A Severe and Merciful Judgment
Passage: Genesis 3:16–3:24
A Severe and Merciful Judgment
If you're visiting this morning we are going through the book of Genesis. In the previous verses we saw that immediately after eating the fruit that God had forbidden them to eat Adam and Eve felt guilt and shame for the first time ever. When God comes walking in the cool of the day, instead of running to meet Him like they usually would, they hide from Him.
After asking probing questions, Adam finally admits that he ate, but shifts the blame to the woman. The woman admits she ate, but shifts the blame to the serpent. God doesn't ask the serpent any questions - curses the snake and in that curse He predicts the ultimate destruction of the serpent through One born of woman's seed that would crush the serpent's head and whose heel the serpent would bruise. We know that was the first biblical reference to the coming of Jesus who was wounded by Satan on the cross but on that same cross crushed Satan's head (meaning dealt a fatal blow) by paying for the sins of all who would believe in Him!
God now turns to the man and woman who have broken His command. Begin in verse 16:
Title: A Severe and Merciful Judgment
Adam and Eve have rebelled against God and disobeyed His one command and God pronounces judgment against them and it's a severe judgment. It's not real popular today to speak of God as a judge. A lot of people want to think of God more as an anything-goes-God who just loves, never judges. If that's what you believe, then to be honest you find it a little offensive that I am saying God brings a severe judgment against Adam and Eve. Gonna get worse: that judgment falls on us today. This world is not only full of sin, it's under God's judgment. Why is this world so hard and cold at times? Why do even our closest relationships sometimes seem to be filled with tension and strife? Why is there pain? Why is there guilt and shame? Why do we so often struggle with feelings of meaninglessness and emptiness? Why is there death? The reason is that we live in a world that is both full of sin and also under God's judgment. And it's a severe judgment.
But sadly there are some Christians who have emphasized God's judgment as if God delighted in judging the world. Like little Jonahs, they're pronouncing God's judgment on the world and you know what? I can't wait! I'm glad you're gonna get judged! That misses God's heart by a million miles. It is a severe judgment but it is also a merciful judgment. Like a Father who must deal with Adam and Eve's rebellion but who still loves them with all His heart, God does judge but gives so much mercy, so much grace, and so much provision back to Him.
ILL: I was talking to my younger son Matthew and was telling him that God didn't need to show us mercy. He could have judged us and condemned us to destruction and have been totally righteous. But He didn't. He loved us enough to send His Son to take the judgment we deserve. God is a severe Judge, and He is a merciful judge.
Before we look at His judgment I want to point out a couple of things: this judgment is universal, but it isn't uniform. What I mean is everyone of us has been effected by this judgment but it doesn't look exactly the same in every person. Not every person will deal with these things to the same degree. The other thing is that the reach of this judgment is far broader than what is mentioned in these verses. Every single area of life and the world has come under the effects of our sin and God's judgment. Not exhaustive in mapping that out. And there is overlap from the woman's and the man's judgment - the man is effected by the woman's judgment and vice versa. So keep these things in mind, this is a summary of the judgment that permeates the world.
I. The woman's judgment (verse 16)
a. Pain in childbirth
To the woman he said, "I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children..."
We have two women in the church who will be giving birth any day now - ladies as you go into labor, think of Eve. You have her to thank for the labor pains that you will be experiencing! Thankfully we have drugs today to help alleviate much of the pain, but for most of history women had to face some serious pain without relief of medication. God's judgment invaded one of the most joyous occasions of a woman's life with severe pain. But that pain doesn't destroy the joy of that moment! Jesus said,
When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. John 16:21
But it goes deeper. Literally "pain in conception" which doesn't mean there is literal pain in conception but the process that begins at conception - raising children - will be mixed with pain. Like the prophet who told Mary that because of Jesus a sword would pierce her heart, most mom's know some pain in the process of raising their children. Joy and pain. And of course that isn't limited just to the moms - dads can feel it just as keenly. There's still the joy, but now there's pain too. Severe and merciful judgment.
b. Relational friction in the marriage
Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you
This phrase is not saying, "Eve, you're gonna love your husband and he's gonna lead you." This is saying that because of sin there will tend to be a relational friction - a kind of tug of war - between a wife and her husband.
