In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread, till you return to the ground; for out of it were you taken: for dust you are, and to dust shall you return.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Dust thou art . . . —It appears from this that death was man’s normal condition. A spiritual being is eternal by its own constitution, but the argument by which Bishop Butler proves the soul to be immortal equally proves the mortality of the body. Death, he says, is the division of a compound substance into its component parts; but as the soul is a simple substance, and incapable of division, it is per se incapable of death (Analogy, Part 1, Genesis 1). The body of Adam, composed of particles of earth, was capable of division, and our first parents in Paradise were assured of an unending existence by a special gift, typified by the tree of life. But now this gift was withdrawn, and henceforward the sweat of man’s brow was in itself proof that he was returning to his earth: for it told of exhaustion and waste. Even now labour is a blessing only when it is moderate, as when Adam kept a garden that spontaneously brought forth flowers and fruit. In excess it wears out the body and benumbs the soul, and by the pressure of earthly cares leaves neither time nor the wish for any such pursuits as are worthy of a being endowed with thought and reason and a soul.Genesis 3:19. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread — His business, before he sinned, was a constant pleasure to him; but now his labour shall be a weariness. Unto dust shalt thou return — Thy body shall be forsaken by thy soul, and become itself a lump of dust, and then it shall be lodged in the grave, and mingle with the dust of the earth.Genesis 9:25, see the note) of the soil is the desire of the fruit trees with which the garden was planted, and of that spontaneous growth which would have rendered the toil of man unnecessary. The rank growth of thorns and thistles was also a part of the curse which it occasioned to man when fallen. His sorrow was to arise from the labor and sweat with which he was to draw from the ground the means of subsistence. Instead of the spontaneous fruits of the garden, the herb of the field, which required diligent cultivation, was henceforth to constitute a principal part of his support. And he had the dreary prospect before him of returning at length to the ground whence he was taken. He had an element of dust in him, and this organic frame was eventually to work out its own decay, when apart from the tree of life.
It is to be observed that here is the first allusion to that death which was the essential part of the sentence pronounced on the fallen race. The reasons of this are obvious. The sentence of death on those who should eat of the forbidden fruit had been already pronounced, and was well known to our first parents. Death consisted in the privation of that life which lay in the light of the divine countenance, shining with approving love on an innocent child, and therefore was begun on the first act of disobedience, in the shame and fear of a guilty conscience. The few traits of earthly discomfort which the sentences disclose, are merely the workings of the death here spoken of in the present stage of our existence. And the execution of the sentence, which comes to view in the following passage, is the formal accomplishment of the warning given to the transgressor of the divine will.
In this narrative the language is so simple as to present no critical difficulty. And, on reviewing the passage, the first thing we have to observe is, that the event here recorded is a turning-point of transcendent import in the history of man. It is no less than turning from confidence in God to confidence in his creature when contradicting him, and, moreover, from obedience to his express and well-remembered command to obedience to the dictates of misguided self-interest. It is obvious that, to the moral character of the transaction, it is of no consequence who the third party was who dared to contradict and malign his Maker. The guilt of man consists simply in disobeying the sole command of his beneficent Creator. The only mitigating circumstance is the suggestion of evil by an external party. But the more insignificant the only ostensible source of temptation, the more inexcusable the guilt of man in giving way to it.
This act altered fundamentally the position and character of man. He thereby descended from innocence to guilt in point of law, and at the same time from holiness to sin in point of character. Tremendous was the change, and equally tremendous the consequence. Death is, like most scriptural terms, a pregnant word, and here to be understood in the full compass of its meaning. It is the privation, not of existence, as is often confusedly supposed, but of life, in all its plenitude of meaning. As life includes all the gratifications of which our human susceptibilities are capable, so death is the privation of all the sources of human enjoyment, and among them of the physical life itself, while the craving for ease and the sense of pain retain all their force in the spiritual part of our nature. These poignant emotions reach their highest pitch of intensity when they touch the conscience, the tenderest part of our being, and forebode the meeting of the soul, in its guilty state, with a just and holy God.
This event is real. The narrative expresses in its strongest terms its reality. The event is one of the two alternatives which must follow from the preceding statements concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and affords an explanation of their nature. It is no less essential to account for what follows. The problem of the history and condition of man can only be solved by this primeval fact. Conscience still remains an imperishable monument, on the one hand, of his having been formed after a perfect model; and, on the other, of his having fallen from his high estate. And all the facts of his history carry up his fall as far as the traditions of human memory reach.
