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Genesis 2:18-24

In the more detailed account of the creation of man that we find in Genesis chapter 2 we have read so far of the Lord God forming the man from the ground and breathing into him the breath of life, of his placing the man in the garden he had planted, of his assigning him the care of that garden, and of the specific commandment not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Think of what we have so far read as scene 1. Now comes scene 2. We have already read in chapter 1 that God created man male and female. And we have learned how he made the male human being in the first verses of chapter 2; now we learn how the female man was created.

Text Comment

v.18     After the phrase “God saw what he had made and it was good,” repeated six times in chapter 1, to hear that something was “not good” intentionally introduces a jarring note. What could not be good in what God has made? In this way great emphasis is being placed on what follows next. Something of great importance is missing. The human race has not yet fully appeared in the world.

The Hebrew word translated “helper” is significant. It does not in any way demean the woman, Of the nineteen times the word occurs in the OT, sixteen are used in reference to God. The term thus indicates “the woman’s essential contribution, not inadequacy.” [Waltke, 88] Already we have a view of the woman that utterly transcends the norm in the ancient world. The woman is to be man’s partner in exercising dominion over the earth, in fellowship with God, and in obedience to God’s commandments. She is going to “help,” in other words, doing all that the man has been created and commanded to do. All of which we have already learned in a general way in 1:27-28 when God spoke “to them” and told them to subdue the earth, and so on. On the other hand, “helper” does suggest a certain order; man was created first and then the woman as his helper. The word itself carries this connotation, which is why it is so remarkable that the term is so frequently used of God. God, as we read in the Bible, in so many different ways has stooped to become our helper, our servant as it were.

The phrase “fit for him” translates a prepositional phrase that literally means “according to the opposite of him.” We take all this for granted, but it is of tremendous importance. The woman is not the mirror image of the man. She is different from him in various ways, so different as to prompt H.L. Mencken to quip: “The elementary notion of standardization seems never to have occurred to the celestial Edison.” These are differences so profound as to have kept lovers and poets busy musing over them and celebrating them throughout the history of human life in the world. And yet, different as she is, she is the same. No one ever has any difficulty realizing this at once: men and women are the same, they are equally human beings; but they are not the same either; they are very different from one another and not just in terms of their anatomy. They are different intellectually, emotionally, spiritually. In other words, the woman complements the man; she does not simply reproduce his life. Here is why we cannot agree with the idea of homosexual marriage, unwelcome as that may be to many nowadays. A man cannot be the partner that God intended for a man; God made something else, someone who was like him in some ways and unlike him in others. God made a matched pair, not two of the same!

v.20     Several matters deserve comment. We tend to take it for granted that Adam spoke. Here we read that he “called” the animals by certain names. This is the first instance of human speech of which we are given a record, though we don’t have the words that he spoke. Obviously before this Adam understood and responded to God’s words spoken to him. The power of speech is so profoundly fundamental to human life that we often fail to recognize how utterly remarkable a power it actually is. No animal has anything remotely like man’s capacity for speech despite the claims you sometimes hear, a fact delightfully and impressively demonstrated in several recent books, especially Yale Professor Stephen Anderson’s Dr. Doolittle’s Delusion.

Further, Adam’s naming of the animals in the context of human life must be understood as an act of sovereignty, of dominion. Man exercises his dominion over nature in large part by language. We exercise control in part by labeling, by giving names to things. The names we give to things indicate that to some extent we understand the thing, its nature and properties. This is true in every area of human endeavor. Everything is brought under control by being given a name. That is easy to see in a discipline such as chemistry, but it is just as true in history or art or business. Universities are name factories. As knowledge increases so does the number of names. This is why if you overhear a conversation between two people whose discipline is other than your own, you very often have difficulty understanding what in the world they are talking about. They are using the vocabulary of their discipline that only the initiated know.

Finally, it is made obvious at the end that this assignment to name the animals had been given to man not only for the purpose of exercising dominion over the animal kingdom, but to bring Adam to the realization that he was alone in the world and needed a partner. His life was completely new and perfect in every way so far as he knew. He was not yet experienced enough to know what God knew, viz. that he had been made for love and that he had no one to love, at least no one on his own level. His review of the animal kingdom had shown him that there were no other creatures made in God’s image and that he could not have any true kinship with any of them. Perhaps as well he learned that all the animals came in pairs, there were males and females. But there was no female man. God is a wise father and had now put Adam in a position to understand and to appreciate the gift he was about to receive.

v.22     The rib was chosen for a reason. As far back as Peter Lombard, the medieval theologian, it has been observed that the woman was not created from just any part of the man but from his side, so that it might be clear that she was to be his partner in love. She was not created from his head to rule over him or from his feet to be his servant, but from his side to be his partner. [The Sentences, Book II, Distinction XVIII, Chapter 2 (104)] The rib teaches us that the mystery of intimacy between men and women was God’s intention from the beginning. In the ancient creation stories we also find a correspondence between the part of the body and the role of the one created from it. But never one so elevating and convincing as this one! [Sarna, 22]

