Good evening. Are you ever confused by the world? Sometimes it seems to me that it’s just an awesome place, filled with such beauty and wonder and goodness. And then at other times I think the complete opposite! Maybe some examples will help explain what I mean.
The other morning, we took our daily exercise early and went to watch the sunrise at the coast. As it crept over the horizon, painting the sky with red and orange light, it provided a vivid reminder of the world’s beauty. It’s nearly 21 years ago now, but I can still clearly remember holding my eldest son for the very first time, just minutes after he’d been born, and thinking in wonder “how on earth did this happen?” Now, don’t worry, I knew very well how it happened, two more came along in time, but I was overcome with wonder and joy at the new life nestling in my arms. I’ve only ever crashed my car twice. Not much wonder or joy in that you say. But on both occasions, (and one was in a remote spot late at night) the first car on the scene stopped and came to our rescue – such kindness from complete strangers.
But on the other hand, I can look at the world with sadness and despair. How can we not be sad when we look at the worldwide disruption that Covid-19 has caused? How can we not be sad when those close to us are in pain, suffer and die? How can our sadness not turn to anger when see man inflict such cruel abuse on his fellow man? Within families and marriages, in the workplace, from people in positions of trust, from governments as they exploit and abuse the vulnerable that they should be protecting. How can we not despair when we hear of plagues and famine and floods and earthquakes – and the death and destruction that comes with these so-called ‘natural’ disasters?
Yes, there’s much that’s right with world, but there’s also so much that’s so wrong. How do we make sense of that? How do we make sense of a mixed-up world? Well, the Bible’s answer is right here in Genesis 3. And before we look at it in detail, let’s ask for God’s help to understand it. Let’s pray:
Lord, we acknowledge that there is much in your creation that thrills us and gives us great joy – but we confess Lord there is much that pains and confuses us too. As we look at your word together now, please help us to understand what you are saying to us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
So here we are in the middle of this ‘Answers from Genesis’ series. Last week, you’ll remember, that we looked at the first half of Genesis 3 and the origins of evil and some of the short-term consequences of that decision to listen to the serpent and not to listen to God. Adam and Eve found themselves hiding from each other (covered) and hiding from God (in the trees). What God does next is to declare a series of judgements. In effect he says, “because you listened to the serpent and you did not listen to me, here are the consequences. Not just for you, but for all your descendants.” Two main headings tonight. The first is:
1. THE LONG-TERM CONSEQUENCES OF DISOBEDIENCE
And these consequences appear to fall into three main areas. Each one deals with a disruption to God’s good, created order. Firstly, we see:
a. Spiritual disorder
Take a look at Genesis 3.14-15 where the Lord God addresses the serpent:
Because you have done this, [i.e., because you have deceived Adam and Eve and led them astray] 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. 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.
Now, the word cursed is basically the opposite of blessed. To be blessed by God is to live under his favour, to enjoy the good things that he provides. But to be cursed is to live under his judgement and have him against you. And so God curses the serpent to utter humiliation writhing around in the dust. Genesis 3.14-15 continues:
on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity [think: hatred, hostility] between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.
Now on one level we can look at this and think this is true literally. There is this near universal fear and if not hatred, then certainly unease, between humans and snakes. That was brought home to me when I had the genius idea of introducing a live snake during a Bible study I was leading in a previous church. Yup we were studying this passage but the screaming reactions of some of the group members alerted me to the fact that it wasn’t one of my most sensitive decisions! So, there is definitely something literal going on here. But more significantly, we need to see the spiritual truth – because the serpent symbolises Satan and Satan’s offspring are still at war in this world bringing hatred and hostility and fear and shame wherever they can.
There’s loads of debate over that word bruise in Genesis 3.15 - some translations go for crush or batter. But what is clear is that there are repeated attacks by one side to injure the other. It’s a spiritual battle. And it’s a spiritual battle that has continued through the centuries and is raging in the heavenlies right now bringing disorder in 2021. Now, we could look at our mixed-up world and conclude that there are good people and there are bad people, and it’s the bad people over there who are responsible for all the bad things and it’s the good people like you and me who are responsible for the good things. But that would be delusional. We all know it’s not that simple.
The truth is we all have a part to play in that spiritual battle and we need help. We’re so disordered, because on the one hand we are enticed and seduced and attracted by evil but on the other hand we are appalled and disgusted by it and grieve its effects. We are spiritually disordered. But there’s not just spiritual disorder at the start of this passage. We also see it at the end. Take a look at Genesis.23-24:
therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
In other words, man’s deepest spiritual disorder is his separation from God’s presence. There they were: one minute – enjoying the blessings of a “very good” creation with the Creator himself, and the next - out on their ears, with no hope of return, separated from the very presence of God. Church, when we look at our mixed-up world what we are seeing are the results of this spiritual disorder and the pain, sadness, disgust, the anger, they all act like a gigantic, flashing neon sign highlighting our ultimate need of rescue back into God’s presence and into the safety of his blessing. So, spiritual disorder. The second consequence we see is one of:
b. Relational disorder
Take a look at Genesis 3.16 where God addresses the woman:
I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children…
Which in the first instance clearly refers to childbirth, (having been present at the birth of all three of my lads I am in no doubt about the level of pain Debs went through to bring them into the world) but there’s also a hint here that the disorder extends to family life: Bringing forth children - we might say raising a family – yes, it’s one of life’s greatest blessings and joys, but (and we can all testify to this from our own experience of growing up) families are also crucibles of relational disorder. But judgement of relational disorder is not confined just to bringing up children. Genesis 3.16 continues:
Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.
