George C. Lubbers is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
God is addressing Adam here in Paradise as the Covenant God of Adam. Really He is speaking here as the same God of glory Who spoke to Abraham, the father of all believers, much later. When Moses pens these words in Gen. 3:17 he is with Israel in the wilderness; Israel is then dwelling in their tents about the tabernacle which was made after the pattern of the heaven tabernacle. God had shown him this tabernacle on Mt. Sinai with the express injunction: “See that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed thee on the mount” (Exodus 25:40; Numbers 8:40; Acts 7:44; Hebrews 8:5b). It seems that Moses goes out of his way to emphasize this name of JEHOVAH, the I-Am-That-I-Am. Also here in Genesis 3:17 we confess that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8).
We ought to notice that in Genesis 3:14, 21, 22, Jehovah God speaks as it were to Himself. He speaks as the Triune Covenant God. Says He, “man (Adam) is become like one of us”: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Thus God speaks in the plural when He is about to create man, and when he is to drive him in His justice and mercy out of the garden of Eden. Both times God speaks in all His august majesty, and that, too, in the fullness of His heavenly majesty and glory.
We have stated before and reaffirm that the LORD speaks here to Adam in the context of the great promise, the protevangel, verse 15. This promise was fulfilled in the suffering and glorified Christ. Are not all God’s promises yea in Christ, and in him Amen to the glory of God the Father (II Cor. 1:20)? Yes, we believe that here is the seeking and finding love of Christ in the way of the perfect righteousness of the cross. Did God not clothe Adam and Eve in the skins of the sacrificial lambs, which were slain and placed upon the altar?
God will have His justice satisfied! Adam is driven out of the garden of Eden. Mercy does not in any way set God’s justice aside. Yet God allows the avenue of mercy to remain open here in the terms which he speaks to Adam. Adam must die and did die. Still in the plan of God Adam dies and in him the entire human race. By one man unto many was the judgment unto condemnation; yea, many were made sinners in him. Legally and ethically the entire human race was in God’s just judgment plunged into condemnation. (Romans 5:15-21).
The justice of God’s curse upon the ground is set forth very clearly by Jehovah God. The justice rests upon the word to Adam as we have this recorded in Gen. 2:16, “And Jehovah God commanded the man (Adam) saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
In this word God gave the law of life and of death for Adam.
It was the law promulgated from God’s throne.
God will not be dethroned, neither is the Most High mocked. He fulfilled His word. Adam died that very day! Yes, by one man sin entered into the world, and through sin death, and death passed on to all men, because all had sinned (Rom. 5:12). Not only was the entire human race put under the law of sin and death, but the entire creation was subjected to vanity in God’s wrath over Adam. “Cursed is the ground for thy sake,” God says to Adam!
What we ought to notice carefully is that God did notcurse Adam. This curse is not directed against Adam’s person nor against the person of Eve. The curse is upon the serpent and upon the seed of the serpent, the Old Dragon, the great Deceiver and Liar from the beginning in whom there is no truth. He is the father of the lie: Upon him God pronounced His curse. Later he pronounces this curse also upon Cain, and much later upon Canaan the son of Ham (Genesis 3:14;Genesis 9:25).
But the curse is not upon Adam’s person. Adam was, even then, already written in the Lamb’s book of life. As we hope to point out more in depth a bit later, Adam may be included, according to the election of grace, in the church spoken of in Genesis 4:26b, “then began men to call upon the name of the LORD.” Surely, Adam also worshipped as did Abel at the altar, bringing the bloody sacrifice of the flock (Gen. 4:4).
Yes, God has His justice satisfied!
The Seed of the woman will perform it.
Truly, the zeal of the LORD will perform it.
Scripture speaks of the zeal of God’s house. In this zeal and holy jealousy for His holy Name He will bring many sons to glory (Psalm 69:9; Isaiah 9:9; John 2:7). In this coming LAMB, God will be glorified and will manifest all the glory of His grace in the saints—including Adam and Eve!
