Echad: God of the Shema

The other weekend I revisited a place I go to maunder and ponder in the discord of this age. With phones, applications, advertisements and such all taking us captive every moment of our life, it’s important once in a while to lock your phone in the car, hold nothing in your hands, walk outside, and just shut the…. be still and quiet.

I visited the pier, with the intent to do nothing but stare at the tumult over the waters. It reminds me of Genesis 1:2, really, and the reality we forget daily.

And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (NKJV)

As I approached the verge where the concrete met the aged planks of the pier, something caught my eye. It was an inspirational call-to-action of some sort, with an emblazoned URL beneath it:

Proudly its bold text and assuring promises were nestled in the pamphlets that were freely displayed for the public’s taking. Across from the stand sat two ladies primed for the sunny day, with water bottles in reserve, lawn chairs positioned where they ought not be, and wily grins.

I wasn’t going to engage them: I was going to walk by and head home.

I wasn’t going to speak to them: I was going to just stand next to them and stare at the kids on the beach play in the waves.

I wasn’t going to do anything… so I became one intellectual powerhouse of a nuisance, a faux-Paul of Tarsus rhetorician. The whole conversation was fruitless and vain.

You got past the preface? Great. Here’s the pith of this piece.

One thing the trained ladies couldn’t grasp (despite my approach being a very coarse, regretfully unloving one), was the tension in Scripture that ultimately led to the doctrine of the Trinity.

God is one.

The most declarative instance in Scripture about this idea is called “the Shema.” Shama, in Hebrew, means “to hear.”

Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. (Deut. 6:4)

This verse is by far the most iconic, most memorized verse in the Tanakh (Old Testament), and is ingrained in the hearts and minds of each follower of Judaism.

It bespeaks God’s oneness: and, since God’s story takes place in the context of polytheism and the worship of those false gods by his people, it doubles down on the truth that there is only one God.

Not two, three, or 3,000. One.

Now this is numerical. Quantifiable. It’s a number, and it’s probably been conveyed to you this way. It’s probably how you would convey this verse to someone else, too (especially if you were in Greece in the first few centuries, where the number of gods were multiplied a thousand-fold).

It may be part of your arsenal when evangelizing: to a smarmy opponent who numbers Yahweh with all thousands of God, but tritely “believes in one less god than you.” One here is a number.

Now, while in Hebrew words can have several meanings (i.e., there is a semantic domain for the word), usually one definition (cp. denotation vs connotation) takes precedence over the others. (If you’re really brave, see polysemy.)

For example, the word day, yom, is understood as a single day, one earth’s full rotation, far more than it as understood as a vague, indefinite period of time (for those who like conjecturing about the Gap Theory. I don’t.).

The word for God in the Old Testament, elohim, can mean God but can also mean “mighty [ones/men]” or “gods” (lowercase), as¬†elohim is a plural noun. This word’s referent, though, is much more often God than it is mighty men or [pagan] gods. (For a thorough article discussing whether elohim can mean “mighty men,” see here.)

So it is with the word one, echad: It overwhelmingly refers to the cardinal number “1” than it does express another concept…

…like unity, wholeness–bordering the idea of shalom.

What if the word echad, one, in the¬†Shema, “the Lord is one,” is expressing something other than the number? What if the author is not saying that there is one God, but God is united–not disparate?

It’s true that Hebrew hearers in the context of Deuteronomy would have known God’s injunction to avoid polytheism (worship of other gods), as their time was replete with worship of false gods. (You can read the whole Book of Judges to see that.) Therefore they would have well conceded that there is one God only, vis-a-vis the thousands of false gods.

But they, called to be a holy and set apart people, would also need to function as a united body and serve the Lord together, much like a cadre of prey form together to protect themselves from a predator. The Hebrews would see that the united behavior he had planned for his people would derive from his own character: one who is not divided in thought or being (cf. Jn 10:38).

Consider below some instances of echad in the Old Testament that allow for a wider semantic domain than just “quantity.”

