The Consequences of the Covenant: the Man (Genesis 3:17-21)

So, we are going to jump right back into our story here:

We are still in the garden of Eden. At the serpent’s suggestion, the man and the woman tried to make themselves more like God by eating the fruit of knowledge. God arrived, conducted a brief trial, and then Judgement Day began. He cursed the serpent first. Last week we heard how he spoke to his daughter. And now, finally, he turns to deal with the man:

[17] To Adam he said

And we’re going to pause right here to notice that Moses uses Adam’s name.

And we might think, “So what? That’s his name, isn’t it?”

But do you realize that Moses has only used Adam’s name two times up until now? Moses only uses the name “Adam” at significant turning points in the story, when he wants to remind us what the name “Adam” means.

The name “Adam” is a Hebrew word that means “groundling”, “dirtling”, a creature made out of dirt.

Moses used the name for the first time when Adam was naming the animals, in order to point out how Adam is made out of dirt just like the animals. And this connection between Adam, dirt, and the animals is important because — in God’s system — it is necessary that the one who serves be made out of the same stuff as what he is called to serve. Adam was designed to bring order to the ground and to the animals, so it was important for him to be made out of the same stuff as the ground and the animals.

— and by the way we also saw this same principle at work in the creation of the woman: she was designed to bring order and new life out of the man, so it was important for her to be made “out of” the man.

Now, the second time Moses used the name “Adam” was at the end of Chapter 2 when he told us that Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. This was designed to point out how, when Adam — the “dirtling” — does his job properly, everything is great!

So when Moses uses the name “Adam” here, for the only the third time, it is supposed to catch our attention. The name is meant to be a reminder to us that Adam is intimately connected to the earth — almost genetically connected — and that when he did his job well, good things happened to the earth.

Soooo…now that Adam — the “dirtling” — has done a bad job, does that mean bad things are going to happen to the earth?

Moses’ use of the name “Adam” here is meant to give us a sense of dread for what is about to happen.

So, to Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

— because of your failure to speak up when your wife was being tempted, because of your failure to protect your wife from deception, because you let her persuade you to do what you knew you were not suppose to, because you have done this —

Cursed is the ground because of you.”

Now, we noticed last week that God cursed the serpent directly, but he did not curse the woman. Instead he sadly and gently described for her the natural consequences of her husband’s failure.

Here, we also have to notice that God does not curse the man — he curses the ground. Just like in his words to the woman, this is the sound of a Father telling his son that these are the natural consequences of his actions. Adam has already heard how his wife is going to have to pay the penalty for his sin. Now, he has discovered that the ground also is going to have to pay the penalty for his sin.

And at this point many people, reading this, say, “Hey! That’s not fair! Why should the woman and the earth suffer because of Adam’s screwup? He should be cursed, not the earth!”

And when people say that, they have a bit of a point: this does not seem fair.

So: how do we, as Christians, answer that?

Well, first, allow me to say: don’t worry, there will be direct consequences for Adam — that will become clear in a minute.

But as to this not being fair…well, in a sense, that is correct. It is not, strictly speaking, “fair” for one person to do bad things and then for another person to suffer the consequences.

But allow me to point something out: if that is true, then it is also not, strictly speaking, “fair” for one person to do good things, and then for another person to benefit from the consequences. Right?

For example: let’s say a woman has a baby. Now, she did all the hard work — but the child receives life. Is that fair? Is that the way it should be?

If you say, “No, that’s not fair, that’s not how it should be!” then you should be aware that you saying that no one should ever interact with anyone else, no one should ever affect anyone else, for good or bad. If you insist on that definition of “fairness” then really you are insisting on a universe without relationships of any kind. That’s actually a non-universe. And I don’t think you actually want that.

But if you say, “Yes, that is the way it should be: children should benefit from their mothers’ hard work!” then you will also have to accept the other side of the coin. For instance, if a mother abuses drugs or alcohol during her pregnancy — then her child will suffer the consequences. This is because a mother is in authority over her children, and what she does — whether good or bad — directly affects her children.

