A Pepper Grinder Post

Curses – Part 3

I started out the with high hopes of getting through what God said to Eve. We talked about exactly what it was that God said would be part of childbirth for Eve, as well as what was meant by "childbirth." And yet, if we look again at the verse directed at the woman, we see:

And to the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your sadness in having children. In sadness you will give birth to children, and you will want to control your husband, but he will rule over you." (Genesis 3:16, my translation)

Looks like I am still missing something. I haven't touched the fascinating line about the woman wanting to control her husband but him ruling over her. I want to dig into that this time, and next post we'll move on to Adam.

mountain towerAs with my translation of "sadness in having children," this may look a little odd to you. For example, the NIV has God telling Eve that "your desire will be for your husband." The KJV, NKJV, and RSV do something similar. The translation that I (and the NET) have chosen paints a picture of a power struggle between the sexes, while translations like the NIV sound like Eve is pining away for Adam while he bosses her around. What's a Bible scholar to do? One of the first techniques I turn to is examining how the word (the original word, rather than the English translation, which might or might not be right) is used other places in the Bible. This can be a daunting task at times. I have had the experience of doing a search on where a Greek or Hebrew word is used, and finding that it is used over a hundred times. This gives you plenty of data, but it can be discouraging, too.

In contrast, the Hebrew word "teshuqah" is used only three times in all the Old Testament. This certainly makes the research easier, but we also have us less to go on. Here are the other two places this word is used in the Old Testament:

  1. In Genesis 4:7 when Cain is feeling tempted to kill his righteous brother Abel, God tells him, if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it. (NIV)
  2. In Song of Solomon 7:10 (verse 11 in the Hebrew numbering), the woman says, I am my beloved's, and he desires me!" (NET)

Quite a difference! On the one hand we have sin wanting to control Cain, to his detriment. On the other, we have the longing and intense attraction of a lover to his beloved. The Song of Solomon meaning fits in with the way many translations interpret Genesis 3:16. These translations sound like the woman will be attracted to the man, but instead of him longing for her in return, he will dominate her. The way others (including me) have translated it, it sounds more like the war between the sexes. Women will want to be in control of men, but the men will be the ones in charge.

A big part of the reason I chose to translate Genesis 3:16 the way I did is that Genesis 4:7 is an amazingly close parallel to Genesis 3:16. While the Song of Solomon uses one word found in the verse we're looking at, Genesis 4:7 uses it in exactly the same way Genesis 3:16 uses it. In both cases, there is something that desires control (teshuqah), but the other party must or will have mastery (meshal). Even the verb tenses and prepositions are the same! (Don't worry, I'll stop being a grammar geek soon.) The only difference in the passages is who wants control, who will have (or should have) mastery, and whether the overall message is a prophetic judgment or a warning. The striking similarity between the two places in Genesis where teshuqah is used was my biggest reason for choosing the translation I chose, but there are a couple others as well.

Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 were written at the same time by the same author doing the same type of writing, while Song of Solomon was written hundreds of years later by a completely different author writing love poetry instead of history! Also, I think my translation makes more sense in terms of the logical flow of the verse. It would be one thing if the verse said, "you'll desire your husband, but he'll always think other women are better looking." That contrast would make sense. A contrast between a woman desiring her husband, and him ruling over her seems forced. The contrast between wanting to be in control while the husband rules over her fits well.

moonBut what exactly does it mean for the husband to rule over the wife? The Hebrew word here has one basic meaning, but lots of different nuances. The first time it's used is in Genesis 1:18, where we read that God set the sun and moon in place to "govern the day and the night." This doesn't mean that the moon is sitting up there telling all the stars how they should move, but that the sun and moon are the preeminent objects in the day and night--they get the top billing. On the other hand, when the word is used in Genesis 4:7 (the verse we already looked at, where Cain is warned that sin desires to have him, but he must master it), the clear sense is one of keeping something in check and under control. When the word has the meaning of ruling or being in control, it can describe anyone from a benevolent governor who is striving to do the best for his charges, to a despot who cares only about enriching himself.

I think it's clear that the word isn't being usedin Genesis 3:16 in the way it is used when describing the sun and moon governing the day and night. For one thing, as we mentioned before, there is a very strong parallel with Genesis 4:7, less than a chapter away. In that verse, there is no doubt that Cain is expected to exercise control over his sinful desires, rather than just taking the place of honor above them. Also, as when trying to understand teshuqah, the contrast in the verse helps us out. Ruling over Eve is in contrast to her wanting to control Adam. This contrast falls flat, if all Adam is doing is getting the seat at the head of the table.

So if the man is going to rule over the woman, what kind of ruler will he be? Both from the Bible and from real life, we have to say, "it depends." I cannot agree with a woman my wife knew in college who often said, "All men are pigs. Never trust a man." On the other hand, I have to admit that many men down through the ages have treated their wives unkindly and selfishly. My main focus here is not how Christian men should treat their wives, but I want to point out that Christian husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the church. If you think that means it is okay for you to send your wife out to work so you have more money, and then for you to spend your evenings in front of the TV while she runs around doing all the housework, I wonder how well you have understood Jesus's love for his people.

The thing is, Genesis 3:16 is directed at women, not at men. If men quote it to justify treating their wives like unpaid servants, they are misusing it. This verse is God explaining to Eve what another consequence of her disobedience will be. Sadness and dissatisfaction have been unleashed. They will poison not only her procreation and child raising, but even her relationship with her husband. Instead of the beautiful partnership I believe Adam and Eve had before the Fall, there will now be conflict, and a struggle for control.

I am not sure I've seen this sad state of affairs illustrated any better than on the cover of Cosmopolitan. For a magazine which I imagine thinks of itself as "edgy," Cosmopolitan is astonishingly predictable. Dominating everything, of course, is a picture of an attractive young woman with the inevitable display of cleavage. Then there is the blurb about an article about a celebrity, which usually seems to be on the upper right-hand side of the cover. On the upper left is a blurb about some sexually-oriented article. What might sound titillating at first starts to sound boring or laughable after you have seen these covers over and over. But the thing that really strikes me about these blurbs is how often they talk about new ways to make things really exciting for the man. Here is a magazine that seems to enshrine girl-power, and yet they seem to know women will want to buy a magazine that tells them how to make their man happy.

broken swingsetIn a way, this shows the tragic results of the sexual revolution. Women, instead of resting secure in a committed lifetime relationship, are desperately looking for ways to hold onto their man. They have to compete, not just with the other women their man might meet in person, but also with the countless women in cyber space, who seem only too happy to do whatever it takes to titillate men in our sex-saturated society. And so they grab that copy of Cosmopolitan as they go through the checkout aisle so they can figure out some new position or technique that will keep Joe interested.

In a deeper way, though, I think the Cosmopolitan covers reflect Genesis 3:16. The girl-power emphasis is the woman wanting to control. The desperate desire to please her man shows the man ruling over the woman. I have no doubt that the editors of Cosmopolitan would scream bloody murder if they heard this interpretation. I imagine, in their minds, they are just trying to empower women and help them find fulfillment, but to me it sure sounds like Cosmopolitan readers are much more eager to satisfy their men than most men are to satisfy their women.

This is the nature of the Fall of Man. No matter how much we may try to buck the trend and live as if there were no results of Adam and Eve's disobedience, it is in us and around us. We may make choices that modify what form it takes, but we cannot escape it.

Tune in , and we'll take the microscope off women and look at what God said to Adam.


*Photo Credits: moon by