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Gen. 2:24)

Now the whole earth had one language and one speech... And the Lord said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. (Gen. 11:1, 6)

[T]hen we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters to us; and we will dwell with you, and we will become one people. (Gen. 34:16)

Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, ‚ÄúThe dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do… (Gen. 41:25)

This is a small litany of examples and is in no way exhaustive, but you can see that a few of the examples are reaching deeper than simply cardinal numbers, than quantity. The ideas expressed in echad here seem to intimate unity and oneness–a non-dividedness that pervades the Hebrew culture and is a reflection of God’s character.

I concluded in another article that Scripture can have multiple meanings that are not immediately apparent or realized: much like God’s kingdom is here but not fully; Jesus’ work is done but not in entirety (for he will come again). I think this double entendre in echad is much the same.

The Shema can express both the quantity of one and the quality of one/oneness.

But why does this matter? It affects the way we see God’s word.

I was at a youth group some weeks ago that was lush with teenagers and budding adults, all there to have fellowship with each other and worship. The youth pastor emerged about twenty minutes in, and he began covering the rich theology in Hebrews 1, specifically verses 1-4 which highlight Jesus as nonpareil to angels and sets him apart unequivocally.

The teacher, in hopping between Old Testament verses to bolster his point, cited Deuteronomy 6:4, the Shema, as an instance of there being one God, not many (quantity). He left no room for a double meaning, a portent of deeper meaning, or anything of the sort. And that’s okay.

But if you base your theology on single verses that appear so intuitively in favor of your point, you won’t be equipped to answer when someone has hard questions about your beliefs.

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear… (2 Pet. 3:15)

When we say “the Lord is one,” we should be declaring more than just number.

  • We are declaring there is one God, not many.
  • We are declaring God is united, not divided against himself.
  • We are declaring in him there is no change… that the promises he has made and the redemption we and creation groan for is coming.
  • We are declaring that as is his character, so will be ours: which means we are to be one as a people.

One day, the church will be united. There will be no great chasm between us, and the remnant that was holy and set apart by God will be together again.

One day, we will all be one. YHWH Eloheinu, YHWH echad.

Who Was God’s Wife?

For many people in this evangelical culture, when outlandish claims are made about their faith, they either immediately deny them or shudder in quiet, theological unrest; yet for some, those claims are just license to laugh. And for this claim, I think we can all safely do the latter. Did God have a wife?

I stumbled across this topic while browsing an atheist forum a couple years ago. If you have not been on one before, you’re not missing anything. They are generally crowded with young to middle-aged men with vehement opinions–and¬†truly few of these forums curate benign discussion. It is the same for social media sites, like good ol’ Facebook.¬†My advice for you is to keep theological discussion where it is healthy: off the internet.

From one of the forums I visited, I recall some Christians talking about some popular opinions of scholars that travel through the web (similar to the resonance from the forged manuscript about Jesus’ wife), and one of the forum responded with alacrity: “Of course God had a wife. Her name was Asherah. And no, it was not Jewish mysticism; it was Judaism’s seed of polytheism, the sign of Abrahamic syncretism, the collapse of all credence that religions claim to have!” My exaggeration is slight, but I talk about something very critical here. The way we view Jewish theology has a direct impact on Christian theology, prophecy, Scripture, Jesus, and all else.

Let’s tackle the question using these three factors: the claim, issue, and difficulties.

The claim is jolting and clear: God had a wife, her name was Asherah (she was God’s consort), and Judaism (and Christianity) eventually evolved into monotheism; contemporary Christianity simply shed the wife theology as religion evolved. If God had a wife originally, in the allegedly purest form of this religion, then what we know of Christianity now is distorted, cleaned up to be a pretty lie.

The issue is that God’s alleged wife, Asherah, is not arbitrarily derived from Jewish mysticism. Asherah was an attested pagan goddess, the Ugaritic wife of El and mother of the¬†gods.¬†Seeing that Israelites had an unwise bent toward polytheism, having frequent affairs with idols, icons, gods, and sundry. Indeed, Asherah dwells in the Old Testament in many places, generally in contexts of Israel’s failure to be devout worshipers of Yahweh, mostly in the chronicles (histories) of that nation, like the books of Kings.

The difficulty is one of historical and literary interpretation. Interpreters cannot ensure that Asherah was rent from all Jewish theology and solely part of a Judeo-mystical movement. If there were vestiges of a pagan goddess in the Tanakh then it is likely its theology was in some way interacted with while transitioning to the New Testament. As we see well in the four gospels and the epistles, the Old Testament was embedded in the New Testament theology as the writers took pains to put the pieces of the messianic puzzle together.

