [and thereby to Satan] in verse 14, and to the ground in verse 17. However, the results of that curse impact both the man and the woman. In addition the two areas of their God-given responsibility and role, which were given as God’s blessing, now become areas of suffering and hardship, making it reasonable to conclude that the curse, though not stated, is also applied to Adam and Eve. [The Deuteronomic concept as ‘blessing’ as the opposite of ‘curse’ (Deuteronomy 28) supports this.] In addition, the work of Christ is understood to redeem us from the ‘curse’ by becoming a curse for us [Galatians 3:10-13]. While this is directly in reference to being under the curse of inability to keep the law, we cannot ignore the fact that Adam and Eve here were under the ‘curse’ of the one law God had given them in Genesis 2:17.
In Genesis 1:28-29 God blessed Adam and Eve. This blessing spanned the significant areas of life:
The marriage relationship 1:28
Our relationship to the rest of creation 1:28
Our physical sustenance 1:29
But now, in Genesis 3:14-19, every area of blessing is impacted by God’s judgement on sin.
Food now becomes difficult to obtain [3:17-19]; survival becomes a heavy burden laid upon the man specifically, whereas in Genesis 1 the blessing of sustenance was a shared gift.
Dominion over the earth now becomes dangerous [3:15], and difficult [3:17-19].
The bearing and raising of children becomes very painful [3:16a].
The marriage relationship changes to a relationship of domination and desire [3:16b]
In each of these expressions of the curse, or of God’s judgement on sin, we are reminded that we were created for dependence on God, and that only in him can we find strength and identity. Each of them drives us to acknowledge our weakness and vulnerability, and the impossibility of our surviving either physically or emotionally without God. Had God left us as sinners in a perfect world we would not be driven to seek him, we would have thought ourselves sufficient in ourselves to sustain ourselves and our futures. For this same reason God destroyed the tower of Babel [Genesis 11], and confused the languages. In our modern era, with its advances in technology and medicine, with secular man believing that he holds his destiny in his hands, we can see God still enforcing his curse, his judgement, as new threats to our existence arise as rapidly as old ones are eradicated. At every point of the curse, and in every age, we are reminded of both our rebellion against the word of God and our rejection of our identity as creatures dependent on God.
Then and now God’s judgement is, to a great extent, that he gives us exactly what we reach for [see Romans 1:18-32]. God’s curse or judgement here in Genesis 3 is directly related to life cut off from him. We in Adam reached for independence from God; God, in his judgement, condemns us to the outworking of that independence.
A.1 The woman’s suffering [3:16a]
Most Bible teachers agree that this judgement on the woman encompasses the whole realm of motherhood: physical suffering in pregnancy, physical stress and pain in childbirth, and emotional and mental pain in the raising of children. Some teachers mention that the Hebrew words also include reference to an increase in the number of children the woman will bear.
A.2 The man’s suffering [3:17-19a]
The judgement on the man affects his ‘work’. In the pre-sin world ‘work’ was neither stressful nor frustrating: it was part of God’s blessing, consisting of easily obtained food and meaningful activity. Now, because of man’s choice to rebel against God, God cursed the ground. This judgement upon the man resulted in ‘painful toil’; physical nourishment is obtained only as a result of hard and frustrating labour. ‘Nature’, over which man and woman together were given dominion in the order of creation, now becomes a threat to survival. [Read also Genesis 4:12 where Cain’s murder of his brother brought a further judgement affecting the productivity of the land.]
Task #1: Discuss the negative effects these judgements of God have in the life of your family.
The physical traumas of pregnancies
The pain of childbirth
The mental and emotional stresses of raising a family
The fact that the ‘work’ necessary for survival is now painful and difficult
The fact that ‘work’ is now filled with frustration
Task #2: Personal assessment:
 In your various relationships, do you take account of the impact of this judgement of God on the members of your family?
 Do you relate to their difficulties with compassion and understanding as one who is also under this judgement of God?
 In what ways can you change to be more compassionate and understanding when your family suffers from these judgements?
A.3 The entry of danger and death [3:15-19]
The fragility and vulnerability which automatically entered the human soul when we rejected God also entered our physical existence. The physical world, over which we were given dominion in God’s word of blessing, now, by God’s word of judgement, becomes threatening to us and our survival.
As rebel humans we stand threatened with the possibility of death in child-bearing.
As rebel humans we stand threatened with the possibility of death in our daily work.
As rebel humans we stand threatened with the possibility of death from our environment.
As rebel humans we know that we are dying – that death inevitably comes.
Thus we do not live only with fear in relationship with God and others, we live also with the fear of death – our own death and the death of those we love. [See Hebrews 2:15]
Task #3: Discuss the role that death and the fear of death plays in your relationships.
[For example, how much of a wife’s ‘nagging’, or how much of the husband’s anger or his absorption in his work, is connected with the presence or fear of suffering and death?] Discuss also how an understanding of this should affect the way we respond when a family member’s attitude expresses this fear of suffering, danger and death.
