The First Curse
When I was in elementary school, every few weeks my class would shuffle off to the library where our librarian would read us books. Most of them I’ve forgotten, but one that stuck with me was a little novel by Marion Dane Bauer called “On My Honor.”
It’s about two boys, Joel and Tony, best friends from birth, and they’re spending another lazy summer day together. They decide they want to ride their bikes out to the state park ten miles outside of town. Joel begs his dad for permission, and he’s allowed to go but only after he promises on his honour that they will go only to the park and back, and be safe the whole way.
On the way to the park, they stop on a bridge over the Vermillion River, known for being dangerously full of currents and whirlpools. Tony gets the idea to go swimming and Joel caves in to the pressure, joining his friend in the river, and pushing away the thoughts of his promise to his dad.
Once they’re in the river they start egging each other on about who is more brave than the other. Joel dares Tony to a race out to a sandbar in the middle of the river. And Tony accepts, even though he can’t swim.
So they start to race. Joel makes it out to the sandbar first, declaring victory. But as he turns around, he’s all alone. There’s no Tony. At first Joel thinks Tony is playing a trick on him, but it’s not too long before reality sinks in: Tony drowned. Tony is gone.
I still remember hearing that moment in the book for the first time. None of us in the class were expecting that to actually happen. We felt what Joel felt. And the rest of the book masterfully captures the horror of a young boy realizing that his best friend is dead and that he shares in the blame.
At first Joel tries to hide the truth. He tries to lie. He tries to scrub the smell of the river off of him. But then, when the truth comes into the light, he tries to blame. He tries to blame Tony. He tries to blame his dad for letting them go.
And the book ends with him trying to fall asleep that night with a hollowness in his gut and the pain of knowing that he will need to live with that day for the rest of his life. And that’s it.
It’s a powerful story. And it made such an impression on me because its message was so different from so many other books and shows that I had taken in as a child, which basically said that we all make mistakes and it’s no big deal because it’s all going to be fine by the time the story’s over. There’s always a happy ending.
But “On My Honor” made the powerful point that sometimes there’s not a happy ending, at least within our own lifetime. Sometimes our little acts of disobedience—just going for a little swim in a river—have massive repercussions and major effects that don’t just go away.
I don’t know if Marion Bauer is a Christian, or even if she’s ever read the Bible. But her book captures the spirit and the feel of Genesis chapter 3 in a way that I haven’t encountered very often.
Genesis 3 is a part of Scripture which, if we read it properly, should have an emotional impact on us. It should come at us like a kick in the gut. It’s a story that we should react to like “On My Honor,” where we feel ourselves standing beside young Joel on the bank of the river, screaming out the name of a friend whom we know is never coming back.
And just like I needed “On My Honour” as a child, so you and I need Genesis 3. We need this part of God’s word because it reminds us of an inconvenient truth, a truth we do our best to forget most of the time. It reminds us that sin is a really big deal. That sin has consequences. That sin costs lives.
I think of all of the problems that churches in North America tend to experience these days, taking sin too seriously is not one of them. In fact, I’d suggest that not taking sin seriously enough is one of our biggest problems. We just don’t take sin very seriously.
Have you ever heard another Christian say something like “Maybe I’m just a little bit rebellious, but…”? Or, “I know I probably shouldn’t be doing this, but…” Or, “I know that’s what the Bible says, but…”
We treat sin lightly. And why? Is it not because we treat God lightly? Sin is no big deal because, if we’re honest, God is no big deal.
And Genesis 3 is here to set us straight. Particularly in our passage today, we see that sin is a way bigger deal than we often think because God is a way bigger deal than we tend to think.
And this is so important for us to grapple with and understand, because the more we get this, the more we’ll understand the gospel and how great our salvation is. And that’s where we’re headed today. Joy in the gospel. But to get there we need to talk through the deep, dark valley of the first curse.
Where We Left Off
So let’s pick up the story where we left off. In verse 7, Adam and Eve had just eaten the fruit, and, like the serpent said, their eyes were opened. They knew they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves up.
Now, verse 8. “And 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” (Genesis 3:8).
The way that verse 8 and 9 are written here suggest that God walking in the garden in the cool of the day was not a one-off activity. Coming to walk with Adam and Eve was something He did regularly.
