Labor. What does labor mean?
What I think of first, and maybe this is because I'm looking forward to having a baby, is giving birth. But more generally, labor is work. Typically I think of labor as work that is difficult, but toward a certain end.
Recently I was reading in the book Hypnobirthing: The Mongan Method, and it said something that has made me think. It said that a Hebrew scholar said that the word used to tell Adam that he would work and toil and labor in the field was the same word used to tell Eve that she would work and toil and labor to bear children. I was curious about that, so I looked up a few different versions of Genesis 3:16-18. I didn't find that many of them used the same word, but they did have different words that hit around the same idea, which I thought was interesting. (Here are a couple I looked at Hebrew Interlinear Bible, NIV.)
|By anonymous (Queen Mary Master) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons|
One awesome site I found did have the same word. And I'll go into some detail on that now. I hope my clumsy research skills don't completely muddy the original meanings here…
(click on the Hebrew characters to go to the page I got this from)
1) pain, labour, hardship, sorrow, toil (from Brown —Brown-Driver-Briggs (Old Testament Hebrew-English Lexicon)2) worrisomeness, that is, labor or pain:—sorrow, toil.—Strong's (Hebrew & Chaldee Dictionary of the Old Testament)
Ok, so lots of cool stuff here.
A) Since the word is the same, Eve wasn't being singled out and given a terribly painful punishment. And if painful childbirth was to be her curse, then Adam was cursed with a pain that intense as well—do we see that? I don't think there is any specific thing that causes that level of pain. I would conclude that women are not destined for terribly painful childbirth as a result of this "curse." Whew. I'm glad I figured that one out!
B) Pain was a novel concept to both Adam and Eve. This emphasis or introduction of the notion of pain may have been with the purpose to instruct, rather than simply to punish. More on this in a bit.
C) They were the same word used in a parallel way. If you take out the notion that these are a punishment, they could simply be tasks or assignments. Kind of like, "Grady's work will be the garden and Taylor's work will be the kitchen." It is their labor, their assignment, to do those things.
D) The definition including "worrisomeness" is interesting. Was this simply telling them that their main concerns would be bearing and rearing children (and all of the worry and toil that entails) for Eve and laboring to provide for his family (and all of the worry and toil that entails) for Adam? This really makes me think that these "curses" are more about telling Adam and Eve what their roles will be (or suggesting the most effective roles, the ones they are best equipped to toil in) and preparing them for what is shortly coming in their sojourn in mortality than about pounding them with terrible punishments.
I will say that whenever I've read or heard the account of what happened in the Garden of Eden, I've imagined the scene with God speaking to the two transgressors occurring rather like a scene when I had been caught in the act doing something my parents had explicitly told me not to do. I imagine the sinking feeling in my stomach, the shame burning in my cheeks, the wholly flattened feeling of knowing I had let my parents down, and the frantic flits of my mind to figure out some way to get out of the situation. The feeling of awaiting the swift chop of the blade of justice that is veritably felt hanging over me. The bubbling of resentment and helplessness and anger when the punishment feels more than any child could bear…
In this state of mind, I read or hear the conversation of Adam and Eve with their Father, first hiding, then admitting guilt, and then getting the punishment dealt on them. I'm sure other people have felt the same way I have, considering the negative connotations of "curse," "pain," and "fall," not to mention the familiarity of the situation with those of us who have broken rules and been punished for it.
But, then there's something new about considering that God, their Father, chose to tell them about the pain in the mortal world. A world they had no way to understand, coming so freshly from complete innocence. And to phrase it in a way that suggested a parallel, an equality between the toil that Eve and Adam would respectively perform. Could it be that he was preparing them? Teaching them?
|Izaak van Oosten [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons|
I imagine that God, the greatest Father we could ever think of, times about a million, was achieving several purposes in His conversation with his disobedient children. He was explaining the consequences of their actions, warning them of what was to come (which was outside of all of their experience to that point), and preparing them for the best way to organize themselves (in a family, where husband and wife have different roles).
What was God doing, in addition to explaining the consequences of their actions? Was He also teaching them what a mortal world was like—and how could He explain mortality without the word "pain"? Was he instructing them on what tasks they would need to focus on? His statement about what their worries would be could have been Him telling them what to expect in the world they would so soon walk out into. He instructed them in the roles each of them would fill—Adam as provider and Eve as nurturer of children—as well as warning that life would be hard and painful and potentially confusing for the couple soon to leave the plenty and ease of Eden.
These things weren't a curse flung at despised recipients; they were assignments and instruction. What a merciful and understanding Father.
|By Hans at Pixabay|
One more cool little tidbit. The word "sorrow" pops up twice in verse 16 (speech addressed to Eve). The second "sorrow" comes from this Hebrew word
which has some similar definitions with pain, toil, sorrow and labor, but it has a couple different things as well (these definitions are from two different sources).
2) an earthen vessel; usually (painful) toil; also a pang (whether of body or mind):—grievous, idol, labor, sorrow.
So this means that part her work and toil was to be a vessel—an earthen vessel—who creates bodies for her children. Cool!
Is it a coincidence that Adam later chooses to name her Eve, the mother of all living? I have thought it was weird before to take her curse so positively, or to rub it in by naming her after it, but what if it wasn't given with all of the negativity we see in it now? It seems that Adam was giving her the name that would define her, in good and bad—the name of mother.