The Good Curse

Adam and his wife have sinned against God by responding wrongly to the temptation of the serpent. Adam could not atone for his wife’s sin. Instead, he joined her. Both Adam and his wife blamed their sin on the serpent. Today, we see Christ’s response. We remember that it is the preincarnate Christ talking to them in the Garden, the person of God’s voice–whom they heard walking in the garden in the cool of the day (v. 8).

Genesis 3:14-24

15 וְאֵיבָ֣ה׀ אָשִׁ֗ית בֵּֽינְךָ֙ וּבֵ֣ין הָֽאִשָּׁ֔ה וּבֵ֥ין זַרְעֲךָ֖ וּבֵ֣ין זַרְעָ֑הּ ה֚וּא יְשׁוּפְךָ֣ רֹ֔אשׁ וְאַתָּ֖ה תְּשׁוּפֶ֥נּוּ עָקֵֽב׃ ס

16 אֶֽל־הָאִשָּׁ֣ה אָמַ֗ר הַרְבָּ֤ה אַרְבֶּה֙ עִצְּבוֹנֵ֣ךְ וְהֵֽרֹנֵ֔ךְ בְּעֶ֖צֶב תֵּֽלְדִ֣י בָנִ֑ים וְאֶל־אִישֵׁךְ֙ תְּשׁ֣וּקָתֵ֔ךְ וְה֖וּא יִמְשָׁל־בָּֽךְ׃ ס

17 וּלְאָדָ֣ם אָמַ֗ר כִּֽי־שָׁמַעְתָּ֮ לְק֣וֹל אִשְׁתֶּךָ֒ וַתֹּ֙אכַל֙ מִן־הָעֵ֔ץ אֲשֶׁ֤ר צִוִּיתִ֙יךָ֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר לֹ֥א תֹאכַ֖ל מִמֶּ֑נּוּ אֲרוּרָ֤ה הָֽאֲדָמָה֙ בַּֽעֲבוּרֶ֔ךָ בְּעִצָּבוֹן֙ תֹּֽאכֲלֶ֔נָּה כֹּ֖ל יְמֵ֥י חַיֶּֽיךָ׃

18 וְק֥וֹץ וְדַרְדַּ֖ר תַּצְמִ֣יחַֽ לָ֑ךְ וְאָכַלְתָּ֖ אֶת־עֵ֥שֶׂב הַשָּׂדֶֽה׃

19 בְּזֵעַ֤ת אַפֶּ֙יךָ֙ תֹּ֣אכַל לֶ֔חֶם עַ֤ד שֽׁוּבְךָ֙ אֶל־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה כִּ֥י מִמֶּ֖נָּה לֻקָּ֑חְתָּ כִּֽי־עָפָ֣ר אַ֔תָּה וְאֶל־עָפָ֖ר תָּשֽׁוּב׃

20 וַיִּקְרָ֧א הָֽאָדָ֛ם שֵׁ֥ם אִשְׁתּ֖וֹ חַוָּ֑ה כִּ֛י הִ֥וא הָֽיְתָ֖ה אֵ֥ם כָּל־חָֽי׃

21 וַיַּעַשׂ֩ יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֜ים לְאָדָ֧ם וּלְאִשְׁתּ֛וֹ כָּתְנ֥וֹת ע֖וֹר וַיַּלְבִּשֵֽׁם׃ פ

22 וַיֹּ֣אמֶר׀ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהִ֗ים הֵ֤ן הָֽאָדָם֙ הָיָה֙ כְּאַחַ֣ד מִמֶּ֔נּוּ לָדַ֖עַת ט֣וֹב וָרָ֑ע וְעַתָּ֣ה׀ פֶּן־יִשְׁלַ֣ח יָד֗וֹ וְלָקַח֙ גַּ֚ם מֵעֵ֣ץ הַֽחַיִּ֔ים וְאָכַ֖ל וָחַ֥י לְעֹלָֽם׃

23 וַֽיְשַׁלְּחֵ֛הוּ יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהִ֖ים מִגַּן־עֵ֑דֶן לַֽעֲבֹד֙ אֶת־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֻקַּ֖ח מִשָּֽׁם׃

