Genesis 3:19. By the sweat of your brow, you shall eat bread. Here’s the significance for us today.
Genesis 3:19, “Through the sweat of your face, you shall eat bread,” God told the man. Unbeknown to most, that judgment and Christ’s anguish at His crucifixion are closely related. These are earth-shattering episodes in the history of humankind foretold in the Old and New Testaments that set the stage for the way humanity lives and can live.
(Agony of Humankind, chapter 4.3)
Other Bible translations render this saying, in Genesis 3:19, more loosely and erroneously by the sweat of your brow; this is probably the most common expression we use in English. We’re going to see the deep spiritual meaning of this prophecy in Genesis 3:19 and its relationship to the anguishing event Christ endured during His arrest.
Last week we saw Genesis 3:16, devoted to the woman. Verses 17-19 focus on the man as representative of the entirety of humanity; all men and women who have ever walked the face of this planet. That’s a manner of speaking because it includes all babies who have ever been born and who never even got to take their first step. This passage is monumental in meaning. Unfortunately, Bible reading and understanding are generally limited to the physical emphasis rather than more profound figurative comprehension. Let’s get into it.
17 And Adam he said, Because you have hearkened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten (H398) of the tree, of which I commanded you, saying, You shall not eat (H398) of it: cursed (H779) is the ground (H127) for your sake (H5668); in sorrow (H6093) shall you eat (H398) of it all the days of your life;
18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to you; and you shall eat H398 the herb of the field;
19 In the sweat (H2188) of your face (H639) shall you eat (H398) bread, (H3899) till you return to the ground; for out of it were you taken: for dust you are, and to dust shall you return.
There is a lot of information in these three verses. Remember, God’s pronouncement is a judgment because of the man’s MISbehavior. A judgment is when you have to live with the consequences of your wrongdoing. Judgment time is when we should be thinking about our behavior, what caused this awkward, maybe wretched, and depressive situation in which we find ourselves. This realization is the fifth step in how God works with humankind and also how humankind functions.
Part of this justice is verse 17, “cursed is the ground for your sake (H5668).” We discussed the meaning of curse a couple of blogs ago. This verse does NOT say God cursed the ground, which, unfortunately, is the general comprehension; it is the result of the man’s DISobedience. We reap what we sow. “For your sake” is a rather enigmatic translation. Let’s look at the Biblical Hebrew.
עָבוּר ʻâbûwr aw-boor’; or עָבֻר; passive participle of H5674 (עָבַר); properly, crossed, i.e. (abstractly) transit; used only adverbially, on account of, in order that:
KJV – because of, for (… ‘s sake), (intent) that, to.
Note the KJV translation because of. Here’s a verse that can help us have a better appreciation of what’s happening with the ground and the man. Please keep in mind, this is not Sam Kneller’s translation, nor has it got anything to do with James Strong interpretation. He simply found every place in the Old Testament, where we find the Biblical Hebrew עָבוּר and listed all the King James’ translations. These words are the result of the committee of about 70 translators in the early 1600s. All the words after the KJV are the translations done 400 years ago.
And you shall show your son in that day, saying, This is done because of (H5668) that which the LORD did to me when I came forth out of Egypt.
Cursed is the ground BECAUSE OF YOU. That is a better rendering of Genesis 3:17. We reap what we sow. There’s a boomerang effect when we do anything wrong. Sooner or later, it will come back to wallop us. It could be in the form of a tangible result, getting too close to the fire, and being burnt. Or mental anguish or guilt for having done something that we regret. I can’t get into it here, but this is where Christ’s offer comes fully into play, “Come to me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).” We don’t have to carry guilt and anxiety around with us.
It doesn’t mean that it’s all sunshine and roses; we have spiritual relief, but we are still IN this world, and we still have to face trials. God told the man, “In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread” Genesis 3:19. A well known Bible expression. Let’s take a closer look and go deeper than just the English words by looking at the Hebrew root meaning.
