Pastor at Decatur United Methodist Church
I have to tell you the truth that today I am pretty excited about our new message series. During the last message I preached, we talked about boldness. And how the goal of the Christian life is boldness to go into the world and make a difference for Jesus Christ. Now I realize that boldness is this term that can mean a lot of different things. When you composing something in Microsoft Word, bold means make the print darker for more emphasis. Bold colors are colors that pop and stand out. But boldness, when it comes to people means something different. This is what we are going to be exploring in our new message series. Bold women who lead us and teach us how to live.
This idea of boldness comes from the way the earliest Christians lived out their faith. In Acts 4:29, the earliest Christians prayed: grant to your servants[k] to speak your word with all boldness.
This is why listening to and learning from the bold women we find in the Bible is so important. Often, when we look at history and at politics and at religion women are so often placed to the side. Even in 2018, there are religious leaders that think women should never lead or teach men.
I watched a video the other day of one of these pastors sharing these thoughts. He was basically saying that women should not work in certain jobs because in those roles they have to lead men. As the father of a daughter, a general human being, and a pastor that upset me. This is one of the reasons that we are going to focus on the stories of women in the Bible over the next few weeks.
Truthfully, there is no talking about women in the Bible without talking about the first woman in the Bible, Eve. It’s likely that most of you have heard the story of Eve; perhaps you know it so well that it is so familiar that you might just skip it if you were reading the Bible.
In writing about Eve, Lynn Japinga summarizes the story that is usually told about Eve, does this sound familiar:
God created the first man, Adam, out of the dust. Adam was lonely, even after God created the animals for him, so God took one of Adam’s ribs and made a woman to be his helper. They lived happily until the serpent convinced her to eat the forbidden fruit, and she tricked Adam into sharing it. God drove them out of the Garden of Eden and cursed Adam with hard work and Eve with painful childbirth and subordination to Adam. (Japinga, Preaching the Women of the Old Testament, Westminster John Knox 2017, p.7)
Does this sound about right? If you listen to what a lot of people say about Eve, she gets blamed for everything. If Eve wasn’t so gullible we wouldn’t have sin. People have talked about Eve sinning first, so she gets blamed. We often assume that not only did she sin first, but she also tricked her husband into sinning. The husband backs this up too. When God is questioning what has happened, we read in Genesis 3:12 that “The man said, “The woman you gave me, she gave me some fruit[c] from the tree, and I ate.” It must be the woman’s fault.
Now at this point, many of the men in the room are probably thinking “Amen.” If we were in a church where the congregation talked back to the preacher, you might say, “my, my.”
But when we look closer, I think we might find something different. I think instead of this figure who becomes the scorn of humanity. Instead of this figure who gets blamed for being naïve and the root of all human sin, we find a figure who was a leader of her household and even someone who was the crown of God’s good creation. As we introduce this series about bold women who lead us, today’s message is a bit different. Today we are going to just slow down a bit and reflect on who Eve really was. To do this we are going to look at chapters two and three of the book of Genesis.
Now Genesis tells the stories of creation and how God lived and moved amongst the earliest humans. Something that are Confirmation students are well aware of is that Genesis tells two different stories about creation. It’s thought that these stores come from two different authors. In Genesis one, we find the first story of creation, where it is written that God created the world in six days. Then in Genesis two, we find the story of the garden of Eden and Adam and Eve. It’s this second story that we are going to focus on today. Now in Genesis one, we read that God created humanity in God’s image and that God created male and female at the same time. The way the writer of Genesis two tells it is a bit different.
This is what we find in Genesis 2:4
On the day the Lord God made earth and sky— 5 before any wild plants appeared on the earth, and before any field crops grew, because the Lord God hadn’t yet sent rain on the earth and there was still no human being[c] to farm the fertile land, 6 though a stream rose from the earth and watered all of the fertile land--7 the Lord God formed the human[d] from the topsoil of the fertile land[e] and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life. 8 The Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east and put there the human he had formed. 9 Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Let’s pause here for a moment. There are not many times when reading scripture that the translation makes a huge difference. Most times I think it is true that whatever translation of the Bible you like to read is the best translation for you. But sometimes Biblical translations differ in important points. This is one of those times. Let’s look at what we find in verse 7.
The Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life.
I’m reading out of the Common English Bible, but if you are reading from a different translation, it might say man instead of human being. But what we find when we look closely at the text, is that author of this passage is not making a point about gender. Instead, the author is making an ecological pun that is completely absent in any English translation that I am aware of.
Here’s what I mean, God formed the human out of the fertile land. In the original language, in Hebrew, the word used here for human is only one letter off from the word used for fertile land, for the ground. The word used for human is ‘adam (where we get the English Adam), and the word used for fertile land is ‘adamah. ‘Adam from ‘adamah. So what is being said here is not that men were created before women, but instead that all humanity was created from same stuff that God used to create the Earth, the ground, the fertile ground. That in our inner most being, we are connected to the dirt in deep ways that we can never fully grasp.
