************ Sermon on Genesis 3:17-19 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 26, 2010
"The Curse on the Man"
We hear a lot today about human rights. The American Constitution recognizes Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness as unalienable rights. Have you noticed that this list of rights has been growing over the years? Today there is also the right to an abortion, the right to government subsidies and government bail-outs, the right to an education, the right to collect unemployment, the right to welfare and medical care, the right to a Christmas dinner and Christmas presents. Going along with this growing list of rights is an entitlement mentality: Me – and my kids – deserve all of this.
Do you know what our text teaches us this morning? That no one owes you a living – not God, not your parents, not your government, not life itself. You do not have a right to happiness. You have a right to nothing. Because you are a sinner under the curse of God. Happiness is not our right but, rather, a result of God's love and mercy. It is all of grace.
Let me review with you, for a moment, where we are at in Genesis. God created the heavens and earth out of nothing. God made man in His image and put him in a paradise, a perfect Garden, to work it and take care of it. God established a covenant of works with man requiring obedience, promising eternal life, and threatening death. Man broke the covenant of works when he ate from the tree that God commanded him not to eat from. God announced judgment upon Satan and his serpent, upon the woman, and – we see today – upon man.
I General Observations
A Before looking at the judgment upon man I want to make some general observations.
We notice that only the serpent (and, therefore, Satan) is directly cursed by God. Neither the woman nor the man are directly cursed but they certainly do come under the effects of the curse. So, there is a mixture of mercy mixed in with God's judgment as far as the man and woman are concerned.
B We notice that each of the judgments are a double judgment: there is a judgment upon a life function and there is a judgment upon a relationship. The serpent, for instance, is condemned to crawl on its belly; and, there is lifelong enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. The woman is told she will have pain in childbearing; and, there will be abuse and manipulation in her relationship with the man. Today, we see the same pattern in the judgment upon the man: there is a judgment upon a life function – man's work – and there is a judgment upon a relationship – man's relationship to and with the earth.
C We notice that a reason for the judgment is given to the serpent and to man, but not to woman. The serpent is told, "Because you have done this ..." (Gen 3:14). The serpent comes under the judgment of God because he led man into sin with lies, half-truths, twisting of the truth, and sowing seeds of doubt.
Adam is told, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it' ..." (Gen 3:17). Adam comes under the judgment of God because he listened to his wife instead of obeying the Lord. This verse does not imply that it is wrong for husbands to listen to their wives. As they lead their homes and their churches, wise men listen to the righteous and prudent suggestions of their wives; implying, of course, that foolish are those husbands who don't listen to righteous and prudent suggestions from their wives (Judges 4-5; Prov 14:1; 19:14; 31:10-31; Acts 6:1-7; 1 Tim 3:10-11; James 1:19); 1 Peter 2:17; 3:7).
D We notice that Adam faced a choice that, since the fall into sin, is a choice we all have to make at times. Too many times we have to make a choice between listening to God or listening to the sinful voices of those around us. Sometimes the sinful voices we hear are those of family members or friends; sometimes it is people we work with or play with; sometimes it is fellow church members; sometimes the voice is within our own heart. "Go ahead," the voices say, "Try it. You will like it." Do you think Eve probably said that to Adam?
The voices Adam heard urged him to eat the forbidden fruit. With you and me the voices can be about drugs, alcohol, sex, pornography, money, etc. – all of them urging, leading, tempting us to sin.
Do you know what we need? We need to make sure the right kinds of voices are speaking to us. We need to pick godly spouses who love the Lord with us. We need to pick godly friends who help us rather than hurt us in our walk with God. Sometimes we need to go so far as to change jobs and disown certain people in our life. Of course, the best person to listen to is the Lord Jesus Christ – which means spending time with Him everyday in Bible reading and prayer.
E The man's role in the temptation narrative seems largely passive. The woman was the one who took and ate; and she gave some to the man and he ate. However, the Bible says she was deceived (1 Tim 2:13-14); but no such claim is made for the man. Adam willingly and knowingly followed Eve's suggestion to defy God's will. Adam's guilt – which guilt is passed on to every member of the human race (Rom 5:12-21) – is not excusable by an appeal to ignorance or deception. As one commentator put it, Adam sinned with his eyes wide open.
Adam sinned knowingly. Yet, we notice he tried to lay the blame on his wife. The judgment in front of us tells us that God does not accept his excuse. All that the woman could do was tempt him to eat; she could not force him to eat. Though she was at fault for persuading him to eat, it was his fault that he listened to her.
It will be the same way on the Day of Judgment. All of man's frivolous excuses will be rejected.
F Finally, the judgment on man and woman is God's answer to Satan's fantasy, "you will be like God" (Gen 3:5). Remember that Satan said this? "You will be like God." Some fantasy! More like a nightmare. Man, like Satan, attempted to be like God. Man, like Satan, discovered the consequences of reaching too far.
II Judgment Upon the Earth
A The first thing we notice in the judgments in front of us is that man's sin leads to a curse upon the earth: "Cursed is the ground because of you" (Gen 3:17). Man falls into sin and his habitation, his planet, his round globe in space, and the entire universe is cursed. This makes me think of what Paul wrote to the church at Rome:
(Rom 8:20-22) For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope (21) that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. (22) We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.Do you hear the phrases Paul uses to describe the curse on creation? The creation is "subjected to frustration," it is in "bondage to decay," it "has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth."
What is one of the excuses people use to explain their sin? I hear it all the time: "I'm not hurting anyone." Did Adam think his sin was not going to hurt anyone? Did Adam think his sin was just between him and God and his little part of the Garden? Not true – as Adam found out. Not true – as we see when we look at creation. Sin's impact is far bigger than Adam could possibly imagine. Sin's consequences go far beyond the boundaries of the Garden. Sin's curse falls upon the creation itself.
B "Cursed is the ground because of you ... it will produce thorns and thistles for you" (Gen 3:17-18; cf Is 34:8-17). Some of you might have noticed the connection between this and our opening song, "Joy to the World." Listen to the opening lines of stanza three: "No more let sin and sorrow grow, Nor thorns infest the ground." There you have it. There you have the effect of the curse upon the ground.
"Cursed is the ground because of you ... it will produce thorns and thistles for you" (Gen 3:17-18). We see here a change in man's relationship to or with the earth.
Before the Fall, man's relationship with the earth was marked by harmony – creation grew and produced and man took and ate. After the Fall, it was the opposite – man must now coax and persuade and force the earth to grow good things. The relationship is now marked by struggle and pain and sweat.
Before the Fall, as Genesis 1 indicates, the earth was created fruitful by God. She produced an abundance of plants and trees. To a certain extent we can call her "Mother Earth" (Gen 1:11-13). After the Fall, the earth was no longer fruitful, spontaneously producing good things to eat. Instead, its spontaneous productions are now weeds and briers, thorns and thistles, and other things nauseous and even toxic.
Before the Fall, the earth was a safe and friendly place. After the Fall, the earth has become a dangerous place with poisonous plants, snakes, spiders. A dangerous place with tornadoes, hurricanes, tidal waves. A dangerous place with earthquakes, mud slides, floods. A dangerous place with droughts, fires, famine, hunger. Because of the Fall, Mother Earth has turned into a prowling lion.
C I want you to notice that God's judgment upon man's sin especially concerns the food produced by the earth. In our short little Scripture reading God speaks no less than five times about eating (three times in vs 17, one time each in vs 18 & 19). Thus the penalty on the man parallels the penalty on the serpent. To both God says a word about their eating: the serpent will "eat dust" while man now must struggle with the earth in order to eat.
Notice both the justice and the mercy of God. God is just in that the punishment fits the crime. Sin came by eating; therefore, punishment comes by eating – for both the serpent and the man.
But we see that God is also merciful. Before the Fall, man was eating from the trees of the Garden (Gen 2:16). After the Fall, God's judgment announces a change in diet – man was now going to eat the plants of the field (Gen 3:18). But notice, the earth is still going to produce food and the man is still going to eat – though the fruits the earth produces must be coaxed and even extorted from it by the ingenuity and industry of man. This means there is continuity with what life was like before sin. Isn't this a sign of God's mercy and grace? Man continues to receive what he no longer deserves.