זֵעָה zêʻâh zay-aw’; from H2111 (זוּעַ) (in the sense of H3154 (יֶזַע)); perspiration:
KJV – sweat.
זוּעַ zûwaʻ zoo’-ah; a primitive root; properly, to shake off, i.e. (figuratively) to agitate (as with fear):
KJV – move, tremble, vex.
In Genesis 3:19, sweat is not just perspiration or transpiration. The deeper spiritual significance represents vexation; this is a mental disposition that includes exasperation, irritation, and anger. There are more and more of these traits in the world population today.
We already discussed the word face (sweat of your face) H639. But it is worth repeating it in this context of Genesis 3:19. The English face and brow do not reflect the Biblical Hebrew. Keep your eye on the root meaning in H599.
אַף ʼaph af; from H599 (אָנַף); properly, the nose or nostril; hence, the face, and occasionally a person; also (from the rapid breathing in passion) ire:
KJV – anger(-gry), + before, countenance, face, + forebearing, forehead, + (long-) suffering, nose, nostril, snout, ⨯ worthy, wrath.
אָנַף ʼânaph aw-naf’; a primitive root; to breathe hard, i.e. be enraged:
KJV – be angry (displeased).
Flared nostrils are synonymous with blowing off steam; someone is upset. It’s as if there’s a double portion of distress, sweat, and face; both lead to the same anguish, anxiety, angst, agony, worry, and uncertainty.
Today, it’s not just the Coronavirus crisis that has upheaved life. Coronavirus is an event that has brought our minds to RETHINKING the very basis of the way we live. Within a few short weeks, jobs and income have become scarce or disappeared. Many have had to contemplate the impoverished space they call home.
You could get out of your living quarters before, now you’re forced to think of those four walls, and it isn’t always pretty. No travel, no vacations, no recreation. What am I doing with my life? With my existence? These are fundamental worrisome questions in an economy and society that don’t seem to have answers that don’t know where they’re going.
The prophets of artificial intelligence and the world is coming out of poverty, and we’re going to be healthier are rather silent nowadays. What’s been written in the Bible for 3500 years makes more sense, if only we have ears to hear and eyes to see.
In anguish shall you eat bread. We eat bread practically daily and don’t give two thoughts to reading this account. Error, here too, we’re missing the deeper spiritual implication.
אָכַל ʼâkal aw-kal’; a primitive root; to eat (literally or figuratively): KJV – ⨯ at all, burn up, consume, devour(-er, up), dine, eat(-er, up), feed (with), food, ⨯ freely, ⨯ in…wise(-deed, plenty), (lay) meat, ⨯ quite.
אָכַל ʼâkal aw-kal’; a primitive root; to eat (literally or figuratively):
KJV – ⨯ at all, burn up, consume, devour(-er, up), dine, eat(-er, up), feed (with), food, ⨯ freely, ⨯ in…wise(-deed, plenty), (lay) meat, ⨯ quite.
H3898 לָחַם lâcham law-kham’; a primitive root; to feed on; figuratively, to consume; by implication, to battle (as destruction): KJV – devour, eat, ⨯ ever, fight(-ing), overcome, prevail, (make) war(-ring).
H3901 לָחֶם lâchem law-khem’; from H3898 (לָחַם), battle: KJV – war.
The second key to master Biblical Hebrew is that the same word can have contrasting, even opposite meanings. “Eating bread,” in Genesis 3:19, on the negative side, refers to “devoured by battle or consumed by war.” Devoured by the very ground that is supposed to satiate your hunger. That’s the boomerang effect. The spreading desertification, the loss of fertile coastland due to the removal of natural barriers (mangroves), the seeping in of saltwater, and the excessive use of monoculture, fertilizer. To name just a few poor ground management practices worldwide. Man is his worst enemy is another way of saying man is a curse to the ground. At least when he uses such malpractices.
