3:17 unto Adam. The full force of the Curse fell on Adam, as the responsible head of the human race, and on all his dominion. Instead of believing God’s Word, Adam had “hearkened to the voice of his wife,” and she had been beguiled by the voice of the serpent. It is always a fatal mistake to allow the words of any creature to take precedence over the Word of God.
3:17 cursed is the ground. The “ground” is the same word as “earth.” The very elements of matter, out of which all things had been made, were included in the Curse, so that the “whole creation” (Romans 8:22) was brought under bondage to a universal principle of “corruption” (literally “decay”–Romans 8:21). That is, all things had been built up by God from the basic elements of matter (“the dust of the earth”), but now they would all begin to decay back to the dust again. The curse evidently applies to the entire physical cosmos, as well as to the planet Earth, though it is possible that the decay principle operating in the stars and the other planets may relate also to the prior sin of the angelic “host of heaven.”
3:17 for thy sake. The curse was not only a punishment for man’s disobedience but also a provision for man’s good, forcing him to recognize the seriousness of his sin, to realize the folly of trusting anyone but his Creator, and his inability to save himself from destruction. This would encourage him to a state of true repentance toward God and to trust in God to save him. Analogously, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which is the modern scientific statement of this decay principle (see notes on Genesis 1:1), though pointing toward an ultimate death of the universe, at the same time points back to a primeval creation and therefore compels men to look toward the Creator as its only possible Savior.
3:18 thistles. It seems unlikely that God actually created thorns and thistles at this time. More probably, He allowed the beneficent processes and structures He had made previously, all of which were “very good” initially, to deteriorate in varying degrees, some even becoming harmful to man and to each other. There exists now a host of systems in nature (disease, bacteria, viruses, parasites, fangs and claws, weeds and poisons, etc.) which reflect a state of conflict, predation, and struggle for existence in the plant and animal kingdoms, as well as in human life, all of which seems, at first, to be inconsistent with the concept of an ideal creation. In the physical world there are storms and earthquakes, extremes of heat and cold, weathering and disintegration, and many other unpleasant phenomena. There is still need for research to understand the mechanisms by which this change of state from the perfect creation was brought about. In plants and animals, beneficent structures may either have mutated to malevolent structures or else have been replaced through natural selection by recessive characteristics, coded into the genetic system by God at the time of creation in anticipation of the future environmental changes that might be necessitated if Adam used his freedom wrongfully.
These systems and processes now maintain a balance of nature and so are indirectly beneficial in maintaining life on a cursed earth, even though individual organisms all eventually die. Had the Fall and Curse not taken place, populations would probably have eventually been stabilized at optimum values by divine constraints on the reproductive process. With God’s personal presence withdrawn for a time, however, it is more salutary to maintain order by these indirect constraints associated with the Curse, adding still further to the testimony that the world is now travailing in pain, awaiting its coming Redeemer.
3:19 sweat of thy face. The Curse on Adam had four main aspects: (1) sorrow, because of the futility of endless struggle against a hostile environment; (2) pain, signified by the thorns; (3) sweat, or tears, the “strong crying” occasioned by the labor necessary to maintain life and hope; and (4) eventual physical death in spite of all his efforts, returning back to the dust.
But Christ, as the second Adam, has borne the curse for us (Galatians 3:13), as the “man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3), wearing the thorns and suffering the greatest pain (Mark 15:17), acquired by strong crying (Hebrews 5:7) to sweat as it were drops of blood before being finally brought into the dust of death (Psalm 22:15). And because He so suffered for us, once again someday God will dwell with men, and “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain” (Revelation 21:4). Indeed there shall be “no more curse” (Revelation 22:3).
3:19 dust thou art. The Curse thus applies to man and woman, to the animals and to the physical elements, God’s whole creation. It is so universal as to have been discovered and recognized empirically as a general scientific law, the law of increasing entropy (“in-turning”). This famous Second Law of Thermodynamics is sometimes also called the law of morpholysis (“loosing of structure”). It expresses the universal tendency for systems to decay and become disordered, for energy to be converted into forms unavailable for further work, for information to become confused, for the new to become worn, for the young to become old, for the living to die, even for whole species to become extinct. One of the most amazing anomalies of human thought is that the concept of evolution, which has never been observed in action scientifically and is exactly the opposite of the universally proved scientific principle of increasing entropy. This theory is nevertheless believed to be the most fundamental principle of nature by almost the entire intellectual establishment!