Labour Pains and Difficult Farming: An Explanation for the Punishments of Adam & Eve


One of the least understood parts of the Bible, shrouded in the mystery of prehistory, is the fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve. It’s easy to read the story, only one chapter of Genesis, and long for more details. Just what does it mean? Does the fruit represent something? What type of fruit was it? Why did God punish Adam and Eve the way He did?

That last question, in my experience, is asked mostly by women who aren’t very happy about the looming prospect of child labor. Who can blame them? I’m certainly not going to, mostly for fear of the doghouse.

In order to understand this, we need a basic overview. You can read the full account here, but I’ll summarize: Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, minding their own business, when a serpent (representing Satan) approached Eve and asked her whether God had really told her not to eat any of the fruit in the garden. Eve answered that she couldn’t eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil because she would die. Satan responded with the half-truth that she would not die. In response, Eve took some of the fruit and ate it and gave some to Adam to eat. They both realized they were naked and hid themselves. God discovered them, they all pointed fingers at each other, and God pronounced the sentences: the serpent would crawl on his belly and eat dirt, the woman would have labor pains, and the man would toil and sweat when he’d farming. Then Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden.

One of the things to realize about God is that his punishments are never merely arbitrary. As a loving Father, He wants His children to learn from their mistakes, and so we can reasonably ascertain that there must be a specific reason for the two punishments of labor pains and difficulty in farming. There are a couple common threads in the text that may shed light on this: fruit and dirt.

The first command of God to Adam and Eve was to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28). Fruit was the instrument by which Eve was tempted. Because Adam and Eve had cut themselves off from God, the source of life and fruitfulness, they would have to bear fruit on their own without the help of His grace. This would lead to immense difficult in bearing the fruit of the womb through child-labor, as well as in bringing forth the fruit of the earth in farming. Due to their violation of God’s life-giving fruitfulness, Adam and Eve would bear the logical consequences: they would have a tough time bearing fruit.

What about the dirt? If you look closely, God did not curse Adam directly, but cursed the dirt on account of Adam. Why? Adam was made from dirt. Eve was made from Adam. Adam’s and Eve’s children would, by extension, be made from dirt. Just as sin cut off humanity from God as the source of fruitfulness, it also cut off humanity from God as the source of life. Every man, by God’s punishment on Adam, would ultimately return to dirt in death, giving up the spirit God had breathed into him. Man himself was corrupted by sin, as was his fruitfulness, his ability to do good for God.

Now that we’ve seen the common threads in dirt and fruit, let’s see how it can point us to Christ.

Recall again that Adam is dirt. The serpent also was punished by being doomed to eat dirt the rest of his life, a prophecy of Satan’s stubborn battle to attack God by defeating His children. A few verses later, we are told that the serpent would be striking at man’s heel, another clear indication that in his quest to satisfy his gluttonous hunger for lost souls, Satan would try to “eat” man. However, we receive a promise from God Himself:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at His heel.” -Genesis 3:15

In the process of striking at man, trying to go about eating dirt, Satan would one day try to take a bite out of the wrong heel. The Messiah was promised, the offspring of the woman who would restore man and his fruitfulness by the power of grace. Nevertheless, the Messiah would also undergo the punishment of Adam. Take a look:

Curses on Adam, Genesis 3:17-19
Cursed is the ground because of you!
In toil you shall eat its yield
all the days of your life.
Thorns and thistles it shall bear for you,
and you shall eat the grass of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you shall eat bread,
Until you return to the ground,
from which you were taken;
For you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.

Passion of Christ
In the Garden of Gethsemane,
Christ suffered in His agony
Until His short life’s end.
Great thorns He wore upon His head;
He sweated anguished drops of red,
He died the world to mend,
Upon the cross, in love to God.
And so was buried in the sod,
Temple’s veil
e’ermore to rend.

The Passion of Christ is the fulfillment of the curse on Adam for the original sin. By it, this humble dirt is restored in the image and likeness of God. By it, the fruitfulness of grace returns to man.

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One Response to Labour Pains and Difficult Farming: An Explanation for the Punishments of Adam & Eve

  1. toadspittle says:

    “God pronounced the sentences: the serpent would crawl on his belly and eat dirt, “

    Whereas before the serpent had been walking upright, like Tony Blair, and living on bacon sandwiches.
    Truly a tale with a profound moral.

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