This same word for “walking” in verse 8 is used in Leviticus and Deuteronomy and 2 Samuel to describe the way that God would "walk among" or "move with" his people in the tabernacle (Lev. 26:12; Deut. 23:14, 2 Sam. 7:6–7), which further reinforces this idea of Even being a temple and Adam being a priest.
And so God comes to walk with them, but they’re not there. They tried using fig leaves to hide their nakedness from each other, and now they are trying to use the trees of the garden to shield themselves from God.
You know this feeling, don’t you? When you hear your parents walking up the front steps right when you’re in the middle of doing the one thing they told you not to do. What do you want to do? You want to hide. And sometimes children do that—literally run and hide from their parents.
As we grow older our methods of hiding grow more sophisticated. We clear our browser history. We wash the smell off of our body. We act like nothing’s wrong. But we all know this fear of exposure. Instead of running towards the one who can forgive us, we run away from them as if that’s going to help anything.
So Adam and Eve try to hide. But God finds them. And the rest of our passage falls into two sections we’re going to call “the trial” and “the judgement.” Essentially what we see here is God conducting a trial, asking questions and then handing down a judgement.
So let’s begin by looking at the trial, in verses 9-13. The first question is there in verse 9. “But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” (Genesis 3:9). There’s two things we should notice here. First, see how kind God is here? He knows what happened but he gives Adam the chance to answer for himself. He doesn’t ask “What did you do?” or even “Why are you hiding?” simply asks “Where are you?”
I’ve found many times that when confronting sin in someone else, asking questions instead of making statements is a helpful place to begin. And that’s how God begins this process in verse 9. The second thing we need to notice here is that “The Lord God called to the man and said to him…” Adam was the man of the house. He was the one who had been given responsibility to work and keep the garden. The buck stopped with him.
Satan deliberately challenged this design when he went after Eve first instead of Adam. We can’t miss that. And we can’t miss how God talks to Adam first.
In verse 10, we see Adam’s response to the Lord. And we should notice that he doesn’t directly answer God’s question. He doesn’t say, “I’m over here, hiding!” Rather, he answers the question God hadn’t even asked yet, which is “why are you hiding?” And so he says, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10).
These were all new experiences for Adam—fear and shame. He knows that something has changed. He knows that he is not fit to appear before God the way that he is.
He’s not like a child anymore. A child can be naked and not know anything is wrong. But for an adult, in most situations, being exposed in front of others is one of our deepest fears. Many people have recurring nightmares of being naked in front of their class, for example.
And this all goes back to what sin does. Sin makes us feel guilty. Sin makes us feel afraid of being truly known and truly seen for who we are. Sin makes us terrified of exposure. Because we know we have things we should be ashamed of. And so we hide.
Adam has already answered what would have been God’s second question, and so in verse 11, the Lord asks him the next question: “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Genesis 3:11).
Of course He knows this already. But he asks another leading question to give Adam a chance to confess, a chance to give a straight answer. And what should Adam say? He should say “Yes, I did.” Instead, what does Adam say?
Verse 12: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”
This is technically true, right? Adam is confessing to his sin here. And yet it’s not hard to see Adam trying to pin most of the blame on others. He blames Eve, and ultimately he tries to blame God himself. “The woman whom you gave to be with me.”
Now in verse 13 God moves on to ask the woman questions. We’re going to find out that God does not agree with Adam that Eve deserves the blame, but she does have a role in this situation and God allows her to speak for herself. “Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’” And how doe Eve respond? “The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate’” (Genesis 3:13).
There’s less of a sense of blame in Eve’s words. She doesn’t say, “The serpent whom you made or allowed in the garden,” or “The serpent whom my husband didn’t protect me from.” Or even, “I can’t believe he’s trying to pin this on me!” She simply confesses that she was deceived, and that she ate.
And with this, the trial is complete. God has allowed Adam and Eve to speak and confess. Notice that God does not ask the serpent, “What have you done?” This suggests that God knows all about the serpent and his ways. He’s already heard everything he needs to hear.
The trial is over, and next, the judgement begins.
The judgement begins in verse 14 and continues down to verse 19 as God pronounces curses upon the serpent, the woman, and the man.
