A gracEmail subscriber asks the meaning of the second curse pronounced on Eve after she and Adam ate the forbidden fruit, that “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Gen. 3:16, NIV).
* * *
Some interpreters have understood this to mean that women, who earlier in the verse were doomed to suffer pain in childbirth, will nevertheless be sexually attracted to their men who, in turn, will have their way with the women. That explanation is unlikely, however, for at least two reasons. First, it suggests that humans lacked sexual attraction before the Fall, although God made them male and female and told them to multiply. Second, the Hebrew word translated “desire” refers to a desire to control or to dominate. It is the same word found in Genesis 4:7 where God tells Cain that “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”
In this fallen world, woman desires to dominate over man and man dominates over woman. This struggle is often referred to as “the battle of the sexes” and it is a sign of human fallenness. God originally made woman as a strong helper (ezer) corresponding to man (Gen. 2:18). Sin estranged man and woman from each other and both of them from God. Instead of completing each other as God intended, in their fallenness they compete for power and control. The New English Translation (NET Bible) expresses this clearly by saying: “You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you.” This struggle does not represent God’s creation purpose. It reflects the effect of sin and the curse.
Jesus Christ overcame sin and redeemed humankind from the curse that sin had brought. In the context of this verse, Jesus reconciled man and woman to each other and both of them to God. Because of Jesus, the sexes need no longer compete for mastery. Instead, they both may “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). Paul describes this mutual deference in Ephesians 5:22-33, and he says far more to men about this than he does to women. As the NET Bible so aptly states in a footnote: “Sin produces a conflict or power struggle between the man and the woman, but in Christ man and woman call a truce and live harmoniously.”