“…for dust thou art…” Gen. 3:19

“…for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return”. (Genesis 3: 19)


I cannot think of too many more onerous pronouncements than this one, spoken by the LORD God to Adam shortly after that famous transgression in the Garden of Eden. Do any of us relish the idea of returning to ‘dust’? I, for one, do not.

The Fall of Man, Engraving by Albrecht Durer, 1504

For me, this Scripture has always resonated with a sense of Godly displeasure & disappointment towards the first man, a man who, it would seem, didn’t quite make the cut. He ‘hearkened unto the voice of {his} wife’, instead of the words of the LORD (v.17), and as a result, the LORD curses the ground, invokes sorrow, thorns, thistles & sweat upon Adam, and pronounces the ‘dust’ judgment. Plus, Adam was driven from Eden and any path to the Tree of Life seriously blocked. Nothing about this section of Scripture do I find encouraging. Try though I might, researching Hebrew definitions and hoping for a glimmer of light…I got nothin’.….however….
I’ve been learning about soil lately, from a perspective of its many marvelous, even redemptive, components and functions. Yes, really…and while at this point I still am not seeing this aspect of ‘dust’ showing its face in Genesis Chapter 3…nonetheless, this aspect exists. It is real, and manifests itself over & over & over again in visible, proven, documented processes. So I must be missing something. Mercy triumphs over judgment.


Did you know, for instance, that most of the ingredients used in antibiotics come from micro-organisms found in soil? The dirt that we can’t wait to wash off ourselves actually is a key provider of healing! And while the term ‘micro-organism’ makes me flinch…there is nothing like a good, strong antibiotic when you need one! They save lives. So here we see an example of how an element of dirt – the ground – engenders healing and protects life. Though once cursed, this same ground yet blesses.
Similar processes occur and re-occur endlessly within earth’s soil. Beginning to realize the inter-connectedness of the materials comprising this planet, the plants, animals, and cycles of life, decomposition & death, has given me significant pause. What I once saw as one thing, now appears to be something else entirely. I now ponder what God was saying to us through His creation of this world, and especially its soil.


Scripture tells us that man was formed out of the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7), and that man will return to that dust (Genesis 3:19). ( We also learn that ‘every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air’ were also formed out of the ground {Genesis 2:19}).
Now…this first man is called Adam here in verse 19. The Hebrew word ‘adam’ means ‘ruddy’, and is derived from a similar word indicating the ability to show blood in the face, or flush. ). The quality of redness, then, is identified with this man-made from the earth. In fact, the Hebrew word for ‘ground’ in verse 19, ‘adamah‘, is translated ‘soil’, due to its general redness. (Strong’s Concordance, Greek #120 & #119)

What piques my curiosity is the fact that we begin with ‘dust’, so-called because of its powdery nature and grayish color, then somehow progress to a reddish substance. Scripture does not record any insignificant or meaningless details. Every word is there for a reason. The fact that three different words – dust, ground, & earth – appear in this one section of Scripture, referring to essentially the same element found in the same area, makes me wonder what that reason is. And my wondering leads me here: does the redness of that soil bear silent witness to the blood, in which is the life? Without the life in the blood, a human body is just that – a body. Which will eventually disintegrate into the ground. Should the blood (=moisture?) itself finally depart from this ground, only dust remains. And you can’t do much with dust. Soil, earth…it has moisture (=blood?), thus potential..but dust? It blows away.

“…I am the way, the truth and the life…” (John 14:6)
 “…without Me ye can do nothing.” (John 15:5)


The importance of this ground on which we walk cannot be over-estimated. From any direction, any way one looks at it, soil is pivotal to life. Nutrients essential for its maintenance are found in soil. The cycles necessary to sustain it occur within, and pass through soil. Energy from the sun, required for life processes, is stored not only in bodies of water; it is stored in soil as well. Soil facilitates climate control, absorbing & holding water, thus slowing or preventing its complete evaporation. But as the water does leave the soil, wind can redistribute it over an area, or to another area, delivering needed moisture, or managing temperatures.


As I’m composing this article, I’m munching on Swiss cheese, chips, French Onion dip, a couple of eggs, a banana….certainly not conscious of the connection of soil to these food items (even though I’m writing about it!). Suddenly it dawns on me, Oh! Yeah, right!…I’m enjoying the bounty of our planet’s soil. These tasty & nutritious (ok, maybe ‘nutritious’ is stretching it for the French Onion dip!) foods are only on my table because, first, there is soil. And good soil, too.
But not all soil is of good quality. Good quality soil must hold within it any number of decomposed plants & animals, enriching it, enabling it to hold water and giving it a weightiness to stay in place. If conditions allow for repeated washing away of this layer of the ground, the remaining soil will become of a poorer quality. Food production then suffers. Both the sellers & consumers are impacted; malnutrition and poverty can result.

You may not have connected soil with sickness or poverty – I know I didn’t. But a connection there is.  


Almost from the first, there seems to be a co-existence of provision and struggle. Though a means to have & eat food was provided, it came with painful toil, sweat, thorns & thistles. (Genesis 3:17-19) The LORD did not withhold needed sustenance from man, but neither was man’s life declared to be comfortable and easy, not after the man & his wife chose a path other than the one given by the Creator.
It would be easy to assume Adam & Eve were being ‘punished’ by God for disregarding His instructions to them not to partake of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. But could there have been a Divine motivation other than that one? If not, then God is portrayed as petty, tyrannical…at least, so it seems to me. So I have to look deeper.
Those first two humans chose their own way. Deceived or not, it was their call. ‘Their own way’ excluded God’s way. Although many of us can’t help it, pursuing our own way eventually brings us to exhaustion, frustration, depression…the list goes on. Things can get really difficult and yield little, if any, benefit. His yoke is easy and His burden light. Not so, ours.

And so, my question is, by partaking of another way, by their choice, did Adam & Eve unleash a spiritual poison into the earth, as well as human history? Was the curse on this planet, once their decision had been made & acted upon, inevitable? Was it not as it may appear, a ‘punishment’ by God but rather the playing out of an action taken? You touch fire, you get burned. If it is true, as we read in the first chapter of the epistle to the Romans, “…the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made…” (v.20), the ways of God are manifested in the earth. When His ways are maligned or opposed, this also would make its appearance…on and in the planet. The ground and what it produces.

Perhaps rather than pronouncing a judgement on man and this earth, God was instead informing Adam & Eve of a truth, and preparing them for the tragic changes which were coming upon their life.


The toil in which man brings forth the fruit of the earth, even with today’s technology, serves as an ever-present reminder of a broken relationship. Yet, still…a relationship. And just as a Way has been provided to restore our divine relationship with God, we see also in that Way, blessings yet springing from the earth – the soil.
That Way – Jesus, the Son of God – partook of this material world, the flesh which came from this same soil. He did so to redeem mankind from the curse. Jesus tasted death for every man. To redeem you. To redeem me. His offer is open to all.

Whosoever will may come.





2 responses to ““…for dust thou art…” Gen. 3:19

  1. Pingback: 5 Things a Man Needs to do in a Relationship | saskatoonconnections

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