Like Rodger, I too am doing a series. For many of the weeks of the next few months, when I preach, I will talk about a different Old Testament woman based on the book by Lynn Japinga entitled “Preaching the Women of the Old Testament”.
The following true story was in the newspaper, The Irish Times, from July 21, 2018. The author of the story explains: “I’m a 44-year-old professional woman, very happily married with two lovely children. Lucky, eh? (Still) I never thought I would feel the kind of loneliness that makes my heart ache. But I do. I’m originally from Ireland. I moved to Wales twenty years ago for work, met my husband (who is also Irish) and settled into life there. I had a large group of female friends acquired through baby play groups, school and work.
“Two years ago we made the decision to return to Ireland to live, so that we could be closer to family and so our children would grow up in Ireland. I’ve no regrets about that decision – we as a family have settled well and I realize that I never felt that I truly was at home in the United Kingdom. However, I’ve left all my female friends behind me. I have one close friend who is Irish but she no longer lives in this country. My university friends are scattered around Ireland.
“I work full time so I don’t have much time for hobbies. My loneliness takes me by surprise at times. I can be driving along and I see a group of women out walking for example; just walking along and chatting, putting the world to rights. Or I might be out with my husband and see a group of women in the pub, howling with laughter about something silly.
“I don’t have that close female friendship anymore, someone to go for coffee with or go for a walk with, and I crave it and miss it so much. Even writing this (blog) is bringing me close to tears. I don’t know how to go about making new friends; at my age everyone seems to have established their groups of friends.”
I can identify with this woman in the sense that being a female pastor can be very lonely at times- moving to different places where women have already established relationships, real or imagined age limitations on “making” friends, and how people can act in unusual ways around pastors. It can be a lonely situation.
Loneliness seems to be a part of our society. Countless songs have been written about it such as Elvis Presley’s “I’m So Lonely, I Could Cry” and “It’s Not Fun Being Lonely.” Roy Orbison wrote “Only the Lonely.” “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles starts out “Ah, look at all the lonely people.” Loneliness can be a part of the human condition.
We hear of loneliness in our third scripture lesson for this morning. The Creator God molds man. In chapter 2 verse 7 the Hebrew word for human beings, not merely males, is used in this account of creation, adham, out of clay, adhamah, meaning dust. We lose much in translating Hebrew into English because we lose the poetry of the Hebrew language that is often employed in the telling of Old Testament stories. However, the man was lonely that God tried to amend that problem with first creating animals and paraded them in front of the man, adham, to name them; those would be elephants, anteaters, pelicans, cardinals, worms, cats, horses, mosquitoes (ewww!) But that didn’t satisfy the man’s loneliness. So the Creator put the man, and here the Hebrew word for the male is ish, to sleep and took out a rib and molded a woman, ishshah. Again, this is rather poetic but is lost in translation. Well, we all know that males really don’t have one less rib then females do but the Genesis chapter 2 storyteller intends to show intimacy in this close creation, for the man and woman are happy together. Even in their nakedness they are not ashamed. Now the man is no longer lonely. According to Lynn Japinga, the author I mentioned earlier, the man takes absolute delight in the woman. They establish a close relationship of trust, openness, and mutuality.
Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are thought of as two separate creation accounts by some scholars who believe them to have been written by two authors, using unique phrases and words to their own writing styles, and in different time periods. Whether one agrees with them being separate stories or whether one regards the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 as true or not isn’t actually the point. When we don’t get too bogged down in the details of a true story or not, two creation stories or not, Adam and Eve were real or not, we are able to see that Genesis chapters 1 through 3 are meant to reveal God as the Creator of all there is, including humanity and not merely to create but to be in relation with human beings. Here is also an explanation of why so many humans need each other and seek comfort and friendship, have fun and meaningful times, and seek a listening ear from other people. Genesis 1 tells us that God’s creation is good and that man and woman were created in the Creator’s image. Genesis 2 makes no such claim of being in the Creators image but God is pleased to know that human beings can keep each other company and help one another.
The well-known author and speaker, Phyllis Trible found that it was more helpful to focus on the nuances of the story instead of the more popular version of it that the woman, Eve, was secondary to Adam and she was the one that caused sin to come into the world. There is so much to be found in the story but those two things aren’t there. She likes to study the Hebrew to inform her about this story.
