Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Sarah and her God (Gen 16-23)

So much of Sarah's story comes to us through Abraham, who is definitely the lead character in their chapters in Genesis. What we learn about Sarah comes from several places in the text where she speaks up, and we may guess at her experience for the rest. This applies to what we know about her relationship with God as much as the other facets of her life we have looked at.

We don't really hear much from Sarah about the things that happen to her-- Abraham's call and departure, her stay in Pharaoh's house, Abraham's negotiations with Lot and his wars with the local kings, and his covenant with God--until after Abraham has received this covenant. At this point, we are reminded that of course she has been in on these events, and also seems to have been listening in on Abraham's relationship with God, all along. Her first initiated actions and words are a response to the covenant Abraham receives.

To me chapter 16 gives more away about Sarah's relationship with God than any other part of her story. We've already discussed this episode in relationship to her marriage and her infertility. But let's look back at in this context as well, because I think it does tell us about Sarah's posture towards the Lord, or at least her respect for her husband's relationship with him.

When Sarah comes to Abraham saying, "The Lord has prevented me from having children. Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her," I hear a deep conflict and pain, mixed with resignation and determination in her statement. She knows Abraham has received this promise from God, and that she herself is unable to deliver it. (This is a position many a believer has found herself in over the years: I am promised blessing, but am unable to bring it about myself . . . and am tired of waiting for  it!) She ascribes her inability to conceive to the Lord, the one who has promised a baby to Abraham. But she does not hope that it will be fulfilled in her, even as she wants it to be fulfilled for Abraham. In order to help Abraham receive his promise, and really to try to fulfill God's will, she offers this alternative. To me this shows that she respects her husband, and respects his relationship with God. She wants his promise to be fulfilled, and feels pain that she is in the way of it. She does blame the Lord, but also wants to help his plan proceed. It is such a mix of faith and doubt, but full involvement.

When Sarah's bitterness at Hagar's pregnancy finally explodes, again Sarah speaks of the Lord, calling on him to be the judge between herself and Abraham. She expects that the Lord will show that she has been righteous in this plan, which implies she was trying to be righteous in carrying it out.

I love how the Lord cares for poor ill-treated Hagar in this story, while simultaneously caring for embittered Sarah.

Also, it is fascinating to me that Ishmael does not satisfy God's promise in God's eyes. The Lord has only actually promised that Abraham would have children, but as the story develops, we see that Abraham having children is not enough for the Lord, Sarah must have children too. After the birth of Ishmael, Abraham receives a covenant from the Lord that he will have "countless descendants." In this same covenant, the Lord changes Abram's name to Abraham, and gives Abraham's descendants the promised land. To fulfill the covenant, Abraham must circumcise all his descendants. Abraham does not question this, since he now has one child. But before the Lord is done speaking, he brings Sarah into the promise.

It is so interesting to me that he does bring Sarah in, specifically, in this way, but he doesn't come to her! He gives Sarah's promises to Abraham! We have seen earlier on that Sarah hears what God tells Abraham, so she surely received it. But how interesting that the text records this promise being delivered to Abraham. I wonder how God may have ministered to Sarah herself offstage. We see later that he is listening in on her laughter from inside the tent, but speaks there again through Abraham.

As part of the covenant, Sarai's name is changed, and she is promised a blessing and a son herself, and that she will be the mother of many nations with kings among her descendants.

Abraham, in disbelief, asks how he and Sarah will have a baby in their old age, and suggests that Ishmael be the one to receive the blessing, going right along with Sarai's backup plan. But God reiterates that the promise is for Sarah as well as Abraham, and that their coming son Isaac will be the true heir to the covenant, though Ishmael will be blessed as well.

Abraham, still with Ishmael in mind as his descendant, has him and the rest of his household circumcised after this message.

But then Abraham receives 3 visitors from the Lord. He quickly instructs Sarah to help him prepare food for them, and when everything is ready, he goes out to talk with them while Sarah stays in the tent. Their first question to him is, "Where is Sarah, your wife?"

On hearing that she is in the tent, they deliver the message that Sarah will have a son by this time next year. She can hear them, and they seem to be able to her her as well, though her response of laughter and doubt is recorded as "silent." A dialogue begins between them and Sarah about whether she did or didn't laugh, and the promise is reaffirmed.

There is a lot of action in the text before Sarah receives the fulfillment of her promise from God. Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed, and Abraham travels south again and gives Sarah to Abimelech. We've already discussed this a bit. But let's remember, after the specific promise has been delivered to both Abraham and Sarah that she will bear Abraham a son within a year, the two of them conspire to deceive Abimelech in a way that puts her in his harem! But the Lord mitigates this terrible plan by coming to Abimelech, not either of his chosen people, and warning him. What a confusing episode!

The very next thing that happens after the women of Abimelech's household are healed of the infertility brought upon them by Sarah's presence, is that "The Lord kept his word and did for Sarah exactly what he promised." Sarah bears Abraham a son, Isaac, and declares "God has brought me laughter." This statement shows her thankful attribution of this blessing to God and her understanding of his plan and his promise being fulfilled. It tells me she did learn to trust God and know his goodness in the end.

The last recorded story about Sarah before her death is her banishment of Hagar and Ishmael, which is permanent the second time around. Again, the Lord provides for Hagar and Ishmael in the midst of their ill treatment, working around Sarah's meanness toward them. How the Lord deals with Sarah regarding her actions is not shown to us.

We also do not see her perspective on the test Abraham is given, when he must be willing to sacrifice their precious promised son. I wonder if Sarah knew what was happening, and my suspicion is that she didn't, since Abraham departed for his journey early without even telling the servants where he was going. This story of Abraham's test is maybe the most terrible story in the Bible for me. If in reality Sarah did not know about the test, I think it was kind of the Lord to keep it from her. I wonder if she or I, as mothers, would have been able to pass it. Sarah had gone along with the rest of God's commands carried out by Abraham and suffered under several of them. Where she was tested, she did seem to pass. But Abraham takes this one representatively for her, as well as the rest of the future people of God established through their lineage.

The next, and final, thing we hear about Sarah is her departure to meet God personally at last in death.

Sarah has become such a fascinating character to me through these posts! I'm thankful to have such a colorful, complicated female figure described in Genesis in the main supporting role of the story of God's first call to establish an official relationship again with humans outside the Garden.


  • In the narrative, Abraham mediates Sarah's relationship with God for the most part.
  • Sarah does want God's plan to go forward, but doesn't seem able to trust that it will without her help.
  • When God promises that Abraham will have a son, he means that Sarah will have a son too.
  • Sarah ultimately receives her promise from God with incredulous joy and thankfulness.
  • Do you think that Sarah had her own unrecorded interactions with God, or was the mostly dealing with Him through her husband?
  • What does it mean for marriage and for God's choosing of Sarah herself that the child of her servant did not count as the promised son in God's eyes?
  • Do you think God's choosing of Sarah was based on Abraham's faith, or did she have faith of her own before Isaac was born?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Sarah's marriage (Gen 11:27-23:20)

The marriage of Abraham and Sarah is an interesting one to consider, since we are lucky to have record of their relationship pretty much from beginning to end, over many chapters, with both of them active in action and dialogue. In this post, we'll focus on several places in her family's chapters in the Bible that provide information about her marriage: the two stories of Abraham passing Sarah off as his sister and giving her to kings, and the stories of the struggles between Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. But we'll also keep in mind what we looked at last time, the important factor of Sarah's infertility in her marriage and in God's plan. There's quite a bit to chew on here!

