In John 8:44, Jesus characterized the devil as a liar and the father of lies! But did you know that many who preach the Gospel are guilty of lying on the devil and the Lord? Let me show you what I’m talking about!
In John 10:10, Jesus said: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (ESV) Now, I am sure most of you reading this have heard this text preached and taught and nine times out of ten, you heard the preacher or teacher say that the thief in that verse is the devil. Often, I have heard preachers refer to the text by saying: “The devil comes to rob, kill, and to destroy, but Jesus came that we might have a more abundant life! Yes! The devil wants to rob and steal your property! But, go and shake three people’s hand and tell the devil: ‘I’m taking it back! You can’t have my stuff!’ Can somebody shout: Glory!” But is that really the message of the text? I am suggesting to you that it is not and when that text is preached or referred to in that manner, the preacher or teacher is guilty of lying on the devil and the Lord!
First of all, look at the context of the verse. The first mention of the thief is in verse one, where Jesus describes the thief as anyone who does not enter the door of the sheepfold, but climbs up and tries to get into the sheepfold any other way. In the next verse, Jesus says, the one who enters through the door is the shepherd of the sheep. So, the contrast is between the thief who tries to get access to the sheep by some way other than the door and the shepherd who comes through the door. Note that the thief is not after what the sheep have; the thief wants to steal the sheep! In verse eight, Jesus says all who came before him are, or were, thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. So, we can surmise from verses 1-8 that the thief, the thieves and robbers were trying to get access to steal the sheep. Contrasted with the shepherd, who comes through the door and coupled with Jesus, who calls himself the good shepherd (verse 11), we can deduct the thief, the thieves and robbers that Jesus was talking about were illegitimate or false shepherds! By the way, another term for “shepherd” is the term “pastor.” So, in proper context, in this passage, the thief, the thieves and robbers, (bad) shepherds, and (bad) pastors, all refer to the same person or group! Note that Jesus made no reference whatsoever to the devil or demonic forces! He was making a contrast between the thieves and robbers (bad shepherds, bad pastors) and himself: the good shepherd! In keeping with the context and unity of the passage, the thief in verse ten must refer to the same person or group of persons mentioned in verses one and eight!
In looking at the Greek text, performing a word study helps to further clarify who the “thief” is in verse ten. A word study on the word, “kill” reveals the following: In the English, the word “kill” in any form, is found only 10 times in the entire Gospel of John. Of those 10 times, 9 times, the Greek word, “apokteino,” which means, “to kill in any way whatever,” is used. However, in verse ten, the word for kill is “thuo,” which means, “to sacrifice.” This definition holds true for the usage of the word in other places in the New Testament (NT). It only occurs 13 other times, besides in our text in the NT and our text is the only occurrence in the Gospel of John. In every case, the word is used to denote the killing of an animal for the purpose of offering up a sacrifice or of eating a meal in connection with a sacrifice. The use this particular word for “kill” in verse ten, seems to suggest that the thief does not just kill, but rather the thief’s killing is for or in connection with making a sacrifice as an act of worship. With that being the case, we can deduct from our word study and by observing the proper context of the text that the “thief” in John 10:10 is NOT the devil, but rather is a religious person. This ties in perfectly with Jesus’ depiction of the thief as being the religious leader(s), who was (were) sacrificing the people for his (their) own personal benefit and profit. Oh! Do you see that? We’ve been lying on the liar and the Lord! The thief in John 10:10 is not the devil, but rather the pastor or religious leader who illegitimately gains access and kills (sacrifices) the sheep for his own personal profit and gain!
In verse 11, the contrast changes from the good shepherd and thieves and robbers to the good shepherd and the hireling or the hired hand. Jesus said in verses 11-15: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (ESV) Again, Jesus makes a contrast between himself and the religious leaders of that day who came before him. He describes himself as the good shepherd in comparison to the religious leaders, who he called robbers, thieves, and hired hands who didn’t care anything for the sheep, but were just in it for the money! If the devil is implied anywhere in this discourse, he could possibly be the wolf in verse 12, but he is definitely not the thief in verse ten!
