Lifting the Curse on the Ground (Genesis 3)

Genesis 3 tells a story of woe in idyllic paradise. After the sneaky snake tempts the woman, both she and the man eat fruit from the tree that Yahweh God had forbidden to them. Consequently, the couple now find themselves with the stark realisation of their nakedness, and dread over what the deity will think of them. And so, when they hear his steps in the garden which they are supposed to tend, they hide in fear and shame.

After a quick interrogation, Yahweh God determines the guilt of all involved, and issues curses upon them—on the snake, the woman, and the man.

The curse on the man involves a curse on the ground:

“Damn the ground on your account!
With hardship will you eat of it
all the days of your life.
Both thorn and thistle will it sprout for you,
so that you must eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your nose will you eat bread,
until your return to the ground.
Since you were taken from it
—for dust is what you are—
then to dust will you return.”

— Genesis 3:17b–19 (my translation)

As a result of this curse, the man and the woman are expelled from the paradise garden they were tending, with its variety of fruit-bearing trees. They are sent out into a barren world (cf. Gen 2:5–6), in which the ground is their enemy. Their efforts at toiling no longer yield them the lush fruits of paradise, but the thorns and thistles of frustration. They are forced to work harder than they ever have before, with the sweat of their exertion pouring down their nose. Even then, they will collapse into the hostile ground, or earn the measliest of crusts that will send them foraging for any wild plant in the open field that they can find. And in the end they will die a miserable death.


This sorry situation explains why God found Cain’s offering of the “fruit of the ground” despicable (Gen 4:3–5). Cain could not cultivate anything meriting the status of an offering. He simply brings to the altar whatever he finds sprouting from the ground, rather than what he works to produce. Abel, on the other hand, evidently figures out a way to earn a crust while the curse is in effect: don’t eat the grass, but rather raise and eat the animals that eat the grass. And of these, he offers the firstborn of his flock—the most significant product of his personal work. For this entrepreneurial and respectful effort, he earns Yahweh’s favour.

Yet, the curse on the ground remains, and life for humanity is bitterly harsh. It is a wretched existence that, generations later, leads Noah’s parents to wish (or prophesy) of their son,

“May this one give us relief from our work,
from the hardship of our hands,
from the ground that Yahweh damned.”

—Genesis 5:29 (my translation)

I’ve often heard preachers say that we still live with the effects of this curse today. After all, the curse on the ground was just one of several that Yahweh pronounced. Snakes still slither along the ground, as the curse upon the snake stipulated; women give birth in the most horrendous pain, as the woman was cursed in the garden; and the grave is the destiny of us all, as the man’s curse promises. So the earth is also cursed, and the frustration and futility of work are reflective of this.

However, this is not quite right.

To think that the curse on the ground is indicative of our reality today is actually a mistake. For when we read on in Genesis, we find that Yahweh lifts the curse on the ground. After the “uncreation” of the flood, Noah emerges from the ark into a renewed, pristine world, and offers Yahweh a sumptuous sacrifice.

Noah now built an altar to Yahweh, and took some of all the clean animals and some of all the clean birds, and offered them as incinerations on the altar. Yahweh now smelled the appeasing aroma, and Yahweh said in his heart, “I no longer curse the ground on account of the man, even though the intent of the man’s heart be evil from his youth. And I no longer strike down all life as I have just done.”

— Genesis 8:20–21 (my translation)

The lifting of the curse on the ground means that the earth no longer functions as a source of utter frustration for humanity. On the contrary, the earth begins to respond to human cultivation as fruitfully as it did in Eden. Humanity’s agricultural pursuits no longer yield unpalatable brambles. Instead, with human endeavour, the ground can explode in fecundity, allowing humanity to continue the task for which Yahweh originally employed the man in the paradise garden: cultivating the ground. No longer are humans forced to forage for the odd wild plant. The hardship of the past is gone.

Just to underscore the point, with the curse now lifted, Noah decides to become a novice farmer. Evidently, the earth responds to his rookie efforts a little too well:

Noah now began to be a man of the ground. He planted a vineyard, drank some of the wine, and got drunk.

— Genesis 9:20–21a (my translation)

The wish of Noah’s parents, that he give them relief from the hardship of the curse, came true. Accordingly, from Noah onwards, humanity pursues agricultural farming and pastoral farming with great success.

From this, there are three implications I’d like to reflect on.

  1. The earth is not cursed. It is, rather, a source of wellbeing for humanity, and it is a human responsibility to care for it. The current environmental issues we face on the planet are not because of God, but because of our own irresponsibility.
  2. Work is not a curse. When Yahweh put the man in the paradise garden of Eden, he commissioned him to work it. There was no sense that the man simply had to snap his fingers to achieve his work goals. There was, rather, the expectation of hard work, but with commensurate reward. As the man cultivated the earth, so it would yield to him, and reward his efforts. The curse that God placed on the man was that the earth would no longer yield to him, making his work futile (“the sweat of your nose” could also be translated as “the sweat of your frustration”). But this situation was temporary, as the Noah narrative indicates. Work is part of God’s good intention for humanity, and decent reward for decent effort should be the way we operate. Indeed, as Abel’s example demonstrates, God is pleased when we work well and honour him.
  3. We need to stop preaching that the earth is cursed. This includes rethinking the meaning of passages like Romans 8:18–21:

For I think that the sufferings of our present time are not equal to the future glory that is to be revealed to us. For the expectation of creation is awaiting the revelation of the sons of God. For creation was subjected to aimlessness, not willingly, but by the one who subjected it, in the hope that that same creation will be liberated from its servitude to decay into the liberation of the glory of the children of God.

