In Genesis 3:16 we read about God's curse on the woman:

To the woman He said,
“I will greatly multiply
Your pain in childbirth,
In pain you will bring forth children;
Yet your desire will be for your husband,
And he will rule over you.”

I have heard the "desire" explained as an antagonist usurping sort of drive, which makes sense to me both exegetically and empirically. If we take that as a given (for this question), I'm wondering about the next statement, that "he will rule over you". How was this meant to be taken? Possibilities:

  • Negatively; as part of the curse the man would now Lord his authority over the woman and/or God was now giving man a more oppressive role in her life.

  • Neutrally; just as the first part of the curse presents two related concepts with the first being the judgment and the second a mere clarifying descriptor, so also the second half presents the verdict of an evil desire to usurp, with a clarifying descriptor that the man would [still] be in charge, despite this jealousy.

  • Positively; the woman would desire to usurp the man, but by God's grace the man would serve to squelch this rebellious tendency by "ruling over" the rebellion. "Ruling" is not inherently evil, as this was man's charge prior to sin entering in.

I would love it if your answer could contain a rebuttal of the opposing views I mentioned above.


3 Answers 3


The word יִמְשָׁל־(yim-sal, a derivative of "מָשַׁל "-mashal) is interpreted "dominion", of which we understand it's meaning as "to rule".

Earlier, in Gen. 2:15, Adam was given the commandment to " שָׁמַר"(shamar) which is to "keep watch, preserve"(BDB); this commandment was given to Eve as well, being part of Adam; together they were to "keep watch and preserve" the Garden, in addition to the integrity of their own hearts. This is an 'active' rather than passive voice; one must actively 'keep watch' if one does not want something negative to happen.

Since it is apparent that Adam did not "keep watch" over his wife, Eve, and she did not "keep watch" over their souls, allowing her desire for 'knowledge' to trump the commandment of God, disorder אֲרוּרָ֤ה (arurah-the curse) was released by which "dominion" is needed to be exercised to prevent it's spread. In Gen. 4:7, Cain is told he must תִּמְשָׁל־-exercise dominion(tim-sal, derivative of mashal) his desire for sin.

It was God's original intention to "keep watch"; but because of sin, and it's consequences, man must now "exercise dominion" over the corrosive forces of evil, in fulfilling God's original intention. This is the consequence for Eve, that she would experience Adam's "rule", in response for going outside of his "watch", which allowed her(and him) to be exposed to the corrosive consequences of sin.

In Response to 3 Views

Dominion is not a curse-it is a blessing. It does not appear from the text that God informed man that He had an 'opposer'(ha-Satan). Because man(both Adam and Eve) sinned by choosing to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he must now "rule" over the evil desires that result from his association with Satan. "Lordship" establishes this rule; one must now actively contest and oppose the desires to do evil, as well as prevent those under your care to do so. God gave Adam this "dominion" not to crush her spirit, but to prevent the further downfall of His creation.

So in response to the arguments: the 1st 2 do not adequately describe "dominion". The fact that "Dominion/Authority" can be abused does not mean it is by nature evil; in fact it is a lie to say so. Therefore, #3 more correctly represents the understanding of this passage; Adam was to 'exercise dominion' in checking the spread of evil which meant exercising dominion over Eve as well. This does not negate her personal responsibility, but it places Adam in a position of authority over her, which was a consequence of the Fall.

  • Interesting. Thanks. Can you comment on the other views?
    – Jas 3.1
    Dec 19, 2014 at 16:07
  • @Jas3.1 I couldn't include this in my answer, as it would appear 'anachronistic', but in 1 Cor. 15:25-26,"He must reign, till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." Because of sin, death entered and it requires "dominion" to overcome. You might say it wasn't God's 'perfect' plan, but necessary to live in a world that is under the dominion of darkness.
    – Tau
    Dec 21, 2014 at 18:03

The Hebrew word for desire is teshuqa, meaning "turn away". Eve will turn away from God in the future and toward her husband. Does this change your mind at all about the word for rule?


What if the second part of the verse is connected to the first? Depending how you translate it, it could also be interpreted along the lines of “you will stretch out with desire for your husband, and he will rule IN you”

Given that the first part of the verse is about child birth, and the very first thing they are described as doing after finishing their conversation with God is conceive Cain, it sort of fits better with the narrative...

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.