What is the “Desire” in Genesis 3:16?


What exactly is God telling Eve here? Is it a curse? Is it grace under pressure? Is it both, or does it have a deeper meaning that can be found elsewhere in Scripture?

Shortly after Adam and Eve’s sin against God when they ate form the tree of knowledge of good and evil, God increased the pains of childbearing onto the woman juxtaposed against her “desire will be for your husband,” (Genesis 3:16, NIV). What exactly is God telling Eve here?  Is it a curse?  Is it grace under pressure?  Is it both, or does it have a deeper meaning that can be found elsewhere in Scripture?  What is certain is that the roles for man and woman were marred by the fall, and whether it is grace or a curse, are inherent to what humankind has been experiencing since that time.

The sins of Adam and Eve corrupted their roles as an egalitarian unit.  Stinson and Jones assert that “when God told the woman, ‘Your desire will be for your husband, yet he will dominate you,’ (Genesis 3:16, HCSB) he was not introducing a new role; God was declaring that he previously existing roles would now be contorted with challenges and difficulties.”[1]  Moreover, they claim that not only does the term “desire” (tĕshuwqah’ – תְּשׁוּקָה) show up in Genesis 4:7 regarding Cain’s sin and how it would destroy him, Eve’s desire “was not intended to be positive; it represented the introduction of usurpation and competition that did not exist before the fall.”[2]

In contrast, John J. Davis indicates that this desire illuminates that “the wife would have a deep natural attraction to her husband,”[3] to the point that her need for her husband was so strong, “that one would run after, or violently crave it.”[4]  Likewise, juxtaposed alongside the latter part of verse 16, “woman would be ruled by man.”[5]  Summarily, “God imposed this order on society because of sin; without a chain of authority, chaos would reign.”[6]  Phillip Carey agrees in part with Davis when he says, “So the man is held responsible for obeying his wife instead of God, and the woman’s life is transformed so that she cannot avoid the reality of her man.”[7]  Lastly, it is quite possible that Eve’s desire is grace-centered and “not so much a curse as a compensation for the sorrow of childbirth.”[8]

Eve’s desire for her husband is qualitative in that it is centered on several key factors: her pain in childbirth, being compensated with a strong sexual desire for her husband, yet at the same time she was to be ruled over by him, rendering the egalitarian concept which God had intended for the first couple to begin with.  Her sin therefore corrupted this divine intention, and these facets regarding her anthropology followed suit as a reconciliatory typecast for her disobedience which would only be fulfilled in a Christocentric framework, whereby her “offspring” would claim “victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (1 Corinthians 15:57b, NIV).

Footnotes:

[1] Randy Stinson and Timothy Paul Jones, Trained in the Fear of God; Family Ministry in Theological, Historical and Practical Perspective, (Grand Rapids, Kregal Publications, 2011), 78.

[2] Ibid., 79.

[3] John J. Davis, Paradise to Prison, (Salem, Sheffield Publishing Company, 1975), 94.

[4] Ibid., 94.

[5] Ibid., 94.

[6] Ibid., 94.

[7] Phillip Carey, “The Woman’s Desire,” First Things, December 26, 2013, Accessed June 8, 2017, https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2013/12/the-womans-desire

[8] John J. Davis, Paradise to Prison, (Salem, Sheffield Publishing Company, 1975), 94.