Ten Reasons: The conflict

The author has moved onto his seventh reason to prove that headship existed before the fall by comparing and contrasting the changes that took place at the fall. He says:

“The conflict – The curse brought a distortion of previous roles, not the introduction of new roles. After Adam and Eve sinned, God spoke the following words of judgement to Eve: To the woman he said, I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you. (Genesis 3:16)” The word translated as desire is an unusual Hebrew word, teshuqah. In this context and in this specific construction it probably implies an aggressive desire, perhaps a desire to conquer or rule over, or else an urge or impulse the woman has to oppose her husband, an impulse to act against him. This sense is seen in the only other occurrence of teshuqah plus the preposition ‘el in the whole Bible. That occurrence is in the very next chapter of Genesis, in Genesis 4:7. God says to Cain, “Sin is crouching at the door. It’s desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” Here the sense is very clear. God pictures sin like a wild animal waiting outside Cain’s door, waiting to pounce on him and overpower him. In that sense, sin’s “desire” or “instinctive urge” is “against” him. What a remarkable parallel this is to Genesis 3:16! In the Hebrew text, six words are the same words and found in the same order in both verses. It is almost as if the other usage is put here by the author so we would know how to understand the meaning of the term in Genesis 3:16. The expression in Genesis 4:7 has the sense, “desire, urge, impulse against” (or perhaps “desire to conquer, desire to rule over”). And that sense fits very well in Genesis 3:16 also.”

I almost feel like we need to set the scene – the author is laying comfortably on a couch in a dimly lit room and his therapist begins by saying. “Alright, I think we’re making some progress here – let’s try a word association game. I’ll give you a word and you just say whatever comes to mind. That word is: teshuqah.” “It probably implies an aggressive desire … perhaps a desire to conquer or rule over … or else an urge or impulse the woman has to oppose her husband … an impulse to act against him.” “Hmm. Interesting. Very interesting. Now tell me, how do you feel about that … ?” Sure, in English we have lots of words with lots of meanings and senses – but they hardly ever mean all of them all at the same time. The three appearances of teshuqah are in Genesis 3:16, Genesis 4:7, and Songs of Solomon 7:10. Most translations simply refer to it as ‘desire‘. So how a word that means ‘desire‘ can be stretched to suggest everything the author suggests shows some creativity on his part.

Susan Foh was the first to suggest this particular sense of the word teshuqah – “the desire or want to control” in 1975-ish, or just 40 years ago. Before that, there was a tendency to understand it as simply “a longing, a desire” for hundreds of years – from the 1300s, in fact. Before it made it into the English it was translated into the Greek as the English equivalent of “turning“. It’s a tough thing to accept, but in the 2,400 years between Moses used the word to mean something, the etymology of a word can be entirely lost; this is especially true for really rare words in general, that aren’t in common use in their own contemporary time-frames and are non-existent outside of their context. Each of the three possible meanings that this word has had over the millennia do suggest different understandings that lend to different interpretations. Either teshuqah is desire with connotations of controlling a husband or plain, everyday longing and desiring for a husband, or turning to a husband and away from God. To be honest, the author’s certainty of a 40 year old understanding of a 2400 year old use of a word is troubling – it’s just too new and too different from the historical understandings that throwing away the ancient understandings suggest that he, the modern author, just knows better than what generations of Christians before his times knew who believed differently.

Some have assumed that the “desire” in Genesis 3:16 refers to sexual desire. But that is highly unlikely because (1) the entire Bible views sexual desire within marriage as something positive, not as something evil or something that God imposed as a judgement; and (2) surely Adam and Eve had sexual desire for one another prior to their sin, for God had told them to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), and certainly He would have given that desire that corresponded to the command. So, “your desire shall be for your husband” cannot refer to a sexual desire. It is much more appropriate to the context of a curse to understand this as an aggressive desire against her husband, one that would bring her into conflict with him.

One cannot take the destruction of something and deduce it’s pre-destruction state with exacting accuracy. In the process of destruction some things are totally disintegrated and destroyed that there’s no restoring what was lost and no way to guess that something was there if it’s gone entirely. So assuming what desire might have been like in the garden by trying to consider what means after the fall is a recipe for trouble. Same goes with using the entire Biblical understanding of sex post-fall to try to guess what it might have been like in the pre-fall perfected state that was never elaborated upon. Many depictions of Adam and Eve have been almost child-like; naive enough to be deceived, unashamed of nakedness, they might have had adult bodies but they weren’t of adult mind in the sense that we now know. I don’t think whether or not they had sexual desire in the Garden of Eden is an important point to this conversation – after all, the first record of them knowing each other was after the fall. Just because God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply doesn’t mean that it was their first order of business to carry it out – it was a general blessing, not a commandment as to what it means to be human. Like parents who ask their recently-married children: “I want grandchildren, when are you going to have some?” It’s up to the couple to decide when they’re ready – not their parents to decide for them.

