The Nineteenth Sunday After Trinity
I recall a day a few years ago when my wife informed me of something she wanted me to do. It seemed to me rather obvious that I was up to my elbows in something already, so I said, a bit shortly, “I can only do 17 things at a time.”
Came the piercing retort: “Well, if you were a woman you could do 18.”
It just goes to show you how complicated marriage is. I blame Adam and Eve.
Some might think the ancient institution is more serene in primitive cultures. Apparently not. I read a story about a chief in Africa who called all the men of his village into his hut.
He had been keeping an eye on things, as a chief must certainly do, and had become concerned that there were no real men left in the village. It appeared the men were being ruled by their wives.
The chief had decided to conduct a test. He commanded that all the men who felt their wives bossed them around leave the hut through the door on the left. Those who believed themselves to be in charge at home should leave by the door on the right.
Lo and behold, every man departed by the door on the left – except one. He stood stockstill for a minute and finally walked out the door on the right.
The chief summoned the men back to his hut and launched into a speech extolling the courage of this lone lion. “At least,” said the chief, “we have one real man in our village.” Turning to that man, the chief said, “Please share with us your secret.”
The man just looked at the ground for a minute, then he mumbled, “Chief, when I left home this morning my wife said to me, ‘Husband, never follow the crowd!’”
It seems it’s never easy. Socrates told his students, “By all means marry. If you get a good wife, twice blessed you will be. If you get a bad wife, you’ll become a philosopher.”
It’s complicated. And we haven’t even gotten to sex yet. But we must get to sex. Yes, again. If Genesis were turned into a movie it would be R-rated.
I fear the Genesis narrative, like any other story, can become so familiar that we miss some things that should jump off the page at us like a hissing serpent.
Consider a question that presents itself, front and center, early on: How does God’s response to the sin of Adam and Eve line up with their offense? Does the punishment fit the crime?
The serpent tempts Eve, and then:
“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate” (3:6).
They sinned in their direct disobedience of God’s command to avoid the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and in particular in denying their difference from God, of seeking knowledge reserved to Him. There’s no sexual angle I can find in that. But:
“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings” (3:7).
God responds by revealing to them their sexuality — until now, in their state of innocence, a part of them that had been taken for granted. They run for cover, and when God calls Adam out of his hidey hole Adam reports that he was afraid because he was naked.
The wisdom they got is not the wisdom they sought – but the question remains: How does their rebellion elicit from God a response relating to their sexuality?
The plot thickens when God pronounces judgment on them. He curses the ground to make Adam’s job of growing and gathering food an onerous one. This seems to me in proportion to Adam’s sin.
Despite all the food that was so easily available to him, he took the food that was forbidden him; now he must endure sweat and pain to feed himself and his family.
But to Eve God says:
“I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (3:16).
She gets the double whammy: God declares her husband’s clear dominion over her, and He does so in the context of their sexual relationship. Also, delivering the children that issue from their union will cause her great pain.
How does her disobedience relate to her sexuality? The answer lies in a commandment God gave the first couple even before the one about abstaining from the fruit of that one tree:
“So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (1:27-28).
According to God’s purpose and plan, in their innocence they – as male and female — would fill the garden with worshipers, pushing out its limits until the entire creation sang out perpetual praises of its Creator. In this project lay the premise of their sexuality.
At the fall, they brought the ravages of sin not only upon themselves but upon the descendants who would inherit their nature. Their sexual union now would bring forth not righteous worshipers but sin-stained rebels incapable of offering acceptable worship.
Sex perpetuates sin because it produces more sinners. So if sin is a focus of the Genesis story, so must sex be as well.
The curse on Eve’s body – and specifically the emotional and physical pain tied to her union with her husband – is perfectly appropriate to her crime, by which she subverted God’s purpose of populating His world with worshipers.
Except, of course, she didn’t. Man’s wrong acts never frustrate God’s perfect plan. The woman would still bring forth seed – descendents – but a long line of them now would lead to One of them. God tells the serpent:
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (3:15).
In God’s infinite justice, the woman would produce the Seed who would destroy the tempter who deceived her into betrayal of her Creator. This particular Seed, Jesus Christ, would have no human father – for the sin nature passes through the male – but He would have a mother – more accurately a long list of mothers – who would endure pain in recompense for Eve’s succumbing to the blandishments of the devil.
This special Seed would purge the race of sin, restoring the innocence mankind knew before the fall so that once again God’s creatures could offer acceptable worship to Him. Reproduction gives way to restoration. God uses sinners to reproduce the state of sinlessness.
The sexual act will continue to generate worshipers – but now corrupted ones awaiting deliverance that comes through this Seed of the woman.
Because He has no sin within Him, He can offer the perfect sacrifice acceptable to God in recompense for man’s rebellion. So doing, He returns the world to its original innocence.
This is the promise revived, after the flood, after the Tower of Babel, in the day of Abraham and the patriarchs. St. Paul helps us to find our focus. He writes to the Galatians:
“Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your Seed,’ who is Christ” (3:16).
When God calls him out of Ur of the Chaldees and enters into covenant with him, Abraham becomes the first patriarch. We have devoted no little time to him in this study of Genesis; it’s high time we spent a bit on Sarah, the first matriarch.
