Curse Applied to Woman and Man (3:16-19)
Exploring Genesis • Sermon • Submitted
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Kevin DeYoung writes the following in his book Men and Women in the Church, “If the husband is called to be the head of the family, then the wife is called to be its heart.” He continues. “This design is reflected not only in the ‘very good’ of Eden, but in the very bad as well. The sin in the garden was, among other things, a reversal of the family order. Eve took charge, and Adam followed her. Eve sinned not just as a person, but as a woman and a wife; Adam sinned as a man and a husband.”
[Sidenote: A message of this nature tends to prompt an apologetic approach. The few verses in Genesis 3 that we are going to look at this morning cut to the core of our identity as men and women. They also indicate distinction between the sexes. Whether we find ourselves amid a group of secular people or even a group of evangelicals, we typically avoid discussing the God designed roles for men and women. There tends to be a lot of baggage. As a result, pastors often approach these sorts of topics with an apologetic tone. In reality, we are afraid of holding a biblical position because a lot of conflict surrounds the biblical position. We must wrestle with graciously and honestly assessing a biblical position and its potential abuses, while at the same time embracing God’s best design because His blessings reside in his good design.]
DeYoung offers what I have found to be the most helpful analogy so far in a discussion about complementarianism and egalitarianism.
Suppose you have two identical basketballs—one you reserve for outdoor use and one you set aside for indoor use. The “rules” of complementarianism are not like the arbitrary labeling of two basketballs. They both work the same way and can essentially do the same thing, except that God has decreed that the two basketballs be set apart for different functions. That’s a capricious complementarianism held together by an admirable submission to Scripture, but in time it will lack any coherent or compelling reason for the existence of different “rules.”
But suppose you have a basketball and an American football. They are similar things, used toward similar ends. You could even attempt to use the two balls interchangeably. But the attempt would prove awkward, and in the long run the game would change if you kept shooting free throws with a football or kept trying to execute a run-pass option with a basketball. The rules for each ball are not arbitrary. They are rooted in the different structure, shape, and purpose for each ball. It’s not the nature of a basketball to be used in football. In other words, the rules are rooted in nature.
In a few minutes we will look more deeply into the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin and how those consequences cut to the core of a man and woman’s identity. Before we do, let’s address a clarification from last week. Were Adam and Eve cursed?
Under the Curse
Under the Curse
Last week I offered the observation “that a curse is only declared on the serpent/Satan and not the woman or man. God curses both Satan and the instrument Satan used to corrupt mankind.” I did not offer any implications to this observation. Just pointed out this observation. Wednesday evening, our bible study ended up going down a bit of a rabbit trail on the topic of the curse and whether just Satan was cursed or if the curse included Adam and Eve. To begin answering the question, let us offer a definition for curse.
Define curse. One wordbook defines curse as “binding utterances with negative and damaging connotations…. or realization of judgment from God.” TWOT defines curse as invoking “harm or injury by means of a statement, by means of the power of a deity.” My observation remains true. God does not use the word curse in addressing Adam and Eve but does when he talks with the serpent/Satan. However, if the definitions for curse are accurate, we would be hard pressed to not conclude that Adam and Eve were cursed.
TWOT offers the concept of hemming in with obstacles and rendering powerless to resist. Therefore, the serpent was banned to the dirt/ground. Satan was banned from heaven. Adam and Eve were banned from the garden, from the ease of childbirth, and the ease of working the soil.
Adam and Eve were cursed. If a curse consists of binding utterances with damaging connotations, then by all means, Adam and Eve were cursed.  In fact, the apostle Paul would later write, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23). As a result of their disobedience – their sin – Adam and Eve died spiritually and would eventually die physically. Not only would they die, but all their posterity would also be born in a spiritually dead state and would as well die physically.
