The first curse includes the whole processes of childbearing, from conception to birth. The Hebrew word rendered "conception" in the New King James version (NKJV) includes the entire pregnancy, while "bring forth" can mean both the beginning or end of the birth process. The Revised Standard Version translates these clauses as, "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children."
A human female is unique among mammalian creatures in this respect. Animal females generally bear their young without pain and rarely sicken and die during or from the experience. Women, on the other hand, always experience pain and grief throughout their pregnancies—from morning sickness to contractions—and have historically had a very high mortality rate from childbirth. Better nutrition and hygiene have cut the numbers of deaths dramatically, but the pain and grief remain.
Fortunately, God is a God of mercy. He put within the human female the ability to "forget" her pains in childbirth soon thereafter. Jesus Himself mentions this in John 16:21:
A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.
This curse on Eve has a direct relationship with the end of the curse on the serpent, which involves the woman's "seed," both general and specific (Genesis 3:15). We can infer that God intends us to understand that, because of sin, producing "seed" to fight Satan and his seed will be made more difficult. In a spiritual sense, the church, "the mother of us all," endures great hardship in producing children of God.
Thus, the Bible testifies, "the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force" (Matthew 11:12), "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22), and "all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (II Timothy 3:12). Even the sinless Christ, the promised Seed, was "a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3), forced by sin—yet willing—to bear the agonies of human life and death to become the Son of God, the Firstborn among many brethren.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The First Prophecy (Part Two)
Eve's curse has resulted in the virtual subjugation of women ever since. Until the Enlightenment in the 18th century, women had few rights, if any. Fathers sold their daughters into slavery or wed them to the highest bidder. Wives existed to give the husband pleasure and sons and to keep the house. Many societies insisted that women be veiled in public, and some considered it a criminal act for a woman to walk out of her house without a chaperone. In short, a woman was chattel.
Not every society was this strict. Because of God's law, Israel was one of the most enlightened in this area. Israelite women had certain rights of inheritance, and they could even own land and run businesses (Proverbs 31:16, 24), situations unheard of in other nations. Deborah, an ancient Margaret Thatcher, judged Israel and gave her people forty years of peace (Judges 4:4; 5:31). An Israelite woman's life has frequently been better than her Gentile counterpart's because of Israel's acquaintance with the Bible.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
A Woman's World
The Bible's first prophecy contains three major curses, one each upon Satan, women, and men. Or does it? The answer depends on one's perspective and time reference.
Certainly, the curse on Satan seems a mixed bag! Men have either been subject to his deceptions or fiercely waging war with him for six thousand years. Yet it is the struggle of the fight that prepares our character to inherit eternal life. We live in hope and faith that God will see the curse through to its end, the total humiliation and imprisonment of the Adversary.
To a woman in labor or to a man sweating out in a field under the sun, God's pronouncements surely feel like curses. Yet, maybe only moments later, the satisfaction and joy in seeing a healthy baby or a job well done can make it all seem worthwhile. We feel grateful that God has given us such blessings.
If nothing else, this should make us think about the "curses" and "blessings" in our lives. Could something terrible turn out for the best? Could seeing "our ship come in" prove our ruin? There is much more to God's gifts and judgments than meets the eye:
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! "For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?" "Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him?" For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The First Prophecy (Part Three)
The matter of leadership—whether nationally, locally, at home, on the job, or on the team—has always been a vexing problem for mankind. “Always” should be taken literally because Genesis 3:16-19 reveals it was a major part of several issues that triggered mankind's circumstances ever since, down to this very second. After Adam's and Eve's sins, God imposed curses, at the same time pointedly stating why this major flaw in man's character helped to trigger the human condition that persists today.
Notice that God mentions to Adam, whom He had appointed as leader of the family through which He intended to populate the entire earth, “You have heeded the voice [counsel] of your wife.” In other words, he had failed to lead the only person who was then under his authority. He took her counsel rather than do what God had commanded him to do, and thus he sinned. The context does not state why he did so, but what resulted was an act of idolatry. He put her counsel before God's, breaking the first commandment.
How long did Adam ponder the challenge of the serpent's arguments to break God's commandment by eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? A few seconds? A few minutes? Whatever it was, in comparison to the amount of time that has passed since, it remains as little more than a flash of lightning. Yet, consider how this seemingly minor sin motivated God to react.
