Monday, August 8, 2016

Necessary Consequences-Genesis 3:14-21

The following scenario is literally as old as sin itself: two people, groups, political parties, countries, organizations, etc. are caught in a mess and immediately start to pass blame around so that they are not held accountable. It is true, we are no different than our first parents. Here is what takes place immediately after the fall of man in Genesis 3:8-13.
Image result for Paradise Lost
“They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.’ And He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ And the woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’”

Chaos has ensued in the universe once again, leaving it up to God to, for the second time, establish order. This He does by executing His own brand of discipline. Now, as a parent, I always try to consider how I’m disciplining my children, making sure that the punishment fits the crime. So, this begs a question, “What consequences possibly fit the spoiling of Paradise by disobeying God’s one and only command?”  This we will find out as we look at two responses to the fall from Genesis 3:14-21.

Response #1: Consequential Curses-3:14-21

Following the blame game, God intervenes and begins to deal with the problem in verse 14. First God decides to address the serpent saying “Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you will go, and dust you will eat all the days of your life,…”(3:14). Though originally the serpent held distinction as one of God’s most impressive creatures, now he was consigned to crawling on his belly. Also, though the serpent was craftier (arum) than all other animals, now he would be the “most cursed” (arur). Because he tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, he would now be eating dust. These punishments are related to the snake’s subsequent life of humiliation and subjugation in the natural world. The proudest animal became the lowliest of creatures. “Eating dust” conveys as much as the term is used both in the Scriptures and even to this day to mock a loser. Not only that, but eating dust anticipates mankind’s end as well. The serpent’s figurative diet –dust—will be a constant reminder of his crime against humanity that returns to dust upon death.

The second element of God’s pronouncement against the snake speaks outline his new struggle—“and I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed” (3:15a). In other words, from this point on, humanity will struggle against evil and evil against humanity. “Enmity,” in fact, possesses the connotative intensity of hostility witnessed in warfare and the level of animosity that results in murder (see Ezek. 25:15; 35:5; Num. 25:1).

Though at first this struggle will be witnessed between these two individual parties, “between you and the woman,” the conflict will not die with them. Instead, the snake and the woman represent the many that will come after them. In other words, Eve and her adversary are the progenitors of a lifelong struggle that will persist for some time and continue to be experienced “between your seed and her seed.”

However, the third element of the serpent’s curse is the most compelling—“He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel” (3:15b). Here, the plural concept of “seed” returns once again to singular representatives. Though “bruise” is used here, “crush” and “strike” are perfectly appropriate translations of the word as it is used respectively. Here, the location of the blow is telling. First, “He” will “crush you on the head.” This indicates a death blow dealt one day to the serpent and all that he represents. Second the serpent will “strike his heel”—indicating, by comparison, a recoverable injury.

For centuries this verse has been referred to as the protevangelium –“the first good news” as it is the first ever foreshadowing of Jesus’ total and complete victory over sin. Jesus, who is described as  “born of a woman” in Gal. 4:4 and is identified as the “seed” in Gal. 3:16, is the “He” of this verse who will one day crush the serpent’s head once and for all—putting an end to all evil. Though Jesus would be struck down temporarily at His crucifixion, He would recover in a most glorious way to achieve this victory in the end.

Revelation 20:10-“The Devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet are, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

What amazing news given even the midst of a curse! While God disciplines the responsible parties in this first-ever tragedy, he promises victory for His people! What grace!

Ultimately, the serpent’s curse involves humiliation, struggle, and total defeat. His curse, however, is mankind’s ultimate blessing!

However, discipline is not withheld from mankind for the time being. God’s holiness demands that He deal with sin. This is why God turns next to the woman and says, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children…” (3:16a). Notice, no reason is given here for the curse the woman receives. This is due to the woman’s culpability through deception, in contrast with the willful rebellion of the serpent and man (Matthews, 248). In other words, Eve was tricked into sin, the serpent and the man willfully and knowingly gave themselves to sin.

The first element involved in her punishment is painful labor that she must endure in the bearing of children. However, Eve, upon hearing this could take heart in at least two things. First, Eve would have found some comfort in knowing that she would live to bear children one day. Also, it would be through her offspring that final victory over sin would be achieved. Therefore, the greatest joy—victory over sin and the bearing of children—would come for Eve, but, would be experienced in pain. Painful childbirth signals hope and the promise of life but also serves as a perpetual reminder of sin and the woman’s part in it.

The second element involved in Eve’s punishment concerns her relationship with her husband—“yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (3:16b). To interpret this verse rightly one must understand Genesis 4:7b in which “desire” and “rule” are found again in tandem: “Its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Here, “sin” is compared to an animal that when stirred up will assault Cain; it “desires” to overcome Cain, but the challenge God puts to Cain is to exercise “rule” or “mastery” over that unruly desire. Using this clearer passage to shine light on 3:16, one might understand the “desire” of the woman as an attempt to control or “rule” over her husband. This, she will fail to achieve because God has ordained that the man exercise his leadership function—“and He will rule over you” (better is “but he will rule over you.”).