While the word for curse is not used in the text, the consequences appear to equate to a curse. Also, the concept of curse is used in connection with Adam and Eve’s offspring in various contexts. (1) Just one chapter later, due to Cain’s disobedience, God curses Cain. Moses writes, “And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand” (Gen 4:11). (2) In the giving of the Law, Moses reminds the people of Israel that they will be cursed if they do not obey.
See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord… you shall live and multiply, and the Lordyour God will bless you … But if your heart turns away … you shall surely perish…. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live (Deut 30:11–20).
Paul connects the blessings and the curses of the law to his readers in Galatians. He writes, “all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them’” (Gal 3:10-11).
Additionally, Paul acknowledges how every person is born under the curse that began with Adam and Eve’s sin. Paul writes, “just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom 5:12).
And yet, Christ takes our curse. However, as intimated by God when he clothes Adam and Eve and when he promises salvation through the offspring of Eve, Christ would come, born under the law (Gal 4:4) to take Adam, Eve’s, and our curse upon himself. Paul writes in Galatians, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Gal 3:12–13). As well, Paul writes in Romans, “as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:19).
Disobedience brings a curse. Adam and Eve disobeyed and were cursed. Cain disobeyed and he was cursed. Israel would often disobey and would experience curses instead of blessings. We are born sinful and under the curse. We have no ability to offer perfect obedience in order to avoid the curse and death. However, Jesus lived a perfect life and merits blessing instead of a curse. He then grants us his righteousness acquired through his perfect obedience and takes upon himself our curse.
So then, worthy of note, God extends hope to Adam and Eve but not to Satan. While, both Satan and mankind were cursed at this point of disobedience. A difference remains. God immediately extends forgiveness and a promise of a solution. God does not extend forgiveness to Satan. God immediately clothes Adam and Eve, and in so doing pictures how he will consistently offer ways in which his people may address their sin. God will later offer the people of Israel a sacrificial system. The sacrificial system had serious limitations but did allow for a temporary way for God’s people to address their sin. God clothing Adam and Eve and the sacrificial system all pictured the ultimate and perfect clothing of righteousness that Jesus would offer us in his perfect life and perfect death. None of this was offered to Satan.
The consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin indicate and target their appointed roles. In the first chapter of Genesis God commands man to be “fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion” over it (Gen 1:28). Adam and Eve, created equal, needed one another to accomplish God’s commands. While being equal, God designed each of them to excel in certain areas of his commands. Eve and following women have the beautiful and blessed ability to bear children. Obviously, men bear a role in procreation and ongoing care of children, but women possess a unique role in this area. On the other hand, God equipped men to excel in the weighty and hard work of subduing and holding dominion over God’s creation.
Therefore, God created two (and only two) equal sexes and gifted them with complementary strengths. The consequences of their sin target these prominent areas.
Curse Applied to the Woman
Curse Applied to the Woman
The impact of the “curse” on the woman comes in two parts. First, the pain in childbearing multiplies, and secondly, her relationship with her husband becomes much more complicated.
Pain in childbirth. Not much need be said about the first of these two parts. Likely, prior to the Fall, Eve’s body would have cooperated with her in such a fashion as to immensely limit or completely negate pain.Boice is likely correct when he concludes that the pain likely includes the pain experienced through the rearing of children as well.
Your desire contrary to your husband. The second aspect of Eve’s consequences will require a bit more time to develop. Let us first notice the challenges inherent in the second half of verse 16 by the many different ways translators have chosen to translate the verse.
The largest percentage of translators translate the phrase (woodenly) as “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (NIV, NASB, HCSB, RSV, and similar to KJV, YLT, GNB). The Complete Jewish Bible and the Geneva Bible offer a similar (although vaguer) but equally accurate translation with “Your desire will be toward your husband, but he will rule over you” (CJB) and “thy desire shal be subject to thine housband, and he shal rule over thee” (GEN).These translations all seem to imply that the object of the wife’s passion (or her affection) is for her husband. I am certain most husbands hope that is the accurate understanding 😊. These translations do offer an accurate literal translation of the Hebrew.
