Understanding the basics of the biblical drama is impossible without understanding Adam’s fall, so that is where we now turn in our study of Old Testament themes. The background for today’s passage is Genesis 2:4–3:13 and the probation our first parents lived under — a “covenant of works” between God and Adam and Eve, who were commanded not to eat from the forbidden tree on pain of death (2:15–17; 3:1–3). Tomorrow and the week after next we will look at the nature of this covenant more closely, today we need only to remember that our first parents broke this covenant when tempted by the serpent, earning the curses described in 3:14–19.
Biblically speaking, to be cursed is to be banished from the place of blessing. Instead of pleasant work in a garden eager to give up its bounty for the good of mankind, Adam and his sons must fight back thorns that threaten their livelihoods (vv. 17–19). This is agricultural imagery, but the thorns and thistles also represent all the troubles with work — ineffective or unreliable tools, unreasonable supervisors, lazy employees, and more. Work itself is not the curse, for we were made to delight in our work, which was instituted before the fall (2:15); rather, struggle will accompany every labor. John Calvin says, “Before the fall, the state of the world was a most fair and delightful mirror of the divine favor and paternal indulgence towards man. Now, in all the elements we perceive that we are cursed.”
Childbirth and rearing, which the Lord also designed as an avenue to great joy for women, also feels the curse of the fall. Pain now attends the bringing forth of children (3:16), both in childbirth and in all the heartache that comes with worrying about a child’s safety, watching him make poor decisions, and all the various other things that make raising children a difficult job indeed (see Prov. 17:25; Jer. 31:15).
Despite the curses, labor and childbirth will clearly go on, an evidence of grace since both guarantee humanity’s survival. The serpent is not so lucky; Satan and His minions will be crushed by a righteous people under the command of the woman’s righteous Son (Gen. 3:14–15). But a long period of time will intervene before the fatal blow against the Devil is delivered.