Genesis 2:4-8, 18-25
Today’s sermon is going to have a higher than usual teaching-to-inspiration ratio. Usually I do a little explaining and then move on to application. But this story has so much going on that it will take me longer than usual to get to my points.
In the past few weeks we have been studying the creation story in Genesis 1. Today we move on to Genesis 2. It is not, as some claim, a continuation of the story in Genesis 1. It is not simply more detail about the previous story. It is a different story, told by different people, with different goals. If you were here a few Sundays ago, you may remember that I talked about the four strands of writers and editors involved in the creation of the first five books of the Bible.
The Priestly source was very interested in order and precision, so in Genesis 1 we have the formula of God said and it was so and it was good and that was the first day, etc.
The second creation story is told by the Yahwists —those writers who used the name Yahweh for God. This God is neither perfect nor all-knowing. This God experiments in finding a partner for the human, not knowing at first what would meet the creature’s needs. But this God makes up for a lack of knowledge with a level of relationship that is hard to imagine with the God of Genesis 1. This God is personal, hands-on, physical.
But there are two problems with traditional approaches to this story, so before I talk about what this story means, I first have to address what it doesn’t. First, this story has been used to support the subjugation of women. Over the years many have believed — many still believe — that because man was created first, and woman made from man as a “help meet” as the King James Version says, that man is therefore God-ordained for domination. So let’s unpack that a bit.
First of all, the word translated as “man” in verse 7 and beyond is an inaccurate translation. “Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and the man became a living being.” That’s wrong. The word does not mean man. It is not a gendered term. You see, the word for ground or dust, from which the creature was formed, is adamah. Grab a pencil and write this on your bulletin to be clear: adamah. Now look at the first four letters — adam. It is not a proper name, though it becomes one in chapter 4. The scripture is saying that from the dirt—adamah , is formed the human—adam. So rather than man, the creature is literally the one made from the dirt. I’ve heard theologians call this adam “dust creature” or, the one I prefer, “earthling.”
So God looks at this human, this earthling, and realizes that the creature may be lonely. The King James version quotes God as saying that God would create a “help meet,” which we have turned into “helpmate.” The New Revised Standard Version says God would create “a helper as his partner.” Other translations say “a helper suitable to him” and “a helper that is perfect for him.” The phrase in Hebrew is ezer ke-negdo. Most scholars agree that ezer means helper, but that does not suggest that the person is to be a servant or even assistant. Elsewhere in the Bible, God is called an Ezer. So there’s no subordination inherent to the term.
The kenegdo word is a bit harder, for it can mean appropriate or suitable or beside or even against. But recent scholarship suggests another meaning to this word ezer. Sometimes in the Old Testament it is used to mean helper, and other times it clearly means power or strength. These scholars lay out a case for the idea that what God intended “was to make a ‘power’ or ‘strength’ for the man who would in every way ‘correspond to him’ or . . . ‘be his equal.’” God’s intention was to create a creature equal to the original in strength and power,
OK, so I hope you have found all this interesting, and for those who didn’t, here is one of my points at last: sexism is sin. You know I don’t use the “s word” often — I mean sin, not sexism! — and I hope it carries more weight because of that. But if sin is separation from God, then how else would we define the subjugation and domination of nearly half of God’s human creation?
For all of the strides we have made in recent decades, sexism is still alive and well. Women still are paid less than men for equal work, even straight out of college with the same education and credentials. Women still have to be more qualified than a man to be considered an equal candidate. Women are subjected to harassment on the streets and in the workplace. Women’s bodies are policed and scrutinized and controlled and seen as existing only for another’s pleasure.
It’s not always overt or obvious or even serious, but it’s constant. For example, young women in public are often told by complete strangers to smile. That seems like no big deal until you realize that men are never told to smile because everybody knows that men’s bodies do not exist for the viewing pleasure of others. That’s a small example but it demonstrates a larger problem.
Sexism is our inability to recognize each person’s God-given potential, and our societal need to limit people is in direct opposition to God’s vision.
The church is not immune to the influences of sexism. I know we have had strong women lay leaders for many years. But do you know how many women currently serve on our Administrative team, which oversees our finances and business? One. And do you know how many men currently serve on our Education, Growth, & Fellowship Team? Zero. Think we might have some work to do on gender roles?