A.4 Dominion and desire [3:16b]
Under this heading we come to an aspect of God’s judgement or curse which specifically impacts the marriage relationship. Here in this judgement the equality, unity and mutual interdependence which existed between man and woman in the original creation is changed. It is not removed – but it is changed. This change is defined in God’s judgement on the woman:
Your desire will be for your husband, and
He will rule over.
We need to recognize that these words are not a command either to the wife or to the husband. They are a statement of how life corrupted by sin and under the judgement of God will be.
Your desire will be for your husband. At first it seems strange that this should be God’s judgement or curse, for surely a wife’s desire should be for her husband. But there is something about this ‘desire’ that makes it abnormal – part of the sin-cursed life, part of the life that God did not create us for. We need to thoughtfully consider just what it is so that we can recognize it as part of God’s judgement, and not confuse it with the ideal marriage relationship of the original creation. The Hebrew word refers to a strong, intense desire, a violent craving, a stretching out towards. Perhaps we will never know exactly what it means for none of us have experienced the perfect, unmarred marriage relationship of Genesis 1 and 2. We can, however, identify five different, but related, expressions of this ‘desire’:
A sustained and indefinable awareness that ‘something is missing’ in the relationship, that there is an unreachable quality, a desirable component of the relationship that the wife desires the husband to supply, but he doesn’t, indeed he cannot. [It is God alone who can supply what is now missing.]
A primary focus of life on the desire to please the husband, which conflicts (sometimes terribly) with, or over-rides, the wife’s personal desires, and which has replaced the order of creation where, while the woman was created to complement the man, her primary identity, significance and role was to be God’s image bearer. [Read 1Corinthians 7:34]
Related to this, is a destructive desire for the husband’s reputation and standing, which pulls the wife into a personal loss of identity when the husband’s reputation is under fire.
An almost magnetic attraction to the husband, to the extent that abused women repeatedly return to their abusive husbands (including de facto husbands or ‘boy-friends’), with the twisted belief that his abuse is an expression of the strength of his ‘love’. [‘Masochism’]
She is thwarted in fulfilling her desires because they are now under the rule and authority of her husband.
And he will rule over you. Here we must remember three facts:
That this is not the order of creation. This is life in the abnormal world of Genesis 3 onwards. As such it is something very different from the leadership and responsibility innately possessed by Adam by virtue of his prior creation. [The responsibility of leadership was not mentioned in Gen 1 and 2.]
It is not God’s command to the husband: it is God’s judgement on the wife. In this world now dominated by sin and inhabited by sinners, God pronounced a system of authority: that, in the marriage, the husband is in authority over his wife.
That this ‘rule’ is not the same as the ‘dominion’ or ‘rule’ which Adam and Eve were given over the rest of creation in Genesis 1;26,28. The word translated ‘dominion’ or ‘rule’ over creation means ‘to tread down’ or ‘to subjugate’. The word translated ‘rule’ in Genesis 3:16 simply means to rule or reign over, that is, to be in authority over, without the connotation of superiority, dominance, oppression or tyranny.
Having severed themselves from God and his authority the wife has now only the fallible husband on whom to depend, and the husband is in the impossible position of having to fill God’s shoes. Neither can find in such a situation the fulfilment of life and joy intended by God when he created them in his image, and made them to perfectly complement each other.
God’s word of judgement here put in place an order of authority for life as a sinner. Yet, in the hands of sinners, this order of authority has itself become corrupted, and right around the world we find in marriages, including Christian marriages, not the authority that God’s judgement instated in Genesis 3:16, but a sinful assumption and enforcement of that other kind of rule that God commanded as appropriate for non-human creatures, not for those he created in his image endowing them with value, dignity, equality and unity.
B. THE CONDEMNATION
Genesis 3:22-24 records the ultimate condemnation: separation from the tree of life, exclusion from eternal life. This is, in effect, exclusion from the presence of God. From Genesis 3 onwards we are banned, barred, exiled, outlawed from the presence of God, from eternal life.
Task #4: Write out and discuss these phrases from verses expressing this fundamental and ultimate prohibition:
Exodus 25:22, with 26:33
Unless God does something to reverse this result of human rebellion, every single one of us will, because of this condemnation to separation from God:
Spend our lives on this earth cut off from the One who gives meaning and purpose to our lives.
Spend our lives on this earth with a destructive hopelessness.
Degenerate into further expressions of sinfulness, degradation and despair [Read Romans 1:18-32 and Ephesians 4:17-19].
Fear the future, where death looms as an inescapable threat [Hebrews 2:15], and
Fear the final judgement of God, against whom we rebelled.
In reaching for independence from God in Genesis 3 we have got what we reached for. But, instead of the life of glory we thought we were grasping, we find that we have nothing but dust and ashes in our hands. Satan’s lie, Satan’s deception, was complete.
We are, each one of us, condemned to this separation from God: to this degradation and despair, to this alienation from our real identity and this destructive, degrading, despairing bondage to sin and fear and guilt.
While the primary meaning of this prohibition from the tree of life is our spiritual death, the physical significance is also real and impactive: that we are hereby condemned to physical mortality. This is made clear in God’s reason for barring the tree: ‘He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take from the tree of life and eat, and live forever’ [3:22]. Man, the sinner, cannot be allowed immortality.