He will rule over you: Prescription or Description?

I realize that this is a series on the women of the Bible and their stories, and last week I spent the entire article talking about the first sin, but it’s important to our understanding of the stories of women in the Bible. So much of what we believe about Genesis 1-3 influences the way we read the rest of Scripture. A bit more heavy lifting this week, and then on to other stories next week.

Last week we discussed how Genesis 3 is not an elevation of man over woman. It shows us that sin is a problem that impacts all creation – humans, animals, and even the garden which is now devoid of its human caretakers. The point we are to take away is that sin affects everything. That is consistent with the consequences of the sin that God enumerates in the last half of chapter 3. I find it fascinating that the word “cursed” is applied to the serpent, and to the ground because of Adam’s failure, but not to Eve.

The real reason we are looking at this passage again is our understanding of verse 16, specifically the last half of the verse:

“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

Genesis 3:16b NIV

Many have interpreted this verse as a sexual desire on the part of the woman, and God now wants man to be in charge. Let’s take a look at this verse within the immediate context of Genesis 3, and the larger context of Genesis and the whole of Scripture.  Genesis 4:7 is a parallel verse to Genesis 3:16 using the same Hebrew words:

“…[sin] desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Genesis 4:7 NIV

With regards to Cain we understand from the same Hebrew language that sin wants to possess Cain, but Cain’s response should be to rule over sin. We get that. Yet the same language when used with the consequences of sin in the Garden gets interpreted differently because we think God wants men to rule over women. This is not how God established relationships in the Garden. He did not create Eve as subservient to Adam (as we looked at for the last two weeks.) Remember, the Garden was God’s ideal environment for humans, but now as a result of sin there will be broken relationships between humans and God, and between men and women, each seeking to dominate the other. I really appreciated Derek Kinder’s statement about this phrase in his commentary on Genesis.

“‘To love and to cherish’ becomes ‘To desire and to dominate’. While even pagan marriage can rise far above this, the pull of sin is always towards it.”  

Derek Kinder, Genesis: an introduction and commentary

So are we to take Genesis 3:16b as God describing the effects of sin, or are we to take the statement as a prescription/authority for man to rule over women going forward? We will answer that question through the rest of this series. From here we will continue to look at how God’s Word describes the relationship between men and women throughout the story of the Bible. We’ll look at how each story portrays this relationship and how those stories should influence our churches today.

Next week we’ll look at Miriam, who is much more than the sister of Moses. She is a child of God with an important role to play.

Question: What was Miriam’s role in God’s rescue of Israel?

What do you think?

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