This article is a follow-up to an earlier post, Age of Patriarchy: Desire of Woman & Rule of Man.
I enjoyed writing Age of Patriarchy: Desire of Woman & Rule of Man. It’s probably my favorite article I’ve written thus far, but ever since I posted, I’ve had a nagging feeling it’s incomplete. In the original, I mixed interpretive layers and oversimplified the connection between Woman’s desire in Genesis 3:16 and Man’s desire in Song of Song 7:10. In this article, I want to flesh out and offer some deeper insights as a companion to my first post on desire and rule.
I have a BA in English Literature. I was trained to recognize themes, symbols, layers of meaning, and also, how authors build upon the ideas of their predecessors and play with their culture’s literary canon (Joyce’s Ulysses, anyone?). I read the creation account in Genesis, the poem of Song of Songs, and the teachings of the New Testament with the eye of a literary critic.
I hope you read the original article first, but I concluded that Christ came to end the age of patriarchy and reconcile humanity to one another:
The Hebrew word translated in English as “desire” is a complex, layered word used in three prophetic/poetic passages which themselves have layered meanings. On a first, literal reading, Song of Songs speaks of the sexual desire between a man and woman. Read at a deeper level with eternal perspective, where “people will neither marry nor be given in marriage” (Mt 22:30), the return of Man’s desire in Song of Song 7:10 to the Woman’s desire in Genesis 3:16 symbolically represents the restoration of humanity. No person will any longer desire to rule over any other person.
My conclusion still holds, but I confused the interpretive layers in my analysis. Prophetic/poetic passages have layers of meaning. For example, when David penned Psalm 22, it was both his own lament specific to his time and place, and also, a beautiful prophetic foreshadowing of Christ’s crucifixion. Good writers, and especially poets, are masters of language. Good poetry builds layers of meaning. The better the poem, the deeper the layers. Likewise, Song of Songs can be interpreted as a poem about the relationship between Man & Woman, God & Israel, and Jesus & the Church. I find it ridiculous when people try to argue for only one correct interpretation. That’s not how poetry is meant to work.
In the poetry of Genesis 3:16, Genesis 4:7, and Song of Songs 7:10 (the only three places where the Hebrew word “desire” is used in the Old Testament), “desire and rule” contain several layers of meaning. These layers can be broken down into three sections:
- The Fall corrupted woman’s desire and man’s rule
- The couple in Song of Songs (Christ and his Bride, the Church) model healthy rule and desire
- Woman’s desire and Man’s rule, though corrupted by the fall, have been redeemed through the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ. Woman rules with Man and Man desires Woman. The reconciliation of man and woman in Song of Songs symbolizes the restoration of humanity to God and one another.
Let’s begin with a plain reading of Genesis 3:16. Marg Mowczko provides a great summary of the most common interpretations. Most straight-forward analysis assume both the woman’s desire and the man’s rule were cursed after the Fall. My favorite explanation comes from Barbara Roberts:
Eve’s desire for Adam’s empathy, compassion, forgiveness, and loving-kindness would often be sorely unrequited. Adam would tend to rule her, not love her. He would tend to resist taking full responsibility for his sins, and would tend to blame his wife or other people. Man would tend to treat woman unkindly. Man would be inclined to disregard woman, or to dominate and coercively control her. Husbands would tend to treat their wives distantly, harshly, as objects to be used rather than fellow-creatures and companions to be cared for…Eve would want Adam’s forgiveness and abiding love, to comfort her in her shame for having made that grievous mistake about the forbidden fruit…Woman’s longing for a loving, empathetic, caring bond with man as husband, man as partner, has contributed to her overlooking red flags of abuse.
Please read her whole article, but in summary, throughout the long arc of history, men have harshly ruled over women, and women have been notorious enablers1 of male abuse. All humans long for relationship restored with God and one another, but woman has tended to expect man to be her Savior, and man has been inclined to believe he is the Savior. An oppressed person is never responsible for the oppressive actions of the oppressor, but an oppressor often manipulates the desire for relationship and Eden restored in others to rule over them. In my originally post, I covered the devastation of male rule after the fall, but I failed to address the complicity of female desire.
