Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Introduction

Genesis 3:16, a verse about Eve, and Genesis 4:7, a verse about Cain, are sometimes compared. This is because both verses contain the Hebrew words teshuqah (“desire”) and mashal (“rule”) and there are other similarities in vocabulary and syntax.  Similarities are usually highlighted; however, there are considerable differences in the overall context of these verses.

In this post, I briefly look at these similarities and differences and look at whether the vocabulary of Genesis 4:7 help us to better understand 3:16.

God is Speaking in Genesis 3:16 and 4:7

In both verses, God is speaking. In Genesis 3:16 he speaks to the woman, Eve, when she admitted she had eaten the forbidden fruit after being duped by the snake’s temptation. In Genesis 4:7, God speaks to Cain who is jealous of his brother Abel and who is currently susceptible to an attack from personified sin lurking nearby. The context of these verses is similar in that God is speaking to an individual and that sin is involved in the story.

Genesis 3:16
He [God] said to the woman: I will intensify your labor pains; you will bear children with painful effort. Your desire (teshuqah) will be for your husband, yet he will rule (mashal) over you.

Genesis 4:6-7
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you furious? And why do you look despondent? If you do what is right, won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire (teshuqah) is for you, but you must rule (mashal) over it.”

The Same Two Words in Genesis 3:16 and 4:7

Mashal

The verb mashal occurs about eighty times in the Hebrew Bible and means “to rule, to have dominion.” Mashal is qal imperfect in both Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 and followed by a prepositional phrase that can mean “over you” and “over it (literally: him)” respectively.

Context determines the tense of Hebrew verbs. As it turns out, Cain did not rule over sin, so the imperfect verb is not translated as a future in 4:7, as it usually is in 3:16, but as a command. This difference in interpretation and translation of the qal imperfect of mashal“you must rule” (4:7) compared with “he will rule” (3:16)―shows that similar vocabulary and grammar does not necessarily signify an exact or close correspondence in meaning.

Teshuqah

Teshuqah is an uncommon word and occurs only three times in the Hebrew Bible. As well as the two times in Genesis, the word also appears once more, in Songs 7:10: “I am my love’s, and his desire (teshuqah) is for me.”

Teshuqah probably means “longing” and “desire” and may have the sense of a single-minded, concentrated devotion as Andrew MacIntosh argues. I discuss the meaning of teshuqah here.

The Different Contexts of Genesis 3:16 and 4:7

Genesis 3:16 and Genesis 4:7 are similar linguistically in Hebrew, and God is speaking to an individual in these verses, but the overall contexts of these verses are not the same.

In Genesis 4:6-7, God asks Cain questions and speaks hypothetically. Note the “ifs.” Furthermore, sin is unmistakably depicted as Cain’s adversary, crouching at the door, and Cain is told directly by God that he must rule or master (mashal) it. “Ruling” sin is the right thing for Cain to do.

Cain is the main subject of God’s words in Genesis 4:7, but personified sin is the one who has the desire (teshuqah). There is a struggle between Cain and sin.

In Genesis 3:16, God makes pronouncements that will affect Eve. There are no “ifs” or hypothetical statements. The tone is different from Genesis 4:7. Furthermore, no one in 3:16 is plainly presented as an adversary. And unlike how some read this verse, Adam is not told by God that he must rule or master (mashal) Eve, or that ruling her is a good or just thing to do. Rather Adam’s rule of Eve, man’s rule of woman, is an unhappy consequence of sin in the world spoiling relationships.

In Genesis 3:16, the woman Eve is the main subject of God’s words, and she is the one who has the desire (teshuqah). I read this verse as saying that the struggle is the woman’s alone: she will continue to desire her husband despite the fact that he will now rule over her. Tragically, their relationship that was marked by compatibility and unity has changed.

Conclusion

The grammar and vocabulary of the phrases that contain teshuqah and mashal are similar; it is the context that distinguishes these verses. In 3:16, God is telling Eve what is going to happen, with changes she has practically no control over. On the other hand, in 4:7, God is telling Cain that he must act and effect change. These two verses are quite different in tone and meaning, and though it makes sense to compare them because of the same language, ultimately the light that 4:7 sheds on 3:16 is minimal.

