Thorns and Thistles

Genesis 3:17-19
“And to Adam He said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
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.””

I joke with a close friend of mine all the time about how fortunate he is to own a condo, as opposed to owning a house, because he doesn’t have yard work to do. Another close friend often quotes his dad when I whine about doing yard work on the weekends, “Ah yes, my dad always said that the homeowner is ‘Married to the yard!'” Then he chuckles at his dad’s wisdom. His dad has a point.

When we, and yes I mean “we”, in Adam sinned against God in the garden (Romans 5:12-19), the world changed. Our sin effected every aspect of reality. It not only put a relational wedge between us and God, but it even had an affect on the natural world. As a result of Adam’s (our) sin, the ground became cursed, in pain we now eat, thorns and thistles continually emerge, and our work (in a general sense) went from blessing to toil. Post fall, the tilling of the ground now includes a new chore: the continual removal of thorns and thistles (or weeds) amongst the actual crops, and the continual removal of “thorns and thistles” (or weeds) amongst the allegorical crops (our vocations or means of earning a living). Prior to sin, such did not choke out the abundance of cornucopia available to man.

I am reminded of the curse of Genesis 3 every week as a home owner. There is always yard work to be done. There are always “thorns and thistles” choking my attempt to beautify and maintain my yard. But, in a more profound sense, “thorns and thistles” represent something deeper. “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.” Until Christ returns, we will be continually laboring for what was once freely available prior to the fall. In other words, we are bound by the curse to never finish or to even come close to completing the weeding of the allegorical crops. We are locked in toil. Until Christ returns, we will remain snared by the effect of the curse of our fall. As a result, we (in vain) unceasingly attempt to sustain ourselves in our vocations, our means of earning a living. We are locked in drudgery, working for what was once freely available. Solomon made this same observation with his rhetorical questions and answers:

Ecclesiastes 1:3
“What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?”

Ecclesiastes 2:11
“Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”

Ecclesiastes 2:22-23
“What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.”

Ecclesiastes 3:9
“What gain has the worker from his toil?”

And here, Solomon really ties into the reality of the Genesis 3 curse:

Ecclesiastes 5:15-17
“As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.”

What I find interesting is that “thorns and thistles” or weeds, seem to be more prevalent where man has “tilled” the ground, as opposed to virgin or untouched nature. Here’s what I mean:

I happen to live in a wooded area. There are “thorns and thistles” continuously cropping up on my once cleared or touched property. However, on my untouched property, the parts of my property which were never cleared when the house was built, remains as it was. Meaning, I don’t see these same pest plants in the non-cleared areas. The weeds (thorns and thistles), only seem to grow where my property has been previously cleared, but the untouched natural surroundings? Nothing. I just don’t find any, and I find it fascinating.

Now, this could be coincidence, but I’m not convinced. For example, check out any vacant lot after some time has gone by. All sorts of “thorns and thistles” emerge and choke out the space. Yet, I usually won’t see the same pests growing in the natural areas nearby. The same goes for the side of the road. From the shoulder to the tree line, “thorns and thistles” grow, but beyond that where the natural, untouched ground is, nothing. There “thorns and thistles” are seemingly absent. It’s almost as though there are plants which are naturally native only to where man clears areas, or tills the ground.

What does this all mean? It seems to be a confirmation of the curse of the fall. The “thorns and thistles” are a continual reminder of our initial violation of God’s purpose in the garden. It is also interesting that Christ was forced to wear a crown of thorns on His head, on the cross, as He paid for our sin (Mark 15:16-20).

Solomon captured the essence of our situation pretty well. He hammered home the point, over and over, in his reflections regarding life to his son. Yet, Solomon doesn’t leave his son to whom he writes with “vexation and sickness and anger”, due to a belaboring of the point. Instead, in the end, he leaves him with the antidote… a hopeful dose of wisdom… as all good fathers should:

Ecclesiastes 12:11-14
“The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”

Whether or not you see what I see when I look at weeds (thorns and thistles), perhaps you will no longer look at them the way same anymore. Perhaps, you will see what I think they are meant to point us to and to remind us of: our need for a Savior.

Godspeed, to the brethren!