bringing men to the end of themselves
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.”
God first addressed the serpent, pronouncing a curse upon him. The serpent was guilty of obscuring the straightforward, simple truth of God’s word. He seemed to bring a revelation of hidden truths. But by claiming the fruit was an opportunity to gain independent wisdom, he veiled the woman’s responsibility to obey the Creator. In offering her independence, he enticed her to abandon God’s word. For this, God reduced the serpent from his elevated position among the animals to crawl in the dirt (Genesis 3:1, 14).
God also announced a hostility between the serpent’s seed and the woman’s Seed. The serpent’s seed would be those who follow the serpent and discard the truth of God’s words (see John 8:42-47). They would be in opposition to the woman’s Seed, who would reveal the truth. He would show that true life is not found in breaking free from the Creator’s word, but in keeping it. By the light of this truth, He would defeat the agenda of the serpent.
However, the path to victory over the serpent would not be an easy one. The knowledge of good and evil obtained by Adam and his wife brought a sense of an independent life for them. It was a life guided by their own wisdom, a life divergent from the life of God. Being separate from God’s life, it was a life of death (Genesis 2:17). Yet, it brought a sense of independence. Convincing people to give up a life of independence is difficult, though it be a life of death.
If you were God, what lengths would you be willing to go to convince your creatures to give up their independence of death? Would you bring pain and suffering to save them from death?
The sorrow and birth pains that God introduced upon the woman (Genesis 3:16a) vividly illustrate the process of bringing an independent human from death into life.
The woman’s labor pains are unique among living creatures. At the peak of labor, her pain is overwhelming, and she feels unable to complete the process, reaching the end of herself. Happily, it normally is not her end, but the beginning of a new life. This ‘coming to the end of herself’ is the same state people with the independent knowledge of good and evil need to arrive at to be persuaded to give up their independent life.
A historical example of a people come to the end of themselves is found in the birth of the nation of Isreal. They were overwhelmed by a hopeless and cruel bondage in Egypt, and their cry went up to heaven (Exodus 2:23-25). God’s mighty deliverance led them to willingly embrace a covenant that established God’s rule over them (Exodus 24:3-4). A future example is the seven years of Jacob’s trouble that will overwhelm Israel. But at the end, they will willingly embrace their Messiah.
Looking at the individual level, we see that people generally must come to the end of themselves before they will acknowledge their need of the Savior. For some people, reaching this point takes great suffering; for others, not so much. But all who come to the Lord have reached the state where they recognize they are incapable of making it on their own. After this point, like for the woman, comes new life.
Then God spoke of struggle that would arise between a wife and her husband.
Having the knowledge of good and evil gave the wife a wisdom independent of her husband’s. As a result, she would not always see eye-to-eye with him and she would want him to do things her way (Genesis 3:16b). However, she was not created with the strength to compel her husband to obey her. If her husband chose to rule over her, she would not be able to prevent him.
Side note: The Hebrew word for ‘rule’ is used to speak of the sun and moon ruling over earth in Genesis 1:16-18. It refers to the fact that nothing on earth has the ability or power to stop the sun from shining during the day. Thus, to rule means that those under you cannot (or, do not) stop you from doing what you want.
God drew attention to the wife’s struggle because it illustrates the root and futility of mankind’s struggle against God. The knowledge of good and evil will lead mankind to a different opinion from God and they will strive to make God do things their way. But it is a futile struggle, for God is man’s Creator – not the other way around. Thus, it is inevitable but that He will rule over them.
There is a part of me that resents the thought of God’s rule over me. It’s silly because my way of life produces a loathsome corruption of personality (like bitterness, anger, hatred). I find it truly is a life of death. In contrast to my way of life, God stated that His rule in my life would produce the wholesome qualities of personality that I wish I had (like patience, kindness, gentleness). I can see His rule would be a life of life for me, for it would reverse the damage from the serpent’s false promise of independence from God. His rule in my life would be, on a small scale, a triumph of Christ over the serpent.
God’s intent was to reveal truth to mankind, but the serpent offered independence in exchange for truth. God’s method for undoing the serpent’s lies was by revealing the truth through a Man who wholly submitted to His will. This Man preached the word of God, which exposed people’s corruption, and invited them to turn from their lives of death and enter God’s kingdom.