To the woman He said,
“I will greatly multiply
Your pain and conception,
In pain you will bear children;
Your desire will be for your husband,
And he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16)
All of you married women, all of you who have mothered children, can say you have experienced sorrow because of your children and because of your husbands. Just the sinful reality of your children and your husband is enough to bring a measure of trouble into your life.
Given that a woman has all of that sorrow, she is in great need of some tender comfort. She is in great need of some understanding, deference, and compassion. But the fact of the matter is, historically, husbands have very little of that to give.
It’s almost proverbial to say men don’t understand women, even their wives. Men have used and abused women, treated them unkindly, unfaithfully, indifferently, expecting everything out of them and giving little in return in the area of compassion, kindness, tenderness, and sympathy.
I’m sure if Eve had known what she was going to have to deal with from Adam, she never would have taken that fruit in the first place. All of a sudden man is changed and becomes a selfish and dominating monarch.
The subordination of women was always God’s plan, but in a lovely and enjoyable harmony of perfect fulfillment of mutual wills, delighting in God and in each other. This has been taken away, and the gracious subordination that was there, the wonderful willing partnership that was there, is gone. And the language here defines what happened.
Let’s take the first line: “Your desire shall be for your husband.” Some have suggested that this means a sexual desire. But that’s certainly not a punishment, and that is something God gave them before the fall. How else could He say, “Be fruitful and multiply,” if they weren’t prepared to engage in that kind of relationship? This is not God cursing them by having the woman desire a physical relationship with her husband. She has always desired that in a perfectly loving way.
This means something else. This means that her desire is going to be something negative, something that reflects separation and alienation. That’s a theme in Genesis 3. Enmity was put between the serpent and the woman. Enmity was put between the man and the ground. And enmity is put between the wife and her husband.
She can’t do whatever she wishes. Whatever she wishes, whatever she desires, is subject to his will. She won’t always get what she wants. She won’t always have what she desires. She’s going to have to bear the sorrow of being unfulfilled. She’s going to have desires and dreams and ambitions that aren’t going to be fulfilled, because her husband does not have a perfect love for her or a perfect understanding of her. And he’s going to rule her in ways that lack compassion and sympathy.
Now let’s talk about the word “desire.” What does it mean? It’s an interesting word. It comes from an Arabic root meaning “to seek control.” Literally it could read, “You shall seek control over your husband.” You will desire to exert your will. That is a sign of the curse.
You will desire to take charge, to be in control, to master. And that desire shows up in various women in various ways. In some of them it’s a silent desire that smolders, and with others it is a shouting desire that isn’t much of a secret to anybody. And the more godless women are, very often the more hostile they are toward men. Sometimes that hostility takes the attitude of coldness, indifference, or apathy. Because she can’t achieve what she wants, she eventually becomes totally indifferent and apathetic toward the man. But there is this desire, this seeking to have one’s own way, to get control.
The ideal situation, according to 1 Peter 3, is that a woman would manifest a meek and quiet spirit, submitting to her husband as Sarah did to Abraham. But that’s not how it is in the world. She wants control. She wants what she wants.
On the other hand, “He shall rule over you.” Let’s look at the word “rule” for a minute, mashal. It means to dominate, to reign. The idea is as the woman seeks to master her husband, he dominates her. As the woman tends toward rebellion, the man tends toward despotism. And you have the battle of the sexes right here. That’s why there’s conflict in marriage. And there is conflict in marriage, no question about it.
You have male oppression. You have female rebellion. Therefore you’re going to have divorce and terrible conflict in marriage. Conflict has always been there. It’s just part of the sentence. That’s the payment for sin. And God, by doing that, gives to all people a constant reminder of what disasters sin produces.
But like with the sorrow that comes from motherhood, there is relief from this conflict for those in Christ. This will be the subject next time.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 2000, titled “The Curse on the Woman, Part 2.”
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