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)
I’ve lived long enough and I’ve been in enough places in the world to know that the plight of women is very difficult. It’s very hard being a woman, and throughout human history it has been very hard, and in many places in the world today it’s little different than it has been since ancient times.
Apart from the general sufferings that all of us go through, there’s a particular area of suffering that belongs only to women, and that is the perennial bearing and caring of children and the perennial dealing with husbands. It has been a hard and relentless and often sorrowful duty through most of history, and even today.
Throughout most of human history, childbearing took a woman to the brink of death, to say nothing of the risk of losing the child they’ve carried in their womb for nine months. Mortality rates are still high in many places, and through human history more babies have perished in birth than have lived.
Added to that is the responsibility of carrying around a child for nine months in your womb and then having to release that child into the world, with all of its hostilities and all of its threats and all of its dangers, whether they be physical dangers or moral dangers. Because the child by nature is a sinner, that child is going to find everything destructive to entertain itself with, and therefore a mother has a heart that never rests. She worries not only about what may harm the child physically, but what may destroy the child’s soul.
There are not only accidents and plagues and injuries that can worry the mother. There is that rebellion that will break her heart. There is that child that moves away into a kind of life that grieves a mother. And the more children she has the worse it is.
Modern science has developed medicines and medical care and education and in some ways has mitigated the physical trauma of childbirth and the relentlessness of it and given the woman a measure of comfort. But it hasn’t altogether removed the problem, because women still die and babies are still born deformed, ill, or dead.
And then there’s still that worry. Your child could face any number of perilous things in his or her time in the world.
Life, frankly, is not paradise for women. It has its joys. But there is in the life of a woman a level of personal sorrow that is unique to her.
Now the question is, why is it so? Was this God’s original intention? Was God originally designing that women’s children would bring sorrow in the physical pain of birth and then sorrow in watching that little life struggle?
Was that God’s original design? No. That’s all part of the curse. That’s what verse 16 is saying. Originally it wasn’t that way. Originally having children was a paradise. This is a curse.
To women I say this: If you are surprised that you have trouble with your children and that you suffer physical, emotional, and spiritual pain in that area, know that God didn’t intend it that way in the beginning. That’s a result of the Fall. You’re bearing the effect of the curse that God put on Eve.
And you say, “If I had been in the garden I wouldn’t have done what Eve did. So why should I have to pay?” The answer is, because God wants to remind you all the time how terrible sin is and what it has done.
God created man and woman in the garden in perfection and in sinlessness, and they had eternal life. They would never grow old. They would never be ill. They would never be harmed. They would never die. And God said to them, “You will be fruitful and multiply.” They would have had babies, and the babies would have grown, but they never would have declined.
After the fall, humanity still has babies. But now death exists, and that’s going to make the whole thing different – because along with physical death comes disease and accident and injury and harm and sorrow, and it’s going to hit the woman in the most intimate of categories, which is her relation to her children and her relation to her husband.
Every woman experiencing these areas of difficulty has a constant reminder of the sin of Eve. God spoke to the woman with His sentence on her to serve as a constant reminder of her sin, and it’s a reminder to all women of the horror of sin. Women through all history have very personal, very measurable reminders of the iniquity of Eden.
Now let me present a footnote. Some have suggested rather foolishly that it is therefore a sin for women to have any kind of pain alleviation in childbirth. But that’s not the point. It’s not just the physical pain of childbirth that is in view here.
And certainly there are some women who escape the pain of giving birth. There are some women who are barren and can’t have children, and there are women who are single and never have children. And that doesn’t mean that they escape the curse, because we all feel the effects of sin. We all age. We all are exposed to harm and danger and disease and death.
It isn’t necessary to take all of the elements of the curse all the time and impose them on all the women, just so everybody has a fully maxed-out personal experience of this curse.
There is nothing wrong with alleviating pain in childbirth, just as there is nothing wrong with alleviating other effects of the fall. We don’t say, “According to the curse on men to toil over a cursed ground, don’t you dare buy that tractor. You are mitigating the curse. What are you doing with that lawn mower? Get down on all fours and chew that grass down.” I mean, come on.
But even with some alleviation of the pain of childbirth, when and where possible in modern times, it is still not possible to end the woman’s sorrow associated with her children. So I’m back to where I started. Being a woman is hard.
So, what can a woman do to alleviate the sorrows of this curse? Look at 1 Timothy 2:15:
But she will be saved through the bearing of children, if they continue in faith and love and sanctification with self-restraint.
What a great hope. Women have been given a hard road, but it can be softened. It can be changed. Women are not necessarily under God’s permanent shadow of displeasure, and this passage shows that God has opened a way of light. Instead of the bearing of children being the point of her curse, it becomes the point of her deliverance.
What does this mean? This isn’t soul salvation. You don’t get saved by having babies. That’s not what it’s saying. But a woman is delivered from the impact of that curse, the impact of that pain and suffering and sorrow.
How? Here it is: “If they continue in faith and love and sanctification with self-restraint.”
If a woman will live a godly life and continue in faith and love and holiness and self-control – if she will be a godly woman – then you know what? She will raise a godly generation, and her children will continue in the same thing.
Perhaps you are a woman reading this who has been saying, “I’m not sure I identify with what you’re saying. I don’t have a lot of pain with my children. They’re sheer joy to me.” You know why? Because you have been delivered through childbearing, because you have continued to live your life in faith and love and sanctity and self-control. You are living a godly life, and therefore your children are being raised to love the Savior, and the curse is mitigated and you are delivered from its impact. That’s the point.
In Christ, through salvation, the curse is reversed and children become a heritage from the Lord – a blessing, a gift, and the source of great joy.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 2000, titled “The Curse on the Woman, Part 1.”
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