This is the start of our Summer Sermon Series on women in the Hebrew Scriptures. We start at the beginning with Eve.
In addition, we’ve commissioned Rev. Rachel Frey to write a hymn for this sermon series, and she’s done a wonderful job! You can find the hymn here:
SCRIPTURE – Gen. 2:18 – 3:13 – The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 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.
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.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
June 2, 2013
How would you like to be known for your biggest mistake? You know, that time when your judgment lapsed, your impulse took over, and you did something you know you shouldn’t have done. We’ve all done it. But what if you that’s how you were principally known, as if there were a big neon sign over your head announcing your worst decision?
Welcome to the story of Eve. Not only did she do something wrong, she had it written down in the best-selling book of all-time. And even worse, it’s in the first few pages, so even if you don’t get to Exodus in your attempt to read the Bible, you can’t miss her story. It’s right there for everyone to see.
Now, that’s not all there is to Eve’s story, for sure. There’s the whole “mother of all humanity” thing. But down through the centuries, scholars have focused less on that and more on Eve’s role in what’s been called “the Fall” or “the Original Sin,” words which, interestingly enough, never appear in the story. As we begin our sermon series on women in the Hebrew Scriptures, we start right at the beginning with the first woman, Eve. And we learn right away how her story has been miss-told and miss-used down through the centuries.
It’s not only Eve who has suffered because of that. As the first woman, her disobedience has been generously applied to every woman who has come after her. Sound ridiculous? Listen to these words from Tertullian, an early Christian scholar: “Do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age; the guilty must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway; you are the unsealer of that forbidden tree; you are the first deserter of the divine law; you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You so carelessly destroyed man, God’s image. On account of your desert, even the Son of God had to die.” Wow. I bet he slept on the couch after he wrote that. And no less a religious authority than St. Augustine wrote, “What is the difference whether it is a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman.”
That’s how we know her. Eve, the temptress. Eve, the seducer. Eve, the one who ate the forbidden fruit and caused the downfall of all humankind. Milton wrote in Paradise Lost, “Her rash hand in evil hour, Forth reaching to the fruit, she pluck’d, she ate; Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat; Sighing through all her works gave signs of woe That all was lost.” The prevailing understanding throughout history has been that all was lost because of what Eve had done, and that is how she is primarily known to us. Is that all there is to know about Eve?
To truly understand her, you have to go back to the beginning, which, because we’re already in Genesis, is just a couple of pages. What we have here are two parallel creation stories, told from different perspectives and with differing areas of focus. The second creation story, the one that includes Eve’s creation from Adam’s rib and her encounter with the serpent, focuses on God’s relationship to humans, God’s ultimate creation. The first creation story, which goes from Gen. 1:1 to Gen. 2:4, tells of God’s relationship to the entire creation, and includes only a passing remark about the creation of humans. But what it says is very interesting: “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
You see what this says? Male and female. There’s no hierarchy implied here, no sense that woman was made to be subservient to man. Both man and woman were created in the image of God, both were made as equal representations of God’s image. Tertullian said, “You carelessly destroyed man, God’s image,” forgetting that Eve was made in God’s image, too. We joke about the Battle of the Sexes and men being from one planet and women being from another planet, but in the beginning, that wasn’t the story. We were all created to bear God’s image.
Ok, you may say, but what about later, when God makes Eve by taking one of Adam’s ribs? Surely that implies that Eve was the lesser of the two. Well, let’s look more closely at that story, which we read today. When God created things, God named this as “good,” as a way of saying that they were functioning as God intended. In 2:18, God says, “It’s not good for man to be alone,” implying that humans in isolation are not functioning as God intended them to function. So God sets out to make what our translation calls “a helper as his partner.” Other translations say God was making a companion or a helpmeet. Which translation we choose has incredible significance for how we understand Eve’s role.
The Hebrew word here is “ezer,” and is used in other places in the scriptures to describe God. For example, the psalms refer to God as Israel’s “ezer” in times of trouble. It’s also used to describe God in several military contexts as God leads the Israelites to victory in battle. So to give the word “ezer” a punier translation in our Genesis passage is a distortion. God was not creating a weaker, subservient creature to go with the man. God was creating a strong helper, a creature equal in standing and power, one who bears the same Godly image as the man.