— Romans 8:18–21 (my translation)

This passage is often preached with reference to Genesis 3, and it’s not hard to see why. But if Paul knew his Bible (and he most certainly did—especially the early chapters of Genesis!), he was probably not arguing that the earth continued to be cursed into his own day. Perhaps Paul was specifically looking at the curse on the earth in a typological manner—a precedent, rather than an ongoing reality. Or perhaps Paul saw creation as having an inherent nature of aimlessness—cycles of life and decay, which imbue it with a metaphorical desire to break out of the cycle—to attain an eternal destiny that can only be achieved in God’s greater purposes in Christ. Perhaps there is another explanation. Either way, I don’t think it’s tenable to view Paul as arguing that the curse on the earth was ongoing.

All this is not to suggest that humanity and the world is not “fallen.” Once sin entered the world, it could not be taken back, and we continue to live with the consequences of sin—our own, as well as that of others. Rather, it’s simply to say that we should read the Bible more closely than we do, and base our theology on its entire witness, not just parts of it. As we read Genesis, we see God lift the curse on the ground, and so we should distinguish that curse from the evident tendency to death and decay that we (still) see in the world around us.


37 thoughts on “Lifting the Curse on the Ground (Genesis 3)

  1. your view of work is so “Anglican” its kind of sad…we were told to work in the garden not for our benefit but for his…the insistence that there should be some sort of commensurate compensation is pure Anglicanism, not scriptural…no wonder outsiders look on us and can’t distinguish us from the Catholics

  2. Love it – Thank you. I am struggling to integrate OT and NT. I fear losing the OT when I read NT, and I have feared these last 10 years as I have read OT in gory detail of losing my stimulus to read it (the epistle to the Hebrews – and the dialogue between father and son as take from the Psalms).

    I have a few things in OT that I perhaps understate, e.g. I avoid appeasement in my glosses, using ‘restful fragrance’ instead. It is part of my bias towards implications in the character of God. The אף to be appeased is human rather than divine. So I use ‘the sweat of your anger’ in Gen 3 in my reading.

  3. Very interesting, George. I’m thankful for your close reading of Scripture. Just to clarify: things like natural disasters and failed crops today are either a result of the world being ‘fallen’ or through human mistake or sin in farming?
    And do the curses on the man and the woman remain? Is it just the curse on the land that is lifted?

    • The only curse that is lifted is the one on the ground. The other curses seem to remain. The curse on the ground is specifically about it not yielding to human cultivation. It is a frustration of the mandate that God initially gave the man in the garden. God never mentions anything about earthquakes, tectonic movements, tsunamis, cyclones, or volcanic eruptions. So whether these events are the result of the fall or not is not something that I think Genesis answers.

      However, we can make a few peripheral observations. The fact that God commissions the man to tend the garden implies that it needed cultivation. The bearing of fruit also implies seasonal changes, which also implies withering and decay. And note also that the human couple only die after they are denied access to the tree of life. It’s so that they don’t live forever that they are expelled. There is never a suggestion than anything else lives forever.

      Furthermore, we might need to adjust what we see as “good.” Remember, Genesis never says that God created a “perfect” world, but a “good” one, and an undeveloped one. When God lectures Job from the whirlwind, he points to such things as his divine provision of prey for the predator, and sees it as a good thing. If that’s the case, then the natural phenomena, which we often call disasters when they encroach on human settlement, can be seen as natural and neutral—not as inherently bad.

      Human irresponsibility and error can bring adverse consequence in the environment. That seems to be a significant issue we face on the planet today. It’s a result of a flawed humanity. But whether we can see natural disasters as this is another question, on which we (certainly I) need to do more thinking.

  4. What do Abegg, Flint and Ulrich Have to Say about Cain and Abel in The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible?
    The Dead Sea Scrolls bible has for Genesis 4:2 (page 8); “[And a]gain [she] gave birth to his brother A[*bel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain wa]s a tiller of the ground.” It would seem at first sight, according to other biblical texts, that this is correct. The text “Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was” has been interpolated by the authors. (The square brackets [] indicating that the text was missing from the Scroll manuscript.) So the text could have been in the order “[*bel. And Cain was a keeper of flocks, but Abel wa]s a tiller of the ground.” Also Cain comes before Abel in the order of their births and the order of their offerings.

    Genesis 4:3,4 has: “3. And in the course of time C[ain] brought an offering to the Lord [*from the fruit of the ground.] 4. And Abel also brought of the first[*lings of his flock and their fat portions. And]” Again there are author’s interpolations for the missing text. The text about what Cain and Abel brought could have been in the order “3. And in the course of time C[ain] brought an offering to the Lord [*from the firstlings of his flock and their fat portions] 4. And Abel also brought of the first[*fruits of the ground.]” Also “offering” goes with the offering of an animal for sacrifice.