And the narrative here is a literal record of the details of this great event. So far as regards God and man, the literality has never been questioned by those who acknowledge the event to be real. Some, however, have taken the serpent to be, not a literal, but a figurative serpent; not an animal, but a spiritual being. The great dragon, indeed, is identified with "the ancient serpent called the devil and Satan." And hence we know that a being of a higher nature than the mere animal was present and active on this occasion. And this spiritual being was with great propriety called the serpent, both from its serpentine qualities and from choosing the serpent as the most suitable mask under which to tempt our first parents. But we cannot thence infer that a literal serpent was not employed in the temptation. The serpent is said to be "more subtle than any beast of the field." First. The obvious meaning of this is, that it was itself a beast of the field.
Thus, Joseph, whom Israel loved "more than all his children," was one of his children Genesis 37:8. He that was "higher than any of the people," was himself one of the people 2 Samuel 9:2. Second. If the serpent be here figurative, and denote a spirit, the statement that it was subtle above all the beasts of the field is feeble and inadequate to the occasion. It is not so, that man is distinguished from the other animals. In much more forcible language ought the old serpent to be distinguished from the unreasoning brute. Third. We have seen a meetness in a being of flesh, and that not superior, or even equal to man, being permitted to be employed as the medium of temptation. Man was thereby put at no disadvantage. His senses were not confounded by a supersensible manifestation. His presence of mind was not disturbed by an unusual appearance. Fourth. The actions ascribed to the tempter agree with the literal serpent. Wounding the heel, creeping on the belly, and biting the dust, are suitable to a mere animal, and especially to the serpent. The only exception is the speaking, and, what is implied in this, the reasoning. These, however, do not disprove the presence of the literal serpent when accompanied with a plain statement of its presence. They only indicate, and that to more experienced observers than our first parents, the presence of a lurking spirit, expressing its thoughts by the organs of the serpent.
It may be thought strange that the presence of this higher being is not explicitly noticed by the sacred writer. But it is the manner of Scripture not to distinguish and explain all the realities which it relates, but to describe the obvious phenomena as they present themselves to the senses; especially when the scope of the narrative does not require more, and a future revelation or the exercise of a sanctified experience will in due time bring out their interpretation. Thus, the doings of the magicians in Egypt are not distinguished from those of Moses by any disparaging epithet Exodus 7:10-12. Only those of Moses are greater, and indicate thereby a higher power. The witch of Endor is consulted, and Samuel appears; but the narrative is not careful to distinguish then and there whether by the means of witchcraft or by the very power of God. It was not necessary for the moral training of our first parents at that early stage of their existence to know who the real tempter was. It would not have altered the essential nature of the temptation, of the sentence pronounced on any of the parties, or of the hopes held out to those who were beguiled.
This brings into view a system of analogy and mutual relation pervading the whole of Scripture as well as nature, according to which the lower order of things is a natural type of the higher, and the nearer of the more remote. This law displays itself in the history of creation, which, in the creative work of the six days, figures to our minds, and, as it were, lays out in the distance those other antecedent processes of creative power that have intervened since the first and absolute creation; in the nature of man, which presents on the surface the animal operations in wonderful harmony with the spiritual functions of his complex being; in the history of man, where the nearer in history, in prophecy, in space, in time, in quality, matter, life, vegetative and animate, shadow forth the more remote. All these examples of the scriptural method of standing on and starting from the near to the far are founded upon the simple fact that nature is a rational system of things, every part of which has its counterpart in every other. Hence, the history of one thing is, in a certain form, the history of all things of the same kind.
The serpent is of a crafty instinct, and finds, accordingly, its legitimate place at the lowest step of the animal system. Satan seeks the opportunity of tempting Adam, and, in the fitness of things, turns to the serpent as the ready medium of his assault upon human integrity. He was limited to such a medium. He was not permitted to have any contact with man, except through the senses and in the way of speech. He was also necessitated to have recourse to the serpent, as the only creature suited to his purpose.
The place of the serpent in the scale of animals was in keeping with the crookedness of its instinct. It was cursed above all cattle, since it was inferior to them in the lack of those limbs which serve for rising, moving, and holding; such as legs and arms. This meaning of cursed is familiar to Scripture. "Cursed is the ground for thy seed" Genesis 3:17. It needed the toil of man to repress thorns and thistles, and cultivate plants more useful and needful to man. "This people who knoweth not the law are cursed" John 7:49. This is a relative use of the word, by which a thing is said to be cursed in respect of its failing to serve a particular end. Hence, the serpent's condition was a fit emblem of the spiritual serpent's punishment for its evil doings regarding man.
