The consequences of the fall for husbands and wives impact every marriage. Genesis 3:16-17 is when The Battle of the Sexes began because we received sin natures that manifest themselves differently. Which temptations are most common to men and women, and how can these temptations be resisted? Read this chapter from Your Marriage God’s Way to find out.
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During college I participated in Army ROTC, which means I was just like other students on the university campus except that I also received leadership training and took military science classes. Upon graduating, I was commissioned as an armor (tank) officer. Because I was in a combat arms branch, which is one of the most likely to engage in battle, I was trained to look for an enemy’s weaknesses. After the military, I taught elementary school and coached wrestling and football teams. During this time, I did my best to train my athletes to determine their opponent’s weaknesses.
I mention all this because the devil used this same approach when he successfully convinced Adam and Eve to sin! Mankind’s first temptation involved the serpent attacking Adam’s recently established headship in his relationship with Eve. Genesis 3:1-4 says:
Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”
And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’”
Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.”
Note an important contrast here between the creation account in Genesis 2 and the fall in Genesis 3:
- In Genesis 2:16, “the Lord God commanded the man.”
- In Genesis 3:1 and 4, “[the serpent] said to the woman.”
God spoke to Adam, but the devil spoke to Eve. Why? The devil saw a weakness. He knew Adam had received the command from God, but Eve had received it from Adam. Part of the reason God placed Eve under male headship was for her own protection.
When the devil tempted Eve, she had two choices:
- She could trust her husband, who had given her God’s command, and submit to him.
- She could trust the devil, which meant submitting to him.
Genesis 3:6 reveals her choice, which, as we now know, had severe consequences: “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.”
At this point, Adam also had two choices:
- He could obey God, who gave him the command, and submit to Him.
- He could obey his wife, which meant submitting to her instead.
We all know what happened, and Genesis 3:9-12 details for us the devastating outcome of that decision:
The Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”
So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?”
Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”
It is significant that this conversation about the fall took place between God and Adam. God did not address Eve until Genesis 3:16, where He explained how Consequences of the Fall for Husbands and Wives 73 sin’s curse would affect women. God went to Adam because he was the head of the relationship; therefore, as the New Testament reveals, God held him more responsible for the fall:
- Romans 5:12-19—“Through one man sin entered the world…death reigned from Adam…the transgression of Adam…by the one man’s offense many died…by one man’s offense death reigned…through one man’s offense judgment came…by one man’s disobedience.”
- 1 Corinthians 15:21-22—“By man came death…In Adam all die.”
Because Eve sinned first, we would expect to read that sin and death entered the world through her, but God placed the blame squarely on Adam’s shoulders. Why? As the recipient of God’s command and the head of the relationship, Adam had higher accountability. So how does all this apply to husbands and wives?
- Wives should consider how poorly it went for Eve when she stepped out from under Adam’s headship. While staying under a husband’s headship is no guarantee everything will go perfectly, wives can be encouraged that this is God’s design for their own best interests and safety. This places wives in positions for God to work through and bless their obedience.
- Husbands should consider that even though Eve made the initial wrong choice, the sobering fact is that God still held Adam responsible! This is a warning to all husbands regarding the accountability God has placed on their shoulders. When God confronted Adam, Adam tried to blame Eve (Genesis 3:12). But that did not work for Adam, and it does not work today for husbands to blame their wives when things go wrong. As the God-appointed head of the relationship, the husband is responsible for what takes place in his marriage and home.
THE RESULTS OF ADAM AND EVE’S DISOBEDIENCE
Prior to the fall, Adam and Eve lived in perfect harmony with each other. But when sin entered the world, conflict came as well. The fall affected both sides of the marriage relationship. Before banishing Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, God revealed what their relationship would be like in a fallen world. Genesis 3:16-17 records what would happen:
To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it…’”
The italicized words identify the three specific struggles—or temptations—husbands and wives would face as a result of their fallenness. Let’s look at each of them.
A Wife’s Temptation to Control Her Husband
The phrase “your desire shall be for your husband” refers to a wife’s desire to control her husband. Before the fall, Eve would have willingly and eagerly submitted to Adam, but in her fallen state, she would find herself wanting to resist his headship and control him instead.
How do we know this is what the verse is saying? First, this is a curse and not a blessing. Thus it cannot mean wives are going to love their husbands or desire them in any positive way. Second, a basic rule of Bible interpretation is to determine the meaning of words by looking at their use elsewhere in Scripture. Whenever possible, an example from the same book of the Bible is preferred, because often the author and time of writing will be the same for both uses of a word. The Hebrew word translated “desire” is teshuwqah, and it occurs only three times in Scripture—twice in Genesis and once in Song of Solomon 7:10: “I am my beloved’s, and his desire [teshuwqah] is toward me.”
For our purposes, let us consider the second usage of teshuwqah in Genesis, just one chapter later. The word is used shortly before Adam and Eve’s firstborn son, Cain, murdered his brother, Abel:
Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.
