17 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, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
cursed is the ground (v.17) — The word “ground” is the same as the word for “earth,” referring to the basic material of the physical world.
Thus, the entire “creation was made subject to vanity.” The earth began to “wax old, as doth a garment” and ultimately “shall perish” (Hebrews 1:10-12). Since all flesh is made of the earth’s physical elements, it also is subject to the law of decay and death and as “grass, withereth … and falleth away” (1 Peter 1:24). It is universal experience that all things, living or nonliving, eventually wear out, run down, grow old, decay, and pass into the dust. — Morris, page 126
The curse on man himself was fourfold: (1) sorrow, resulting from continual disappointment and futility; (2) pain and suffering, signified by the “thorns” which intermittently hinder man in his efforts to provide a living for his family; (3) sweat, or tears, the “strong crying” of intense struggle against a hostile environment; and finally (4) physical death, which would eventually triumph over all man’s efforts, with the structure of his body returning to the simple elements of the earth.
But Christ, as Son of Man and second Adam, has been made the cures for us (Galatians 3:13). He was the “man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3); acquainted more with grief than any other man, He was wounded, bruised, and chastised for us (Isaiah 53:5), and indeed wore the very thorns of the curse as His crown (Mark 15:17); in the agony of His labor, He sweat as it were drops of blood (Luke 22:44), and “offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears” (Hebrews 5:7). And, finally, God brought Him into the “dust of death” (Psalm 22:15).
Therefore, because He bore all the curse Himself for us, once again the dwelling of God shall someday be with men and “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4). “And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it: and his servants shall serve Him” (Revelation 22:3). — Morris, page 127.
Adam’s chastisement is essentially identical to that of Eve, consisting of both a psychological component—namely, the specific desire to “master” the other, as already pronounced in v. 16—and a physical component—namely, the specific experience of toil, which is in fact the same word used in v. 16 to describe the increased “pain” of the woman’s childbirth (and which may otherwise be translated “hard labor”). These intentional parallels between the chastisements applied to the man and to the woman serve to underscore the point that, despite their differing roles and responsibilities, the way in which God chastises the sin of children—whether male or female—is essentially the same, reflective of the fact that He is equally concerned for the restoration and ultimate “good” (i.e., that which is best) of each one. — Wechsler, page 109.
The physical death to which God refers in the last line of v. 19—”and to dust you shall return”—does not represent the still further chastisement of Adam being made mortal, for Eve—to whom no such statement is made—likewise eventually dies, and from v.22, in any event, it is clear that “immortality” was not part of their created nature, but in fact a quality conveyed by the tree of life. By this statement, therefore, God is simply indicating the endpoint of man’s life of hard toil—i.e., strictly physical death, or the “first” death—which is the inevitable consequence of being restricted from the tree of life. By the same token we see that it is the unrestricted access to this same tree of life—which appears again not surprisingly, in the New Jerusalem (i.e., the New Eden), in Revelation 22:2—that enables the redeemed children of God to live, as they were meant, in a fixed state of “incorruptibility” (i.e., sinlessness) for all eternity. —
I really like the connection Morris makes between the curse delivered to Adam and the suffering of Christ who took our curse upon Himself. The parallels are unarguable and comforting.