Through the inscrutable wisdom of the Divine Providence, however, it was not necessary, or may not have been necessary, to change in the main the state of the natural serpent or the natural earth in order to carry out the ends of justice. The former symbolized in a very striking manner the helplessness and disappointment of the enemy of man. The latter exacted that labor of man which was the just consequence of his disobedience. This consequence would have been avoided if he had continued to be entitled to the tree of life, which could no doubt have been propagated beyond its original bounds. But a change in the moral relation of the heart toward God brings along with it in the unsearchable ways of divine wisdom a change as great in the bearing of the events of time on the destiny of man. While the heart is with God, all things work together for good to us. When the heart is estranged from him, all things as inevitably work together for evil, without any material alteration in the system of nature.
We may even ascend a step higher into the mysteries of providence; for a disobedient heart, that forms the undeserving object of the divine compassion, may be for a time the unconscious slave of a train of circumstances, which is working out its recovery from the curse as well as the power of sin through the teaching of the Divine Spirit. The series of events may be the same in which another is floating down the stream of perdition. But to the former these events are the turning points of a wondrous moral training, which is to end in reconciliation to God and restoration to his likeness.
A race, in like manner, that has fallen from communion with God, may be the subject of a purpose of mercy, which works out, in the providence of God, the return of some to his home and love, and the wandering of others away further and further into the darkness and misery of enmity with God.In the sweat of thy face, i.e. of thy body: he mentions the face, because there the sweat appears first and most. Or, with labour of body or brain, Ecclesiastes 1:13, and vexation of mind,
shalt thou get thy food and livelihood:
bread being put for all nourishment, as Genesis 18:5, Genesis 28:20.
Dust thou art, as to the constitution and original of thy body. See Genesis 18:27 Job 1:21 Psalm 103:14. Though upon thy obedience I would have preserved thy body no less than thy soul from all mortality; yet now, having sinned, thou shalt return unto dust in thy body, whilst the immortal spirit shall return unto God who gave it, Ecclesiastes 12:7. Thus thy end shall be as base as thy beginning.
till thou return unto the ground, his original, out of which he was made; that is, until he dies, and is interred in the earth, from whence he sprung; signifying that the life of man would be a life of toil and labour to the very end of it: and nothing else can man expect in it:
for dust thou art, and unto dust shall thou return; his body was composed of the dust, was of the earth, earthly, and should be reduced to that again by death, which is not an annihilation of man, but a bringing him back to his original; which shows what a frail creature man is, what little reason he has to be proud of himself, when he reflects from whence he came and whither he must go; see Ecclesiastes 12:7.In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)19. in the sweat of thy face] As in the sentence upon the woman, so here, in the sentence upon the man, suffering is not punitive, but disciplinary, being associated with his highest vocation. The necessity of labour has proved man’s greatest blessing; it has evoked the qualities which are distinctively most noble, and has been the cause of all progress and improvement.
till thou return, &c.] Man’s work is to continue to the end. Old age has its own scope for activities. Physical robustness is not the only measure of responsibility or efficiency.
dust thou art, &c.] See note on Genesis 3:7. Jehovah does not slay man at once; He is merciful, and relaxes His first decree. Man is not to enjoy earthly immortality: but he shall live until “the breath of God” is taken from him, and he becomes dust again.Verse 19. - In the sweat of thy face (so called, as having there its source and being there visible) shalt thou eat bread. I.e. all food (vide Job 28:5; Psalm 104:14; Matthew 14:15; Mark 6:36). "To eat bread" is to possess the means of sustaining life (Ecclesiastes 5:16; Amos 7:12). Till thou return unto the ground (the mortality-of man is thus assumed as certain); for out of it thou wast taken. Not declaring the reason of man's dissolution, as if it were involved in his original material constitution, but reminding him that in consequence of his transgression he had forfeited the privilege of immunity from death, and must now return to the soil whence he sprung. Ἐξ η΅ς ἐλήφθης (LXX.); de qua sumptus es (Vulgate); "out of which thou wast taken" (Macdonald, Gesenius). On the use of כִּי as a relative pronoun - אַשֶׁר cf. Gesenius, ' Lex. sub nom.,' who quotes this and Genesis 4:25 as examples. Vide also Stanley Leathes, 'Hebrews Gram.,' p. 202; and 'Glassii Philologiae,' lib. 3. tr. 2, c. 15. p. 335. This use of כִּי, however, appears to be doubtful, and is not necessary in any of the examples quoted.
