New Defender's Study Bible Notes
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.