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The Blessings of the Curses

Series: Genesis: The Foundations of the Faith

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Jul 26, 1998

Genesis 3:14-24

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Please turn with me to Genesis, chapter 3. We’re continuing our study in the book of Genesis, those foundations of the faith that are set forth there. And last week we looked specifically at the account of Adam's fall in Genesis 3, verses 1 through 13, and we saw there in that account several important things about the nature of sin. For one thing we saw that sin in its essence is rebellion. It is lawlessness. It is rejection of and rebellion against God's good law. The order that He has established in the universe for us.

Also we saw in the second part of that passage, especially in verses 6 and 7, that sin always carries with it shame. The idea of sin occurring without correspondent shame is a nonpossibility in the world which God has created. Shame is always involved in sin, and they are always connected.

And then finally in verses 8 through 13 of Genesis, chapter 3, we saw that sin disrupts divine, human fellowship and fellowship between God and man. But it also disrupts horizontal relationships. That is, relationship between man and man and especially between man and wife. And we’ll see that in the passage as we continue to study tonight.

We also said very importantly that an understanding of Genesis 3 is absolutely essential to an understanding of the gospel. Why? Because without an understanding of sin and without an understanding of our culpability we cannot understand or embrace grace. Grace is unintelligible unless you first understand the need for grace. And it is the doctrine of sin which accurately and adequately explains to you what man's need is. And so an understanding of sin is necessary for us to understand grace and to embrace it. And so it is important that we give great attention to this passage. Now having said that, let's look at the Lord's sentence against the serpent, the woman, the man and then the aftermath as we begin reading God's holy word in Genesis 3:14. Hear the word of the living God:

Genesis 3:14-24

Father, we again ask for Your spirit's help in discerning the truth of Your word. Not only in understanding it but in especially preparing our hearts to be malleable in the hands of the spirit as He applies the word to our own particular need, our own particular situation. We would all grow; we would all be built up in the faith by the word of God and the application of it by the Holy Spirit. So reprove us, correct us, instruct us, train us, teach us, rear us in the truth by Your grace. We ask these things in Jesus' name, Amen.

Now ironically the curses of Genesis 3, verses 14 through 19 are the first step forward in the covenant of grace. Yes, I didn't misspeak that sentence. The curses of Genesis 3, verses 14 through 19 are the first steps forward in the covenant of grace. Notice that in these words of curse, blessing is implied and combined. Notice also that the creational ordinances of marriage and labor, and even by a very subtle implication the Sabbath, remain in force as continuing responsibilities as is seen in the very curses that the Lord administers in His sentence against the serpent and the woman and finally Adam. And notice also that there is a movement towards restoration even in these words of penalty. And I'd like to look at these things with you tonight.

I. Some curses are blessings.

First, if you’ll concentrate your attention on verses 14 and 15, there we see the curse of the serpent combined with the first giving of the gospel. And we learn there that we must realize that some curses are blessings. Now the words of Genesis 3, verses 14 through 19 follow the order of the transgression. The first transgression of Genesis 3 was the serpent as he attempted to call God's covenant keepers into rebellion against him. He is spoken to first. Then Eve defects, being deceived by Satan and then Adam follows in Eve's trail. Although Paul tells us that Adam knew exactly what he was doing, he was not deceived. Eve was. Adam in deliberate and willful rebellion went against the Lord. And so as the serpent and Eve and Adam in that order had rebelled against God. So God speaks to the serpent and Eve and Adam in His words of penalty.

And first I want you to see these words given in God's curse against the serpent. You will note that no question is put to the serpent. You remember God spoke to Adam and asked him a question and then He spoke to Eve and asked her a question. But no question is put to the serpent because the serpent was already convicted of his rebellion. There was no question of it. And because the serpent was excluded from the hope of pardon, there was no remedy for the sin of the serpent.

