Their punishment corresponded with their sin.
Now we enter into the Judgment phase. Satan’s head is going to be crushed by the coming seed or offspring of the woman. The woman will have pain in childbirth, desire to rule her husband even though he will rule her. Adam’s relationship with his wife is frustrated and now his relationship with the earth is too. It will not produce for him very easily, he will have to work hard, and ultimately he will return in death to the ground from which he came. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Massive theological issues are found in this passage:
- Sin’s entrance into the human condition
- Sin’s corrupting power of the human condition
- Sin’s consequence of death, division, and so on
- God’s judgment of sin
- Death spiritually and physically
- The coming Redeemer planned from before the world began
First is Satan. God’s judgment of Satan has 3 features: cursing, conflict and crushed. The serpent is cursed to crawl on its belly and lick dust. It may be that the serpent used to walk more upright, or somehow been more erect prior to this. Now it would crawl.
At the very least there is a humiliating consequence imposed on the serpent. This “licking the dust” is repeated throughout the Scriptures and always indicates humiliation and defeat.
- “They will bow before him, his enemies will lick the dust” (Ps 72:9).
- Speaking to Israel about her glorious future God promises: “[kings and queens] will bow down before you with their faces to the ground, they will lick the dust at your feet.” (Isa 49:23).
- Then Micah 7:17 says of the nations, “They will lick dust like a snake, like creatures that crawl on the ground. They will come trembling out of their dens; they will turn in fear to the LORD our God.”
The serpent is told he will lick the dust all his days. Humiliation and defeat.
Then it mentions conflict between the serpent and the woman. “And I will put enmity between you..” God says. Do you notice the irony? Satan began by “befriending” the woman to tempt her and now after the actual sin they will hate each other.
Application: Sin is never a good bond for friendship. Those who sin together will despise each other.
This enmity was not just between the serpent and the woman, but also their descendents: “I will put enmity” God says, “between her offspring and yours…”
So there is conflict between the woman and Satan, and then between the offspring of the woman and the offspring of Satan. There are two senses to the offspring of the woman: a plural and a singular.
The plural refers to those among humanity that belong to Satan and those that belong to the woman. Now those who belong to Satan clearly are the unrepentant people in this world who oppose and are hostile towards God, His people and God’s plans. We see this throughout the Scriptures. Those of Satan are referenced in Matthew 13:38-39, John 8:44, Acts 13:10 and 1 John 3:8 and 10. Perhaps most striking is the condemnation the Martyr Stephen gives of the Jewish leaders in Acts 7:51-53….
Then there are those who belong to the woman. Now all of humanity is the offspring of the woman. So in saying “her offspring” something more is meant than merely physical descendents. Her offspring must refer in some sense to people who do not belong to Satan because the offspring of Satan are opposed to her offspring. If they don’t belong to Satan then they must belong to God. Here I would say that the people who belong to God can be understood in two simultaneous ways: the people from whom the Messiah would come, and the people who come to the Messiah.
The people from whom the Messiah would come refers to the chosen lineage from which the Messiah would come. This is the historical human ancestry that the ultimate “offspring of the woman” would come. Genesis is going to trace for us that godly lineage that God threads as history unfolds: Seth, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the nation and people of Israel, Judah, David until finally you get to Jesus. That lineage is in one sense the “offspring” of the woman, those chosen by God, who belong to God, and through them the Ultimate Offspring – Jesus – would inevitably come from.
This then leads to the next meaning of “her offspring”: the Messiah. Apparently the Hebrew is written in a way where it can be understood both in the plural and the singular. Theologically we must see both the plural and the singular because there is in fact One, Single, Ultimate, Individual Offspring of the woman who would eventually come: this of course is a reference to the Messiah, the Christ, the Lord Jesus Christ. He would most certainly “belong” to God in a way unlike anyone else and most certainly He would be “opposed” by the serpent and the serpent’s offspring. And He, the Messiah, the woman’s seed, would be opposed to the serpent.
You can see this offspring is an individual when you notice the specific language in verse 15: it says “between your offspring and hers, HE will crush your head and you will strike HIS heel.” Notice the singular pronoun, a single individual. There would be a conflict between this single offspring and the serpent. This single offspring of the woman would come and destroy the serpent by crushing his head. Isaiah 7:14, 8:3, 9:6, Mt 1:23, Lk 1:31, Gal 4:4, Rev 12:17
But the result of that conflict will be the crushing of the serpent and his work. Notice the promise of God: “He will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” Now listen: we are going to take those words as a promise to us for sure, but, they are words God specifically spoke to Satan. Right here is a promise from God to Satan that this promised and expected individual was going to crush Satan’s head. Even in the very moment when God is “sorting out” the situation we have here is God immediately giving the promise of redemption. God already has His plan in place to defeat Satan.
Next is the woman. Notice she gets one verse. Adam gets 3. It’s like this in Ephesians 5 too by the way: the wife gets 3 verses whereas the husband gets 9. In both Genesis and Ephesians the husband gets 3 times the focus as the woman. God loves the number 3, doesn’t He?
Her judgment is two-fold. First she will have pain in childbirth, and second, her “desire will be for her husband but he will rule over her.” So childbirth first. Pain, first. This is interesting because Eve didn’t know what childbirth felt like at this point anyway because she wasn’t pregnant and never had been. So no human being ever in history had ever known what painless childbirth was like.
