Read part one of this series here >> Male and Female: In the Beginning
If you aren’t aware, the Bible contains not one but two creation accounts. (Maybe even three if you count the first two verses of Genesis as a separate account entirely like some scholars do.) Genesis 1:1 – 2:3 is the great creation song, the epic poem of God creating something out of nothing. Well, not out of nothing per se, but rather out of his self-loving community and divine omnipresence.
Genesis 2:4 begins another account, zooming in on the creation of one man, one woman, and one garden. I appreciate that the Jews never tried to form a “reconciled” or “harmonized” version of the accounts by forcing them into one another. They are distinct. They are separate. And they are both telling a very particular story.
The Creation Song ends with God declaring his creation is “very good” and then taking a Sabbath rest (the 7th day doesn’t “end,” by the way). The next creation narrative zooms into an (unknown) area of the world that sounds very much like what we would come to call “the cradle of civilization.” God plants a garden, called Eden. God then forms man (adam) out of the dust of the earth (adama), breathes the breath of life into him, and places him within the garden. It’s then that we hear the first thing declared to be “not good” – being alone.
So God brings all the wild creatures to the man, and he names them – a sign of authority and power over someone/something. But there was “no suitable helper” for him among the animals.
Here’s where things get interesting. I mentioned in the previous post that I am unaware of any other Ancient Near East creation story that includes the creation of women specifically as equals to men. So that raises the question – is Genesis 2 undoing what Genesis 1 established, that male and female were created as equals in the Image of God?
Let’s look more closely at the language in the narrative.
A SUITABLE HELPER
God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Some have read back into this passage the patriarchal hierarchy that views women as subordinate to men. They see that word “helper” along the lines of servant, maid, assistant, etc. In our understanding, the “helper” is lower down the ladder from the one they are “helping.” But is that the case here?
I know this is somewhat tricky to do because of translations, but if you simply search the Bible (the Old Testament especially) for the word “helper,” what are the results?
“My father’s God was my helper; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh.” (Exodus 18:4)
Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. (Deuteronomy 33:29)
you are the helper of the fatherless. (Psalm 10:14)
you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior. (Psalm 27:9)
The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies. (Psalm 118:7)
You are destroyed, Israel, because you are against me, against your helper. (Hosea 13:9)
So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6)
That’s very interesting. I’m doing the search on Bible Gateway using the NIV to be consistent. But the only Old Testament occurrences of the word “helper” that don’t refer to God are here in Genesis 2 and once in Nehemiah 4. Every other instance of the word “helper” is in reference to God and his role among the people of Israel.
When the woman is created as a “helper” compatible or suitable for the man, that is not a place of subjugation but of power and ability. In many ways the man is incomplete without the woman, just as the people of Israel are incomplete without the Lord their God.
SIDE BY SIDE
Another thing to notice in the narrative of Genesis 2 is how much detail we get in God’s creation of the woman. The story uses the same language to describe the creation of man and the animals – formed out of the dust, given the breath of God. But the description of woman’s creation is like that of a master artist crafting his masterpiece.
So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
It is significant that God created woman out of the man’s side. Even the rabbis of old noted the importance of this. Woman was not taken out of man’s foot that she should be underneath him. Nor was she taken out of man’s head that she should be above him. But she was formed out of man’s side, so that she may walk alongside him as equals, side-by-side partners in life.
So you can see, if we just slow down a bit, question our assumptions, and do a little more digging, Genesis 2 is not at all undoing what was already established in Genesis 1. Yes, man was created first, but are you forgetting how the rest of Genesis goes? It’s nearly always the youngest who gets the blessing from God: Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Joseph over his brothers, etc.
1 + 1 = 1
We’re not done yet. Finally, pay attention to what the man and the narrative have to say about the partnership of male and female:
The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
A few final thoughts on this chapter. You can almost feel the relief and excitement in the man’s words. I picture the look on his face is just like that of a groom seeing his bride walk in for the first time. Bone of my bone. Flesh of my flesh. She is like me – but unlike me in all the right ways. Yes, he “names” her, but that naming is based on his own title. He takes what is his and gives it to her as her own. What else did the man have to give?
Notice also that the text says a man will leave his father and mother to be united with his wife. That’s the exact opposite of the way things work in a patriarchal society. We see countless stories in the Bible of the woman leaving her family to be joined to her husbands family. The wife leaves her home to join the man in his home. But it was set up for the man to do the leaving.
Finally, they were both naked but they felt no shame. Think about the double standard of how society treats men’s and women’s bodies. Have you ever read The Scarlet Letter? Have you heard the numerous stories of women who were victims of revenge porn and forced to leave their jobs because of it? We treat women’s bodies as objects to be exploited. We have such a damaged view of sex, intimacy, and vulnerability that good Christian women can’t have sex with their own husband without an overwhelming sense of shame.
There can be no intimacy without vulnerability. There can be no vulnerability without trust. And there can be no trust where there is fear of shame.
To sum up: Woman was hand-crafted by God out of the side of the man to be his “helper,” a title elsewhere reserved for God himself. The man recognized their equality. The man gave the woman the only thing he had to give – his name. The two became one (reflecting the loving oneness of God’s own nature). They lived in a relationship based on trust, vulnerability, and intimacy.
And all was good… for a while. More on this next time.