Why did God curse the ground and not Adam?
The account of the creation of the universe, the Earth and the first human couple is confined to the first chapter of Genesis. We wish more details had been given, yet diligent reading of the rest of Scripture does reveal answers to many of those questions we may have. This process is known as "progressive revelation."
The second chapter of Genesis provides further details of Adam and concludes with the creation of his "helper" – later named Eve. The third chapter deals entirely with their disobedience and God's punishment. God first cursed the serpent who had permitted his body to be used by Satan [Genesis 3:14-15]. God then imposed pain and sorrow upon the woman prospectively for her part in obeying the first commandment – "to be fruitful and multiply" [Genesis 1:28 and 3:16]. Finally, God did not curse Adam but instead "cursed the ground for your sake" [Genesis 3:17-19]. Why did He do this?
Genesis chapter nine, provides the clue why God cursed the ground and not Adam in the account of Noah's curse upon his grandson, Canaan [Genesis 9: 20-27]. The chapter tells us that Noah made and drank wine and became drunk; overheated, he removed his clothes and fell asleep in his tent. Noah's son, Ham, the father of Canaan, regarded the sight of his drunken father as an object of ridicule and told his brothers. They reverently averted their eyes and covered the naked Noah. When Noah discovered what had happened, he cursed not Ham, the culprit, but Ham's son – Canaan, the innocent. The principle here is that a wicked son reflects a poor father who has failed to provide the appropriate discipline. The principle is found again in 1 Kings 11:11-12 where God defers the punishment for Solomon because it would reflect upon his father David. In Adam's case, his father was God Himself and in a real sense the ground was his mother. By cursing the ground, God prevented any adverse suspicions from falling upon Himself but directed it upon "Mother earth." However, there was an even more profound reason for cursing the ground.
Adam, was created in perfection and destined to live forever – so far, only God is immortal and, while Adam was destined to live forever, the location was not specified! Moreover, to this point everything Adam ate was also perfect since it grew from the perfect ground. However, following the curse, perfection was ruined and every living thing – including plants, animals and mankind – slowly changed, cell by living cell, from eternal to mortal (i.e., subject to death). To this day, every descendant of Adam is born to one day die. This life would otherwise be a meaningless existence except for the fact that God has provided not only a way of forgiving the inherited sin of Adam, but also the possibility of inheriting immortality.