Sarah's marriage to Abraham begins in the family of Terah, Abram's father. In this family, marriage partners were chosen from close kin. Abram had two brothers, and one of them married a daughter of the other. Abram married another daughter of his father. But we should keep in mind that at this point we are not that far out of the garden of Eden, and only 10 generations down from Noah. There just weren't that many people around yet. What strikes us as weird in marriage choice may not have been weird to these early people.

Weird or not, marriage to close kin is inadvisable for many reasons, one of which could have been the cause of Sarah's big problem in life-- her infertility. These two factors, Abram and Sarai's half-sibling relationship and Sarai's infertility, combine with a third, Sarai's great beauty, to pave the way for what are some of the most jarringly unholy acts of Abram, the man God chose to establish a relationship with to create a people for himself. Because Sarah was so beautiful, and not obviously a mother to any children, and *technically* his sister, Abram is able to get away with using her to his advantage so that instead of being killed by kings who want to steal her away, on two separate occasions he is able to sell her to the kings and receive great riches instead. Yuck.

Let's give a bit of background for these two stories. Abram is a travelling man, under orders from God. He moves to Canaan at God's command, and then down to Egypt because of a famine, then back up to the Negev, then to Canaan again, then down to the Negev again, and also spends time in several cities along the way. He occasionally participates in battles, has interactions with various rulers and lords, and negotiates in land, livestock . . . and women, as we shall see.

The two stories about the Pharaoh and Abimelech form a kind of bookend to Sarah's period of infertility in these chapters. After Abram's call, the story about Sarai being given to Pharaoh is the first real episode that takes place. Then after many more promises from God, military skirmishes, relational dramas, etc.,  the last thing that happens to Sarah before she gives birth to Isaac is that she is given to Abimelech. Of course, once she has a son, it is much more difficult for everyone to pretend she is just a virgin sister, so there is a logical end to this strategy when Isaac is born.

It is on his first trip to Egypt to avoid the famine that we first hear of Abram giving Sarai to Pharaoh, in exchange for good treatment and gifts of livestock and servants. Let's stop and take that in. In our modern moral language, we would say that Abram has just evidenced himself to be a human trafficker of not only his own wife for sex, but also of unnumbered male and female servants, listed right along with donkeys and camels. How does the father of the Jewish people get away with doing this?

Two possible mitigating factors occur to me. The first is to put a filter of "times were different" over this. Servants were a part of life back then, since the 40 hour work week and minimum wage had not yet been instituted. Abram was "very rich" the text tells us, and we can hope the members of his household were well treated and valued as part of the village or part of the family. (Sarai's servant Hagar eventually officially bridges that gap.) The second partial explanation is that it does seem like these two stories are recorded to point out that it was outrageous for Abram to do this to his wife, and he shouldn't have. (Though it's true that the main voices of complaint in both stories come from the decieved kings, not Sarai.) Servanthood and brideprices were just the accepted societal arrangements of the day. Deceptively offering your own wife to someone else was not.

Both Pharaoh and Abimelech are furious about Abraham's deception. In the course of the second story, Abimelech gives a speech I want to high five him for, "No one should ever do what you have done! Whatever possessed you to do such a thing?" Whatever indeed, Abram? Abram was audacious and wrong to do this. What was Sarai's experience in these stories? In the first story where Pharaoh is the "victim," we don't have as much information about her part, but the second story tells us a little more. Whereas in the first story, Abram asks Sarai to say she is his sister, in the second story, Abimelech says that she has said she was his sister. Based on his claim, Sarai seems to have been in on it too.

I find it interesting that in 1 Peter, Sarah is held up as a "holy woman from the past." As in, "This is how the holy women of old made themselves beautiful. They trusted God and accepted the authority of their husbands. For instance, Sarah obeyed her husband, Abraham, and called him her master. You are her daughters when you do what is right without fear of what your husbands may do." Sarah did obey her husband. But was she doing what was right? This is generally the caveat given to the marital submission command of wives to husbands. Submit, unless he tells you to sin. But Sarah appears so submissive in these stories that she just sins right off the cliff along with Abram. We'll talk more about Sarah's relationship with God next post, but I don't see evidence of a closeness between them in these stories, (of course you could also question how close Abraham was to God at the moment he was hatching these plans).

To me what is most puzzling here, is that with these two chosen sinners pulling shenanigans, God comes to the kings to warn them, without so much as a remark to Abraham or Sarah. Abram is simply given more gifts and sent along with a royal reprimand, and all signs of a heavenly blessing. He actually prays for Abimelech's household to be healed from the infertility inflicted on them as punishment for having Sarai in his house. I don't know exactly how to understand this and am going to leave it in the list of questions. Please help, dear readers, if you can.

But, back to what we can learn about their marriage from these stories. Whether Sarai went right along willingly, or unhappily obeyed Abram out of a sense of duty, we can be pretty sure that Abram was not too jealous for his wife's affection, as he had no qualms about putting her at risk of having sex with other men. Perhaps he feels she is really only a sister to him, since she has borne him no children. We can guess that she was either similarly cold toward him, or else blazing hot with fury at her treatment. Theirs was not a fairytale romance.

We have another clue about their marriage dynamics when we come to the stories of Sarai and Hagar. We have seen that Abram was willing to allow Sarai to sleep with other men in theory, though it didn't occur in the end. In the stories of Sarai and Hagar we see that Sarai was also initially willing to allow Abram to take Hagar and have a child with her. But when that did occur, she was not ok with the situation.

Her motivation, as we discussed last time, was to help Abraham receive the promise God had given him. Maybe she hoped that orchestrating the fulfillment of the promise Abram had received would heal something in their relationship, since she would no longer be the roadblock for God's promise. But even though by doing this, Sarai was able to relieve the pressure she felt on herself to have a child, she found that it was not ultimately worth it to have to share the status and compromise the position she had as Abram's wife. Her relationship with her husband and with her servant suffered even more.

It's interesting that Sarai places the blame for her emotional pain on Abram, when it was her idea for him to have Hagar. This is probably because it is his hope for a son from God that causes Sarah to suggest that he take Hagar as a wife. She even calls on the Lord to judge between her and her husband in the situation, one of the only times we hear her having any involvement with God. She may be speaking to God this first time because she feels it is his influence in Abram's life that has led her to this problem. When confronted by Sarai, Abram again exhibits coldness, practicality and passivity toward his marriage relationships, telling Sarai, "Look, she is your servant, do with her as you see fit." Get off my back, will you? Abram has a deep relationship with God; his family relationships pale in comparison.

However, God is deeply involved in Abram's marriage, continuing to reiterate that Abram will have many descendants through his wife Sarai. Though Abram is the one to receive the promise, it is really about Sarai. When he has a son of his own seed through Hagar, it does not count as fulfillment of God's plan. God want's this son to be born of Sarai herself. Their marriage is lived in this context, including the wounds it contains. I do hope Sarai knew some love and tenderness from some one, since it doesn't sound like she received much from Abram. Did God comfort her? We will look at that more in a coming post, but it's not obvious to me.