    I conclude that the missing text (identified with an * of verses 2,3 and 3,4) was neatly deleted by someone. The authors were then able to interpolate the missing text to match the other biblical accounts. I find it astonishing that the missing text of the original manuscript can be so deliberately manipulated. Why was the text missing at these four critical points of the text?


    What does Josephus Have to Say in Antiquities?

    -In his preface to Antiquities the editor of the writings attributed to Josephus (the original Antiquities were not written by Josephus) wrote: “However, those that have a mind to know the reasons of every thing, may find here a very curious philosophical theory, which I now indeed shall wave the explication of; but if God afford me time for it, I will set about writing it after I have finished the present work.” “A very curious philosophical theory” – I wonder what he was referring to! Did the writer ever explain this? And why did he defer the explanation? Did he explain it in terms of the so-called Jewish War? That would be the simplistic explanation probably adopted by most scholars. But was War propaganda for Vespasian? In which case, what was the real explanation for “a very curious philosophical theory”?

    The original writer attributes this part of Antiquities to Moses. Moses established the priests and the prophets. The writer thinks that Moses taught that God formed man out of dust from the ground and then gave man an animating spirit. God commanded Adam and Eve to take care of the plants. It seems that God was biased towards prophets who were agriculturalists. Adam and Eve lived happily in obedience to the commands that they received directly from God. God spoke by his Spirit. This was not a matter of obeying the written Law, but of obeying God’s Spirit. But they disobeyed the commands of God. Terms such as “soul”, “sin”, and “evil conscience” were later.

    Have you ever wondered why and when the story of Cain and Abel was written? Was the story about Cain and Abel derived from the conflict between priests and prophets? Was Antiquities originally written by a prophet? It has clearly been interfered with. Abel was meant to be a farmer, an agriculturalist, growing plants, not rearing/taming animals. Why do I say this? The text says of Abel that he brought as an offering “what grew naturally of its own accord”. Exactly the same is said of “Banus” in Life 2 – He “used no other clothing than grew upon trees, and had no other food than what grew of its own accord.” “Banus” was a strict vegetarian.

    So Cain must have reared animals (forcing the ground indeed!) and he brought one to sacrifice. The text plainly says that Cain offered sacrifice.

    After Cain murdered his “brother” Abel, God said that he “used to observe them conversing together”. I suggest that this was a prophet writing, recalling the time when priests and prophets talked to each other. God then pressed Cain, “as resolving to know what the matter was”. Cain replied, “he was not his brother’s guardian or keeper”, recalling the deep split between priests and prophets.

    Ant.1.1.2. “Moreover, Moses, after the seventh day was over begins to talk philosophically; and concerning the formation of man, says thus: That God took dust from the ground, and formed man, and inserted in him a spirit [and a soul].”

    Ant.1.1.3.”Moses says further, that God planted a paradise in the east, flourishing with all sorts of trees; and that among them was the tree of life, and another of knowledge, whereby was to be known what was good and evil; and that when he brought Adam and his wife into this garden, he commanded them to take care of the plants.”

    Ant.1.1.4.” God therefore commanded that Adam and his wife should eat of all the rest of the plants, but to abstain from the tree of knowledge; and foretold to them, that if they touched it, it would prove their destruction. But while all the living creatures had one language, at that time the serpent, which then lived together with Adam and his wife, shewed an envious disposition, at his supposal of their living happily, and in obedience to the commands of God; and imagining, that when they disobeyed them, they would fall into calamities, he persuaded the woman, out of a malicious intention, to taste of the tree of knowledge, telling them, that in that tree was the knowledge of good and evil; which knowledge, when they should obtain, they would lead a happy life; nay, a life not inferior to that of a god: by which means he overcame the woman, and persuaded her to despise the command of God. Now when she had tasted of that tree, and was pleased with its fruit, she persuaded Adam to make use of it also. Upon this they perceived that they were become naked to one another; and being ashamed thus to appear abroad, they invented somewhat to cover them; for the tree sharpened their understanding; and they covered themselves with fig-leaves; and tying these before them, out of modesty, they thought they were happier than they were before, as they had discovered what they were in want of. But when God came into the garden, Adam, who was wont before to come and converse with him, being conscious of his wicked behaviour, went out of the way. This behaviour surprised God; and he asked what was the cause of this his procedure; and why he, that before delighted in that conversation, did now fly from it, and avoid it. When he made no reply, as conscious to himself that he had transgressed the command of God, God said, “I had before determined about you both, how you might lead a happy life, without any affliction, and care, and vexation of [soul] {spirit}; and that all things which might contribute to your enjoyment and pleasure should grow up by my providence, of their own accord, without your own labour and pains-taking; which state of labour and pains-taking would soon bring on old age, and death would not be at any remote distance: but now thou hast abused this my good-will, and hast disobeyed my commands; for thy silence is not the sign of thy virtue, but of thy [evil conscience] {disobedience}.” However, Adam excused his [sin] {disobedience}, and entreated God not to be angry at him, and laid the blame of what was done upon his wife; and said that he was deceived by her, and thence became an offender; while she again accused the serpent. But God allotted him punishment, because he weakly submitted to the counsel of his wife; and said the ground should not henceforth yield its fruits of its own accord, but that when it should be harassed by their labour, it should bring forth some of its fruits, and refuse to bring forth others. Eve deceived by her spirit of deceit or darkness.

