The Eden Podcast with Bruce C. E. Fleming

Gen 3:17-20 Adam's Curse

Episode Summary

In Genesis 2 God created Adam and PLACED HIM IN the Garden of Eden. At the end of Genesis 3, God spoke to him in six points parallel to the Serpent, then DROVE HIM OUT of the Garden! What did God really think of Adam? How should we feel about him?

Episode Notes

In the Garden the man listens to the words of the serpent tempter. And the man makes the intent and actions of Satan his own. He too rebels against God.

Step by step he moves away from God and toward Satan! 

And so, he eats the forbidden fruit.

When God judges the three at the Tree, God groups the man together with Satan in his words of judgment. God treats the woman apart from these two rebels because she doesn’t rebel on purpose. She disobeys only after being deceived.

God makes six points in addressing the serpent. And then God uses those same six points and exact wording, even to the repetition of sounds when he addresses the man. The way this passage is written out in Hebrew adds to the meaning of the words that are used. This repeated pattern of six common elements ties the two of them together in God’s evaluation of their intent and acts.


Episode Transcription

THE EDEN PODCAST. Script of Episode 8, Genesis 3:17-20. Adam’s Curse or God Judges Adam in ways Parallel to the Serpent. Curse #2, by Bruce C. E. Fleming


Welcome to The Eden Podcast where we think again about the Bible on women and men and we start with a correct understanding of what happened in the Garden of Eden back in the beginning.

I’m Bruce C. E. Fleming, founder of the Tru316 Project and a former Academic Dean and Professor of Practical Theology.

The focus of this episode is:

Genesis 3:17-20. God Judges Adam in Ways Parallel to the Serpent. Curse #2.

Let’s get started.


In Genesis chapter 2 we learn that God created Adam and then placed him in the Garden of Eden. At the end of Genesis chapter 3 we read the shocking news that because of what Adam did there God drove him out of the Garden of Eden and placed an angelic guard to keep him from reentering it! How should we feel about Adam?

Wouldn’t you love to live in the Garden of Eden? I would! Of course none of us now lives in the Garden of Eden, so we know he never made it back in. But he was there – for a while.

What should we think of him, and how he lived and loved in the Garden?

Fall or Attack? Historically, theologians have talked of the man’s fall in the Garden of Eden. Chapter headings are added to Bibles in which chapter 3 is labeled as The Fall. I have been preferring a different heading for some time now. If we add any heading at all, I think it shouldn’t be “Chapter 3 - The Fall” but “Genesis Chapter 3 - The Attack.”

The man and woman didn’t just fall in the Garden like some over ripe fruit that reaches a point where it separates from its stem and plops, or falls to the ground. That is inevitable. The man’s fall was not.

Life ahead in the Garden was properly planned for a long and well-lived life in fellowship with the woman and with God. When God created the human couple on Day Six of Creation God evaluated the situation. It was very good. That included the man.

But something catastrophic happened. It was the hateful attack by Satan on the woman and the man at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

I learned something about the level of that hate from a painting by Michelangelo at the base of the wall of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican in Rome. I was a senior in college on spring break. Through a series of remarkable events I was on a 9-day tour of Israel with stops on the way out and back in Paris and Rome. 

Ah Rome! Everyone on a whirlwind tour of the capital city of Italy has to visit that masterwork of Michelangelo on the ceiling and on the front wall of the famous Sistine Chapel. So I was there along with a moving herd of visitors craning our necks and gawking at a succession of paintings far too numerous to fully take in. There was a signal given of some kind and everyone began to move back and head out to see another remarkable sight.

But I stayed behind. I lingered. I wanted to let at least something soak in. Something I could capture and keep in mind in the years ahead.

I happened to be standing close to the front wall that is covered with the huge painting of The Last Judgement. On one side of God the Father angels are helping the souls of the saved up into the regions of eternal bliss and reward. On the other side demons are driving the souls of the damned down into the netherworld for everlasting and awful punishment.

In front of the wall is a free standing altar with the figure of Christ dying on the cross. It is covered in gold. 

And then I saw it. On the wall itself near the bottom to the left, glaring up from an opening out of hell looking like the mouth of a cave was a demon. It was triumphant in an exaggerated and ugly way. It was ecstatic. Nothing that evil should ever be that enthusiastic. But it was. Why, I asked staggering back to look at it better.

And then I realized why. It was staring out at Christ up on that cross. It was gleeful that Jesus, the lamb of God, had been pinned to that tree and was suffering and dying, or perhaps was already dead. And it thought, We have won and I am GLAD!

An attendant finally noticed me, that last tourist in the room, and he shuttled me out to make room for the next herd of tourists to come in for their turn. And so that experience was over. But I never forgot that wall. And Jesus on that lonely cross. And that gleeful demon. 

Clearly, he was painted to represent the thinking of Satan. I have killed again. I have killed my chief enemy!

How awful! How ugly!

