Because mankind rebelled against God, and betrayed a Just God, there must be punishment. We see from verse 14 onwards, God’s punishment: first to the snake, then to woman, and finally towards man. However, our God is not only a Just God, He is also a Loving God full of mercy and grace. Therefore, even in the midst of the great curse of Genesis 3, we can see God’s wrath mixed with mercy.
We’ve already considered the anatomy of temptation and the character of the snake. Today we turn our attention to our Righteous and Graceful God. We will explore His response to sin and evil and remind ourselves that God hates sin, but He longs to rescue sinners. In this passage we can see a microcosm of the Gospel.
In reverse order:
‘Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
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’ (vv 17-19)
The punishment is severe. The work that Adam once had to do before, is now frustrated, complicated and filled with futility. Tim Keller put’s it like this: “In other words, work, even when it bears fruit, is always painful, often miscarries, and sometimes kills us…in all our work, we will be able to envision far more that we can accomplish, both because of a lack of ability and because of resistance in the environment around us. The experience of work will include, pain, conflict, envy and fatigue…’ (Every Good Endeavour, 89-90). He goes on to explain that this curse also demonstrates that work will become: pointless, selfish and will reveal our idols.
In this curse we see the context of work (ground), the fruit of work (eat the plants) and frustration of work (thorns and thistles) all subjected to punishment.
We also see promised punishment of death – that Adam would return to the ground as dust.
So where is grace?
We see grace in the fact that the man is not cursed himself. It is the ground. A quick look at the snake’s punishment reveals that the serpant was cursed! We are merely ‘put under the curse’. The full wrath of God is withheld against us, and directed instead to the ground. (Hence Romans 8 speaks of creation groaning!) We are punished indirectly.
We also see mercy in that Adam will be able to eat. His work will not be entirely futile. It will provide food for them, in this way we see God’s ongoing provision of man. God could have punished Adam by making him work for fruit that others would eat! This is in fact a blessing elsewhere in the Bible (Psalm 128:2)
One commentator went so far as to say that the promised death, was also a demonstration of God’s grace. Otherwise, man would have to continue living forever in a state of separation from God, from life, from blessing. Instead, God allows death, so that through faith in the Promised One they might be saved and return to the Garden. (More on that in the next post).
In this way we can see wrath mixed with mercy. In Wednesday’s post we will examine the concoction of mercy and wrath served by the rest of the curse.
It is a cause of worship that we come to the same God who in His wrath remembers mercy.