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?

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