That’s one layer of Genesis 3:16. A second layer of meaning is found through the lens of Song of Songs. Historically, the church has understood the poem to be a love song between Christ and his Bride, the Church. Aimee Byrd writes,
The Song…teaches us how to perfect our love for Christ in a knowledge of his love for us.Sexual Reformation 30
Song of Songs is also the only book of the Bible where the word “desire” is used outside of Genesis. In Song of Songs 7:10, the woman sings, “I belong to my beloved, and his desire is for me.” In this verse, the man’s desire is portrayed positively. Song of Songs is brimming with garden imagery. By employing the word “desire,” the poem intentionally returns us to another garden – a garden where “the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day” immediately before God pronounced the curse of Genesis 3:16. At the fall, not only did the relationship between man and woman break, but the relationship between God and humankind broke too. The understanding of Christ as Bridegroom and the use of “desire” in Song of Songs 7:10 allows Genesis 3:16 to be read through a redemptive lens: “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” This could potentially be a foreshadowing of good news if understood through the character of Christ. Christ is a God who washed feet like a slave and laid down his life on a cross so that his bride could co-reign with him:
We are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.Romans 8:17
Christians truly have a hard time grasping the immensity of this verse. The idea that humans will co-reign with Christ feels blasphemous if taken to its extreme, but it’s a tension that’s meant to be embraced with mystery. (Christianity is full of these tensions—Three and One, Human and Divine, Fate and Choice, to name a few.) The Bride of Christ desires her husband, and her husband, Christ, mutually returns her desire. Though he intrinsically has the power to “rule over” her, he lays it down sacrificially to elevate his Bride, because in his Kingdom “the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16).
Did woman’s desire and man’s rule result from the Fall or were they corrupted by the Fall? Both ideas can be held in tension, which leads to a third layer of Genesis 3:16. The cross not only restored the relationship between God and humankind but also reconciled humans to one another. God designed humans to desire relationship and rule the earth, but human desire and rule were corrupted at the Fall when the relationship between man and woman broke. The woman’s desire in Genesis symbolizes the human tendency to enable abuse of power in misplaced desire for a Savior; man’s rule represents the human tendency to abuse power by attempting to be Savior. In Genesis 4:7, the only other place in the Old Testament to use the word “desire,” God warned Cain, “Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” God called humans to rule over sin, but since the fall, humans have let sin rule by desiring to rule over one another. Sin has reigned supreme. When humans gain power, whether through socio-economic status, ethnicity, race, sex, or otherwise, and choose to rule over fellow humans, they have chosen the way of sin, not the way of the cross:
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.Matthew 20:25-28
Behind every ruler “lording” over others stands a long line of people who enabled their climb to the top. Since the fall, humans have mistakenly believed over, and over, and over again, ad nauseam, that desire for Eden restored can be achieved through rule by force. They hope for a Savior in the strength of man.
Yet the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve. God gave man strength not so that he could rule “over” others, but so that man could glorify God through his humility. When God created man “in his image” (Gen:1:27), he created man physically stronger than woman. Man was intended to image the humility of an all-powerful God willing to come down to earth to serve. God desired to be in mutual relationship with man and woman. When man wields his God-given power to rule “over” others, woman’s desire for Eden is unmet.