The accuracy of the translation is not in question so much as the meaning of the translation is in question. Consider. Is part of the curse on the woman that she will desire her husband? Maybe the curse comes in that her strong desire for her husband will be met with an affinity on the part of the husband to rule over her? If she desires her husband, what exactly about her husband does she desire? Does she desire her husband relationally? Does she desire leadership of her husband? What exactly does the woman desire? [That’s what husbands have been asking since this point.]
Potential interpretations of desire. Sexual. Some have understood this desire to be relational or sexual. The woman would have a strong desire for intimacy, so much so that she was willing to endure the cost of painful childbirth. However, this interpretation seems to miss the lexical meaning of the word, and additionally seems to run contrary to most people’s experiences.
Submission as the consequence. Some appear to avoid the word desire entirely and interpret the whole phrase. For instance, both Chrysostom and Luther argue a wife’s submission to her husband constitutes the punishment. They would argue the husband did not possess any inherent authority prior to the Fall. As a result of the Fall, the wife lost her freedom. Chrysostom wrote, “In the beginning I created you equal in esteem to your husband, and my intention was that in everything you would share with him as an equal … but you abused your equality of status. Hence I subject you to your husband.” Luther also wrote, “If Eve had persisted in the truth, she would not only not have been subjected to the rule of her husband, but she herself would also have been a partner in the rule which is now entirely the concern of males.” “While this interpretation would definitely constitute a serious consequence for sin, man’s leadership within the marriage seems to be determined prior to the Fall. Paul indicates male leadership in the home and the church as based on creation order not because of the Fall (1 Tim 2:13; Eph 5:22-23; 1 Cor 11:1-12). Additionally, God uses the loving leadership of a husband with a wife as a picture of Christ and the church. Unlikely would God employ a consequence of sin to then picture one of the most beautiful pictures of Christ and the church.
Relational security and need. Others have understood this desire to refer to, as Gini Andrews writes, an “immense, clinging, psychological dependence on man.” Potentially, the woman so desires the security she finds in the man that she is willing to submit herself to his rule. Keil and Delitzsch consider the desire “a desire bordering upon disease.”
The woman had also broken through her divinely appointed subordination to the man; she had not only emancipated herself from the man to listen to the serpent, but had led the man into sin. For that, she was punished with a desire bordering upon disease (תְּשׁוּקָה from שׁוּק to run, to have a violent craving for a thing), and with subjection to the man.
This interpretation seems to require a willingness on the wife’s part. However, the husband’s leadership in the relationship is not part of sins consequences, and a wife willingly submitting herself to his rule would not constitute much of a punishment – a divine consequence she could choose to experience.
Subservient desires. Some of the reformers considered desire to refer generically to the woman’s desires but emphasize all the woman’s desires would become subservient to the whim or will of the husband. John Calvin proposes this view when he writes, “The second punishment he imposes is subjection. For this form of speech … is of the same force as if he had said that she would not be free and at her own command, but subject to her husband’s authority and dependent upon his will—as if he had said, “You shall desire nothing but what your husband wishes…” Another reformer, Konrad Pellikan, seemed to hold a similar view. He wrote, “Your delights will be to be subject to your husband, to look always to him and to pay attention mindfully. Formed from his side, you were able to be his equal and his companion. You did not know how to govern: now learn to be a subject.” Of the interpretations so far presented, this view seems most plausible but still contains some issues. Potentially, proponents agree that the husband’s leadership precedes the Fall, and the consequences were that the wife’s desires will now be subject to an overbearing leader. For instance, Keil and Delitzsch argue the “woman was made subordinate to him from the very first; but the supremacy of the man was not intended to become a despotic rule, crushing the woman into a slave.” However, that does not seem to be the way these proponents present their view. Their view, as presented, appears to assume that the husband’s leadership came about after the Fall (“you were able to be his equal…now learn to be a subject”). Additionally, common experiences seem to run contrary to Pellikan’s statement, “your delights will be to be subject to your husband.”
