Genesis chapter 3 contains the infamous curse placed on man (and the less mentioned curse on women.) After probably dozens of readings, it surprised me that upon my latest read I noticed that man was never actually directly cursed! What, you say? It is actually the ground that is cursed on account of Adam’s disobedience. Adam himself is not directly cursed, which may come as a surprise to some readers. The ground will now sprout thorns and thistles, and apparently be less fertile than before, thus requiring more work for fruit to be produced (and thus for man to eat). And lest any woman complain that she got the worse of the two curses, I would note that the original Hebrew contains the same word for the woman’s ‘birth pangs’ and the man’s pangs (pain, toil) needed to make the ground produce.
With a modern view we may have some difficulty understanding and applying these curses (if we stop and think about them, that is.) For women, this seems to be circumvented with a simple epidural and/or demerol or other pain agents given during childbirth. Or you might say, “I just won’t have kids”. And for man, well, today we just go to the store and buy our Marie Callendar’s microwavable turkey pot-pie, right? No pain working from the ground there! And no waiting! After all, most of us aren’t farmers nowadays. Imagine having to survive from your vegetable garden alone?
But what if it goes a little deeper – what if we aren’t merely talking about things on the obvious level? I tend to think the implications are a bit more than what might come out of the initial read. For instance, childbirth pains are no small matter, but is the moment of birth the only pain a woman encounters from their child? Raising a child no doubt has its share of pains (often balanced out by joy as well of course) so I will leave you to ponder that.
Also keep in mind that with the woman, it was a two-part curse – the second part being “Yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Does this part of the curse explain why women sometimes seem very needy to their men? Or why women start to become very concerned about being single as they approach 30 and have a serious fear of being without a husband or child? Or, as one interpretation I’ve heard, does this explain the woman’s sometimes rebellious attitude, culminating with something akin to the feminist movement? I am referring to an interpretation of the curse that implies that a woman’s desire will be to ‘rule over’ her husband, though in reality the husband will rule over her. Again, just some thoughts.
As for the man, we have a different situation. We say we have the curse of mankind today, but we don’t regularly experience toil working from the ground (aside from lawn maintenance I suppose – and since Adam was placed in the garden to “cultivate it and to keep it”, you could say the idea of lawn maintenance came even before there was a curse!). Original sin had occurred of course – disobedience to God – which was obviously taken seriously enough that God required Himself to be the father of the Messiah, though a woman was still a suitable vessel in the virgin Mary. But the curse is still puzzling on a physical level. In Genesis 5:29, when Lamech’s wife gives birth to Noah, Lamech directly references the curse when he says “This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the LORD has cursed.” Perhaps Lamech was prophesying in a way about the flood, and merely meant that since they were all going to die soon, they would have, in essence, “rest from our work”, though this passage would then qualify as dark humor. So if Lamech was not referring to the coming flood, did he have an expectation that after Noah the ground would no longer be cursed? Or was this merely a hope by Lamech that would not come to pass?
After the flood occurs and the water abates, Noah makes a sacrifice to God in Genesis 8:20 (a). God’s response is “I will never again curse the ground on account of man…” Would it make sense to curse something that is already cursed? Probably not, so we would take this verse to mean that the curse of the ground is now lifted. Thus this interaction between Noah and God here ushers in a new relationship (and covenant) between God and man; God will no longer deal with a sinful mankind as a whole like He did with the flood, but rather God acknowledges our inherent sinfulness when He says “…for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done.” (Gen. 8:20 b) This is the ‘rainbow covenant’ and with it comes the explanation of the ultimate requirement of ‘lifeblood’ in chapter 10 which is the beginning of the sacrificial system between God and man.
So it would seem that essentially the flood cleansed (or as some might say, baptized) the ground, and of course all mankind aside from Noah and his family were wiped out, so there was a cleansing of flesh as well, but also an acknowledgement of God that we are still sinful creatures. Not an approval – just an acknowledgment.
So going back to what I previously said about Adam never technically getting cursed – consider this: The ground was cursed, and Adam was taken from the ground, so in a roundabout way, perhaps Adam was cursed because he was made of the ground. You may consider this a stretch, but consider our daily struggle with ourselves. Does it not seem a fitting parallel? After all, Adam was forced to deal with a cursed ground that, even by the sweat of his brow and great expenditure of strength would be reluctant to yield its fruit. A struggle between man and the ground, a struggle between man, and himself.