The woman is created to be a helper for the man. For hundreds and hundreds of years, calling Eve a helper was misinterpreted to say she was inferior to Adam. The Hebrew word ezer, helper, is often used of God who is the ezer, helper, of humanity. In this use of the word, the ezer is superior in the partnership since God, the Creator, is superior to humanity, the created. It is also used in verse 18 when God seeks to create a partner for the ish, man. The animals don’t work to help the man’s loneliness so the woman is created. Here ezer is an equal partner. These two ways are how the word ezer is used in the Old Testament- one being is equal or superior too another. In Genesis chapter 3, man and woman are equal partners. None of that chapter was read to you today but I assume you know the story well.
In chapter 2, God put the man in what is called the Garden of Eden. In chapter 3, we find both Adam and Eve in that Garden and happy even in their shameless nakedness. The land is presumably easy and fun to till and grow food and other plants and trees on. In chapter 2 verses 16-17 God tells the man, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” That same rule is for Eve too because they can use whatever is in the garden but not touch the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The people were happy and content in God’s Garden. No loneliness to be found there.
Well, one of God’s creatures, the serpent, who was just that—a glorified snake who could talk and apparently walk—approaches the woman and tries to compel her to eat of the fruit from the forbidden tree. The woman explains they are not permitted by God to eat from that tree and why they are not but the serpent slyly states, “No, you won’t die. You’ll simply have more knowledge like God does.” Evidently the woman can’t resist for she takes the fruit, it doesn’t say ‘apple,’ and eats it, and then hands the fruit to Adam, here called her husband, and he eats it too. Chapter 3 verse 6 explains that the man was “with her.” It’s not like he was somewhere else and didn’t know where the fruit the woman gave him came from. The author doesn’t have him say even one word; he simply eats it.
Now we know what happens as the creation storyteller weaves the story. The man’s and woman’s eyes are opened to other than what seems like childlike knowledge and they become ashamed of their nakedness. They try to hide themselves with clothes made of scratchy fig leaves. Their relationship with God is now broken too. Instead of their easy-going conversation with God in the Garden, they hide from their Creator. They both know what God told them and are afraid what God will say about their disobedience. To say the least, God is not pleased with them. They have gone against God who then throws them out of the garden for breaking this command. Some try to say God curses Adam and Eve, but God only curses the ground according to scripture. However, we do find out that they find human life much harder outside the idyllic Garden of God.
The point of this story is that human beings need each other and, yet, relationships are not easy with one another or with God. We know that it isn’t easy to live up to the Creator Lord’s standards and we do that which is wrong in God’s eyes. Let’s face it; we can really make a case for saying that humanity is broken. “We are limited, and much is beyond our control. We live with fear and doubt. We are lonely, sometimes in the midst of relationships. We have deep longings, for intimacy, for achievement, for clarity, for belonging. We want to make a difference” and to be valued. The story of Eve teaches us that we need each other. We aren’t created to be alone. And, at least, most people don’t want to be lonely. We need partners, helpers, to traverse this difficult path we call life. Notice that the both the comfort and the brokenness found in Eve and Adam’s story continues throughout the Bible. Yet, from the beginning, the woman and the man are to be equal partners working together to create a better life on God’s earth and to follow God even though not in the most ideal of situations.
People have needs and people are good as God created them Genesis chapter 1 tells us. Yet, they are also broken because of sin Genesis chapters 2 and 3 tell us. The Genesis 2 and 3 author makes sure we know that both Adam and Eve sin and therefore life becomes harder for them. Still, taking the whole biblical story of humanity’s need for one another and extremely importantly for God, we can recognize that the Creator does not abandon people even in their, our, waywardness. Even though we’ve been kicked out of the proverbial and wonderful Garden, God sticks with us through good times and bad times, when we sin and when we are good.
Our responsibility in this story of life is to take care of one another, not merely those we know and love but all humanity, and creation too, as those opportunities become available to us and we act on them as we are called to do. As Christians, we know that we are constantly to place much emphasis on and effort into our relationship with God, we now know through Jesus Christ. Psalm 33 says: Our soul waits for the Lord; God is our help and shield. Alleluia! Amen.