In addition to the evidence presented, stealing is not the devil’s M. O! The devil’s bread and butter are lies and deception! There was an interesting conversation that took place between Jesus and the devil during the wilderness temptation. In Matthew 4:8-10, we read: “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” (ESV) Did you notice Jesus did not dispute Satan’s claim of ownership of all the kingdoms of the world and their glory? If Satan was lying and all the kingdoms of the world and their glory were not his to give, Jesus would have known it and the temptation wouldn’t have been a temptation at all! I brought us to this text to point out the fact that the devil doesn’t need to “steal our stuff” because he has already stolen and has all the kingdoms of the world and their glory to give to us if we would just fall down and worship him! The devil already has all of that and we think he wants to rob us of our two cents! Seriously?
Besides that, the abundant life that Jesus came to give in John 10:10 is denoted by the Greek term; “zoe.” Zoe refers to the quality of life, not the quantity of life. Jesus didn’t come so that we might have more stuff in life; Jesus came that we might have more meaning and purpose in life! Jesus said: “Watch out and guard yourself from all types of greed, because one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15 NET)
In conclusion, I think the reason why we have lied on the devil and the Lord in John 10:10 is because many of us do not study the text for ourselves; we merely preach and teach what we have heard others preach and teach. Instead of a voice, many pulpits are occupied by a parrot! Preacher, teacher: If you hope to be approved by God in your handling of the word, you must wrestle with the text for yourself! Don’t even take my word for the conclusions I have drawn in this post. Do the research for yourself! We all should be like the Bereans in Acts 17:11 and study for ourselves to see whether the things we hear is the truth! If we don’t, if we uncritically accept and repeat everything we hear others preaching and teaching, then we, like them, will be guilty of lying on the devil and the Lord!
Most Bible readers would readily recognize the subject of this post as being the beginning of Philippians 4:19. The Apostle Paul wrote the church at Philippi a ‘thank-you’ letter in which he told them: “But my God shall supply all of your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (KJV) Often in our day and time, this verse is incorrectly used as a ‘blanket guarantee’ that God will supply all of our needs! But, was that really Paul’s intended meaning when he made the statement?
There are three rules we should carefully follow when we read the Bible. The first rule is context! The second rule is context! And, the third rule is context! So, let’s look at the context of this familiar passage. The first thing we should notice is that the verse begins with a conjunction! From the Greek text, this conjunction can be translated as “but” or “and.” The KJV says “but,” however, many of the modern translations render the conjunction as “and.” But either one is acceptable because one makes no difference in the intended meaning as opposed to the other. But, I wanted to call attention to the conjunction, not so much to highlight the different translations, but rather to remind us of the purpose and function of a conjunction. A conjunction, by definition, is a word that joins together sentences, clauses, phrases, or words. Since the conjunction is at the beginning of verse 19, in order to correctly interpret the verse, we must look at what proceeds it. In order to ascertain Paul’s complete meaning, we need to go back to at least verse 15.
The gist of the conversation is that Paul is commending them for being the only church to supply him with financial assistance since the beginning of the gospel when he left Macedonia. Even when he was in Thessalonica, they rendered assistance to him more than once! Paul told them that, although their giving was much appreciated, he had learned to get along with whatever he had! That was the rationale behind the other statement we often misapply from this chapter, where Paul said in verse 13, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me!” The ‘all things’ Paul was referring to was; living with little and living with plenty! He could do all things because he had learned the secret of being content in whatever state he was in! He was telling them: “I’ve learned how to live in poverty and I’ve learned how to live in abundance! So, even if I had received nothing from you, I would have been alright, but nevertheless, I appreciate your gifts!” And because they gave to him, Paul told them; “But (and) my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by (in) Christ Jesus!” Paul was telling them; “Because you took care of my needs, my God will take care of your needs!” In its original context, this wasn’t a unilateral promise; it was a statement of reciprocal blessing! “God will do for you, because you did for me!
There is a similar principle stated in Matthew 6:33, where Jesus says: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (ESV) Jesus didn’t say that all these things (food, drink, clothing, things needful for life) would be added automatically! No! He said all these things would come as a matter of course as one seeks first to find and submit to the authority of God in their lives!