In John 8:44 the Devil is described as a murderer from the beginning. And so he murdered Adam and Eve in the beginning. Jesus called him the father of lies. Here is the full text of verse 44 from the NAS translation. Jesus is speaking to his hateful critics: “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

This is who attacked the woman and the man in the Garden. Whether we gain artistic insight or hear the very words of truth from the mouth of Jesus it is important to keep in mind just who attacked them in the beginning.


And so in the Garden the man listens to the words of the serpent tempter. And he makes the intent and actions of Satan his own. He too rebels against God.

Step by step he moves away from God and toward Satan! 

And so, he eats the forbidden fruit.

When God judges the three at the Tree, God groups the man together with Satan in his words of judgment. God treats the woman apart from these two rebels because she doesn’t rebel on purpose. She disobeys only after being deceived.

God makes six points in addressing the serpent. And then God uses those same six points and exact wording, even to the repetition of sounds when he addresses the man. The way this passage is written out in Hebrew adds to the meaning of the words that are used. This repeated pattern of six common elements ties the two of them together in God’s evaluation of their intent and acts.

In God’s words to the woman in Genesis 3:16, God warns the woman that the man has changed. Starting with the way he responded to the serpent’s words, afterwards when he hid from God, and then when he accused God and her, the man was now very different from the man she had married on Day Six. And God knew this. God told her that her heart hadn’t changed - she still desired him - but that the man would rule over her, taking God’s proper place in ruling over her - just as the man had rejected God’s proper place in ruling over him.

So how does the man set about ruling over her? Before she was created it became very clear that there was no other being on earth like the man. He was alone, by himself. And that was not good. 

At the end of Day Six, God would bless the man and the woman together and command them to subdue the earth and to rule over all the earth. This is described in Genesis 1:28. God blesses the woman and man and commands them both to rule (the Hebrew word is radah) over the animals and the rest of the created realm that God made for them. The man exercises a legitimate ruling when he names the animals just before the woman was created. Then God makes the woman and there are two humans, equal partners.

When the man names the animals (in Genesis 2) he uses what is called the naming formula. It is found elsewhere in the Bible. It sounds something similar to a king or a queen who knights someone. “I dub you, Sir Lancelot.” And in this way the new knight receives a title from the ruler who is the overlord. The naming formula in Hebrew includes the specific verb, qarah (“to call”), followed by the noun, shem (“name”). In the Hebrew record of Genesis 2 the naming formula is used to describe when the man called the names for each animal over whom he ruled. And thus he named them.

When God creates the woman, recounted in Genesis chapter 2, the man does not then name her. Not at all. What he blurts out so enthusiastically is his recognition that finally here is his partner. 

She is not another furry friend. As recorded in Genesis 2:23 the man says, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” 

He doesn’t name her but tells how she is like him. He recognizes her as ‘woman’ for she was taken out of ‘man.’” He is ‘ish, the male human and she is ‘ishshah, the female human.


Adam and Eve? Not yet. Up to now there is no one named “Eve” in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 5:2, in Hebrew, we learn that God named this pair adam. The Hebrew naming formula is used here in 5:2 as God ruled over them both. God gave this one name to both the woman and the man at creation. The name adam means “humankind” or “human being.” In keeping with God’s name for both of them, we could refer to them as “Mr. and Mrs. Adam.” 

But out of the blue a separate name for her is coming! At the end of God’s words in Genesis 3:16, God alerts the woman to changes in her partner. God explains to her that the man is about to engage in a very different way of relating to her other than in equal partnership. God tells the woman, “But he will rule (the Hebrew word here is mashal) over you.” Where did this idea come from? Was it a good ruling over?

This was not the ruling over that God gave to them both on Day Six of Creation, as recorded in Genesis chapter 1. The Hebrew verb there was radah. The mashal kind of ruling, that God describes in Genesis 3:16, was a far different and inappropriate kind of ruling. This was the kind of ruling exercised by the evil Philistines as described in Judges 14:4 who exercised a cruel oppression over Israel!

God had not told either human to rule over the other. The one who did this would be disobeying, breaking God’s order from what had been put in place on Day Six of Creation. For one human to rule over the other human, one human would first have to choose self-rule, rejecting God’s rule over him and the order God had made. The man was going to usurp God’s place in ruling over the woman and he was going to rule over her himself! The one ruled over by the other human would be faced with a terrible reality: “We each owe obedience to God who rules over us, so how do I deal with this human who is trying to rule over me in God’s place?”

As soon as God stops speaking words of judgement to the man, in Genesis 3:20 the man’s first act is to call her a new name. The Hebrew wording is clear. Sadly, the Hebrew naming formula is used here. The man dubs the woman like he dubbed the animals. We could translate verse 20 as follows: “Now the man called the name of his wife Eve because she became the mother of all alive.”

The man, shall we now refer to him as Adam, stunningly treats her like the animals who were beneath him. Here is the sinful start of what many label as patriarchy. And the Bible traces the path of this sinful practice down through history.

This is not something instituted by God. Certainly not! This is the hateful act of the rebellious man as he participated in the Great Rebellion against God that took place in the Garden!