Returning briefly to the discussion of Sarah and the kings, after God's most explicit promise to Abraham that Sarah herself will bear him a son within a year, we find the story of Sarah being given to Abimelech. It is extra jarring at this place in the narrative, because now Sarah is expected to bear a son within a year. If, within that time, she is in another man's harem, who will have been the father of the baby?! The Lord delivers Sarah and Abimelech from their situation by sending him Abimelech a warning in a dream. The king and Abraham then have it out, but seem to end up being friends, since in the next chapter they make a covenant with one another. Again, I ask where is God's discipline of Abraham for coming so close to blowing the fulfillment of his promise that Sarah would bear him a son?

From Abimelech, Abraham receives his choice of land and 1000 pieces of silver. And Abraham prays that the infertility of the women in Abimelech's house, inflicted upon them by the Lord because of Sarah's presence there, will be healed. (Sarah must have been in his house for quite some time for infertility to have been noticed among the other women.) In the next breath after Abimelech's household is healed by Abraham's prayer, Sarah receives what she has been promised, and she bears Abraham a son.

Sarah's reaction to the birth of her son is so touching. "God has brought me laughter. All who hear about this will laugh with me." I hope this high point brings redemption to her for her trouble in life and marriage.

A further aftershock of Sarah's plan for Abraham to have Hagar as a wife occurs next in the text when their two sons are in conflict. Even after her own son is born, Sarah is insecure in her place in the family, and also her son's place. She convinces Abraham (though he is "very much upset") to send Hagar and Ishmael away for a final time. God promises Abraham that he is involved, and will again care for Hagar and Ishmael, and He does.

I wonder how Abraham and Sarah's marriage changed with the competing family members gone. Did Sarah feel more peace, or did her wounds fester without the possibility of a healed relationship between her servant, her stepson and herself? Did the romantically cool Abraham miss them?

The next thing we are told about Sarah is that she dies at 127 years old. Abraham's extended negotiation to buy a burial place for her gives the impression that he is putting energy into honoring her memory. I love that she is buried near Mamre, where the angels visited their family to promise their son's birth.

Sarah's marriage to Abraham is not easy by any means. But it is used by God to form the root for his people. Though it seems almost too easy of an application, we can definitely see here how God's plan goes forth in the lives of constantly sinning sinners, through his guidance and faithfulness. We can also see that the purpose of this marriage was not at all the romantic fulfillment of the spouses involved. Their steadiness in family-membership despite their unsteadiness in happy companionship was the context for God's great establishment of official contact with humanity. They hung in there through heartbreak, redemption, sin, good times and bad times, and this was the stuff God used to move forward his plan to save the world.


  • Sarah's marriage was difficult, nothing like modern versions of romance. 
  • When God made promises to Abraham about his descendents, their fulfilment hinged on them being given to his first wife as well as himself.
  • Though it seems A and S had a tense marriage, their main point of unity was in their shared parentage of Isaac.
  • Though this does not seem to be a model marriage, we can say that a less than model marriage was still a context for a great work of God in building his kingdom through the birth of a child.
  • Why do we only hear God warning to the kings about the deception of Abraham and Sarah regarding the wife-sister tricks, with no consequences for either of them?
  • Do you see evidence of a loving relationship between Abraham and Sarah that I have missed?

Friday, May 19, 2017

Sarah's infertility (Gen 11:27-18:15)

When we first meet Sarai in Genesis, she is introduced in this way. "The name of Abram's wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor's wife was Milcah. (Milcah and her sister Iscah were daughters of Nahor's brother Haran.) But Sarai was unable to become pregnant and had no children." This first detail we learn about Sarah is central to her life. As we know from our earlier reading, the story of humanity is the story of children being born, growing, and having more children. Half of God's mandate (the first half!) to the human race is that we fill the earth. Women are honored to bear the main burden in this human work, and Sarai along with her family would have looked for this as a measure of success and value in her life. Being unable to bear children was a big problem for her and would have been worth mentioning in her life summary even if not for the rest of this story.

But as we read on in the story of Abram's life, we find so much of it wrapped up in how God's plan will go forward when Sarah cannot bear a child. The weight of the world was on her womb. She must have felt this acutely. During the brief season when I was trying to become pregnant without success, my every thought was wrapped up in my body and timing, and whether any symptom was significant, and every month of waiting was a new small devastation, even though in my world childbearing is optional for women and my worth can be measured elsewhere. I can only imagine the pain and feelings of worthlessness Sarah must have endured over the 85 or so years of her life where she was unable to do the one thing God's plan of salvation for the world hinged upon--this thing she had no control over that everyone expected from her and that she was unable to produce.

The story of Abram's call and the blessings he is promised make clear the honored and intergral part women play in God's plan through childbearing. In these chapters, God meets with Abraham several times. The first one is in chapter 12, and God promises Abram, "I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous and you will be a blessing to others.  I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you." Already implicit in this promise is that Abraham will have descendants. Whether Abram questioned this the first time God met him, we aren't told. But the next time God comes to him and promises to give him a great reward (not even specifically descendants in 15:1), Abram responds, "O Sovereign Lord, what good are all your blessings when I don't even have a son? Since you've given me no children, Eliezer of Damascus, a servant in my household will inherit all my wealth. You have given me no descendants of my own, so one of my servants will be my heir."

This speech of Abram sounds so sad and emotional. He trusts God, but has this huge impediment to really grasping the promise he has made: Sarah is barren. We don't hear much from Sarah about the promises that Abram receives, but I imagine they deeply increased her sense of failure to conceive. She was unable to enjoy the family pleasures of raising children, and she knew that all the wealth of her family would be passed to another after her husband's death, but also, and worse, the relationship with God that shaped her husband's life was made difficult by the fact that she could not bear children. There must have been significant tension between them over this. I hope that Abraham would have been understanding and shared the sorrow with her, but the details we have about their marriage don't really point to a mutually encouraging tender partnership. Sarah may have been drowning in sorrow, bitterness, and self-contempt for many years of her life.

God responds to Abraham's question about this detail in the promised blessing with a reiterated and more specific promise, that Abraham himself will have a son of his own who will not only inherit his wealth, but will increase into a nation with descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. This promise is what "Abram believed and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith." Think of it, this central point in Christian theology, that faith in God is righteousness, was in reference to a child being promised to a barren woman. This role of women is right in the middle of what God makes happen when he is at work.

I get irritated at the idea that it's demeaning to women to imply that "a woman's purpose is childbearing." Women have amazing minds, capable bodies, strong and compassionate hearts, innumerable talents and capacity for greatness. They can do many things other than childbearing extremely well. But ask any accomplished mother (professionally or otherwise) what has been her most valuable work in life, and I can almost guarantee she will tell you it was using all her abilities as she witnessed and contributed to the growth and and development of her children. Most fathers will say this as well. Bearing children is not some sideline thing that is not what's really important in life. It is high, and hard, and holy, and right in the middle of what is going on with humanity. Sarai and Abram knew this, God knows it, we should know it as well.

This story also gives such hope in situations where women are desperate to bear children but unable for whatever reason. It shows that God cares about this situation, he is there and shaping his people through long years of suffering through it, and he will ultimately redeem it. Though Sarah receives a child at the end of her long life and some women will not, we can all trust in the fact that God has worked to bring blessing and redemption to us all in the end through these promised descendants who produced his own son after many long years.

Abram must have reported his specific promise about bearing a son to Sarai, because in the next chapter, she gets right to work trying to accomplish it's fulfillment for him herself. There is such heartbreak behind this action in my mind. Sarai knows this is of ultimate importance for Abram, and so she arranges a way for it to happen that is in her own power. She gives him her servant Hagar. When her plan works, she reaps even more misery because Hagar begins to treat her with contempt. What was once a shared sorrow for her and Abram, has been lifted from him and become hers alone. Furthermore Hagar's developing pregnancy is constantly visible evidence that a servant has been able to produce what a wife had not been. Where is her place in the family hierarchy now?, I'm sure Sarah wonders. This conflict between the women gets so bad that Sarah convinces Abram to let her send Hagar away. We'll talk about Hagar more in another post. But she does eventually bear her son, who is accepted as Abram's heir while Sarah continues to live with the new family situation.

Soon after Hagar's son Ishmael is born, God gives Abraham another more specific promise, changing his name to "father of many," and Sarai's name to Sarah, and revealing that Sarah herself will bear a son for Abraham. This is followed by a personal visit to Abraham by three holy messengers from God who promise even more specifically that Sarah will bear a child within a year. Sarah does hear this promise directly, from inside the tent. She laughs. She no longer believes in any possibility of this for herself, being past the age of childbearing. But it is still central to God's plan, and he intends to carry it out through her, despite the fact that she has no hope left.

We don't know how old Sarah is when she gives birth to Isaac. We do know she dies at 127, before Isaac is married, and that Abraham is 100 when Isaac is born. They both live about 85 years or more of life suffering through infertility. Most of their testing ground as they walk with God is in this state. His promise is given, but is a long time in coming. This particular female kind of suffering was a main issue in the first family God called to form his people in the fallen world. God cares deeply about it and works in it.

We will look at Sarah's experience when she finally does receive her son in another post.


  • The "woman's work" of childbearing is integral to God's plan in establishing a people for himself. 
  • God acknowledges that infertility is hard, and he works to redeem it in his plan.

  • Why doesn't the Lord give Sarai any promises directly about the birth of Isaac?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

God's Princess, an overview (Gen 11:27-23:20)

Today, we come to the story of a woman who's life is described, alongside her husband Abraham's, for eleven chapters! This is the first woman we come to know in any real sense after Eve. Since it is such a long story, my first step here will be to outline the information points we have about Sarah in a rough timeline of her life:
  • She is the wife of Abram (we later learn she is Abram's half sister) and she is unable to become pregnant.
  • With Abram, she moves from Haran to Canaan, and then to Egypt when there is a famine in Canaan.
  • She is given by her husband to Pharaoh, so he could avoid being killed, and then given by Pharaoh back to Abraham after plagues fell on his house.
  • She travels by Abram's side as he travels with Lot, and settles in Canaan, and participates in a local war.
  • Abram receives the promise that he will have many descendents, which depends on her.
  • She offers her servant Hagar to Abram, to help God fulfill his promise.
  • She is treated with contempt by Hagar, and sends Hagar away. God cares for Hagar and sends her back.
  • Abraham receives another covenant from God establishing circumcision, changing his name, and her name.
  • God promises Abraham that Sarah specifically will have a son.
  • Three holy messengers visit Abraham at Mamre and announce birth of a son through Sarah within a year. Sarah overhears this from inside the tent and laughs.
  • After Lot is rescued from Sodom, Sarah accompanies Abraham south. 
  • Again Abraham says she is his sister and gives him to Abimelech. The Lord warns Abimelech she is married and he gives her back, saying she was in on the deception.
  • She gives birth to Isaac in her old age, and declares God has brought her laughter.
  • She sends Ishmael away because he is mistreating Isaac.
  • Abraham offers Isaac.
  • She dies at 127, and was buried at Machpelah, near Mamre, where Isaac's birth was promised by the holy messengers and she got caught laughing at the promise.
Based on this outline, Here are several themes I want to look at.

The central one is Sarah's infertility. Though Abraham is the lead in this story, the first thing we learn about his family pertains to Sarah--that she cannot bear children. We have previously seen how important childbearing is in the story of humanity. It is certainly given first priority in these chapters. Even God's promise to Abraham to establish a people through him to be God's own special people hinges on this important womanly detail of Sarah's life.

The next interesting feature of this story is what we are told about her marriage relationship to Abram. It begins within their nuclear family (!?).  We are told she has great beauty and, with no children, a lack of obvious matronhood. This allows Abram to claim her as only a sister, and twice effectively pimp her to menacing kings. We also have God's attention to these situations without obvious reprimand to Abram.

I'd also like to look at her relationship with God. Throughout the story, Sarah is in the action, and even speaking, but not to God. God only speaks with Abraham, with one possible exception. How did Sarah herself relate to God in the often difficult circumstances of her life?

Finally, I want to think through the time in her life when God's promise is fulfilled and she finally gives birth to Isaac. We have a few pieces of information that speak about this, and the touching final record that she is buried at Mamre, where the holy messengers promised his birth within a year and she laughed.

Stay tuned! There is a lot of really valuable stuff here I suspect.

Since this is an overview, I will save the takeaways and questions for the next posts, where we will dive deeper into Sarah's life.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Noah and sons (Gen 9:18-11:26)

In the last post, God had finished speaking a beautiful covenant to humans, recommissioning them to fill the earth, and promising to hold back his judgment in the future.

Next, the sons of Noah come out of the boat. We are told that from these three sons will come all of the people of the earth. As in the last chapter, women are completely absent, now not even mentioned as existing as wives, in the context of a discussion of reproduction and filling the earth.

In this exclusively male narrative, we hear of the initial misbehavior of those on whom the hope of a renewed civilization is resting. Noah plants a vineyard and becomes drunk, and passes out naked. His son Ham sees him, and dishonors him by pointing the situation out to his brothers. We've noted a few first sins--though surely this had happened before in human history, here is the first recorded example of not honoring one's father or mother. Ham's brothers cover up Noah. When he awakes and realizes what has happened, Noah curses Ham and his descendants, and blesses Shem and Japheth and their descendants.

Here again, these men are heading their families' circumstances in a representative way. As in the last chapter when Noah's obedience saved his whole family from the flood, I think this blessing and cursing is meant to influence physical conditions in the lives of the children of the brothers, but does not influence their spiritual destinies, which are determined person by person. Now, another question here, what does a father's blessing or curse ultimately accomplish? Is Noah actually supernaturally changing things for his descendants? Is he prophesying based on behavior he sees in his sons that he senses will have consequences down through the ages?

Noah lives 350 years after the flood for a total of 950 years. This is interesting, since in the last episode before the flood, the Lord grew tired of human wickedness and cut our lifespans short going forward. Noah is apparently grandfathered in, and exempt from this. His sons through Shem are later recorded as living gradually shorter and shorter lives down through nine generations until Abraham.

The genealogy in Chapter 10 gives us some of the descendants of all three of Noah's sons. Not a single daughter is mentioned either by name or by gender in this genealogy. We are given a few details about the sons. Javan's descendants became seafaring people that spread out and spoke different languages. Cush's descendant Nimrod was a great conqueror of many early lands, legendary as a great hunter. During Peleg's lifetime people of the world were divided into different language groups.

This detail about Peleg prepares us for the next story of the tower of Babel. This linguistically fascinating story doesn't touch gender at all, and I can't really find much to say about it related to the focus of the blog. But after Babel, we have another record of Shem's descendants that will take us down to Abraham, and in this one, the men recorded are said to have had other sons . . . and daughters! Ladies we are back in the text. Woot! Keep reading and we will get to examine the most vividly described female in the Bible to date, Abram's wife Sarai. Can't wait to study her next time!


  • Noah's narrative is completely masculine.
  • Noah's sons receive blessings and curses for all of their descendants.
  • How does a father's blessing or curse actually work? Does it? Or is this poetic?
  • Still wondering why there are no women in this section at all, even in the background. Any more thoughts?

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Lord and Noah (Gen 6:8-9:17)

Last time, we talked about the strange history of the sons of God, the daughters of men and the Nephilites, which leads up to the story of Noah and the great flood. In that last story, the beautiful daughters of men played a notable role (indecipherable though it may have been). However, once we start into the main story of God's judgment of the world and salvation of Noah, women almost completely vanish from the action for several chapters. Though we are told that Noah and his sons have wives, they are not discussed any more than the animals' pairs that are to be taken onto the ark.

But if women are only "extras" in this story, even Noah has only a supporting role. The lead actor here is the Lord. The Lord decides to wipe out all living creatures, but he finds favor with Noah, so he tells him to build a boat, and Noah does it. Then the Lord tells him to bring his family and all the animals onto the boat, and he does it. When Noah and the animals are on the boat, the Lord sends the floodwaters, and the Lord himself closes the door to the boat. Then God wipes out all life, but he remembers Noah and the creatures on the boat. God is doing everything, Noah is just obeying. 

In this story, we see God saving people (and animals too) in families. We are not told anything about Noah's wife's obedience or lack thereof, nor even of his sons nor their wives. God saves all of them because of Noah. This is surely a strong example of male headship of a family, since the whole family's survival rides on Noah's obedience.

At first, I found it hard to make this fit with the idea that salvation depends on each person's individual repentance and faith. But then I remembered that the salvation of my soul that requires repentance and belief is not the same kind of salvation as being saved from a natural disaster. I may die in a natural disaster and still be saved spiritually. That is my only hope, actually, and was the only hope for Noah and his family too, since some kind of physical death, via disease, disaster, violence, etc, comes for everyone.

Surviving a flood would not automatically equal spiritual salvation (see the story of Noah's sons, next chapter), but it would dramatically influence who was around to rebuild civilization, particulary, to reproduce. Perhaps Noah was saved as a godly man who would obey the Lord and lead those under his care and authority to do the same. The earth needed to be cleansed en masse of evildoers who were ruining everything with their sinful ways, and the flood accomplished this, leaving only Noah and his family to restart human life on earth. From what we know from the rest of the Bible, God must have eternally judged each son and wife according to his or her own heart. But this family was chosen together for the family job of repopulation of the earth.

After all of the Lord's movement of the plot, Noah's first self-determined action is to release the raven and the dove. He also decides to lift the cover of the ark back, but they all wait to get out until God tells them to. When he does tell them them to come out, The Lord issues his first "be fruitful and multiply" command of three in the chapter, to the animals. 

Noah's next self-determined act is to offer a sacrifice to the Lord (according to God's instructions.) God is pleased with the sacrifice and now delivers his longest speech yet in the Bible, even longer and more substantial than the curses delivered when humans left the garden. This seems significant to me, since we saw humanity totally lose touch with God,with no dialogue between them recorded over several chapters and many years as people became more and more evil. There are several parallels here that recall the first days of humanity, and make this really seem like a restart of our human race.

God's first words are to himself. We've previously seen the Lord speaking to himself when he said the words of creation (ch 1), when he decided that the humans must be banished from the garden (3:22) and when he decided to destroy all life in the flood (6:3, 7). To himself, he purposes never to curse the ground again despite his expectation that humans will continue to be pretty much evil all the time. God also says he will never again destroy all things and will keep the seasons going as long as the earth remains. 

Remember that Noah's father Lamech gave him the name Noah, which sounds like their word for relief, with this hope "May he bring us relief from our work and the painful labor of farming this ground that the Lord has cursed." Is that what is happening when God says he will never curse the ground again? Is he lifting the curse of the ground in some way? Maybe it used to be even harder to farm before the flood, or maybe God had previously left open to himself the option of cursing the ground further? [If God is lifting the curse of the ground in some way, why doesn't he say he will lift it at all for childbearing? Hmm. I think all we can do for now is file this story and that question away for further illumination as we read through.]

Then to Noah, God repeats the initial commission he first gave to human beings in Eden--to be fruitful and multiply, and to rule over the creatures of the earth. But there are a couple of differences. In the first version, God tells us to rule over the animals and to eat plants, and that animals will also eat plants. Now he says that we may eat animals, but may not eat anything that is still alive. He also makes it clear that we are not to take the lives of other humans. In this section God says he will require blood from anyone who takes a human life life. This is a foreshadowing of the sacrificial system that will be so important to the Bible's message. 

God then repeats his command for humans to be fruitful and multiply to replenish the earth. Though women are not mentioned, you could argue that this single main job God now gives humanity falls mainly upon them. A second notable difference between this section and the first time God tells humans to be fruitful and multiply in Eden is this: in Gen 1:27-28 we are told that God created humans in his image, male and female, and then he blessed them and said "be fruitful and multiply," etc., but the second command is issued "to Noah and his sons." Women are really conspicuously absent from this story. Is this just stylistic, or does it mean something?

The last part of what God says, is the symbolic rainbow promise he makes to all creatures on earth, both humans and animals, that he will never again destroy the earth with a flood. 

To wrap up, in this story it is really striking how God drives the action, and the human beings are just spoken to and acted upon. Though women are so absent, perhaps this is because the story is so much about God and people-- people being represented by one man, the head of his whole family and the new line of humans. In the next story, the personalities and actions of Noah and his sons are emphasized much more, though women are still missing. But we'll save those observations for the next post!


  • Women are totally missing from this story.
  • God saved people and animals in families in the flood.
  • The Lord starts humanity 2.0 with the same command for people to be fruitful and multiply, which depends heavily on women.
  • Why are women so conspicuously absent from this story?
  • Did God lift the curse of the ground in some way after the flood?
  • If he did, why don't we hear anything about Eve's curse? Is it because there are no women in this story? And again, why?

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Sons of god and daughters of men (Gen 6:1-7)

Chapter 6 opens with what is to me one of the most fantasticly perplexing little sections in the entire Bible: 
  • Then the people began to multiply on the earth, and daughters were born to them. The sons of God saw the daughters of men [translated "beautiful women" in the NLT] and took any they wanted as their wives. Then the Lord said, 'My Spirit will not remain in humans for such a long time, for they are only mortal flesh. In the future, their normal lifespan will be no more than 120 years.' In those days, and for some time after, giant Nephilites lived on the earth. For whenever the sons of God had intercourse with the daughters of men, they gave birth to children who became the heroes and famous warriors of ancient times." 
All together now, "HUH?"