© Margaret Mowczko 2021. All Rights Reserved.

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Related Articles

Teshuqah: What is the woman’s desire in Genesis 3:16?
Desire or Devotion: Which is a better translation of teshuqah in Genesis 3:16?
What does Eve’s reply to the Serpent tell us?
All my articles on Genesis 3 are here.

16 thoughts on “A Quick Comparison of Genesis 3:16 and Genesis 4:7

  1. Interesting comparison. I have often heard Gen 3:16 interpreted in a way that assumes Eve’s desire is somehow blameworthy. For example, that she will want her husband more than God, or that she will want to control him. In both interpretations, Adam’s ruling her can become a consequence of or corrective for her own sinful desire. I wonder how much the proximity of the same words in Gen 4:7 influences these sorts of readings. After all, if sin has “teshuqah” too it might seem logical to assume that the word has a negative connotation. It seems oddly appropriate that the only other use of “teshuqah” in the Hebrew Bible is in Song of Songs, since the context there makes clear that the word can refer to something beautiful as well.

    1. I don’t think man’s rule, was a corrective or consequence of the woman’s teshuqah. But it is plausible that the woman’s teshuqah (single-minded devotion or concentrated desire) was not ideal. I think everything God says to the woman in Genesis 3:16 is negative.

      There are seven occurrences of teshuqah in Qumran sectarian manuscripts, the Dead Sea Scrolls. Context shows that the word has the sense of longing and desire in these texts. David T. Lang writes, “Interestingly, in most of these cases the object of desire was something negative or in some way related to destruction.” And, teshuqah “seemed to connote some kind of negative longing or obsession.” (This evidence is mentioned in my two articles on teshuqah.)

      This is an important observation. However, since the members of the Qumran community were ascetics, and desire is antithetical to a strictly disciplined lifestyle, perhaps it is not surprising that they viewed desire and longing negatively.

      Some suggest, Eve’s teshuqah, with the sense of devotion, should only have been for God, not for man, or shared with man.

      1. Do you have a link to the seven verses in the Qumran where teshuqah is used?

        1. Hi Derbrah, David Lang’s comments were on the Accordance Blog, but are no longer available there.
          Andrew Macintosh discusses these seven occurrences of teshuqah in his paper, “The Meaning of Hebrew תשׁוקה,” Journal of Semitic Studies 61.2 (2016) pp.365-87.
          Unfortunately, this paper is not freely available online. You’ll need to get access through a library or college, or pay for it.
          https://academic.oup.com/jss/article-abstract/61/2/365/2563591

      2. Thanks for this reply! I think I understand better. I read the post you linked to about the meaning of teshuqah. I was surprised (but shouldn’t have been) to learn that the interpretation of “desire to control” was novel in the 70’s. As a good little church girl growing up two decades later, I was never told that. I think some of the comments suggest how this interpretation could gain ground not for its merit, but because it fit a cultural narrative about women as emotionally manipulative and controlling. I remember being taught that this was the besetting sin to which all women are prone (whereas men are tempted to abandon their god-given leadership role and become passive wimps). Needless to say, that is a hurtful idea for a child to absorb! Your work is helping me deconstruct this and similar beliefs and I’m grateful for it. It was also nice to read all the comments there from men saying “nope, my wife doesn’t try to control me, thanks very much!”

        1. It still hurts to read some of the reasons patriarchalists and hierarchicalists give for why they think women need to be silent and submissive. Jesus does not share their concerns. He equipped women to teach theology and share the gospel.

    2. I agree that the woman’s desire is probably not a negative as we have been taught. It should have been a natural and right thing since she was made explicitly for that relationship with the man- of whom it was said, “It is not good for him to be alone.” I think God is saying that, because of the sin, this desire will now be unfulfilled, and the relationship will be marked by inequity and power, rather than by desire and mutual respect.