And by the way, that fact that God provides no remedy for Satan in his involvement in this act of rebellion against the Lord, is a reminder of the freedom of God in giving grace to us. There is nothing that made God have to forgive us. God would have been just as merciful and just as just as He is now had He chosen to visit us with the penalty of the force of His wrath. And we see that in the fact that He does not choose to pardon the serpent. And that only magnifies the significance of His grace as He freely pardons us. Notice also that this word is formally spoken to the animals, a serpent. But it is directed in essence to Satan. We see that in Romans, chapter 16, verse 20, where Paul speaks of this passage and the curse against the serpent in terms of the saints treading on Satan's head. Satan has possessed the body of this animal as demons possess a man. But as Matthew Henry says, "The devil's instruments must share in the devil's punishments." And so the word of curse is formally directed to the serpent itself.

Isn't it interesting that we even see this in the book of the covenant in Exodus, chapter 21, verses 28 and 29. If an ox who doesn't know what he is doing gores a person so that that person dies, the ox must be stoned to death just like you would a person who had committed willful, capital murder. And therefore, God is saying that sin and the taking of life in that instance is so serious to Him that even an animal that doesn't know what it is doing must pay with that particular crime with its life. And so also these words are directed to the serpent who is used as an instrument of Satan in the passage.

It is very important for us to see that this curse, especially in verse 15 ,contains in it an implicit blessing. That implicit blessing is found in these words. The very first phrase of Genesis 3:15. "And I will put enmity between you and the woman." This enmity is just war. This is a war that God has established between the woman and between the serpent. It is a divinely established enmity designed to protect the woman from the enemy of her soul. God's curse against the serpent contains an implicit blessing for the woman and for all mankind. For God to put enmity between Satan and the woman is to drive a wedge between the woman and the one who wanted to undo her; to drive a wedge between the woman and the enemy of her soul. You remember the woman had been drawn to the enticing words of Satan. Now God is establishing a barrier, a wedge, a warfare, an enmity between the woman who had been enticed and deceived and the one who had enticed and deceived her. He is establishing a barrier between her and the enemy of her soul.

And by the way, we have here in seed form the doctrine of predestination. God, taking divine initiative and establishing in the heart of a human being, a seed of enmity against evil that will work for their ultimate salvation. By our nature, we are at enmity with God since the fall. But here is the Lord, by His will, changing our nature so that we are not at enmity with Him but at enmity with Satan. And so this enmity is the best kind of enmity that one could ever imagine. We usually think of war as always negative. But in the context of the Christian life, isn't it interesting that the Christian life is itself described as a fight, a battle and a war. The origins come right here from Genesis 3:15. The Lord has established a war. It is the best war that could possibly have ever existed in this fallen world.

And I want you to see the enmity expressed here in Genesis 3:15. It's on three fronts. First of all, notice that He says I will establish enmity between you and the woman. That is between you, Satan, between you, serpent, and this particular woman. I will establish enmity between you and the woman. Now why does the Lord begin by establishing enmity between the serpent and the woman? Well, for several reasons.

