The first gospel. Studying Genesis 3:14-19

In Genesis 3, we see the fail of Adam and Eve. Instead of turning to God as a result of their sin, their initial response was to hide and try to cover up their sins.

In Genesis 3:14-15, we see God’s initial response to Adam and Eve’s sin 

14 The Lord 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 days of your life. 

15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, 

and between your offspring and her offspring; 

he shall bruise your head, 

and you shall bruise his heel.” 

Judgment on the serpent

God’s first response is pronouncing judgment upon the serpent for his rebellion. 

There is no questioning of the serpent. God didn’t have to question Adam and Eve either. God is all-knowing and was aware of the guilt. God’s questions draw Adam and Eve to confession. Eve has also implicated the serpent as being part of the sin but that is not the source of God’s knowledge of the event. 

There are three judgments upon the serpent. 

First, he will be forced to crawl on his belly. Second, he have to eat the dust of the ground. And third, he will face ultimate defeat. And it is for that defeat of the serpent, that we see the Bible’s first glimpse of the gospel in the immediate aftermath of the fall. 

The first gospel

15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, 

and between your offspring and her offspring; 

he shall bruise your head, 

and you shall bruise his heel.” 

This verse is often referred to as the first gospel. 

As God is pronouncing judgment upon the serpent, we see a picture of the ultimate victory for humanity. 

he shall bruise your head, 

and you shall bruise his heel.” 

John Sailhammer argues that this verse doesn’t answer a question but it raises a question. By itself, Genesis 3:15 is ambiguous and somewhat cryptic. 

How to read the Bible

I sometimes hear people talk about the themes that develop out of Genesis and act as though we can’t bring them up when studying Genesis. I think we should take the entire Bible into account when reading Genesis and bask in the glow of what is illuminated throughout the rest of the Bible. 

The serpent is another example of that. If all you have is Genesis, it’s hard to make the connection between the serpent and the devil. But the New Testament clarifies that (Revelation 12:9; 20:2). 

In the same way, Genesis 3:15 is cryptic in isolation. But when we see the fullness of the Bible, the meaning becomes clear. We have the benefit of having a fuller picture than what the Ancient Israelites had. 

The offspring of the woman

The rest of Genesis becomes the story of the family that comes from Adam and Eve. Her offspring. And that trajectory of this family and their provision as a people of God develops throughout the entire Old Testament. 

The Gospel of Matthew begins with a genealogy that leads back to Abraham, through whom God made a further promises of offspring and blessings in Genesis chapters 12 and 15. The Gospel of Luke’s opening chapters contain a genealogy that goes all the way back to Adam. It is establishing Jesus as the seed of the woman. He is the offspring who defeats the serpent.

1 John 3:8: 

Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 

Hebrews 2:14: 

14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil

1 Corinthians 15:25: 

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.

Jesus is the ultimate and great offspring of the woman (Gal. 4:4), a descendant of Adam and Eve who would one day crush the serpent. 

The curse on Eve

So we have the good news of eventual victory, but the world is now a world with sin, and that sin must be dealt with. 

God will pronounce curses upon Adam and Eve. There are consequences for their rebellion. 

Genesis 3:16: 

16 To the woman he said, 

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; 

in pain you shall bring forth children. 

Having children is a blessing, but the moment of greatest blessing is also the moment of greatest pain. 

We tend to think that the first part of this verse is only talking about labor itself. But I know that some scholars think it’s actually referring to the entire process of having children. 

John Walton argues that in the Hebrew, it’s referring to anxiety and anguish. Emotional pain in conception and the process to giving birth. In the ancient world, if a woman could not produce an offspring, it was grounds for divorce. Security in a family had to do with the ability to produce children. And so it was stressful. Even today, 10-20 percent of pregnancies result in miscarraige. Fertility issues are still a common problem. 12-15 percent of couples struggle for at least a year to conceive a child. This is in a time when we have more knowledge and interventions and yet, it’s still a struggle. 

So the first problem results in child bearing. 

The second part of the curse upon women is interpersonal within marriage. 

Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, 

but he shall rule over you.” 

