I came across a fantastic article by Wendy Alsup that totally demystified Genesis 3:16 for me for once and for all. So with her permission I have included her article here so that you too can enjoy the revelation that I had. So without further ado, over to Wendy:
After the fall of man, God is very clear in Genesis 3:16 about the consequences for women.
To the woman He said, "I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you."
Conservative, complementarian evangelicals (of which I am one) regularly interpret the next to last line to mean that her desire will be to rule over her husband. But that simply is not what Scripture says. And before you label me liberal (and it’s amazing these days what can get you labelled that way), hear me out. If we can think about this topic anew, I think those who minister to women will be better equipped to apply the gospel to the core places in women’s hearts affected by depravity. So let’s consider the particular consequence of the fall of man that a woman’s desire will be for her husband.
Similar phrases are used in Genesis 4:7 and Song of Solomon 7:10.
Genesis 4:7 “… And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it."
Song of Solomon 7:10 “I am my beloved's, And his desire is for me.”
The argument used by some for interpreting Genesis 3:16 to mean foremost a desire to dominate the husband is that Genesis 4:7 could be read that sin’s desire is against us, to dominate over us. But that argument is undermined by Song of Solomon 7:10. There the phrase means exactly what a straightforward reading of it indicates. His desire is for her. I believe Genesis 3:16 should be read exactly as it says—her desire will be for her husband. Plain and simple. No contortions needed to accurately discern what God is saying here.
Though some argue that the word “for” could be translated “against,” no Bible translation (that I could find) says her desire is “against” her husband. They all say her desire is “for” her husband. Apparently, no translation team thought “against” was the best meaning of that term. It doesn’t make sense to say “desire against.” The problem with our desires is always that they are either FOR the wrong thing or FOR the right thing but out of proportion to what is appropriate.
The word for “desire” in Genesis 3:16 can mean craving or longing. The issue is best understood if we make the simple substitution of God for her husband. Her desire SHOULD BE for her God. Instead, her desire/craving/longing is misplaced. The curse is not that women want to dominate the men in their lives. Women’s problem is that they worship the men in their lives and look to them for affirmation and provision emotionally and spiritually for things that God alone is supposed to provide. Their problem is IDOLATRY.
If you think that the foundational result of the fall of man in the average woman’s life is a desire to dominate, your ministry is going to miss … well … the vast majority of problems in a woman’s life. Certainly, I know my fair share of dominating, manipulative, control freakish women (of which I am often chief), but our problem goes much deeper than the symptomatic issue of control. We are idolaters! We looked to men to meet a need they couldn’t meet—emotionally, spiritually, physically. And instead of recognizing our sovereign, compassionate, and wise Father in heaven as the place to which we should have looked, we started looking within ourselves once the men in our lives disappointed us. Control tactics aren’t the manifestation of an innate desire to dominate the men in our lives. Instead, we resort to manipulation and control because we longed too hard to rest in the men in our lives. We grasp and clamour, “Lead me spiritually. Provide for me physically. Affirm me emotionally.” And when they can’t or don’t, then we attempt to lead ourselves spiritually, provide for ourselves physically, and seek outside affirmation for ourselves emotionally. Instead, we don’t need to change our desire or craving. We simply need to change the object of it.
God, I need you to meet the spiritual void in my life! “Certainly, child. I will not leave you as an orphan. I have sent my Spirit to bring to your remembrance all I have taught you, for apart from me, you can do nothing.” John 15
God, provide for me physically! “You can trust me, child. Do not worry for your physical needs. As I provide for the birds and flowers, I will provide for you.” Matthew 5-7
God, I need help emotionally! “Yes, child. Meditate on all I have declared over you through Christ. You have received the full rights of a child of the King (Galatians 4:5). I will receive you one day into my arms with the affirmation, ‘Well done good and faithful servant.’ Find joy and rest in Me.”
We are not going to really understand how the gospel equips us reclaim God’s image in us as His daughters until we understand clearly what our problem is. I can’t emphasize strongly enough that the problem in women created by the fall is deeper than control and domination. It may play out that way in some women, but it doesn’t play out that way in all women. There certainly is a battle between the sexes as a result of the fall, but it is often one-sided. For every controlling, manipulative, take-charge woman (who tends to be out there in front of us all), there are 5 pathetic doormats (hidden in the shadowy corners of life) waiting desperately for crumbs from porno guy’s table. They’ll do whatever it takes—perform demeaning sexual acts, sacrifice the hearts of their children to an abuser, and other unimaginable acts of desperation—like a prisoner chained in a cell lapping water that spills out the toilet because he’s dying of thirst. This insatiable craving is an issue of worship and idolatry. Apart from Christ, our tendency after the fall is to set up men as being able to meet needs in us that only God can meet, and there is no limit to how desperate we can become.
Women often perceive weakness or strength among each other by how they react when men fail them. The perceived strong feminist woman is the one who doesn’t need men. She can do it on her own. The perceived weak woman is the one who continues to follow loser men around like a whipped puppy. In contrast, in Christ, we have a new and different way altogether. The woman bought by Christ who is set up as God’s honoured daughter with full access to the King of kings has her needs met in Him. God pours into her. God equips her. God satisfies her emotional, spiritual, and physical needs. Then and only then can she let go of her perceived rights and be the helper to her male counterpart that God created her to be.
In Sacred Influence, Gary Thomas begins his encouragement to wives by thoroughly fleshing out all we have in Christ as His daughters. Thomas makes a point that it isn’t until we get our identity in Him that we can deal with what God requires of us in marriage. The good news of the gospel is that Christ has paved the way for us to boldly come to our Father’s throne room in heaven to find spiritual empowerment, physical help, and emotional affirmation. God’s help and affirmation are real and effective. He will meet the void in your heart that years of looking to men have never filled. Come boldly to Him in confidence and find grace and mercy at the points of your deepest longings today, for apart from Him, you can do nothing.