So, this is the underlying principle: if it is fair for us to benefit from the good works of an authority figure, then it is equally fair for us to suffer when when that authority figure fails.

That is a fair system. In fact, it’s the only system that actually works. It underlies the very structure of the universe, and we all live according to this system whether we know it or not.

So when we read this and we are tempted to say, “Hey! How is that fair? Why should the woman and the earth suffer because of Adam’s screwup?” this is how we answer that objection:

This is fair because Adam was the authority figure. He was commissioned to be the high priest. As long as he was focused on other-actualization — serving the woman and the earth — the woman and the earth experienced good consequences. But now that he has chosen the path of self-actualization — serving himself alone — the woman and earth experience bad consequences.

To think of this in another way: this system is fair because Adam is made out of the same stuff as the earth and the animals; his wife is made out of the same stuff as him. They are bound together into a single ecological system, they are bound together into a single family relationship: they stand or fall together.

In short, Adam was husband to the woman, and father to the earth and its creatures. Creation was like Adam’s family, that he was responsible to raise up into life and order. And as we all know, when a father does right, the family is blessed. When a father does wrong, the family suffers.

And now, God goes on to describe what this this suffering will look like:

Through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. [18] It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.

We saw last week how, for the woman, marriage and motherhood would now be defined by “painful toil”. Now, for the man, eating will be defined by “painful toil”.

And there is a painful poetry to this consequence, because the concept of eating has been at the very center of this whole story. In the beginning, God filled a garden with trees that were “good for food”. He put the man there to work the earth and protect it — but even as he worked, the man was “free to eat from any tree in the garden” — except one.

But now, because the man ate what he should not have eaten, he still has to work the earth and protect it — his job hasn’t changed! — but he is no longer free to eat. Now he must work to eat.

Before this, God “produced” a garden that “produced” fruit freely; now, the ground will “produce” thorns and thistles instead of fruit — that same word “produced” is used each time in order to emphasize what has changed here.

Which leads us to this question: what exactly has changed here? Did God literally alter the DNA of plants so they would grow differently? Before the curse, did durian have soft skin? Were cocoanuts more like water-balloons?

Well, in answering this question we are going to look back at a similar question we asked last week about the nature of “pain in childbirth”. There, we concluded that God did not suddenly create nerve endings for the woman. The woman’s biology did not change; her relationship with her Father changed.

To put it another way: the woman was designed to produce children freely. But now, because of Adam’s sin, she only produces children through “painful toil”.

Now the same thing has happened to Adam: he was designed to produce food freely from the ground. But now, because of his sin, he will only produce food through “painful toil”.

So, just as God did not suddenly create nerve endings for the woman, here he does not just suddenly create thorns and thistles. Plant biology did not change; Adam’s relationship with his Father has changed.

See, before this point, Father and son were going to be farming the earth together. Moses made the division of labour clear right at the beginning of Chapter 2: Adam would dig the earth, God would send the rain. A perfect partnership. Together they were going to fill the wilderness with life. Together, they were going to expand the garden of God’s covenant until it filled the whole world.

Now, Adam will be farming alone. Now, instead of the earth being blessed by God’s expanding life-giving covenant, the earth will be cursed by the absence of that covenant.

In other words, what God is saying here is that the garden is not going to expand. It is going to remain static. Adam is still required to bring life and order to the wilderness — but now, instead of working from within the garden, pushing the walls gradually outward, eating freely the whole time…now he will be living and working from outside the walls, outside of God’s presence, outside of God’s covenant, working overtime just to feed himself and stay alive.

That is what God is hinting at here when he says, “You will eat the plants of the field.” Before this, Adam was free to eat from the plants of the garden. Now he must eat the plants of the field. In the minds of ancient people, a garden is very different from a field. A garden is enclosed, protected, safe. A field is in the open, unprotected. From now on, Adam will be eating the plants of the field, not the garden.

