Saturday, January 7, 2017

Establishing motives (Gen 3:1-7)

At the start of chapter 3, the serpent enters the story. He is described as "the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made." This chapter may leave me with more questions than answers I suspect, first one being: how was this serpent talking?? (Shrewd, indeed! What was the second-shrewdest wild animal able to do!?) Like the chronology in the last post, I'm going to set that aside because it does not seem to be the point. The story is about the first humans being convinced to sin.

In previous study I've done of this passage, several things in the dialogue here have been pointed out to me. First, the serpent gets the command of God wrong in his question. God only prohibits eating from one tree, not all of them. Second, Eve gets the prohibition wrong too. She says they must not even touch it, when God has only said they must not eat its fruit.

The serpent doesn't push her on the details of the command, rather he tries to get her to disregard the consequence of disobedience, and judge for herself whether she should try the beautiful, and practically magical, fruit. She is convinced by the serpent's argument, which was partly true. He promised her eyes would be opened, which they were. The lie was that she wouldn't die. Her stated knowledge of the rule, though not quite right, does include the consequence of death. She must have just weighed the two testimonies she received about that from Adam, or from God, and from the serpent, and made the terrible error to trust the serpent.

Her reasoning in her decision was based on three factors: the beauty of the fruit, how delicious it looked, and her desire for wisdom. These are not bad motivations, if there weren't a direct 'no' from the Lord about this question. But that is the main thing here. God said no, but Eve decided to trust the appearance of the temptation and the false testimony of a bystander, rather than believe and honor her creator.

But let's stop here and ask a question. Why does the serpent approach Eve instead of Adam? Some historical voices have said it's because she was by nature more prone to deception than Adam. The evidence for this is that she was deceived. But of course Adam ate the fruit too. We aren't told his reason for eating, and that is a big big question in my mind. I would like to point out that Adam was given this command from God before Eve was created. How was it communicated to her? She knows of it, clearly, but is not rock solid on the details. Did her error come from herself or even from Adam? Did the serpent approach her because he thought she didn't know the command as well as Adam? Either way, she knew enough that she should have been able to refute the serpent.

Let's consider Adam's process in deciding to eat. "She gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it." Just like that. How was Adam convinced?? We are given nothing about his motivation, in comparison with the three reasons the woman decided to eat. Did he trust her reasoning more than God's faithfulness to follow through with his promised consequence too? Did he go along with her in order to preserve their unity even at the expense of the loss of his immortality? What would have happened if he hadn't eaten? Another wife for him from another rib?

I'm not sure that there is enough information for us to conclude why the serpent approached Eve first. Perhaps he happened to run into her first from wherever he was walking (pre-curse, remember, he had legs!). Perhaps he thought she was an easier mark due to her lack of information or her inherent gullibility. There is however, no denying, that for whatever reason, she was the guilty person who brought sin into the world.

They ate and "at that moment," instantaneously, their eyes were opened. It is interesting to note that "that moment" when their eyes were opened, occurs after Adam has eaten. Was Eve still chewing when she passed it to him, or were her eyes already opened when she offered it to him, or did both of their eyes only open after Adam ate? Why did she pass it to him? Why did they sin together? Again, the narrative keeps moving, without answering these questions I would love to know the answers to. We will have to leave them here, I think, and keep building observations from what we do have.

Continuing on, the first sights their newly opened eyes saw were their own selves in a new light--they felt shame at their nakedness. Together, touchingly futilely, they sew fig leaves to cover themselves, then later seek to cover themselves even further, hiding from God. We'll pick it up there next time.

  • Eve trusted the serpent's testimony about the consequence of eating the fruit over the word of God.
  • Eve ate the fruit because it looked delicious and tasty, and she wanted wisdom, and she trusted the serpent's contradiction of what she knew--that she would die if she ate it. We don't know why Adam ate it.
  • The first taste of their new knowledge was shame.

Questions for the comments:

  • Why do you think the serpent approached Eve?
  • Why do you think Adam ate too?

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Sixty-three words on the perfect marriage (Gen 1:1-2:25)

I started this blog four years ago, in 2013, to take a stab at answering my curiosity about what it means for me, from God's perspective, that I am a woman. I didn't get very far then, (see the previous 2 posts from 2013) but here I am again, so clearly the question is still on my mind! I am going to try again this year to make my way through the Bible looking for hints about what it means that God created us male and female. I hope to find out more about God by looking at the order he created and also learn about how, as a female, I should live in his world.

It was fun to look back and see what I observed when I made my first start in Genesis, but to refresh myself and put down my current thoughts, I'm going to start again in the beginning.

Genesis 1-2 tell the creation story. Genesis 1 gives an overarching summary of how God, day by day, formed different realms of creation. The last day before he rested, he "created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them, male and female he created them."