    Ant. ADAM and Eve had two sons: the elder of them was named Cain; which name, when it is interpreted, signifies a possession: the younger was Abel, which signifies sorrow. They had also daughters. Now the two brethren were pleased with different courses of life: for Abel, the younger, was a lover of righteousness; and believing that God was present at all his actions, he excelled in virtue; and his employment was that of a [shepherd] {farmer}. But Cain was not only very wicked in other respects, but was wholly intent upon getting; and he first contrived to [plough the ground] {rear/tame animals}. He slew his brother on the occasion following: – They had resolved to [sacrifice] {bring an offering} to God. Now [Cain] {Abel} brought the fruits of the earth, and of his husbandry; but [Abel] {Cain} brought milk, and the first-fruits of his flocks: but God was more delighted with the [latter oblation] {former offering}, when he was honoured with what grew naturally of its own accord, than he was with what was the invention of a covetous man, and gotten by [forcing the ground] {sacrificing an animal}; whence it was that Cain was very angry that Abel was preferred by God before him; and he slew his brother, and hid his dead body, thinking to escape discovery. But God, knowing what had been done, came to Cain, and asked him what was become of his brother, because he had not seen him of many days; whereas he used to observe them conversing together at other times. But Cain was in doubt with himself, and knew not what answer to give to God. At first he said that he was himself at a loss about his brother’s disappearing; but when he was provoked by God, who pressed him vehemently, as resolving to know what the matter was, he replied, he was not his brother’s guardian or keeper, nor was he an observer of what he did. But, in return, God convicted Cain, as having been the murderer of his brother; and said, “I wonder at thee, that thou knowest not what is become of a man whom thou thyself hast destroyed.” God therefore did not inflict the punishment of death upon him, on account of his offering sacrifice, and thereby making supplication to him not to be extreme in his wrath to him; but he made him accursed, and threatened his posterity in the seventh generation. He also cast him, together with his wife, out of that land. And when he was afraid that in wandering about he should fall among Wild beasts, and by that means perish, God bid him not to entertain such a melancholy suspicion, and to go over all the earth without fear of what mischief he might suffer from wild beasts; and setting a mark upon him, that he might be known, he commanded him to depart.

  5. Hi George, and thanks for an extremely stimulating suggestion! It has given me something to think about while I wait in the airport for my flight to arrive. I respectfully believe the ‘ground no longer cursed’ theory is wrong, and I’m putting my response into this comment. Hope that’s OK (or even possible, given its length!)

    The linchpin of the argument is the translation of Gen 8:21, and the crucial distinction between ‘I will never curse the ground again’ and ‘I no longer curse the ground.’ So I want to start with that verse, and then move from there to the wider context.

    The Hebrew idiom in question consists of the verb ysp (hiphil) followed by an infinitve and the adverb ‘wd. By itself the verb can mean ‘do again’, ‘continue to do’ or ‘do more’ (among other things), and when used negatively with the infinitive and the adverb there are three possibilities for translation:
    (1) ‘never [do] again’ (e.g. Exod 14:13; Deut 17:16; 18:16; 19:20; 26:68; 1Sam 7:13; 2Kgs 6:23);
    (2) ‘no longer [do]’ (e.g. 1Sam 7:23; 2Sam 2:28; 7:10);
    (3) either (1) or (2), i.e. the meaning is ambiguous (e.g. Judg 13:9; 2Sam 14:10; 2Kgs 24:7).
    A quick scan over the example verses shows that it is context that determines the meaning of the idiom in each case. ‘No longer’ is the response to something that is still being done right up to the present moment; ‘never again’ (the most common meaning) is the response to something that was done before in the past.

    On the face of it, Gen 8:21 is ambiguous, i.e. in group (3). Is the curse against the earth being thought of as something enacted in the past, and never to be re-enacted in the future, or something in force at present, but no longer to be in force from now on? Either is possible.

    This is an important observation, because it means that the ‘ground no longer cursed’ theory cannot be built on the meaning of this verse; rather, there is one way of translating this verse that makes the theory more probable.

    Next step: can we narrow down the likelihood of Gen 8:21 falling into category (1) or (2)? I think we can, because the identical grammatical construction is used a second time in the verse: ‘I will never again strike down every living creature’. This time there is no ambiguity; the prior act of striking down is over and done with, so it would be wrong to imagine God saying, ‘I will no longer strike down every living creature’. Now although this does not force us to read the first use of the construction in the same way, it is at least suggestive, especially considering that an unambiguous sense of ‘no longer’ could have been created by omitting the adverb ‘wd, as in Gen 4:12, where God says to Cain, ‘the ground shall no longer yield its strength to you’. The lack of ‘wd in that verse positively excludes the translation ‘never again’.