So, going back to our question: what exactly has changed here? Did God literally alter the DNA of plants?

No. The plants haven’t changed. The position of the man has.

The garden of God’s covenant is still the garden of life and order and fruit. The wilderness outside is still the undeveloped field of incomplete order and incomplete life, longing to be brought into proper order.

It’s just that, from now on, Adam will be living and working in the wilderness, not the garden.

And there is a lot to be said about this concept and its implications for us — but we’re going to save that discussion for next week. So make sure to come back for that.

In the meantime, however, God goes on: [19] 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.”

When God created the woman, he took her out of the man so that she could bring life and community out of the man. So it made sense, last week, to discover that she would inevitably return to the man in her desire to produce life and community.

In the same way, when God created the man, he took the man out of the ground so that the man could bring life and order out of the ground. So it makes sense, now, to discover that he must inevitably return to the ground.

He had covenanted with his Father to bring life and order out of the earth. Instead he chose to serve himself. In consequence, now, he still has to bring life and order out of the earth, but from now on, no matter how hard he works, in the end the earth will always bring him back to death and disorder.

He was Adam — the “dirtling” — at the beginning. He will be Adam again in the end.

And this consequence of death makes perfect sense. It is perfectly fair. It was the inevitable consequence, once you think about it for a little bit. God is the creator, the source of life. He made a covenant of life with Adam. As long as Adam remained within the covenant, he had direct access to the source of life. He was free to eat, free to feed his body through the tree of life, free to feed his spirit through his relationship with his Father —

But once Adam chose to self-actualize, once he decided that he was going to try to be his own source of life — well, obviously that doesn’t work. No one can give birth to themselves; no one can actualize themselves. So once Adam chose to reject the source of life…it was inevitable that on that very day he would begin to die.

And just like last week, in God’s words to the woman, at this point all this just sounds like nothing but bad news. From now on, the woman is condemned to produce life through painful toil, while the man is condemned to support that life through painful toil.

Sounds like a match made in hell.

But just like last week, there is also good news here. Last week we saw that — even though the woman lost the guarantee of her husband’s faithfulness — she did not lose the guarantee of her Father’s faithfulness. God told her, “You will give birth to children.” He gave her the promise of new life.

In the same way, today, even though Adam has lost the guarantee of the earth’s faithfulness in providing food, he has not lost the guarantee of his Father’s faithfulness in providing food. Adam stole God’s sacred fruit, so it would have been completely fair for God to condemn Adam to starvation. And that truly would have been a curse! Instead God has just told Adam — three times! — “Through painful toil you will eat; you will eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your brow you will eat…” This is the promise of continued faithfulness, continued life.

And that promise is really an amazing act of grace on God’s part!

And now here’s the really cool thing: this promise is not just for Adam, it is also for us. In the New Testament, Jesus tells us not to worry about what we eat or drink, because our Father will provide for our needs.

But there’s actually even more to this promise than just the promise of physical food. This promise also means that God has not given up on his covenant with Adam. In the beginning, God made this deal with him: “You are free to eat.” Now God makes this deal with Adam: “By the sweat of your brow you will eat. Your harvest will be mostly thorns, but still, as you work, I will give you life!”

And this promise is important to us because it actually came true in the life of Jesus Christ. In the story of Jesus’ death on the cross, one of the gospel writers emphasizes how much Jesus sweat; the other three writers emphasize the crown of thorns he was forced to wear. Through painful toil Jesus worked all the days of his life, and in the end he returned to the ground. He died. He fulfilled the destiny of every human being.

Of course, as we know, he did not return to dust: his body did not see decay. Instead, the Father gave his Son the continued life that he had promised to Adam, his first son. That is why, in the New Testament, we are told that the first Adam gave us death, but the second Adam — Jesus — give us continued life, eternal life.

So as we come to the end of Judgement Day, what we realize is that our Father has left us with two gospel promises: through the woman’s labour, God will bring new life; and through the man’s labour, God will sustain that new life.

