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’s just sentence for the woman is two-fold, with both parts having two elements. In the first part the woman will have pain and sorrow in childbirth followed by pain, sorrow and hardship in parenting children. Even though Jesus speaks to the joy of having children (see John 16:20-22), because of our fallen nature there will always be pain and suffering intermixed with the joy.
Next, God makes a statement that has been misinterpreted and misused by men to enslave woman, making them lower than, and certainly not equal to, the gender man. God does not state woman are inferior nor does He demand they be submissive to men.
There are three words we need to know, spoken within the context of the first rebellion against God, in order to begin to comprehend God’s sentence. They are “desire” “contrary to” and “rule.”
Desire means to long for. The word is used only three times. Once here and then in Genesis 4 when God tells Cain that sin desires him. “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” (Genesis 4:7 ESV). Desire mean craving, as a beast craving to violently devour. Finally, the word is used in Song of Solomon. “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me” (Song 7:10 ESV). The beloved has the strongest emotion for the object of His desire. He wants to consumer her to the place of making her a part of Himself. This desire of the Beloved for the Loved is consistent with Jesus’ eternal desire for those who are His.
“Contrary” is simply the word “to” but is translated “contrary to.” This word can mean the motion of moving toward or against, but is not necessarily physical movement. Moving toward someone suggests coming to agree with them while moving against someone suggests aggressive intent. It can also mean simply in addition, in regard to or reference to, according. Taken within the context of the woman’s first interaction with the serpent, the Deceiver, and her reasoning to disobey God, the word suggests that because of sin and rebellion the woman will strive against the thinking of her husband. There will be intimate movement toward and a striving against as part of the sentence of God.
Finally, God uses the word rule. This word is translated dominion but is not the same word used for Man’s dominion over God’s creation. It is the same word God uses when He creates the sun and the moon and places them to “rule over the day and over the night” (Genesis 1:18 ESV). When God says “he will rule over you” God is saying the husband will hover over, as in to provide for, the wife. This word does not give any man despotic control over any or every woman, but fits the actions committed by the woman. God initially spoke to the man about not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, not the woman. We know the man spoke to the woman about God’s prohibition because of her words to the serpent. Still, it was the woman who first ate the fruit and then gave it to the man, and he ate. She was the one who first violated God’s directive but it is the man who is being held completely responsible for the act of rebellion. She should have followed his directive just as he should have followed God’s.
God’s just sentence for the woman does not just apply to the first woman but to all women. All women have pain in childbirth and sorrow and joy in raising children. All married women, because of sin, tug and pull against their husbands in an effort to control. Unmarried women also strive against men, because of sin.