A desire to lead husband. Let us consider one final interpretation. In so doing, let us consider the only other passage in Genesis (only one other use in Song of Solomon) which uses the word for desire. In Genesis four, Cain becomes angry with Abel because God accepted Abel’s offering and rejects his own. In verse six, God says to Cain, “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 contrary to you, but you must rule over it” (Gen 4:7). The last phrase in verse seven is nearly identical to 3:16, “its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” Little confusion surrounds the meaning of the verse in chapter four. Sin desires to rule over Cain, and Cain will consistently have to purpose to not let it rule but instead rule over it. If we were to draw a comparison to our discussion in chapter three, we might understand 3:16 to mean – a wife’s desire will be to rule her husband, but a husband will have rule over her.
DeYoung. the desire is a desire for mastery…Just as sin desired to have mastery over Cain, so the woman, tainted by sin, desires to have mastery over her husband…The sinful husband, for his part, seeks to rule over his wife.
Some modern versions offer this interpretive translation. The ESV translators chose to translate the end of the verse as, “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you” (ESV). Similarly, the NET Bible translates “You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you” and the NLT as “you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.”
This final interpretation best suits the context and word usage elsewhere. Additionally, I find no arguments against this view. So then, most likely, the phrase intends to communicate that a woman will desire to rule her husband, but this desire will often conflict with her husband’s rule.
Meaning of rule over. Not only will the woman have an inordinate desire to rule, but the husband will naturally (in his sinful state) abuse his position of leadership. After telling the woman that her desire will be contrary to her husband, God then acknowledges “and he shall rule over you.” Wenham argues “It is therefore usually argued that “rule” here represents harsh exploitive subjugation, which so often characterizes woman’s lot in all sorts of societies.”
Grudem. The word [rule] certainly does not imply any “participatory” government by those who are ruled, but rather has nuances of dictatorial or absolute, uncaring use of authority, rather than considerate, thoughtful rule. It suggests harshness rather than kindness. The sense here is that Adam will misuse his authority by ruling harshly over his wife, again introducing pain and conflict into a relationship that was previously harmonious. It is not that Adam had no authority before the fall; it is simply that he will misuse it after the fall.
Prior to the Fall, God ordained that a husband would lead his wife. Therefore, this rule must speak of something other than simple leadership. Instead, rule describes the much harsher dominion, mastery, or lordship. Within these two simple phrases, God portrays the eruption of marriage and the ongoing challenge of mutual desire for control. Instead of marriage being defined by “to love and cherish,” marriage becomes characterized by “to desire and dominate.”
In following weeks, we will discuss a husband’s loving leadership – the type of leadership that reflects the leadership of Christ and his church. However, at this point, let us acknowledge the horrible tendency of men to distort God’s original leadership design by domineering over and abusing their wives with twisted and improper rule.
Curse Applied to Man
Curse Applied to Man
God then turns to Man and declares the consequences and impact of his sin. God says to Adam:
Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return. (Gen 3:17–19).
Although not complicated, let me simply address the three-fold challenge of these consequences. First, the ground itself is cursed. That which would have easily and plentifully produced fruit and plants in abundance will now experience the choking annoyance of thorns and thistles. No longer will be acquisition of necessary food be easy but will require additional painful work to gather. Secondly, the work itself will become painful and burdensome. Prior to the Fall, Adam would have still worked but his work would have been easy and delightful. Now, his work would be accompanied by pain and exhaustion. Finally, and most dramatically, Adam would work his way to death. Adam would work long hard days. These long hard days would become more and more challenging with less and less ability. Then he would die.