Her biography, too, is an intensely sexual one. Abraham, fearing her surpassing beauty will cost him his life in foreign territory, foists her off as his sister. He uses this ploy first in Egypt with Pharaoh and later in Gerar with Abimelech.
Our modern sensibilities recoil at Abraham’s depraved cowardice, but we must not miss that in context the power of God is on display. He intervenes to rescue Sarah on both occasions, preserving the sanctity of the covenant seed, who must be Isaac, son of the man with whom God entered into that covenant.
Isaac will advance the line of the Seed of the woman. And just as God has mandated who his father would be, so has He designated his mother. When He changes her name from Sarai to Sarah, He tells Abraham:
“I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her” (Genesis 17:16).
And just as God reveals His might in protecting her, so He does in making her fruitful. Sarah introduces what we might call “barren woman syndrome.” She and several important women who come after her find their wombs closed – hardly a disgrace in our day but a mighty one in theirs.
Rebekah the wife of her son Isaac and Rachel the favored wife of her grandson Jacob will also be barren. So will Hannah and, in the New Testament, Elizabeth, who becomes the mother of the final Old Testament prophet, John the Baptist.
In each case, the point of the story is to expose the power of God, who opens the womb so the woman produces an heir. In the stories of the matriarchs, that heir is the conduit for God’s blessings of land, seed and promise – beginning with Isaac.
As in the cases of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God uses them when they obey and when they rebel, when they trust and when they doubt, when they practice righteousness and when they wallow in sin. Nothing is beyond the power of God.
On separate occasions, both Abraham and Sarah laugh at God when He promises them a son. They are old and withered, long past the time of begetting and bearing.
Ten years after they have settled in the land of Canaan and received God’s original promise of descendents as numerous as the stars in the sky, they’re still waiting.
Sarah suggests they do the practical thing. It was standard operating procedure for a barren wife to give her maid to her husband to birth an heir. The child the surrogate bore satisfied the wife’s obligation to deliver a son.
Abraham and Sarah, the new Adam and Eve with whom God is beginning again in His project to fill the creation with worshipers, have fallen in mindlessly with the culture around them rather than trusting in their Lord’s promise.
Just as custom did not make polygamy O.K., just as it did not make the no-fault divorce that would develop in Israel O.K., it does not validate this maternal surrogacy. God had commanded that a man cleave to his wife, not her maid. Sin is sin.
But, like Adam before him, Abraham obeys not his Lord but his wife. Had not God said to Adam:
“Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, `You shall not eat of it’: Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:17).
Again we call on St. Paul for interpretation. In his first letter to his disciple Timothy he writes:
“And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control” (2:12-15).
The role that creates the woman’s pain also generates her redemption.
Years ago I had a boss named Zarko who became a golfing buddy after he retired. Zarko was born on an island in the Adriatic Sea. His father was a merchant seaman.
There was some trouble on the docks one day and the sailor had to get out of town, pronto. He scooped up his family, loaded them onto a steamer and didn’t look back until they landed in Galveston, there to begin anew.
Zarko remembered growing up with the other Slavic kids in their neighborhood, playing in the street in front of their house under his mother’s watchful eye. His father was usually at sea.
He recalled his mother’s friends coming by in the evening, calling out, “Zelda, come with us, we’re going to the pictures.” And his mother answering, “I’m going nowhere. I’m watching my kids.”
Her friends would reply, “So get a sitter.” And his mother would say, “These are my kids. I take care of my kids; nobody else.”
St. Paul said, “she will be saved in child-bearing.” Not in accounting, architecture or astronomy, but in child-bearing. I bring up the story of my old friend and his mother – whose attitude was a bit out there even for her day – not to condemn all working mothers but to shock you into the remembrance that motherhood once enjoyed a good name.
Before America decided to chase after Abraham and Sarah in following the culture and not the Lord, motherhood was a high calling. Child-bearing implied child-raising.
Today, we hear that women in the military must engage in combat alongside men. Some of these women are mothers. I put it to you: Is there such a thing as a mother’s touch? For if there is, mothers and fathers are not interchangeable and mothers are not expendable.
Beloved, God has a plan for restoring His world to its state of primal goodness and it involves cleansing His sin-stained vessels to make us fit for proper worship, of using our maleness and femaleness to fill the creation with the righteous.
We the redeemed have the great privilege, after all, of entering His world as our Redeemer did – through the womb. If not for Sarah, there would be no Isaac. If not for Mary, no Jesus. If not for Catherine, no Ed. Each one of us is the seed of a woman.
This plan involves men and women in God-ordained roles. It involves the family, an institution under furious assault.
A few weeks ago, in case you missed it, America celebrated Women’s Equality Day. Glenn T. Stanton, who serves as director of family formation for the ministry Focus on the Family, took the occasion to set down some thoughts on the equality of the sexes from a Christian perspective:
“Man and woman are not equal. He owes what he is to her. That is hardly her only power, but it is among her most formidable . . .
“Woman is the most powerful living force on the globe. She creates, shapes, and sustains human civilization. The first step in weakening her power is to convince her that she must overcome her femininity.
“This, ironically, is precisely what the most vocal strains of feminism have advocated. Yes, woman should have equality in the workplace, in politics, and in the public square. But to render her more like man in order to accomplish this, and to judge her womanliness a hindrance to her ascendancy, is to get things exactly backwards. It is to treat her as much less than she truly is.”
Amen.Posted on: October 2, 2016Ed Fowler