The passage is from Genesis 3:16. The Lord is speaking about the consequences of sin to the woman.
To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
The question is, how do you understand this, and how does your interpretation affect your pastoral care?
A common interpretation of the passage suggests that a woman will desire control over her husband, but her husband will resist that control and respond in even more dominating ways of his own. John Piper says this. “When sin has the upper hand in woman, she will desire to overpower or subdue or exploit man. And when sin has the upper hand in man, he will respond in like manner and with his strength subdue her, or rule over her.”¹
My concern is that, with this interpretation, we might make hasty decisions about a woman before we understand her. We would begin with a theory—women are prone to a quest for power and control—and then we would find evidence for our theory, whether it is there or not. So we better be absolutely certain that our theory is true.
The passage, however, is open to different interpretations. The context is that God is identifying the consequences of sin to the serpent, the woman and the man. Both the man and woman will experience trouble with fruitfulness—the man with the ground, the woman in giving birth.
With the man and the serpent, there is one consequence and some explanation. The consequence of Cain’s sin follows the same formula. (Genesis 4:11-12). This would suggest that the woman is receiving only one consequence (trouble in childbirth), rather than two (an additional instinct to dominate). If the section about “your desire” is linked to childbearing, Irving Busenitz suggests the second half of the verse could read like this: “”yet you will still desire [as you did before the Fall, though now tainted by sin] your husband, and he will still rule [as he did before the Fall, though now tainted by sin] over you.”² In other words, contrary to what we might expect, women will not avoid marriage and sexual intimacy even though childbirth is painful and will instead continue to desire both, allowing the earth to be populated.
This interpretation has plenty of supporting evidence. Women do still desire marriage and can go through the most difficult labor and two hours later be open to having yet another child. Men, meanwhile, have a sense that if it were up to us to give birth, there would be no children born at all.
This interpretation does not suggest that there will never be power struggles in marriage. It does suggest that we should not assume that all women want power over their husbands.
²Irving A. Busenitz, “Woman’s desire for man,” Grace Theological Journal 7.2 (1986), 209. https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/otesources/01-genesis/text/articles-books/busenitz-gen3-gtj.pdf, p. 209