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THEOLOGY > Sin > Man's Disobedience > Curses 


Yahweh God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the day of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

To the woman He said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

And to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:14-19).

In Eden three curses were pronounced by God: a curse on the serpent, the woman, and the man. These curses constitute the punishment by God upon each of them for their participation in the Fall.


The serpent which was “more crafty than any other beast of the field that Yahweh God had made” (Gen. 3:1) now becomes cursed “above all livestock and above all beasts of the field” (Gen. 3:14). The essence of the serpent’s punishment is confinement to going on its belly and eating dust as it slithers along.

Two approaches have been taken to these judgments: one, perhaps for the first time, the serpent was made to crawl; or two, the crawling of the serpent was made contemptuous and repulsive to man (Lev. 11:41-45). The first associates the serpent’s crawling with the Fall, claiming that the serpent was an upright animal before the Fall. The second associates the serpent’s crawling with the Fall in the sense that the crawling is made hideous and despicable to those who are exposed to it—there is a certain horror when one is confronted by a snake in the fields or woods.

In a more profound way the curse upon the snake is symbolic of the curse upon Satan; the immediate degradation of the serpent was a picture of the eternal degradation of the true Serpent (Satan). “He” and “His” in v. 15 suggest that something more than just the serpent is addressed. Really, the passage is speaking of the one using the serpent, that is Satan; and this identification of serpent and Satan is confirmed by the statements in Rev. 12:9 and 20:2.

Between Satan and the woman God declared that “enmity,” hostility and conflict, would exist continually and would culminate with injury to the Seed of the woman but simultaneously with the defeat of the serpent/Satan. The lesser wound would belong the Christ, while the greater wound would be inflicted upon Satan: in the death of Christ would be the defeat of Satan.

Verse 15 has come to be known as the Protoevangelium, the first Gospel proclamation. Two elements of the Gospel are found here: the Virgin Birth and the Sacrifice of Christ. Reference is made to the Seed of the woman (Virgin Birth) and to the wound in His heel (Sacrifice of Christ).

A hermeneutic, therefore, that removes the Gospel from the Old Testament is erroneous; God’s plan of salvation is one, and the one plan is centered in Christ. In the very chapter that introduces sin into the life of the race, reference to made to God’s remedy for sin, a reference which sets the stage for later and fuller revelations regarding God’s redemptive plan.

Set in contrast are the two seeds, the seed of the serpent and the Seed of the Woman. Of course, in the New Testament Christ is presented in connection with the woman, whereas, the usual presentation is that all who are born are born as a result of the seed of the man. But Christ is unique. “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Gal. 4:4)—while this verse does not directly teach the Virgin Birth, it would be inappropriate to divorce that teaching, or at least a reference to it, from this passage completely. Christ is spoken of in his relationship to the woman in a manner that is not usually done; sons and daughters are usually referred to in terms of the father, not the mother (an exception would be Matt. 11:11). Also, Christ is presented as the Son being sent forth by God and then there is the reference to the woman; it would appear that the movement is from the God the Father to the woman, with no need of and no reference to the man. Those who discount these observations affirm that all that is taught in Galatians is the humanity of Christ—He was simply born from a woman, as all people are.

Definitely in Matthew 1 and Luke 2 the Virgin Birth is plainly stated. And it cannot be denied that the words “her Seed” in Gen. 3:15 are incomprehensible apart from the Virgin Birth. Its usage in Genesis portents the incarnation and the medium by which He came, exclusively of the woman.

A second redemptive theme in Gen. 3:15 relates to the heel of the Seed and the head of the serpent/Satan, and the bruising of each. While Christ will suffer, in His suffering is victory; for the wound in the heel is temporary, whereas the wounding of the head is permanent. Through the Atonement of Christ man is redeemed and the devises of Satan are proven to be ineffective; this decisive and multi-dimensional act of God in Christ is anticipated in the Protoevangelium.


God’s word to the woman has three aspects: pain in childbearing, a desire for her husband, and a prediction of the rule of the husband.

First, there will be pain in reproduction, pain in the very act that is the essence of a woman, an act that changes a woman from being only a woman to being a mother. In this event of satisfaction and fulfillment there will be a multiplication of sorrow—the greatest joy will be tainted with great pain.

Second, the wife’s “desire” will be for her husband; that is, the woman was made dependent on the man, made to need the man, made to feel isolated without the man. It is only in a proper relationship to the man that the woman can find her greatest fulfillment. A woman’s happiness is not found in being a man’s equal but in being a help to her man—a deep inner and abiding desire that is creational and cannot be denied. But this desire is unsatisfied many times because of the woman’s attempt to control the man and to usurp a position that is not appropriate for her by virtue of her creation (see: The Wife).

This idea of a woman being a helper for her husband, and the fact that this is the very reason for the woman’s existence is a bitter pill to swallow for the modern woman who imbibes from the offerings of feminism. In rejecting this idea of assistance and dependence the entire matter of the man/woman relationship is confused and the resulting turmoil is exacerbated.

But it must be born in mind that this concept of helper does not appear in a particular religion as a result of religious development, but is the result of Divine Revelation. The order of the sexes is of God not man. God made both male and female and ordained their specific purpose when He made them—it is His right. In fact, He meticulously created each so each would be capable and suited for the particular function assigned to each.

Third, God predicts that the man will rule over the woman, a rule in itself that is not improper, but the import of the curse is that the rule will be tainted and governed by sin. She will desire her husband but the desire will be frustrated because he will abuse his relationship with her; instead of sacrificial love (see: The Husband), he will be domineering and selfishly take advantage of her.

Thus, the relationship between a man and a woman, husband and wife, is continually plagued by sin, with each struggling to be what they should be in the relationship and yet never fully accomplishing it. Therefore, each of the partners is unfilled and must live without basic needs being fully met. The woman seeks to control the man and the man does not love the woman.

In the Fall Eve had taken the lead from Adam; instead of being a help she had led him into sin. The consequences for doing so are bitter and enduring.


For Adam the ground would be cursed, making his work and future work difficult and frustrating, and less than rewardingly productive. Work would be beset by troubles, for Adam would be facing “thorns and thistles” (Gen. 3:18). And the attempt to produce food in order to maintain life and provide for a family would be a continuing and exasperating effort.

The work itself would not be easy; “pain” and “sweat” (Gen. 3:17-18) would characterize the labor. It is not that work itself is punished, for God created man to work (see: Dominion Mandate and Created to Work), but it is that the work would be laborious and irksome. Even in his work man would be in contest with the forces of evil.

In spite of the wearisome nature of work, it would still be necessary for man to work in order to survive; man must “eat” (Gen. 3:19). Having something to eat, however, is less than assured, and this is part of God’s judgment upon Adam and the race for Adam eating what he should not have eaten. God decreed that “in pain you shall eat . . .” (Gen. 3:17).

In addition, work would be a life-long struggle; it would be “all the days of your life” (Gen. 3:17). All the days of Adam’s life is also for all the days of the life of the human race. It is difficult to overcome the uncertainty of weather, the plagues of pests and disease, the inhospitality of the soil, and the lack of germination of seed at times; these factors, and more,  cause the harvest to be less than assured. These detriments are not occasional but are “all the days of your life.”

This curse upon the earth has immediate and devastating long-term consequences for the struggle to survive. But the curse is not without end; according to Paul’s epistle there are eschatological implications for the earth which labors under the curse:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now (Rom. 8:20-22).

See: Creation’s Groan; understand that this curse on the earth will be removed (Rev. 22:3).

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