“increase, yes, increase.” The idea of “increase” is intensified by the figure of speech polyptoton, in which the verb “increase” occurs twice, the first time in the infinite form and the second in the imperfect form. Most versions do not double the verb as the Hebrew text does but translate the double verb as something like “greatly increase” or “greatly multiply. The doubling of the verb intensifies the meaning but also catches the attention of the reader and brings emphasis to the text by so doing.
[For more on polyptoton and the way it is translated, see commentary on Gen. 2:16, “eat, yes, eat.”]
“I will increase, yes, increase your pain and toil in childbirth.” The Hebrew word translated as “pain and toil” is atsabon (#06093 עִצָּבוֹן), and it has several meanings, including “pain, labor [toil], hardship, anxiety.” The problem with bringing Genesis 3:16 into English is that when God told the woman that she would give birth in atsabon, and that in atsabon the man would get his food from the soil, the word atsabon combined the different meanings. The woman would give birth in pain, and it would be hard work [toil] and there would also be anxiety involved. Similarly, the man would work hard to make the ground grow food, and there would be pain, and toil, and anxiety. The Hebrew does a marvelous job at using just one vocabulary word and showing all the pain, work, and anxiety that goes into childbirth and growing crops, but a single English word does not seem to do the job, thus the translation “pain and toil.” One interesting thing is that both Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and both had the consequences of “pain and toil” as a result of that disobedience—the woman in childbirth and the man in feeding his family.
Eve had broken God’s command for the sake of her earthly enjoyment and as a consequence, she now would have pain and anxiety in her pregnancy and childbirth. God had always intended that women would give birth, but now there is an unexpected consequence added because of Eve’s sin. In Eve and in all women we see that the sin nature in the body not only gives people a predisposition to sin, but weakens and sickens the physical body as well. In a sense, the single word “pain” is an understatement because the pain and danger associated with childbirth threaten both the life of the child and the life of the mother herself. There is a sad but important lesson we learn from Eve, that disobeying God for momentary earthly pleasure can result in long-term unpleasant consequences, and not just for the one who sinned, but for others as well.
“Your desire will be for your husband. ” God had created Eve to be a “helper corresponding to” Adam (Gen. 2:18), and God’s desire was that the two of them would work together and build a life, family, and society. But now, due to the sin of Eve and then Adam, the relationship between them was changed and perverted. Here in Genesis 3:16, God told Eve about the consequences of her sin and how the sin nature she had acquired by following Satan instead of obeying Him would show up in life. God described the consequences of Eve’s sin in two parts: the woman’s desire concerning her “man,” and that he would rule over her (in both Hebrew and Greek, the word “husband” is just one of the words for “man”).
The Hebrew word translated “desire,” teshuqah (#08669 תְּשׁוּקָה), occurs three times in the Hebrew Bible (Gen. 3:16; 4:7; Song of Solomon 7:10). Although it refers to a “desire,” the evidence in the text is that it has two different meanings, both of which are true. One meaning is “desire for,” which is the way most versions translate Genesis 3:16, e.g., “your desire will be for your husband” (NASB). That seems to be the way the woman in Song of Solomon 7:10 is using it when, speaking of her lover, she says “His desire is toward me.” Understood that way, Genesis 3:16 is speaking of the woman’s desire for a man in her life for any of a number of different reasons (some are mentioned below). However, a second meaning that teshuqah (“desire”) can have is a desire for the purpose of control. We see that only 15 verses later than Genesis 3:16, when sin has a “desire for” Cain, that is, a desire to control Cain. It is important to note that the Hebrew phrase “desire for” is the same in both Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 except for the change in person and gender (The Hebrew of Song of Solomon is a little different). If the meanings of the Hebrew text in Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 are the same, which seems reasonable given both the Hebrew text and the way couples have interacted since the Fall, then the text is implying that the woman, who has a fallen nature, has a desire to control her man. This idea is represented in versions such as the ESV, NET, and NLT. “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband” (ESV), and, “And you will desire to control your husband” (NLT. Cp. NET). Both meanings of teshuqah, “desire for” and “desire to control,” will be covered below. It is quite likely that God authored the Bible the way He did to allow the one statement about Eve’s “desire” to be understood both ways, and both are true.