What does it mean, your desire shall be for your husband? Turn with me to chapter 4 where we find the exact same phrase in verse 7:
• Cain is angry because God accepted his younger brother Abel's offering and didn't accept Cain's offering. So Cain is burning with anger and resentment and God warns Cain about his anger (read passage).
• Sin is crouching at the door and its desire is for you, but you must master it. Sin's desire is for you - not that sin is loving you but sin is wanting to rule over you, have its way in you.
So in women there will be a pull in their hearts to throw off their husband's leadership and try to take the leadership from them. Here's the irony about this: most women want a man who will lead and lead well. It's impossible for a woman to respect a man who doesn't lead. But at the same time women will struggle - to varying degrees - with a resentment of that leadership - a temptation to criticize the husband's leadership, a temptation to think she can do a better job if he would just have the sense to step aside. It won't look the same in every woman, but basically saying that many woman will have this inner desire: just give me the reins will ya? Any women here have that thought at any point? On the woman's side, that is where a lot of the relational friction will come from.
Here's where the man's sin contribution will tend to come from: he shall rule over you. This isn't describing a loving, selfless, honoring leadership of his wife. The word rule means "domineer" - it describes a harsh and oppressive kind of rule. History is full of horrible stories of men oppressing women for their own selfish purposes. Men that beat their wives, control their wives, manipulate their wives, domineer their wives. And of course, not just wives, but women. Wrong and it's sinful.
Not the way God created it to be. Before the fall Adam and Eve lived in perfect harmony -their strengths complimented each other, not competed against each other. Now God says sin will bring friction into the most important earthly relationship - between a man and his wife. If you have been married more than one month you know that you have experienced some kind of relational friction - maybe even serious relational friction - and for many of you it will include some element of this tug of war!
ILL: even in good marriages this is where so much of the friction occurs- a husband that is a selfish leader, rather than a loving leader. Guys, often we don't even know that we're doing it. Author and pastor Paul Tripp tells of a time when his marriage hit a real crisis point - here he is a pastor and his marriage is about to fall apart! But not only could he not see that he was a unloving, self-centered leader, he was so impressed with his leadership that in the heat of a conflict where his wife was pointing out some of his faults he politely informed his wife that 95% of the women in the church would love to be married to a guy like him. His wife answered: well, I'm in the 5%.
But ladies, with all due respect, you can also be blind to the subtle (or not so subtle) feeling that you're just better at getting things done than your husband. Maybe you are better at some things - and if he's wise he will encourage your strengths and abilities rather than stifle them. But if you are undercutting his leadership and manhood than you are not only hurting him, you're hurting yourself too. Maybe he has a million ways he needs to improve and grow as a leader. But God has called him and built him to be the loving leader of your home and you can either help him or hurt him in his becoming the loving, selfless leader that God has called him to be.
This common friction and even fraction in marriages is a consequence of sin and God's judgment, but it's a merciful judgment because it's one of the things God can use to open our eyes to our need for a Savior. Many a couple whose lives and marriages were falling apart have turned in desperation to God for help, only to find that God has provided a Savior who can reach down to the depths of our helplessness and the mess that we've made of our lives and marriages and set us on the rock of Jesus Christ. It is only by grace we can be saved! And it is only by grace that as husbands we can begin to love our wives the way Christ loved the church, laying down our lives to serve and honor and cherish our wives. And wives, it is only by grace that you can really grow to respect your husband and follow his leadership with joy rather than with complaining or resentment - even if he has a lot of room to improve in his leadership.