First of all the woman was the first seduced. And so the Lord immediately begins to apply His remedy against Satan's strike. He immediately begins to heal that which had first been touched by the grimy hands of Satan. It also establishes the woman's role in redemption, and that's going to be seen in the next phrases as the woman is going to be used as an instrument in God's plan to counteract what Satan had done. Remember last week, or the last time we studied this passage, we talked about how Satan's call to Eve to take and eat had been reversed. And even in the Lord's Supper, when our Lord Jesus calls us to take and eat, the Lord's counterstrike against Satan uses his very original temptation to thwart him. Well, we see the same pattern here. As the woman had first been seduced and so used as a tool to bring sin into the world, now the Lord will use the woman to bring the Savior of the world into the world. The woman, in other words, will be the bearer of the seed, and that seed collectively ultimately zeroes in on the very person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Notice also that there is enmity between your seed and her seed. That's the second phrase there in Genesis 3:15: "I will put enmity between your seed and her seed." This is an expansion of the conflict between Satan and Eve. It's not just an individual conflict between those two. But who is the woman's seed? Is it all mankind? No. Genesis 4:8. He immediately begins to explain to us that not all men are of the good seed of Eve. Cain himself, the son of Eve, is not of the seed of the woman. In other words, he is not in the redemptive line. John tells us himself in I John 3:12 that Cain was of the evil one. So though he was physically born of Eve, yet he was not of the seed of woman. He was not of the redemptive line which God has established. And so the seed of woman does not refer to all mankind. Well then, who does it refer to? It refers to the descendants of the woman in whom God has placed enmity in their hearts against Satan. It refers to those whom God has redeemed out of the world and has placed in divine enmity against Satan. Who is Satan's seed? In this passage it refers to those humans that God does not set enmity against Satan and Satan's fallen angels in. In fact, Genesis 4 through Genesis 11 give us a lineage of the seed of woman and of the seed of the serpent and we’ll see that lineage in just a few moments. So notice first there's enmity between Satan and the woman, then between her seed and his seed, and then the Lord comes again to an individual battle. He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel. Now the conflict returns to hand-to-hand combat between two individuals. One representing all the harden hosts of Satan, the one who will bruise you on the heel. And one who represents the redeemed hosts of God. The book of Revelation and Romans, chapter 5, make it clear that we have in here the representation of the Lord Jesus as the covenant representative of His people in hand-to-hand combat with Satan himself. In Revelations 12, in the conflict between Michael and Satan, we see the conflict of the woman's one singular seed and the seed of Satan.

So the history of redemption is the history of a God-originated warfare. And that's why spiritual warfare is a good terminology as we think about the warfare in us against sin, and our warfare against the sin and worldliness with which we're surrounded. It is something that is established all the way at the beginning of God's covenant of grace. And it culminates, this warfare culminates in the conflict between Satan and the singular seed of the woman, that is Christ. Let's look in Genesis 4 through 11 at some of those who represent these two lines. Get your Bibles out and let's look at a few passages.

First, let's look at the seed of Satan. In Genesis 4, verses 1 through 17, you’ll see there's a story of Cain. Cain is the first murderer, and so his story is recorded for us there in the slaying of his brother, Abel. Then in Genesis 4, 19 through 24 we see the story of Lamech. Now there are two Lamechs. One was evil and one was good in this section of Scripture. This Lamech was the first polygamist. He took to himself two wives, and he made great boasts of evil. Then in Genesis 6, verses 1 through 6 we see a description of Noah's contemporaries and they are described in this incredible verse, Genesis 6:5: "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." How would you like to be described like that? That's the picture of the seed of the serpent. And then in Genesis 10, verses 8 through 10, we see the story of Nimrod, the man hunter. And finally in Genesis 11, verses 1 through 9, we see those who gathered at Babel to build the great tower.

Genesis 4 through 11 gives us a genealogy of those who were in rebellion against God and His people, but it also gives us a genealogy of those who were of the seed of the woman. Look for instance back at Genesis 4, verses 25 and 26. In Genesis 4, verses 25 and 26, the Lord gives Eve a son in the place of her slain son, Abel, and his name is Seth. And it is from Seth that the line of the woman descends. Enoch, for instance, in Genesis 5, verses 22 through 24, is descended from Seth. The Lamech of Genesis 5, verses 28 and 29, is descended from Seth. This Lamech is the father of Noah, and Noah, of course, himself in Genesis 6, verses 8, 9 and 22, we learn that he is descended from the godly line of Seth. And so we see the degeneracy of the seed of Satan in Genesis 4 through 11 and we see the grace which is displayed in the seed of the woman in Genesis 4 through 11.

So Genesis 3:15 is rightly called the protevangelium, that is, the first giving of the gospel. And Matthew Henry says, "By faith in this promise, we have reason to think our first parents and the patriarchs before the flood were justified by faith." Now there are many applications of the truths seen just in this passage of curse against the serpent, and I bring to your attention, too. The first is that the signs of spiritual warfare within us are the very evidence of life and grace. Sometimes we look at our internal struggle against sin as a mark that we are lost. That's what Satan would like us to think. But the very warfare between sin and the flesh which is in us is a mark that we are alive spiritually. When we see ourselves wrestling against sin, sins that frustrate us and so often defeat us, but sins which we can never become comfortable with, we are seeing an evidence of the life that the spirit has engendered in us and the life which is a result of this divine enmity that the Lord has implanted in us.

