The late Homer Hoeksema was professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
We must next consider the Lord’s pronouncements immediately after the first announcement of the promise, as these are recorded in Genesis 3:16-19:
Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
There is an important question that must be answered in connection with these verses. It is this: what is the idea, the significance, of the judgments which God pronounces in these verses?
Not infrequently these judgments are merely considered as punishments for sin in general. Scripture teaches, however, that the true punishment for sin is death in the full sense of the word, death in all its implications. It is clear from a simple reading of this passage that the full punishment of death is hardly embodied in these judgments which the Lord pronounced immediately after the announcement of the promise. What we find in these verses is the pronouncement of temporal judgments, judgments which affect man’s earthly and natural existence and the creation round about him.
The question is, therefore, more particularly: what is the significance of these temporal judgments which are pronounced?
This question may be put negatively as follows: why were things not immediately destroyed after sin had become a fact? We intentionally phrased the question in this way because there are those who like to emphasize this negative aspect for a special reason, meanwhile ignoring the fact of God’s judgments. This is due, they claim, to a certain common grace of God. This view has it that even though a man should be lost forever, yet it is a matter of the favor of God upon him that he may live in this world the brief span of his earthly existence and that the creation was not immediately destroyed. God’s common grace, they say, spared all things.
It is but a step from this position to another position very commonly held by some, namely, that God did not immediately destroy all things in order to give man a chance to repent.
Scripture teaches, however, that God’s dealings with men are neither a matter of common grace nor a matter of chances. There are two glaring errors in both these views. The first is that this presentation of a kind of divine sparing of all things is but a half-fact. It ignores the important fact that although the Lord did not immediately destroy all things, He did something positive. First of all, the Lord had already made known the promise, according to Genesis 3:15. Secondly, the correct biblical presentation is not merely that God spared things, but that He pronounced judgments upon all things. These judgments are quite a different matter from a common favor of God. The second glaring error in these presentations is the fact that God had His sovereign counsel and that it is only and always according to that sovereign counsel and purpose of the Lord our God that all things take place.
It is in this light, therefore, that the question must be answered: what is the significance of these temporal judgments after the fall and after the revelation of the promise?
Then we must remember, first of all, that the first creation did not represent God’s final purpose, but that according to God’s counsel the end of all things was the kingdom of glory and the perfection of His covenant in Christ Jesus and, in Him, with His elect people in the new creation. In the second place, it was not apart from and contrary to God’s counsel and eternal purpose, but according to it that man, the king of the earthly creation, fell in willful disobedience and sin. For, in the third place, God had determined to reach that end of the kingdom of glory and the perfection of His covenant in Christ Jesus along the deep way of sin and death, on the one hand, and of grace and resurrection, on the other hand.
Now what is the meaning and the effect of all this upon God’s dealings after the fall?
In the first place, it is certainly true that God by the almighty and everywhere present power of His providence keeps all things that He has created in existence. He sustains and upholds them by the Word of His power. He also sovereignly causes them to develop, and that, too, in all their inter-relationships. But this is not all. In the second place, according to that same eternal purpose and in harmony with the changed condition of man, God now changes all of earthly existence, so that it might become the proper stage for the realization of His purpose in Christ Jesus and along the lines of election and reprobation. Hence, while God indeed providentially keeps all things in existence, that existence is changed. While, according to God’s providence, all things develop, they develop from now on under the influence of the curse. But they do so, positively speaking, in order that this cursed world may serve as the scene, the stage, for the manifestation of the wonder of God’s grace in Christ, whereby all things will be renewed and glorified. The “sorrow and conception” of the woman, her desire being to her husband and his rule over her, the curse on the ground, the bondage of corruption and the vanity to which the whole creation is made subject, the toil of man, temporal death—all these belong to the proper setting of the stage for the realization of God’s purpose.
If you would speak of anything that is common in all this, then it must be noted that the temporal suffering, the toil and labor, the vanity and the temporal death which are the result of these pronouncements of God—these indeed are common to all men. Yet, while they are manifestations of wrath for the ungodly, they are not punishments for the elect, for God’s people in Christ Jesus. For He bore all our punishments, and there is no wrath for God’s people. All things work together for good to them that love God, who are the called according to His purpose.
Now let us turn to the details of this passage and try to see how all this applies with respect to the text and how it is all worked out with respect to Adam and Eve personally also.
We may notice immediately that God curses the serpent, and He also pronounces His curse upon the ground. But He does not curse Adam and Eve. Notice carefully that this is literally true. To the serpent God said, according to verse 14: “Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field.” According to verse 17, in addressing Adam, the Lord says: “…cursed is the ground for thy sake….” Yet we never read that God says in so many words to Adam or to Eve, “Because thou hast done this, cursed art thou.” We may ask the question: why?
