And to Adam he said, Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree, of which I commanded you, saying…
I. If this sentence was executed upon man and the earth, without all doubt it may at this day be distinguished; therefore let us inquire in the first place whether there are any signs of a "curse upon the ground"? Towards the latter end of the fifth chapter of Genesis we read, that when a son was born to Lamech, he called his name Noah, which signifies comfort, because he was to "comfort them concerning their work, and toil of their hands, because of the ground which the Lord had cursed." Lamech knew, therefore, that a curse had been pronounced upon the ground, for the transgression of Adam; and he knew also, either by tradition, or the spirit of prophecy, that it should take place more fully in the days of Noah, whose favour and acceptance with God should give comfort to men, and render more tolerable that toil and labour which should be the necessary consequence of this curse upon the ground; which, therefore, was brought upon the earth by the general deluge. When the wickedness and violence of the human race had wearied out the patience and long suffering of God, and obliged His justice to inflict the punishment which had been threatened, He declared in His revelation to Noah that He would destroy man with the earth. St. Peter also confirms the same, where he takes occasion to inform ungodly men, that the "world which then was, being overflowed with water, perished." Whence it appears that the flood should, and actually did, amount to a destruction of the earth, of which destruction and the manner of it, the earth in all parts has so many signs at this day, that a man endued with eyesight, understanding, and a very little experience, cannot choose but to see and acknowledge it.
II. A second consequence of the Fall, as it stands in the words of the text is, Sorrow to man in the eating of the fruit of the ground. And here it may be useful to observe how the punishment of man is suited to the nature of his crime. His first and great act of disobedience was eating of the fruit of the forbidden tree; and it was surely just and proper that he who had eaten in sin should thenceforth eat in sorrow. We are indeed upon terms with our Creator quite different from the lilies of the field, or the fowls of the air: they are now as He made them at first, but we are not so; and hence it comes to pass that labour and travel is a law of universal obligation, and that "If any man will not work neither should he eat."
III. The third part of the sentence pronounced upon man's disobedience, is the prevailing of thorns and thistles upon the ground. If the powers and properties of these two sorts of vegetables be well considered, it will soon appear how well they are fitted to propagate a curse, by increasing the trouble and labour we are obliged to bestow in the cultivation of the earth. For these are much more strong and fruitful than such herbs and grain as are of the greatest use; and they are more apt to disperse themselves abroad and overrun the ground. With respect to thistles in particular, we shall discover a very plain reason for this, if we compare their seeds with the seeds of wheat. For the grain of wheat ought to be lodged at some little depth in the earth, to which it cannot easily reach without human assistance. It can only be shed, and fall down from the ear upon the surface of the ground, where it would be exposed, and ready to be devoured by the birds of the air, or the vermin of the earth, or perhaps lie till it rotted and perished with rain and frost for want of being covered with earth. But the seeds of thistles presently strike down roots in the earth wherever they happen to light, and need no such care and assistance. Then again the grains of wheat are naked and heavy, and can fall only as a dead weight at the foot of the plant which bore them, without being able to stir any farther, and shift themselves to a place fit for their reception and growth. But the case is much otherwise with the seeds of thistles. These are small and light, and are furnished with a fine downy plume, which serves them as wings, by means of which they are borne up and wafted about from place to place by every breath of wind, till they are transplanted to every corner of the field where the parent thistle grew, insomuch that when this plant is ripe, and its seeds hanging loose and disposed to fall off, it is common to see large fields covered all over with them, after any little wind. Nor ought it to be passed over that there is a great difference in the multiplication of these two kinds of seed. Some sorts of thistles bear thirty, some fifty, and some upwards of a hundred heads, with a hundred (and in some kinds several hundred) seeds in each of the heads. And if a moderate reckoning be made, and we suppose all the seeds to take rightly, grow up and fructify, then one single plant would produce at the first crop above twenty thousand: which succeeding in like manner, would bring a second crop of several hundreds of millions; an increase so enormous as can hardly be imagined: and it is plain that a few crops more, if not hindered by some means, but carried regularly on, would in a very short time stock the whole globe of the earth in such a manner as scarcely to leave room for anything else. But some thistles have other ways of planting and spreading themselves, besides that of propagating by their seeds. The common way-thistle, as it is called, besides its innumerable seeds, all winged and prepared for flight, hath its roots spreading to great lengths, and sending up suckers or new plants on every side of it. In a little while these, if suffered to continue, send up others, and they more, without tale or end. So that by this method only, one plant will overrun a vast tract of land in a very short time, suppressing, stifling, and destroying all other good and useful herbage. Besides, it is not every soil that is fit for the nourishment of wheat, and scarcely any will produce it for more than two or three years together, without great expense being bestowed on its cultivation: whereas there is hardly any ground or soil whatsoever, high or low, hill, valley, or plain, where thistles will not take and flourish for ages together. Having said so much upon thistles, I may be shorter in my remarks upon thorns; the rather because a great deal of what has been offered concerning the former is as true of the latter; which grow in almost every kind of soil, running on and increasing of themselves, and endued with the same worthless nature and mischievous qualities. For a proof of this we need only look upon the bramble, which occurs everywhere, and throws itself about without measure. The berries it bears are innumerable, and each of them contains a large mass of seeds. The roots push forward under ground, and the branches and suckers running on to great lengths, trail upon the ground, and send down fresh roots out of their sides; by which means they are diffused about, and multiplied without bounds. But as to thorns, the chief example we have is in that species which is known by the name of the gorse or furze. This is the vilest and most mischievous shrub upon the face of the earth. It will let nothing thrive or prosper, or so much as grow near it. It is so beset with prickles, that it is hardly possible to approach it in any way without hurt: and so fruitful withal, that for almost half the year it is covered or rather loaded with flowers, all of which go off into pods, charged with seeds. It shoots forth stubborn roots far and near, from which other young plants are growing up: these send up others as fast as the mother plant, so that we need the less wonder to see this noxious thorn so plentifully abounding, and such large tracts of land wholly covered and overrun by it. Other thorns are of so hard and stubborn a nature as to render it exceedingly difficult, and always impracticable without great labour and expense and patience, ever wholly to extirpate and clear the ground of them. If these things are duly reflected upon, it must be allowed that the sentence upon Adam, "Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it, thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee," was effectually put in execution; and that not only upon him, but more especially upon us, his posterity to the end of the world. When we think of this curse upon the ground, we should also remember that it extends to our own heart, which, since the Fall, is by nature barren and unprofitable. It is a soil in which every ill weed will take root and spread itself. There the thorns of worldly care, and the thistles of worldly vanity, will grow and flourish. As the husbandman watches his land, so should the Christian search and examine his heart, that he may cast out of it all those unprofitable weeds and roots of bitterness which will naturally get possession of it. If this work is rightly performed, the soil will be ready for the good seed of the word of God, which will spring up and prosper under the influence of Divine grace, as the corn groweth by a blessing of rain and sunshine from the heaven above.
(W. Jones. M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
WEB: To Adam he said, "Because you have listened to your wife's voice, and have eaten of the tree, of which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground for your sake. In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.