They show up as physical pain: “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children” (Genesis 3:16). They show up as marital discord: Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you (Genesis 3:16). They show up as helplessness in the midst of exhausting work: “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… By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Genesis 3:17-19). Above all, they show up in death: “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).
And the consequences of rebellion accelerate. In chapter 4, discord between human beings grows to the point that one kills another. Unrighteousness and pride grow to the point that Lamech announces a new law, mocking Yahweh’s law about Cain: “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold (Genesis 4:23-24). And in chapter 5, the impressive genealogy of Adam’s descendants through his son Seth repeats the same three words like the tolling of a funeral bell: “Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died (Genesis 5:5). Thus all the days of Seth were 912 years, and he died (5:8). Thus all the days of Enosh were 905 years, and he died (5:11)… What Romans 6:23 is going to announce in the New Testament is true: The wages of sin is death.
But as God justly condemns the rebellion against His authority, He also displays His mercy. In yesterday’s reading we saw the prohibition of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: “For in the day you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). But the day they ate from the tree, He did not kill them! Instead, He promised them descendants (“you shall bring forth children”) and gave them the promise of one descendant in particular who, although wounded by the serpent, would defeat him: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring [or “seed”] and her offspring [seed]; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel (Genesis 3:15). In the midst of deserved judgment, a promise appears: the promise of a descendant who would save them from judgment and defeat the enemy. As we read through the Bible this year, we will see that one of its main themes is the promise and arrival of this descendant, Jesus Christ.
Notice Adam’s reaction to this news. At first glance it appears completely out-of-place: Yahweh finishes His decree of judgment, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19), and suddenly the woman’s name is announced, “The man called his wife’s name Eve (Genesis 3:20). But it makes sense if we recognize that Adam is reacting in faith to Yahweh’s promise of a descendant in 3:15. Adam believes the promise that Yahweh has just announced to them, and by faith he changes his wife’s name. Up to this point she is called Woman (Genesis 2:23); now, “The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20). Even though no child had been born to them yet, Adam gives his wife a name that responds to Yahweh’s mercy and declares his faith in the promise of future salvation through their God-given descendant.
Notice too, how Yahweh does not simply overlook Adam and Eve’s sin. Dead bodies were left on that day: “And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). The skins are not only to cover nakedness but to demonstrate that God has accepted the death of a substitute for their sins. The life of an innocent victim would be accepted in exchange for their own guilty lives. The blood of this victim would be shed in the place of their blood. Just as God dressed them in the skins of another sacrificed being, they would be dressed in the righteousness of another being.
The Bible will tell us a lot this year about the accelerated consequences of sin: physical pain, exhausting work, violence, injustice, the pride of the powerful and above all, death. It also will tell us a lot about God’s mercy in the midst of sin-produced suffering: the promised descendant who will defeat the serpent, faith in the good news about him, a substitute sacrificed for our sins and our being clothed in the righteousness of another. And His mercy will extend to the point that death itself will be defeated: “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:8). “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54).
How will the mercy of God defeat the accelerating consequences of sin? Earlier we referenced Romans 6:23; now we’ll read the entire verse: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”