III Judgment Upon Work
A There is also a judgment upon a life function. In the case of man, the judgment lies upon his work. Listen to what Scripture says:
(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 ... (19) By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food ...Do you hear what happens to work? It now becomes "painful toil" and involves "sweat."
The geographical details that we find in the opening chapters of Genesis leads us to conclude that the Garden of Eden was most likely located in Mesopotamia (look at the references to rivers and "the east" in Gen 2:8, 10-14; 4:16; 10:30; 11:3). Ironic, isn't it, that even in Mesopotamia – one of the most fertile places on earth – man has to work, and work hard, for his food.
I said earlier that God's penalty to the man parallels the penalty to the serpent. Now we notice it also parallels the penalty to the woman. Both suffer "pain." The woman will have pain with childbearing (Gen 3:16). The man will have pain with gathering in food (Gen 3:17). Sin impacts the highest calling of both the man and the woman. For the woman, sin impacts her calling as a mother and wife. For the man, sin impacts his calling as a family provider.
B I want you to notice that God's judgment is not work in and of itself. Man was created to work the Garden and take care of it (Gen 2:16). God did not create us for a life of luxury and ease, for a life of laying around and working on our tan. We were created to work. So, work in and of itself is not a curse from God. Rather, it is to be seen as a blessing.
What has happened is that sin impacts the nature of our work. What was an activity of grace is now often a thing of distress: thorns and thistles now entangle the harvest. Producing food is no longer a completely joyful task because evil often raises its ugly head: crops fail, locusts invade fields, computers and equipment break down, men and women step on each other to climb up the corporate ladder, employees steal or try to do as little as possible, employers take advantage of situations. For too many, work becomes drudgery. Or, its toilsome ways become an excuse to neglect family and friends and even the Lord.
Because of sin, what was once so easy and joyful has now become so hard and painful.
Topic: LaborDo you know Mr. Beecher's closing remark to the young man? He said, "I know of only one easy place in [the world], and that is in the grave." In other words, if you want it easy, you might as well die.
A student once wrote to the famous preacher Henry Ward Beecher, asking him how to obtain "an easy job." Mr. Beecher replied, "If that's your attitude, you'll never amount to anything. You cannot be an editor or become a lawyer or think of entering the ministry. None of these professions is easy. You will have to forget the fields of merchandising and shipping, abhor the practice of politics, and forget about the difficult field of medicine. To be a farmer or even a good soldier, you must study and think. My son, you have come into a hard world."
IV Judgment Upon Life
Man's judgment concludes with a death sentence. Did you hear what God said?
(Gen 3:19) 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.
This gets us back to the warning God said when He first put man in the Garden.
(Gen 2:17) ... you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.Death never comes by itself. I am sure you realize death is part of a package: suffering, pain, cancer, heart-attack, stroke, MS, AIDS, blocked arteries, worn out joints, arthritis, and so on.
Ever since the Fall, the statistics have been most impressive: 100%. One hundred percent of all people have gotten sick and have died. No one has escaped this punishment. Truly, "the wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23; cf 5:12).
But, I want you to also see death as God's blessing. Because what does death do? Death puts an end to our sinning and is our entrance into eternal life. Death is the means God uses to usher us out of the chaos, the sadness, the toil, and the pain of this present world.
Yesterday was Christmas Day. Why did Jesus come? I want to refer you, again, to the third stanza of "Joy to the World":
No more let sin and sorrow grow,Jesus came to remove the curse of sin.
Nor thorns infest the ground.
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found ...
Are we under sin's curse? Christ was made a curse for us, and died a cursed death (Gal 3:13). Do we suffer pain? So did Christ (Is 53). Did thorns come in with sin? Christ was crowned with thorns for us. Did sweat come in with sin? In the Garden, His sweat was like great drops of blood for us. Did sorrow come in with sin? He was a man of sorrows. Did death come in with sin? He became obedient to death, even death on the cross.
Someday, because of Christ, man will again live in harmony with creation (cf Is 11:6-9; 65:17-25). Someday, because of Christ, the toil and death brought by Adam will be cast out of creation (Rev 21). Someday, because of Christ, the curse will be removed.
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