II. The man's judgment (vs. 17-19)
God then turns to Adam - it's not that he listened to his wife's voice, but that he listened to his wife's voice when she was inviting him to disobey God. Adam was passive at the very moment when he should have taken the lead and obeyed God. We should never listen to the voice of anyone who is urging us to disobey God!
Cursed is the ground because of you...
This judgment goes way beyond agriculture. It represents all of man's work. It will be characterized by sweat and pain and futility. Work is still a good thing and we're created to want to be productive with our lives. It's just now there's a drag on the work we do - it will go hard and it will never completely satisfy. And once again it isn't limited just to the men. Women work too and they feel the same drag and weight. The workaholic never feels like they achieve what their soul is longing for. The successful entrepreneur can still feel pretty empty when they go home at night.
Have you ever wondered, "is what I'm doing going to make any difference at all? Will my life have counted for anything 100 years from now?" Ever come home from work feeling empty inside, just because it doesn't fill? Or if you are a stay at home mom, ever wonder if the work you do makes a difference? The dishes get dirty again, the laundry piles up again, the kids need constant attention again...
What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever...Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. Eccles. 1:3-4; 2:11
There is an endless, circular motion to life that doesn't seem to lead anywhere - in the end we come and we go and all our labor is like chasing after the wind - poof it's gone. And then we're gone - we die. It's like the bumper sticker: Life is hard. And then you die. God is saying you will work hard until you return to the ground from which you came: dust to dust, ashes to ashes. People have dreamed of finding the fountain of youth so that they wouldn't grow old and die, but that would be the greatest curse - to live forever physically in the sinful state we are in. That's why this chapter ends with God chasing Adam and Eve out of the garden - for their own good. Death is a judgment and a mercy at the same time.
So we work hard and then we die. This is a severe judgment and we see it play out around us in so many ways. But there is mercy in it as well, because ultimately it's meant to press us to find the meaning of our lives in something bigger than our task list or our bank books or even humanitarian efforts. It's all meant to press us to Jesus:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)
III. A severe and merciful judgment
So it's a severe judgment. At the end, Adam and Eve are devastated by the consequences of their sin: ashamed, guilty, running from God, blaming each other, experiencing pain in birth and in work, experiencing friction in marriage, banished from the Garden of Eden and the presence of God. It's a severe judgment.
But there is so much mercy. They aren't destroyed. God doesn't curse them like He curses the snake. There's still beauty in the world. Still joy in a baby's smile, joy in parenting, love and tenderness in marriage, still some wonderful fulfillment in working hard and being productive. And most important, God begins to reveal His merciful plan to provide a way back to Him - back into His presence. Back into His blessing.
They tried to cover themselves with fig leaves, to hide their shame and guilt with something that was easy to pluck off a tree - a quick and easy fix that didn't work. But God killed an animal and clothed them with skins that cost a life. That moment foreshadows when God would provide a covering for our sin and shame and guilt by the death of His Son Jesus Christ on the cross.
If we look at the cross we see how much God hates sin. The agony and torture Jesus experienced on the cross demonstrates God's severe judgment against sin - for there was no other way for our sin to be forgiven. But the cross also reveals the merciful judgment of God - for by judging His Son for our sin, literally laying our sin upon Jesus, God can show us mercy - rich and full and complete mercy. The cross was a severe and merciful judgment. Severe for God's Son, merciful for us. Let's not take God's mercy for granted but thank Him with all our hearts for such wonderful mercy available to us through Jesus Christ. (Call band up)
If you are not a Christian, I want to be honest with you. Not popular today to think of God as a God who judges sin. Think of God as an anything-goes-God. Not what the Bible tells us. He will judge your sin and it will be severe. But by turning from your sin and believing in Jesus Christ - that He paid for your sin - the Bible promises that you will be saved from that judgment, because Jesus took that judgment on Himself for you. Will you pray with me and ask Him to forgive you and save you right now?