In fact, based on the scriptural evidence that “ezer” meant a divinely empowered helper, you could argue that God created Eve with even more power than Adam. I’ve heard the joke that Eve was called a woman because she was charged with the responsibility of keeping Adam out of trouble, hence the name “Whoa! Man.” But even if we’re not willing to expand our theology that far, we certainly can’t deny that Eve was created as an equal to Adam.
That has implications for what happens next in the story. The serpent comes along and entices Eve to eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, with the promise that by doing so, “You will be like God.” You see, Eve had already forgotten that she was made in God’s image, that she already was like God. She gives in and eats the fruit, and her reputation was cemented as Eve the Seducer.
So let’s look more closely at the passage where Eve uses her wily ways to trick Adam into eating the fruit. Let’s read again that verse where Eve bats her eyelashes and tempts Adam to do something they both know he shouldn’t. Thanks to folks like Tertullian, Eve has this reputation as “the one who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack.” Wow, if she can do that, she must really have some amazing powers of persuasion! So let’s see how she works her magic: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”
That’s it! No prodding, no cajoling, no “if you love me you’ll do this.” History has made Eve the perpetrator of this sin, but the scriptures tell us that Adam is just as culpable. It’s interesting to note that when the serpent is talking with Eve, every time he says “you,” the pronoun is plural. That means Adam was standing there the whole time, listening to the conversation, and rather than stepping in and stopping things, rather than saying, “I don’t think we should do this,” he joins right in. He is just as guilty as Eve.
But notice what happens when he’s confronted. God comes looking for them in the garden and they’re hiding because they are naked. God says, “Whoa! Man. How do you know that? Did you eat what I told you not to eat?” And Adam’s classic response is, “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” In other words, “Uh, she made me do it!” And thus began a long and storied history of people being thrown under the bus. Rather than stand up and take responsibility for his actions, Adam puts the blame on Eve, and we’ve been doing it ever since. Eve the Seducer. Eve the Temptress.
But let’s not lose sight of who Eve was before the serpent showed up. Eve the Divine Image Bearer. Eve the Ezer, the strong partner. I’m not sure I want to know what people would call me if they only remembered me for what I’ve done wrong in my life. If we were known only for our bad decisions, I’m sure there would be all kinds of names for us. The problem is when we let those things define us. Too often, we live down to the labels and expectations of others. It’s the self-fulfilling prophecy of a child who’s labeled a troublemaker or an adult who’s called hopeless. If we start to believe what people say about us, we are in danger of becoming that person, instead of the person God created us to be.
We are more than our bad decisions. We are more than our lapses in judgment. We are all divine image-bearers, called to live out that image in our lives. We are all “ezers,” strong partners for each other as we make our way through life. Sure, we’ll mess up. Sure, we’ll fall short. Do we let ourselves be defined by the worst we’ve done, or do we let ourselves be defined as children of the One who created us, do we let ourselves be defined by the best we can be?
The story of Eve is, in many ways, the story of us all. Her name means “Life Giver,” and through her story we can all find our roots, our connectedness to God. Through her, every woman can find their source of strength as divine image-bearers, as “ezers” in this world. One commentator said that “Eve has always been a convenient peg on which men hung their unflattering theories about women.” As we’ll see in the other women we’ll meet in this series, not only do those theories not hold water, they also do a grave injustice to this rich legacy of strong, defiant, brave women we’ve been given. I pray that as we hear their stories we’ll see in them the image of God, and we’ll learn from them how to persevere through the difficulties of life, even when those around us only want to point fingers and shift blame. May all of us, men and women, live up to the name of Eve “the Life-Giver,” the sole inspiration of the world’s first poetry and the mother of us all. Yes, she made a mistake. So have we. But I’d like to think we’re all more than our mistakes, no matter what our critics say, especially when those critics are inside our own heads. We were created in God’s image to be ezers for the work of God’s kingdom. Thanks be to God.