God “brought her to the man.” In other words, he played the match-maker, a fact the Lord Jesus would underscore when he commanded that those whom God has brought together must not be separated. [Matt. 19:6] In any case, it is clear that marriage between and man and a woman was God’s plan, not a human invention.

v.23     The first recorded words of a human being are a poem in celebration of the first stirrings of married love! The fact that the man named his wife indicates his authority, but the fact that he called her “woman” — in Hebrew as well in English the word for “woman” sounds as if it is a variation on “man” — indicates her equality with him, her partnership in his life. [Sarna, 23; Waltke, 89]

v.24     The “therefore” indicates that the history just recounted is representative or archetypical. Obviously there were no fathers and mothers yet in the history. The point is that what was true of the first marriage will be true of marriage in general. But the point is clear enough: a man’s priorities and most fundamental loyalties — and by analogy a woman’s as well — change when he or she marries. That was a striking thing to say in the ancient near east when filial duties, the duties of children to their parents, were far more sacred than they are in the modern west.

The Hebrew word translated “hold fast” indicates both passion and permanence. You should notice also that man leaves first and then he holds fast. Marriage first; sex after! Now, of course, there are men and women who remain single and the Bible has much to say in commending that condition of life, but here in Genesis 2 it is the rule of human life, not the exception that is being considered. Why do human beings marry? This relationship between a man and a woman that we call marriage, why is it an artifact of human culture? Why has it been from the very beginning? Why is it in every culture on the face of the earth? That is what is being explained here.

v.25     The creation account is concluded by a statement that is nowadays characterized as “Janus material,” after the Roman god Janus who had two faces, one looking forward, one backward. This last statement of the creation account looks back and summarizes the goodness of God’s creation. Man lived in the happy experience of God’s goodness. But it also looks forward to what comes next. The Hebrew word for “naked” sounds like and so plays on the Hebrew word for “more crafty” in 3:1 and the statement that they were not ashamed prepares us for their sense of shame and vulnerability of which we will read in 3:7.There will be a lot of Janus material in Genesis as we move from one section to the next. In the ancient world, as in every culture ever since, sex was a big deal and, alas, a cause of shame, of self-doubt, of fear, and of regret in countless ways. But at the beginning it was not so. Now we have completed the creation of man and know why God pronounced it very good in 1:31.

God made man, male and female, we read that in chapter 1. In 5:2 we will read that he created them male and female and named them man. Now it will not come as a surprise to you to know that there are many in our society today who recoil at the thought of calling both men and women man. Apparently it is okay to call them guys, but not “man!” They have come to think of that way of speaking as sexist and discriminatory. But ask them what they mean by “sexist” or “discriminatory” and you will find their responses less than satisfying or persuasive. Do they mean that every role that men occupy should be equally the role of women? Ask them what they mean by saying such a thing? Obviously a man cannot be a mother; a woman cannot be a husband. Men and women are different in many ways. Do we actually wish that they were the same? Does anyone really wish for that?

If they mean that such a way of speaking makes women inferior to men, they will not find it so in the Bible. The Bible gives us an entirely more realistic account of human sexuality than is now foisted upon our society; it faces facts about men and women and their differences. But it is also a far more profound and more positive view of man and woman together than we are likely to get from the advocates of social change in our time. [cf. Collins, 141-142]

The account of the creation of the woman begins with the divine observation that it wasn’t good for man to be alone. The first and the most profound solution to man’s loneliness was the gift of a wife. Not simply a woman but a wife. And obviously what was good for the gander will be equally good for the goose! But, of course, it will not stop there. There will be children, grandchildren, parents, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and so on. Man will live his life in communion with others. His life will be a life defined by relationship precisely because he was made in the image of God who himself is essentially relationship. Loneliness is a terrible burden in human life still today; perhaps more today than in many previous generations of the human race. I have had too many opportunities to observe the pain of human loneliness. But God did not make man to be lonely, but to live his life in the happy company of others. All of that is as true of women as it is of men.

But we have only begun. We are also told what sort of relationship man and woman will have. When Adam woke up to find that beautiful creature next to him, he instinctively realized that God had met his need. His “at last” expressed his pent-up desire and longing for a companion. But he also realized that this was not just any companion. He seemed to recognize by a God-given intuition that their relationship would be one of bone and flesh. “Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” is a more important and revealing way of speaking of the woman than we might realize. For the Hebrews “bone of bones and flesh of flesh” is the way they said what we say when we describe someone as our “flesh and blood.” When we want to say that someone belongs to our family we say that they are our own flesh and blood. But in the ancient near east they said “bone and flesh.” Later in Genesis, when Jacob flees to Paddan Aram to escape his brother Esau bent on revenge, his uncle Laban greets him by saying, “You are my own bone and flesh.” That is, “I’ll be happy for you to stay with me because we are family.”

