This is Part 2 of a three-part series on Is the Ground Still Cursed Today? If you have not already, please read Part 1 as the arguments in this part are supportive of the conclusions of Part 1.As stated at the end of Part 1, not everyone agrees with the interpretation that the ground is no longer cursed today. Seven arguments follow which support why this is the most probable interpretation as the author’s intended meaning.
1. Never Again
In what circumstance does someone say that he “will never again” do something? Is it not after he has seen the results of some prior action, and deemed it not exactly pleasing or accomplishing what he initially intended? In the case of cursing the ground, would God say he will “never again curse the ground because of man” if the ground were still under his original curse? No. God can only say this in a context of having already removed the curse, via the flood.
Thinking about this logically, which of the following two options makes the most sense?
- With the curse removed – God says, “I will never again curse the ground.”
- With the curse still in effect – God says, “I will never again curse the ground.”
Clearly, the first option makes sense. The second option is illogical. Many try to reinterpret God’s proclamation that he really meant he was not going to add to the curse. But this interpretation must be rejected as it has no grounds contextually or in the Hebrew text. In email correspondence with a world-renowned biblical scholar of ancient Hebrew, I asked about the Hebrew grammar of Genesis 8:21, specifically, if it can be interpreted in a way to mean God is really saying that he will not add anymore to an existing curse on the ground. The scholar responded by saying, “The commentators who interpret the redundant עוד to refer to possible future additional cursing are mistaken.”
God’s other decision bolsters his first decision to end the curse and declare he will never do it again: “Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.” The author shows God making decisions of his sovereign governance of humanity and the world. God eliminates from his rulership the options of ever cursing the ground again and the fear of God killing everyone again with another flood.
2. Non-order, Order, and Disorder1
In the beginning, God forms/creates the world out of its state of non-order (water over the entire earth, nothing formed). Non-order is the state where nothing has been ordered yet or assigned its function. After God creates the earth and sets everything as he designed and called “good,” the earth is now in a state of order (though some level of non-order was still present and to be worked out by humans fulfilling God’s purposes for them). Humans (or other beings) introduce disorder into an ordered world by disrupting the design and function of what was ordered. Sin brings disorder. Adam’s sin is a form of disorder because it goes against what God had previously ordered and intended for him.
The curse on the ground producing thorns and thistles is a form of intentional disorder or non-order that God imposes on the ground as a punishment for Adam’s sin. It is meant as a punitive yet corrective measure. After the flood, which is a move back to non-order like in the beginning, God returns the world to a functional, ordered state (Genesis 8:22). This means removing the curse on the ground, which is both a form of non-order and disorder not present either in the beginning non-order or after God ordered the world. God’s own words indicate that the curse on the ground is removed in movement from disorder to non-order, and then back to order. God’s covenant with Noah is a covenant of re-creation. The only physical disorder that remains is that which applies to the physical bodies of Adam, Eve, and the snake, as God did not bring them to extinction and then recreate them.
The imposed non-order/disorder of the curse on the ground no longer serves a purpose. God reasons to himself that cursing the ground did not work to quell human sin, and therefore he will never curse the ground again: “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21). God fulfills Noah’s birth prophecy by having ended the curse on the ground. The relief about which Lamech spoke has now come to pass.
3. Noah Becomes a Man of the Ground
After God says he will never again curse the ground because of man, Noah decides to become a man of the ground:
Noah began to be a man of the ground, and he planted a vineyard. (Genesis 9:20)2
This is quite striking as the word choice is the Hebrew adamah, which means “ground.” This new beginning contrasts nicely with when God previously curses the ground. Like many of the parallels between the renewed creation of the flood event and the beginning of creation, we find another in Noah’s decision to become a man of the ground.
The narrator is bringing everything full circle and ringing that bell once again concerning all things adamah. The ground goes from not being cursed, to being cursed, to not being cursed, and when Noah sees that the ground is no longer cursed, he decides to become a man of the ground and plant a vineyard. This infers that Noah previously was not a man of the ground when the ground was cursed. If the ground were still cursed after the flood, this is probably the last thing Noah would decide to become. And the narrative text would not highlight it, either.
After the flood and the lifted curse, Noah finds that the ground is no longer unfavorable for working. It should also be noted that the section detailing Noah becoming a man of the ground is from the same source (the J source) that details all the cursed ground narratives3; this storyline is deliberate—the narrator is showing that the curse is gone.
4. No other Cursed Ground References
After God declares he will never again curse the ground because of man, nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible or New Testament do we hear of any kind of lamentation due to a cursed ground. No one laments like Lamech did because of the painful work of tending the ground among thorns and thistles gone wild (Genesis 5:29). Further, we do not hear of any specific comment on the ground being cursed. No later writer quotes Genesis 3:17-18 or tries to use the specific concept of a cursed ground for any doctrinal or theological point. There is simply silence on the subject. The reason is, of course, because there is no longer a curse on the ground.