Then God says that Adam, “shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:16). The word here – translated “rule” – is the Hebrew term ‘mashal’, a common term in the Old Testament that regularly if not always refers to ruling by a greater power or force or strength. It is used of human military or political rulers, such as Joseph ruling over the land of Egypt (Genesis 45:26), or the Philistines ruling over Israel (Judges 14:4, 15:11), or Solomon ruling over all the kingdoms he had conquered (1 Kings 4:21). It is also used to speak of God ruling over the sea (Psalm 89:9) or God ruling over the earth generally (Psalm 66:7). Sometimes it refers to oppressive rulers who cause the people under them to suffer (Nehemiah 9:37; Isaiah 19:4). In any case, the word does not signify one who leads among equals, but rather one who rules by virtue of power or strength, and sometimes even rules harshly and selfishly.

He’s painted a picture and it certainly isn’t pretty. Because of whatever ‘teshuqah‘ means, when it is used of women, it probably implies an aggressive desire … perhaps a desire to conquer or rule over … or else an urge or impulse the woman has to oppose her husband … an impulse to act against him. Whereas men must bear in mind that for them ‘mashal‘ refers to ruling by a greater power or force or strength, sometimes even rules harshly and selfishly and certainly not as one among equals.

One would expect to see the Bible between the times of Adam and Eve to the times of Mary and Joseph filled with women and men who fit both descriptions quite aptly; but in context, the stories of many of the women are in keeping with living in a patriarchy where they are powerless. They must resort to manipulation because they lack power and are not equal partners because their husbands do rule over them. In some instances, women going against the wishes of their husband does not work out well for them (Queen Vashti); in others it saves them (Abigail), in many cases, it’s women making due with what they have to do what they can – like the wise woman of Tekoa in 2nd Samuel 14 and 20. The stories of men are quite human – with men who are heroes and villains, some who respect women and others who certainly don’t care about them. There just aren’t many examples in the Old Testament of husband and wife teams – possibly because their culture is so different that we can’t relate to it. Gender segregation was a normal way of life, men mostly in the public areas and women protected in private sections of their homes.

Once we understand these two terms, we can see much more clearly what was involved in the curse that God brought to Adam and Eve as punishment for their sins. One aspect of the curse was imposing pain on Adam’s particular area of responsibility, raising food from the ground: (Genesis 3:17-19). Another Aspect of the curse was to impose pain on Eve’s particular area of responsibility, the bearing of children: (Genesis 3:16). And a third aspect of the curse was to introduce pain and conflict into the relationship between Adam and Eve. Prior to their sin, they had lived in the Garden of Eden in perfect harmony, yet with a leadership role belonging to Adam as the head of his family. But after the Fall, God introduced conflict in that Eve would have an inward urging and impulse to oppose Adam, to resist Adam’s leadership (the verb teshuqah + ‘el). “Your impulse, desire will be against your husband.” And Adam would respond with a rule over Eve that came from his greater strength and aggressiveness, a rule that was forceful and at times harsh (the verb mashal). “And he, because of his greater strength, will rule over you.” There would be pain in tilling the ground, pain in bearing children, and pain and conflict in their relationship.

One thing I’m thankful for is always having access to garden-grown food. It’s helped me to see that the whole process isn’t one somebody can do by themselves – it takes a team to work the ground, plant the seeds, tend the ground, remove the weeds, harvest the crops, shuck corn, shell peas, break beans, and put them up for storage by freezing or canning. No one person, no matter how perfect can manage the whole process; but “many hands make light work” once all of us are working together to accomplish these tasks, then it gets completed far more quickly. To expect Adam to do these things by himself, even in the perfect Garden of Eden, seems like a less than perfect system. Likewise, it’s ludicrous to think that God expected that Eve raise their children in a bubble removed from Adam’s influence, she to raise them alone, feed them alone, bathe them alone, teach them alone; after all, God said that it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone, then it must also not be good for Eve to be alone. There’s not a division here that’s his and hers; because of sin, women too would have to work the ground and feel the effects of fighting with thorns. Because of sin, women would now die in childbirth, leaving the men to feel the effects of the pain of childbirth in a different way – having to raise a child alone; or as they tended to do – remarry and leave the little ones to wife number 2. It’s not just women who feel an impulse to oppose the rule of others, men have rebelled against other men and their harsh ruler-ship for as long as slavery has existed and as long as power has corrupted. Women too have the ability to rule over harshly there’s an example of a few of those in Scripture, though they are outnumbered by the men who fit that category.