Meanwhile the ground is cursed for Adam’s transgression’s sake. Adam and his posterity will eat bread in toil and labor, in the sweat of their brow. The cursed earth will be very hard to subdue, even to eke a livelihood from it. What a far cry this cursed earth is from the paradisiacal condition as described in Genesis 2:5, 6: “. . . and there was not a man to till the ground, but there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground”.
That Adam was not cursed from the ground as was Cain is because Adam’s hand did not have the blood of a saint staining it. The voice of the blood of one of the saints did not cry against Adam’s soul for vengeance. Abel’s blood cried from the earth to the Lord Sabbaoth (Gen. 4:10). It was the blood which was the first of all the blood of the souls under the altar, which cry with a loud voice, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth” (Revelation 6:10).
Not so Adam. Such a curse is not placed upon Adam and upon Adam’s seed as they are taken up presently in the generations of the heavens and of the earth. These are taken up in the hope of heaven and of earth, which both shall share in the redemption which is ours in Christ Jesus.
The Holy Spirit tells us through the Apostle Paul that the ground, too, lives in hope. Paul calls this “cursed ground” the creature which has been subjected to vanity in Romans 8:20-22. Literally the text reads, “for the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope. Because the creature itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”
What we should notice is that the curse upon the ground was God’s subjecting it to vanity. However, this was done in the wisdom and mercy of God upon hope. Now this is no mere hope of the creature to return to the original beauty and virginal freshness of the garden of Eden as revealed and portrayed in Genesis 2:5-15, nor does this refer to a mere return to the “milk and honey” condition of the land of Canaan, as the premillennialists dream of the earthly fulfillment of the promises, but this refers undoubtedly to the wisdom of God whereby he subjected the creature to vanity in hope of being liberated to the glory of the children of God in Christ Jesus. That will be the glory of a new heaven and a new earth. Into this glory the creature will be liberated when the earth, being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat (II Peter 3:12).
It is of interest to notice that Paul does not simply have an abstract discussion on the truth of the subjection of, the creature in hope by God, but he introduces the truth of the creature’s sharing in the salvation of the sons of God to teach and demonstrate the incomparable greatness of the glory which shall be ours as the sons of adoption (Rom. 8:18). As sons of adoption, who have the Spirit of adoption, we cry, “Abba Father.” We stand in relationship to God as heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. Yes, we suffer greatly for Christ’s sake, even as the souls under altar. There is the terrible reality referred to by Jesus in Matthew 23:34, 35. Jesus speaks in this passage “of all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of the righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Berachia, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.”
However, all the suffering of this present time is not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us when we shall publicly receive the crown of righteousness and glory.
That will be the day! It will be the great day of our Lord Jesus Christ’s revelation in the saints. Then all the groaning of the saints will cease, the Spirit will no longer groan in the sons of adoption as the firstfruits of the full harvest, nor will creation ever again groan and travail in the vanity of vanities of its subjected existence.
Then will the hope of the creature be fulfilled!
In the very groaning of the creature we see that all things reach out in earnest expectation of the realization of the hope of heaven and earth.
When Paul writes concerning the waiting and groaning creation, it is evident that he does not refer to the groaning of the children of God. For it is for the glory of these children of God that the creature waits in hope. Nor does this refer to the angel hosts. For these are not subject to the curse upon the creature. For their habitat is heaven, although the angels also long for the realization of the promises of God. They stoop down to look into the revelation of the mystery of godliness.
No, this refers to the whole creation: heaven, earth, the firmament, land and sea, sun, moon and stars, fish and fowl, animals and creeping things. Creation cannot come to its increated design and purpose. It is subjected to the vanity of vanities, where all the rivers run into the sea and the sea does not become full. All is one great weariness in all things, so that it cannot be expressed.
Yet withal, it is subjected upon hope, the hope of heaven and earth!