Before the fall in Genesis 3, God gave Adam and Eve a creation mandate:
“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:28).
Then, after the fall, God judged Eve (Gen 3:16) and Adam (3:17-19) with language that should be viewed in light of the creation mandate.
- God said to Eve: “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and shall rule over you” (Gen 3:16)
- God said to Adam: “…cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 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” (Gen 3:17-19)
Let’s note how the judgment language for each one reflects the preceding creation mandate of Genesis 1:28:
- God told them to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28), but he judged Eve by multiplying pain in such fruitfulness (3:16). She will indeed begin to fill the earth (1:28), but it will be in pain (3:16). She should exercise dominion over creation (1:28), but her judgment includes the desire to rule over her husband, to exercise dominion that undermines his headship (3:16).
- God told them to subdue the earth (Gen 1:28), but he told Adam the ground is now cursed and gleaning its fruit will mean pain for him (3:17). The exercise of dominion (1:28) will now be toilsome and wearisome (3:18-19). And though he may work to subdue the earth (1:28), in the end he will succumb to the dust in death (3:19).
Clearly, therefore, the language spoken to the man and woman in Genesis 3:16-19 is not without precedent. God issued the creation mandate in 1:28 before the fall, and the later punishments in 3:16-19 did not rescind that mandate. Rather, they ensured that the mandate would now be accomplished through difficulty, frustration, toil, and pain.
In summary, to understand why God judged Adam and Eve the way he did with the language he used, we must first consider the creation mandate in Genesis 1:28. The punishments become inseparably linked to that divine command to be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth.