The Curse and Blessing
“Not good.” God said six times that His creation was good. But God saw that one thing was “not good.” Genesis 2:18 says, “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’” In the sixteen times the word good occurs in the first three chapters of Genesis, this one “not good” stands out. God did not make a mistake. Genesis two goes back and explains day six, the creation of humanity, in detail. At the end of day six, God pronounces His creation “very good.” What changed this? God provides a helper suitable to Adam to meet his need.
Adam was so overwhelmed by God’s gift that the first recorded human words are poetry he said when he saw Eve for the first time. This may answer Paul McCartney’s question: “What’s wrong with that? I’d like to know.” This is the completion of God’s creation and the “not good” became “very good.” But when humanity sinned and fell, the first couple’s relationship went from “very good” to “not so good” or cursed. In fact, most struggles in marital relationships are directly related to the curse of sin applied to the woman. Fittingly, as their disobedience disrupts their fellowship with God, their disobedience also develops a disunity in their relationship. Remarkably, the Bible indicates how this curse works out in marriage relationships in Genesis 3:16. But thankfully, the Bible also gives the solution to the curse when couples center their marriage in Jesus. Paul explains in Ephesians 5 how marriage can be un-cursed in Jesus. We will look at these two passages.
Sin Brings a Curse to the Marriage
The curse reads, “To the woman [God] 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’” (Genesis 3:16 ESV). Experience certainly testifies to the aspect of childbearing. Two mistaken ideas are often suggested from the relationship aspect. The first is that the woman’s desire is physical. The second is that the headship of the husband is a result of the curse. Regarding the first, we will see that in context, the word here means something like “desire to control.” Regarding the second mistaken idea, the word “rule” here is close to “dominate”. In contrast, Paul clearly places the leadership of the husband in the creation order in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9, not in the curse. To be sure, many reject the idea of male leadership because it points to Jesus. But sadly, many find a ready excuse to reject Jesus because they see cursed expressions of leadership in overbearing husbands.
Let’s take a closer look at the key verbs, desire and rule. One of the most respected Old Testament commentaries describes rule as, “a despotic rule, crushing the woman into a slave.” (Keil and Delitzsch, 103). This fallen view of the husband’s leadership is ugly and oppressive. Next, this word for desire only occurs three times in the Bible and does express the physical desire of a husband in Song of Solomon 7:10. The only other use of this word is in the next chapter and is also used in combination with “rule” again. The closeness and repetition of Genesis 4:7 help us understand Moses’ meaning in Genesis 3:16. There God tells Cain that sin’s desire is for him, but he should rule over it. Sin is pictured like an animal crouching to pounce wanting control of Cain. Cain, like us, must master or dominate sin. The word “rule” is a proper word towards a sin in this context, it becomes wrong and a curse when applied to the marriage relationship. This pattern of conflict is the best way to explain the curse. The wife desires control over the husband and the husband tries to subdue the wife. They see it as a battle where one comes out on top.
Conflict, Not Romance Is the “New Normal” State of Marriage
We have seen couples who seem so in love, but later the relationship is tearing apart. Marriage, apart from grace, becomes more like a battle than a romance. Wives can become domineering or manipulative. Husbands can be this way also. The wife may become passive-aggressive or sometimes just passive, not seeking help for her and her husband from their spiritual leaders. The husband may become “seafood,” either a crab, saying harsh things to his bride in the name of headship, or a clam, rarely speaking and retreating to the shell of his man cave and abdicating his spiritual leadership. Both directly or indirectly jockey for being the center of the relationship, sometimes even with the good intention of fixing or managing the relationship. The conflict or clamming up grows and the situation seems to spin out of control accelerated by hurt and anger. They spin further and further apart.
The Curse Begins to Be Reversed When the Wife Follows Christ
But God, who is rich in mercy, has provided a solution. He did not give that solution as rules in a marriage handbook, but as a picture of the salvation found in Jesus Christ. Many Scriptures address this, but the main place is in Ephesians 5:22-33. Paul reminds us that he is talking primarily about Christ and the Church. (32) One of the advantages of the gospel is the solution to the curse, based on a view of God and His people. Ephesians 5:22 says the wife is to submit to her husband as to the Lord. This counteracts the desire to control. Note, she is not to submit to the husband because he fulfils her dreams, meets her needs, and is righteous in all respects. She is to submit to him because he represents Christ and she represents the Church. In addition to this dramatic witness of the biblical worldview, she submits to Jesus by submitting to her husband. Paul qualifies this with “in the Lord” meaning that this never involves submitting to sin. Her submission is not a playground for his sin. Sin is handled in various ways in marriage. But we are to address sin in the relationship. Love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8) We are to forgive one another as Christ forgave us. (Colossians 3:13) But sometimes sin requires confrontation and even help to deal with it from “those who are spiritual” (Galatians 6:1).
The Curse Begins to Be Reversed When the Husband Imitates Christ
The amount of space given to the husband indicates that the husband bears most of the responsibility for taking leadership against the curse on marriage. Since the husband represents Christ, this makes sense. As Christ bears the responsibility for his people, his bride, so the husband bears more responsibility in the marriage relationship. In fact, we could suggest that responsibility is equal to authority in his leadership. Notice that Paul says that Christ is the main agent of change in his bride’s sanctification. (26-7) A husband is responsible for his wife’s sin in ways that a wife is not for the husband. Rather than be angry about her sin, he should pray for her and give of himself to help her overcome sin. She is his body. (28) When a husband grasps this both grow in Christlikeness.
Husbands Should Exercise Servant-Leadership with Their Wives
In relation to the curse of domineering over his wife, a Christ-like husband loves his wife as Christ loves the church, giving himself up for her. The word Paul uses here often describes Jesus being crucified. Our ruler died for us. A husband is to love in a sacrificial way even when his wife may be sinning. A husband does not pay for his wife’s sins only Jesus can do that. But a husband can love her in a forgiving way. He also gives himself up for her in many sacrificial ways. This kind of love happens more on a day to day basis rather than in the big superhero like action. Jesus applies this anti-curse model of leadership in another sphere in Mark 10:42-45, but the principle is the same. “And Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” (Emphasis added)
The Blessing of Marriage Grows as Couples Draw Near to Christ
Marriages still feel the effects of the curse, just like we all face temptation to sin. With Jesus truly at the center of the relationship, not just in word, but in our affections, the effects of the curse on marriage begin to be reversed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Rather than a self-centered conflict pushing the pair apart, the relationship becomes like a whirlpool, drawing them closer together, as they glorify God drawing closer to Christ.
Brad Swygard received his two best gifts while at WTSU, his salvation and his wife, Jeanette. They have been married 31 years and have three grown children, Sarah, Joel, and John. Brad has been in the gospel ministry for 27 years, most recently as Senior Pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Dewey, Oklahoma for the last seventeen years. He graduated from WT in 1985. He received his Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary in 1990. He has started a window washing business in Amarillo while pursuing his Ph.D. in Biblical Studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. He has been a church planter and a school principal, as well as coaching a High school speech and debate team for sixteen years. Brad likes to spend time with his wife, ride trains, hunt, fish, and train his bird dogs.