    To summarise: without some specific indication to translate differently, I believe the default meaning of Gen 8:21 must be, ‘the Lord said to himself, “I will never again curse the ground because of humanity”.’ Which leaves us to do two more things: look for specific indications for ‘ground no longer cursed’ in the wider context, and, if we fail to find them, ask what the verse might be saying instead.

    Here, then, are some very brief observations about the arguments made from Genesis 3–8 to support the ‘ground no longer cursed’ theory. Not all are equally relevant, but I think they are all worth mentioning.
    • God does not in fact issue a curse on the man or the woman in Genesis 3; he only curses the serpent and the ground.
    • The cursed ground will yield not only thorns and thistles, but also grain and other food crops (‘the herbage of the field’, Gen 3:18; cf. Gen 1:29-30). These crops are never mentioned in Gen 2:8-17, but only fruit growing on trees. The man was put into the garden to ‘work’ it, but such work was not toilsome; it involved no ploughing or weeding or harvesting.
    • The description of Gen 3:19, ‘by the sweat that runs down your nose your will eat bread’, aptly describes Cain’s working of cursed ground in Genesis 4, but what his labour produces is not thorns and thistles – his harvest was the crops (‘bread’ or ‘food’) that grew up along with the weeds. And Gen 4:3 extravagantly describes this harvest not as ‘herbage of the field’, but as ‘fruit of the ground’.
    • The naming of Cain before his grain offering in Gen 4:5 suggests that it was the offerer rather than the offering that God found despicable.
    • And don’t forget the above-mentioned ‘strength of the ground’ in Gen 4:12.
    • The idea that humanity just scraped by until after the flood, when the ground started to become fruitful for the first time, is hard to square with the utopian picture conveyed by Genesis 5, in which lifespans were so long that Adam lived to see a ninth generation of humanity come into the world. Admittedly, the genealogies of Genesis 4 reference nomadic herding rather than sedentary agriculture, but they also describe the thriving culture of the city.
    • Finally, the reference to the ground-no-longer-cursed in Gen 8:21 is linked by the mention of humanity’s evil heart to Gen 6:5, not Gen 3:17-19. In other words, it forms a bracket around the flood narrative, and invites us to search for an explanation of its meaning in the Flood, not the Fall.

    So finally, then, here is an alternative suggestion for the meaning of Gen 8:21. My suggestion begins from the observation that the verb used for cursing (qll) is not the same as the verb used in Genesis 3 (’rr). The only other times qll is used in the Primeval Narratives are in Gen 8:8, 11, where it describes the receding of the waters. Given the love of the author of these narrative for word-play, I wonder if there is an intentional connection being made.

    The basic idea of the verb qll is lightness, or insignificance. Used intensively (as in Gen 8:21) this verb declares the ground to be insignificant, or contemptible. Used normally (as in Gen 8:8, 11) it describes the waters as being light on the ground, or low in level. After God remembers Noah the waters begin to recede, until finally they have ‘become light’ or lifted from the earth, and the dove is able to bring back an olive leaf. In Gen 8:21 God says he will not ‘make light of’ the ground again. The parallel is not very elegant, to be sure, but it is enough to remind the reader of the floodwaters, which only ‘became light’ as a result of God remembering Noah.

    Even if this word-play fails to convince, a reference to the curse on the ground caused by the flood seems far more likely than a reference to Genesis 3. Quite apart from the Gen 6:5 inclusio, this interpretation turns the parallel clause in Gen 8:21b into a genuine parallel – God promises never again to punish an earth populated by sinful humans, and never again to destroy every living thing: the collateral damage, so to speak, of his judgment on the human race.

    Anyway, that is my far more than two bob’s worth!

    • Andrew, thank you so much for engaging with this at such depth, even at the airport (let me guess… Gate A18?). I always learn from you, and for that I’m profoundly grateful.

      I’m in agreement with many of your points, including the possibilities for translating the idiom of Gen 8:21. However, I don’t see that your reasoning excludes the lifting of the curse from Gen 3. Yes, there certainly is a parallelism within Gen 8:21 between the curse on the ground and not striking all life, and the reference to the evil intent of the human heart is clearly an allusion back to Gen 6:5. Clearly God has the effects of the flood in mind. But if God will not treat the ground like this again, and yet he leaves the curse from Gen 3 in place, there is a curbing to the scope of God’s resolve here. It’s like he’s left himself a wily loophole: “Look, I won’t ever flood the ground like this, but I’m leaving that curse in place.” I don’t think this is in keeping with the intent of the verse in its context.

      The emergence of Noah from the ark as a veritable new creation. The “flood” is an act of “uncreation.” So while God lifts the effects of the flood in Gen 8:21, it is also a new beginning. Once again the earth is sodden (cf. Gen 2:6, and God renews its potential. Not that it’s not just the ארץ, but more specifically the אדמה that God focuses on here. As God had brought forth a man from the sodden earth (Gen 2:7), so he brings forth Noah. Noah therefore “begins” to be a man of the ground (אדמה) by planting, in parallel to the man in the garden (though it’s God who does the planting there and the man does the cultivating). And hey presto, the ground works properly again! As good as gold (or evidently a nice red!).

      Noah’s parents (and ancestors) lived with utter frustration in their relationship to the ground, as their wish about their son expresses. They do not merely want rest from work, but from the curse. And this comes with their son, who is righteous enough not to be swept away with the rest of humanity, and offers Yahweh an appeasing sacrifice after the flood.

