Genesis 3:17-19, “And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
Just as sin strikes women at the very center of their femininity because of its consequences on child bearing, so too does it affect men in their essential maleness. When the Lord puts hardship into the tilling of the ground (Gen. 3:17–19), the labor that was a source of blessed purpose began to frustrate man in the core of his being.
God begins His judgment on Adam with “because you have listened to the voice of your wife” (v. 17). This phrase is a Hebrew idiom meaning “obeyed,” and so Adam is judged because he acceded to his wife in sin instead of obeying the Lord. Yet this verse does not imply it is wrong for men to respect a woman’s ideas or feelings. Men must take the righteous and prudent suggestions of women seriously as they lead their homes and their churches (Judg. 4–5; Prov. 14:1; 19:14; 31:10–31; Acts 6:1–7; 1 Tim. 3:10–11; James 1:19; 1 Peter 2:17; 3:7).
The man’s role in the temptation narrative seems passive but the large number of verses devoted to his curse demonstrates his culpability is greater than Eve’s. The Bible says she was deceived (1 Tim. 2:13–14), but no such claim is made for Adam. He willingly and knowingly obeyed Eve’s suggestion to defy God’s will. Adam’s guilt — which guilt is passed on to all who are in him (Rom. 5:12–21) — is not excusable by an appeal to ignorance or deception.
Notice the Lord’s judgment is not labor in and of itself. Labor existed before the fall and is part of God’s blessing (Gen. 1:28). Instead, sin impacts the nature of our work. What was a place of grace is now an opportunity for distress. Thorns and thistles now entangle the harvest (3:18), and it is fitting to understand that such things are viewed in other passages as illustrations of God’s judgment (Isa. 34:8–17). Producing food is no longer a completely joyful task, for evil makes it an occasion for great sorrow. Crops will fail, locusts will invade fields, computers will break down, and men will step on each other to climb the next rung on the corporate ladder. In short, we will find our work troublesome until the earth is renewed. But when Jesus ushers in the new heavens and the new earth, the toil and death brought by Adam will be cast out of creation (Rev. 21).
Though applicable to all, the curse on labor has special bearing on men. Leading and providing for a family can be overwhelming, and the curse is most manifest whenever men view work as mere drudgery, try to do as little as possible, or use their job as an excuse to neglect real relationships with their families and friends. If you are a man, consider if you have done these things and seek out other men who will help you see labor and family as a blessing.
Because of You, Copyright (2022), Ligonier Ministries.