The first chapter of the Bible firmly establishes that God is distinct from the material things that make up the universe. He is not the universe, or the world, or nature, not only that but He is over these things. He created them, He ordered them, and He gave them purpose. To a people, like Israel, who were struggling with the harsh reality of things like weather patterns, the ever-present danger of failed crops, natural disasters, and even predatory animals, God being over all likely brought comfort. It was important for them to know what kind of God they were serving. And Genesis 1 let them know.
Just as the Spirit of God is said to have hovered over the waters of creation in Genesis 1:2, so God reigns even over the physical waters of the world. Water, as we still know today, is both devastatingly unpredictable and dangerous, and painfully necessary, lifegiving and sustaining. It is easy to see why water represented chaos in the ancient Mesopotamian and Near Eastern cultures that Israel came from. And the message of Genesis 1 is clear, God is even the master of chaos, He is over all.
Genesis 1 also lays out the purpose of mankind: to be rulers over God’s creation. We were made to be images of God, yet not God ourselves. We were to rule the earth in God’s place, according to His will, this was what He wanted for us. Genesis 2 however, lays down some clarification, there was a rule. Even though this rule was simple, don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it is also profound. This rule created a choice for mankind: Would they be content to be rulers of creation under the authority of God, or would they need to cast off His moral constraint, would they need to become their own authority, their own God?
To be under God’s authority meant, safety, provision, and life. The garden was lush, safe––food and life were guaranteed. To cast off His authority and eat from the tree meant the exact opposite––death. We see this consequence more fully displayed and explained in Genesis 3. When Eve and Adam choose to try to become like God and eat from the tree, they become aware of their nudity, they now realise their vulnerability, protection isn’t the default condition of humanity anymore, life isn’t assured, and then in fear they hide from God. They have lost their security, safety, and comfort. What was once safety and protection, has become vulnerability and fear.
Next comes God’s description of how life would now be. To Eve, God outlines how painful childbirth will now be for women. Up until modern advances of medicine, childbirth was a leading cause of death for women. As a result of Eve’s choice, to give birth to new life would guarantee some death. Birth became a risky business. New life was now nerve-wracking, it was dangerous and uncertain. Added to this, the male female relationship would now be tainted in some way. Life had become death.
“By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
To Adam, God describes how man’s efforts to ensure food for themselves would be painfully laborious. Not just in hard work but in the inevitability that sometimes all the right work would be done and still what would come from the fields would be thorns and thistles. Hard work that should bring life sustaining food would sometimes reap only death. A failed crop, for any reason, meant death. This is, perhaps, what we should take from the phrase, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food” that farming would now bring great anxiety, nervous sweat, waiting to see if the crops materialize, waiting to see if they will live for another season or starve.
Physical death is also referenced, Adam and Eve are banned from the garden, from their place of guaranteed provision, protection, and life. The Garden is now protected from them, by a Cherubim with a sword. The tragedy and futility of human life is explained in the phrase “from dust you came and to dust you shall return” The ground was supposed to receive seed and produce food for mankind but now it will receive their dead bodies, this symbolism wasn’t lost on the apostle Paul who speaks of our physical bodies being a type of seed that will change and grow into our final physical bodies on the day of the resurrection from the dead.
Back to the point, mankind did not just loose immortality when they sinned against God. They went from creatures endowed with property and position, creatures with guaranteed harvest, protection, and relationship to vulnerable, dysfunctional, and homeless beings. Beings who would need to struggle to create all these things anew. Purpose and provision had turned into survival and fear.
Corie Bobechko is a daily co-host, speaker, and writer of Bible Discovery. She also hosts a YouTube channel that shows how history and archaeology prove the Bible. Her heart for seekers and skeptics has led her to seek truth and share it with others. Corie also has a Bachelor of Theology from Canada Christian College.