      The curse of Gen 3 does not imply that humans could not work the ground, but that it would be damn hard work. Yes, they could get bread from their efforts, but this was going to be slavish and exhausting work, as Noah’s parents knew. The reward was not commensurate with their efforts. After the flood, though, this changes, and God issues blessings once more. “Seedtime and harvest” now work (Gen 8:22).

      So I go with you much of the way, but see Gen 8:21 as having thematic and logical implications that mean God is lifting the curse of Gen 3 here.

      We may disagree over this, but I’m glad we can do so with mutual respect and in the common purpose of trying to understand the scriptures.

      I hope the flight back was comfortable.

  6. Hi George – well the curse on the ground was lifted but those thistles, thorns and weeds remained! That’s ok, keeps me employed.
    On the Romans 8 passage, I’ve read that to refer to the curse on creation as a whole – this decay and aimlessness I think can be seen in a few ways, mainly the scientific law of entropy, ie all things naturally go from order to chaos (great example is gene degradation, slowly but surely happening in all living things). Another example is the law of thermodynamics, the universe is heading towards heat death ie all energy will eventually reach a state where it’s unusable.
    On a somewhat unrelated note, read last week that an American Rabbi wrote a piece last week on how Genesis 3 represents the first example of female abuse – by God no less!
    Thanks for the good work.

  7. George I’ve enjoyed this article, so much so that I will be basing my bible study this week on the verses you have raised (hope you don’t mind). I’m not a theologian, but I have to say Genesis 9:20-21 illustrate to me an abundance from blessed soil. I see Noah sitting back, surveying his flourishing vineyard and enjoying his wine to drunkenness; and it’s a picture of pure, peaceful pleasure. It’s a temporary pleasure sure, but it’s a contrast to the toilsomeness of scratching out a miserable living.Thank you, I’ve been inspired to look around in wonder and appreciate the glorious beauty which truly reflects the generous and loving nature of our awesome God.

  8. It seemed that Cain had a sin problem (or sin- offering) as to why his offering was not accepted. Additionally, Abel brought the first born as an offering. If the issue at hand was entrepreneurial, then offering a firstborn makes no sense.

  9. Great read thank you 🙂 Perhaps the ground acted as a sort of atonement. The ground was cursed instead of man- until the ground could no longer hold man’s sins. Genesis 6:13. The entire Earth needed baptism. Then Noah built an altar and sacrificed one of each clean animal. It was a sweet savor to the Lord – a distinct change. At that point we read about a new thing – blood atonement 9:4. And, also interesting, from adam to noah man ate nothing but 3:18-19 herb….bread. No fruit veggies meat. Only until the curse is lifted off the ground can man now eat fruit veggies meat. Its just a curious un-understandable part to me 🙂 Victory in Christ our Lord Jesus 🌈

  10. What is the possibility that God is reversing his “further” curse on the sin of Cain? He told Adam the ground would yield fruit along with thorns and thistles, but he told Cain the ground would not yield its strength and ONLY thorns and thistles. Many places in Scripture include a localized judgement of crops “you plant x and only get y in return”– not getting return for your effort. On the other hand God promises to bless the work of the hands of the righteous. The writer of Genesis seems to contrast Noah (which means “rest,” a word that is repeated throughout the narrative– the Ark came to rest, the dove found a place to rest, God smelled a “smell of rest”) with Cain (who represents restless wandering– the meaning of Nod.) Cain was cut off from God’s presence, sent from his place, and lacking God’s blessing on the work of his hands. I feel like it’s possible that Noah brought rest from the excessive violence and “further” curse of barrenness brought about by a thouroughly wicked humanity and returned the earth to a state where the sweat of your brow could get more return on investment! The logic of this thinking is not fullproof, though, in that Genesis does not specifically say God cursed the ground in regards to Cain, but that He cursed Cain.

    • Yes, absolutely. The curse on Cain is that he will live trapped by the curse on the ground. But by the time we get to Noah, Cain has presumably passed on, and so the specificity of the curse on him is no longer an issue. The lifting of the curse on the ground after the flood, though, effectively lifts the curse on Cain, even though it was no longer active. We might say that the curse was lifted de jure, even though it had de facto ceased when Cain died.

  11. Dear George,

    kindly help me with your mail id. Over the years I struggled a lot with many problems including sicknesses and still continuing the same. I believed that god has helped, saved, redeemed me. However some of the questions impacted my faith and lost trust on God. I did my own research as Quest for Truth but ended up in confusion due to too many explanations. I read the above article and some of the points are really making some sense to me. So I am requesting you to help me with those questions. my mail is you can mail me, if you do not want to share your mail with everybody here

  12. Really enjoyed this article! Thanks. I was researching Genesis 3:17 and looking closely at the word cursed. In its usage in this passage, it can also be read as “reviled” or “speak ill of“ or “execrate” that is “to utterly detest”. So, is it therefore possible that the ground outside of Eden was so poor that Adam and his descendants considered and deemed it as cursed? Did Adam in fact revile it and detest working in it compared to the soils of Eden? I highly recommend this paper, found here:…hmm

    Is it possible that God did NOT curse or change the soil outside of Eden but that in fact — it was already subpar? And were the thorn and thistle plant types and seeds already predominant in the soils outside of Eden? They weren’t created anew as cursed things by God because of Adam’s sin but these plants each were simply going to interfere with Adam growing his food to eat. Adam of course would revile and curse them when they thrived while his food crops would require great effort to grow and tend.