Genesis 1:26 and Genesis 2:5, Genesis 2:20, the noun is appellative, and there are substantial reasons for the omission of the article. The sentence upon Adam includes a twofold punishment: first the cursing of the ground, and secondly death, which affects the woman as well, on account of their common guilt. By listening to his wife, when deceived by the serpent, Adam had repudiated his superiority to the rest of creation. As a punishment, therefore, nature would henceforth offer resistance to his will. By breaking the divine command, he had set himself above his Maker, death would therefore show him the worthlessness of his own nature. "Cursed be the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat it (the ground by synecdoche for its produce, as in Isaiah 1:7) all the days of thy life: thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee, and thou shalt eat the herb of the field." The curse pronounced on man's account upon the soil created for him, consisted in the fact, that the earth no longer yielded spontaneously the fruits requisite for his maintenance, but the man was obliged to force out the necessaries of life by labour and strenuous exertion. The herb of the field is in contrast with the trees of the garden, and sorrow with the easy dressing of the garden. We are not to understand, however, that because man failed to guard the good creation of God from the invasion of the evil one, a host of demoniacal powers forced their way into the material world to lay it waste and offer resistance to man; but because man himself had fallen into the power of the evil one, therefore God cursed the earth, not merely withdrawing the divine powers of life which pervaded Eden, but changing its relation to man. As Luther says, "primum in eo, quod illa bona non fert quae tulisset, si homo non esset lapsus, deinde in eo quoque, quod multa noxia fert quae non tulisset, sicut sunt infelix lolium, steriles avenae, zizania, urticae, spincae, tribuli, adde venena, noxias bestiolas, et si qua sunt alia hujus generis." But the curse reached much further, and the writer has merely noticed the most obvious aspect.
(Note: Non omnia incommoda enumerat Moses, quibus se homo per peccatum implicuit: constat enim ex eodem prodiisse fonte omnes praesentis vitae aerumnas, quas experientia innumeras esse ostendit. Aris intemperies, gelu, tonitrua, pluviae intempestivae, uredo, grandines et quicquid inordinatum est in mundo, peccati sunt fructus.
Nec alia morborum prima est causa: idque poeticis fabulis celebratum fuit: haud dubie quod per manus a patribus traditum esset. Unde illud Horatii:
- Post ignem aethera domo
- Subductum, macies et nova febrium
- Terris incubuit cohors:
- Semotique prius tarda necessitas
- Lethi corripuit gradum.
Sed Moses qui brevitati studet, suo more pro communi vulgi captu attingere contentus fuit quod magis apparuit: ut sub exemplo uno discamus, hominis vitio inversum fuisse totum naturae ordinem. Calvin.)
The disturbance and distortion of the original harmony of body and soul, which sin introduced into the nature of man, and by which the flesh gained the mastery over the spirit, and the body, instead of being more and more transformed into the life of the spirit, became a prey to death, spread over the whole material world; so that everywhere on earth there were to be seen wild and rugged wastes, desolation and ruin, death and corruption, or ματαιότης and φθορά (Romans 8:20-21). Everything injurious to man in the organic, vegetable and animal creation, is the effect of the curse pronounced upon the earth for Adam's sin, however little we may be able to explain the manner in which the curse was carried into effect; since our view of the causal connection between sin and evil even in human life is very imperfect, and the connection between spirit and matter in nature generally is altogether unknown. In this causal link between sin and the evils in the world, the wrath of God on account of sin was revealed; since, as soon as the creation (πᾶσα ἡ κτίοις, Romans 8:22) had been wrested through man from its vital connection with its Maker, He gave it up to its own ungodly nature, so that whilst, on the one hand, it has been abused by man for the gratification of his own sinful lusts and desires, on the other, it has turned against man, and consequently many things in the world and nature, which in themselves and without sin would have been good for him, or at all events harmless, have become poisonous and destructive since his fall. For in the sweat of his face man is to eat his bread (לחם the bread-corn which springs from the earth, as in Job 28:5; Psalm 104:14) until he return to the ground. Formed out of the dust, he shall return to dust again. This was the fulfilment of the threat, "In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die," which began to take effect immediately after the breach of the divine command; for not only did man then become mortal, but he also actually came under the power of death, received into his nature the germ of death, the maturity of which produced its eventual dissolution into dust. The reason why the life of the man did not come to an end immediately after the eating of the forbidden fruit, was not that "the woman had been created between the threat and the fall, and consequently the fountain of human life had been divided, the life originally concentrated in one Adam shared between man and woman, by which the destructive influence of the fruit was modified or weakened." (v. Hoffmann), but that the mercy and long-suffering of God afforded space for repentance, and so controlled and ordered the sin of men and the punishment of sin, as to render them subservient to the accomplishment of His original purpose and the glorification of His name.
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