This singular episode in Eden illustrates how seriously God treats sin as compared to how lightly we tend to take it. It was a brief moment in time, when Adam, along with Eve—only two people—failed to exercise leadership by obeying God's simple stricture. What they chose to do instead has brought far more difficult lives on billions of people—difficulty that otherwise may have never occurred. Life, righteousness, and sin do not operate in a vacuum. There is no such thing as sin that does not hurt others, as some so foolishly think or proclaim to justify themselves.
Ecclesiastes 7:29 makes a telling statement regarding our creation: “Truly this only have I found: That God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.” Solomon intends that we understand Adam and Eve to be representative of all mankind. However, Genesis 3 makes clear that they exercised their leadership by leading us into sin. In so doing, they led us all to fall from the pinnacle of human innocence in which they had been created.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Leadership and Covenants (Part One)
Here we have the Bible's first sermon. This is what Abel heard, believed, and submitted to. The same instruction merely informed Cain.
Adam and Eve were the first sinners to stand before God and be called into account. In this passage are four elements that apply to what Abel believed. The first element is that, in order for a sinner to stand before God, nakedness must be covered. Nakedness, both spiritual and physical, has wide usage as a symbol. At its best, it indicates innocence, child-like simplicity, and vulnerability. At its worst, it indicates humiliation, guilt, shame, and punishment. Adam and Eve were attempting to hide their humiliation, guilt, and shame when they grabbed a few fig leaves to provide covering.
An interesting spiritual lesson comes in understanding an application of the symbolism here. Adam and Eve threw together as a covering whatever was handy at the moment. What they chose to cover themselves with physically was totally inadequate as a spiritual covering. God immediately rejected their effort, which is the main instruction of this vignette.
A secondary teaching is that many carnal people today think it does not matter what they physically wear when they come before God at church services. Oh, yes, it does! These days, people arrive at church to worship wearing all kinds of casual clothing. In fact, many churches invite them to do so, advertising themselves as "casual"! Sometimes this reflects a matter of ignorance; they just do not know any better. At other times, it reveals a serious matter of disrespect for the primary covering—Christ's sacrifice, as we shall see shortly.
It is good to remember the overall principle to appear before God covered with acceptable covering. The symbolic instruction carries through to both physical and spiritual applications, and the person who cares what God thinks will do his best to conform to Him. God covered Adam and Eve with truly fine clothing. That is our example.
The second element Genesis 3 reveals takes us a step further spiritually in regard to the covering: What humans devise in terms of covering spiritual nakedness is, in reality, worthless. The third element clarifies this further: God Himself must supply the only covering that is spiritually adequate.
The fourth element is that the only adequate spiritual covering is by means of death. As in the first element, there are two lines of instruction. The first leads to the necessity of the second, if life is to continue. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). The underlying principle is that we are always to give of our best to the Master. When we fail, the death penalty is imposed. This, then, brings forth a second teaching: In a spiritual sense, the entire human race sinned in Adam and Eve, who represented all mankind at the time. Since the wages of sin is death, and all have subsequently sinned, all of us must receive that wage—or another, an innocent One on whom death has no claim because He never sinned, must substitute for us.
However, we find it clearly spelled out in Romans that there must be a link between us and the Substitute (Romans 4:1-4, 11-12, 16, 19-20, 23-25; 5:1-2).
Faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the link between us and God's forgiveness, which provides the acceptable spiritual covering necessary to be received into God's presence and receive the gift of life.
The second aspect of the fourth element also involves another death—ours. In this case, it is not a literal death but a spiritual one:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? . . . knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him. (Romans 6:1-2, 6-8)
This death is achieved through repentance because one believes he is a sinner in need of God's forgiveness, having broken His law and earned death.
What we have just reviewed must have been taught to Cain and Abel, probably by Adam. How do we know this? Because Hebrews 11:4 tells us that Abel offered by faith, and faith comes by hearing. He heard the divine words given by God to Adam and Eve, which were passed to him, and Abel believed. Cain heard the same words, but did not believe as Abel did.
More proof is recorded following Cain's rejection. God says to him in Genesis 4:7, "If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it." God clearly indicates a choice between right and wrong. Good and evil faced Cain and Abel. The one brother by faith chose what was right in God's eyes, while the other chose what was right in his own eyes. In essence, he chose death.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Three)
The curse is in two parts, each composed of two parallel clauses. The first part deals with childbearing and the second with marital relations. With two quick strokes God illustrates the bane of women throughout the ages.
