Work was not a new concept for Adam. God designed a man to work, and he is never happy or fulfilled unless he is working, in some way producing something, repairing something, improving something. The idea of work being punishment is a fallacy. When God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden, a perfect paradise, he was put there to work. “Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15) But after Adam ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, his deliberate disobedience necessitated consequences.“Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat of it' cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life.”
Adam heeded the voice of his wife rather than taking heed to the voice of the Lord God. In the KJV, the word heeded is hearkened, and it means obeyed. Adam chose to obey his wife's words instead of God's words. God specifically told Adam what he was not to do and what would happen if he did. Eve said something like, “Here, Adam. Try this. It's really good!” And Adam fell all over himself to please his wife.
The consequences were serious, and appropriately so. The ground was cursed, and Adam would now have to work hard to get food from the earth. The word toil simply means labor. In Eden, God had planted the garden. All Adam had to do was watch over it. Now he would have to plow, plant, and water, maintain and harvest it. There was something else Adam would need to watch over. “Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)
Thorns and thistles are a painful reminder of Adam's disobedience. They grow with or without water, bear no fruit, choke out other growing things, and can overtake acres of land. They are good for nothing and best eliminated by burning. This curse still stands, even to this day. “For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” (Romans 8:22)
Adam was punished for his disobedience and all mankind has collectively shared the punishment. But there is a day coming in the future, when God will make new heavens and a new earth, and a New Jerusalem. Finally, the curse will be ended. “And there shall be no more curses.” (Revelation 22:3)