Up until this point, Genesis has been a story of blessing. God has blessed His creation (Genesis 1:22) and has blessed Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:28). But now, for the first time, He pronounces curses.
Notice the order of the cursing here. God began asking questions with the man and then moved on to the woman who mentioned the serpent. The judgement goes in the opposite direction. He begins with the serpent, pronouncing a curse upon it for its work in Adam and Eve’s fall into sin.
“The Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life’” (Genesis 3:14).
There is some level of mystery as to what all was going on here in the relationship between Satan and the serpent. The New Testament makes it very clear several times that this was Satan deceiving Eve (Revelation 12:9, Romans 16:20). So did he possess a normal serpent? Did he appear in serpentine form? We’re not totally sure.
What we do know is that from this point on, there is an association between serpents and Satan. And so God curses the serpent, as an animal, which I would suggest is a picture ad a reminder of his ultimate curse upon Satan.
“Cursed are you above all livestock,” he says. The word for “cursed” in Hebrew rhymes with the same word for “crafty” back in verse. The serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field, and now he is more cursed than any other beast of the field. And being cursed, on his belly he shall go.
In the Bible, being low, being bowed down in the dirt, is a picture of ultimate humiliation and defeat. That’s why Micah 7:17 says, of God’s enemies, “they shall lick the dust like a serpent, like the crawling things of the earth” (Micah 7:17).
Some scholars take this curse in Genesis 3 to suggest that, prior to this point, snakes had legs and possibly even wings, much like the way we think of dragons. And so God’s curse was to humiliate the serpent, and serpents after him, by making them crawl along the ground in a humble way. From this point on, every crawling snake was a reminder to Satan and to us of Satan’s humiliation and final defeat.
And that defeat comes into the picture in verse 15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
“Enmity” is when two people are enemies. God is going to put enmity between the offspring of the snake and the offspring of the woman.
“Offspring” here means more than just physical babies. We see later on in the Bible that the offspring of the serpent are those who are like him. Remember John the Baptist calling the Pharisees a “brood of vipers”? Sons of snakes? That sounds to me like a pretty clear reference to this idea.
On the other hand, the book of Genesis, and the Bible in general, is very interested in showing that there was a literal seed, an offspring, of the woman, who would come and bring salvation. That’s why we have all of the genealogies, which trace the line from Adam and Eve to Noah to Shem to Abraham to Israel to Judah to David to Joseph and Mary and finally to Christ.
This is a major theme in the Bible. Jesus is the offspring of the woman who came to crush the head of the serpent. In the process he was injured. In the act of putting his heel down on the head of the serpent, His heel was bruised. But the serpent’s wound was fatal.
So this is the judgement on the ancient serpent. He will be humbled, and he will be trampled underfoot by the offspring of the woman. Jesus delivered the death blow when He died in our place on the cross, and the final defeat is coming when the devil who deceived us will be “thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).
The Curse on Eve
If we turn to verse 16 we see God’s curse on the woman. Eve had a part in this. Eve let her self be deceived as she was led astray by her own desires and listened to the serpent instead of God. And so she experiences God’s judgement in the form of this curse:
“To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you’” (Genesis 3:16).
There’s two halves to this curse here. The first is pain in childbearing. And this was a big deal because bearing children was a big deal for Eve. That was a key place where she fulfilled her role in helping Adam be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.
And now that part of her mission is going to be full of pain. As well, her very relationship with Adam is going to be rife with tension. Look at the second half of verse 16: “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” There’s a picture here of Eve wanting to grab the reigns, wanting to overpower her husband. But it won’t work. He will rule over her.
Some people have taken this to mean that a man having authority over his wife is an effect of the fall, as if, before sin, Adam and Eve were just two partners with no differences at all in their roles. And we’ve already seen that this isn’t true. From the beginning Eve was designed to complement her husband and his authority over her was to be a safe and protective experience.
But now, because of sin, that safe and protective experience is going to be full of tension and struggle, a tension and struggle that far too many of us have seen far to much of in marriages around us.
Finally, if we turn to verses 17-19 we’ll see the greatest judgement reserved for Adam. He was the one with responsibility. He was the one tasked to work and keep the garden. He was the man. And so he bears the greatest responsibility for this fall into sin. His sin will have the greatest effects.
And we see this in verse 17 as God says, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:17).
Not just Adam is cursed. No, the ground that he had responsibility for—the ground that he was to subdue and have dominion over and work and keep—this ground is cursed because of him. His work of eating from the ground will now be full of pain.
This word for “pain” in verse 17 is the same word used of Eve in verse 16. She’ll have pain in childbearing, and he’ll have pain as he works the ground.
Verse 18 says, “thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.” In other words, he won’t be staying in Eden. We’re going to come back to this idea next week.
And finally verse 19 sounds the darkest note of all: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Just like God promised, Adam is going to die. He is going to spend his life fighting with the ground just to get enough food to eat, and the ground is finally going to win and take Adam into itself and Adam’s body will become a part of that ground that he fought against his whole life.
So we need to recognize here that God’s curse on Adam and Eve is not just a small tweak in their circumstances. No, this pain in childbearing and pain in working the earth point to a whole shift in the way that the world works. Their very bodies and their relationships and the very planet itself is going to work differently from this point on.
And that’s why in Romans 8 the Apostle Paul looks back and he sees all of our suffering, all of our pain and sickness and dying, connected back to God’s curse on Adam and Eve’s sin. Everything that’s wrong with the world started here.
Listen to these words: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:18–22).
Did you catch some of those phrases in there? “Sufferings of this present time.” “Subjected to futility.” “Bondage to corruption.” “Groaning together in the pains of childbirth.”
Do those words describe your experience here on planet earth? Do they describe your experience over the past year and a half? Don’t we see the futility and corruption and curse of God on our sin on full display in deadly viruses and forest fires and droughts and locust infestations and racial tension?
Two Questions about the Curse
Now as we reflect on all of this, as we reflect on the awful curse on Adam and Eve’s sin, we want to ask two questions: First, who did this? And second, why?
The answer to the first question, “Who did this?” Is God did this. This curse was not just a natural result of Adam and Eve’s sin.
We often talk that way. “Oh, well, it’s a result of sin.” Yes, it is a result of sin because God made it a result of sin. This didn’t just happen by itself.
Romans 8 says that God subjected the creation to futility. God made this world stop working the way it was designed to work.
So now the second question: why? Why did He do this?
Was it just a punishment? Was this all just a spanking for the bad things Adam and Eve had done? Was it God venting his anger for no good reason? Or was there more going on?
And the answer is that of course there was more going on. And the clue to what was going on is in God’s words to Adam in verse 18. “Cursed is the ground because of you.” Or, as the KJV puts it, “cursed is the ground for thy sake.”
What God did to the ground, to the land, was because of, or for the sake of, Adam.
So play this out in your head. Adam wakes up the next day, out of Eden. Instead of being surrounded by lush trees he’s surrounded by fields with scraggly bushes. And all of this says because of you. He gets to work that day tilling the soil to bring forth a crop, and it’s way harder and way more painful than he ever imagined. And all of this is because of him. He reaches down to plant a seed and a thorn stabs his hand and as the blood runs down his finger he hears “because of you.”
In other words, the curse on creation is reflecting back to Adam just how serious and significant and horrible his sin actually was.
As parents, we do this with our children all the time. They’ll do something bad, and they don’t seem to realize that it was bad. They kind of laugh about it. And so we discipline them. We remove a privilege or we send them to their room or we do something to help them understand that what they did was not okay.
And that’s what’s going on here in Genesis 3. The curse on Adam and Eve, the curse on their relationship and their work, the curse on childbirth and the curse on the land itself, was designed to communicate to them just how significant and serious their sin was.
See, Adam and Eve had no idea what they had just done. They listened to a snake instead of God. God. The eternal, powerful, all-knowing, all-mighty, supreme and glorious God.
They acted like they knew better than him. They thought they could have his place. The thought that they could be in His driver’s seat.
And even now, as I say this, I know that many people listening might not feel the horror of that. They might say “ya, big deal.” Because we don’t get how great God is. Just like Adam and Eve we undervalue the greatness of our God and we imagine that sinning against him is no big deal.
And that’s the purpose of the curse. To show us otherwise.