And this is the extraordinary nature of marriage. It creates a family. And it does not do that only in some formal or legal way. What husband and wife have not experienced this? You have been married only for a short time and you realize that you are more a family with your wife or your husband — who, in fact, comes from entirely different flesh and blood — than you are with your parents whose literal flesh and blood you are. Indeed you are, as husband and wife, one another’s flesh and blood, a family, as much if not more than your children who are your flesh and blood in a way you two are not. This is the same wonderful power of adoption by the way: that children become our own flesh and blood who are not literally our flesh and blood. We know very well the power of family bonds. “Blood is thicker than water!”

Eve was literally Adam’s bone and flesh, created from his rib as she was. But every husband and wife is represented in that first marriage. And that is the point of both v. 23 and v. 24. This relationship that God created to deal with human loneliness is the most profound of human relationships, the relationship of family. Man and woman have been created for it, like opposite one another as they are, complements to one another as they are. We know the power of colleagueship at work and likewise of friendship, but the relationships of family far transcend them. And that was the relationship that God created first for man: the deepest, strongest, happiest, most fruitful relationship of human life!

The Hebrew verb “hold fast” or “cling” conveys the nature and power of this relationship as well. It is used in the Bible of a man’s passion for a woman whom he has met and wants to marry. We read later in Genesis that Shechem’s heart held fast to Dinah when he met her. In other words it describes what we would call nowadays romantic love, even love at first sight. But it is also used of a man’s devotion to God. In Deuteronomy 10:20 we read that we are to hold fast to God. So the highest and purest and most powerful loving impulses that ever fill the human heart are expressed by this verb hold fast that describe the relationship between man and woman in marriage. God never intended Adam and Eve to be mere acquaintances, even friendly acquaintances, even loyal friends. He made them to love one another deeply, to long for one another’s company, and to desire each other. Romance, the sexual relationship, and all manner of personal loyalty and intimate togetherness are found in that verb hold fast. It teaches us that men and women in marriage are both lovers and partners. When God realized that man was alone — it is a vigorous anthropomorphism typical of the Hebrew Bible — he provided for him not simply a mate, but someone capable of fulfilling the deepest longings of his heart and enriching his life in the ways it could be enriched by human love and vice versa. All other human relationships are lesser versions of this original relationship. That is the goodness of God and the goodness of his creation.

Brothers and sisters we must never be among those who imagine that there was something defective in God’s ordering of human life: the differences between men and women, the calling to marriage, the bonds of love are beautiful beyond words, essential to authentic human happiness. We cannot improve upon them.  People used to think that these were the most wonderful things in the world, that they were the spice of life. Who that has fallen in love has not felt that he or she has only now begun to be fully alive, that this love has completed his or her life? Only modern secularism could find a way to turn this charming variety and suitableness for one another into something oppressive and full of drudgery. The differences between men and women, the way they are made to love one another, their longing for one another: these are the most delightful and the most satisfying ingredients of human welfare and the foundation of human happiness.

I find it a happy thought that Bible-believing Christians are again the ones appointed in our sad and disintegrating culture to be the defenders of all that makes life rich and fulfilling, especially the love of man and woman and the love of the family. We alone continue to speak of all that makes the man the lover and the woman the beloved, from which difference comes all the romances and all the love stories and love songs in the world. Feminism does not and cannot write real love stories for it has men and women competing with one another as identical or virtually identical beings. The one cannot make up what the other lacks and hungers for, for he or she must offer only more of the same. Christianity makes men and women fully human beings but differentiates them from one another in all the ways that make for interest, enchantment, electricity, desire, and true fulfillment for both man and woman.

But there is more than this. Lest we fail to take note of the woman’s full dignity, equality, and importance to human life, we must attend to the term used to describe her life. She is man’s helper. What does that mean? Well, in the context it very obviously means that she is going to do the same things that man will do. She will help him do them. She may have specific callings that are peculiar to her; only she can be a wife, only she can be a mother. But in general, as we read already in 1:28, it was to her as well as to him that God said,

“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

The so-called creation mandate was her calling as it was his. Indeed, it was theirs together, and it is that togetherness in their calling that is highlighted with the word “helper.” She was to be his co-laborer in the great work of serving God in the world he made. She has the same great work as the man, even if they will in some respects contribute to that work differently. There is something wonderfully unique in the Bible’s account of the woman in the context of the ancient world. Only the Hebrews, I mean only the Hebrews of all ancient peoples, made so much of their women, only they exploited their potential, their brains, and their courage. Only in the Bible, and I mean only in the Bible, do we find women often in the forefront of events. [Paul Johnson, Heroes, 5-6]

Now, since the entrance of sin all of this happy partnership has been spoiled by selfishness and competitiveness, by a failure of love and by a corruption of both manhood and of womanhood; but the desire for this original happiness and the possibility of at least coming back toward what it was has always motivated human beings and does still today. We want what Adam and Eve had; we want it desperately. We want it for ourselves and we want it for our children. We want love, intimate community, and we want the absence of shame. This corruption of the relationship between men and women is, in large part, the impetus of modern feminism, the sense that many women have that a life dominated by men has been unfair, even cruel to them; has diminished them and cut them off from opportunity. No doubt it has. Sin has ruined more than that in human life!

