The sweat of your brow

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Genesis 3:19; Luke 22:39-46

The Authorized Version can’t take credit for this one.  It translates Genesis 3:19 as

“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread”

If they were even more literal they might have said “In the sweat of thy nostrils…”!

But, unsurprisingly, it’s the more idiomatic translation “By the sweat of your brow” that has passed into common usage.

It means hard graft, exertion, labour.

And this is part of the curse.  This is something new.  Adam was called to work in Genesis 2, but now his work will be sweaty work!

Sweat is mentioned three times in the King James Bible.

Once with Adam.  (Genesis 3:19)

Once with the High Priest.  (Ezekiel 44:18)

And once with Jesus.  (Luke 22:44)

And tracing through the history of sweat will tell us the story of how God works redemption.

Let’s think about Adam.  Before the fall, work was “no sweat”.

But with sin comes sweat.  And this speaks of two things at least.  First, there seems to be an added dimension of struggle.  But also of ‘leakiness’.

When you read through the priestly laws of Leviticus, people are unclean when they ‘leak’.  So often it’s when stuff comes out of a person (I won’t elaborate any further than that!) that they are ceremonially unclean.

This is confirmed when we think of the high priest mentioned in Ezekiel 44.  He’s meant to wear robes that breathe well.  Because it wouldn’t do to have the high priest sweating.

We have that saying, don’t we, “Horses sweat, men perspire, women glow.”  Perhaps we’ve retained something of this priestly distaste for sweat.  We feel it’s unladylike – it’s undignified, unrefined – to sweat.

Well with this background in mind, let’s think about Jesus.  When Jesus comes, what should we expect?  Should we expect Him to sweat like the rest of us – to put His shoulder to the wheel and engage in the struggle?  Or should we expect Him – as the ultimate High Priest – to say “no sweat”?

Will Jesus be a fellow-struggler or will He float above it all without a trace of perspiration?

Well come with me in your mind to another garden.  Not Eden, but a garden called Gethsemane.  It’s the night before Jesus would die to atone for the sins of the world.  He was in the midst of performing the ultimate High Priestly act:

And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.  (Luke 22:44)

Christ put His shoulder to the wheel harder than us all.  His work as the true Adam and the true High Priest would be an intense, costly and sacrificial labour.  He joins us in our cursed state, rolls up His sleeves and gets to work.

Jesus doesn’t say “no sweat.”  And He doesn’t simply “raise a sweat”. Because of His astonishing love, He pours Himself out in blood, sweat and tears.  And He does it for you.  Whatever labours are required of you today, rest in this truth – Christ has really done the hard graft!

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