Dead in Sin | Genesis 3:14-24

Just as the first half of chapter 3 dismantled the relationship between the man and woman established at the end of chapter 2, this latter portion of chapter 3 will undo the restful paradise given in the first half of the second chapter. If we were ever confused as to why the first sin is so important, these verses provide the answer. Adam’s sin did not simply affect him nor did it stop with his wife. This first sin ushered in the total depravity of humanity. The entrance of sin into humanity marred our entire existence. Such is our fallen state that only a monumental act of God could restore and renew us, and fortunately, in the midst of bleakness of judgment, the LORD promises exactly that.

THE SERPENT’S CURSE // VERSE 14

God begins His judgment with the one who initiated a conversation with Eve: the serpent. Because the serpent deceived the man and woman, God brings a curse upon the serpent. It is important to note that throughout this text only the serpent and the ground are technically cursed. Of course, God judges and punishes the man and women, but He does not fully curse them, choosing to show grace in the midst of castigation. Mercy, though, is not given to the serpent. He is first cursed beyond any livestock by being forced to crawl on his belly. This statement leads many readers to conclude that the serpent once had legs, but from this curse comes snakes as we know them today. While such is completely possible, the text is simply not clear; instead, God curses the legless serpents as a representation of the lowly state of Satan. Moreover, the declaration that the serpent will eat dust is probably figurative in nature as well, revealing the humiliated new status of serpents. However, an interesting speculation is that perhaps God has yet to complete this aspect of the curse. Isaiah 65 describes the end of time, and within verse 25, we are told that the serpents will eat the dust. Thus, perhaps God will one day bring this curse to its literal competition.

Verse 15 is one of the most crucial verses in Genesis. At this point in the narrative of Genesis, it seems as though the serpent succeeded in his task. The humans sinned, and as a result, God’s image-bearers would die. Surely if we skipped this verse and kept reading, we would find the whole outlook of humanity to be depressingly bleak. However, in the midst of proclaiming judgment upon His rebellious creatures, God provides hope. This verse is theologically referred to as the protoevangelium, or the first announcement of the gospel. Since gospel means good news, it is difficult to imagine any sort of good news being proclaimed after Adam and Eve so blatantly rebelled against God. However, this is good news indeed.

First, God promises that there will be a continuous enmity between the serpent and the woman. Perhaps on a surface level, this is a general reference to the animosity of most women towards snakes. However, the reference to her offspring and its offspring implies that something larger is taking place. The struggle between the seeds is likely a reference to the ongoing battle between good and evil. Before the eating of the fruit, God kept evil from the humans; however, they have now welcomed its presence. I once heard Genesis described in a sermon as being not just what happened but what always happens. Fittingly, just as the woman fell before the deception of the serpent, it seems as though all of her children are destined to do the same. Everyone comes under similar temptations to that of Eve, and none passes the test with one hundred percent accuracy, except for one of the woman’s offspring, as we will see next.

The usage of the word “he” implies that the second half of this verse applies to a single offspring of the woman. Thus, when everyone is destined to repeat the same error of Eve repeatedly, God promises that one person will be different. This person will still wrestle with the serpent, suffering a bruised heel, but He will crush the serpent’s head. I know that this sounds elementary, but a head is significantly more important than a heel. Therefore, even though this Offspring will not escape the battle unharmed, He will definitively destroy the serpent. Since Satan here seems to represent evil as a whole, this prophesy is of the utmost importance, as this will be how God eliminates sin. This will be how God corrects everything that Adam’s sin broke. The entrance of sin into humanity ushered in the central conflict of the Bible, and as early as this verse, God reveals His answer.

