Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’;
Cursed is the ground because of you;
In pain you will eat of it
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;
And you will eat the plants of the field;
By the sweat of your face
You will eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)
The curse is not directly on man as it was not directly on woman, but is indirectly on them both because it affects the sphere in which they live.
The woman suffers the effect of the curse in the home. The man suffers the effects of the curse in the field. For her, the pain comes in relationships with her children and her husband; for him, the pain comes in relationship with the ground as the battle for bread is waged.
The man engages in the battle for the food and support of the family. Man’s life is not going to be easy. Not only is he personally sinful, depraved, fallen, decaying, and headed toward death, but he’s going to have another problem: He’s going to find that the very ground which provides life and sustenance for himself and his family is not going to willfully submit to him. Life becomes hard work. The joy of paradise is gone.
When he was in the garden, there was everything there for him to eat. Eden was well-watered and fertile land. It was productive and free from weeds. And all a man needed to do was just pick its treasures and enjoy them without exerting himself.
A cursed ground is the opposite: lack of water, problems with the soil, problems with weeds, problems with the elements, and problems with destructive creatures. The earth will yield enough, but in order for that to happen, it’s going to take a tremendous effort.
Someday the world is going to see an earth where the curse has been removed. Look at Isaiah:
Then He will give you rain for the seed which you will sow in the ground, and bread from the produce of the ground, and it will be rich and fat; on that day your livestock will graze in a roomy pasture. (Isaiah 30:23)
Until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high,
And the wilderness becomes a fruitful orchard,
And the fruitful orchard is counted as a forest. (Isaiah 32:15)
The wilderness and the desert will be delighted,
And the Arabah will rejoice and flourish;
Like the crocus
It will flourish profusely
And rejoice with rejoicing and shout of joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
The majesty of Carmel and Sharon. (Isaiah 35:1-2)
For you will go out with gladness
And be led forth with peace;
The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you,
And all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn bush the cypress will come up,
And instead of the nettle the myrtle will come up,
And it will be to Yahweh for His renown,
For an everlasting sign which will not be cut off.” (Isaiah 55:12-13)
This describes the coming millennial kingdom, when the curse is mitigated. That is the way the world will be when Christ takes the curse off. It’ll be something like (although not exactly like) it was in Eden.
Until that time, this ground is cursed. And man, in order to get out of it what he needs to support his life and feed his family, is going to have to toil.
The ground is representative of man’s sphere. In that day it was only agrarian work. The realm of man’s life is a place of toil, a place of sorrows. The earth yields, but it yields only with immense effort. Look at Ecclesiastes:
For what does a man get in all his labor and in the striving of his heart with which he labors under the sun? Because all his days his endeavor is painful and vexing; even at night his heart does not lie down. This too is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 2:22-23)
Can you identify with that? You work all day, you go home, and you can’t go to sleep because you’ve got a problem at work you’ve got to solve.
Men, we have been cursed to do this. We’re going to eat in toil all the days of our life. The ultimate penalty on man is death. But man was not cast immediately into death; rather, he was given life. But in that life, he would never be able to forget the impact of sin. And every man who goes to work to provide for his family is living out the illustration of how painfully sin affected life.
There’s some dignity in work. There’s some achievement and provision, and it is a gift from God. But it is also a reminder of the deadliness of sin and how it has corrupted the world.
Now, God says the ground is cursed, and the only way you’re going to get anything out of it that you can eat is by work. But that doesn’t mean that nothing will grow in dirt. You and I both know what grows there without cultivation: thorns and thistles. The ground, when left to itself, will produce. But it will produce not the rich food of Eden. Man now has to fight the natural inclination of the ground to develop weeds.
So here’s how it’s going to be: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.” In other words, you’re going to eat, but you’re going to sit down to a meal sweating. And you’re going to do that until you return to the ground. You’re going to spend your whole life trying to stop the weeds and make the crop grow so you can just survive another day, eat, and feed your family.
Work takes its toll on all of us. We work until we’re 60 or 65 and then we retire. And we think of that as a mercy, but even in our retirement, someone else is working furiously to provide everything that we get in our leisure years. Somebody is engaged in the battle for bread every single day of our lives, and for most of our lives, we’re involved in that. Most of the people in the world, for most of human history, were just battling to get the next meal.
Is there any solution to this? Is there any hope of deliverance? That will be the subject next time.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 2000, titled “The Curse on the Man, Part 1.”
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