Friday, April 18, 2008

So, What's with the Rib?

Let me state the obvious: men and women are different creatures altogether. For instance, a man asks, "Will it work?" While a woman wonders, "Is it pretty?"

There are distinct differences between men and women: our bodies are different; our thought processes and emotions are usually different; our abilities, aspirations, and interests are usually different; and our roles in life, both in the family and church are different.

But, before I develop this thought, let me affirm: BOTH men and women are created in the image of God. In Genesis 1.26, God says: "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth" (NRSV). Then, what God contemplates doing, he does. Verse 27: "So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them."

Do you notice the repetitive pattern of verse 27? There are three parallel clauses: "created in his image . . . in his image he created . . . male and female he created." Male and female is significant in the understanding of what "in the image of God" means. Both males and females, men and women have been created in the image of God. Thus, there is a certain equality (or, sameness) between male and female: we are the same in the respect that we are both created in the image of God (I will expand on this thought in a future posting). But, there is also the implication of a distinction (or, difference). God created two distinct beings, both of whom are made in the image of God, and that distinction goes beyond the physical and emotional differences between us.

In Genesis 2, the order of creation is significant. It seems that what we are given in Genesis 2 is a reordering of what we are told in Genesis 1. In ch. 2, man (the male) is created first. According to v. 7, God made man, fashioning him from the "dust of the ground" and breathing "into his nostrils the breath of life." And, "the man became a living being." God then plants a garden, and "there he put the man whom he had formed" (v. 8). God speaks to the man, commanding him, "You may eat freely of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die" (v. 16). Notice, God pronounces his law to the man, before the woman is created.

Then, God determines that it is not good for man to be "alone" (v. 18). So, he "formed every animal" (v. 19) in an attempt to "find" a suitable companion for him. In this effort, God parades the animals before the man, so that he could name each of them and so that he might find a "helper." So, "the man gave names to all [the creatures] but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner" (v. 20). Thus, "God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man" (vv. 21-22). Upon waking, the man recognizes that this woman is his suitable companion. He declares, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken" (v. 23).

Then, just as he had named the animals, man names the woman. (He will do so again in 3.20, naming her "Eve.")

With the events of Genesis 2, there seems to be a certain priority placed on the man. This priority is not in the sense of superiority--remember, male and female were created in the image of God . . . they are partners . . . they are compliments to one another. This priority is in accordance with the divine order (or plan) of the male-female relationship.

In Genesis 2, man is seen as the receiver of God's law. God entrusts his law into the care of the man. Remember, the woman was not present, she had not yet been created. Thus, in a way, however subtle, God is declaring man to be the spiritual leader of the marriage and family. The implication, it seems, is that the man was obligated to share God's Law with his family, to teach it to them. This leadership is reinforced when the man is given the responsibility (or authority) to name the animals and also the woman. A parent names a child, and according to Genesis 5.2, God named male and female "man" (or, "humankind" . . . literally, "Adam"). The responsibility or authority of naming had significance in ancient times; it was a privilege given to one in authority. (Note: It is interesting, however, that Eve gives names to her sons and not Adam; this may serve to underscore the failure of leadership witnessed in Genesis 3.)

The events of Genesis 3 are important to this discussion on male leadership. You know the details of the story: the serpent comes to the woman and quizzes her on the law God had given concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The man had obviously informed the woman of God's statement about the tree, but the woman, despite her knowledge of God's Word, is misled by the serpent, and she sins by partaking of the forbidden fruit.

Where was the man when the serpent spoke to his wife? Verse 6 places him at the scene of the crime: "She took some of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate." This proximity should prompt a serious question: Why didn't the man speak up when the serpent spoke? After all, God had given the command to him, and so, shouldn't he be the expert on what God had said. As far as we know, the man was the only one to hear God's Word directly, and not the woman or the serpent.

It seems to me that that man had a responsibility to speak in defense of God's Word. Thus, his great sin in the affair may have not been the bite he took but the forfeiture of his divinely-appointed leadership role. To be direct: he remained silent, and damned his family in the process.

Consider: to whom does God speak when he comes into the garden following the eating of the forbidden fruit? He address the man, and not the woman or the serpent. Verse 9: "But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, 'Where are you?'" God certainly knew the circumstances that had unfolded, knowing that the serpent was the instigator and that the woman was the first to take a bite, but he speaks to the man as he comes to address the situation.

Numbers 30 offers some enlightening commentary. In this passage, Moses instructs the Israelites about vows made to the Lord. In v. 2, he teaches, "When a man makes the vow to the Lord . . . he shall not break his word." In vv. 3ff., Moses teaches that a woman is treated differently. If a woman takes a vow, it is her father or husband who is accountable for the vow she utters. If a husband hears his wife utter a foolish vow and does not speak out, he is responsible for it! (Men, aren't you glad times have changed :-))

Is this not what we are witnessing in the Garden? The man was obligated to correct the serpent and faithfully uphold the word of God. And, he failed.

As God pronounces his judgment he reaffirms the divine order of things. As he came in to the Garden, he addressed the man first, then the woman (in response to the man's protest), and then the serpent. Then, God speaks again to the woman, and finally the man. The man is addressed first . . . and last!

What does God say to the woman? There are two aspects to her judgment: (1) she will experience pain in childbirth--something that should have been totally blessed would now be complicated and painful; and (2) she would experience tension in the very relationship that was to be the hallmark of creation--her marriage.

To the woman, God says, "Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you" (v. 16b). At first glance this statement does not seem to be pejorative (or, judgmental); indeed it seems to be a positive affirmation of marriage. But, this statement is given in the context of judgment and is parallel to Gen. 4.7, where God tells Cain, "Sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master (or, rule) it." God is warning Cain to not allow sin (his anger toward Abel) to dominate him--this is the concept behind the word translated "desire." Cain must master (some word order as in 3.16) the sin; in other words, not to do something irrational and sin.

The woman desires to dominate her husband (as sin did Cain), but it is the husband's moral responsibility to maintain leadership. This involves no new arrangement, but rather a difficulty brought on by the Fall. What was originally a highly compatible relationship (partners) will become beset by the difficulties of fallenness on both sides--with the woman seeking to usurp authority and the man abdicating his, either by negligence or moral failure. However, v. 16 is not saying that every wife is bent on undermining her husband any more than it indicates that all husbands are unthoughtful and abusive. Simply put, sin has stood in the way of the marital relationship being all that God had envisioned and ordained.

God envisioned that the man and woman would be compliments to each other. Creations is "surpassingly good" (1.31) only after the creation of both male and female. Man without his female counterpart forms an incomplete humanity, one lacking true companionship. By using a rib from man to create woman, there can be no doubt that the woman is on the same level as man. To deny her is to deny himself.

The man does not lead spiritually because he is superior to the woman, for they have both been created in the image of God. The man does not lead because he is more like God, for they have both been created in the image of God. The man leads spiritually because this is the arrangement determined by God . . . it is this simple.

In 1 Timothy 2.11-15, Paul affirms this arrangement of leadership for the church as well as the family. He appeals to the creative order to make his point. Both the man and woman have been given distinct, important roles. The woman has a unique role, that of mother--she bears children and is charged with their nurturing in ways that man cannot. The man has a unique role, that of leading the church in worship and nurturing the church and household spiritually.

Let us never forget: man's failure to lead his family resulted in the Fall!!!