In a Nutshell…
Read the passage here.
Our passage today is the second origin story in the O.T. Whereas the first story, the passage we looked at last week, talks about the creation of the cosmos, our world, in particular. Our story today seems to be focussed on the creation of humankind. And, though, the story shows Adam being made first, I am inclined to believe that the story is focussed on the creation and calling of humankind – male and female. I’m not certain if scholars would agree with this, though I suspect that, like anything, there would be folks on either side of the equation.
At any rate, here’s what I think about the relationship between men and women based on this passage. A great deal is made about the fact that, in the Hebrew, the word which in English is translated “rib” is everywhere else in the Old Testament translated as “side.”
- Exodus 25:12 (& 14)
- You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. (v.12)
- Exodus 37:3, 5
- And he cast for it four rings of gold for its four feet, two rings on its one side and two rings on its other side.
- And others
All this is simply to say that, in my mind, “rib” is too small of an image to capture what I think is going on here.
Therefore, we might agree with this quote from Matthew Henry which emphasizes the equality and unity of men and women:
The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.
Thus we get Adam’s exclamation of joy, the hymn of praise at discovering Eve, is understood in his finding his counterpoint, not another servant or subject (like the animals which were all insufficient for him).
23 The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
Much more could be, and has been, said about this. However, the point that I simply want to make is that I think this passage has to do with what place human beings, both male and female (not just male), have in God’s creation. Now there’s a couple of things that I want us to pay attention to:
Firstly, human beings are created from the dust of the ground. In Hebrew, this is represented quite deliberately by the use of the words Adam (man) and Adamah (ground). The closest thing in English is perhaps the relationship between Earth and Earthling, though this loses the personal quality that the bible communicates. This seems to suggest that humanity is fundamentally a part of creation, not something either above or separate from it.
However, human beings are also unique in creation. Our passage tells us that God breathes life into Adam. This may remind us of the passage in Genesis ch.1, “spirit of God hovering over the waters.” In this passage, the word for spirit in Hebrew is ruah, which is translated spirit but is also often translated as breath.
In our passage today, the word is nishma – a more intimate word. But the connection between the images are hard to miss. The breath/spirit of God begins the creation of the cosmos; the breath of God gives life to human beings.
God then places human beings in the garden. And, interestingly, a number of people have noticed a recurrence of the temple/tabernacle imagery in this account of the garden. Some of these garden/temple connections are listed as follows:
- In the garden, God walks among his people; the same thing happens in the temple
- The tree of life; the lampstand (menorah) in the tabernacle
- The tree of the knowledge of good and evil; Torah? The ark of the covenant holds the broken pieces (to touch it results in death)
- Gold and onyx (v. 11, 12) which were also used to decorate the temple.
Given these images that we find in the garden account, we can then begin to see that Adam and Eve’s calling is ultimately a priestly one. The language we see is v. 15 (The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it) is the same kind of language we see in Numbers 3:7-8 (among others) where Aaron and the Levites are given charge of taking care of the tabernacle.
The previous creation story is interpreted by some as culminating in the creation of humanity – human beings are the pinnacle of creation (there’s certainly truth in this, but I think it’s more useful to remember that human beings are the reason for creation). This may lead us (wrongly) to the assumption that we are over (the pinnacle of) all creation.
In this story, it is hard to escape the notion that we are only a small, but important, part within it. This passage demonstrates human beings as serving creation. We don’t own it; we don’t use it; we cannot neglect it. We take care of it; cause it to grow; cause it to fulfill the purpose for which God created it.
So What Now…?
All of this points to the fact that all creation belongs to and is for God. Human beings are uniquely created within it and have a unique role within it, but it is all God’s.
I think this is part of rejecting any sort of notion that God exists for us. We are often guilty of creating within our own minds a God that exists to serve us, to make us happy. We live in a world in which the individual is the center of the universe. Which isn’t really true, is it? We don’t mean that “the individual” is the center of the universe – for that would mean that there are 7.5 billion centers. What we mean is that this individual (me) is the center. Everything else relates to and revolves around that.
How this plays out is complicated but I often wonder if, I often suspect that, we are guilty of believing that God also exists for us. And we think that God has given us all of these things, the whole of creation, for our personal pleasure.
But we are not given creation to possess it, but to steward it. And that does not mean to make good use of our things – to use our things wisely. To be a steward means to take care of someone else’s things.
But we are more than that. We are priests. We are God’s priests in God’s temple. In this world, in this creation, even in the midst of the sin that has broken in, we are God’s priests. We demonstrate His glory, His grace, his power, and his mercy to a world that so desperately needs to see it.