When it comes to the normal use of “desire,” scholars have suggested many ways that Eve could have desired Adam and women in general desire men, especially focusing on the desire for sex and the desire for security and provision. Since the desire mentioned in Genesis is specifically a result of the fallen nature of Eve (and thus all women), the desire would be a craving or longing that was intensified by the woman’s sin nature. C. F. Keil writes: “she was punished with a desire bordering upon disease (from תְּשׁוּקָה שׁוּק to run, to have a violent craving for a thing).”a Certainly there are exceptions, but in general, women have a strong desire to have a man in their life in spite of the fact that throughout most of history that meant being domineered and often mistreated. Also, especially until very recently women also needed men in their lives because life was labor-intensive and dangerous, and it was important for a woman to have men in her life who could deal with much of the heavy work and who also could protect the family. Men desire women also, but due to a generally different mindset and their greater size and strength, they are less susceptible to abuse.
As was stated above, the second way that the Hebrew phrase can be understood is that the woman would have a “desire for” her husband, that is, a desire to control him, a desire that is contrary to him. The NET text note gives reasons why sexual desire is not likely the meaning of “desire” in Genesis 3:16, and then notes that “desire” in Genesis 4:7, “refers to sin’s desire to control and dominate Cain. …In Gen 3:16 the LORD announces a struggle, a conflict between the man and the woman. She will desire to control him, but he will dominate her instead. This interpretation also fits the tone of the passage, which is a judgment oracle.”
Susan T. Foh writes about a woman’s desire for her husband: “These words mark the beginning of the battle of the sexes. As a result of the fall, man no longer rules easily; he must fight for his headship. Sin has corrupted both the willing submission of the wife and the loving headship of the husband. The woman’s desire is to control her husband (to usurp his divinely appointed headship), and he must master her, if he can. So the rule of love founded in paradise is replaced by struggle, tyranny, and domination.”
In the same article, Foh gives reasons why that interpretation is sound. She writes: “It is consistent with the context, i.e., it is judgment for sin that the relation between man and woman is made difficult.” She also notes that understanding the text that way allows for a consistent understanding of the Hebrew word “desire,” and it recognizes the parallel between Genesis 3:16 and 4:7.b
It is also worth noting that the genuinely harmonious marriages that we would expect to be almost universal since God created man and woman to be together are in fact hard to find. Divorce is common and unhappiness in marriage is just as common. The fallen nature of humankind has made having a truly harmonious marriage difficult. The Apostle Paul, penned, “those who do marry will have trouble in the flesh” (1 Cor. 7:28) and the reason for that goes back to the sin of Adam and Eve and the consequences of that sin that God spoke about in Genesis 3:16. Marriages can work, but it takes truly spiritually mature men and women working together to make it work.
“and he will rule over you.” Another part of the consequence to women due to Eve’s sin was being ruled by the men in her life. Throughout history, men have generally ruled over women because they are bigger and stronger and also because many women spent most of their youthful years pregnant or nursing or caring for children. The fact that many men harshly domineered their wives was not a consequence intended by God or brought about by Him but rather was a consequence of the sin nature in men showing up in their dominating women due to their greater size and strength.
It is worth noting that in Genesis 3:16, just as “desire” can be an unhealthy desire for a man and even a desire to control a man, it was also a consequence that man would “rule” the woman. But godly headship of the man was already part of the male-female relationship, as is stated in the New Testament (1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:23-24), so “rule” in Gen. 3:16 must include ruling in an ungodly way. So just as the woman “desires” in an ungodly way, the man “rules” in an ungodly way, rather than being a self-sacrificing leader as the New Testament directs (Eph. 5:25).
The consequences of sin that Adam and Eve received were not the design or desire of God, who warned them not to sin, nor were they proscriptive, they were descriptive. That is, what God told Adam and Eve were not commands about how to live but were descriptions of what would happen in life. For example, Eve was not commanded to desire her husband and let him rule her; instead, God gave her a description of how things would be in the now-fallen world. Those descriptions let Adam and Eve know what would happen as the sin nature outworked itself in them. Similarly, Adam was not commanded to work hard in order to eat; he was told that as a consequence of his sin, he would have to work hard to eat.
Interestingly, the consequences that both Adam and Eve received as a result of their sin related in some way to the sin itself. Eve sought pleasure in eating the forbidden fruit but got pain as a result. Also, she led Adam into sin, and as a consequence, she would now have an unnatural desire for her husband who would lead and rule over her, often harshly. Adam ate of the fruit he was forbidden to eat instead of the fruit he could freely eat, and now, because of his sin, eating would not be easy, but it would require hard work to produce food for himself and the family.
Thankfully, one day the Fallen World and sinful humankind will be redeemed by Jesus Christ, who will restore the earth to its Edenic state and restore humankind to mental and physical wholeness.
[For more on the coming kingdom of Christ on earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.”]