Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Curse (Gen 3:8-24)

I wonder how long Adam and Eve had to suffer in shame in paradise before they heard God walking in the garden "when the cool evening breezes blow." This little detail is so poignant to me. A walk with the Lord himself in Eden when the cool evening breezes blow. To think that was the old normal--

Covered in their fig leaf disguises, they further hid themselves in the trees, but the Lord sought them out, calling to them, and they had to answer. Adam answers, giving away his new knowledge, that he is hiding due to his fear and sense of nakedness. The Lord confronts him on his sin, which he acknowledges. He blames the woman for giving him the fruit. God confronts her, and she claims deception by the serpent, but also acknowledges eating the fruit. 

Though modern day interrogators would certainly ask for more details like we were asking for in the last passage, the Lord God does not. In contrast to our concern with why, and how, and what would have happened, the Lord's question-yes or no?-- results in immediate judgment.

Does God put any stock in the blaming that takes place? He does curse the serpent as a direct response to Eve's confession. The curse for the woman doesn't mention the serpent's influence. It is simply judgment for having eaten. The curse for the man however does start by indicting him for listening to his wife, in contrast to the God's commandment. In the context it seems like more of a description of the sin, than a mitigating factor. From this maybe we could take an application that when God asks us to do something, we aren't let off the hook if there are circumstances that made disobedience extra tempting. It is, "will you obey? yes or no?" 

The first part of the serpent's curse is to wallow on it's belly. So interesting. Do snakes mind crawling on the ground the way we mind childbirth and slaving away to make a living? Hostility between the offspring of the woman and of the snake has certainly come true . . . mostly. I think a Christian wildlife specialist would have a real appreciation for snakes though. Is this metaphorical somehow? Why is the snake as an animal wrapped up in this story? "He will strike your head and you will strike his heel," is the first prophecy of the triumph of the son of man over the offspring of the serpent, and the sin the serpent brought into the world. 

Also interesting is that the hostility is between the serpent and the woman, and its offspring and her offspring. The woman is really central in this curse, and in this story, and in the prophecy of the triumph of humanity. That could be all because it was the serpent and the woman who were involved with each other directly in the first sin. But the shakeout in history is that the woman has had major influence, negatively, and then in redemption.

The men's and women's curses are an astoundingly succinct summary of the things that actually plague men and women in life. They are prophetic, and profound, but also, in a way, mundane. They have to do with childbirth, marriage, and work. Let's take them one at a time. 

The woman's curse is shorter, but it has two parts: pain in pregnancy and childbirth, and (futile) control struggles in her marriage. I think I could boil down the hardest parts of my life to trying to bear and raise my children, and trying to negotiate with my husband about how to plan my life (that is set my own agenda, or control family life). Our marriage has modern traditional roles: he works in an office, I homeschool the kids. And this probably makes this curse feel particularly applicable to me. However, through the course of history, our time is very unique in its understanding of gender and its lack of applicability to life work. For most of history, I think women have felt solidarity with my experience. 

So many evenings I find myself waiting for Paul to arrive home after work completely exhausted from trying to coach 3 small children through the increasing wind up of energy that precedes bedtime, desperate to know when he will arrive (in 10 minutes or an hour and a half?), pressing him for information on this front, and either receiving incorrect answers or no answer at all. This is the curse playing out in my life and it is one of the hardest normal things I deal with day to day.

The man's curse begins with the cursing of the ground from which he must "scratch a living." Though the man struggles to bring forth grain, the ground will bring forth thorns and thistles. Only through the sweat of his brow will the man have food to eat until he returns to the ground in death. There is poetry here with the man struggling with the ground until he returns to it. Maybe even a metaphor here, if the man is actually one with "the ground" and he is unable to bring forth good fruit from the ground, that is, himself, since he is now in sin? 

I am not a man, so this curse doesn't directly apply to me, but I do see it play out in the man I know best, as well as others I hear from. One of my husband's favorite activities is gardening, and another is building things. He gets great satisfaction from work, when it goes the way he wants and he is able to succeed. But I think some of his greatest challenges come from feeling compelled to work at things he does not want to work at. He has to struggle and scratch to make a living. He is very concerned with making a good living for himself and his family, but it is difficult and takes up almost all of his time. He has a real sense that he is using his time at hard work, while losing time he has left before returning to dust. The curse for him is being stuck at the office for most of his waking life when he would love to be adventuring or creating something he is passionate about. 

It's interesting that the woman's curse is partly about the man, and the man's curse doesn't really have anything to do with the woman. I think it does hint that women care about their relationships with men more than men care about theirs with women. That sounds terrible. But I think it is there. And I think you can find evidence of that in the way the world works. Partially, this may be because of the practical dependence in which women find themselves when they become mothers. I don't think it's all a result of the curse, but I don't think it would have been painful at all without the curse. Maybe men would have rejoiced in their work and women would have rejoiced in their families, without women feeling pain in childbearing or loss of control over their husbands or men feeling frustration in their jobs. What would it have been like? We'll never know. What will it look like redeemed? Let's hope further reading in the Word will reveal that to us. 

There is a short paragraph before the final part of the curse where Adam and Eve leave paradise and lose their immortality. In it, the man and woman receive their names. Adam is simply named in the text, but he names Eve "because she would be the mother of all who live." I love that Eve is named for her motherhood. My own identity as woman has been so shaped by motherhood, and I think potential motherhood is a defining characteristic of womanhood. After all, humans are designated as male or female by their reproductive parts, which are, of course, for reproduction. Though a woman's purpose from God seems to have been "helping," her role seems to be "mothering." This is where her life challenges are, and where in my life I have experienced my greatest rewards. Of course not all women are mothers, but the question of motherhood will be an issue for all of them, and the potential for motherhood is always there. For almost all women, the monthly cycle of preparation for motherhood will be present and have some (not necessarily small) effect.

That Eve is the mother "of all who live" sounds to me like it could also have to do with the fact that her offspring will crush the serpent's head and restore eternal life to those who will attain it and "live."

Another brief event to talk about in this passage is the Lord making clothes for the humans from animal skins, replacing their fig leaf clothes, I suppose. Animals would have had to die for this. Whether they were dying before the fall of man, I don't know. It may only have been humans who were immortal in Eden, or maybe this is one of the first results of sin, and one of the first foreshadowings of death being needed to cover over the consequences of sin.   

After these developments, God closes the chapter of humanity in paradise. He sends the humans out of Eden so they will not be able to eat the fruit from the tree of life and live forever. Who knows how depraved a human could become in sin for centuries or millenia. This is punishment, but also perhaps a mercy. But this is where the promise of death resulting from sin is fulfilled. 

God banishes them from Eden and sends Adam out to begin the work of "cultivating the ground from which he had been made." Another use of that metaphor about cultivating the ground and attempting to cultivate himself? Eve is not given a commission, though soon after they leave, she will bear her first child. 

Mighty cherubim and a flashing sword are stationed to keep the humans away from the tree of life from here on out. 


  • In the curse of the serpent, we find that women are major players in the fall and redemption of humanity.
  • Men's and women's curses are different, and apply to different life circumstances faced by men and women.
  • Eve is named "the mother of all who live"

  • How did a snake get mixed up in this situation?
  • Do you think women have more invested in their relationships with men than the other way around? 

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