Beginnings: Sin’s Consequences (Gen. 3:16-19)


Last time we looked at the serpent’s curse and how Genesis 3:14-15 predict Satan’s ultimate destruction through the offspring of woman. Adam and Eve must now face the consequences of their own sins. Their consequences are specific and purposeful, not random. Though the consequences are painful, they are meant to teach Adam and Eve about the seriousness of their mistakes and their future life now that sin is a reality. Much of the world’s problems originate in the garden. People cry out for God to end suffering, but understanding these consequences will show us how our sin is the cause. Suffering is not God’s fault.

A Wrecked Home Life (3:16)

The serpent’s sin caused him pain and futility. He will experience pain as his position below mankind and animals is re-emphasized by slithering in the dust. His primary evil purpose to hurt mankind will be futile as verse 15 predicts that his head will be crushed. Sin produces similar results of pain and futility for Adam and Eve in verses 16-19.

Adam and Eve’s consequences for sin are different because their roles and spheres of work are different. A woman’s work centers on her family; therefore, sin causes pain in her family life. The children she greatly desires to have will only come through great pain. Mothers understand that the pain doesn’t end with labor. Teaching and preparing children to deal with the responsibilities of having a family of their own is difficult, especially now that sin is a reality. Sin attacks children as they grow as it attacked Adam and Eve. The pain becomes a reality in chapter 4 as Eve experiences the pain of birth followed by the pain of experiencing Abel’s death at the hands of her son, Cain. Surely, she suffered as she realized her foolish decision in the garden led to this destructive sin.

As if her sin didn’t cause enough physical and psychological pain with her children, God continues to describe the futility she will experience in her relationship with her husband. This phrase, “Your desire shall be for your husband,” is confusing at first. Alternating lines of poetry are meant to work together to create a unified meaning, but the second line, “and he shall rule over you” doesn’t seem to do that. In the past I’ve seen this as two separate phrases: you are going to love your husband and separately he is the head, not you. Not only does Hebrew poetry not work like that, “rule over” is not a godly description of a husband’s role. God’s wording isn’t ambiguous, but our translation certainly is. The meaning of this phrase is clarified when God says something similar to Cain before he kills Abel.

Genesis 4:7,”Its desire (teshuqa) is for you, but you must rule (mashal) over it.”

Genesis 3:16, “Your desire (teshuqa) shall be for your husband, and he shall rule (mashal) over you.”

God’s words to Cain clarify his usage of the word desire (teshuqua). As sin desires control over Cain, Eve’s desire is for control over her husband. The NLT and NET translations agree with this interpretation. Poetically, this makes much more sense. The woman’s desire for control over her husband is contrasted with the prediction that he will rule over her. This battle existed when Eve convinced Adam to eat the fruit. It’s the very thing Adam is angry about when he is caught in sin: “She told me to!” God replies in punishment in verse 17, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife.” 1 Timothy 2:11-14 clarifies this more when Paul tells us Eve was deceived, not Adam, and for this reason she is not permitted to exercise authority over a man. Though Genesis tells us a simplified story, “she also gave some to her husband,” Paul’s reference to the story further shows that Eve did more than hand him the fruit. However she did it, she led him into sin.

God tells her that though she will continue to desire this control over Adam, he will dominate her. This is a sad turn from the picture of marriage’s unity and equality in chapter 2. Sin caused a marriage between equal persons to degenerate into a fight to have the upper hand. It’s the same thing we experience today. Wives fight for the upper hand over their husbands by using their influence. Husbands sinfully respond by becoming rulers over their wives. This is not the way God created marriage; it is the sad result of sin.

Wives, we know this is a struggle. But when you seek control over your husband, you overstep your God given role. Demanding to control the direction of the family with the finances and children is sinful, not a culture difference. Wives, when you work against and not with your husband, you are starting a family war that God promises you will lose. How can a husband be a Christ-like head when his wife fights for control and his position of leadership?  Marriage is degenerated into a war. The world offers selfish solutions, but Ephesians 5 offers simplicity. Wives, let go and stop controlling your husband; willingly submit to him as to the Lord. Husbands, don’t rule and dominate your wife; instead, lead by sacrificing your life for her as Christ did for the church. If we refuse this, our children will experience the hurtful result of our ungodly marriage.

Cursed Is the Ground (3:17-18)

I can’t imagine Adam’s pain when God finally speaks to him. Adam was placed at the head over all God’s creation; yet, Adam allowed the order to be flipped. In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul gives the appropriate order of responsibility: the Father over Christ, Christ over man, and man over woman. God tells mankind in Genesis 1:28 to have dominion over the animals. Instead, the serpent led Eve into sin, Eve led Adam into sin, and they all disregarded God’s headship. Notice how God indicts Adam in verse 17. The contrast is that Adam listened to his wife’s voice to eat the fruit as opposed to God’s voice that commanded him not to eat.

The first consequence of disregarding God’s voice is that the ground is cursed. God didn’t directly curse Adam, but God’s curse on the ground effects Adam’s life immensely. Genesis 2:9 paints the picture of a perfect garden in which God freely causes all kinds of delicious fruit to grow in abundance and variety for the man and his wife. Now, the ground will bring forth thorns and thistles for Adam. Genesis 2:15 says God placed Adam in the garden to work and keep it, but now that work to provide for his family is painful. As woman desires to bear children, man desires to provide for his family. But these will only be accomplished through pain.