In both cases, the blessings were and are conditional! The principle is this: God will take care of us and our business when and as we first take care of His business and meet His requirements! Context is everything! But, when we take scripture out of context, we erroneously make God responsible for commitments God never actually made! And when God doesn’t come through on the promises we misappropriate because we took scripture out of context, it damages our faith and/or the faith of others! So, before we apply and rely on anything anybody said in the Bible, we should make sure of the context! We should make sure the promise is applicable to us and that we met the conditions of the promise!
The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand. (Ps. 37:23-24 KJV)
Have you ever noticed, as you are reading the King James Version of the Bible that some of the words are in italics? The biblical translation editors did this to indicate those words were not in the original manuscripts and were added by the translators to clarify meaning. Now, while clarity was the original intent of the translation editors, in some cases, the addition of the italicized words doesn’t clarify, but actually change the meaning of the text completely! I believe such is the case in Psalm 37:23-24.
Note, in Psalm 37:23, the sentence: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” The word: good is italicized, that means it is not part of the original text. The Hebrew actually translates: “The steps of a man are ordered by the Lord.” Now, this wouldn’t be much of a big deal if it wasn’t for the possibility of an alternate translation of the word “and” in the next phrase. The Hebrew particle conjunction that is translated as “and” in the KJV, can also be translated as; “when.” With these two possible variants, the meaning of the verse is completely different. The translation editors of the English Standard Version recognized this possibility and thus renders the verse: “The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way.”
Now, the last part of the verse is a bit ambiguous in any translation. For instance; Who is “he” and who is “his?” Is the verse saying that because or when the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, He; the Lord, delights in his; the good man’s way? Or is the verse saying that because or when the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, he; the good man, delights in His; the Lord’s way? Even when the italicized; good is dropped and the “and” is translated as “when,” the verse is no less ambiguous! This is illustrated in how the New International Version (NIV) renders the verse as opposed to how the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) renders the verse. The NIV says: “The LORD makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him.” The NRSV says: “Our steps are made firm by the LORD, when he delights in our way.” In the NIV; the Lord makes firm the steps of the one (the man) who delights in the Lord’s way. In the NRSV, the Lord makes firm the steps of the man (our) when He (the Lord) delights in (our) the man’s way. Which version is correct? Well, grammatically and theologically; both of them are! The Psalmist states in Psalm 1:1-2, “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” (KJV) In Psalm 18:19, the psalmist said: “He brought me forth also into a large place; he delivered me, because he (the Lord) delighted in me.” (KJV) There are various other places in the biblical text, where man delights in the Lord and the Lord delights in man. By the way, in the two verses of the Psalm I just cited and in the text under consideration, the Hebrew word that is translated as “delight” is the same.
The next verse (Psalm 37:24) says: “Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.” (KJV) Note in this verse, the words; “him” and “with” are italicized; meaning they were added by the biblical translation editors and were not in the original text. As the verse stands with the italicized words, the meaning is that the Lord upholds the good man with his (the Lord’s) hand. Without the italicized words, the meaning is; the Lord upholds or holds the man’s hand, as is stated in the New American Standard Bible (NASB): “When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand.” Once again, this is not a “this-not-that” case, but a “this-and-that” case! Both translations are theologically sound! Surely, the Lord holds us with His hand and I don’t know about you, but I also want the Lord to hold my hand while I run this race!
So, if both are correct and the italicized words don’t make a tremendous amount of difference, what was the point of this post? It was to point out the fact that too often we take for granted what people say the Bible says! We need to learn how to study the word for ourselves! Secondly, to point out the richness of meaning in the biblical text! Although the original authors had “one” meaning in mind when they wrote the text, that meaning is often obscured by language, culture, time, and context. Therefore, reading the Bible should not be just a devotional exercise, nor should it be just an academic exercise; it should be both! We should read the Bible with our minds and with our hearts! But most of all, we should read it, allowing the Spirit of God, through our diligent investigation of the text, to reveal the multifaceted deep thoughts of the mind of God!
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2:15 KJV)
I was listening to someone teaching, not too long ago, from 2 Timothy 2:15. The thrust of the lesson was that one should study to make sure they correctly teach and/or preach the word of God. Of course, I had heard this text taught and preached countless times before, but this time, because the presenter did, what I thought at the time, such an excellent job with the text, I was prompted to go and take a deeper look for myself.
