Studies in Genesis 3
And to Adam he said, … “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.” (Genesis 3:19 ESV)
God told the man that when he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he would die. Adam ate the fruit from the tree but he did not immediately, physically die. God’s command states that when he dies (physically) he will die (spiritually) (“you will die die” Genesis 2:17).
Now God tells Adam that he will live his physical life by hard, frustrating work, and that when it is his time to die he will become dust, or dirt. The very ground he works to grow food to live will claim him and he will become indistinguishable from it as his body deteriorates back to dirt. “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7 ESV). God used dirt to make the man and to dirt the man will return when his body dies.
What happened to Adam happens to all who follow him. Had he obeyed God then those who followed would have received God’s blessing. That he disobeyed God, rebelling against Him, means he was sentenced to separation from God and the earth was cursed. We are not going to speculate about the probability of whether people would have individually rebelled against God if Adam had not. We do not know and cannot know the answer to that question. We do know sin infected all of humanity because of Adam’s rebellion. We do know all people die and their bodies become dirt after a time. Once the body is dead it cannot be made alive again by natural means.
Scripture does not use the term “federal headship.” Yet, Scripture is filled with historical examples of the children and citizens bearing the consequences of the actions of their fathers or leaders. “Federal” is a system of government where the leaders speak for the people. It is not a democracy where each has an equal voice but a system where the leaders are charged with the responsibility of implementing the will of those they represent. It is not fair but it is just.
Adam died. His body, after his life was no longer sustained, returned to the earth from which he was made and over which he was to have control, or dominion. He kept dominion as part of the image of God but lost the ability to exercise dominion. Before the fall, he was God’s representative over the earth. After the fall, the war began between those who hate God, even as they were created to know Him intimately, and everything pointing to God.
God makes it clear to Adam, and to all who follow him, that though they work and fulfill their responsibilities, they are still wholly dependent upon Him for their lives. Yes, people have to work and their work is both painful and stressful. God, after the rebellion of the first man, calls people to turn either toward Him or allows them to run away from Him. Those who turn away from God will work in their own effort and accomplish only what lasts a short, unfulfilling time. Those who turn toward God, acknowledge their inability to accomplish anything without God’s direct intervention. Physical death becomes the great equalizer among all people. Either there is a truthful and honest admission of separation from God because of sin or there is an attitude of not needing God, which is rebellion.