24 וַיְגָ֖רֶשׁ אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֑ם וַיַּשְׁכֵּן֩ מִקֶּ֨דֶם לְגַן־עֵ֜דֶן אֶת־הַכְּרֻבִ֗ים וְאֵ֨ת לַ֤הַט הַחֶ֙רֶב֙ הַמִּתְהַפֶּ֔כֶת לִשְׁמֹ֕ר אֶת־דֶּ֖רֶךְ עֵ֥ץ הַֽחַיִּֽים׃ ס

Consequence (v. 14-19)

The Lord God said to the serpent, “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; And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

Yahweh God, here in the person of Christ (the voice of God), speaks to the serpent. Because the serpent tempted the woman, he is cursed more than all cattle and every beast of the field. In verse 1, the serpent appears as the chief beast–the craftiest. In verse 14, he is made the chief of all that is cursed. It is here we learn that there are levels to this post-fall curse, the worlds estate of wretchedness before it is made new in Christ. The serpent receives the greater degree of the curse–more than all the other animals. He must now crawl on his belly and eat the dust–meaning he is put in the lowest place, the lowest possible position on the earth. In his eastern context, the serpent was seen as the most blessed creature. As a reminder, the Ancient Near Eastern legends claimed that charming a snake would bring everlasting youth, wisdom, and beauty into one’s life. The cobra, particularly, is connected to the sun god of Egypt and is believed to guide the royal families through the underworld to the everlasting peace. Moses speaks against such ideas. The serpent is not only cursed, he is the worst and the lowest of all the beasts.

Notice the implications. If the serpent is the lowest, and we equate the serpent with the person of Satan, that means Satan has been the most cursed one since Genesis 3. He has been the lowest–crawling on his belly and eating dust for nearly all human history. Though he is a tempter and deceiver, that is all he can be. He has no real power in the world and hasn’t from nearly the beginning. We can’t use him as a scapegoat for the terrible things that people do. We are culpable for our own actions, philosophies, and words in this world.

Jesus puts enmity between the serpent and the woman, between the serpent’s seed and the woman’s seed. The woman’s seed shall bruise the serpent on the head. The serpent shall bruise the woman’s seed on the heel. The serpent’s blows are not mortal. The seed of the woman’s are. There are many who claim that the seed of the woman, here, is a direct reference to the incarnate Christ. Indeed, this verse is finally fulfilled in Christ. “Seed,” even though singular, is used in the Hebrew to refer to a direct descendant or a multitude of descendants, but almost never a single descendant far off. In English, we use the singular word “offspring” the same way. The offspring of the woman will crush the serpent and his offspring. Throughout history, people have tried to understand what is being said, here. Some took it literalistically, thinking that there was enmity between humankind and snake-kind. As we have seen, Moses is not writing literalistically. He is employing symbols from other Ancient Near Eastern Literature. This is why we are free to interpret the serpent as the person of Satan. There are those who interpreted the text genetically, the line of Seth are the offspring of the woman and the line of Cain are the offspring of the serpent–which led to an unhealthy sort of racism among people who claimed to be Christians. I argue in favor of a spiritual, not genetic lineage. Throughout the Old Testament, Israel serves as the type of the woman’s seed. Canaan serves as a type of the serpent’s seed. Not all Canaanites are literalistically seed of the serpent. Not all Israel is literalistically seed of the woman. These are typologies ultimately fulfilled in Christ and His church. Before you think I am arguing in favor of some type of replacement theology, don’t. I do not believe national Israel is replaced by the church. I think the church is the fulfillment of Israel and is grafted in like the New Testament teaches (Romans 11:11ff). When Israelites are literalistically called sons of snakes (cf. Matthew 3:7; 12:34; 23:33; Luke 3:7) with reference to their being outside the kingdom of God, we see that the lineage is spiritual and not genealogical–not dealing with species or race but spiritual family.

So, Satan and his spiritual descendants will bruise the heels of the spiritual descendants of the woman. The spiritual descendants of the woman will bruise the head of the serpent and his spiritual descendants. Christ will ultimately crush the serpent and his descendants (fulfilled in the incarnation).

To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.”