Woman was imaged to be Man’s ezer kenegdô, his help-meet (Gen 2:18). In the Old Testament, writers employed ezer kenegdô to refer to allied soldiers who assist in battle or to God as Israel’s helper. Man and Woman were meant to co-rule together over creation (Gen 1:26). Carmen Joy Imes writes:
The woman is like the man in a way that no other creature is. She comes from his own body—just as every future man will come from the body of a woman—which suggests their mysterious connection. She “corresponds to him” (Hebrew kenegdô, Genesis 2:18, 20). And she fulfills the role of a partner to support what God appointed the man to do. Together they will populate the earth and together they will rule over it.Christianity Today
God created man and woman to fill the earth (desire for relationship) and subdue it (rule). When woman fails to “meet” man in his rule, her desire for Eden, for relationship restored, is unmet. In the ancient garden, woman broke trust with God with man by her side, and he joined her (Gen 3:6). The woman did not blame the man for her fall, but the man blamed the woman for his (3:12). Ever since, woman has borne the brunt of man’s anger, and a shadow of shame has haunted all human relationship.
But redemption hid in the woman’s curse. When God told the woman her “desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” in Genesis 3:16, the clause was preceded by a hidden hope: “With painful labor you will give birth to children.” When the prophet Simeon encountered Mary holding the baby Jesus, he announced, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel…And a sword will pierce your own soul” (Lk 2:34). Christ, born to a woman, came to show us a different way. Christ came as the new Adam (1 Cor 15:45), and like Adam, Christ was the firstborn over all creation. Through Christ, the image of the invisible God is revealed:
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.Colossians 1:15
Man, created first and as the more physically powerful being, glorifies God when he chooses to sacrificially love the woman as Christ loves his Bride. I love the way Aimee Byrd explains this:
And man, created first, is authorized to be the first to love, the first to sacrifice, the first to serve, the first to give power to other persons, not to exercise power over them.Sexual Reformation 119
When all other factors are equal, woman, as the physically “weaker vessel” (1 Peter 3:7), has no choice to rule over man. In this world, woman only has as much power as man is willing to share, and throughout history, man has chosen to rule “over” woman. The curse corrupted both desire and rule, but Christ redeemed the curse. Christ was the “first to love, the first to sacrifice, the first to serve, and the first to give power” to others. Man was always intended to share his rule with woman, as Christ shares his rule with the church. When man humbly elevates woman, and woman (unlike in the Edenic garden) humbly elevates Christ, woman becomes the “glory of the man” (1 Cor 11:7). Woman reveals man’s powerful humility and Christ is glorified. Woman’s rule and Man’s desire is restored. In Song of Songs, the man intrinsically has the physical power to rule over the woman, but instead of ruling over her, he meets her desire for relationship. The woman stands naked and known in a garden. She feels no shame. She sings, “I belong to my beloved, and his desire is for me” (SS 7:10, emphasis added).
The first, obvious layer of Song of Songs speaks of a sexual relationship between a man and woman. Read at a deeper level with eternal perspective, where “people will neither marry nor be given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30), the echo of Man’s desire in Song of Song 7:10 to the Woman’s desire in Genesis 3:16 symbolically represents the restoration of humanity to God and one another. No person will any longer desire to rule over any other person, but humanity will co-rule the earth together as Christ’s Bride. The woman rejoices, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Song of Songs 6:3, emphasis added).
1 After I posted this article, Barbara Roberts contacted me to let me know she is not comfortable with the term ‘enabler’ being applied to a woman who is being oppressed by a man. She explains her discomfort with the term in the article below. I added the sentence “An oppressed person is never responsible for the oppressive actions of the oppressor, but an oppressor often manipulates the desire for relationship and Eden restored in others to rule over them” to my post to clarify my thoughts.
Enabling? Sins of the victim? Tetchy topics indeed!
This article is meant to be a companion piece to
Age of Patriarchy: Desire of Woman & Rule of Man:
When Adam and Eve chose the rule of humankind over the rule of God, they tragically ushered in the Age of Patriarchy
I always try to cite the sources that inspire me, but my endorsements are limited to the opinion I cite. They are not a full endorsement of everything an author believes.
Title image is Israëls – A Jewish Wedding.
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I read both parts. What a beutiful vision for male and female relationships restored to reflect the Kingdom of God- return to the perfect Garden of Eden intention of our loving Father God.
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