I am mostly trying to let scripture speak here and see what I can make of it without the outside voices of commentaries, but for this passage I have done a bit of reading. And no one seems to know with certainty what this is talking about. To keep us from being drawn into a lengthy review of ancient literature and Hebrew words etc, I am going to stick to the strategy of gleaning what is glean-able here and leaving the (many!) questions to the side.

What I think we can tell is that there was some lust happening from males (male somethings!) toward women, which they were freely acting on in a way that displeased the Lord. This is the first record of the sexual sin that history will reveal to be such a serious problem for men through all time. What specifically displeased the Lord in these relationships? To me there are a couple of possibilities. Though it's hard to know what is meant by the distinction that the sons were sons "of god" and the daughters were daughters "of men," I think there's a chance that this intermingling in itself was the problem. But without knowing what the groups are, it's hard to really say much about that. To me it seems more likely that the fact they "took any they wanted" to be their wives might be the real issue. 

Based on the design for marriage described earlier in the story of creation, we know God wants us to have one spouse to unite ourselves to, to reproduce with, to rule over creation together with, in submission to Him. Let's also remember that Eve was given as a helper for Adam in marriage, and this does imply that men are leaders in the marriage relationship. But from this story we can tell that this leadership does not mean freely taking women when desire strikes. We'll have to keep our eyes open for a positive example of how marriage should be established outside Eden as we keep reading.

So, God cares deeply who we marry. It's not ok to just take whoever you want, based only on your own desire. In this ancient situation, taking anyone you wanted for a wife might have meant having multiple wives, abandoning previous wives and children, taking other people's wives or other abuses. Whatever was specifically happening, we can see that disregarding God's plan for marriage separated us even further from fellowship with him ("my Spirit will not dwell in humans") and from immortality ("their normal lifespan will be no more than 120 years"). 

The punishment God gives is interesting in that it isn't specific to the sinners, or the sins, nor does it really rectify anything that has happened. It just sets a limit on the amount of time that men will be able to sin in this way in the future. Like the initial consequence of sin for humanity-death, it just puts a temporal limit on the moral decay of people, now an even lower limit.

Were the "daughters of men" complicit in this sin, and hence, justly punished in the judgment, (which they also received)? Or were they just delivered from suffering as recipients of lust after 120 years? The text doesn't make that clear, but I think either is possible. The main thing, though, is that God is not happy with men brutishly taking any women they want and he will not put up with it. 

In this chapter, childbearing continues to be a main element in the story of humanity. The fruit of the relationships between the sons of God and daughters of men is a group of children  called giant Nephilites, who "became the heroes and warriors of ancient times." 

Heroes are only made through great feats, and warriors through battle, so here again we find a reference to exciting things happening offstage from the action in the text.The author seems at first glance to be describing the Nephilites with favor, calling them heroes and warriors. But when we consider what follows in the text, we may change our opinion about that. 

These strange paragraphs together form the introduction to a dark and difficult story of judgment with a spark of hope, the second of it's kind we have encountered so far. (The first was the fall of humanity with a promise of future triumph through the offspring of Eve.) This is a theme which the whole story of the Bible repeats again and again in different settings. Here, God is about to judge and destroy the mass of humanity in a flood, because "The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the Lord said, "I will wipe out this human race I have created from the face of the earth." 

These verses tell us that life on earth including marriage, brotherly relationships (Cain and Abel), heroic deeds and battles (the Nephilites),  advances in farming, music, and metal-working (the sons of Cain) had become completely corrupt. What we have been puzzling over in the previous paragraphs was certainly sinful, whatever exactly was going on.

"But," the text tells us "Noah found favor with the Lord." We'll pick it up there next time!

  • God cares deeply who and how we marry.
  • Male leadership in marriage does not equal license for any men to take any women they want for wives. The Lord refuses to tolerate this kind of behavior.
  • Children born out of toxic relationships can turn out to be heroes.
  • Anyone want to take a stab at the "sons of god" and "daughters of men"?
  • Nephilites, famous or infamous?
  • Do you think the "daughters of men" were victims in this story or were complicit?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Generations (Gen 4:17-5:32)

A few more generations of children being born are listed before we get to Lamech, who is remembered as having two wives who gave birth to talented craftsman, and the first daughter recorded by name. The question of his polygamy goes undiscussed, as does his killing of another man, which he boasts of in speech to his wives and claims God's protection for, referencing God's protection of Cain. However, there is no dialogue or direct action between him and God. Lamech's family presides over some of the first great progress of the human race: raising livestock, playing harp and flute, forging tools of bronze and iron. However, this progress seems to be taking them further from the time of mankind's friendship with the Lord, since we never hear God speak to Lamech.

He addresses his speech to his two wives, "Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; listen to me you wives of Lamech." Why he so emphatically want them to hear this? Were they concerned for his safety? Anxious to avenge the murder themselves? Who, exactly, was the young man and why did Lamech kill him? All missing pieces, but surely more unsavory business was unfolding, and in the midst of it, Lamech felt he needed to assert himself to his two wives. We hear nothing from them, nor from any wife or woman, except Eve (who speaks again in the next paragraph), until Sarai speaks to Abram in Genesis 16 about her alternate plan for him to bear children through her servant Hagar.

In all this time, women do appear to have been ruled over. Though wives are mentioned, they do not drive the action in any way, and are not even named until Sarai. Lamech's story ends with his speech, and his two silent wives taking it in.

Of course, even in the garden before the fall, Adam's place as the first human, the one for whom Eve was made, was established. So had humanity not fallen, we may have still heard more about the adventures of men in the wide world, than those of women with their children. But given the importance placed on childbearing and the awe with which the first few births are treated, combined with the redemptive importance for humanity of Eve bearing children, maybe we can say the story is a little silent here on the mothers of all the generations recorded. Either way, the Bible gives us a reason for the patriarchy it records. Some of it was designed in Eden, some influenced by the wound between men and women that happened in the fall.

Then we jump back to the first family. Eve bears another son. She exclaims, "God has granted me another son in place of Abel, whom Cain killed." Compared with her exclamations about her first children, this exclamation is tainted with the sadness gained from time spent living in the fallen world. But it also shows that she is still looking to God as the one who provides good things for her. Having walked with God in the garden, it must have been  hard to forget his goodness and provision, even in such a changed place.

The last line of chapter 4 gives us the interesting note that when Adam and Eve's second son, Seth, had a son, people began to worship the Lord by name. If the chapter has all been chronological, there would have been generations of Cain's descendents living who did not worship the Lord before Seth's son's birth. Or maybe this is just a flashback to the first family after the mini-story of Cain's departure and what followed it. In that case, there would have been worshippers and non-worshippers living side by side. I wonder what this early worship looked like, handed down from the first people in Eden to their grandchildren. I also wonder what name it was by which they worshipped. But these question don't have too much to do with our central theme here, so like so many others, I'll just leave them by the side.

Chapter 5 opens with a reiteration that God created people in his image, both male and female. Then ten generations of Adam's descendents are named through their firstborn sons, though all also have "other sons and daughters." There is not much detail here except for the famous Enoch, who walked with God until one day "God took him away." The other detail is the meaning for Noah's name, given to him by his father Lamech. Noah sounds like the word for relief or comfort. Lamech hoped that Noah would somehow bring them relief from the difficulty they were having working the land after the curse, which Lamech specifically mentions. Perhaps an unrecorded daughter somewhere may have been named similarly by her mother ("Epidurala" perhaps?).

