“Unto the woman He said, ‘I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in sorrow you shall bring forth children.'” (Gen.3:16)
The A.V. accurately follows the Hebrew. But the Revised Standard Version decided it would write its own commentary on this verse. It reads – “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.” Now let’s stop here for a moment, because women will tell you they call labour pains “the curse.” For centuries in the Western World this has been the common understanding. But the Hebrew word was “sorrow”, not “pain.” Were the RSV translators exceeding their brief in this respect?
I was discussing this passage with my wife. She said, “I’ll not accept that God increased a woman’s pains after the fall. That suggests she would have had pains before the fall, which I can’t accept.” And so I was sent back to the Hebrew Lexicon and Young’s Concordance to examine these words. Here is what I found.
There are no less than 26 different Hebrew words translated “sorrow” in the O.T. Our word is number 18 in the list. It is ETSEB. There are but 10 references to this word in the O.T., and a few quotes will satisfy us of the word’s meaning. (ETSEB is the underlined word)
“Lest your labours [i.e. work, exertions] go to the house of an alien.” (Prov.5:10)
“The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and He adds no sorrow with it.” (Prov.10:22) Margin – “and toil adds nothing to it.”
“In all labour there is profit, but mere talk tends only to want.” (Prov.14:23)
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Prov.15:1) Those who “labour” the point?
“Lamech said, ‘Out of the ground which the Lord has cursed, this one [i.e.Noah] shall bring us relief from the work and toil of our hands.'” (Gen.5:29)
“To Adam He said, ‘Cursed is the ground because of you. In toil [A.V. sorrow] you shall eat of it all the days of your life.'” (Gen.3:17)
There can be no doubt of the correctness of the Lexicon, which says the word means toil, labour, exertion. Therefore it would be best if we translated Gen.3:16 as follows. “I will greatly increase your toil and your conception [better, pregnancy]; in toil you shall bring forth children.” “Labour” is truly the right word to describe the act of giving birth. No doubt Eve would have toiled to give birth before the fall, but after the fall the Lord said it would be “hard labour.” However, there is no indication of pain in the word. This is where we need to be careful in our translation. Not all women have a difficult time during labour. Some speak of it as an exhilarating experience, even though hard work! If most experience pain, then we must realise that we are 6,000 years down the line from Adam and Eve, and the human race has deteriorated.
Now we must move on. The first thing to state is that this curse is removed entirely from the inhabitants of Paradise. But some will say, “in resurrection there will be no need to consider the problem any more, because we shall be as angels who neither marry nor are given in marriage, so there will be no more bearing of children.” So, are we to imagine that heavenly places will become devoid of children eventually, and that they will never again be seen? Can we really imagine that, after hearing the Lord’s words, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” (Matt.18:10) And again, “Permit the little children, forbid them not, to come to me, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”(Matt.19:14) I could spend some time explaining our Lord’s words in Luke 20, when He addressed the Sadducees, but let it be sufficient to say that the current interpretation cannot be sustained. There will always be little children in the Holy City. Why, even the Hebrew word for Cherubim means “like children”, and it is not without significance that many artists have painted cherubim as little children with wings. Married women in the Holy City will certainly be able to have children, and in doing so will find the experience of giving birth exhilarating, and although still quite an exertion, will be free of pain.
Above all, let Zechariah speak from the fullness of his prophetic heart. “I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem shall be called The Faithful City, and the mountain of the Lord of Hosts, the Holy Mountain. Old men and old women shall again sit in the plazas of Jerusalem, each with a staff in hand for very age, and the plazas of the City shall be full of boys and girls playing in the plazas.” (Zech.8:3-5) (See additional note at the end)
The 26th chapter of Isaiah is most helpful. The chapter starts by looking ahead to the City of God. “We have a strong City, and He sets up salvation as Walls and Bulwarks. Open the Gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.” (Verses 1-2) Then we are given a glimpse of the Judgment scene, when the Kingdom begins.“When Your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.” (Verse 9) But as for the present time, those of the “righteous nation” (perhaps “the invisible church”, the Remnant) are still being chastened by the Lord, and they say, “Like as a woman with child, drawing near to the time of her delivery, is in pain, and cries out in her pangs, so we have been in Your sight, O Lord. We have been with child, we have been in pain, we have as it were brought forth wind. We have not wrought any deliverance in the earth, neither have the inhabitants of the world been brought to birth, [i.e.new birth, as Nicodemus was meant to understand.] The remnant cries to the Lord, wanting to see the world flooded with righteousness, as depicted in verse 9, when the Kingdom is fully operative, but no matter how sensitive they have been to the Lord’s leading, they admit to the fact that they have not seen the glorious vision transpire. “[But the Lord says] Your dead men shall live, together with My dead body they shall arise.” Jesus is the firstborn from among the dead. His resurrection is the guarantee for the rest. “Awake and sing, you who lie in the dust, for your dew is like the [revivifying effect] of dew on herbs.”Here is God’s promise to His elect. They will be raised to immortality. Then they will (corporately) be with child, and (without labour pains) bring forth the deliverance of the world’s people, and see multitudes brought to new birth.
