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The Last Word of Judgement

Genesis 3:19 (ESV) … “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.”

Here we come to the last word of judgment. Adam’s toil will be without relief until his final destiny of death. This explains Lamech’s later naming of “Noah,” in whom he expresses hope for relief from the drudgery of working the ground that travails under divine curse (see 5:29; 9:20 discussion). Adam is depicted as a broken farmer whose very meals, which are derived from the grain of his agrarian life, are spoiled by the fatigue of his striving. Like the woman’s painful childbirth, the man’s daily labors with their attendant woes are a perpetual reminder of sin’s rewards.

The chiasmus underscores the linkage between the man’s creation from “dust” (2:7) and the “return” to the man’s beginnings.

A you return

B to the ground

C since (kî) from it you were taken

C′ for (kî) dust you are

B′ and to dust

A′ you will return

Adam’s death is portrayed by the dreadful wordplay on his creation and essential physical constitution as the “dust” (ʿāpār) of the “ground” (ʾădāmâ) (2:7; Eccl 3:20; Ps 103:14). His “return” will be from whence he came: ʾādām will become once again ʾădāmâ (“ground”). Death is exactly what God had forewarned (2:17) and what the serpent had denied (3:4). Death comes by the reversal (“returns”) of the man’s God-given state, that is, a “living being” (2:7). This reversal is the deterioration of the body that will “return” to the dust from which it was made (cf. Job 10:9; Ps 104:29). The inner elements of the structure are introduced by parallel conjunctions (kî), rendered as causal in most versions (NIV, NASB, NAB, NJPS, NJB), but the second occurrence has sometimes been taken as emphatic, “indeed dust you are” (REB). “Dust you are” always overcomes the progress of medicine and the ingenuity of cosmetology; every opened casket proves it so.

God did not execute the penalty by taking Adam’s life but by banning him from the rejuvenating power of the tree of life (3:22). Though not excommunicated from the divine presence (4:1–2), Adam’s expulsion from the garden sealed his doom and that of all who followed. Resounding evidence of the divine penalty is found in Seth’s genealogy, where Adam’s death is related (5:5) and the unrelenting knell sounded for generation after generation, “and then he died.” Paul’s interpretation of this passage focuses on physical death brought into this world by the first man (Rom 5:12–21; cf. 6:23). Yet those who are living in the sphere of sin are deemed spiritually dead already (Eph 2:1). Unlike Adam, all his generations are born excluded from the garden; only through the last Adam, who insures the “life-giving spirit,” does human mortality take on the garments of immortality (1 Cor 15:35–58).[1]

[1] Mathews, K. A. (1996). Genesis 1-11:26 (Vol. 1A, pp. 253–254). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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