The woman receives the least severe discipline. Her pain is increased in childbearing. She desires to have her husband’s role as ruler and leader. Yet, despite all of her striving to gain the place of the man, her husband will rule over her. She will consider it unjust. Notice that most of the woman’s discipline comes from her own desire and is not imposed upon her. The only imposition is an increased pain in childbearing. Remember that the woman is already a picture of humanity and God’s people. The way the woman is treated, receiving light discipline for her actions, is indicative of God’s treatment of humanity. He goes easy on us, not pouring on His people the full measure of wrath because He cares for us. What good news! God is in a good mood. He is a good, good father.

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 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; 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.”

Adam, the man, receives the second most severe discipline. The ground is cursed because of Adam’s actions because he is the federal head of creation. The man is here given the responsibility to toil in labor for his food because of his position in the order of creation. He will toil in labor until his body returns to the dust. This is why, historically in most cultures, the men have had the responsibility to provide food and shelter for their families. It is why men are given the responsibility to toil over the word of God as the teach and serve as elders in the local church. These are toils that result from the curse because men are held as directly responsible for the fall. Though, as part of the curse, women desire to have the man’s position, we see that men are the ones who must toil because of their position in the created order. Women are the objects of redemption. The leadership that comes with manhood in a Genesis 3 world is not blessing but curse. The yearning of women to be like men, providing for their households and having leadership authority, is torcher for them caused by their fallen desires. I think these are proven true as we observe the world apart from Christ.

The serpent must crawl in the dust. Adam is dust and will return to dust. As the serpent crawls in the dust, he is reminded of his position under Adam, subject to Adam’s failure.

Separation (v. 20-24)

Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.

The man retains his name, Adam. He names his wife something different. He previously called her Issah because she was taken out of man. Now, he names her Eve. Remember, the serpent is the chief beast. The Hebrew word for beast is “Hayyah.” Eve’s new name in Hebrew is “Hevvah.” In this moment, the woman receives a new name, different from her natural name. She is named not because she comes from Adam but is given a new place as the mother of the living. Is this not the story of redemption in Genesis 3? The redeemed woman is linguistically contrasted with the serpent. The serpent is the mother of the dead. The woman is the mother of the living. Moses is calling out all those mystical religions that think they can gain by their works and by their snake-charming or sinuous rituals as false. Redemption is not about human works or charming the elements, witchcraft, or even pleasing the gods. Redemption is a matter only of spiritual genealogy. If we are in the spiritual lineage of the woman, we are alive. If we are in the spiritual lineage of the serpent, we are dead in our own works–yes, even religious works. When we are redeemed, we are given new names, new natures. We are no longer in Adam. We are in Christ. It is no accident that the preincarnate Christ is perspicuous in this part of the narrative. When Christ came, Adam handed his wife over to Him for her sake and gave her a new name to symbolize her new identity in Christ. Eve is no longer in Adam but in Christ. Her spiritual descendants, then, are also those who are in Christ by the giving of a new nature, a new identity, a new name. They die to themselves. They are raised to life and victory over the serpent and everything the serpent represents in most Ancient Near Eastern Literature.

Transliterations from Hebrew

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them. Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.

As a picture of His own redemptive work, God replaced the garment of human works made out of leaves with the first slaughtered animal sacrifice. Blood was shed for blood, the first picture of atonement. He did so in the person of the preincarnate Christ. So, we have the one who would ultimately atone for all sin providing the first type of the atonement He would ultimately provide. Christ clothed Adam and Eve symbolically in His righteousness instead of their own.

The triune God speaks, “the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil.” The man came to know both good and evil by experience, because he sinned. Lest he live forever in hie wretched estate, God separates him from the Tree of Life. The separation of the man, Adam as the federal head of creation, from the Tree of Life is good. This separation symbolizes God’s promise not to let humanity live in his wretched estate under Adam forever. This is why we must die, so that the wretched estate is done away with and a new, glorious estate is granted in Christ by grace on the earth forever. He sends the man out of the garden to word the ground he was taken from and guards the garden with the cherubim (a host of angels) and the flaming sword. One day, because of the work of Christ, we will have glorified bodies, new clothes, new names, and will have free access to the Tree of Life forever in our glorified estate (cf. Revelation). The fall of humankind was necessary to tear off our clothes of human works and put on the clothes of Christ’s righteousness. As a result of Genesis 3, we have the Gospels. Christ comes. He fulfills all righteousness as a man, the second Adam. He dies a substitutionary death, becoming the federal head of creation. He clothes His people in His righteousness like we see typified in the story of the first sin. God is so good.

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