Notice how God places the same punishment on Cain in Genesis 4:11-12. Though cursing the ground on Adam’s behalf may seem like a random consequence, it is the beginning of a theme of what happens to the disobedient. Genesis was originally written to Israel and it is important to consider how they would have perceived these words. For Israel, Adam is a picture lesson of what will happen to them if they reject God’s commandments. Notice how this comes out in Moses’ conversation with Israel before they enter the land of Canaan.

Deuteronomy 11:8–17, “You shall therefore keep the whole commandment that I command you today, that you may be strong, and go in and take possession of the land that you are going over to possess, and that you may live long in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give to them and to their offspring, a land flowing with milk and honey. For the land that you are entering to take possession of it is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and irrigated it, like a garden of vegetables. But the land that you are going over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by the rain from heaven, a land that the LORD your God cares for. The eyes of the LORD your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. (13) And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full. Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the LORD is giving you.”

Notice how closely the description of Canaan parallels a description of the Garden of Eden. It is a land that he specifically cares for – unlike Egypt. But, if they ever worship other gods, his care for the ground will terminate. No rain, no fruit, no blessings. This language is found throughout the prophets as well. Notice Haggai 1:6 when God is angry at the remnant for not rebuilding the temple, “You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.”

God is doing with Adam what he so often did with Israel. By cursing their land he gives them a physical picture of the spiritual reality in their hearts. As your spirituality is a desert, so is your land. Adam wanted to become God by eating the fruit, so God allowed him to be self-sufficient as he desired. This is always the result of sin. We look for a better life in sin, and God lets us experience “better life” life: loneliness, pain, shattered expectations. God is lovingly giving us a taste of Hell before it’s too late. When God is not the shepherd of our lives, we are walking away from his protection into a dangerous world without the comfort of his staff and rod.

To Dust You Shall Return (3:19)

The second punishment placed upon Adam continues the theme of futility we saw in the previous punishments. The serpent desires to destroy woman’s offspring, but he will lose. Eve desires control over her husband, but he will rule over her. Adam will toil and work for his bread, but all this work and eating results in his death. “…For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” What a pitiful existence. The entire reason they worked and sweat was to eat. If you don’t work, then you your family starves and dies. But God tells him to keep working, hungering, eating and dying.

We usually don’t feel the full weight this statement carried for them. American work in order to buy nicer houses, better cars, faster computers, bigger televisions, stylish clothes, and tastier food. They worked so they could eat and not die. Adam’s entire life will now be full of toil that will produce bread that won’t keep him alive. We need to feel the weight of this. We may initially think we escape this curse by finding happiness in the fun possessions we purchase, but think again. Our possessions still center around our work. Why do we buy a house? Because we are exhausted from work and we need a place to sleep so we aren’t tired at work the next day. Why do we buy better cars? So we have nicer transportation for our 15 minute commute to work. Faster computers accomplish more work. Televisions are for relaxing before we have to get back to work. Clothes keep us looking good while we are at work. If you want to scream by the end of your day because work seems pointless, you have arrived at a Biblical conclusion that begins here. That’s the result of sin. Work only produces bread that can’t stop life from being temporary.

Though sin causes our lives to become a futile existence on the Earth, the Scriptures point to redemption from this curse. Moses summarizes the thought effectively in Deuteronomy 8:3. “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna…that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” God let all Israel die off while eating manna to teach them that life is found in God’s word, not bread.Jesus later quotes this passage when Satan tempts him to end his fast and eat. When some of the 5,000 Jesus feeds return to ask for more bread he tells them in John 6:27, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” When the Jews aren’t happy with his solution, “I am the bread of life,” Jesus explains in verse 49, “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever.”Ever since the curse in the garden man has tried to overcome his futile existence by filling up life with different forms of bread. From literal food to material possessions, man tries to extend his life. Jesus pleads with us to listen to him: we can only find redemption from the futility of life in him, the word and bread of life.

God still allows us to return to dust. He desires for us to know that bread doesn’t give life. He desires to show us our need to prepare for a different life. When work feels endless, God is reminding you of the cost of sin. God is reminding us that there is a life beyond our menial tasks on Earth. Why try to seek it in extending our physical lives when they will end regardless of man’s actions? Adam’s curse teaches us to accept our death here. All the ways we seek pleasure here are just another form of bread. Make life about seeking spiritual bread that gives you everlasting life.


When we receive forgiveness from God for sins, we want God to take away the consequences of our sin as well. Though it seems cruel, God allows for our consequences to remain because of his love for us. God sent a strong message to Adam and Eve by giving them harsh physical consequences for their sins. But, there is hope. Revelation 21:3–4, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.'” This life is full of pain, and there will be times when things beyond our control will cause us terrible pain. But, we can make our existence here less painful by submitting to God’s will. Sin only doubles the pain and eats away our souls with guilt. The result of sin is a taste of the second death. You are what you eat. Eat the bread of life. Fill your soul with it every day.

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