“To the woman he said, ‘I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you’.” Genesis 3:16
OK, OK, I know this is a very inappropriate text for Mother’s Day but I have promised myself that I would take the 3:16 texts randomly and this is what popped up for today.
However, looking at the text there are a number of interesting things we can discover from the passage. The setting, of course, is the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve had chosen to rebel against God and listening to Satan had ended up in a total mess. They broke their relationship, based upon trust and love, and asserted their own desires to become “like God.” This didn’t work out so well and the bottom line is they lost their home, their peace, their life of comfort and ease, and became strangers in a broken and decaying world. Adam was told that the land wouldn’t produce like it once did and that thorns and weeds would become part of the situation.
For Eve, her loss was very personal; she would suffer in childbirth and become subordinate to her husband. First of all, God said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe.” That leads us to a number of questions. Had Eve already experienced childbirth? If she hadn’t how would she know the meaning of “very severe?” Also, had childbearing always been painful, at least to some decree? Had it been “severe” but now “very severe?”
God goes on to say, “with painful labor you will give birth to children?” Not only was childbirth going to be painful but also it was going to involve “labor.” Work and long periods of stress on her body as she labors through childbirth. Adam and Eve both were separated from their home in the Garden but it seems to me Eve would carry the separation in her body while Adam would feel the separation by the sweat of his brow.
However, the next part of the verse is the most curious, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Two undeniable and severe changes took place in Eve’s life. First of all, no longer was God going to be the desire of her life. She had pulled away from God when she refused to trust Him in the Garden. Something had to fill her life on a relational basis and that would now be her husband. Secondly, the relationship was no longer going to be equal but her husband would now rule over her instead of God.
Eve had traded in her relationship with God to put herself under the subjection of her husband and the agony of painful and laborious childbirth. In Genesis 3:15 God puts a curse upon Satan and reveals the way for the redemption of humanity. And though God reveals His promise of salvation even before the declaration of the penalty for sin, Adam and Eve as representatives of all humanity will bear the marks of sin upon their flesh, mind, and heart.
Women have been treated poorly throughout our history. They have been listed upon possessions, bought and sold like cattle, purchased for a dowry, beaten, used as sex slaves, and demeaned in a hundred different ways. In the time of the Roman Empire, girls as young as ten and eleven could be given as brides. Husbands controlled all rights over the women of his household.
A woman could be killed for adultery while a man had the right of exercising sexual control over all slave women and girls within the household. Abortion was common and the husband made the decision if it was to be carried out or not. A large number of women died having the procedure. Also if a baby was born and the husband decided he didn’t want the child, which was often the case with baby girls, the child was simply taken into the hills and left for wild animals or exposure to kill the child.
Into this world came Christianity and women couldn’t believe what they were hearing. For the first time many of them were hearing about how much they were loved and how valuable they were. They heard the stories of Jesus healing women and blessing them and accepting them. The early church refused child brides, protected women from unwanted abortions, and resisted the killing of unwanted children. In fact, the early church would take these children and care for them and look after them on behalf of mothers who were ordered to kill their children.
Plagues were common and often families simply left their loved ones alone in a room to die from the plague or starve to death. The Christians refused to follow that code and began to give care and food to these people. They became a church of nurses caring for the dying and sick. Hundreds of Christians died in this act of kindness but over time many became immune to some of the illnesses and could serve without contracting the diseases.
Why have I written about this? Because many girls and women today take their freedoms without a thought of what freedom really is. We celebrate Mother’s Day without a second thought of what privileges we have because of the long Christian tradition of treating women with respect and love. The idea that the early church had, that a girl shouldn’t marry until she is eighteen has served our western society well. The ideal that we shouldn’t leave people to die on their own but care for them has led to hospitals, medical workers, and preventive care. The saving of young girls from death opened the doors to orphanages and childcare.
Have we done all these things perfectly or well? Of course not, but it was the underlying desire that helped move the Christian value forward that women are not second rate or possessions but full partners. Genesis 3:16 is not what God wants for our society but it is the way He knew it would be because of sin.
For those of you who are fortunate to still have your Mom with you pick the phone up, or drop by the house, or take her out to dinner. Let her know what an amazing valuable, and wonderful person she really is.
Happy Mother’s Day!