Before gender equality became written into our laws, before #metoo and #churchtoo, long before the time’s up movement and the current “he said, she said” media frenzy, there was a time in human history when man and woman lived together on this planet in perfect harmonious co-existence.
When God introduced the first woman (Hebrew “Íshshah”) to the first man, he immediately recognised her as his own fabric and substance. She was uniquely of himself, and he knew it, joyfully declaring:
This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman,
because she was taken out of man (Gen. 2:23 NKJV). ¹
Or as the Jewish Bible says it: “….she shall be called Isha, because she was taken out of Ish.”
Adam’s delight-filled exclamation reveals he understood exactly what stood beside him. This new being was not an ‘add on’ or an optional extra. What he actually saw was himself in another form, the female ‘’ish”. The woman was an essential part of the man, removed from him and fashioned by God into a fully-functioning being who, alone out of all of God’s other creation, he could identify and communicate with because they had originally been one single being. He needed her to complete him. And God said it was exceedingly good! (Gen. 1:31)
Let’s move forward a little into Genesis 3 and the catastrophic results of Adam and Ishshah’s fall. The very next utterance recorded from Adam, after their fall, is extremely telling:
“The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” (Gen. 3:12)
Not only does Adam accuse Ishshah, he also accuses God of giving him something undesirable, something that has caused him to disobey. No longer is Ishshah the one called “woman…bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh”; she has become objectified as ‘the woman You gave to be with me’.
Adam’s attitude here seems to indicate that immediately after the fall he was already starting to see the woman as a possession whose sole purpose was to meet his needs. The relationship has suddenly spiralled from one of mutual belonging, comfort and giving to one another, to the woman belonging to the man without reciprocity. The decline of woman has begun.
Immediately after the impending consequences of their actions are spelled out by God we notice another interesting development in the relationship between Adam and Ishshah. Adam, who is obviously already beginning to act out the ‘ruling over’ prophecy of Genesis 3:16, stops calling his wife by the intimate name ‘woman”, and begins to call her by another name: Eve (Heb. Chavvah) (Gen. 3:20).
Biblically, names are significant. Ishshah, or “woman”, formed by God from the very essence of the man, has now gone from “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” to “life-giver” or “mother of all living” (the literal meanings of Eve). There are a number of interpretations we can attach to this sudden change of name imposed by Adam, but it seems clear the intimate, equal partnership they knew before the fall is gone, and woman’s role in the relationship is about to change dramatically.
While Adam still needs Ishshah, the focus of his need has altered. Her new name reflects the new focus. The sense of oneness that formerly bound them is rapidly disappearing. The delight in being the same substance is being replaced by the man’s need for progeny and the woman’s need to be needed.
A new focus and function has been assigned to the woman in their relationship – reproduction. Her ability to satisfy the man’s sexual needs and produce children for him will dictate their relationship down through history, silencing her voice in world affairs and diminishing woman’s perceived value in both their eyes. Both men and woman have suffered greatly for it.
There’s an important aside I’d like to inject into this picture at this point. Women, listen up. Young women and girls, take note. Motherhood is not what you were created for. You may have been immersed in a church or family culture that has given you a very different message, but hear me out.
I remember being in churches where the only time women were allowed to ‘share’, (no it was not acceptable to call it ‘preaching or teaching’), was on Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day was an annual (secular} event when the church women were supposedly ‘honoured’ by little gifts or floral bouquets, children would sing about the wonderful attributes of their mums, and husbands might humble themselves by serving morning tea, or similar scenarios. Sound familiar?
And the day immediately following that yearly event everything would of course return to normal, where mothers were expected to take up their submissive role in home and church once again and feel satisfied and fulfilled. Except “normal” has too often included ignoring or covering up of known domestic abuse by church leaders, unbendable patriarchal teaching, all male leadership and the suppression of spiritual gifts given by God to His church merely because those gifts come in female form. It seems in some circles honouring motherhood is OK as long as those mothers know their place. And if you’re not a mother, well it’s expected you will be one day, and if not, then why not!
I am not denigrating motherhood. I am very glad to be a mother of both daughters and sons in four different ways: a biological mother, a foster mother, a grandmother and a spiritual mother. Motherhood is a beautiful role, as equally is fatherhood, both of which when done well can give us precious insights into the mothering/fathering heart of God. But motherhood is not the ultimate reason for a woman’s existence, and in many cases may not even be included in God’s perfect plan for her life. And I want any female reading this to know that’s OK!