Knowing what he had already done, and that he was inclined to mistreat his partner, God pronounces his words of judgment on the man in verses 17-19 of Genesis chapter three.

Judgement? Here is Genesis 3:17, And to the man he said, Because you heeded the voice of your wife and ate from the tree concerning which I had commanded you saying, You shall not eat of it…. The issue raised here by God is, Did you follow my voice or another voice? Voices?? The man had followed the voice of the serpent tempter, had blamed the voice of the woman, and had disobeyed God’s voice. 

Based on this, God imposes judgement in verses 17-19, starting with a curse because of the man’s willful sin. Verse 17: Cursed is the ground because of you. In sorrowful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Verse 18: thorns and thistles it will sprout for you and you will eat the herbs of the field. Verse 19: By the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the ground from which you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you will return.

“Cursed is the ground because of you.” When God addresses the man, God’s first act of business is to identify the man’s sin and the state of the man’s heart when he sinned. The sentence of death for sin had already been announced and had occurred. It was non-negotiable. Spiritual death had already occurred. Physical death was already at work in his now mortal body.

Who or what is cursed? The man heard God address the serpent. He heard God say to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you….” When God began speaking to the man, the man may have anticipated receiving a similar punishment, “Because you man have done this, cursed are you….”

But, God does not curse the man. Instead, God deflects the curse. It hits the ground (’adamah, in Hebrew) from which the man (’adam) was made, “Cursed is the ground because of you….” Whew! That was close.

The grace of God is a marvel! Neither human is cursed – neither the woman who sinned after being deceived – nor the man who sinned willfully in the first degree. 

The loving Creator treats them justly but graciously. They both die, but neither one is cursed.

After the curse on the soil is imposed because of the man, God, as his divine teacher, explains to the man how death and the curse will affect him. 

The man learns (1) that he will experience “sorrowful toil” because of this curse on the soil. He also learns (2) that indeed his days are numbered. He will die and return to the dust.

Had the man desired to be like God? God teaches the man that as a result of the curse on the ground he will experience something new but completely undesirable: “in ‘sorrowful toil’ you will eat of it all the days of your life….”

The Hebrew word for “sorrowful toil” is ‘itsebon. The curse on the ground will make raising food much harder. The man will have to toil over it. This toil will raise sweat on his brow, and every time this happens, in sorrow he will remember why the ground has been cursed.

The woman has already heard from God, in verse 16, that she will experience this same “sorrowful toil.” For her, the announcement was a proleptic prophecy. The result was foretold but the cause for the result was not immediately given.

Now the woman overhears where this “sorrowful toil” will come from, and why it will come about. It comes about through God’s curse on the soil because of the rebellion of the man. She will experience this sorrowful toil as she walks the same earth and works the same cursed soil with her hands as will the man.

Many, too many, modern translations make it appear that when God tells the woman about impending “sorrowful toil” (‘itsebon) in Genesis 3:16, God tells her about something unique to her. They make it look like something is imposed on the woman because of what she did. However, ‘itsebon in verse 16 is the same “sorrowful toil” spoken of in verse 17 that is the result of the curse God places on the ground because of the man!

The “sorrowful toil” has nothing to do with her being a woman, or with her bearing children. It has everything to do with working the cursed soil, which she and the man will do when they are outside the Garden.

The man and the woman had been undisputed rulers over all the animals and plants. Now, the cursed soil will produce unwanted thorns and thistles. The man will experience difficulty and diminished returns as he works the cursed ground. As one of the designated rulers over the soil, he will have a rebellious subject.

As God details for the woman a correct yet gentle description of how she would expend “effort” in bearing children in verse 16, in verse 19 God gives the man details about dying. No awful words here about being eaten by worms in the grave. God correctly but gently tells the man what will happen: He will return to the dust from which he came.

God’s words in the Garden are packed with meaning. The serpent tempter, the woman and the man all overhear what God says to the others. All are informed by this open process.

The man overhears God speak to the serpent tempter about the coming Offspring of the woman who would crush his head. The man overhears God’s words of concern to the woman, alerting her that the man’s heart is no longer full of a loving attitude for her and that he will rule both over himself apart from God and over her.

The man hears that the soil will be cursed because of him! He learns of the “sorrowful toil” that will result. The man hears that his life will end and that his body that was drawn from the dust will return to the dust. Then, God’s words of judgment and description come to an end.

A wise person once remarked that, throughout the ages, God’s strength, purity, love and justice have been forgotten. Apart from the true God, humans create gods and spirits that are corrupt. They are pictured as having all the flaws that sinful humans see in themselves, because fallen humans cannot imagine anything higher than themselves.

In much the same way, people who look back in time from outside of Eden, have difficulty imagining a truly good picture of sinless spouses relating to each other.

This is one reason the first chapters of Genesis are so important. They go beyond our fallen imaginations and introduce us to how it was, and what God designed us to be! It tells us how we are meant to be, as individuals in our relationship with God, and if married, in our relationship with our spouse.


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