      1. Hi Jennifer, I don’t think her desire becomes creepy and morbid like some scholars in the past have proposed. Keil and Delitzsch, for example, describe the woman’s teshuqah as an almost manic desire: “she was punished with a desire bordering upon disease (תּשׁוּקה from שׁוּק to run, to have a violent craving for a thing).” I mention this here: https://margmowczko.com/teshuqah-desire/

        I think her desire-devotion becomes negative because, as you say, “the relationship will be marked by inequity and power, rather than by desire and mutual respect.”

  2. I like this comparison very much, as it interprets according to the broader picture of mankind’s fall from God’s grace. If I am understanding correctly, Adam ruling over Eve is a result of original sin, and Eves submission to Adam also.
    It explains the terrible misogynies of history, and it tells us that God’s will for our relationships is incomprehensibly better!

    1. Yes, that’s pretty much it, Mark.

  3. Humans are told (Gen 1:26) that they are to משׁל over the fish, birds, and beasts. Later the woman is told that the man will רדה over her. Both of these Hebrew words are translated as rule or have dominion over them. The Gen 1:26 word seems to slant more toward dominion and the Gen 3 word toward rule, but consulting various English versions shows that there is overlap in the meaning. If it can be shown that the words are in fact synonyms then the pronouncement of Gen 3:16 cannot be seen as God’s punishment of the woman but rather a predictive moment. Your man will now treat you the way I intended you both to treat the animals. Take a look at 1 Kings 4:21 y 24. In both cases, the text describes Solomon’s rule over the surrounding nations. The first reference describes his rule as משׁל the second as רדה. Should we infer two different types of “rule” or are these words two shades of the same idea?

    1. Hi Paul, I’m not the best person to ask about this, but here’s how I see it.

      The meanings do overlap, but mashal seems to have a range of intensities depending on the context, whereas radah seems to refer to complete dominion.

      God warns against exercising radar in Leviticus 25:39-55. Three times in this passage, he warns that Israelites and resident aliens must not rule (radah) harshly any Israelites in their charge who, because of dire circumstances, have sold themselves as slaves.

      I take Genesis 3:16 as a predictive pronouncement of what will happen now that sin is in the world. And we see that patriarchy has indeed been the norm in almost all societies across the globe for millennia. But men do not usually treat women like animals (cf. radah in Gen. 1:26, 28).

      Mashal can be milder and less domineering and controlling than radah even though both may be done in a benevolent way. But even a benevolent patriarchy stifles many women.
      https://margmowczko.com/is-a-benevolent-patriarchy-good-for-gods-people/

      1. First, I agree completely that Gen 3:16 is predictive. Many incorrectly read this as God punishing the woman. He is telling her what will be the consequence of their rebellion.

        I did not mean to imply that men should treat women like animals, but rather that in many cases they would.

        Nor was I suggesting that God decided to punish her with her subjugation. What I was trying to point out was that one consequence of wanting to be like God was that the original relationship between males and females was changed, but not by God. Redemption, meaning restoration to the original relationship, should include the return to that relationship.

        Chapters 1 and 2 do not describe a distinction in terms of authority, responsibility. Together they were to care for the garden. With chapter 3 that all changes and while it may offend our senses, the rest of Scripture, especially the OT, describe how that plays out.

        1. We seem to think alike, Paul.
          Genesis 1 and 2 are amazing in what they say about God’s original intention for the relationships and responsibilities of humanity, both male and female.

  4. Could Eva’s desire be just plainly human? I’m thinking of something like Leah’s desire for Jacob to love her and accept her? It can hardly be called a negative obsession, just a very normal longing for love and companionship. We all know how the story continued: Leah was disappointed and never really got what she wanted. She kept longing for Jacob’s love and she had many children with him, but he never really loved her back.

    I believe many Daughters of Eve share Leah’s story.

    1. Yes, maybe. I look at different ways the woman’s desire has been understood here: https://margmowczko.com/teshuqah-desire/

      Michal is another example. She loved David–the Bible mentions this twice–but David didn’t seem to return her love.

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