Last week I took a brief look at the first part of Genesis 3:16, a verse which describes the consequence of the woman’s role in the fall into sin. In the first part of God’s judgment on the woman he declared that bearing children would now be painful and traumatic. Her primary life function would be full of toil. Today I want to look at the second part of that judgment where God says “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Here God declares that the woman’s primary relationship–the relationship to her husband–would also be disrupted. The marriage relationship, the relationship that was to be central in family, in culture, in church—the very building-block relationship of human beings, would suffer the effects of the Fall. There are two things of importance here: first, what it means that a woman’s desire shall be for her husband, and second, what it means that he shall rule over her.
First let’s look at what it means that a woman’s desire shall be for her husband. “Your desire shall be for your husband.” What is this desire? Some have taught that this is a kind of sexual desire, that part of the consequence for a woman’s sin is that she would have a sexual desire for her husband or a kind of abnormal sexual desire for him. These people look to Song of Solomon where this word desire is used; there the woman says, “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me.” That does speak of a kind of longing, a kind of sexual desire. But this hardly sounds like a consequence for sin. Quite the opposite is true. A woman who feels sexual desire for her husband is blessed by God. This is a good desire, a desire a woman should long to have. So what else can it mean?
This is a case where we can follow one of those great principles of interpreting the Bible and simply let a more clear passage help us interpret a less clear passage. When Moses wrote Genesis he gave us a very helpful way to understand what is meant by the woman’s desire. We need only look to Genesis 4:6-7. Here Cain has had his offering rejected by God while his brother Abel has had his offering accepted by God. Cain is furious; his whole countenance has changed. Jealousy and murder are rising up in his heart. The Lord comes to Cain and gives him a rebuke, a kind warning. He says, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” Here is that same word—desire.
In this verse sin is described in animal terms—like a lion or tiger hiding by a door. You open the door, and there it is, coiled and ready to pounce. Or maybe the author wants us to think about a snake here, a serpent like the devil. The moment that door is opened, Wham!, Sin pounces all over you. Sin wants to dominate and destroy you. It is out to get you by dominating you.
Keeping that in mind, we can go back to Genesis 3 where God tells the woman, “Your desire shall be for your husband.” What we see is that God is not referring to a good sexual desire, but about that bad, sinful desire, just like in his warning to Cain. A woman’s desire shall be to dominate her husband just like sin seeks to dominate all of us. In place of the family structure God calls us to, with a husband lovingly leading his wife and the wife joyfully submitting to his leadership, there would now be a power struggle, a struggle to dominate.
A woman’s desire for her husband shall be a desire to push him out of his place of leadership. It should not be lost on us that this is exactly what happened when man fell—the woman was led by a creature and the man was led by his wife. The whole God-ordained leadership structure was reversed. And that is how it continues today. A wife struggles to submit to her husband. The ESV puts a little note in the text explaining that the word for could also be translated against. The woman’s desire shall now be against her husband—against his God-given position of leadership and authority. Her heart will rebel against what God has said is good. The woman will engage a lifelong battle against this sin. It’s part of her sinful nature.
And this is true today, isn’t it? God created something good, something perfect, when he created the marriage relationship, when he said that Adam was to lead his wife and that she was to joyfully follow him. And yet every wife can testify to the struggle it is to submit to her husband’s leadership. Of course in a perfect world it should have been perfectly easy. But in this world a wife’s submission means that she must sinlessly submit to a sinful man. That is a difficult thing to do. But it is exactly what God calls her to.
The husband, too, will be prone to sin. The text says, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” The loving leadership of the husband will be replaced with a desire to rule, to master, to exercise a kind of lordship. This is not the kind of leadership that places the wife’s concerns on the front burner or that seeks her good above his own. Instead, it is the kind of leadership that dominates, that squelches, that cares foremost about self. While the wife seeks to usurp the man’s position, he will love himself more than he loves his wife. He will make it very difficult for her to submit to him. Not all the time; man will still love his wife in a genuine way. But sin will be crouching outside his door, too, seeking to overtake him.
This is something for men to take note of: In your sinful state you are prone to lead your wife badly, to dominate her, to treat her poorly, to treat her like a slave instead of a wife. Even while you love her you will sin against her. In fact, you will sin against your wife more than against any other person.
No longer co-equals, no longer different in function but equal in value and worth, God’s judgment foretold that a husband and wife would now battle one another for control. The wife would consider herself more valuable than the husband who would consider himself more important than the wife. This was the consequence of their sin. The woman’s lot would be one of suffering. Amidst all the joys of marriage and family there would be the pain of bearing children and the pain of an imperfect, sin-marred marriage.
Here is life after the Fall—womanhood and motherhood after the Fall. Here is the consequence for the woman’s sin. Her life which had been perfect and perfectly easy would now be marred by pain. Instead of having trouble-free and pain-free pregnancies, bearing children and raising them would be traumatic. Instead of being her husband’s helper she would now be prone to being his nemesis. Instead of leading his wife, a man would dominate her.