Genesis 3:16-24

16 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.”
17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’;
Cursed is the ground because of you;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
18 “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow 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,
Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.”
20 Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living. 21 And the LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them. 22 Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever ” – 23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. 24 So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim, and the flaming sword which turned every direction, to guard the way to the tree of life.  [NASB ‘77]

Paradise lost.  Adam and Eve have heard God’s sentence on the serpent and – whether they understood it or not – heard His prophecy of the redemption He will someday bring about to reverse what they have done.  They likely are glad to hear the serpent will receive the justice he so deserves for instigating their actions.  However, God is not done speaking and now turns His attention to them.  Both of them blamed someone else for their sin but God is not so easily swayed.  He pronounces judgment on both in a way that goes to the heart of their created purpose.  Nothing will ever be the same.  Not their relationship to each other nor their relationship to the rest of creation.  Even worse, their place in the temple and presence of God is forsaken forever.  Judgment is immediate and horrible.  But in the midst of judgment there is hope.  For it is the severity and ultimacy of the punishment that makes God’s promised redemption so amazing.

God continues to pronounce judgment in reverse order of who He called to account.  He spoke first to the man (who blamed the woman), then to the woman (who blamed the serpent), and then pronounced judgment on the serpent.  He now turns to the woman.  Interestingly, He does not say anything about her guilt or the veracity of what she told him about the serpent’s responsibility for her actions.  She faces judgment without excuse.  He does not justify why He judges or explain what she did.  It is obvious – regardless of their blame-shifting – that all three actors in the story are guilty and all rightly face judgment.

He tells her two things that will be true from here on.  One – she will suffer great pain in childbirth.  Two – her relationship with her husband will never be the same.  Both judgments strike at the heart of her created purpose.  She was created to be a helper to her husband in a one-flesh covenantal relationship (2:20-25).  And she was to be the means through which they fulfilled God’s admonition to be fruitful and multiply (1:28).  Now both purposes are corrupted.

God’s words about her husband at first are hard to understand.  He says her desire will be for her husband and he shall rule over her.  Numerous meanings for the word desire have been suggested, but the usage in Chapter 4 seems to clarify what God means.  In 4:7 God tells Cain to be careful regarding his jealousy of Abel, for sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.  This is the same word.  Thus it seems that God tells the woman that she is going to now have a desire to rule over her husband – to rebel against his leadership in the marriage.  However, the husband will rule over her – he will lead differently than he did pre-fall.  She will rebel and he will no longer lead in the way God intended (he will either seek to dominate or perhaps even abdicate his role altogether – whatever selfishly fits his own ends).  Both sides of the relationship are now affected.  It will never be what it was when they were naked and unashamed.

It makes sense that if the marriage relationship is changed then all human relationships will be changed.  No humans will relate to each other as they would have before sin.  All interactions will be tainted with selfishness and mistrust.  Nothing is the same as it was.

There is, however, hope along with judgment – and it goes right along with the curse on the serpent.  When God cursed the serpent He referred to the seed of the woman.  And here He says she will experience childbirth.  So obviously she will not die immediately and she will in fact have children with Adam.  The judgment is harsh and lifelong but at least there is the promise of new life and a chance at a new start.

Lastly God turns to the man.  The man is who God appointed as head worshiper in the garden.  He was given all of creation to subdue and enjoy.  The garden itself was fashioned in a way to ensure it supplied his every need in a natural paradise.  He was even given the woman as a helper and someone with whom to enjoy creation and perfect intimacy.  And God Himself commanded him regarding the tree.  He had every physical and emotional need met, he had divine purpose, he had perfect companionship, he had access to God, and he clearly knew God’s will with no uncertainty at all.  Yet he willfully chose to forsake his responsibilities and violate God’s command for the chance to be like God (we can NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER overestimate the capacity of our inclinations to steer us into a self-destructive path away from God – Adam chose self-exaltation over paradise, access to God, and a perfectly intimate relationship with a perfect woman).  And he then had the audacity to indirectly blame God when confronted with his sin.  This is who God now addresses (it would be interesting to know how Adam feels as he hears God’s judgments against the serpent and the woman – does he feel vindicated that the ones who led him astray are getting punished or is he terrified that God seems to be saving him for last?).

Just like with Eve, God does not quibble with Adam’s earlier blame-shifting.  He gets directly to the issue at hand.  He says, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you” – this could speak to Adam abdicating his role as the leader in the relationship.  He was accountable for Eve – he was not to follow her into sin.  But it may be that God simply acknowledges the truth of what Adam said – it was the woman who gave him the fruit.  This fact, however, does not lessen his responsibility or his sin.

As a result of his sin, creation is now cursed.  The land that has been so fruitful in Eden will now produce thorns and thistles, and the role the man has had to cultivate and keep the garden will now require harsh toil and sweat (the word for toil in verse 17 is the same word translated pain in verse 16 to describe what the woman will experience in childbirth).  The curse will not change as long as the man lives – he will sweat and toil to eat until he dies.

And he will in fact die.  He was made from dust and to dust he will return.  There is some disagreement about whether God in verse 19 includes death as part of the curse or simply says the curse will last until death.  It could be that man has been mortal all along and God is not changing anything with this pronouncement other than to let man know the curse will not end as long as he lives.  However, Paul in Romans 5 says death came into the world through one man, so it seems to make sense that God does in fact usher in death for mankind here.  Not only will the man eat only through toil and the sweat all his days, he will also physically die.