It is crucial at this point for us to realize that we are never to try to increase or perpetuate the results of the curse. We should never try to promote Genesis 3:16 as something good! In fact, the entire Bible after Genesis 3 is the story of God’s working to overcome the effects of the curse that He in His justice imposed. Eventually God will bring a new heaven and a new earth in which crops come forth abundantly from the ground (Isaiah 35:1-2; Amos 9:13; Romans 8:20-21) and in which there is no more pain or suffering (Revelation 21:4).

And there’s no more marriage, no headship, no submission (Matthew 22:30); which means that these teachings have an expiration point. That’s some good news for a change. But he’s so busy talking about the curses that we haven’t really bothered to ask – who and what is cursed? Or is this a description of the consequence that results from our actions but not a curse that He in His justice imposed upon the original sinners?

So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15)

Don’t you find it inconsistent when people ignore even their own rules? Order is important, right? So the punishment of the serpent first means that the serpent has headship, which is consistent with Genesis 1 where the animals were made before the man. Oh wait, order is only important when it refers to people – so obviously the next part is the most important:

To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16)

Katherine Bushnell carefully studied this verse and arrived at: “A snare hath increased your sorrow and your sighing; in sorrow you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.” As a possible alternative translation – that fits more with a description of what the consequences will be from an omniscient God and less with the punishment from an omnipotent God.

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)

Only the Serpent and the ground have been directly cursed. But the author was careful to suggest that God punished each of them at their ‘particular area of responsibility‘ and at their relationship. If one’s already inclined to read pre-existing roles, they will see them. But keep in mind that before Genesis 3:16, there’s not one mention of the word ‘child‘ as part of or the sum of Eve’s particular area of responsibility.

Genesis 1:26 gives men and women the exact same area of responsibility: “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground … Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Genesis 2:15 says: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” And verse 18; “The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.””

Which are they to do? rule over the fish, birds, livestock, wild animals, fill the earth and subdue it – or work and take care of the Garden of Eden and help to work and take care of the Garden of Eden? I guess they’re not contradictory, but one suggests a sort of C.E.O. level of power and the other a janitor level of power. Between both of them, the idea that pain in childbirth isn’t shown as Eve’s particular area of responsibility. Likewise, the pain in raising food is something that women aren’t immune to either. As to conflict in their relationship – well we don’t see it – their relationship remains quite harmonious even in chapter 4 when one of their sons kills the other. The consequences of their sin has no impact on their original role of equally ruling the world together.

So we should never try to perpetuate the elements of the curse! We should not plant thorns and weeds in our garden, but rather overcome them. We should do everything we can to alleviate the pain of childbirth for women. And we should do everything we can to undo the conflict that comes about through women desiring to oppose or even control their husbands, and husbands ruling harshly over them.

Earlier, the ezer kenegdo was represented as sort of equal but opposite force who acts as a check and balance to her husband; one Jewish depiction was something like an arch – two halves that are equal and opposite that hold up the center-stone that supports the wall that they are built into. Now imagine what happens to an arch when one half is no longer permitted to act as an opposing force to the other – the center-stone cannot be supported and the whole wall comes crashing down. There is a point where women ought to say ‘no‘ and act against their husband – because they’re doing it for their husband’s well-being. It shouldn’t be a teaching to undo the conflict that comes about through women desiring to oppose their husbands – there’s some degree of opposition that’s healthy. Now controlling isn’t healthy for anyone, it’s not healthy for a husband to control his wife any more than it is for a wife to control her husband. It’s a part of our sin nature to want to have power over others – we share this because we’re human and we’re more alike than we are different. Likewise, we can’t be sure that ‘ruling‘ is the idea that God wants of us here and now – remember before the ‘fall‘ the author claimed that men ruled. After the fall, men still ruled. When Jesus came, men still ruled. We’ve played this broken record for millennia and we still haven’t fixed it. Perhaps the whole problem is the belief that men must rule – it’s the wrong idea. After all, there’s no marriage in heaven, without marriage, men won’t rule women – curse or no curse. So why not practice at not ruling and see what happens?

Therefore Genesis 3:16 should never be used as a direct argument for male headship in marriage. But it does show us that the Fall brought about a distortion of previous roles, not the introduction of new roles. The distortion was that Eve would now rebel against her husband’s authority and Adam would misuse that authority to rule forcefully and harshly over Eve.

But they didn’t – Eve didn’t rebel against Adam and Adam didn’t rule forcefully and harshly over Eve for the rest of their days. And because they didn’t, we don’t have to either. Perhaps the author has been asking the wrong questions – what if there aren’t any roles in the first place? They don’t seem to be clearly defined, which is odd because when God decided to create the temple worship system, he spared no detail in it’s design or construction; one would assume that such a meticulous God wouldn’t leave out anything that wasn’t important anywhere in Scripture, but much of what the author tries to read into Genesis really isn’t there in the first place. Non-existent roles can’t be distorted and neither can they be restored.


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