When we return to the story, we will zoom on on Noah's lifetime. By then, things on earth have really deteriorated. Stay tuned. . .

  • Women are on the sidelines in the biblical narrative from Eve until Sarai.
  • Patriarchy is established in Eden, but corrupted along with everything else in the fall.
  • God is the source of our good gifts, and should be praised, even outside the Garden.

  • What is the backstory to Lamech's speech to his wives?
  • What do you imagine to be the experience of these first women, offstage?

Monday, February 13, 2017

Struggle and the first family (Gen 4:1-16)

There certainly was a mountain to climb to start this project, since the first 3 chapters of Genesis probably have more importance for the discussion of gender in the Bible than any other portion. We may have to return to these chapters frequently as we go through, and will definitely do that as necessary.

Chapter 4 begins with Adam and Eve freshly banished from the garden of Eden. Their first recorded actions are sex, pregnancy, and the birth of Cain and Abel. I do wonder what significance, if any, there is in that sex and childbearing are not mentioned in paradise. Until the story of Noah, the next few chapters are filled with little else other than parents bearing children with a few details thrown in here and there. This cycle of children being born, and then becoming parents themselves, is central to the early narrative here of human history--though there are also a few stories of people ending life as well.

Eve's exclamation "With the Lord's help, I have produced a man!" captures an emotion I have experienced myself when my children were born. It fills you with such wonder and joy to see that this bump on your belly and strange combination of symptoms over the better part of a year have actually resulted in a new, tiny, perfect little human, made out of your own body. Truly amazing! Remember, that Adam made a similar exclamation when Eve was formed from his body. "This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh!" Maybe he is the only man to truly experience that feeling in the way that women do, though I think even the wonder of witnessing a birth uniquely fills a person with an incredible mixture of surprise and awe.

The story of Cain and Abel reports earth's first premeditated murder. Nothing in the tale has anything to do with specific women, and we are trying to focus on God's thoughts about women in this blog, but there is something interesting for us in v. 7. Before the murder, when Cain is dejected because the Lord hasn't accepted his offering, God tells him that he must struggle to do what is right because, "Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master." Ring a bell? Look back at the woman's curse: "And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you."

The passages are parallel, with both have something desiring to control a man, and the deal with the question of whether he will overcome the thing. In the curse, the woman is the challenger and it is stated that he will triumph. In the next passage, sin is the challenger, and man is told he needs to triumph, but it's up in the air whether he will, and in fact we find out he doesn't.

It's jarring to notice that these two passages put women and sin in the same position. Oof! What does that mean? I confess feeling a little insulted. But. Let's set the jab to pride aside and think about what it means for women, and God's understanding of us post-fall, that the Lord speaks of sin doing the exact same thing to men that we are cursed to do.

Remember the events of the previous chapter that led the world into sin. Eve herself led Adam into sin. Her desire to, and success in, controlling him was part of the essence of his sin, and the fall of mankind. The question of what would have happened if he had "subdued" Eve and "been her master" still hangs in the air for me here. But we just don't know the answer.

But this story is about brothers. Perhaps God would have urged a woman protagonist to do the same thing? Or maybe he would have urged her to resist trying to control, or resist doubting God's command? Seems possible. Even if you went so far as to take this to mean that to men generally, women's attempts to influence them are just equivalent with temptation to sin, which they must resist, when we keep reading the story we find that Cain does not win his struggle. His agenda does not seem to have achieved any loftier heights than Eve's achieved.

Another possible way to look at it, perhaps sin was attempting to control the human race by way of Eve in the last chapter. In that sense, Man must resist sin, but particularly, in the garden, he should have resisted Eve. Going forward, could it be that there is a lack of trust between men and women due to the doubt men have that our suggestions are in their best interests, based in part on what happened in Eden?

However also consider, in the curse, the phrase is not situated as an exhortation to Adam to rule over Eve henceforth, but as part of Eve's curse, that he will rule over her. It is also the last sentence of her curse, in the same position as the pronouncements "He will strike your head and you will strike his heel" to the serpent, and "For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return" to Adam. If we look at those along with Eve's "You will desire to control your husband but he will rule over you" we have three struggles mentioned: the serpent fighting with the offspring of the woman and losing, the woman fighting with the man and losing, and the man struggling with the ground and losing. The serpent, or sin, is cursed to lose in it's struggle with man, so God's exhortation to overcome sin makes sense with that declaration. Woman, (especially when she is working under the influence of sin?) is cursed to lose her struggle to control the man, which again makes sense with the exhortation to Cain. But man is cursed to lose to the dust, which shows that God's exhortation will ultimately not keep Adam from death. Adam, Eve, and the serpent are all losers in the curse; the offspring of Eve, Adam, and the dust, are all winners.

To keep up this speculation for a minute, lets just imagine that the first struggle statement in the curse refers to the fact that the male and female human race is saved through Eve's offspring (Jesus) who will ultimately defeat sin and the serpent. Then then man's and woman's struggle statements refer to salvation coming  for the man by way of the him becoming dust, that is submitting himself to death, dying to himself; and the for the woman by being unable to win control of her man, or losing her agenda in general, to submit it to another's. It does sort of line up with the gospel's idea of us letting go of our desires, dying to ourselves, and putting our hope in God's son. But maybe, after all, both genders have to do both things.

If the last paragraph's theory has anything to it, then God's exhortation to Cain to master sin would be parallel with men's overcoming women's sinful attempts to control things to fit their own desires. However the man would overcome his own sin by submitting to his own death and return to dust. . . I'm confusing myself a bit here! Please comment if you can help me! : )

Anyway. I think maybe this passage does sort of remind us that a woman was the vehicle for sin in the world. But I don't think that description is much different than what the Bible says about the human race in general being incapable of anything but sin, in other places.

Before we completely move on, let's take a little notice of the fact that Cain does, struggle with someone and master him--his brother Abel. When God confronts him about his evil power grab, Cain denies an important component of the role of a good master, guardianship, "I am not my brother's keeper." He did overcome his brother, he did not then care for him. This will be a common feature of struggle in many human relationships going forward.

God reiterates the curse of the ground for Cain and banishes him to be a homeless wanderer, apparently sending him away from his family, an even harsher punishment than his parents received. Cain also leaves the Lord's presence with a protective mark, (similarly, God gave his parents the protection of clothing on their departure). He settles with his wife. (Where did this wife come from? Apparently there were other humans around somehow, which isn't explained, but does remind us to keep in mind that there are parts of the story missing for us here!) Again, like Cain's parents, the first recorded act after the banishment of Cain and his wife is also sex, pregnancy and the birth of a child.


  • Children being born and then becoming parents is central to the story of humanity
  • The serpent's, man's and woman's curse all end with statements about struggles being lost. 
  • The woman's struggle statement is very close to the exhortation God gives to Cain in 4:7
  • Am I crazy!? What do you make of the parallels between 3:16 and 4:7?
  • Where do you think Cain got his wife? (I wouldn't worry about that one too much, since if it really mattered to God's message to us, he would have let us know!) More likely that Adam and Eve had more children that we don't know about, or that God did another rib surgery off stage?