Think of it this way. God is so great and so worthy of worship and trust and obedience that a single act of disobedience against him—a single bite of of a fruit—deserves to have the whole creation come crashing down in response.
The smallest sin you’ve ever committed is worse than the whole coronavirus situation this past year. Your lustful thoughts and anger and greed are worse than famines and droughts. Your rebellious, “I’m going to do it my way” kind of attitude is worse than all cancer and infectious diseases. And this is true because the God that you have sinned against is great and holy beyond anything you’ve ever imagined.
And so isn’t it so ironic than when planes fly into buildings or tsunamis or pandemics strike we all ask “Where is God?”, as if we deserve any better?
What did Adam and Eve deserve the moment they ate that fruit? Death. And hell. And yet God kept them alive, sustaining their life, and showing them how bad their sin is in the reality of the curse.
What do you deserve today? Death and hell. So the fact that you’ve been kept alive to this moment is mercy and grace way beyond anything you deserve. And we complain about the weather? We complain about the virus? We complain about our aches and pains as if we deserve better?
Friends, the point of Genesis 3 is that we would understand that our sin is worse than anything that we’ll ever experience in this life. And so when we suffer God is giving us a chance to glimpse how bad we are and how kind He is and how much we need His grace and forgiveness.
Let me ask you this question: what would the church look like if God’s people grieved over their sins half as much as they complained about their suffering? My answer is that we would be a dazzlingly holy and powerful people.
And that’s the whole point of the curse, of God subjecting the creation to futility: to lead us to repentance. And a repentance that is drenched in hope, because we know that the creation and us are going to be set free from our suffering to experience the freedom of salvation when Jesus returns to make all things new.
And so friends, this is really the big lesson for us today: sin is a really big deal. And if you want to know how big of a deal it is, just turn on the news or consider your own body.
The pain and suffering and slow process of death that is bringing us each, day at a time, one step closer to the grave. is a curse designed by God to show us how serious our sin is and therefore how worthy and holy He is.
So what are the sins you need to repent of this morning? Is it big sins? Is it big sins that we often think are “little” sins?
Gossip has been on my mind lately because, as a pastor, I tend to be on the receiving end of a fair bit of it. And I know it goes with the territory. But it still hurts. I’m just a person.
But forget about me. Gossip, period, is not a small sin. In Romans 1 gossip is listed alongside of murder and hating God (Romans 1:29-30).
I was talking to someone last week who talked about the sin of meddling—which means messing around with other people’s business. And do you know the sins that Peter lists alongside of meddling in 1 Peter 4:15? Murdering. Stealing. And doing evil.
So let’s apply a Genesis 3 test. If you had a choice today between gossiping about someone or receiving a cancer diagnosis, which would you choose?
Which would devastate you more emotionally? Finding out that your savings account had been obliterated or finding out that you were guilty of meddling?
These are heavy questions and this might seem extreme to you but I would point us back to the Bible and say this is not extreme.
The Bible tells us that God is going to punish people in hell forever who never did what Hitler did but simply lived small lives filled with small sins like gossip and selfishness and refusing to worship their creator.
And don’t we so often struggle with that because, again, we don’t want to face how great God is and how offensive our sin actually is?
So don’t run and hide from this. Don’t let Satan whisper in your ear, “Wow, preacher’s being really extreme this morning.” This is not extreme. This is just the basic bread-and-butter teaching of God’s word.
You deserve hell. That’s all I’m saying this morning. Just what the Bible says. We just so seldom take the time to really feel what that means.
But when we take the time to really soak this in and feel this, then we’re ready for some serious joy as we remember that Jesus took hell for us when He died in our place on the cross.
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:13–14).
And if you know Christ and His death and resurrection and promised return, then the sufferings of this present age become so much more than just reminders of sin. They become birth pangs of the coming new creation.
“And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:23–25).
I’ve been with my mom as she cried out in pain as she died. That’s like us suffering pain in in this life without Christ.
But I’ve also been with my wife as she cried out in pain as our children were being born. That’s like us suffering pain in this life with Christ who bore our curse for us.
So look to Christ today. Whether you’re doing it once more, or whether you are doing it for the first time. Look to Christ.
The real message of Genesis 3 is that He is our only hope. Just like we’re going to sing together now—“All I have is Christ… Jesus is my life.”