Minutes away from crucifixion, a woman in the watching crowd cried out to Jesus: “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” To a Jewish woman of His time to be the mother of a prophet or holy man was the greatest aspiration possible. Jesus disagreed. “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” He responded (Luke 11:28). His response elevates women to more than a reproductive role and highlights their God-given ability to hear the word of God for themselves.
The purpose of a woman’s existence is the same as a man’s: to glorify God in whatever way He calls us, and that calling doesn’t always include biological parenting.
Back to our study on the decline of Ishshah, where we left first Adam seemingly determined to cement his newfound rulership by downgrading his former co-heir, woman. Fortunately, that’s not where the story ends, for God had a plan and the plan centres on last Adam, Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:45).
Jesus used the word ‘woman’ often when directly addressing a specific female. He used it at least twice in addressing Mary, His mother (Jn. 2:4; 19:16). He used it when speaking directly to an accused adulteress, a gentile, a Samaritan and a disabled woman (Jn. 8:10; Matt. 15:28; Jn. 4:21; Luke 13:10-13).
When Jesus used the term ‘woman’ as an address He did not intend it, as we may do in modern western culture, in a cold and distant way. Nor was it ever a rebuke. Rather, the name ‘woman’ on His lips was an intimate acknowledgment of a woman’s intrinsic value, and a manner of conveying that she was worthy of His full attention.
In the remarkable intimate scene in the garden immediately after His resurrection Jesus speaks the words “Woman, why do you weep?” directly to Mary Magdalene. It is only after He has addressed her as ‘woman’ that He uses her individual name of Mary (John 20:14-16). There was no-one else present and no reason for Jesus to specify to whom He was talking, so why would He deliberately choose to first address her by the very direct term “woman”?
It is because everything had changed for all of womankind. The rule of first Adam was over. Through the death and resurrection of Christ the last Adam, womankind was reinstated and restored to the dignity and esteem she had known in that other garden at the time of her creation.
“Let her alone! Why do you trouble the woman?” Jesus demanded after some of His disciples had attempted to devalue a woman’s extraordinary prophetic act of worship (Mark 14:3-9; Jn.12:1-7). The male disciples’ attitude to women, informed by their patriarchal culture and their own ambitions, did not go unrebuked by Jesus, who knew well the historical suffering of women under male rule. The altercation, as Jesus defended the woman against male criticism, was sharp. For Judas, mulling over whether he would submit to Jesus or betray Him, it was the final straw. Very soon afterward he made his fateful decision to betray Jesus to the authorities (Mark 14:10).
The word ‘trouble’ Jesus used here is the Greek “kopos” from a root word meaning to “cut” or “beat”. It conveys a far sharper and more graphic meaning than the words ‘trouble’ or ‘bother’ most often used in our modern English translations do.
The dim reality is that despite improving gender laws, awareness campaigns and sometimes questionable public shaming, both women and men will continue to be ‘troubled’ by what happened in that first garden long ago. The oldest and deepest division in the heart of mankind, after separation from God, is not racism, as cruel as racism can be. It is the division between the genders.
Hollywood celebrities and famous names do not have a premium on the war between the genders, they simply get the most media attention. Across the world the female of our species continues to be troubled, emotionally cut, beaten and traumatised at the hands of men with power in the world and sadly within the church, because humanity has been broken, bruised and divided by the disease called sin that separates us from God.
I believe there is only one way back to the unity and mutual support man and woman once knew and were created to enjoy. Only when we as individuals are reconciled to God through Christ, can we receive the healing that can enable us to be fully reconciled as men and women, joint and equal heirs with Christ and co-workers in His Kingdom (Rom. 8:17).
Rather than remaining complicit in the suppression of women and their spiritual giftings, Christianity should be demonstrating to the world that only in Christ can male and female be one again (Gal. 3:28).
Christ’s penetrating and most confronting question still echoes throughout the earth. It’s time for that question to be considered more deeply than ever before by the Body of Christ:
Why do you trouble the woman?
Any honest answer will require intense soul searching and great courage by many who doggedly hold fast to patriarchal views.
But answered it must and will be, one way or another.
¹ In several of the Semitic dialects bone is used for self. Thus, in the Jerusalem Lectionary (ed. Miniscalchi, Verona, 1861) we read: “I will manifest my bone unto him” (John 14:21), that is, myself; and again, “I have power to lay it down of my bone” (John 10:18), that is, of myself. So, too, in Hebrew, “In the selfsame day” is “in the bone of this day” (Genesis 7:13). Thus bone of my bones means “my very own self,” while flesh of my flesh adds the more tender and gentle qualities.” Ellicott’s Commentary For English Readers
Picture courtesy of www.lumoproject.com
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2018. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.