When I took a closer look at 2 Timothy 2:15, I discovered, what could be called, a comical irony! The very text that is so often used to promote diligent study and caution against mishandling the word of God has itself traditionally been mishandled! Let me show you what I’m talking about: Usually, the main focus or the main point of the teaching of this passage is that we should “study” to make sure we are correctly interpreting, teaching, preaching, and applying the word of God. And when we think of the concept of studying, we think of intense reading and careful analysis of the scriptural text. But, is that the concept Paul had in mind when he wrote these words to Timothy? Is that what Paul actually meant and said in the text? Well, not really!
The word the KJV translates as “study” is the Greek verb; “spoudason” and it literally means, “make haste, hasten” also “to exert one’s self, to endeavor, to give diligence, to be zealous, to be eager.” So actually, the term “study” is too narrow! The actual meaning Paul wanted to convey was for Timothy to quickly and eagerly make every effort to be diligent so as to present himself approved unto God! The idea Paul was trying to convey to Timothy directly and to us by implication is that the preacher/teacher, disciple, believer should eagerly make every effort to present themselves for God’s approval in correctly handling and teaching the truth or the word of God.
We might also note at this point, that Paul told Timothy to be eager or zealous to make every effort to present “yourself.” Therefore, such effort encompasses more than just correctly preaching and teaching the word! It also involves disciplining oneself in all other areas of the Christian life as well! It was inclusive, not just of his handling of the word, but also of his personal piety and interaction with other people. Being eager and making every effort to present one’s self approved unto God also includes making every effort to get the proper amount of rest, nutrition, and exercise so as to keep the body as healthy as possible.
Do you know of people who are correct in their preaching and teaching, but don’t apply what they preach and teach to their own personal lives? Such people are not being zealous or making every effort to correctly divide the word of truth. The power of the word comes, not just from correct interpretation, but also from correct application and demonstration! A sermon lived gives tremendous plausibility to a sermon preached!
So, there really is more to this verse than what we have traditionally gathered! Yes! Studying is part of the message, but it is not all! But, even if we restrict the meaning to just study, as we have traditionally done, just a simple Bible quiz given to many church memberships in America today would reveal that most church members, not only do not study the Bible, they don’t even read it! No wonder so many people are so weak and anemic in their faith today! No wonder there are so many who believe the Epistles were the wives of the Apostles!
(This guide is a combination of notes taken from “A Grammar of New Testament Greek” by G. Roger Greene  and insights from my own personal experiences in Biblical exegesis)
“Exegesis,” which literally means, “a bringing out” or “leading out” is the task of getting the meaning intended by the original writer “out of” the text. The opposite of exegesis is eisegesis, which means, “a bringing” or “leading into.” Eisegesis results in reading meaning into the text that was not intended by the original writer. One should seek to do exegesis with care, while at the same time seeking to avoid the carelessness of eisegesis. There is no set order for doing exegesis, although there are several generally accepted phases or aspects. The text itself is the primary consideration and becomes the basis of semantic analysis, word studies, and thematic synthesis. The order of application may vary according to the intensity of interest of the exegete (you) and the text being exegeted. Ultimately, the fundamental rule is that the interpreter (you) must be obedient to the text.
The Text. The text must be chosen and its integrity confirmed or established. Sense units or thematic development will usually serve as a guide in determining the limits of the text. The establishment of the text will necessarily involve the exegete in the discipline of textual criticism or analysis in order to discern variant readings, which may exist.
The Context. Interpreting the text in its context is absolutely essential to correct exegesis and the avoidance of eisegesis. The overall context of the particular biblical book must enter into consideration, as must the immediate context of the particular passage within the book. Secondary tools such as biblical introductions and surveys, Bible dictionaries, concordances, reputable commentaries, and Bible atlases, may all provide opportunity for reflection and for the establishment of the historical, geographical, cultural, and literary contexts of the particular passage.
Grammatical Analysis. Greatest attention must be paid to the text itself in order to discern exactly what the author has written and to the extent possible discern exactly what the author intended. Here’s where one’s knowledge and understanding of the original languages (the language in which the text was originally written) is brought to bear. The sentence is the major unit utilized in the expression of thought. Read and analyze each sentence of the passage. Analysis includes determining the subject and the verb of each sentence. Take the text apart. What verb tense does the author use to express his points? What is the force of the verbs? How are the participles used? What types of subordinate clauses manifest themselves in the passage? What emphasis is suggested by the word order or by separate personal pronouns in use?