The reason is to be found in the fact that though the curse is to operate in their natural life, that is, though they also, as well as all mankind, are to experience the effects of the curse, the effects of the operation of the wrath of God, in their natural existence, yet essentially that wrath of God was not upon them personally. They were blessed, and they were already saved from sin and death principally. They had the promise of the final victory and the final salvation. This indeed did not mean, as we shall see later in detail, that they were immediately free from the effects of the outpouring of God’s wrath in creation round about them and upon human existence. On the contrary, they also would temporally, and in their natural, earthly existence, experience these effects. But the meaning, the deep significance, of those temporal judgments, also of those judgments which directly affected their own existence, the woman’s great sorrow and conception and the man’s toil and sweat—that meaning had been fundamentally changed through God’s Word of promise. Though in themselves, indeed, by virtue of God’s own Word in the probationary command, they were lost and alienated from God, and though in themselves they must needs be the object of God’s curse, all this had been fundamentally changed for them by God’s promise.
Let us clearly understand this.
All the temporal judgments mentioned in this passage must needs be seen in the context of the protevangel: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” The Word of God, though addressed to the tempter, was at the same time the Word of God’s promise, of His blessing, of His favor, for Adam and Eve and for all the seed of the woman. For that Word proclaimed enmity, spiritual enmity, between the woman and the serpent, between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. And just as surely that Word meant the implanting of the love of God in their hearts, that love which would be manifest in enmity against the enemies of God. Lost in themselves, Adam and Eve were immediately rescued by the power of sovereign grace. They were regenerated. In the light of the promise, therefore, they could not be cursed. In the light of God’s Word of blessing, His Word of salvation, it was fundamentally impossible that they should ever hear the Word of His curse again. For the two, blessing and cursing, are opposites, diametrical opposites.
God’s blessing is the powerful Word of His favor, the Word of His grace, rooted in everlasting life, proceeding to the creature and making that creature exactly what His Word says, “blessed.” It makes that creature the heir of eternal life and causes all things to be in his favor and to serve the purpose of his everlasting salvation and bliss. That Word of God’s blessing makes a man inexpressibly happy, even in the midst of trouble and sorrow, for he has the assurance that God averts all evil or turns it to his profit.
The Word of God’s curse is the very opposite. It is the efficacious Word of the God who speaks and it is done, who commands and it stands fast. But it is the Word of His wrath, rooted in His divine hatred. The curse proceeds from God’s wrath, that wrath which is the perfect and constant reaction of His infinite holiness against all that stands opposed to Him. That attitude of wrath does not merely burn within God toward its object, but it operates. It proceeds from God in the Word of His curse upon its object. The sinner stands over against God. God in His wrath toward that sinner presses him away, operates against him. What is the result? Inexpressible misery, death. The result is to live apart from God, to have God—God who is really God—against you. If God is against you, all things are against you, and the end is destruction. Nothing is more inexorably dreadful than that, and nothing is more inescapable. The Word of God’s curse penetrates its object, pursues it, haunts it, surrounds it, destroys it!
In that Word of His curse God maintains Himself and maintains His covenant. Man violated that covenant. He turned traitor, allying himself with the devil. He proposed to live apart from God, without God, and to make God a liar. But God is the sovereign of heaven and earth, and He is His own party. As such, in His perfect righteousness and holiness He maintains Himself and His cause over against the creature that opposes Him and exalts itself against Him. The negative result of God’s maintaining His covenant is the curse on that which separates itself from Him. The devil is cursed. The whole creation as it is fallen in man, its king, is cursed. All mankind, in itself and apart from Christ, must also needs be cursed.
But in sovereign grace God had made exception, according to His everlasting purpose of election. That exception is the woman and her spiritual seed, the elect in Christ Jesus, in whose hearts God works enmity against the devil and love toward Himself. They, therefore, are blessed, eternally blessed. Toward them the Word of His curse does not and cannot proceed, for His own name’s sake.
That explains why in all these temporal judgments there is no word of God’s curse for Adam and Eve. The same is true for all the seed of the woman, through and in the Great Seed of the woman, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us remember that all this is very important with respect to the meaning of life, with respect to the question whether life is worth living, both for the seed of the woman and for the seed of the serpent. Bear in mind that the question whether life is worth living, since the fall and since the promise of salvation, cannot be answered without further qualifications. It all depends upon who asks it and who answers it, and what meaning is put into it.
Does a man mean by this question: Is just this present life, without any prospect, worth living? Does he ask this question as a materialist? Is this life, of which dust is the end, worth living? Then the answer of Scripture is definitely No. Even if there were nothing else, nothing after this present existence, this life in itself is not worth living. Its end, then, is vanity, and its present experience is nothing but the wrath of Almighty God, inescapable wrath. The best of it is labor and sorrow. Does a man mean: Is life worth living for the man who goes to hell hereafter? Then the answer of Scripture is plain: don’t be a fool! Is there any pleasure in a boat ride at breakneck speed over the Niagara Falls to certain destruction? Is there any worth in a life in which God sets a man in slippery places and casts him down to destruction (Ps. 73:18)? Is there any joy in being born and in developing for an eternity of sorrow? What shall a man be profited if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
Or does a man mean: Is a life that is destined for eternal glory in God’s everlasting tabernacle worth living? Then the answer of Scripture is: Yes, emphatically yes! Life with all its trouble and toil and sorrows and death is worth living. For the glory is great, and all that belongs to this present existence, appearance to the contrary notwithstanding, is subservient to the attainment of that glory, in Christ Jesus, out of sovereign mercy.