    • Thanks for your thoughts. It’s a bit hard to know for certain what the narrative has in mind. It appears to imply that the world generally is a muddy mess, with Eden the paradisiacal exception—a botanical oasis in a deserted world of dirt. Note that the beginning of the narrative states that no vegetation had yet sprouted (Gen 2:5) when Yahweh God planted the garden in Eden. So it’s entirely possible that the world into which the man and the woman are expelled is entirely barren. In any case, the idea of curse is about a change in status, not a confirmation of status. That is, God’s words change the function of the ground, so that it doesn’t yield vegetation and food in the normal way, but rather produces thorns and thistles primarily. This, however, is overturned after the flood, so that the earth begins to function in the normal, natural way, with which we are familiar. That is, the lifting of the curse changes the function of the ground again. Proof of this comes when Noah plants a vineyard and it yields some pretty vibrant grapes.

  13. I suggest that text must be rather interpreted in the light of whole scripture….I refer to Romans 8: 20-24 The whole creation groans….to be delivered from the bondage of corruption….
    20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.
    23 Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.
    24 For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?

    Also match this passage with other passages of the Scriptures
    -Genesis 3:17-19: “The ground is cursed because of you. You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.
    Number 33:55b….. those whom you let remain of them will become as pricks in your eyes and as thorns in your sides, and they will trouble you in the land in which you live.
    Isiah 5:5-6….But briars and thorns will come up. I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.
    Isaiah 7:23-25 a
    …And it will come about in that day, that every place where there used to be a thousand vines, valued at a thousand shekels of silver, will become briars and thorns.
    Hebrews 6:7-8
    For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.
    Matthew 7:16
    You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?
    Mark 4:18-19
    And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
    Proverbs 22:5
    Thorns and snares are in the way of the perverse;
    He who guards himself will be far from them.

    The scripture uses the condition of the earth as a picture with condition of man’s corruption in sin.

    Revelation…the new heaven and new earth-this is part of the promise of redemption in CHRIST.

    Redemption of the people of GOD whom CHRIST paid as ransomed on the cross includes the redemption of HIS creation being subjected and still under corruption.

    • Good to collect these verses, but the danger is that these verses are then taken out of their own contexts and made to align with something from a completely different context. It’s a bit like taking individual sentences from multiple newspaper articles, ranging in subject from politics to sport, finance to weather, and then trying to discern a common thread to them all. The danger is we misunderstand the original intent of the original articles. It’s the same with mustering all these verses. Yes, they are all scripture, but they each have an integrity in their own context, which can be compromised when we flatten them out by corralling them all into one paddock, as it were. We miss each context, the rhetoric of each individual author, and theological development that occurs through history.

      • The whole scripture is centered in CHRIST and HIS finished work at the cross with the redemption of the HIS people and HIS creation being subjected to judgement and corruption due to sin. The evidence of the curse are thorns and thistle as the verse says…If the curse is already gone….then many passages as mentioned still mentioned thorns and thistle.

        Again, the verse cannot be viewed and interpreted on its own rather….I suggest that text must be rather interpreted in the light of whole scripture….Romans 8: 20-24 The whole creation groans….to be delivered from the bondage of corruption….

        If there is no more curse and corruption, why scripture mentiones so much about and reference of thorns and thistle?

        • No argument about Scripture leading to Christ. But you assume that all those verses mentioning thorns and thistles or curses are all talking literally about Gen 3. This is imposing a context on them that is not their own. You don’t need an ongoing curse on the ground to speak rhetorically with the same imagery. If I say, “I have a dream…” and proceed to tell you that I want a bicycle for Christmas, it would be a mistake to think that I was talking about the civil rights movement and that all African-Americans want bicycles today. Mentioning thorns and thistles does not a priori refer to Gen 3, even though Gen 3 uses that imagery.

      • Thorn and briars…..on sin prevalence through out generations
        Isaiah 32:11-15
        Tremble, you women who are at ease;
        Be troubled, you complacent daughters;
        Strip, undress and put sackcloth on your waist,
        Beat your breasts for the pleasant fields, for the fruitful vine,
        For the land of my people in which thorns and briars shall come up;
        Yea, for all the joyful houses and for the jubilant city.

        Luke 8:14
        The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity.

        Another judgement that earth on the account of sin will be burned up:
        2 Peter 3:10 New King James Version
        10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.

        CHRIST’s coming like the day of Noah
        Matthew 24:37-39 King James Version
        37 But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
        38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark,
        39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

        I suggest that the verse….”Gen 8:21  And the LORD smelled a sweet savour; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done”…the focus is not the ground is no longer curse…rather the focus the plan of GOD in CHRIST on redemption of HIS people and HIS creation on the account of man’s sin (the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth) and its effect to HIS creation that HE subjected to be cursed and be corrupted….This is the reason of the new heaven and new earth.