Word Study. Word study moves beyond the analysis of the grammar to analysis of individual words in order to discern the possible shades of meaning in the author’s usage. Because “words have usage and not meaning,” they mean whatever the individual author has used them to mean.
Integration. After a careful, contextual examination of the components of a text, a final integration of one’s findings calls for a full expression of thematic synthesis as to the meaning of the text.
Some Suggested Procedures: (For those who have not studied the original languages.)
Although a common practice, it is basically a wrong procedure to consult several commentaries (first) to see what they have to say on a given passage and then choose the interpretation that is most pleasing. If this is done, one simply seeks for the commentary that reinforces one’s presuppositions. In this approach, the student neither thinks on one’s own nor does one actually become involved with the scripture passage itself.
Determine the extent of the text. A text that is too short may neglect the larger context while a text that is too long may lead only to generality.
Look up and read the passage in at least 3 to 5 different versions, make sure to note the context.
Note significant thoughts or ideas in the text.
Pay particular attention to the verbs (action words) and verbal forms in each sentence of the passage.
Once you have isolated the verbs and verbal forms, use a concordance (Strong’s Exhaustive and Young’s Analytical are both good to have) to determine the Hebrew or Greek word from which the English was translated.
Do a word study of significant words, Noting the translation and/or use of these Hebrew/Greek words in other passages by the same author and by other authors.
Formulate your opinion of the meaning of the verbs and verbal forms in the passage.
Formulate your interpretation or meaning of the text. (What it meant then)
Compare your findings with various commentaries and other resources.
Formulate an opinion of the relevance of the text. (What it means now)
The afore-mentioned procedure or a similar methodology is very important in biblical studies. Of all the things I learned from my Greek professor (Dr. Greene) at Mississippi College, I shall never forget his favorite line: “A knowledge of the original languages is imperative to proper exegesis, teaching and preaching, because you can’t tell them (the people) what it means (now) if you don’t know what it meant (then).”
Most of you reading this have not and will not become involved in a formal study of Greek and/or Hebrew. But, be not dismayed in your attempt to find the original meaning. There are several resources available to aid you in your studies. Here is a list of some the most significant ones in my humble opinion:
The Amplified Bible
The New American Standard Bible (NASB)
The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (NRSV)
The New International Version of the Bible (NIV)
The J. B. Phillips Translation
The James Moffett Translation
The Life Application Bible (available is various versions)
The Key Word Study Bible (available in various versions)
The Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of The Bible
Young’s Analytical Concordance of The Bible
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words
Dictionary of Old Testament Words for English Readers
The New Strong’s Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words
Harper’s Bible Dictionary
Easton’s Bible Dictionary
The Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon
Word Studies In The New Testament (Four volumes by Vincent)
Word Pictures In The New Testament (Five volumes by Robertson)
The Theological Dictionary of The New Testament (Abridged in one volume)
The Complete Word Study Dictionary of The New Testament
The Complete Word Study Dictionary of The Old Testament
The Matthew Henry Commentary
The Wycliffe Bible Commentary
Jamieson, Fausset & Brown’s Commentary
An Example of Exegesis:
Passage: Genesis 3:16.
Exegetical Question: What was the woman’s “desire?”
The first task is to read the text and the surrounding passage in order to get a good “feel” of the context of the text. This can be done by reading the text and the surrounding passage in several versions. For the purpose of this illustration, the KJV, the NASB, the NIV, the NET (New English Translation), the Amplified Bible and the NRSV will be used, but we will copy only the phrase that is pertinent to this exegetical study.
“And thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” KJV
“Yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” NASB
“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” NIV
“You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you.” NET
“Yet your desire and craving will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” AMP.
“Yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” NRSV
From the versions that we have selected, we see that only the NET carries the meaning that we suspect is the correct interpretation of the phrase. Now, let’s begin our study to prove or disprove our hypothesis.