Adam didn’t hold to the instructions God gave him. He didn’t say no both to himself and his family, and now, God lets him know that his sorrow will be in the realm of feeding himself and in making his livelihood. His work-life, to which men dedicate a major portion of their time and energy, would make it difficult to make ends meet.
Instead of working in joy, man would eat parsimoniously and eke out a living; this has been born out down through history and into the supposed affluent 21st century as Audit of the Universe and Humankind have pointed out. Some have plenty, but the vast majority are both undernourished and in a state of material squalor
Even when the countryside gorges with rice paddies, people live in huts with no amenities. it’s not a question of luxury; it’s a question of necessities. When I use the term undernourished, I’m not only referring to not enough food but also not enough wholesome, nourishing food. Instead, manufacturers lace their foodstuffs with vitamins, minerals, and who knows what, according to the packaging. And consumers need supplements and health-foods to get their daily quota of nutrients; this is ludicrous, ALL food should be health(y) food! The USA is one of the most undernourished nations in the world. I think it’s fair to say that the more industrialized you are, the more you’re undernourished, not in quantity, but quality.
Remember, in Gen. 1:28, God told the couple to subdue the earth and have dominion over all creatures on earth. God put the man in His garden to signify He’s giving humans a seat, which is human HQ, from which to rule all of Earth!
In this context, the reference to the ground over which humans are to rule goes much further than just eating. In Inventory of the Universe chapter 4.4, The Explanation pointed out that humankind can work and play on planet Earth because of the variety of resources in the ground.
On land, we depend on mineral resources that allow us to house our families in buildings fabricated from mud, tin, brick, concrete, and grass. Our drill unearths tin in order to create a roof for a farmhouse.
Other mineral resources provide heat for our homes and our food in the form of coal, wood, gas, electricity, and uranium, Everyday objects such as aluminium cooking vessels, clay or porcelain eating vessels, iron farming tools, and glass or plastic decorations come from the land. Other examples include steel knives, iron fishhooks, silicon and carbon computer chips, semiprecious jasper, and malachite jewelry stones, gold coins, alloys of steel, iron, copper, and other metals.
The ground is involved in everything we do on Earth, professionally and leisurely. We are to dominate our environment correctly. In other words, it comes down to proper GOVERNMENT.
The sorrow evoked in these verses for the women amounted to difficult and broken RELATIONSHIPS. For the man in Genesis 3:19, it is difficult and broken RULERSHIP. These are the two primary reasons God created humankind and placed them on Earth.
Look around and do a realistic audit. Both relationships (individual, marital, national, and international) and rulership (government and management of people and resources) are in a SORROWful state.
The judgments expressed by Yahveh Elohim concerning the Serpent, the woman, and the man are active and ever so present in 2020. Our world society is living evidence of the veracity of these words.
A final reflection on this passage in Genesis 3:19 regards the root of the word ground. H127 – אֲדָמָה ad-aw-maw’; from H119 (אָדַם); soil (from its general redness): We have a related word with which you are well familiar, H120 – אָדָם ʼaw-dawm’; from H119 (אָדַם); ruddy i.e. a human being (an individual or the species, mankind, etc.): This word for ground and human being becomes the NAME of the first man, ADAM.
Ironically, the adamah (ground) from which God formed the first adam (human being) becomes a curse by the first Adam, who represents all of humanity.
I could end this blog post here on this somber note. But let’s not do that. The end is uplifting. God had and has a plan to retrieve humankind out of this bogged down mess. The solution involves the Savior Jesus Christ.
From Genesis 3:19 and before, humankind is under a curse it has brought upon itself. Christ is the ultimate Antidote to lift that curse. Look at His role.
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree:
The woman’s eating of the forbidden Tree has brought about cursed RELATIONSHIPS. The man’s eating of the forbidden Tree has brought about cursed RULERSHIP. That sin warrants death.
But, Christ became that CURSE when He was nailed to a tree. That Tree is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. He has taken all the curses for which you and I and all humanity are responsible upon Himself, and nailed them to the Tree (of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) that symbolizes all this sin. To meditate.