A second difficulty resides in the interpretive ambiguity of “Asherah.” As Holladay points out in his Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, there is “much confusion in OT between 1 (‘the wife of El and mother of the gods’) and 2 (a ‘cultic post’). The appearances of Asherah in the Old Testament are delineated between a “thing” and a “person/god”; at times, the god and the post would be fused, where it was unsure which definition the text was referring to.

As a gentle reminder: Nothing in the Old Testament, regardless if it had a dangerous association with regional polytheism at that time,¬†can be ignored¬†or attenuated¬†when reading the New Testament. The Bible wasn’t written in a vacuum or in discrete partition.

The assertion that God had a wife named Asherah and they were worshiped jointly by Israelites was raised in the 1960s by historian Raphael Patai. This tract of thought was taken two steps further by Francesca Stravrakopoulou who came to the conclusion that God had a wife. She referenced 8th century pithos inscriptions, found in¬†the¬†Sinai desert at Kuntillet Ajrud,¬†that evidenced blessings to the Israelites’ God: “I bless you by Yahweh, our guardian, and by his Asherah.” The inscription is telling.

(For those curious, the “bless you” used on the inscription is the standard ascription of blessing used in the Old Testament, from the word brkt–which is the root and suffix attested in Pithos A.)

Let’s now look at what the Old Testament says about this god. (Remember the amalgamated nature of the word’s interpretation¬†as we continue.)

Four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and four hundred prophets of Asherah were brought to Mt. Carmel to worship (1 Kings 18:19); these were those who sat at Jezebel’s table. Here, we see attestation of foreign worship of Asherah, the female goddess. The Israelites, too, joined in the idolatry: “They abandoned the house of the Lord… and served the Asherim [plural, Asherah]¬†and the idols” (2 Chron. 24:18). The departure of Israelite worship of Yahweh alone is not singular in Scripture, but it is addressed.

Consider Deuteronomy 16:21, God’s injunction to not “set up any wooden Asherah pole beside the altar” built to Yahweh.¬†Around this time the¬†forbidding is quintessentially sin-caused, as we see in the entire narrative of Judges through its refrain: “The Israelites did evil in the sight of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs.

We can expand this¬†collect to induct another foreign god into the assembly of Israelite idolatrous worship. Jeremiah descries an abomination among his people, whose “children¬†gather wood, the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, that they may provoke [Yahweh] to anger” (7:18). (It is unsure whether the “queen of heaven” was related to the fertility goddess Asherah; regardless, we can surmise it was but another instance of foreign worship.) The Israelites followed the same path as did their progenitors in the book of Judges: they did evil in the sight of the Lord.

It is no mystery that the Israelites worshiped false gods; and it is a safe assumption to make that some did it in concert with Yahweh worship, as we saw in God’s mandate to remove Asherah/Asherim from beside the altar built to Yahweh. This is exactly the devotional falter of the Israelites of which the pithos at Kuntillet Ajrud bespoke: Yahweh’s reverence was attenuated by a second/third/tenth god’s worship.

But… is that not what we do?

We have idols that we worship in tandem with God: we have our social media–and all related activity that technology monopolizes over us; we have our platonic and intimate relationships; we have our financial desires, our unhealthy absorptions into ministry and groups, our gluttony and our myriad of private vices. We always have something that takes precedence over our life of devotion to God, whether hidden or broadcasted to the world.

So, can we confidently answer, based on the contemporary research and Old Testament attestations, that God had a wife? I think it’s safe to say¬†no,¬†he did not.¬†This idea presents as much upset to our theology of God as did Karen King’s obsessional claim that Jesus had a wife–which was a laughable zilch.

But was Asherah or wooden manifestation of the fertility god worshiped alongside Yahweh? Probably. We serve a God who has not enthralled us to his will but has allowed us to make choices of our own. Ancient Israelites made mistakes, which were explicitly seen in the book of Judges–but so do we. Regardless, God graced them with his mercy, offered his Son for their sin, and today offers to write anyone’s name in his book of life when we choose to surrender that our glory for his.

“Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints! There is no want to those who fear him. The young lions lack and suffer hunger, but those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing” (Ps. 34:9-10).

Does God Have Company in Genesis?

The word “Trinity,” most laypersons know, is not explicitly written¬†in Scripture: it is not written in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek; rather, it was a descriptive theological term neologized by the Church to best convey that perplexing connection between the three persons of God–as Scripture leads us to conclude. It is for this reason, then, that when we look at Genesis alone to exhume some dogma from its ancient narrative, we must take all Scripture into account. It is this holistic understanding of Scripture that the writers of the New Testament had, both Jesus and his apostles.

Indeed, as Paul writes in 1 Tim. 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed,”¬†in such a way¬†we also must¬†look at the entirety of Scripture, especially at the Old Testament. The central topic in this post will not be an apologetic for the Trinity as a whole, where we would consult the spectrum of Scripture and chiefly reside in the New Testament. Our focus instead is on the Trinity in the early parts of Genesis, where we see the “we” language used by God.

Both instances of the “we” language are found in the first eleven chapters of Genesis, one of the densest mythopoeic sections of Scripture. Here are the two instances below:

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.'” (Gen. 1:26, NKJV)

“‘Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.'” (Gen. 11:7, NKJV)

Let’s begin with the claim and issue. There are no textual difficulties in these two passages.

The claim is something I am sure you have heard before: “The Trinity is in Genesis; I mean, it says ‘let Us,’ as in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” And, it is likely that, whether or not you have made this assertion before, you have probably agreed with it to some extent. After all, who else would God be talking about?

The issue is a direct corollary of thought for those who have scrutinized these parts of Scripture. Not only is the immediate context rigidly monotheistic, Jesus is clearly nowhere to be found. Of course, the Holy Spirit, a person of God and partaker in the creation process, is mentioned in Gen. 1:2. He is a near referent, but two persons do not comprise a trinity, a unity of three persons.

An ancillary issue is the play on words done in the second instance, in the narrative of the Tower of Babel. God seems to be intentionally mimicking the syntax of those who wanted to build a tower. If we juxtapose the two verses,

“And they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city….'” So the Lord came down and said, “‘Come, let us go down there and confuse their language.'”

It is not readily apparent to many that there is a wealth of literary devices in Scripture, and especially in the first eleven chapters of Genesis; and although the literary mockery, if you would, impinges on our interpretation of this language, we can’t help but ask if the “us” was more than literary–perhaps it intimated… company?

And, as a gentle riposte, let us not assume that Elohim, a plural noun (“gods”)¬†that functions singularly while in reference to God, is the reason for the “us.” That strain has never been a critically acclaimed one.

Historically speaking, early church interpreters somewhat overclocked the Trinitarian understanding in Genesis: the Son is never separated from the Father and the Holy Spirit, and likewise the New Testament should never be torn asunder from the Old Testament in interpretation.

Textually speaking, the Hebrew reading is forthright. “Let us¬† make man (na-a-seh) in our image (be-sal-me-nu), according to our likeness (kid-mu-te-nu).

Concerning the primary issue, does the cohortative “let us make” plausibly include angels as God’s co-creators? Either angels created or angels did not; and as we follow Scripture until Revelation, it is clear they did not. Further, an angel, save the elusive cherubim guarding Eden, is not mentioned until the Angel of the Lord’s encounter with Hagar in Genesis 16. To claim that angels were God’s company in Gen. 1 and 11 would be grasping at an emergent heavenly vocabulary, and is discordant with both the context (with the lack of angels and¬†the presence of beings with creative power other¬†than God)¬†¬†and the scriptural corpus (with both traditional interpretation and Scripture itself lacking testimony that angels ever created anything or anyone¬†[cf. Hebrews 1]).

What about a “royal we” as the reason for this language? Patriarchs of yore used this language to tacitly express their unity–a sort of humble position as a leader of unequalled power–with their kingdom, over whom they ruled. If a king desired, say,¬†to institute a new law over his serfs, he may state, “Let us onward relegate all duties pertaining to the death and dismemberment of recalcitrant subjects of my kingdom unto my most honored serfs.” His legislative decision is not performed by anyone but him, yet its utterance captures and includes all of his recipients–or, through a different medium, all readers or oral recipients.