On the surface, this verse seems fairly straightforward. However, the word-for-word translation obscures a great deal of its meaning. Because the Hebrew wording includes so much more than the words' literal meanings, both curses give translators fits. They do not want to stray too far from God's exact words, nor do they wish to leave out underlying ideas expounded by Paul in the New Testament. In the end, most choose to translate the passage word for word.
God's pronouncement on Eve stands in stark contrast to the positive tone He had given to childbearing and marriage in earlier chapters. He expresses His command in Genesis 1:28 in glowing terms: "Then God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.'" Likewise, Genesis 2:18, 24 paints a positive picture of a woman's role in marriage:
And the Lord God said, "It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him." . . . Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
When sin becomes a factor, however, childbearing and marriage lose their God-intended luster, and if human nature takes its course, pain, suffering, and bitter subjection are inevitable.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The First Prophecy (Part Two)
The second of Eve's curses deals with her relationship with her husband. It explains why many marriages fail and why many of the rest are unhappy. As mentioned before, human relationships are just as likely to fail as to succeed when men and women rely on human knowledge rather than revealed, godly wisdom.
The NKJV's rendering of the latter half of Genesis 3:16 is typical of many translations: "Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." From this we can see that the two clauses cannot be parallels. Instead, they form a statement of action and reaction. Because the woman "desires" her husband, he will "rule over" her.
Yet this does not make much sense as a curse. Why should a woman's desire for her husband cause him to dominate her? Most men would gladly accept his wife's desires for him, causing him to treat her more gently rather than roughly, as is implied in this verse. How are we to understand this?
The key is in the word "desire," translated from the Hebrew tesuqah, which the Brown, Driver and Briggs lexicon calls "unusual and striking" (p. 1003). It occurs only three times in the Old Testament: here, Genesis 4:7, and Song 7:10. It can carry the sense of sexual longing (as in the Song of Songs), but its usage in Genesis 4:7 shows another side, that of a desire to overcome or defeat another: "[Sin's] desire is for you, but you should rule over it." This latter meaning fits Genesis 3:16 better than the former.
Thus, God is saying that a woman's desire will be to gain the upper hand over her husband, but because she is the weaker vessel, her husband will put her down by force, if need be. The curse is that, in the main, women will lose the battle of the sexes. History bears this out. Until the advent of women's rights movements, women were virtually their husband's property, treated as heir-producing machines, given little freedom, and forced to serve their husband's every whim. In many cultures, men bought and sold women like cattle. Some cultures maintain this custom even today.
Only where true Christianity flourishes is there any real easing of this curse. Ephesians 5:22-33 teaches how we can decrease its effects within our marriages—by emulating the virtues of Christ's relationship with the church. Thus, wives are told to submit rather than contend, and husbands are commanded to love rather than dominate. It takes conscious effort to overcome the evil, ingrained habits of 6,000 years of misguided practice.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The First Prophecy (Part Two)
Often neglected in favor of more "exciting" prophecies, this first prophecy holds the fundamental principles for understanding the nature of Satan's relationship to Christ and the church, woman's relationship with man, man's relationship with nature, and sin's role in human suffering. Few subjects are more important!
The setting of this prophecy provides the necessary background information we need to understand the full implications of God's pronouncements in these verses. Adam and Eve were still living in the Garden of Eden. Satan, speaking through a serpent, had just deceived Eve into eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. She, in turn, had persuaded Adam to do the same. These sins demanded the judgment of God, which He expresses as curses that would result from their disobedience.
At first glance, the curses seem severe. These two innocents—babes, really—had no armor "against the wiles of the devil" (Ephesians 6:11). However, they had received instruction from God on the very point in question (Genesis 2:16-17), and this should have been sufficient to deter them. From God's point of view, their actions were sheer rebellion!
In addition, when God inquired about their actions (Genesis 3:11), they neither admitted their transgressions nor sought forgiveness. Instead, they shifted the blame—Adam to Eve, and Eve to Satan (verses 12-13)! Their actions throughout this scenario told God plenty about their character, making his predictions certain.
Thus, what we see is that God did not curse them—they cursed themselves! Because of sin's predictable course, God merely voices the consequences of their actions in prophetic terms. This prophecy, then, includes Satan's ultimate guilt and punishment, mankind's battle of the sexes and struggle to survive, and the need for a Savior to repair the damage they had caused. What we see in microcosm is the plan of God!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The First Prophecy (Part One)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Genesis 3:16: