Tonight we’ll look at Genesis 3:16, which reads:
To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.” (NKJV)
There are a lot of different thoughts on what that last part of the verse (“your desire shall be for your husband”) means. In the course of preparing for tonight, I read three helpful articles by women on this verse, which I thought some of you might be interested in for further study.
One was by a scholar named Susan Foh, which gets quoted in a lot of commentaries on this verse. (You can download her article here.) She explained it this way:
“Eve would have to fight against a desire to master her husband, a desire that works against God’s ordained order for the home. The principle of Adam’s headship was established before the fall. Now the curse on Eve makes it much harder for her to submit and flow with God’s institution of male headship in the home.
“The words of the Lord in Genesis 3:16b, as in the case of the battle between sin and Cain, do not determine the victor of the conflict between husband and wife. These words mark the beginning of the battle of the sexes. As a result of the fall, man no longer rules easily; he must fight for his headship. Sin has corrupted both the willing submission of the wife and the loving headship of the husband. The woman’s desire is to control her husband (to usurp his divinely appointed headship) and he must master her, if he can. So the rule of love founded in paradise is replaced by struggle, tyranny and domination. Experience corroborates this interpretation of God’s judgment on the woman. If the words “and he shall rule over you” in Genesis 3:16b are understood in the indicative, then they are not [actually] true. As Cain did not rule over sin (Genesis 4: 7b ), so not every husband rules his wife, and wives have desires contrary to their husbands’ and often have no desire [at all] …for their husbands.”
Then I read a response by an author named Wendy Alsup (available here), who tones down this interpretation and reads the verse like this:
“If we read Genesis 3:16 in the straightforward way translators write it—“her desire/craving/longing will be for her husband”—it requires no hermeneutical backflips. As a result of the Fall, even though childbirth is painful and the man rules her, the woman still has a morbid craving for him, looking to him in unhealthy ways that do not reflect her status as an image-bearer of God. The woman wants something from the man that he was never intended to provide, that even on his best day he is not equipped to provide. He becomes an idol.”
Another author named Claire Smith pushed back a little in response to Wendy Aslup’s article, and said that Susan Foh’s reading of the verse actually does work the best. (Smith’s article is here.) She said:
“We can’t decide on the meaning of “desire” without also considering the meaning of “rule,” especially as the man’s “rule” appears to be a response, a reciprocal action, to the woman’s “desire.” This word is used throughout the Old Testament for “rule,” “dominion,” or “reign,” whether by God, [or] human agents… But if we interpret the woman’s desire as “idolatrous/unhealthy longing,” the reciprocal action of “rule” makes less sense than it does if her prior action was a desire to possess or control her husband… However, all these problems are avoided if we take “desire” to have the sense of “possess,” “control,” “direct,” or “dominate.” … This meaning of “desire” in Genesis 3:16 fits with the sentence as a whole—as the woman’s action finds a reciprocal action from her husband. She desires to possess or control him, and he instead will rule over her. It fits with the theme of conflict running through God’s judgment, as the different parts of his creation wrestle for control (Gen. 3:14-19).
So, there you have it. Happy studying!