Even though the creation narrative in early Genesis is clearly a monologue–though it is intended to be read and recited by ancient Israelites to whom it would be passed–the “royal we” would require some textual sense of regality; yes, would it not require a kingdom context? The thought that God is King is never farfetched in¬†Scripture, but in Genesis it is far from explicit. Does this rule out that a “royal we” language is used in Genesis, however? I do not believe so. As one who is so high above all, it would be God’s way of inducting all of creation into his narrative; and this induction appropriately precedes the¬†first subject¬†of his kingdom, Adam. The man whom God is about to create will be his most honored serf, if you will; and that serf will be given dominion over all the earth.

Finally, you anticipate the final of the major options: the Trinity. I have saved this for last because it is important to first touch on Genesis 11 concerning its unique syntax.

As I mentioned before, Genesis employs literary devices heavily, and in Gen. 11 God’s “let us come down and confuse” is salient mimicry. Just as the men of hubris who sought to build a tower, or a ziggurat, or whatever ancient, cultic edifice for their purposes, God was going to demonstrate that it is not they, but he,¬†who ruled the world. He did not intend for his creation to be assimilated into one mass people of power, but to be spread over every nation (recall God’s edict to man in Gen. 1:28: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it”).

Instead, the author juxtaposes their language: The people could authoritatively say, “Let us build and magnify ourselves and be exalted,” or God could remind them, saying, “Let us not exalt us, but remember that you are creation.” This is the literary play going on in Genesis 11, and it is highlighted because what is being conveyed here is not the person number of God or his company: it is the question of who is exalted, man or God.

I aver that if the “we” language in Genesis is going to argue for a specific interpretation, Gen. 1:26-27 should take precedence over Gen. 11:7 for precisely what I have shown above: the latter has a context in which mimicry makes sense, while the former does not.

So what about the Trinity as an interpretive option in Genesis 1:26-27? As we know now, Jesus is not explicit in the Old Testament, and especially not in Genesis. Many would argue that the sense of a messiah, or the gospel, first occurs at Gen. 3:15 (hence its name, protoevangelium); and this is as far as foretelling prophecy is concerned. But the tale of Scripture does not stop at Genesis, and neither at 2 Chronicles/Malachi: it ends at Revelation.

God’s people have always received progressive revelation in the sense that God’s inaugurated kingdom has taken steps toward its full realization. From creation to covenant, along with orders of better covenants, to the messiah, his death, resurrection, and return. And, insofar as we have received revelation since Genesis, we know that Jesus was before the foundation of the world, in the beginning (1 Pet. 1:20; Jn. 1:1-3), which was made through him and for him (Col. 1:16), and much more. We correlate Jesus’ relation to creation through the¬†New Testament and through portents in the Old Testament.

Then, what did the ancient Israelites think about God’s “we” usage? We don’t know. In light of the Shema (Deut. 6:4), we can reason that they would not have thought of any other person of God or being of power (but when the Spirit of God is ascribed¬†willful verbs and personal¬†adjectives, it is curious how that was interpreted). We do know, however, that almost all early church interpretation was Trinitarian.

I now offer you three interpretations. On the basis of Genesis alone, (1) the “we” usage in Gen. 1:26-27 either constitutes a partnership between the Holy Spirit and God in the creation process, as their wills seem to continually mesh throughout the Old Testament. Or, (2) God was employing an archaic “royal we” to induct all of his creation into the royal fabric of his kingdom, which is a rather neutral stance: neither supporting nor opposing the concept of a Trinity in creation. Last, (3) the Trinity is there–God is speaking of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit–but it is abstruse and only to be fully understood once the time comes for God to become enfleshed and die for the world through Jesus Christ.

I take both stances 2 and 3, that it was originally understood in a regal, united sense–perhaps even recalling polytheistic traces that were appropriated as polemic against the nations’ gods; and, concurrently, it was portentous of a fuller understanding of God’s nature: three persons of one will, one God.

I see these two as compatible interpretations, and they allow the ancient understanding of Genesis to be not only  retained but also developed through progressive revelation throughout Scripture.