Let’s clarify a point here. When it comes to the curses in these passages in Genesis. They can NOT be God’s curses. Why not? Because Christ did not die because God cursed humankind, that’s ridiculous. Christ died because humankind cursed and curses God and His Creation. Christ paid the penalty for Humankind’s cursing, their sin.
The emphasis in this context has been on sorrow. To the woman, God said, “I will greatly multiply your sorrow… in sorrow, you shalt bring forth children. To the man, God said, “cursed is the ground because of you, in sorrow shall you eat of it all the days of your life… Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to you… In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread, till you return to the ground.
With that comprehension, I think we can better understand Isaiah’s prophecy regarding Christ being a “man of sorrows.”
2 For he (the Messiah, Christ) shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he has no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opens not his mouth.
8 He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.
Adam and Eve and each human being have lived a life of sorrow (Genesis 3:19), from birth to death. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying all are paupers, unhappy, and depressive. The understanding is we’ve all been estranged from God and not had the FULL life with the KNOWLEDGE of God, which is at such a higher plane, even on the physical, human level than anything we could live in this era.
Christ, willingly, took that sorrow upon Himself. Reread Isaiah 53.
Meditate on Christ’s Crucifixion when they mockingly crown Him King of the Jews with a Crown of Thorns. Why thorns? He took upon Himself that part of the curse, “thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to you.” Each aspect of Christ’s final trial is the antidote to humankind’s, your’s, and my sins.
Sorrow, agony, sweat, ground
Christ’s prayer before His crucifixion should take on a more profound meaning for us.
36 Then comes Jesus with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, Sit you here, while I go and pray yonder.
37 And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy.
38 Then said he to them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even to death: tarry you here, and watch with me.
39 And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as you will.
Christ’s prayer continues in another context in the Gospel of Luke.
And being in an agony (G74) he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
This agony that tormented Christ is the cloud of anguish, anxiety, anger, that all humanity has been under for thousands of years. It’s the struggle to survive, the curse, thorns, thistles, and sweat we’ve expended because of our rejection of God’s way.
ἀγωνία agōnia ag-o-nee’-ah; From G73; a struggle (properly the state) that is (figuratively) anguish:
KJV – agony.
ἀγών agōn ag-one’; From G71; properly a place of assembly (as if led) that is (by implication) a contest (held there); figuratively an effort or anxiety:
KJV – conflict contention fight race.
It’s unimaginable to realize the intensity of Christ’s prayer to His Father just before his arrest. And I don’t like talking about it in technical terms, but the agony He felt is the only time this Greek word is used in the New Testament. This precise description of drops of sweat falling to the ground refers us back to “the sweat of your face shalt you eat bread, till you return to the ground.” Remember, during the prayer, the disciples fell asleep. Revelation inspired this description. The Second Adam took on Himself all the sin, curses, and agony that the first adam and all the subsequent adams (all human beings) have committed and the agony they’ve brought upon themselves.
Christ has redeemed us from the Agony of Humankind. We no longer have to fight the struggle of anguish, the conflict that the Serpent’s bruising of humanity entails. We still have to fight the good fight of faith and resist the Serpent. That’s a positive fight; we are NOT of this world, we have God to back us up and a noble goal.
This blog post is an excerpt from chapter 4.3 of the book Agony of Humankind.
Dig Deeper into The Explanation
Join The Explanation Newsletter to stay informed of updates. and future events. No obligations, total privacy, unsubscribe anytime, if you want.
The Explanation series of seven books. Free to read online or purchase these valuable commentaries on Genesis 1-3 from your favorite book outlet. E-book and paperback formats are available. Use this link to see the details of each book and buy from your favorite store.
Since you read all the way to here… you liked it. Please use the Social Network links just below to share this information from The Explanation, Genesis 3:19, Sweat of Your Brow. The Deep Meaning