To the woman he said,
“… Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”

As we saw in the previous section, sex isn’t sinful. Obviously, neither is desire for it, despite what we normally infer from this verse at first. If the first part of the sentence (“Your desire will be for your husband”) is referring to sex, the second is a non sequitur: it isn’t a logical consequence of the first part. The Hebrew doesn’t really help, either: the word for desire – těshûqah – doesn’t specify what sort of desire it is. This is where the context of the word can lend a hand. The second part of the sentence, which seemed so odd, can now help us to interpret the first part.

When we’re working out these puzzles, it’s best to keep things as simple as possible. We have the two concepts: the woman will desire the man; the man will rule over the woman. A sexual or romantic interpretation of “desire” doesn’t work; however, one person can desire another for several any of several purposes: to help or to hurt. So what about interpreting desire in the light of the concept of “to rule”? What if the word translated “desire” refers not to sexual desire, but desire for control of the relationship?

This is where knowledge of Hebrew can help a little. What the NIV translates “and” is the letter w (vav) , which is prefixed to another word: in this case, “he”. The prefixed vav can have several nuances, including the adversive “but”. Which translation is preferable depends on the context. In this context, I think “but” is a clearer indication of the relationship between husband and wife: “Your desire will be for (to rule over) your husband, but he will rule over you.”

This desire to dominate makes better sense of the text than sexual desire, but is it what the author meant? Well, it’s interesting to note that the curse fit the sin. God had explicitly told Adam not to eat from the tree. When Eve added to God’s word “and you may not touch it”, Adam should have corrected her. He didn’t. When the serpent accused God of being a liar, Adam should have told the serpent to shoo, but He didn’t. Some people try to defend Adam by suggesting that he wasn’t there, but the text won’t allow that: “her husband … was with her” (verse 6). Adam reneged on his responsibility of leadership, and let Eve take care of the situation as she thought best. The curse fit the sin: the man tends to abdicate his responsibility and the woman tries to dominate the relationship: but if the man chooses, he will take it back forcibly. This may not be (just) physically, but mentally, emotionally or sexually. The experts say that abuse of any type is mainly about domination and control, rather than pleasure.

This interpretation receives support in the next chapter, where the same word is used of sin desiring Cain. God tells him that “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” This “desire” is clearly for control, not for romance.

When people wrestle for control in a relationship, they will always have problems. However, when each person tries to serve the other – to work for their good – the relationship will be healthier. The only cause of tension would be when the couple disagrees about what is best for both of them.

copyright Troy Grisgonelle 2007.