Let me give you an example. I think I've shared this with you before. There's a story that there was a farmer who was notoriously abusive. He was abusive of his workers, he was abusive of his animals and he used incredibly abusive language even to his children and to his wife. He was a notoriously hard man. He was cynical about religion. But during a revival in his town he was converted, and it was a dramatic conversion. And for many weeks his life was totally changed. He was a pleasure to live with and his wife could hardly take it in the dramatic change that occurred in his life. No longer the abusive language and behavior. No longer the mistreatment of the domestic animals and of the folks who helped them at the farm. A complete change apparently. And then after a few weeks had gone by, in a moment of frustration, he broke into a rage, and suddenly he was back into his old form of behavior for a moment. He was speaking the same wicked words that he used to speak. He was speaking harshly to the servants. He was abusive of the animals, and then in the midst of this rage he broke down in sobs. He ran to the house. He threw himself on the kitchen table. His wife was at the sink and at the stove preparing for the evening meal, and he sobbed uncontrollably. And finally when he collected himself, his wife said to him, "What is the matter?" And he began to explain that he was no different than he had ever been before. That he had spoken with the same kind of language and he had acted with the same kind of behavior. And his wife said to him, "Oh no, my dear, there is all the difference in the world." Because you would do this before with not the slightest tinge of remorse or repentance, and now your heart is broken over the behavior. There was a new principle of life in him and he could no longer be satisfied with that kind of behavior. In fact that behavior repulsed him to the point of sobs. This kind of enmity is precisely the kind of enmity that this spiritual warfare initiates in our own lives.

Now that brings us, however, to our second point of application. Because if we can be at peace with sin in our lives, if we can resent the faithful preaching of repentance, if we can resent when the Bible begins to encroach upon our freedoms to do what we want. If we can be satisfied with living out of accord with the revealed will of the Lord, then that is a sign, the most serious sign, of not only soul-sickness, but of spiritual death. Because the believer cannot be satisfied with a walk apart from communion with the Lord and apart from the way which He is revealed in His word. And so this passage reminds us that in all those whom God redeems, He plants a spiritual enmity in our hearts so that we can no longer love and coddle and tolerate sin in ourselves. We long to see sin mortified in ourselves, but we cannot do it on our own. We must depend upon the grace of the Holy Spirit. But we can never be satisfied with a state of living apart from God again, because he has planted in us an enmity against sin. Now notice very quickly the remainder of the curses.

II. God's penalty on the woman.

Beginning in verse 16 we see the next set of penalties administered by the Lord. The curse of the woman or more accurately the penalty which God gives to the woman and even in that penalty we see a confirmation of God's original creational roles and order. And we see here in verse 16 by the way how original sin impacts marital relations. Notice these words: "To the woman, He said, ‘I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you shall bring forth children; yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’" Note again that the creational ordinance of marriage and of procreation continues. It is assumed that even in this fallen world the order which God had originally established for marriage and procreation will continue. The curse is not in the procreation. The curse is not in the childbearing itself, but in the grief associated with it. Listen to Matthew Henry's words. "The sorrows of childbearing are here multiplied. Not only the travailing throws, but the indispositions before, for its sorrow is from the conception, and the nursing toils and vexations after; and after all, if the children prove wicked and foolish, they are more than ever the heaviness of her that bore them."

Now Matthew Henry's word heaviness is actually a good translation of the Hebrew word which speaks of pain. "I will greatly multiply your heaviness in childbirth." The word "pain" or "heaviness" you will note occurs again in verse 17 in the penalty that is given to Adam. As the woman's heaviness in childbirth is increased, so the man's heaviness in labor is increased. In other words, the Lord says the grief surrounding those blessed responsibilities and privileges are increased because of sin.