The meaning of “rule” depends on the context in which it is found. In some places it speaks of governance while in others it refers to exercising jurisdiction. In still others “rule” means to have dominion. However, ancient Israel provided safeguards for protecting women from unscrupulous men and the New Testament takes many steps in the same direction. Therefore, it is not consistent biblically nor is it intended here for “rule” to mean “dominate.” Instead, “rule” speaks of man’s leadership within the marriage. Man will remain the leader though the woman will seek to supplant that leadership.

Ultimately, the woman is cursed with pain in childbirth and strife within the leadership dynamics of the home. However, in spite of her sin, woman is given the opportunity to have offspring—from which will come her ultimate salvation—and a husband who will lead and take care of her.
Finally, Adam gets his due. He is cursed last, in part, because he is ultimately responsible for what happened both to himself and to his wife. His failure to speak up and lead, followed by his willful disobedience, render him especially guilty-“’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”’…” (3:17a). This is God’s way of telling Adam “you knew better and still chose to listen to your wife’s voice instead of my own.”

Man’s curse is especially fitting as he is from the ground and will now have to deal with that same ground on a whole new level—“Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil 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,…” (3:17b-18). In other words, the ground will be his enemy instead of his servant. No longer would it be a pleasure to farm the land—it would be a pain. A day’s work has now become a daily grind as thorns and thistles emerge, representing obstacles that stand in mankind’s way of getting his work accomplished. “Adam’s sin has spoiled his environment and it suffers along with him since both are dust” (Matthews, 252).

 “By the sweat of your face you will eat bread” (3:19a). Though Adam’s curse is a cause for concern and dread, that he lives to see work and eat bread is a blessing in and of itself. Just as Eve is allowed the joy of having children and the hope that comes with offspring, Adam is allowed to see achievement as a result of his labor. Both deserved sudden death, but so far these curses reveal that death is a process.  

This is further explained in the second part of verse 19 which says, “till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” In other words, the process of death will inevitably lead to mankind returning to the ground from whence it came. God’s greatest creation will end his earthly existence as the humblest of elements—dust. The same humble substance that was used to bring glory will now serve as a reminder of mankind’s humiliation due to sin.

Ultimately, Adam is cursed with toilsome labor. However, in spite of his sin, Adam is given an opportunity to take care of himself and his family for as long as he lives.

Response #2: Merciful Blessing-3:20-21

Following God’s judgments on this couple are two blessings that give the reader hope for the first couple and for the human race. First Adam names his wife “Eve” which means “living,” because, as he says, “she was the mother of all the living.” In naming her, Adam steps up to lead his wife—something he had failed to do earlier while in the garden—and looks forward to all that God has promised: offspring, accomplishments, and ultimate victory.

Here, the blessing is simple—post-sin life. In spite of their sin, Adam and Eve are able to continue living and move one from their tragic experience wiser than before. This is a powerful testimony of God’s undeserved goodness and grace for these two and their family.

However, God doesn’t stop there. He continues by taking an unprecedented step in verse 21—“The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them…”. Here, God acts on behalf of this guilty and embarrassed couple to cover their guilt and shame. Their new clothes accomplish at least two things. First they confirm that they have sinned against God and that no longer can they walk before deity in innocence. Second, they make Adam’s and Eve’s life bearable as they cover their embarrassment.

The clothes made also communicates something else—God’s willingness to cover sin by means of sacrifice. There, in the garden, an innocent animal was slain/blood was spilled in an effort to bring about peace in the lives of the guilty and render their sins covered. This, no doubt, is the beginning of a type that would be witnessed again in sacrifices for sin found in the Old Testament and most completely in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that takes away the sins of the world.

What an amazing site to behold. In the face of egregious sin, the loving grace of a perfect father who desires peace and life for his kids is expressed. He is even willing to do something unprecedented—killing an animal—to provide this! What a blessing!

So What?

And it is a blessing that we can know today by means of Jesus Christ. In spite of our sin, our loving Father came down to earth, just as he did in the garden, to make a way for us to have a life free from guilt and shame. This involved something totally unprecedented—sacrificing his one and only innocent Son on the cross. As a result of this sacrifice, not only are sins covered, they are done away with, thereby allowing us to enter into a relationship with the God who was once a long ways off because of our iniquity.

The principle of this passage for both its original audience and for us today is simple: though God is holy and just to punish sin (see the curses), He is gracious and loving to provide what is needed for life (see the blessings). This would have proven to be a great encouragement for those wandering in the wilderness—experiencing first-hand the implications of their own fall. Though they were feeling the heavy weight of God’s judgment, they could take heart in knowing that God was gracious to provide for their need as He led them to the Promised Land. This same idea also proves to be a great encouragement for believers who remain in this fallen world today. Even as God lists the consequences of sin, He cannot help but also reveal the final victory that will one day come—when sin will be vanquished, the enemy will be destroyed, and all things will be made new! Take heart! The only thing bigger than the curse of God is His promise of blessing for His own! 

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