We should never be afraid to dig deeply into the past where ancient Israel was an eclectic religion and scriptural interpretation was fraught with variety, because God had always intended to procure his revelation to his people and speak to them where there were, and to us where we are.

Where do you place yourself among these three options? Is there a fourth that you find captures the theology in Genesis and the rest of Scripture better?

Is Female Desire a Curse?

The tale of male-female interaction in the first few chapters of Genesis is surely a mysterious one. They are rich with new generation, new institution, new foundational stories that will carry on into the New Testament and into our lives. How we read Genesis is absolutely relevant to how we live. Today we look into the enigma of the curse of man and woman: they disobeyed and ate of the tree of life, and thus their plight is ours.

We’ll begin by¬†stating the claim, the issue, and the difficulty.

The claim is sundry, depending on the gender, theology, and many other factors of the claimant. Is he/she inclined toward Complementarianism¬†or Egalitarianism?¬†The claimant might view the curse as an imperative or indicative, as an inevitable outcome. It may reflect his/her understanding of the Edenic (pre-curse) state of relationships; i.e., did Eve before the curse desire to usurp Adam’s role, or was there a discrete role for either of them anyway?

The claim can also be summed simply in a question: Does God condone a patriarchal relationship between husband and wife, or does he not? Or, Is this relationship complementary? Is it Egalitarian, completely equal in role? I invite you to think deeply about this question as we dive into the text.

After God gives the curse to the serpent, he says to the woman:

“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.

Then to Adam he said, ‘Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, “You shall not eat of it”:

Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.'” (NKJV)

As you read above, bare before the text, you may have had¬†some thoughts. Maybe you have heard something in a sermon, on television, or¬†from a strand¬†of someone’s conversation. Hold on to that! Let’s talk about the issue.

The serpent, Eve, and Adam were cursed because of the altercation between them: the serpent deceived, Eve ate, Adam ate.¬† As the text seems to evince, in v.16 God says of Eve that her desire will be (while the text lacks a “be” verb, it is sensible to fill it in with a future tense verb, “will/shall be”) for her husband, and her husband will rule over her. Clearly, there will be some semblance of ruling by one and submission by another, whether or not it God intends that relation to be lived out by us today.

Another issue is in the following verse: Adam both listened to his wife and ate from the tree which he forbade, thereby also incurring a curse over man. We wonder, Was it a bad thing that Adam…*gasp*… listened to his wife? Incorrigible! So, is Adam’s curse a consequence of eating from the tree? or was it from listening to Eve? or were both joint reasons?

Further issues may arise as we continue, either from seeing this text with new eyes or, perhaps, from recalling some theological preconceptions about Edenic or post-Edenic relationships.

If the claims about this text are sundry, the difficulties may be ever more. The syntax of v. 16c, d (“Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you”) almost identically parallel Gen. 4:7, when God speaks to Cain–who is on the verge of successfully slaying his brother Abel:

“If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” (NKJV)

It may already be readily apparent to you: the parallel syntax is… not exactly parallel. Well, it is, but it is rendered differently, at least in NKJV translation. (You will likely find them rendered differently in all English translations for quite the reasons you will soon see.)

Why, if the text so clearly mimicking Gen. 3:16, would it be rendered differently in 4:7?

A second difficulty is with the Hebrew waw, which¬†is a primary¬†conjunction. It can be rendered in several ways, but generally means either “and” or “but.” (If you are an acute reader, you have already noticed it.) Compare “and he shall rule over you” to “but you should rule over it.”) Does the intentional parallel syntax mean that the two phrases’ proximity demand an identical rendering? In other words, should the “he shall” versus the “you should” be the same? Likewise, should the waw “and” and the waw “but” be the same? Why or why not?

Let’s begin by analyzing the verse in its context. In the list of the curse for Eve, it says Eve’s “desire” shall be for her husband. The word desire, teshuqah, naturally has a benign connotation. Its three uses are in Gen. 3:16, our main text, Gen. 4:7, our secondary text, and Song of Solomon 7:10.

The verse reads, “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me,” in the context of the Shulamite’s rhapsodic expression toward Solomon, her lover. Solomon’s teshuqah is markedly benign, and it is quite intimate.¬†(Notably, there is no verse here about one ruling over another.)