Marriage is tough. Consider the theological implication from the phrase “her desire is for her husband and he will rule over her,” What was once a relationship characterized by equality between a gracious, loving leader and a caring, competent helper became a battle over control. And sadly, when this battle for control remains a constant, one of the spouses typically give up. A domineering husband crushes his wife, and she fails to flourish under his oppressive rule. A wife, who refuses to relent in her desire for control, drives her husband to yield to her every whim quietly and compliantly.
God’s design is often misapplied. While God’s good design is perfect, we live in a fallen world in which God’s good design is often manipulated and abused. The world has often, and many times accurately, charged Christians who hold to the above stated position with male superiority and abuse. They are often right. I have far too often experienced husbands who justify abusive behaviors with their wives and children because they wrongly apply God’s good design. Additionally, I have seen far too many men simply live misogynistic lives based on a lack of understanding God’s design for men and women. The solution is not a rejection of God’s good design but rather a better understanding of it.
Sin has consequences. God’s grace and hope and extension of forgiveness does not negate the natural consequences of our actions. Too often Christians have erroneously concluded that forgiveness negates the consequences. A husband who abuses his wife needs to be forgiven and still go to jail. Dishonesty in a relationship needs to be forgiven but will still result in a lack of trust. God extended forgiveness to Adam and Eve yet we still are suffering the consequences of their sin – pretty dramatic consequences might I add.
Life is painful. Note a key word – pain. Pain characterizes our lives. Pain upon multiplied pain – all because Adam and Eve chose to disobey God.
Yet, while our pain will continue in this life, God did send his Son, born of woman, to suffer our greatest pain. In so doing, he shines the brightest of lights from the end of our dark pain filled tunnel and announces an end can come to our pain. This is why we look with such great anticipation for the return of Christ and the end of our fight with sin and the physical torments placed on mankind at the Fall.
Resources for Bible Study
Resources for Bible Study
Foh, Susan T. “What Is the Woman’s Desire.” The Westminster Theological Journal 37, no. 3 (1975): 376–83.
DeYoung, Kevin. Men and Women in the Church: A Short, Biblical, Practical Introduction. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021.
 Kevin DeYoung, Men and Women in the Church: A Short, Practical Introduction(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021), 134–35.  DeYoung, Men and Women in the Church, 133–34.  Joshua G. Mathews, “Cursing,” Douglas Mangum et al., eds., Lexham Theological Wordbook(Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).  Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament).  Victor P. Hamilton, “168 אָרַר,” Harris, Jr, and Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 75. A few commentators pointed out that Adam and Eve were not cursed (Boice, Carini). Boice writes, “It is significant that neither Adam nor Eve are said to have been cursed personally. God does curse Satan (v. 14) and the ground for Adam’s sake (v. 17). Although they are not cursed personally—being objects still of God’s tender concerns and mercy—Adam and Eve nevertheless experience the doleful effects of sin and thus participate in the curse of God against sin indirectly.” Additionally, Carini, in the Lexham Survey of Theology, writes, “Strikingly, the first curse upon man after his fall is not a curse upon him but upon “the ground,” the natural world itself (Gen 3:17–19).” However, others term Adam and Eve’s consequences as part of the curse. Elwell and Beitzel, in BEB, write, “we saw that God cursed the woman.” Both John Macarthur and Steven Cole make nearly identical statements in their messages on the text. [Boice, Genesis, 1:221; Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Curse, Cursed,” Elwell and Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, 560; Joel B. Carini, “The Effects of the Fall on Creation,” Mark Ward et al., Lexham Survey of Theology (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018); Steven J. Cole, “Lesson 10: The Curse and The Covering (Genesis 3:16–24),” Cole, Genesis, Ge 3:16-19.] Some do argue that Eve would have had pain prior to the Fall. They draw this conclusion from the fact that the verse states that her pain will multiply or increase. Increase from what? The pain she would have had?  