Alright, so the subjugation of women is not in this story, and sexism is a sin. Now let’s go back to the story for the other big misinterpretation. When God takes a rib from the creature to make another creature, this is when we are given gendered terms for the human. The term adam is replaced by the word ish, which does mean man, and we add ishah, which means woman.
So now we have man and woman and they are equal. Of course, the ancient understanding of gender, sex, and sexuality were not what they are today. They primarily saw two sexes, male and female, and if the people were to be fruitful and multiply, you pretty much needed one of each. It’s important to remember that this story is an etiological myth — meaning that it was told to explain our origins. Where did we come from? And why are we the way we are? And it is descriptive, not prescriptive — meaning that it describes what is. It does not prescribe what must be.
So this story should not be interpreted to mean that the only God-approved relationship is a male-female relationship. I think most of us understand this. As an Open and Affirming congregation, this is not new territory. What may be new territory for some of us is that there are not two God-approved sexes or genders. The creation of these two people might be where the story ends but that doesn’t mean God was done creating. God has created men and women and intersex people who are both and neither. And God has created people who are transgender in a wide variety of ways. There are people who aren’t comfortable in the bodies they were given at birth, and there are people who are perfectly comfortable in the bodies they’re in but not with the way we’ve created gender norms or expectations. And God has created people who like to live on the spectrum between both genders and not be identified as male or female, either one. God is still creating in the same way that God is still speaking.
Though God creates this incredible diversity of human beings and experiences and perspectives, we as humans and as societies have tried to create distinct boxes to put people into — male and female, black and white, gay or straight, abled and disabled — and then we limit people by our definitions of them. And that is not respectful to the diversity of God’s creation. As individuals, we may not understand the feelings or experiences of a transgender person, for example, but lack of understanding does not limit our ability to love and protect and bless.
So the creation story in Genesis 2 does not provide support for the subjugation of women, and it does not limit our understandings of relationships or sex or gender. And I have now spent 75% of my usual sermon time telling you what this story does NOT say! So let’s talk about what message it does have for us today.
First, our Bible begins with contradiction — with two different stories of creation. It’s like our ancestors in the faith were saying, “We don’t know how the world happened. It might have been like this, or it might have been like that, but either way, God did it!” They also were saying, “We don’t all have to agree.” And neither do we. If our Bible starts with differing views, then surely we can stay in relationship even when we have very different understandings and interpretations.
But here’s something I hope we do agree on. Then the LORD God formed the human from the dust of the ground, and breathed into its nostrils the breath of life; and the creature became a living being. Our origins and our ultimate condition may be dust, but for now we have the breath of God within us. Think about that. This story says that your breath is the breath of God. So how will you use it? To survive? Or to thrive? T o be silent or to speak? To belittle or uplift? To run away or to lean in to help another? The breath of God is within you, filling you, empowering you. It’s up to you to determine how you will use it.
A Jewish rabbi says that “everyone should have two pockets, each containing a slip of paper. On one should be written: I am but dust and ashes, and on the other: The world was created for me. From time to time we must reach into one pocket, or the other. The secret of living comes from knowing when to reach into each.” That’s one of the gifts of good relationships. We need people who can gently point out when we’re holding the wrong slip of paper.
I was probably 7 or 8 when I first learned that the world was constantly revolving. I was fascinated by this concept because if the world was spinning, why was I not getting sick? (Motion sickness was a frequent occurrence in my childhood.) So one day I sat in my dad’s office in his orange barrel chair, and instead of spinning, I sat really still for what felt like an hour. I was convinced that if the world was spinning, I would soon be facing a different direction…because the world was, of course, revolving around me! In my family we now refer to the condition of thinking one is the center of the universe as “the orange chair syndrome!” Sometimes we need a companion to tell us to get out of the orange chair! And sometimes we need someone to remind us that for us the world was created.
We were created for relationship — for companionship, so that we won’t be lonely; for strength, someone to stand beside and even against us when we need it. We were created for relationship. That doesn’t necessarily mean marriage; there are no promises about what form our relationships will take. Nevertheless, we all need companions on the journey. That’s how we were made.
And finally, we also were made without shame . . .
without shame in our bodies,
without shame in our souls,
without shame or fear of failure to live up to another’s expectations.
And nobody has the right to place shame upon us for the way we are.
So let’s get back to the way we were made: in relationship, without shame, and with the breath of God always in our chest and in our mouth and on our tongues.
Genesis 2:4-8, 18-25
4These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, 5when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— 7then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.
8And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed.
18Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.
21So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” 24Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. 25And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.