However, the teshuqah of sin in Gen. 4:7: Is it benign? In its immediate context, it cannot be. Sin, the manifestation of the cunning serpent, is definitely malign and to be avoided. Its desire is to rule over (mashal) Cain, but God is telling him he should overcome it–overcome sin and its desire.

Is Eve’s desire, then, benign?

If 3:16 is rendered, “your desire shall be for your husband, and/but he shall rule over you,” with a teshuqah similar to the Shulamite’s, treating the waw as “and” or as “but” doesn’t really matter. Whether or not Adam rules over her has little to do with her intimate desire for her husband. It is like saying “I love you” and receiving the response, “I am the household leader.” It doesn’t make sense.

Further, it is¬†odd to use an¬†indicative tone in the context of¬†a curse: Is Eve’s¬† intimate desire for her husband an imprecation, a bad thing?¬†Why then would it matter if Adam ruled over her? Again, if the desire is benign, the text becomes unintelligible.

Yet, if 3:16 is rendered, “your desire shall be to overcome your husband,” then God is speaking of a power struggle between the two spouses–the desire is rather¬†malign.¬† If, then, Eve’s teshuqah is malign, it makes little sense to then say, “and he shall rule over you.” Because of the curse, Eve’s usurping desire will not be fulfilled; it will be overturned. Instead–shall we say “but”?–Adam will rule over her.

Rendering the waw as “and” conveys a continuation in the thought, which is why it is called a “consecutive waw.” The waw as an adversative rather than a consecutive (“but” vs. “and”) indicates a reversal in want. Eve may want to overcome her husband, but Adam will rule over here.

This rendering¬†hearkens the¬†Edenic state of the first conjugal relationship. Eve is naturally created to supplement Adam–and it is (was) benign–but because of the curse she sought to overcome him and take his place; and because of the curse Adam will rule over her.

Now, if the syntax of Gen. 3:16 and 4:7 are identical, and if the desires of both Eve and sin were malign, should they be rendered in the exact same way?

Yes, nearly. Let’s review the first verse.

3:16: “Your desire shall be to overcome your husband, but he shall rule over you.”

Instead of, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

The only difference in the rendering of 3:16 and 4:7 should be with… well, the “should.”

4:7: “And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”

The imperfect of mashal (yimshal) is the future tense conjugation of a verb. This means it can be translated as will/shall or should/must. The first set is entirely future-oriented: some indicative action will occur by mandate or nature. If that were the case, Cain would have succeeded in overcoming sin at his door and would have not killed Abel in the succeeding verse. The second set (should/must), however, is a moral imperative: “you should/must,” even if you are unable. As we can see, he at that time was unable, as he killed Abel.

Therefore, 4:7 should remain rendered thus:

“And its desire is for you (that is, to overcome you), but you should/must rule over it.”

Wait, what about that one time God chastised Adam about listening to his wife? It is not that Adam incurred the imprecation because he listened or heeded Eve; it is because Eve’s request to eat of the fruit was against God’s command. If what Eve requested Adam comported with God’s command, it would be no transgression.

If I chastised my child and told him he was in trouble because he “listened to his brother and jumped off his bunk bed,” I would have qualms with the fact that he did it, whether the idea was born from his thoughts or his brother’s. Likewise, Adam’s sin of disobeying God’s command just so happened to coincide with Eve’s sinful suggestion. They were equally guilty, yet God placed the onus of blame onto Adam.

In sum, because of the covenant couple’s sin, the curse caused Eve now to have a desire to overcome the leadership role of Adam, and now Adam will rule over her. These consequences contrast an Edenic or ideal relationship between spouses: Adam is assumed to be the leader, who is complemented by his helper, Eve.

The post-curse desire for Eve to overcome or usurp Adam is not good, malign. It is the result of the Fall. The Edenic state is one of harmony. Its desire was benign and intimate, not malign and divisive.

The post-Fall relationship between male and female, or rather husband and wife, is doubtless made to be beautiful and honoring. In all relationships, look toward God’s example in the New Testament in Ephesians 5:22-28:

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.¬†Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,¬†that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.¬† So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.” (NKJV)

Do you have different notions of the relationship between Adam and Eve, between contemporary husband and wife? Share your thoughts.