With the New Testament in hand, Christians already know the identity of this Offspring, the serpent’s bane, as being Jesus Christ. Throughout the rest of the Genesis and the Old Testament, God’s people have waited for this Savior to arise. In the following chapter, Eve hopes that Cain will be the Offspring. Lamech hoped that Noah would be Him. Abraham hoped in Isaac. Jacob hoped in Joseph. The people hoped in Moses and then David. David hoped in Solomon. Yet one by one, these men revealed that they were not the promised Offspring. Finally, two thousand years ago, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. As God incarnate, Jesus faced temptation just like Eve and every other human has, but He did not fall for Satan’s deception. Even though Satan attempted to destroy Jesus through crucifixion, it was only a bruised heel. Christ rose from death, defeating death and triumphing over Satan and sin. Jesus crushed the serpents head, and one day He will do it permanently.

. . . the seed of the serpent refers to natural humanity whom he has led into rebellion against God. Humanity is now divided into two communities: the elect, who love God, and the reprobate, who love self (John 8:31-32, 44; 1 John 3:8). Each of the characters of Genesis will be either of the seed of the woman that reproduces her spiritual propensity, or of the seed of the Serpent that reproduces his unbelief.[1]

THE WOMAN’S JUDGMENT // VERSE 16

The second judgment is pronounced upon the woman. First, God strikes at the core of her femininity by increasing the pain of the birthing process. Evidently, this means that there was some sort of pain involved in childbirth even before the Fall, but it will now be marked by a notable increase in pain. Second, God addresses the relationship between husbands and wives. The woman’s desire for her husband has been interpreted in numerous fashions. Some say that wives will tend to desire their husbands to an unhealthy degree. Others suggest that it is a desire to control her husband. Allen Ross suggests that a better translation of the verse is “Your desire was to your husband, but he shall have mastery over you.”[2] This would mean that God punishes the woman’s usurping of the man’s headship in the first half of this chapter with the dominance of the man. It seems that both interpretations come into play at times. Plenty of women place the need of a man over the need of having God, which by nature causes the man to become a god in her life. Also, though history is marked by male chauvinism, numerous historical writings suggest that many behind much of the world’s rulers were women pulling the strings. Either way, the language here is strong. The words “desire” and “rule” are rarely used together in the Old Testament, but one of the other places is in the following chapter. God will warn Cain that sin’s desire is to have him, and that he must rule over sin. Thus, regardless of the exact meaning, it is clear that there no longer exists the peaceful harmony between the husband and his wife, as it was in the garden. Where there was once perfect unity and love in marriage now becomes similar to two kingdoms colliding.

THE MAN’S JUDGMENT // VERSES 17-19

The final of the three judgment proclamations belongs to Adam. It should first be noticed that Adam’s punishment declaration is notably longer than either the serpent or woman’s chastisement. Perhaps this is a reflection of the man’s role of headship, since God emphasizes for the second time in this chapter that He explicitly commanded Adam not to eat the fruit. Adam failed at his responsibility; therefore, a curse of judgment must be made. Yet notice that Adam is not directly cursed; instead, the ground beneath his feet is cursed. Adam was given dominion over all the earth, so his failure meant misery for everything under his authority. Leaders, husbands, and fathers ought to take great care because in similar fashion, those who are under our authority will ultimately pay a price for our failures. Thus, the role of headship is never to be taken lightly. Nevertheless, man’s life will now be marked by struggle and pain as he works against the cursed earth. Within the garden, Adam’s work was apparently easy and yielded much, but the work for his food would now be strenuous and grueling. Where Adam was once able to eat the fruit of any tree in the garden for food, a simple meal would now require tiresome labor. Just as woman’s judgment struck the heart of her longing to bear children, so man’s punishment strikes at his role as worker and provider for his family. As very few people work in an agricultural setting today, it is important that we understand that this is an overarching principle for how the world functions presently. Whenever we strive for a raise or promotion that is constantly out of our reach, we are wrestling with this judgment. Any time that we become frustrated by the fact that our income never seems to be sufficient for our needs, we grapple with the ground that fights back against us.