Revelation 22:3 is not a specific reference to the cursed ground:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it [in the city], and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:1-5)
At best, “No longer will there be anything accursed” may be interpreted generally to refer to the state of holiness where God now lives among his people, and sin and death are no more. God brings about a completely new heaven and new earth (the first heaven and earth passed away), and now no longer will things be accursed as the entire dynamic has changed (Revelation 21:1). “Nothing unclean will ever enter [the city], nor anyone who does what is detestable or false” (Revelation 21:27). The old order of things has passed away, where cursing was a punitive option of God’s wrath. But his wrath is finished because sin with its wage of death is finished (Revelation 21:4). Accursed things are no longer an option in the new creation; they are no longer an applicable possibility.
5. Authorial Intent: the J Source
When we look at how the literary sources are working behind the text of Genesis Chapters 2-8, it is evident that the final editor of these chapters inserted Lamech’s birth prophecy (Genesis 5:29) of Noah into the genealogy where there was initially none:
This verse appears to have been added to this Book of Records list. This source’s pattern does not include giving origins of names anywhere else; like P, it never calls the deity by the name YHWH but only uses Elohim in Genesis; and the cursing on the ground comes from J. Either this verse came from J and was moved to this spot by the Redactor, or else it was written by the Redactor as part of the uniting of the sources in the flood story. 4
The overwhelming point here is that the final editor (Redactor) included Lamech’s birth prophecy here because he is specifically and intentionally telling the story of how Noah brought relief from the curse on the ground for all mankind. All the cursing on the ground narratives come from the J source. J is the one who tells the story of how the ground becomes cursed, and how it is lifted. So, whether J wrote Lamech’s birth prophecy and the final editor placed it here, or whether the final editor wrote it and put it here in keeping with J’s cursed ground narrative, the authorial intent is to show that relief from the curse is forthcoming. Indeed, it finds its fulfillment in Genesis 8:20-22 which details the end of the curse, of which is also J source material.
6. Blessing cursed ground; cursing cursed ground
How would God respond if the people after Adam who lived under the cursed ground asked God to bless the ground? Would God bless the cursed ground? No one would dare ask God this or even conceive of the idea. All after Adam knew why God cursed the ground and faced daily life under it as a constant reminder. They accepted it as the painful way of life on the earth.
If the curse on the ground continued long after Noah, the reader of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible would expect to see the continuing concept, especially in the relationship between God and Israel. However, this is not what we see. Instead, after the Israelites give their ground offerings, Moses requires them to say and request of God:
‘Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the ground that you have given us, as you swore to our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ (Deuteronomy 26:15)
The conditions of the cursed ground that caused Lamech to cry out are hardly the same here. The ground is very favorable and the impression is one of great blessing. The Israelites even ask God specifically to bless the ground. It is hard to envision God blessing the ground he has permanently cursed:
And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God. 3 Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. 4 Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground…. (Deuteronomy 28:2-4)
These are hardly the same conditions as before the flood when the ground was still cursed. How would Lamech respond if someone asked him if he felt “blessed…in the field”? It is hard to envision God blessing the ground while it is simultaneously under his active and continuing curse.
And would God threaten to curse the ground if it were indeed still actively cursed? Didn’t God say he would never again curse the ground? Just as there are blessings for obedience, so there are curses for disobedience. Moses warns the Israelites for disobedience:
Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field. 17 Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. 18 Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground…. (Deuteronomy 28:16-18)
If the ground is still indeed cursed as before the flood, is this now an extra curse? Didn’t God say he will never again curse the ground? The curses pertaining to the ground here sound more like life before the flood under the cursed ground. The Deuteronomist simply does not have in his mind the continuing reality and hardship of the cursed ground as it was before the flood. The reason is because the curse on the ground was removed with Noah and the flood.
7. Where are all the Thorns and Thistles Today?
After a thousand or so years of the ground being cursed, Lamech laments the ever-present painful conditions that have not changed since Adam sinned:
“Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” (Genesis 5:29)
The point is the curse on the ground was an active, ongoing curse that sprung up thorns and thistles in conjunction with growing food out of the ground, generation after generation. It never ceased. When someone planted crops, guess what grew along with the crops? This is hardly what we see today.
If the curse is gone, does this then mean that no sticker bushes or thistles should remain at all today? Of course not. What we have today is a pale comparison to what it would have been like in the time before the flood. What we see today is the residual effect of a ground once so cursed. Thorns and thistles, while common today, are by no means overwhelming or alarming, nor do they continually spring up along with crops that are planted year after year.
One may argue that the thorns and thistles the cursed ground specifically produced were just metaphors for hard work tending the ground. Lamech would disagree.
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In summary, humanity still inherits the punishments God gave to Adam and Eve (and the snake its punishment) concerning their physical bodies. However, the curse on the ground was never a direct punishment pertaining to their physical bodies, and hence it was removed in the cleansing flood and re-creative act of God.
Part 3 discusses what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 8:19-22 that some interpret as proof that God never lifted the curse on the ground.
|These concepts are adapted from John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015), 149-152.
|R. E. Friedman, The Bible with Sources Revealed: A New View into the Five Books of Moses (New York: HarperOne, 2003), 47.