Okay, tough verse. Why is this a consequence? Surely it’s right for a wife to desire her husband and, as we saw a few weeks ago now, surely the husband’s authority is part of God’s good, created order. Yes, absolutely, but don’t forget that desires are now corrupted. Genesis 3:16 marks the start of the battle of the sexes. Wives no longer willingly submitting but longing for independence and control. Husbands no longer loving sacrificially but abusing their position for their own selfish gain. As one writer puts it:
‘to love and to cherish’ becomes ‘to desire and dominate’. [Derek Kidner, Genesis p.76]
The result? Those designed to be one flesh end up tearing themselves apart.
Does that not make sense of the epidemic levels of marital disharmony and breakdown that we witness? Does that not explain our culture’s increasing tendency to avoid marriage altogether? Relational disorder is another long-term consequence of original disobedience. Thirdly, we see that there is also:
c. Physical disorder
Having dealt with the serpent and the woman, the Lord God now addresses the man. This is Genesis 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; 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.”
Sadly, there’s much in here we don’t have time to deal with, but in essence what we see here is that the ground, (the earth, the very substance of creation) is cursed and in some way disordered. Which means that man has a painful struggle on his hands to provide. It’s important to note here that work itself is not the punishment. After all, work was part of God’s good, created order. Rather it is the frustration and toil of work that constitutes the curse. So, when work is difficult; when the weeds grow back, when the delivery doesn’t come on time, when the bus is late or the computer crashes,
when the machines don’t work as they should, when the office politics make work life toxic, when the crops fail, when, despite every exhausting effort you made, your patient doesn’t recover, when all these things happen it is a sad consequence of the physical disorder that accompanies the Lord’s judgement in Genesis 3. And ultimately, of course, this judgement leads to death for you are dust, and to dust you shall return. This is how Genesis 3 makes sense of our mixed-up world.
The world we live in, in 2021, is still dealing with spiritual, relational and physical disorder caused by Adam’s disobedience. It makes sense of human history, but it also makes sense of our own personal experience too, doesn’t it? As such we could be tempted to think of it as only a bleak and depressing chapter. The pain and suffering are there alright, but wonderfully that’s not all there is to this chapter, because there are glimmers of hope all over the place.
2. GLIMMERS OF HOPE
Let me just highlight a few of those glimmers in closing. Maybe you’ve never seen some of these before. First glimmer of hope:
a. Satan exposed
Back in Genesis 3.7 he’d deliberately misled the woman:
“you won’t die, just eat, you’ll be like God!”
But the man and woman would go on to die, and so Satan, the serpent, is exposed as the great deceiver. And today, anyone who argues something contrary to God’s word is continuing Satan’s work of deception. But it is an act of grace that Satan is exposed here for the liar and deceiver he is.
Second glimmer of hope:
b. The man and the woman aren’t directly cursed!
Did you see that as we went through? The serpent is cursed (Genesis 3.14). The ground is cursed (Genesis 3.17). But the man and the woman aren’t. Now you may say, Jon, that’s just semantics, they still came under God’s judgement.’” And that’s true, but there’s something here in that they themselves are not directly cursed. There’s a glimmer of hope that their future can change, be restored. Satan doesn’t have that, he will be destroyed. The earth doesn’t have that, somehow it’ll all be recreated to the new heavens and then new earth. But here is a glimmer of hope that man’s predicament is not final. Third glimmer of hope:
c. God provides for the man and woman:
In Genesis 3.21 we see that, despite their rebellion, God graciously provides for their needs by clothing them. Fourth glimmer of hope:
d. The human race is not completely destroyed.
Genesis 3.20 says:
The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.
God didn’t wipe mankind out, but in his great mercy committed to bear with him throughout the generations, so that, as Peter puts it in the New Testament, all should have chance to come to repentance and be restored. But how how will sinful man come back into the very presence of God?
Through the fifth and perhaps strongest glimmer of hope in this passage:
e. The promise of a man who will defeat the serpent.
Look back to the second part of Genesis 3.15. God is cursing the serpent remember, and he tells him that the woman’s offspring will bruise his head which suggests a deadly blow All the serpent can do is nip and attack the foot but one day a man will come and strike a decisive blow to Satan’s scheme and begin the end of his influence. Of course, that man is the God-man Jesus. Satan bruised his heel on the cross, thought he’d killed him but three days later he rose from the dead, defeated evil and struck a hammer blow against Satan. In doing so Jesus opened up the way for men and women to come back into relationship with their Creator and one day he will return to finish the job completely and all the relational, spiritual and physical disorder will come to an end. That’s why Paul could confidently write this to the church in Rome (Romans 16.20):
The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.