Notice also the phrase at the end of verse 16: "He will rule over you." There was already headship and hierarchy in the original creation order between the husband and the wife. But the implication of this passage is that there will be as a result of sin an element of discord in the relationship between the husband and the wife and that there will often be an inappropriate subjection of the wife by the husband as a result of sin.

Notice again that every marital difficulty can be traced to this point of origin in the fall, which introduced for the first time in human history, discord into marriage relations. And it is not surprising that Satan, as we said the last time we studied this passage, continues to use marital relations as one of his most fruitful grounds of attack against the people of God and against the cause of God in the building up of the kingdom. And our commitment to marriage requires us to be aware of that dynamic and to do everything we can to combat it in supporting one another; in reminding one another that it is not surprising that we should be suffering. Often times in the midst of marital relations we think we are the only person in the world that has marital problems and everybody else has a great marriage. I mean obviously since everybody else has a great marriage and we don't, then we should just get a divorce and start over, since everybody else has a great marriage. And one of the important things in that context is that our brothers and sisters come along side and remind us that nobody's marital relations are a rose garden. It's work, it's hard work, and we need to remind ourselves of that as Satan tempts us to think that we can find some sort of paradise again by rejecting the Lord's word for our lives.

III. The curse on the man.

Notice again in verses 17 through 19 the curse of Adam, our federal head. And again the confirmation of the creational mandate of labor. And again we see how original sin impacts labor and dominion, those original ordinances given in Genesis 2 and in Genesis 1. In God's mercy, Adam is not directly cursed, even as Eve was not directly cursed. Notice the words to the serpent: "Cursed are you." Those words are not used against Adam or against Eve. But a terrible and a pervasive sentence is pronounced against Adam's world, against his environment because of his sin. And I want you to see three aspects of his punishment, especially in verses 17 and 18.

First of all we are told that he will have pain or heaviness in his labor in the ground. Again, notice that the creational ordinance of labor continues. Labor is not a result of the fall. Toil in labor, heaviness in labor, pain in labor, grief in labor are a result of the fall. But the work itself is blessed and part of God's original plan for mankind. Notice first then that there is pain in that labor. Secondly, there is impairment in the result of that labor. There are going to be thorns and thistles in the ground that he is attempting to cultivate. There's a parallel, of course, to that in the New Testament when Jesus speaks of moths and rust and thieves breaking in and spoiling the things that we have worked for and labored for. Derek Kidner says, "Thorns and thistles are eloquent signs of nature untamed and encroaching." And in the Old Testament they marked the scenes of man's self-defeat and God's judgment. He also goes on to say that, "The nature miracles of Jesus give us some idea of the control which man under God might have exercised over his environment. We think today about the Lord Jesus walking on water. We think of the Lord Jesus stilling the wind. We think of the Lord Jesus multiplying the loaves and it causes our minds to run and ask what would it have been like had Adam not sinned? And it makes us wonder what's it going to be like to work in a world not vitiated by sin? It's going to be a very incredible thing. Fulfillment - that word doesn't even approach what we are going to experience in a world which is not compromised by sin when we labor. We’re going to love that labor, and we're going to see the full fruit of that labor.

Finally, we see no earthly rest from Adam's burdens. Notice again it is said in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. These things will plague him everyday of existence. There will be no rest as it were because of Adam's sin. I want you to note that only at the very end of Adam's sentence is death mentioned. Now that's almost surprising isn't it? Because the thing that God had said to Adam and by implication to eat is that, "In the day that you eat of the fruit, you will die," implying physical death. And yet the Lord only now speaks these words to Adam. "You will eat bread till you return to the ground."

This is the first mention of death and the curses to Eve and to Adam. What's the point? Well, it's an evidence of God's grace. God's grace to Adam in delaying the execution of the penalty, the sentence that he has been given, of physical death. God's mercy and His grace is manifest even in His punishment of Adam and Eve. So we see how the Lord treats with mercy those who were under His covenant of grace.