Boice, Genesis, 1:221.Chrysostom offers an interesting perspective on this as well. He writes, “See the Lord’s goodness, how much mildness he employs despite such a terrible fall. “I will greatly aggravate the pain of your labor.” My intention had been, he is saying, for you to have a life free of trouble and distress, rid of all pain and grief, filled with every pleasure and with no sense of bodily needs despite your bodily condition. But since you misused such indulgence, and the abundance of good things led you into such ingratitude, accordingly I impose this curb on you to prevent your further running riot, and I sentence you to painful labor.” [Louth and Conti, Genesis 1-11, 92–93.] Both the Douay Reims and Wycliffe’s versions similarly translate the phrase as “thou shalt be under thy husband’s power, and he shall have dominion over thee” (DR) and “and thow shalt be vndre power of thi man, and he shal haue lordship of thee” (WYC). I’m struggling to see any support for such a translation. It seems like they are reading the intent of the second phrase into the translation of the first.  Christo van der Merwe, The Lexham Hebrew-English Interlinear Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2004), Ge 3:16.  One of the reformers, Konrad Pellikan, concluded that a woman’s delights will be subject to her husband. In other words, instead of a woman being guided by her own desires or passions, she will be required to submit her desires to her husband’s control. [George, Timothy, Manetsch, and Thompson, Genesis 1-11, 1:163..] Susan Foh and Kenneth Mathews offer a very helpful and similar overview of the views and many of the objections. Neither address “submission as the consequence,” however, I used her article in organizing the other interpretations. [Susan T Foh, “What Is the Woman’s Desire,” The Westminster Theological Journal 37, no. 3 (1975): 376–83; K. A. Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, vol. 1B, NAC (Broadman & Holman, 2005), 251.] Andrew Louth and Marco Conti, eds., Genesis 1–11, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 93. The above quotation comes at the very end of the following quote. “Now there is also added to those sorrows of gestation and birth that Eve has been placed under the power of her husband, she who previously was very free and, as the sharer of all the gifts of God, was in no respect inferior to her husband. This punishment, too, springs from original sin; and the woman bears it just as unwillingly as she bears those pains and inconveniences that have been placed upon her flesh. The rule remains with the husband, and the wife is compelled to obey him by God’s command….” [ George, Timothy, Manetsch, and Thompson, Genesis 1-11, 1:162.]  Susan Foh quotes Gini Andrews. [Foh, “What Is the Woman’s Desire,” 377.]  Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 1 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 64.  Calvin and King, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, 172.  George, Timothy, Manetsch, and Thompson, Genesis 1-11, 1:163.  Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, 1:64.  Foh. “The woman has the same sort of desire for her husband that sin has for Cain, a desire to possess or control him. This desire disputes the headship of the husband. As the Lord tells Cain what he should do, i.e., master or rule sin, the Lord also states what the husband should do, rule over his wife.” Mathews. “The ‘desire’ of the woman is her attempt to control her husband, but she will fail because God has ordained that the man exercise his leadership function.” [Foh, “What Is the Woman’s Desire,” 381–82; Mathews, Genesis 11:27–50:26, 1B:251.]  DeYoung, Men and Women in the Church, 32. Wenham does acknowledge Foh’s views and characterizes them as “logical simplicity” and “attractive” but due to such rare word usage concludes “certainty is impossible.” [Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 1:81–82.]  Wenham, 1:81.  Grudem, Systematic Theology, 464. “he shall rule over you, portrays a marriage relation in which control has slipped from the fully personal realm to that of instinctive urges passive and active. ‘To love and to cherish’ becomes ‘To desire and to dominate’.” [Kidner, Genesis, 1:76.]  Ross. “the woman at her worst would be a nemesis to the man, and the man at his worst would dominate the woman.” [Ross, Creation and Blessing, 147.] DeYoung. “Wherever husbands are domineering or abusive toward their wives, this is not a reflection of God’s design but a sinister perversion of it.” [DeYoung, Men and Women in the Church, 33.]