But, more importantly, I want to focus on the second judgment. It relates to marriage. And it should, because God’s judgments are just and being just the consequences or punishments often times correspond to the wrongdoing. This is the legal concept of lex talionis: where the punishment matches the crime. The suffering someone must undergo should match the crime that they committed. Think about Israel: “eye for an eye, and tooth for tooth.” Right? You bust someone’s tooth out you should have yours busted out. You destroy someone’s eye you should have yours destroyed. What happens to you should match what you did to someone else. Remember the Golden Rule? “Treat others how you want to be treated…do to others what you would have them do to you” Well, that’s not just in the positive. It goes to the negative too. If you’d like people to say nice things about you then say nice things about them. If you want your arm broken then break someone else’s arm. Lex talionis. The Golden Rule.
So Eve’s punishment corresponds to her sin. She will “desire” her husband and he will rule over her. The word for “desire” there is the same word God used with Cain in the next chapter when he said, “sin desires to have you”. Sin wants to rule over you and be your master. Sin wants to be your boss and make you its slave. God is saying that Eve will want to rule over Adam her husband, but, she will be ruled by him. There is a real sense here of frustration over authority in the marriage. This corresponds with her sin because the nature of her sin was an usurpation of Adam’s leadership role. Remember God told Adam and Adam told Eve the command not to eat. In a real sense Adam had passed along the instruction to Eve and so by eating of the tree – without turning and deferring to her husband in the moment – she was not only going against God but she was going against her husband. She stepped out from underneath God’s authority and also her husbands. She acted independent of God and her husband.
The judgment God gives then is related to authority. Her impulse will be to struggle against her husband’s authority, to wrestle with his authority. She will try to be the neck that turns the head and she will try to control him and make him do what she wants him to do, to lead in his place. But he will be the one with authority in the marriage.
APPLICATION: God bless the women who understand and embrace the biblical view of marriage. If that is making your hackles stand up it is not because I’m some misogynist. Any “hackling” is born out of a sinful attitude of anti-authority. I make no apologies for male headship in the home or the church. God is crystal clear in the Scriptures on this.
Finally God returns to the man and issues His divine judgment. Notice that Adam personally is not cursed. The serpent was cursed, but not Adam and Eve. Here we see God curses the earth. Romans 8…
The result of this curse is the frustration of man’s relationship with the Earth. It will not cooperate with him. At least not in anyway like it did prior to the Fall. Now there will be hard labor and work and toil to make it bear fruit.
Work was not the curse remember. Work was something God gave Adam prior to the Fall. Man was not created to loiter around in the Garden, in the Church, in life, and certainly not in the coming Kingdom either. Work is something man was made for. The curse here is the corruption of the ground thus making work a bitter thing, or what Alex DeToquiville, the famous French statesman who traveled the United States commented in disgust saying, “that disease called work”.
- Man will wear himself out to sustain himself “through painful toil you will eat of it” (17)…”by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food” (19)
- For all his hard work the ground will not produce equally to his labor, “it will produce thorns and thistles for you” (18)
And it makes sense that God would curse the ground and its productivity. Adam’s sin was with the fruit of the earth and so the fruitfulness of the earth would be cursed. The correspondence goes further and strikes more to the heart: just as Adam did not obey God so now the earth will in a sense not obey man. After all God’s own hard work Adam did not “bear fruit” for God. Therefore Adam will work hard and the earth will not bear fruit for him. At least not like before the Fall.
Notice too the fact of Adam’s death is worked in there: “by the sweat of your brow you will eat of it UNTIL you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
Adam came from the ground, the dust of the earth and now because of his sin he will return to it in death. The breath of life that God breathed into him when he was just a lifeless body (2:7) will leave him and his body will become lifeless again, decompose and become part of the earth again.
There’s another “work” that is disrupted in humans. It’s working to be a good enough person that God would accept us. There’s no amount of that kind of work that God will approve of to give us eternal life. Whether we work hard to make God receive us or we don’t work at all the same death awaits us all. Nothing – absolutely nothing – is acceptable to God from our hands.
But what if someone else did the work for us? What if someone else worked on our behalf and God looked at their work with approval. And what if what they did for us made God accept us? Now we’re talking about Jesus. He is the offspring of the woman who destroyed the power of Satan, conquered sin and death all through His work on the cross.
A group of people in John 6 asked Jesus one time: “What works does God require of us to have eternal life?” Jesus, playing on their words, said, “The ‘works’ that God requires is to believe on the One He has sent.” In other words, Jesus said the one thing, the one action, the one ‘work’ you must do to save your life is to believe in Jesus. Lewis Chafer once said, “This one word ‘believe’ represents all a sinner can do and all a sinner must do to be saved”. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son so that whoever would believe in Him would not perish, but, have everlasting life.”
The great Henry Ironside told a story he heard from a preacher when was only 9 years old…
It was about pioneers. Lands in the West were opened up for homesteading and so these pioneers were making their way out there. It was slow travel as they rode along in wagons drawn by oxen.
One day they were horrified as they saw a long line of smoke in the west, stretching for miles across the prairie. They soon realized that the dried grass was burning fiercely and the fire was coming toward them very quickly. They had crossed a river the day before but it would be impossible to go back to it before the flames made it to them.
Then there seemed to be one man who knew what to do. He gave the command to set fire to the grass behind them. Then when a space was burned over, the whole group moved back onto it. As the flames came toward them from the west, a little girl cried out in terror, “Are you sure all of us won’t be burned up?”
The leader replied, “My child, the flames cannot reach us here, for we are standing where the fire has already been!”
What a picture of the believer, who is safe in Christ!
“On Him Almighty vengeance fell,
Which would have sunk a world to hell.
He bore it for a chosen race,
And thus becomes our Hiding Place.”
The fires of God’s judgment burned themselves out on Him, and all who are in Christ are safe forever, for they are now standing where the fire has been. Where are you standing today? If you stand with Jesus then you stand where the fire has already been. If not, then you are in danger of burning.