So the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire [teshuwqah] is for you, but you should rule over it.”
Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him (Genesis 4:4-8).
When God rejected Cain’s offering, Cain faced the two choices we all face when rebuked: (1) be humble, repent, and do what is right, or (2) be prideful, angry, and pout. The latter allows sin to remain in our lives. As God graciously warns Cain about what sin wants to do to him, the parallelism with Genesis 3:16 is obvious:
- Genesis 3:16—“Your desire [teshuwqah] shall be for your husband, and he shall rule [mashal] over you.”
- Genesis 4:7—“[Sin’s] desire [teshuwqah] is for you, but you should rule [mashal] over it.”
What kind of “desire” did sin have for Cain? Was it gentle, supportive, and affectionate? No, it was the desire sin has for everyone—to control mind and actions. God told Cain he needed to rule over sin, but Cain failed to obey God, and instead, he let sin control him so much that he murdered his brother. The application is this: Just as sin had a desire to control Cain, God warned Eve in Genesis 3:16 that wives will have a desire to control their husbands.
A Husband’s Temptation to Dominate His Wife
In Genesis 3:16, we are also introduced to a struggle husbands face: “And he shall rule over you.” This may sound as though God is establishing authority in the marriage relationship, but we have already seen that headship was established before the fall. So what is God communicating with these words? He is describing what women would have to endure because of the curse. Just as God pointed out the “desire” women would have to control their husbands, so He also pointed out the temptation men would have to dominate their wives.
As a result of the fall, the Battle of the Sexes will forever plague the marriage relationship. On one side, the conflict has led women to desire to control their husbands and reject their headship. On the other side is men being harsh, cruel, and dictatorial. Genesis 3:16 could be understood as a prophecy that wives will have to resist wanting to control their husbands, and husbands will have to resist being tyrants to their wives.
A Husband’s Temptation to Fail to Lead
Another temptation husbands face is mentioned in Genesis 3:17: “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife…” When Adam and Eve sinned, they both violated God’s divine pattern for marriage by reversing their roles:
- Eve usurped her husband’s authority by acting independently of him and ignoring the command God had communicated to him.
- Adam abandoned his appointed role as leader by submitting to Eve instead of to God.
While it’s true that many husbands struggle with the temptation to be domineering, at the same time, they can also be too passive—that is, not lead at all. Both temptations have serious consequences. It is terrible for men to mistreat their wives by being pushy and cruel, but it is also terrible for men to mistreat their wives by failing to lead.
So which temptation do men surrender to most commonly? That varies widely according to culture. In parts of the world where women still rank as little more than a possession, cruelty is a more common sin. While there are many abusive men in Western nations where both men and women can claim legal protections, the more common temptation seems to be passivity and spiritual laziness.
Why is this the case? A likely answer is this: In our Western culture, both secular society and the church rightly consider it unacceptable for men to be cruel to women. But it is generally considered acceptable, even within Christian circles, for men to be passive when it comes to leading in the home and the church.
I witnessed a particularly unhappy illustration of this some years back when a married man began attending our church without his wife. I learned that she attended a different church, where she occupied a position of leadership and teaching over men and women. He shared, “I would like her to go to church with me, but she won’t. Will you speak with her and convince her to embrace a biblical view of marriage?”
We began counseling sessions, but when I shared the Bible passages that instruct wives to submit to their husbands, she would argue and justify not having to obey Scripture. During that time, the wife’s authoritarian personality put her at odds with the church she was attending, so she began accompanying her husband to our church. When I began preaching the same series on marriage that I am presenting in this book, she grew so frustrated that her husband told me, “My wife wants to leave the church.”
I encouraged him to lead in his marriage, but they left a few months later. The situation could have been avoided if either of them had chosen to obey Scripture. Instead, a passive man would not lead, and a rebellious woman would not submit.
Sadly, their situation parallels what happened in the Garden of Eden. Adam abdicated his leadership role, and Eve usurped his authority. The couple’s dilemma also illustrates what can happen to a marriage when the husband and wife fail in their roles. Frustration and regret will inevitably result.
The Need for Leadership
Ultimately, it is impossible for someone not to lead. The only way for nobody to lead is for both spouses to make no decisions and to do nothing. Yet if a couple wants to do something, no matter how small or insignificant, someone must take the initiative and get things moving in a certain direction. If a man prefers to be passive and lazy, someone will step into the leadership role, and that usually ends up being the wife.
Because the concept of male headship receives so much criticism from society, and sometimes even from within the church, you would expect the most common complaint from women to be “My husband wants to lead and I hate it. It is so barbaric and chauvinistic. He acts like such a dictator.” In reality, the frustration I hear more often is just the opposite: “My husband won’t lead. I wish he wasn’t so passive!”
God originally created women to desire a strong leader. Because of the fall, women struggle against male headship. Yet a Christian woman—as she seeks to follow God—possesses deep within a longing that craves a spiritual man she can follow.