God has spoken in judgement upon the serpent, the woman, and the man. But mixed in with these words of judgement we have also heard our Father’s twin promises of grace: new life, and sustained life. These are the twin promises of the coming Messiah, and his eternal kingdom; the twin promises of new spiritual birth, and eternal spiritual life; these are the twin promises of baptism and the Lord’s Supper: the first one brings us back into covenant with our Father, and the other one feeds us there forever.

And Adam must have heard this good news, because we find out that, in verse 20, Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.

Adam understood the promises of the gospel, and he understood very clearly that it was all going to begin with his wife. And so he became the first to preach the hope of the gospel by naming his wife “the mother of all the living”.

And then, [21] The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.

In the first moments after they ate, when the man and his wife first discovered their shame, we remember how they covered themselves with fig-leaves. And there Moses used a word for clothing that means — basically — loincloths. Very limited covering.

But here Moses uses a different word to describe what God has given them: “garments”. Tunics. Coats made of leather, that could cover their shame more completely, and protect them more completely from the wilderness outside the garden.

So what we are seeing here, again, is a sign of God’s redemption. He is not going to send them out unprotected. They are still his children. He is still their Father. He is going to keep his promise to Adam; he is going to continue in his faithfulness; he is going to continue to give them what they need for life.

And these last moments here of naming and clothing, even though they are meant to point us forward to the gospel, these moments are also meant to point us backwards to how much has been lost.

At the high point of this story, at the end of Chapter 2, Adam named his wife “woman”, because she had been taken out of him and given back to him. And they were naked, unashamed.

Here, at the end of Chapter 3, Adam names his wife again, and they are again unashamed. But this time the naming is not a joyful outburst of completion, consummation; it is a prayer of hope. And at best the coverings they have been given to cover their shame are only temporary.

So, at this point, as we do every week, we have to ask: what does this passage mean for us? What have we learned, and what are we supposed to do about it?

Well, this is what we have just learned: because Adam turned away from the source of life, his life — and ours — is going to be dominated by futility and frustration, and in the end we all die. In other words, we all have to work overtime just to stay alive, and in the end we are all going to fail.

But we all knew that, right?

What we really want to know is: how do we make it stop?

Well, reason can actually help us answer that question. So reason along with me here: since death came to us because Adam — the father of mankind — chose to turn away from the source of life, what needs to be done in order to reverse the damage?

Obviously, we need Adam to turn back to the source of life. Death came to the family of mankind because our father chose death. So if the father of mankind chooses life — ! then his family will also receive life.

Small comfort though, isn’t it? This is a bit like discovering that there is a fire escape in your hotel room! — it just ends 100 metres above the ground.

Because — in case you haven’t noticed — our father Adam is dead. He cannot turn back to the source of life. Which means his family is doomed. We are doomed. We cannot make it stop.


But…but, but, but — and stay with me here, we’re still reasoning together — what if it were possible for there to be a second Adam? What if — and I realize this is some radical out-of-box thinking here, but, then again, we’re talking about the fate of humanity, I think we’re obligated to explore every possible option, no matter how crazy — what if it were possible for there to be a second father of mankind who did turn back to the source of life? Then his family would also receive life. Right?

Now, check my logic, here. Check my math. That would work, right? If the first father chooses death, the family dies. But if another father marries into that family and then chooses life, the family would live…

Correct so far?

Good. Then it is confirmed: what we really need here is a second Adam who will turn back to the source of life.

But here we are, still dangling from the fire-escape 100 meters from the ground. Because where O where are we going to find a second Adam?

Let me tell you what we’d be looking for! We’d be looking a son who would be perfectly obedient to his Father all his life, the opposite of the first son, the first Adam. He would also need to prove that he really is a human being — and not just a spirit or something — because he would have to prove that he is made of the same stuff as human beings. Right? Otherwise it wouldn’t work!

And what’s the only way to prove that he really is a human being? He would have to go through all the futility and frustrations of the human experience. And in the end he would have to die in order to complete that frustrating human experience. Only by choosing life throughout his human life would this second father be able to give the human family life.