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Curse (Gen 3:8-24)

I wonder how long Adam and Eve had to suffer in shame in paradise before they heard God walking in the garden "when the cool evening breezes blow." This little detail is so poignant to me. A walk with the Lord himself in Eden when the cool evening breezes blow. To think that was the old normal--

Covered in their fig leaf disguises, they further hid themselves in the trees, but the Lord sought them out, calling to them, and they had to answer. Adam answers, giving away his new knowledge, that he is hiding due to his fear and sense of nakedness. The Lord confronts him on his sin, which he acknowledges. He blames the woman for giving him the fruit. God confronts her, and she claims deception by the serpent, but also acknowledges eating the fruit. 

Though modern day interrogators would certainly ask for more details like we were asking for in the last passage, the Lord God does not. In contrast to our concern with why, and how, and what would have happened, the Lord's question-yes or no?-- results in immediate judgment.

Does God put any stock in the blaming that takes place? He does curse the serpent as a direct response to Eve's confession. The curse for the woman doesn't mention the serpent's influence. It is simply judgment for having eaten. The curse for the man however does start by indicting him for listening to his wife, in contrast to the God's commandment. In the context it seems like more of a description of the sin, than a mitigating factor. From this maybe we could take an application that when God asks us to do something, we aren't let off the hook if there are circumstances that made disobedience extra tempting. It is, "will you obey? yes or no?" 

The first part of the serpent's curse is to wallow on it's belly. So interesting. Do snakes mind crawling on the ground the way we mind childbirth and slaving away to make a living? Hostility between the offspring of the woman and of the snake has certainly come true . . . mostly. I think a Christian wildlife specialist would have a real appreciation for snakes though. Is this metaphorical somehow? Why is the snake as an animal wrapped up in this story? "He will strike your head and you will strike his heel," is the first prophecy of the triumph of the son of man over the offspring of the serpent, and the sin the serpent brought into the world. 

Also interesting is that the hostility is between the serpent and the woman, and its offspring and her offspring. The woman is really central in this curse, and in this story, and in the prophecy of the triumph of humanity. That could be all because it was the serpent and the woman who were involved with each other directly in the first sin. But the shakeout in history is that the woman has had major influence, negatively, and then in redemption.

The men's and women's curses are an astoundingly succinct summary of the things that actually plague men and women in life. They are prophetic, and profound, but also, in a way, mundane. They have to do with childbirth, marriage, and work. Let's take them one at a time. 

The woman's curse is shorter, but it has two parts: pain in pregnancy and childbirth, and (futile) control struggles in her marriage. I think I could boil down the hardest parts of my life to trying to bear and raise my children, and trying to negotiate with my husband about how to plan my life (that is set my own agenda, or control family life). Our marriage has modern traditional roles: he works in an office, I homeschool the kids. And this probably makes this curse feel particularly applicable to me. However, through the course of history, our time is very unique in its understanding of gender and its lack of applicability to life work. For most of history, I think women have felt solidarity with my experience. 

So many evenings I find myself waiting for Paul to arrive home after work completely exhausted from trying to coach 3 small children through the increasing wind up of energy that precedes bedtime, desperate to know when he will arrive (in 10 minutes or an hour and a half?), pressing him for information on this front, and either receiving incorrect answers or no answer at all. This is the curse playing out in my life and it is one of the hardest normal things I deal with day to day.

The man's curse begins with the cursing of the ground from which he must "scratch a living." Though the man struggles to bring forth grain, the ground will bring forth thorns and thistles. Only through the sweat of his brow will the man have food to eat until he returns to the ground in death. There is poetry here with the man struggling with the ground until he returns to it. Maybe even a metaphor here, if the man is actually one with "the ground" and he is unable to bring forth good fruit from the ground, that is, himself, since he is now in sin? 

I am not a man, so this curse doesn't directly apply to me, but I do see it play out in the man I know best, as well as others I hear from. One of my husband's favorite activities is gardening, and another is building things. He gets great satisfaction from work, when it goes the way he wants and he is able to succeed. But I think some of his greatest challenges come from feeling compelled to work at things he does not want to work at. He has to struggle and scratch to make a living. He is very concerned with making a good living for himself and his family, but it is difficult and takes up almost all of his time. He has a real sense that he is using his time at hard work, while losing time he has left before returning to dust. The curse for him is being stuck at the office for most of his waking life when he would love to be adventuring or creating something he is passionate about. 

It's interesting that the woman's curse is partly about the man, and the man's curse doesn't really have anything to do with the woman. I think it does hint that women care about their relationships with men more than men care about theirs with women. That sounds terrible. But I think it is there. And I think you can find evidence of that in the way the world works. Partially, this may be because of the practical dependence in which women find themselves when they become mothers. I don't think it's all a result of the curse, but I don't think it would have been painful at all without the curse. Maybe men would have rejoiced in their work and women would have rejoiced in their families, without women feeling pain in childbearing or loss of control over their husbands or men feeling frustration in their jobs. What would it have been like? We'll never know. What will it look like redeemed? Let's hope further reading in the Word will reveal that to us. 

There is a short paragraph before the final part of the curse where Adam and Eve leave paradise and lose their immortality. In it, the man and woman receive their names. Adam is simply named in the text, but he names Eve "because she would be the mother of all who live." I love that Eve is named for her motherhood. My own identity as woman has been so shaped by motherhood, and I think potential motherhood is a defining characteristic of womanhood. After all, humans are designated as male or female by their reproductive parts, which are, of course, for reproduction. Though a woman's purpose from God seems to have been "helping," her role seems to be "mothering." This is where her life challenges are, and where in my life I have experienced my greatest rewards. Of course not all women are mothers, but the question of motherhood will be an issue for all of them, and the potential for motherhood is always there. For almost all women, the monthly cycle of preparation for motherhood will be present and have some (not necessarily small) effect.

That Eve is the mother "of all who live" sounds to me like it could also have to do with the fact that her offspring will crush the serpent's head and restore eternal life to those who will attain it and "live."

Another brief event to talk about in this passage is the Lord making clothes for the humans from animal skins, replacing their fig leaf clothes, I suppose. Animals would have had to die for this. Whether they were dying before the fall of man, I don't know. It may only have been humans who were immortal in Eden, or maybe this is one of the first results of sin, and one of the first foreshadowings of death being needed to cover over the consequences of sin.   

After these developments, God closes the chapter of humanity in paradise. He sends the humans out of Eden so they will not be able to eat the fruit from the tree of life and live forever. Who knows how depraved a human could become in sin for centuries or millenia. This is punishment, but also perhaps a mercy. But this is where the promise of death resulting from sin is fulfilled. 

God banishes them from Eden and sends Adam out to begin the work of "cultivating the ground from which he had been made." Another use of that metaphor about cultivating the ground and attempting to cultivate himself? Eve is not given a commission, though soon after they leave, she will bear her first child. 

Mighty cherubim and a flashing sword are stationed to keep the humans away from the tree of life from here on out. 


  • In the curse of the serpent, we find that women are major players in the fall and redemption of humanity.
  • Men's and women's curses are different, and apply to different life circumstances faced by men and women.
  • Eve is named "the mother of all who live"

  • How did a snake get mixed up in this situation?
  • Do you think women have more invested in their relationships with men than the other way around?