The Consequences of a Lack of Leadership
One of the purposes of the Old Testament is that it provides examples for us to learn from—it serves as a backdrop for New Testament instructions. Consider these verses:
- Romans 15:4—“Whatever things were written before [that is, the Old Testament] were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”
- 1 Corinthians 10:11—“All these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.”
This includes guidance on the topic of marriage. As we continue our way through this book, we will look at individuals in the Old Testament who can help us discover practical applications for New Testament commands. Some of these people will serve as positive examples through their obedience, while others will serve as negative examples through their disobedience.
Along with Adam, Scripture provides two other instructive examples of men who gave in to the temptation to succumb to their wives’ control.
The first is Abraham, whom God promised would be the father of a nation (Genesis 12:2). When God promises you a child, how long do you expect to wait? About nine months. So Abraham and Sarah could hardly have expected decades to pass before God fulfilled His promise. Because so much time was passing, Sarah became doubtful and succumbed to unbelief. This, in turn, led her to a desire to control her husband:
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “See now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai (Genesis 16:1-2).
Do these words sound familiar?
- Genesis 3:17—“Then to Adam He said, “Because you heeded [shama] the voice [qowl] of your wife.”
- Genesis 16:2—“Abram heeded [shama] the voice [qowl] of Sarai.”
Abraham faced the same two choices Adam faced: obey God, or obey his wife. Instead of leading as God commanded, Abraham submitted to Sarah— just as Adam had done to Eve. The consequence was conflict between Hagar’s son Ishmael and Abraham’s God-designated heir, Isaac—a conflict that has continued for thousands of years between their descendants and plagues our planet to this very day.
The second example is Ahab, a king of Israel, and his wife, Jezebel, a wicked and tyrannical queen who imposed Baal worship on the Israelite people. Ahab was just as wicked as her, but he was also spineless. He wanted a vineyard that belonged to a godly man named Naboth. Even though Ahab offered Naboth a substantial amount of money and a better vineyard, Naboth declined (1 Kings 21:3).
This sent Ahab home pouting. When he told Jezebel what was wrong, she had an immediate solution: “You now exercise authority over Israel! Arise, eat food, and let your heart be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite” (verse 7). Tragically, Jezebel had Naboth murdered. When Jezebel informed Ahab of her success, he jumped into his chariot and gleefully rushed to take possession of the property (verses 8-15).
Because Jezebel had Naboth murdered, would God hold Ahab responsible? The prophet Elijah gave the answer when he caught up to Ahab at Naboth’s vineyard: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Have you murdered and also taken possession?…In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, dogs shall lick your blood, even yours’” (verse 19). Yes, God held Ahab responsible for Naboth’s murder—even though Jezebel was the one who gave the command. This is consistent with the way God held Adam responsible for eating the forbidden fruit—even though Eve ate first and seemed more responsible because she ate first and gave the fruit to Adam.
Ahab and Jezebel’s marriage is summarized in 1 Kings 21:25: “There was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do wickedness in the sight of the Lord, because Jezebel his wife stirred him up.” This summary should serve as a sobering reminder to husbands and wives:
- Jezebel shows wives the great influence they can have on their husbands. Women can stir up their husbands for evil (as Jezebel did) or for good.
- Husbands should notice that even though Jezebel influenced Ahab to wickedness, God still held Ahab responsible for the results. Whether it is Adam, Abraham, or Ahab, God appointed men to lead, and they cannot turn around and say, “My wife made me do it.” God holds a man responsible for how he responds to his wife’s influence.
EMPOWERED BY GOD’S GRACE
Before the fall, God called man to lead. If the fall had never taken place, Eve would have been able to submit to Adam’s leadership with joy and humility, and Adam would have been able to lead with perfect love, compassion, and kindness. After the fall, a husband is still expected to lead, and a wife is still expected to submit, but now there is conflict instead of peace. Husbands and wives were designed to be lifelong companions living in perfect harmony, but the sinful desires at work in us try to destroy what God has “joined” (Genesis 2:24). The curse has turned God’s ordained roles into struggles that are spurred by pride, selfishness, and self-will. How can a marriage survive this kind of conflict?
There is good news! The gospel works in our hearts, transforming us into the husbands and wives God desires us to be. We have been given a guide in the Word that reveals God’s design apart from the effects of the fall. His power enables…
- harsh and passive men to become loving, godly leaders.
- controlling, manipulative women to become gentle and respectful.
If we had to obey God’s commands in our own effort, we would be discouraged and defeated because it’s not possible. But if we remember that God’s grace enables us to obey, we can be encouraged: “God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). God doesn’t command us without giving us the necessary grace to fulfill His calling. As has been said before, “God does not call the equipped. He equips the called.” He is with us, providing for us and enabling us. His grace has the glorious effect of producing obedience.
In the chapters that follow, we will look in detail at God’s commands for husbands and wives and see how we can apply them to experience marriages such as God intended for Adam and Eve—and all their descendants, including us—before the fall. While you read, keep in mind that God’s grace empowers you to obey: “It is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).