In Genesis 8:21 God says to Himself, "I will never again curse the ground on account of man...and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done."
1. This appears to be the end of the curse of Genesis 3:17-19. Is it?
2. Some people still teach that human work was and still is cursed rather than just the soil. Is that an error?
3. When "God says to Himself," is that meant to be a sort of heavenly stage whisper for man to overhear like Genesis 18:17-19 where He talks to the angels in front of Abraham?
UK Apologetics Reply:
Okay, let us look at this. First of all Genesis 3:17-19:
To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat from it,' "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." (Genesis 3:17-19, NIV).
Now let us look at Genesis 8:20-21:
Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: "Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done." (Genesis 8:20-21).
Context is all-important here. Genesis 8:21 immediately follows the ark reaching dry ground following the Great Flood. Noah offered a sacrifice which pleased the Lord. The promise concerned the entire flooding of the earth; the Lord stated that He would never use that as a punishment for mankind again, even though "...every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood."
This led to the establishing of the Noahic covenant. Let us consider that:
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: "I now establish covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you - the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you - every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth. "
And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth."
So God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth." (Genesis 9:8-17. NIV throughout).
Though we call this the Noahic covenant, this is actually a covenant between God and every single living creature upon earth - yes, even including insects and animals! - though, of course, only human beings can understand it.
This is not the end of the curse of Genesis 3:17-19 which is ongoing. That was - and is - a separate matter.
Secondly you ask, "some people still teach that human work was, and still is, cursed rather than just the soil. Is that an error?" Specifically it is the soil which is usually considered to be cursed. As a keen gardener I fully understand this. Weeds are a constant problem in any soil which is fertile! If one plants vegetables, or whatever, there is then a constant battle to keep the growing area weed-free. However, the Scripture goes beyond this, clearly stating, "...By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground." Therefore, human work itself also appears to be under a curse. In fact every human activity - where God is divorced from the picture - only brings pain and sorrow in the long run. Does that mean all human work is ultimately futile? In a sense, without God being involved, yes! But - quite obviously - that does not mean that one should avoid all work and labour. But there is a very real sense in which all human endeavour upon this planet is ultimately futile - only our faithful relationship with God will ever produce lasting fruit.
Finally, you ask, 'When "God says to Himself," is that meant to be a sort of heavenly stage whisper for man to overhear like Genesis 18:17-19 where He talks to the angels in front of Abraham?' Yes, I believe that it is. This is sometimes called 'accomodationism.' God speaks things and is even sometimes said to have "repented" over some matter; that is for human benefit, and for human understanding. In short, God temporarily 'loses' just a little of His almighty power and all-encompassing understanding, in order to directly interact with our (much lower) human level of understanding.
Robin A. Brace. May 25th, 2012.