From reading Genesis 3:1-21 (the entire chapter) we discover that the larger context of this text is God’s pronouncement of judgment for sin in the Garden of Eden. The specific context of the text is the judgment on the woman. It is noted that the woman’s judgment is “sandwiched” between the judgment on the serpent and the judgment on the man. Also the judgment of the serpent and the judgment of the man are prefaced with the phrase: “Because you have . . .” However, the judgment of the woman contains no such preface. This is in line with the order in which the characters are first introduced and portrayed (verses 1-6) in this chapter: the serpent, the woman and then the man. When God interrogates them, the order is reversed: God speaks to the man, the man blames the woman and the woman blames the serpent (verses 9-13). When the judgments are issued, the order of reverts back to the original order, God judges the serpent, then the woman and finally the man. I note from my familiarity with the use of lists in the Bible that the most significant items on a list are usually the first and the last. The fact that the woman is in the middle in all three listings might be a hint that she bears “less” responsibility than the serpent and/or the man.
My exegetical question is: What was the woman’s desire? Traditionally, it has been taught by some that “the woman’s desire” was a sexual desire for her husband. But an honest, careful look at the passage in its proper context renders this interpretation as highly improbable. First of all, note that the immediate context is judgment. Therefore, if the woman’s desire was sexual, then we must conclude that sexual desire is a direct consequence of this judgment, thereby being an indirect the consequence of sin. However, we know that this is not the case because the original mandate was for the woman and the man to “be fruitful and multiply.” Hence, sexual desire was a natural part of the human interaction from man’s creation, not as a consequence of sin. Secondly, it would not make sense for sexual desire be a consequence of judgment. If anything, the lack of or the denial of sexual interest would be a more fitting “punishment.” So, in view of the context, an interpretation that views the woman’s desire as being sexual is at best, ill informed.
After gaining an understanding of context, the next order of business is to determine the Hebrew word that is behind the English word, “desire.” This can be done by looking up the English word, “desire” in a concordance. Using The Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of The Bible, we look up the entry for “desire,” noting that there are several, 111 to be exact. However, we notice that the Strong’s number keyed to the word “desire” in Genesis 3:16 is 8669. We also note that out of 111 entries, the number; 8669 only occurs 3 times; in this text, in Genesis 4:7 and in Song of Solomon 7:10. So before we even look up the exact Hebrew word, we already know that the Hebrew word for “desire” is the same in these three verses and that this particular Hebrew word only occurs in these three verses in the entire Bible! Hence, logic dictates that we may find some hint of what “desire” means in our text by looking at how the word is used in the other two verses.
We go to Genesis 4:7 first and we find God talking to Cain about his (Cain’s) reaction to the rejection of his sacrifice and God’s acceptance of Abel’s. Sin is personified as lying at the door. God says to Cain, “Unto thee shall be his “desire” and thou shalt rule over him. We also note of the similarity in sentence structure between this verse and our text.
Genesis 3:16: “and thy desire shall be to thy husband / and he shall rule over thee”
Genesis 4:7: “and unto thee shall be his desire / and thou shall rule over him.”
Since these verses occur in the same book, written by the same author and the sentence structure is almost identical, it is reasonable to assume that whatever the word “desire” means in one verse, it has the same meaning in the other verse. It is obvious that there is no sexual connotation in Genesis 4:7. Correctly interpreted, Sin wanted (desired) to rule over Cain, but he had the ability to rule over sin, although he did not. If we were to transfer the same meaning of “desire” (noting that they are the exact same words in the Hebrew) from 4:7 to 3:16, we could conclude that an interpretation of the verse could be that Eve would have a desire to rule over her husband, but (the Hebrew word for “and” is also translated as “but,” in some places, depending on the context) he would rule over her.
Then we look and see how the word is used in Song of Solomon 7:10: “I am my beloved’s and his desire is toward me.” Since this whole book is about sexual love, it is obvious that in this context, the “desire” is indeed sexual. However, the “desire” could be translated as a desire, not just to have the maiden sexually, but to sexually dominate.
Finally, we look up the Hebrew word that is translated as “desire” and discover that it is, teshuwqah pronounced; tesh-oo-kaw. The definition is: “a sense of stretching out after; a longing; – a desire.”
We find this definition by looking in the back of the Strong’s concordance in the Hebrew /Chaldee Dictionary for the key number: 8669.