Isaiah 60 speaks eloquently of this glorious time. “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. Behold darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples, but the Lord will arise upon you, and His glory will be seen upon you.” We are now living in a day when these words are very applicable. Isn’t the earth covered in spiritual darkness? Are not millions living in gross darkness, which God’s missionaries find almost impossible to penetrate? At such a time, the Holy City will be completed, and the glory of the Lord will arise. Reading on in this chapter we find figurative language being used. “Lift up your eyes round about, and see – they all gather together and come to you!” Who? Four different classes are mentioned. 1. Sons and daughters. 2. The abundance of the sea. 3. Camels, flocks, rams. 4. Doves flying as a cloud. Where else do we read about Men, Fish, Animals, and Birds? In the resurrection sequence in 1 Cor.15:39, the four orders of terrestrial resurrection, after the three heavenly orders (i.e. Sun, Moon, and Stars), have been taken up. And so, Isaiah has once again spoken about the glory of the resurrection morning, and the way in which the resurrected sons of God will “bring forth” the inhabitants of the world to “new birth”, exactly as our Lord described to Nicodemus.
Yes, the Holy City will always be full of children, full of boys and girls playing the plazas of the New Jerusalem. Praise the Lord for the promise of the curse being removed from women in resurrection, the curse of multiplied effort in the bringing forth of children that was placed upon Eve, and all women subsequently. Never again will there be sorrow in bringing forth children. Never again will there be pain and hard labour, but the exhilaration of creative joy. But in addition to this “family joy” there will also be the great corporate joy of bringing forth earth’s multitudes to new birth. Truly she will be “the Mother of God’s New Creation.”
End-note. “brought to birth”. The A.V. and several other versions translate this verse literally, “neither have the inhabitants of the world fallen.” But other translations have recognised the force of this word “fallen.” They realise it is a common expression for being born. We speak about animals “dropping” their young. Farmers speak of “the entire drop of the lambs for the year.” Eastern women either stand or kneel in giving birth, and the baby “falls” from the womb. NEB – “no one will be born to inhabit the world.” Amplified Bible – “the inhabitants of the world are not yet born.” Rotherham’s Emphasised Bible – “neither were born the inhabitants of the world.” French Bible – “et ses habitants ne sont pas nés.”
Additional note on children in the Holy City. An article appeared in the “Public Library of Science”, dated 27th Feb.2008, entitled “Why do we love babies?” How appropriate this should appear just now! Briefly, the article speaks of research being carried out at U.Ks Aston University, using a neuroimaging method called magnetoencephalography. Participants were required to monitor the colour of small red crosses, and press a button as soon as the colour changed. The images shown were interspersed with infant faces for just 300 ms, but were not important to solving their task. However, the participants responded positively to these infant faces within one seventh of a second, which is far too rapid to be consciously controlled, and therefore must be based upon some inbred instinct. The part of the brain which responded is known as the medial orbitofrontal cortex. If God has so placed this instinctive response to the beauty of the infant face, then He did so for some beautiful purpose. Shall we suppose that in resurrection this response is removed? We found the scientific paper very interesting to read.
I’ve heard of a place of bubbling wells,
I’ve heard of a place where holiness dwells,
I’ve listened to music from gold and silver bells
On Zion the Mount of God.
I’ve heard of a place of colourful rays,
I’ve heard of a place that’s full of God’s praise,
I’ve listened to Angels expounding God’s ways
On Zion the Mount of God.
‘Tis the place were the children play with the lions,
without any worry or care,
‘Tis the place where our heartaches will vanish for ever,
for Jesus is always there!
I long for the place of bubbling wells,
I long for the place where holiness dwells,
I long to play music on gold and silver bells
On Zion the Mount of God.
I long for the place of colourful rays,
I long for the place that’s full of God’s praise,
I long to meet Angels expounding God’s ways
On Zion the Mount of God.
 See end-note to this chapter.