There is a power struggle between men and women. The New Testament talks about wives submitting to husbands and that is a controversial issue. 

It’s so often a struggle for both men and women to find the appropriate balance that is honoring to God’s Word. 

There are relationships when men basically relinquish all responsibility and the woman leads. That is not Biblical. There are also relationships where men lead but don’t lead in a Godly way and can become authoritarian. These struggles are not new. They were not invented by millennials or with the advent of modern feminism. These types of struggles go back to the fall. 

Adam failed to lead before the fall. 

The closest, most personal, most intimate relationship that humanity has is that between spouses. There is perfect unity in the Godhead, but as people who are image bearers, we struggle to find the unity in our marriages that the Bible calls us to. It shouldn’t be a surprise. In a fallen world, the most fundamental relationship is the one that often gets the most twisted and distorted among fallen people. 

The curse on Adam

There is also judgment upon Adam. 

In Genesis, the curse given to Adam says in 3:17-19:

“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; 

18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; 

and you shall eat the plants of the field. 

19 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.”

Adam is treated with greater severity to Eve. 

Adam is told that the ground is now cursed. This is an undoing of creation where the land was made good. 

It also shows the far ranging impacts of the fall. 

Romans 8:22: 

22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

Where the text says: in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 

I take that to refer to the toil of working from the ground being a similar pain and toil to the woman carrying children, but it will never end. It is also a punishment that fits the crime. Because Adam ate of the forbidden fruit, his continuing sustenance will be a struggle for him. 

Verse 18 continues the theme of the curse of the earth. 

18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 

As Kenneth Mathews says in his commentary of Genesis: the ground will now be his enemy rather than his servant. 

19 By the sweat of your face 

you shall eat bread, 

till you return to the ground, 

This verse once again emphasizes the difficulties of working the ground and also introduces the idea of death. 

When I read this, I think of the incredible difficulty that substance has been for so much of human history (and that it is still for so many around the world). There have been great technological advances in the last century which have made the science of agriculture and farming much more efficient than ever. 

But these are relatively new advances. You read about the Dust Bowl of the 1930s when there were severe droughts. Parts of the world still experience famines. In modern America, we certainly are in a time of abundance, but as we’ve dealt with Covid for the last couple years, we’ve seen how delicate our supplies can still be. We’re in a time of increasing food costs. And it stinks! 

But for so much of human history,this has been the rule, not the exception. That so much of your labor, time, and energy was simply to acquire enough food. 

It has been a time of abundance, and I think we can take for granted that this will always be the case. For me, what the last couple years have shown me is that we never really know what’s around the corner. 

A second takeaway is that man’s labor itself is toilsome. Even in times of abundance, work can so often be so difficult. There can be dangers of work, work can disrupt home-life balance, it can be unfulfilling. Work can be stressful. Financially enriching jobs can come with increased work or more competition and uncertainty. Our work brings challenges. 

Work existed before the fall. Work is not inherently bad. It’s a good thing. But because of sin, work will often times have a laborious aspect to it which was not part of creation. 

In Genesis, Adam is being told that tending to the earth will be a struggle and then he will die and return to the earth. 

for out of it you were taken; 

for you are dust, 

and to dust you shall return.”

This is really the ultimate undoing of creation. 

God made man from the dust of the earth and we will return back to it. 

Adam does not receive the physical curse that Eve does, but there will be toil. 

And in the rest of the Bible, Adam is associated with sin and the fall.

Romans 5:12-17 says: 

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. 

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 

Adam is the one man, sin entered the world. And through the one man (Jesus), there can be forgiveness of sins.  

One final note of hope

After the curses, Genesis 3 tells us of the names for Adam and Eve. 

20 The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living (Genesis 3:20). 

The name Adam in Hebrew (Adamah) is the Hebrew word for man and is used 562 in the Old Testament. Adam had already named his counterpart “woman” (Genesis 2:23), but here he calls his wife Eve. As the text tells us, this name refers to her as being the mother of the living. 

Even in the aftermath of sin and in the face of a world where there is now death, Eve has pointed to as the one who bears the living. And from woman would one day come the eternally living one, the second Adam, Christ the Lord.