Studies in Genesis 3
To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16 ESV)
God now turns His attention to the woman. His curse for the serpent was that it would crawl on its belly and eat dust. His curse of the Deceiver is that the offspring of the woman, someone down the line, would crush its head while it vainly struck at His heel. God’s judgment to the woman is two-fold, that she would have pain in childbirth and that her husband would rule over her even as her desires would be contrary to his.
Life, after the fall, is filled with suffering. I am a man and have no concept of the pain experienced in childbirth. Yet, the life of a child moves from the safety of the womb to the harsh environment outside the womb. But it is not the life and pain of the child God is addressing but the pain the woman will experience by having children. Her suffering begins during pregnancy, spikes during delivery, then continues throughout the life of the child even when the child matures into an adult.
When God declares “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children” the word pain is also translated toil, sorrow, hardship, hurt. This word is used only three times in Scripture. God uses the word to describe the pain of childbirth in this verse. God also describes the pain of eating the fruit of the man’s labor in the next verse, “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life” Genesis 3:17 ESV). The word is then used in Genesis 5:29, the hopeful prophecy of Lamech for his son Noah, to bring relief from the painful toil of work.
Jesus talks about the pain of childbirth as preceding the joy the child brings to the parent. In the context of His statement He alludes to the pain of losing Him to death is similar and will bring eternal joy of having Him after His resurrection.
Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. (John 16:20-22 ESV)
Why pain in childbirth? Is the pain supposed to be a reminder for all women that their first mother rebelled against God? Is the pain supposed to point to the sentence of the Deceiver, who will strike out at the children of the woman and hurt them, or Him, but will then be crushed? Can we assume there would have been no pain in childbirth had the first couple had children before rebelling? According to Jesus, the pain of childbirth points to the pain of His passion, for Him and for those who are His, because it also points to the eternal joy of being with Him (see also Romans 8:18).
Please note, neither the woman or the man are cursed. They are judged and sentenced. They will die physically because that was the determined consequence for eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They will bear the consequences of their actions and those who follow them will also suffer because of their rebellion. One of the consequences of their rebelling is pain, suffering and sorrow for all, including Jesus who was fully God and fully man the way God originally intended.