This first creation story strikes me as more poetic than scientific. It seems to show the world being created form low to high, completely, but from nothing, with human beings created at the very end, with authority to rule the rest of creation- to fill and subdue it. This story has human beings as male and female together, doing both filling and subduing. The next story in chapter 2 has much more to say about the first man and woman distinctly.

This second story has Adam being created before the plants and animals. (The fact that the chronologies of these two stories conflict is one thing that tells me that chronology is not their point.) God forms him from the dust and then breathes life into his nostrils. The man is put in a garden God has planted for him, which includes the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life. The four rivers described are real rivers, so this story happens on earth in a tangible way.

God gives the man the command about the forbidden fruit, then proclaims that he is alone and needs a helper. The animals are formed next and prove not to be suitable as helpers for him.

God's description of the woman he is making is important to consider. He has her in mind as "a helper suitable for him." I recently read Susan Hunt's book "Becoming Eve" which makes the argument that since woman and man are made in the image of God, woman is a helper in the same sense that God is a helper throughout the Bible using the same word. I think she has a good point. As I think of these uses in the Bible, I wonder if this "helper" means sort of a benefactor, like someone who helps him succeed, who brings him blessing, who does not harm him, but makes his life better.

God anesthetizes the man and creates woman from his rib. Why is Eve made from the rib? This detail is so familiar to me, having learned it from preschool age. But I would love to know it's significance. I will probably not get anywhere on that question without knowing a lot more about ancient Jewish literature than I do. Anyone want to help in the comments?

The next few verses, are almost all we have to go on about marriage and men and women together before the fall:

"At last," the man exclaimed. "This one is bone from my bone and flesh from my flesh! She will be called 'woman' because she was taken from 'man'" This explains why a man leaves his father and is joined to his wife and the two are united into one. Now the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame. (Gen 2:23-25)

Sixty-three English words describe the only perfect marriage we will ever be able to peek into! Taking the little we've got, what can we learn?

The man is excited! "At last" is a bit ironic, since this was the very beginning of creation, and the very first woman or even other person the man has ever seen. But apparently it seems like too long that he has been alone when he finally meets the woman. What excites him is that she is made from him, from the same stuff. It reminds me so much of what I felt like saying when I laid eyes on my first child. Did Adam have that feeling about Eve? It was almost as if he did birth her (under anesthesia, but that's how some births go!).

Then we have marriage described as a man leaving his parents and being joined to his wife, becoming one with her, a new unity. Why does he leave his parents rather than she? Maybe it's that they both do, but the story is focusing on the man as the protagonist. Or perhaps that she now cares for him the way his parents did? But no, this is a different concept than parent-child love. The sentence uses three unity words in my translation: "joined," united," and "one," so it seems the happy marriage is about unity. And probably unity with a spouse as superceding other family ties. 

Both the man and "his wife," no longer just "the woman," are naked, but not ashamed. So much in that sentence, brief though it is. I have heard many messages about the importance of being metaphorically naked and not ashamed, in marriage, and in Christian relationships in general. The idea I've heard taught is of complete openness and complete acceptance, which of course is not so hard if everyone is perfect! This passage actually gives us nothing at all about human relationships other than marriage before the fall, except that a man leaves his parents to join his wife. Would everyone have been naked and unashamed in a perfect world, or just spouses? A redeemed relationship of openness and acceptance despite true sin being present is a whole different animal. It's something I believe the rest of the Bible does call us to, but it's so much more challenging in our current state. Redeemed humanity may turn out to be even loftier than pre-fall, in that sense.

But back to the nakedness of marriage. The man and the wife are naked, unadorned, everything in the open. [[Strange to note that sex is not mentioned as part of this happy marriage. Just implied? Though no children are born before they are born in the difficulty of the next chapter's curse, surely they would have been . . . how would that have gone?]] But there is no shame. Without the self-centeredness that is so much of the essence of our sin, perhaps they just didn't even think to judge themselves, or each other. They were just receiving the gifts of a sparkling new world and a sparkling new soulmate. Shame is such a killer of true love in marriage and in other relationships. I would reach out, . . . but what if they don't like me, if I'm not worthy, and am rejected?? Or taken advantage of?? Better just stay safe over here by myself. The opposite of unity.

Last time I started this blog, I flew straight through these chapters into the story of the fall. And there is a lot of interesting stuff that happens during story of the first sin, but before the curse, from which we could learn more about a perfect world. But I will have to save that for the next post!

Takeaways from Genesis 1-2:

  • Male and Female together are the crown of creation, charged to fill the earth and subdue it.
  • The woman is created as a helper suitable for the man.
  • Pre-fall marriage was about unity, and nakedness without shame.

Questions for the comments:

  • What do you think "helper suitable for him" means?
  • Why the rib??
  • Why does the man leave his parents to join his wife and not the reverse?