We could flesh this out even more. Surely there are ecological implications here of how we should treat and care for the earth. Of how we should be more in tune with the food that we grow. But we will save that for another day.
Then God said to the human:
15 The Lord God took the human and settled him in the garden of Eden to farm it and to take care of it. 16 The Lord God commanded the human, “Eat your fill from all of the garden’s trees; 17 but don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because on the day you eat from it, you will die!” 18 Then the Lord God said, “It’s not good that the human is alone. I will make him a helper that is perfect for him.”
God makes animals, but they are not sufficient companionship for the human.
21 So the Lord God put the human into a deep and heavy sleep, and took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh over it. 22 With the rib taken from the human, the Lord God fashioned a woman and brought her to the human being. 23 The human[g] said,
“This one finally is bone from my bones
and flesh from my flesh.
She will be called a woman[h]
because from a man[i] she was taken.”
24 This is the reason that a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife, and they become one flesh. 25 The two of them were naked, the man and his wife, but they weren’t embarrassed.
Here we find that God is trying to make a helper for the human. Now, when we usually think about the term helper, we usually use it in sense of someone we might employ. I need to hire help around the shop or on the farm. The Help is a novel by Kathryn Stockett that is about African American women who were hired to be “the help” is white households in the 1960s. In this book and subsequent movie, it was very clear that the white employers saw their African American help in a subservient role. So, it may be easy to assume that is what is going on when God creates the woman. It may be easy to assume that is God is creating a being that is lesser than the first being and that is supposed to help by serving. There are many people who believe this. For generations women have been held back in society because of this assumption. Even today women earn only about 80 cents for every dollar a man earns.
But this reading is contrary to what is going on here. Now I’m not going to use those fancy Hebrew words again. I think once a year is about enough for me, but I do want to look at the word helper. What we find, is this word helper is most often used to describe God. Such as, “Our help is in the lord” (Psalm 124:8). So when the word helper is usually used in the Bible, the helper is strong or in a position of leadership over the one receiving the help. It’s as if the book, The Help, was reversed and the African American women were over and were leading the white families they were helping.
In a sense, what we find here with this talk about a helper is that God is helper from above, the animals are the helper from below, and the woman is the intimate partner who works and leads beside the other human. The best English term we probably have is partner. Nowhere in this situation, nowhere in creation, is the woman viewed as less or subservient to the man. Instead, the woman is created to share leadership with the man.
Now, it is true that things get a little dicey in the next chapter. Here’s what happens in 3:1
The snake was the most intelligent[a] of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say that you shouldn’t eat from any tree in the garden?”
2 The woman said to the snake, “We may eat the fruit of the garden’s trees 3 but not the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. God said, ‘Don’t eat from it, and don’t touch it, or you will die.’”
4 The snake said to the woman, “You won’t die! 5 God knows that on the day you eat from it, you will see clearly and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”6 The woman saw that the tree was beautiful with delicious food and that the tree would provide wisdom, so she took some of its fruit and ate it, and also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
Many point to this as the point where Eve ruins it for the rest of the women. It’s assumed that she naively sins and tricks her husband into sinning too. But look, the woman is curious about reality. She is using her calling to leadership to explore this place they live in. She doesn’t just take things at face value, and instead is trying to figure out the world. Part of leadership is realizing that there will be times you will make the wrong decision, and she does make the wrong decision. But she doesn’t make it alone.
Many people will claim that the man should lead his wife and his household and protect his wife. But this idea is absent in creation. I hope you noticed, that in verse 6, the writer of Genesis says that her husband was with her.
This whole time, the man was right there with the woman. This whole time, and did nothing to stop it. Even doesn’t even think to consult with her husband. And when given the fruit, the husband doesn’t ponder or question, he just eats. The only strong person, the only active person, the only independent person in this story is the woman, is Eve.
Eve is a bold leader. Now she makes a mistake and there are later consequences, but she was created for boldness; she was created for leadership. I hope that you are beginning to see that this story about Eve is much complex that the way it usually told. I hope that you are beginning to see that Eve is not this naive and weak person that she is so often presented as. I hope that you are beginning to see that any subservient role that women face is not part of God’s original good creation, instead it’s something that happens later because of culture and sin.
For those that are Christ followers I think you can find something even more here. Because, when we begin to think more broadly about the Christian life for men and women, I think in Eve we find some realism. When we think about the goal of the Christian life, we find that the goal is rooted in boldness for Jesus Christ. And speaking of boldness, Eve is the first human, in all of scripture, to show any boldness. Now, in this boldness, she missteps. But this misstep does not negate her continued leadership and the continued boldness God wants from her.
When we think about our lives and the boldness that God wants us to live, we are going to make mistakes; we are going to mess up. But that is not a reason to shy away from being bold for Jesus. My prayer and my hope for us as we look at these bold women over the next few weeks we will be encouraged toward boldness. And each week, I want us pause and to pray for boldness.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.