Finally, in verse 19 God declares the judgment from which Adam and Eve were likely hiding when God first came looking for them after they sinned: death. God promised to Adam in the garden that if he ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge, he would die. Since God has saved this final declaration until last, I cannot help but imagine that Adam and Eve were in anxiety waiting for what they knew was coming. Just as God promised, He now promises again: their death will come because of their disobedience. The LORD declares that just as He brought man from the dust, they will eventually return to dust. This adds a new dimension to the punishments of both the man and woman. After a life marked by pain and toil, they will end their earthly existence by becoming nothing more than dust. Much like Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes, this gives an inherent vanity to life.[3]

NAMING EVE // VERSE 20

After the grimness of God’s promise of death, Adam expresses a shocking amount of hope by naming his wife Eve. The name Eve sounds like the word for “life-giver” in Hebrew; thus, Adam calls her “the mother of all living.” This is a declaration of hope that life will continue even though death has now been inserted into the equation. It seems that Adam has taken this hope from God’s prophesy in verse 15. Though death, evil, and sin will run rampant in the world, Adam looks forward to the Offspring that will come from his wife to undo the fallout of sin. Thus, even though he did not know the name of Jesus, he placed his faith in the saving power of Christ alone.

GOD CLOTHES ADAM & EVE // VERSE 21

Adam and Eve were guaranteed death, but even so, it is an act of pure mercy that God did not slay them at that very moment. In their dying moments, they would experience the true weight of their sin, but still sin cannot simply be overlooked. God cannot turn a blind eye to sin, even for only the lifetime of a man. The blood of man and woman was required as payment for their sin, and in order for them to live, blood needed to be given so that Adam and Eve might continue to live. This is the nature of sacrifice. In order to spare the man and woman from paying their debt, God sheds the blood of the innocent. Though the animal from which God takes the clothing did not sin, it paid the price for humanity’s sin. This must have been incredibly sobering for Adam, watching a creature that was under his care take the punishment that only he deserved. Throughout the Old Testament, God will continue to demand sacrifices from His people, in part so that they did not forget the violent and bloody price of sin. Even still, the blood of animals did not cover the sins of Adam and Eve here, nor did they erase the sins of Israel when sacrificed in the temple. After all, God repeated declares in the Old Testament that He does not delight in the blood of animals. Ultimately, every animal sacrifice made in the Old Testament serves as an allusion to and foreshadow of the sacrifice of Christ. The only sacrifice that was able to perfectly appease the wrath of God so that we no longer stand in judgment before God is the death of Jesus Christ, the God-man. Thus, the animal was a reference to the cross of Christ, which was the true sacrifice that covered the sin of Adam and Eve.

OUTSIDE OF EDEN // VERSES 22-24

The epilogue to this chapter gives us the nature of humanity’s expulsion from the garden. Satan’s deception, as previously discussed, was based upon truth. Man had indeed taken upon himself a similarity with God, being that he now understood good and evil. However, this understanding came at the price of experience. He learned of evil by committing evil. Now for the sake of the humans’ wellbeing, God casts Adam and Eve east of the garden and guards the entrance with a cherubim and a flaming sword. At first this may appear to be just another judgment of God (and it somewhat certainly is), but the true reasoning behind this exile from paradise is actually very merciful of God. In God’s dialogue (or can we say trialogue?) with Himself, He explains that man cannot be allowed to eat the fruit of the tree of life or else he will live forever. Thus, it seems that even in the garden, Adam and Eve were mortal creatures. The tree of life, most likely, was the means by which God imparted life to the man and woman. This would keep them in constant dependence of His provision. However, with this newly sinful state of being, the eating of this fruit probably would have kept them in their sinful nature. A fundamental truth of the believer’s life is that physical death is gain. Given all of the pain and suffering that now comes with human existence, God provides death as a means of escaping our fallen circumstances. Of course, for the nonbeliever, physical death only gives way to eternal death, but for us, there is great hope that Jesus has undone the effects of sin and that after our departure from these bodies we will be glorified with Him.


[1] Waltke, Genesis, pp. 93-94

[2] Ross, Allen. Creation & Blessing. p. 146

[3] In fact, the book of Ecclesiastes serves as a great commentary to what life is like under the curse of sin.

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