— except that this would never work! Because if he has to die to complete the human experience, then his family would die with him, just like happened with the first Adam! After all, if the father dies the family dies. That’s just science, people! Which means that the only way this hypothetical second Father of the human family could possibly bring life back to the family…would be by coming back to life again himself!

And that is crazy! Where in the world would we ever find a man like that?

Well…good news. We’ve already found him. The story of his human experience can be found in the first four books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. If you haven’t already read them, do so. Make sure that what I’m telling you is true: Jesus Christ is the second Adam. He was commissioned by his Father to be the father of a new kind of human family. He came, and consented to become one of Adam’s sons. He consented to be made of the same stuff as the rest of us. He proved that he was human by passing through all the futility and frustration of the human experience, and in the end he died of it.

But he did not stay dead, because he was — he is — also the Son of God. He was also made out of God’s “stuff”. And physical death cannot ‘stick’ to someone who is made of God’s stuff.

And, even more importantly, when Jesus came back he came back changed: he had a new kind of body, a body that can no longer die. And now, because Jesus lives forever, those who are in his family — made of his “stuff” — also live forever.

So now we are still dangling from that fire-escape, but it seems to be getting a little closer to the ground. It’s starting to feel like we might just survive this experience. The only question in our minds now is: how do we get from here to there? How do we make sure that we are part of Jesus’ family?

Because — last time I checked — we are all still made of Adam’s stuff, not God’s. Death still sticks to us. When we die, we don’t come back.

So: how do we join Jesus’ family, and receive the life that comes to everyone who is made out of his stuff?

Well, this is the deal Jesus has offered to all people: “If you believe me when I tell you that I am the Son of God who is also the son of Adam, then I will breathe my Spirit into you. You will become made of God’s stuff. Then I will be your father and you will be my family. When means that when I died, you also died. And because I live again…you will also!”

So we see here that God’s promise to Adam — this promise of continued life even in the midst of frustration — this is where we realize that this promise was the first shadow of God’s promise of resurrection. In Adam we all die. But in Christ we live again, and we will live forever.

And, friends, if this was true, if this could be true, it would change everything, wouldn’t it? Suddenly, work would be worth doing again. Suddenly, having children would be a pure joy again. Because death, for us, would become nothing more than extended sleep. Imagine what it would be like for us to wake up, hundreds or even thousands of years from now, and get to see how our investments have grown! Imagine what it would be like to meet all your descendants and hear their stories about how your faithfulness in this short life set your family on a firm foundation for generations to come!

If this was true — ! If only this could be true…

Of course, as Christians, we do believe this is true. And this belief put the futility and frustration of our lives into perspective. We all live in this physical world, and we all — Christians and non-Christians — we all suffer alike. We all have the same human experience, and in the end we all return to dust. But for Christians, for us, that death is only temporary. Our frustrations, our sufferings, are only temporary. They will not last. They are just a momentary dip in the stock market. They are just a temporary loss in our long-term investments.

In fact, in Christ, even our frustrations become gifts from our Father designed to remind us of the bigger picture. They are reminders of the resurrection to come, when we are going to cash in!

So, in closing, what is our very practical application? What are we supposed to do because of these promises?

Well, we’ve all heard those stories about how, if you had invested $1 in Apple Computers in 1982, you would be a multi-billionaire now. If you are here today, and you have not yet accepted Jesus’ offer, do so now. Invest your dollar. Actually: scratch that. Invest your whole life. Just try to imagine what kind of return on investment you could get from a Father like ours after a million years!

Now, if you’re here today and you’ve already invested, then, do this: work by the sweat of your brow. Till the ground. Produce life. Sustain life. Raise up those thorns, knowing that our Father will give you the food you need, not only in this life but in all the eternal life to come. And as James puts it in the New Testament: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” Remember, every time frustration comes, remember that even these are designed by our Father to point us back to Christ and to his crown of thorns, the living promise of our resurrection.

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