Staff & Sling

Joseph E. Hébert, Ph.D.

98119 N 3745 Rd
Okemah, OK  74859
918 623 3078

The Cursed Ground

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. Genesis 3: 17 - 19

If you'll notice, this passage does not say that the ground was cursed as a punishment for man's sin. Instead, God says that the ground was cursed, for our sake. In other words, the ground was cursed for our benefit. But what could that possibly mean? What does this imply?

To consider that question, let's begin by noting something from verse 8 of the same chapter. There we read that, "... [Adam and Eve] heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden."

Notice the Bible says they heard the "voice" of God walking, not the voice of God as He was walking. This was not the voice of God speaking. It was literally the sound of God's footsteps.

The word here translated "voice" is the Hebrew word "-&8" (pronounced "kole"), and it means "voice, sound or noise," specifically a sound or noise associated with something particular. We tend to think of a "voice" as being the sound of a person's speech, but it is also the sound of a musical instrument; when technicians fine-tune the sound of a pipe organ they are "voicing" the pipes. Similarly, the boom of an explosion is the voice, or the report, as in the voice or report of cannon-fire. Look on the label of fireworks and it will say something to the effect of "... with report," meaning the sound of the firework exploding.

So the sound associated with a thing is that thing's voice, and while this meaning would have been intuitive for the average literate 17th Century Briton, a better translation today would be "... they heard the sound of the LORD God walking...."

In other words, this verse tells us is that Adam and Eve heard the sound of God's footsteps, and recognized them. So what? Well, think about what that implies. When I was a child in my bedroom, if my mother came walking up the hall I could tell it was her by the sound of her footsteps alone. I knew it was her even before she opened the door. That's how familiar I was with her, and this verse tells us that's how familiar Adam and Eve were with God.

Adam and Eve were so familiar with God that they recognized the sound of His footsteps. That tells us they enjoyed direct communion and fellowship with God. They shared His company, His direct presence (the same presence verse 8 tells us they now hid themselves from).

But we know from elsewhere in Scripture that man can not physically withstand the presence of God (e.g. Exodus 33: 18 - 23). This is because of God's glory. Unfortunately, people today tend not to understand what glory is, what the word really means, thinking instead that it means something praiseworthy, or something to be proud of. But that is not what Scriptures tell us about glory.

I can't say what God's glory is with certainty. The Jews call it the "%1*,:" (Shekinah). It is the visible and physical manifestation of the presence of God, and I imagine it to be something like radiation. We know it emanates from God's person, but what else do we know about glory?

Well, God's Word tells us that a woman's long hair is her glory, a covering (I Corinthians 11: 15), and so the analogy teaches us something about glory. It immediately explains why Adam and Eve suddenly felt naked, but whatever its purpose or physical properties, we know that God's glory is deadly to human beings.

At least it is deadly to human beings after Adam and Eve ate the Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But prior to the original sin, apparently, it wasn't. Prior to Genesis 3: 8 Adam and Eve had direct communion with God. How can this be?

I would point out to you that God's Word tells us of two particular trees in the Garden of Eden. It tells us of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and also of the Tree of Life. And God Himself tells us that if Adam ate of the first he would die that same day, but if he had eaten of the Tree of Life he would have become immortal.

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. Genesis 2: 17

And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Genesis 3: 22

"Oh," you may be thinking, "but Adam didn't actually die that same day. God must have meant something spiritual or metaphysical or metaphorical or something." And from that you might then conclude that it didn't mean he'd literally live forever either. But these are rationalizations to make Scriptures fit our understanding. I suggest that instead we rely on Scriptures to give us a better understanding.

And so I beg to differ. I believe that Adam did die, actually and physically, on that very day. I believe that Scripture here is showing us that our understanding of the word "death" is limited by our perspective, and that we should instead seek God's perspective to the extent He's shared it with us.

So what is death? Is it to cease existing? No. Even after you die, you still physically exist. Neither is death a loss of consciousness, lest we die each night.

Is death the cessation of life, of physical function? Hardly. Once you die your body continues to physically function according to God's natural laws, even to sustain life (albeit no longer our own). Indeed, life continues, and your body continues to play its part.