IV. The aftermath of God's curses.

Now one last thing. If you’ll look at verses 20 through 24 we see the aftermath of God's curses. We need to remember that God's mercy was displayed even in these curses, but that divine estrangement, divine enmity, divine barriers in the relationship between God and man are real and they are confirmed. After the sentence of death, you would note that Adam named his wife, Eve, indicating that he understands what God had said in Genesis 3:15. He calls her Eve because she's the mother of the living. And after the sentence of death has been given, he calls her life. It sure does sound like Adam understood precisely what God was saying in Genesis 3:15. Derek Kidner says, "Adam heard the promise of Genesis 3:15 in faith, and so he called his wife Eve."

Notice also that fallen man now needs to be clothed, and so the Lord provides him more suitable clothing than he had come up with for himself. You remember the fig leaves. And so the Lord provides suitable garments out of animal skins. And ironically in the very next verse, the Lord speaks of man ironically having obtained this sought for knowledge. He says,'Well, now that man has obtained what he was looking for,’ and you can see the Lord's tongue planted in His cheek. Now that man has obtained what he was seeking for when he took from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. You see, the man has ruined his whole creation. The man has ruined his life. Now that man got what he was looking for, I'm going to remove him from the tree of life.

Now what's going on there? Is God scared that somehow man will challenge Him and take control by eating of the tree of life? Not at all. God is in complete sovereign control in this passage. One of the things that strikes you is that even with man in rebellion against God in Genesis 3, God is absolutely in control. Who's handing out punishments here? Who's handing out the judgments here? Is Satan just under control, making moves, making contacts at every point in Genesis 3? No. He's a prisoner under condemnation, eternal condemnation. God is sovereignly in control in this passage. Genesis 3:23 and 24 is not an exception to that.

In this passage, God is removing Adam from his nearness to the tree of life, lest Adam confirm himself in permanent condemnation and destruction. You remember the words of Paul in I Corinthians 11:27-31 when he says, "You don't eat unworthily of the wine and of the bread, lest you eat and drink condemnation to yourself." God is removing Adam from proximity to that tree of life which represents union and communion with the Lord. "Lest Adam unworthily take of that tree and eat and drink condemnation unto himself." God in His grace is removing Adam from the possibility of sealing himself to perdition. Sealing himself to permanent condemnation by God.

Then, of course, Adam and Eve are removed from Eden. And that movement out of Eden indicates the nature of man's greatest loss in the fall. In that garden man and God had walked in the cool of the day. Now man has lost communion with God. And the cherubim, which you will remember from Ezekiel held up the throne which Ezekiel saw and were embroidered on the veil that went into the holy of holies, and in fact, they were fashioned upon the mercy seat itself, these cherubim are placed at the east of the garden of Eden. And their presence indicates the impossibility of a human initiated re-establishment of relations with God. Never again can man, on his own, initiative re-enter into the state of Eden. " Every detail of this verse," Kidner says, "with its flame and its sword and the turning every way excludes the sinner."

God is shutting the door on the possibility of our ever re-entering into communion on our own terms. If there is to be a re-establishment of that communion, He is going to have to do it. And that is precisely what the remainder of the chapters of the Bible tell us about. In the first three chapters, we learn of the world that God made and the mess that we made. And the rest of the Bible is about how God is going to clean that up for His own glory and our good. Let's look to Him in prayer.

Our Lord and our God, this passage overwhelms us with its wealth of truth and detail. And yet we know that it is for our edification. As we try and take this in, we pray that You would apply its truth to our hearts spiritually, that we would see our own sins, and that we would care far more about our own sins than we do about pointing our finger at our neighbor. And that we would care far more about the provision for sin than we do about our own attempts, our own feeble attempts, to merit favor with You in this fallen world. May we learn to trust upon Christ alone, for we do not have the power in ourselves to re-enter in the state of communion with You. And so we rest upon Him alone, for He has taken our place and lived perfectly and died meritoriously that we might become the children of God. Help us to believe that we pray. We ask these things in Jesus' name, Amen.

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