But let’s be clear. There is nothing in the Bible that justifies the mistreatment or the belittlement of women or the idea that they are in any way inferior to men. Indeed, in the context of the ancient near east, and, for that matter, in the context of 21st century America, the account of the creation of the woman in Genesis 1 and 2 is a celebration of her intrinsic necessity to human life, her importance to it and her essential dignity alongside the man.

We’ve made many mistakes. Christian thinkers have sometimes uttered regrettable words on this subject, but the best of Christian thought and practice has always recognized the woman’s dignity and essential role and has not hesitated to affirm it. The story of divine grace in the history of mankind is as much a story of women loving God and Christ as a story of men doing so. Indeed it is not difficult at all to find Christian authorities — men virtually without exception — admitting that it will be easier to find truly godly people among the women than among the men.

Here is Richard Sibbes, the 16th and 17th century Anglican Puritan:

 “For the most part women have sweet affections to religion, and therein they oft go beyond men. The reason is, religion is especially seated in the affections: and they have sweet and strong affections. Likewise they are subject to weakness, and God delights to show his strength in weakness.” [In Packer, A Quest for Godliness, 267]

Bishop J.C. Ryle put it more bluntly.

“It was not a woman who sold the Lord for thirty pieces of silver. They were not women who forsook the Lord in the garden and fled. It was not a woman who denied him three times in the high priest’s house. — But they were women who wailed and lamented when Jesus was led forth to be crucified. They were women who stood to the last by the cross. And they were women who were first to visit the grave where the Lord lay.” [Luke, 245]

In fact, if I remember rightly, no woman is presented as an opponent of Jesus in the Gospels though men are by the score. That is just another way of saying how positive the Bible’s view of women actually is; utterly unique as it was in the ancient world. Of course the Bible has something to say about the respective roles of men and women in certain specific respects. We know that. We won’t deny that and, indeed, we have no wish to deny it. God knows what he made men and women to be and do and why.

But that is not the point here. Here we learn of man’s need for the woman, of her being made to complement his life — and, in the nature of the case, of his being made to complement hers as well — and of the essential dignity, responsibility, and opportunity before God and one another that they share. As man and woman’s relationship to God is ordered and is suitable to their nature as God made it; so man and woman’s relationship is ordered and suitable to what God made the man and woman to be, and in that order we will certainly find our happiness and our fulfillment.

So here is the question: women do you love your name? Does it please you that God did not make you from the ground as he did Adam, but from the rib of the man? Alexander Whyte in one of his sermons said,

“…of all the sweet and noble names that a woman bears, there is none so rich, so sweet, so lasting, and so fruitful as just her first divine name of a [helper for made for another].” [Bunyan Characters, I, 49-50]

Do you love it that God made you what you are and gave you your life, your distinctive, your essential life rather than simply making you an exact reproduction of the man? You should love it. Human beings find their true purpose not in the assertion of themselves, not in their own fulfillment in isolation, but always in their relatedness to others and in the love and service of others to which God has called them. For God to call anyone a helper is for him to say, “In this way you are like me.” It says more about them than they realize when nowadays people resent the way the Bible describes men and woman as God’s creative masterpieces.

The question is sometimes asked whether we will continue to be men and women in heaven. The Lord has taught us that we will not be married in heaven, but will be still be men and women? I suspect we shall be. The Lord Jesus, the archetype of human life in the world to come rose from the dead as a male human being, not as some third thing; even as recognizably the same male human being. He looked like a man; his voice sounded like a man’s. There is too much that is wonderful in manhood and womanhood for it not to survive. Let me ask you: Can you imagine Mother Teresa in heaven in the body of Sylvester Stallone? I can’t. In fact, I don’t even want to try. She wouldn’t be Teresa. Teresa was a woman, not a man. A human being but a female human being, and exceedingly beautiful for being both. And that feminine life is too wonderful a thing to lose, even in heaven. [Frame, “Men and Women in the Image of God,” Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 232]

We give faithful answer to this text of Holy Scripture, both men and women, by admiring, loving, and cultivating both womanhood and manhood as some of the most important evidence there is of the wisdom and the goodness of God.