The curse on the ground is what Paul refers to in Romans 8 as creation’s slavery to corruption and being subject to futility (Rom 8:19-22).  It is not just man who is changed as a result of sin.  Creation itself is now subject to decay and death and corruption.  It will no longer be fruitful as it was intended to be after the third day.  Growth that is damaging and destructive will be natural, and only through painful toil will growth that brings food occur.

[It is interesting to conjecture as to whether it is at this point that mortality for other living things comes into the world.  Were animals immortal before the fall?]

Notice how often God refers to eating in his judgment on Adam.  Three times in the curse He uses the word eat.  Adam sinned by eating and now his eating will be changed forever.  Everything about eating is now corrupted and difficult.

Contrast these verses with 1:28-30 and 2:9.  God originally told the man and woman to fill the earth and subdue it and that every plant and tree yielding seed was theirs for food.  And when God placed man in the garden He caused every tree that is good for food to grow there for the man’s enjoyment.  Now the ground is cursed, and it will naturally bring forth only what will cause the man to sweat and toil all his days.

This verse at first seems out of place.  It does not flow with the story and seems like an odd fact to include at this point.  However, it could be that it is showing that Adam understands the hope that is included in the judgment.  He heard God say they will have children and will not immediately die.  Thus he names the woman Eve – the mother of all the living (though she has not given birth yet).  Adam shows he has faith that what God says is true.  There is hope along with punishment and loss.

God mercifully provides for the couple before expelling them from the garden.  They are in fact naked and now are about to enter a world where their nakedness will make them vulnerable and ashamed.  So God replaces their fig leaves with animal skins.  God’s nature shows throughout the story.  He provides for redemption even before judgment and shows mercy in the midst of punishment and before He carries it out.  God is completely just and holy, but He is also completely loving and merciful.

Some have suggested that the death of animals necessary for the skins to be provided to the couple is a foreshadowing of the animal sacrifices that will come with the Law.  The animals are sacrificed to cover the sins of the humans.  Ultimately it is impossible to know if this is in fact the intent behind God’s actions and the author’s writing.

God counsels with Himself.  He echoes somewhat what the serpent told Eve.  He says the man – for some reason He does not reference the woman (perhaps showing again that He holds the man accountable) – has become like God in knowing that good and evil exist.  This shows that the serpent did not lie in everything he told the woman – he just did not tell the whole truth (thus setting the precedent for how he will tempt throughout the rest of the world’s existence).  Man is like God but his knowledge comes at a horrible price.

And if the man is now corrupted by sin then he cannot live in God’s presence and he cannot live forever.  To live forever in sin is to be cursed forever (there is mercy in mortality).  Thus God must turn him out of the garden and away from the tree of life (see notes for 2:4-17 for a list of questions regarding the tree of life and the implications of its existence in the garden).  It is unclear whether eating once from the tree of life grants everlasting life or if access to it on an ongoing basis would continually extend life.  Regardless, sinful man cannot be allowed to eat from it.

So God expels the couple from the garden.  They are removed from the temple and from God’s presence.  And they are removed from the tree of life.  Note that verse 24 says God drove the man out – this is not a suggestion that they leave or a gentle nudge out the door.  He drives them out in no uncertain terms.  They have forsaken the privilege of living in God’s holy place.

To ensure that mankind does not come back to the garden or back to the tree of life, cherubim are sent to guard the entrance (the entrance is on the east side of the garden just like the tabernacle – Num 3:38) along with a flaming sword that turns every direction.  It is interesting that cherubim guard the way into the presence of God.  Pictures of cherubim will be embroidered on the curtain that separates the holy of holies from the rest of the tabernacle (Ex 26:31) and gold cherubim will sit on the top of the Ark of the Covenant to represent the seat of God.  Cherubim will continue to bar man’s way to God until Christ comes to tear the curtain in two and make the ark obsolete.

Man now experiences the full impact of his sin.  He is subject to decay in a world subject to decay.  He no longer lives in perfect intimacy with the woman or in perfect harmony with creation – both no longer serve him and may actually work against him.  And he no longer lives in the temple of God.  The punishment is complete and the promised death is both physical and spiritual.  Man’s body will eventually waste away and expire, and man himself will live outside the presence of God.

By choosing to sin, man forsook every God-ordained role he had in creation.  He was to keep the garden as God’s priest.  He was to subdue creation and be filled from its produce.  And he was to lead and love the woman and cleave to her in a perfect one-flesh relationship.  He did not fulfill any of these roles when he accepted the fruit from Eve and now all of them are corrupted by sin and subject to God’s curse.


  • The man and woman ate the fruit because they wanted to be like God – to ascend to His level. However, they now find that happiness is not being like God but being WITH God.
  • The ramifications of Adam and Eve’s sin are staggering. All of creation is changed.  Every human that will ever exist now faces suffering, toil, pain, and death.  The man and woman chose to sin for reasons that affected only themselves.  But the ramifications of those choices affect all people and all things for all time.  Thus sin establishes from the very start that it never affects only the sinner.  We may sow alone but we never reap alone.
  • The tree of life is off limits for all time. But at the end of time it will be approachable by all in the new Jerusalem. Its leaves will be for the healing of the nations (Rev 22:2,14).
  • The hopeless state of the couple living outside the presence of God and the extent of sin’s effect on creation make the promised redemption and love behind it amazing and divine (we cannot understand redemption and salvation if we do not understand judgment). There is NO entrance back to the garden.  There is NO chance that man can approach it ever again.  Yet the seed of the woman will come and usher all those who believe back into God’s holy temple.  But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God, even to those who believe in His name (Jn 1:12).

Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.  Heb 2:14-15

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