The Curses and the Covenants: Part 2

(Another sample from The Curses and the Covenants available here.)

(The full study available for sale here.)

The Woman: Subjection

(Based on Genesis 3 + Ephesians 5:21-33)

The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.’ […] That is why a man will leave his father and mother and will be united with his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen. 2:23a.-24).

That’s why a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will be one. This is a great mystery. (I’m talking about Christ’s relationship to the church.) But every husband must love his wife as he loves himself, and wives should respect their husbands” (Eph. 5:31-33).

[…]She also gave some to her husband[…]and he ate it[…]Then he said to the man, ‘You listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree[…]’” (Gen. 3:6b,17a).

[…] and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Gen. 3:16b., KJV).

And the LORD said unto Cain […] if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him’” (Gen. 4:6a., 7b., KJV).

I have a Hebrew-English Old Testament that I use to try and learn a little Hebrew. I made a discovery in Genesis 3 and 4 by looking at the Hebrew that I had never seen before from reading the chapters in the English. I noticed that Genesis 3 and Genesis 4, in two of their respective verses, contained a nearly identical progression of words that gave me a new understanding of Genesis 3:16b. I’ve quoted Genesis 13:16b. and Genesis 4:7b. for you from the King James as it’s the translation I’ve found that best sticks to the original.

I’d always wondered why the woman’s prophesied “desire” for her husband was placed in a passage about the natural effects of the first sin as though it were a bad thing—at least a hard thing, like the rest of the effects. Then, too, I always thought it a debatable point, especially in the middle of a list of the other indisputable and highly visible effects of “the fall.” I couldn’t say with conviction that I had seen woman’s “desire” for her husband as being a conspicuous feature of life on earth. God’s statement was puzzling.

I could very plainly see the truth of the second part. There was no arguing the fact that men are generally bigger and stronger than women and throughout history had sometimes abused their power. Men have put women under subjection—unwilling submission. That subjection I could certainly see as a result of the fall along with all the other disasters Genesis 3 describes. But the woman’s “desire” for her husband? What did it mean?

When I saw the similarity between God’s words to the woman in Genesis 3 and God’s words to Cain, the son of Adam and Eve and the murderer of his brother, I think I began to grasp what God was getting at in Genesis 3:16b.

In both verses, there’s a “desiring,” followed by a “ruling over.” The woman was told she would “desire” her husband but he would rule over her. Cain was told that Sin “desired” him but he should rule over it.

Was “Sin’s” (really, Satan’s) “desire” for Cain the desire of love? It was the opposite. It was the desire for mastery—the desire for control.

And suddenly, God’s words to the woman clicked for me. Now, I saw this effect everywhere all the time—just as much a fact of life as man’s “rule.”

Men and women would fight for mastery. They would fight not to be controlled but to control. There would be conflict.

The woman had already led her husband once. She’d led him into sin. This time, in His tailored consequence, God gave man the edge over the woman in the fight for mastery—an edge of size and strength.

Yet when speaking His words to the woman, you can bet that His eyes welled up from the emotion that the millennia upon millennia of pain that some men’s abuse of power over women would cause; but also millennia upon millennia of conflict between man and woman; and (to go one layer deeper) the millennia upon millennia of conflict between human and human.

On the most basic level, in God’s words to the woman, I see His promise of this natural consequence of sin: the breakdown in relationship that is the inevitable result of developing the taste for Self-first. It’s been there, lurking in the shadows somewhere, behind every war, every family fight, every conflict of every kind. Someone chooses Self-first, and conflict will follow.

The only part of this decree that was God’s doing was the “advantage” (if it was one) given to the man in the struggle for mastery. But why would God decree such a decree, knowing how that “advantage” would be used?

In every word of Genesis 3, even the dark ones, God had redemption in mind. We see the reversal of this effect of the fall through Ephesians 5.

When God created that first union of the first man and woman in Genesis 2, He had in mind a beautiful illustration of a beautiful, beautiful truth. He created the relationship between a man and a woman to be a picture of the closeness He desired with His people. But the all-knowing One knew what that relationship would end up costing Him. We see it in Ephesians 5.

And Ephesians 5 shows what a redeemed marriage can look like. Here, there is no striving for mastery—only the sacrifice of freely-offered submission and, instead of an abuse of power, the exercise of strength in a love that would sacrifice everything—even one’s own life—for the beloved.

Why did God give man greater strength (one kind, anyway) in the relationship of man and woman? Here’s what I think: The kind of sacrifice the man is called to demands greater strength. It’s God’s kind of love.

And in that kind of love, there is no subjection. Only submission to it.

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