The only thing that happens in (physical) death is the dominant biological processes that govern your body (respiration, digestion, reproduction, etc.) give way to new processes (decay and decomposition). Though you die, rest assured that your body continues to exist and to participate in the sustenance of life (albeit not your own). Life indeed goes on.

I believe it was C. S. Elliot who said, "Man doesn't have a soul. Man is a soul. He has a body."

And in that day, on the very day that Adam ate the Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he surely died, just as God said. Until that day the dominant process governing his physical body was a (set of) biological process(es) that I call gloriferous. (Even though I don't know if this was a single process or a set of processes, I will hereafter refer to it as a single process, if only to keep future sentences from being as difficult to read as the last one.)

Clearly Adam and Eve experienced respiration and digestion all along. God breathed into them the breath of life, and He told them all of the herbs and trees were food for them, save the one of course. But it is equally apparent that they also had glorified bodies. Like God they had glory which covered them, something I would point out they lost on that very day (Genesis 2: 25; 3: 7, 10, 11). In other words, until that day they looked like God, or you could say they were "in His image." But most importantly they were capable of existing in God's presence, of direct fellowship with Him.

But the Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was poison to their glorified bodies. Just like arsenic will end the biological processes of respiration and digestion, that Fruit was the chemical impetus that ended the gloriferous process of Adam and Eve's bodies. They no longer had glory and they could no longer survive God's presence.

Moreover, just as death separates us from our loved ones, that original death separated man from God.

And yes, if Adam and Eve had eaten the Fruit of the Tree of Life they'd have become immortal, eternally condemned to an existence separate from God. So God banished them from the Garden as a means of ensuring that they, that we, could shed these corrupted bodies and be redeemed to eternal fellowship with Him (see Genesis 3: 22 above).

In light of this understanding, it makes sense that the world God had created to sustain our gloriferous bodies was no longer suited to the task. And, being gloriferous in nature (i.e. based on gloriferous biological processes), it makes sense that the world would've been toxic to our new biology. And so now it makes sense that God would say that "for our sakes," for our benefit, the ground was cursed. Otherwise the herbs and trees would no longer be food, but poison.

Genesis 3: 16 - 19 isn't God handing down punishment. It was simply God explaining the consequences of our actions. It was not a manifestation of his wrath. He didn't decide that we would have to work hard as a punishment for making Him angry. He simply explained that because of what we did this was how it would now be. Far from being a punishment, this was the first manifestation of His love for us, of His mercy and grace, that for our sake the ground (His creation) was cursed.

You'll find no more explicit a statement of this than in Ecclesiastes 2: 24. There we read,

[There is] nothing better for a man, [than] that he should eat and drink, and [that] he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it [was] from the hand of God," (Ecclesiastes 2: 24).

Indeed, it rather confirms the thesis. The subject of the broader passage in Ecclesiastes is the futility (the vanity) of seeking fulfillment in this life. And, Carl Jung's philosophies notwithstanding, it makes perfect sense if you think about it. We were created for a specific purpose, to worship and fellowship with God. So until we are reconciled to Him, physically restored to His presence, we can never achieve complete fulfillment. Absent reconciliation to God we are condemned to a perpetually disappointing and unsatisfying life of futility, forever seeking without finding something to fill that empty void. And that's precisely the fate God took some effort to spare us by ensuring that we can die, shedding these corrupted bodies.

But in the meantime there's a side note to that theme. In verse 24, in a tangential point, God tells us that the best we can hope for in this life is the satisfaction of a job well done. Moreover, we are told, it is a gift from God that we can.

Fame, wealth, power, all the things that tempt us, the lusts of the eyes, the lusts of the flesh, the pride of life, all of these things are vain, empty and unfulfilling. But to make our life here not wholly unpleasant, to give us some measure of comfort, God gave us this gift, that we can find some fulfillment, albeit ephemeral, in the satisfaction of a job well done.

And it doesn't matter what that job is, whether it's big or small, historic or trivial. I've achieved to the pinnacles of academics and education, contributed to significant advances in science and technology, been published in international conference proceedings and peer reviewed journals. And those were quite fulfilling accomplishments. But I can tell you the satisfaction of building Pinewood Derby race cars with my sons, or getting the kitchen really clean and shiny, are equally satisfying. In any task, there is a God given satisfaction that comes from doing it well. The job really doesn't matter, but having done your best is truly satisfying. And that too is a manifestation of God's love for you.