          • If there is no curse on the ground due to sin…..then this verses will rather be clearly understand in just plain Words of the Scripture (Deutronomy 28:1-6….then vs 15-19)

            If you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. (Deut. 28:1-6)

            God adds that if his people keep his Word, he will bless them— in the city and the country, when they rise up and lie down. God will bless them in the kitchen, the bedroom, and the living room. He will bless their fields, their goats, their sheep, and their cows. If they keep his Word, their lives will be nothing but an experience of divine benediction and blessedness. But God goes on to say:

            If you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or to be care­ful to do all his commandments and his statues that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field. Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out. (vv. 15-19)

            ….Curse shall be the fruit of your womb……and the fruit of the your ground….

            I suggest….kindly to search carefully the whole scripture on the curse of the ground…most likely I recommend to read of the puritans and the reformers…and reflect the effects of sin….the crown of thorn of the LORD JESUS CHRIST

            • These verses from Deut are directed to Israel and their life in the land of Canaan under the specific terms of the national covenant. It is not a universal decree about how all the earth functions at all times. I kindly ask you to consider closely the context. Furthermore, it assumes the normal function of agriculture and farming. Israel’s covenantal obedience in Deut sees the continued proper function of the ground (blessing), that is of the land of Canaan in the possession of Israel. Israel’s covenantal disobedience leads to, among other things, drought (curse). The land of Canaan is not in a perpetual state of curse, but rather is a good land that produces well—enormous grapes amongst other things, according to Numbers, despite the sinfulness of the inhabitants. Curse is a dynamic for warning Israel of its own covenantal disobedience. It is imposed for their disobedience. It is not a universal phenomenon for all the earth and all people. And since the national covenant has come to an end with a new covenant in Christ, who bore the curse of the Law, the dynamics of the national covenant no longer apply to the land of Canaan or the people of Israel.

              I suggest kindly that you consider carefully the context of the scriptures. Allow each book and its authors to say what they want to say on their own terms, rather than conforming them to a preconceived notion that flattens them out. The Bible is not like a computer code, but rather a collection of several books from several authors over several centuries of history and theological development. I agree it all leads to Jesus Christ, but this does not mean contexts can be overlooked, or that terminology and imagery have singular fixed denotations like computer code. It’s language and rhetoric with all their vibrancy and multivalency in differing contexts.

              • As you think that If GOD removed the curse of the ground…then you will observed also through the whole scripture …then today…that the mist from the ground will be also returned by GOD…..but no rain is the source of water.
                Genesis 2:4-6 NKJV
                4 This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, 5 before any plant of the field was in the earth and before any herb of the field had grown. For the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; 6 but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground.

                After GOD destroyed the earth due to sin by flood with the rain. Then after which rain is the source of water for mans tilling the curse ground, with thorns and thistle….wilderness with no water…even at the time of CHRIST during temptation (Matthew 4) and to the samaritan woman (John 4)….CHRIST is the Living Water . This is what you observe even today till the promise in Romans 8:21

                If GOD removed the curse of the ground …the mist should have been returned with no rain…but checll all the verses in the scripture about the rain and rainbow as remembrance of man on the account of the entrance of sin. Like the verses below:

                1 Kings 8:35
                “When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you, if they pray toward this place and acknowledge your name and turn from their sin, when you afflict them,

                Deuteronomy 11:17
                Then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the LORD is giving you.

                All of the verses on rain and curse ground with thorn and thistles coincide with Romans 8:21…and like the samaritan woman….will lead man to seek CHRIST the living water….

                curse of the ground include all disaster in the ground…including floods, erosion, baren, unproductive lands… remind man of the entrance of sin ….and for man to seek redemption only in HIM (CHRIST) who can command to calm the sea, the wind, waters …or allow man to suffer for glory in HIM according to HIS plan and purposes until HIS comming.

                • I did not completely follow the logic of what you said. However, there are some factual errors in what you present. I’ll point out just one and then finish this conversation.

                  The flood does not destroy the earth with rain. That is, the flood of Gen 6–9 is not brought by clouds. Rather, if you look closely at the Hebrew text, it says that the sluice gates of the vault in the sky and the springs of the deep on the earth were opened and water poured forth to flood the earth. It was a case of water above the sky and water below the earth merging in a complete watery cataclysm. There were no clouds or mists, but rather an act of uncreation.

                  Again, I urge you to consider the texts and contexts of scripture more closely.

                  All the best!

  14. Thanks for the article! I have a question regarding the Hebrew. The Hebrew word for curse in Genesis 3 אָרַר (ārar) and the Hebrew word in Genesis 8 קָלַל
    (qālal) seem to imply different things. I was hoping you could clarify this, as your argument is contingent on the “curse” being lifted, but if the curse in Genesis 8 is referring to the flood this this would be contradictory to your argument.

    I look forward to reading your thoughts!

    • The words are synonyms, and don’t “imply different things.” The flood is not a curse, but rather an act of uncreation. It’s of a different magnitude. A curse is something you live with. The flood is something you die in. So the synonyms don’t prohibit the argument in any way.

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