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?