Before we conclude our study, we should look up the other main verb in this sentence, which is “rule.” The corresponding Strong’s number is 4910 and the Hebrew word is “mashal” pronounced “maw-shal.” It means, “to rule, have dominion, reign.”
Eve’s judgment was directly related to her sin. She tried to rule over her husband, leading him into sin. Consequently, her judgment was that he (her husband) would rule and dominate over her. The fact that this is a judgment upon the wife could be an indication that God’s original intent was not for the man to dominate his wife, but rather for him to lovingly provide leadership for her. (Real leadership is not force, but influence.)
Note that we have formulated our thoughts and conclusions based upon our personal analysis of the text. It is only after we have done this that we should confer with the commentaries. Commentaries are not to be consulted first but rather, we should consult them last! If we have done our homework thoroughly and honestly, our conclusions will be confirmed by the commentaries. However, there will be some commentaries that will not agree with our findings. This does not necessarily mean that our interpretation is wrong and they are right. Some commentaries will support our findings and some will not. But if we have done our homework correctly, we are more enriched for having engaged the text. And although we might not agree with their findings, we will have a better understanding as to how they reached their conclusion.
Comments from various commentaries:
“Then God told the woman that she would have pain in bearing children, and that she would be mastered by her husband whom she desired. Because Eve’s desire probably refers in this context to her prompting Adam to sin, it is better to translate the verse “Your desire was for your husband.” Having overstepped her bounds in this, she would now be mastered by him.”
From The Bible Knowledge Commentary
Your desire … he shall rule. Just as the woman and her seed will engage in a war with the serpent, i.e., Satan and his seed (v. 15), because of sin and the curse, the man and the woman will face struggles in their own relationship. Sin has turned the harmonious system of God-ordained roles into distasteful struggles of self-will. Lifelong companions, husbands and wives, will need God’s help in getting along as a result. The woman’s desire will be to lord it over her husband, but the husband will rule by divine design (Eph. 5:22–25). This interpretation of the curse is based upon the identical Hebrew words and grammar being used in 4:7 (see note there) to show the conflict man will have with sin as it seeks to rule him.”
From The MacArthur Study Bible
She is here put into a state of subjection. The whole sex, which by creation was equal with man, is, for sin, made inferior, and forbidden to usurp authority, 1 Tim. 2:11, 12. The wife particularly is hereby put under the dominion of her husband, and is not sui juris—at her own disposal, of which see an instance in that law, Num. 30:6-8, where the husband is empowered, if he please, to disannul the vows made by the wife. This sentence amounts only to that command, Wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; but the entrance of sin has made that duty a punishment, which otherwise it would not have been. If man had not sinned, he would always have ruled with wisdom and love; and, if the woman had not sinned, she would always have obeyed with humility and meekness; and then the dominion would have been no grievance: but our own sin and folly make our yoke heavy. If Eve had not eaten forbidden fruit, and tempted her husband to eat it, she would never have complained of her subjection; therefore it ought never to be complained of, though harsh; but sin must be complained of, that made it so. Those wives who not only despise and disobey their husbands, but domineer over them, do not consider that they not only violate a divine law, but thwart a divine sentence.”
From The Matthew Henry Commentary
Conclusion and application:
When Eve partook of the fruit and convinced her husband to partake of it, not only did she disobey God, but she also usurped her husband’s authority. He was supposed to have been “leading” her, but instead, she “led” him. The Lord’s rationale in his judgment of the woman was this: “Since you insist upon leading your husband (in this case into sin) you will always have that tendency to want to dominate or control him, but you will not be able to because he will rule over you.”
It should be noted that the Lord prefaces the man’s judgment with the words, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife.” Adam fell into sin because he listened (obeyed) the voice of his wife instead of listening to and obeying the voice of God.
From this we can surmise that the “battle of the sexes” in the family is a direct result of sin. God is a God of order. The man is ordained by Divine mandate to be the leader of the home. This does not mean that he is to dominate his wife, but rather to lovingly lead her and his household in the ways of God.
This situation is rectified in the New Testament in Christ. The Christian wife lovingly submits herself to the authority of her own husband (this is not a command for all woman to submit to all men in general), who loves her, just as Christ loved the church. (See Ephesians 5: 22-25)