- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
- The Ultimate First Lady (Eve)
- A Woman Who Married Trouble (Cain's wife)
- The Compleat Woman (Sarah)
- A Mother Who Played Favorites (Rebecca)
- They May Have Been Twins--But Not Identical (Leah & Rachel)
- The Original Big Sister (Miriam)
- Israel's First Female Prime Minister (Deborah)
- The Perfect In-Laws (Ruth & Naomi)
- The Ladies Chorus (The women of Bethlehem, Ruth 4:13-17)
- The Woman Who Saved a King (Abigail)
- Counselor to Kings and Clergy (Huldah)
- Two Young Women of Courage (Esther & an anonymous slave girl)
A discussion guide is included.
The Ultimate First Lady
Scripture Reading: Genesis 1–4
Some of my favorite friends are people I know only through what they've written. I listen to them with pleasure, sometimes argue with them by notes along the margin of a book, and often laugh with them or nod appreciatively by way of my underlining and bracketing.
Kilian McDonnell, a Benedictine monk and biblical scholar who began writing poetry at age seventy-five, is one such friend. He and I agree on his opinion of several biblical characters (though he doesn't know of my agreeing, more's the pity). Especially, I empathize with his feelings about Eve, that first lady beyond all other first ladies.
Father McDonnell says of Eve that she is smart and confident. Now I must interject, before going further, that while I tend to agree with Father McDonnell, I fear it's also true that it is Eve's confidence and her "muscular ... intellect" that get her in trouble. But of course trouble is the chance you take when you start thinking. And it's the hazard God took in giving us humans a power that was given to no other creature: the ability to choose between right and wrong. This power is our glory and also our peril. And the First Lady demonstrated as much with a Parisian flair.
Eve had a very special beginning. The Book of Genesis gives it to us in two parts. At first we're told,
Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth."
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." (Genesis 1:26-27)
It is a straightforward but complex, demanding assignment, and it is a team assignment, one that the "male and female" are expected to carry on together. And both of them are created in the image of God.
Then there's a second word, something like a continuing story, as if Genesis were adding details that were left out the first time, or as if the writer wants to give insights that weren't offered in the first account, insights that make some special points. This second report pictures God making the male person first: "then 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. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed" (2:7-8). Nothing is said about the woman.
So at this point the man is working a solo operation, and God observes that the man is lonely. God had said during earlier steps in the creation that what was unfolding was "good," but now something is not good. "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner" (2:18). It was soon clear that the partner would have to be very special, a perfect fit, so to speak. Thus, "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. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man" (2:21-22). This proved a resounding success. 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."
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed. (2:23-25)
Leon R. Kass, medical doctor and bioethicist but especially a student of Genesis, notes that some critics feel that the Genesis account of woman's origin is sexist, indicating dependence on man. He reasons that the scripture supports an opposite view: the man's origin is lower, from the dust, while "the woman begins with the already living flesh and, moreover, from flesh taken close to the heart. Also, the man is, in the process, rendered less than whole.... Because he is incomplete and knows it, the man will always be looking for something he lacks."
In any event, the woman's creation is quite an idyllic scene. If you have a touch of sentimentality you might think you hear music playing in the background even as you're reading.
As the Book of Genesis reports, however, it isn't long until the scene turns sour. A villain enters the story, a creature "more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made" (3:1). Both the man and the woman are present, but the stranger seems to direct his conversation to the woman. She accepts the stranger's proposition, and her husband follows her lead. Father McDonnell sees her as "alley-wise before / the alleys were part of city plans." He has a point!
And Father McDonnell isn't very sympathetic with the man's conduct, saying that it would be odd, indeed, if Adam were to be found blameless in the situation since Eve was made equally from him.
It was on that day that we humans lost our Eden, and I have a feeling—as perhaps you do—that we've been looking for it ever since. And a good many people, including some philosophers and theologians and folks who simply like to speculate lay major blame on the First Lady. Even the apostle Paul belongs to this declaiming group. He writes to the church at Corinth, "But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by its cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3). A letter to Timothy is more emphatic. "For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor" (1 Timothy 2:13-14).
Frankly, I can't see why Adam was so silent during the conversation between Eve and the serpent. Nor can I excuse him for so readily following Eve's purchase of the forbidden fruit. There's no evidence that he objected at any point. Clearly God charged him with primary responsibility, because when God searched out the transgressing couple he addressed his question to Adam, not Eve: "Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" And the man, not to his credit, quickly placed the blame on Eve ("she gave me fruit from the tree") and sought even to project the blame back on God ("The woman whom you gave to be with me") (Genesis 3:11-12). I'd like my ancestor Adam better if he had not been so quick to shunt the blame to others. But even as I say this, I am embarrassed that I have the same tendency to blame others for lapses in my conduct, for my sins, if I may use a true but troublesome word.
I'm not excusing Eve. It's not my business to accuse or excuse her; matters of this sort belong exclusively to God. But I'm impressed by some qualities in Eve, even as I confess that she did wrong. For one, she's an adventuresome soul. Perhaps the serpent saw this quality in her and decided the best way to lead the couple astray was to win Eve's attention. Whether the product is a house, a car, or a refrigerator, a good salesperson gains a foothold by concentrating first on the more persuadable person. In this instance, that person was Eve.
And she was quick of mind. When the serpent misquoted God, Eve quickly set him straight—not realizing that by doing so she was getting into theological waters that would soon be beyond her depth.
And especially, Eve was companionable. She was naturally the first to smile, the first to greet a stranger, the first to make conversation. Of course she was; we know this about her from the very beginning. When the man was alone God saw that he needed "a helper as his partner." Robert Alter, the Hebrew scholar, translates Adam's need for "a sustainer beside him." Begun as a rib from Adam's side, from the place of integrity and embrace, it's the essence of her nature to be companionable.
Lovely as this quality is, it is also the area of Eve's weakness, of her susceptibility. That which is our strength is always also our weakness because, as the dominant part of our person, it is the part most exposed and most frequently left unguarded. We are cautious about our weaknesses (if we know them, that is!), but we are confident in our strengths and therefore not properly attentive to their vulnerabilities. Besides, it's hard to see the vulnerability that is hidden in our strength.
Well, they went wrong, no doubt about it. The man and the woman went wrong. And yes, the woman led the way. But she did so partly because the man retreated. Not only does nature abhor a vacuum, so too does leadership. In truth, I don't think the story would have turned out any differently if Adam had led the conversation with the serpent. But neither does his silence win him some sort of Edenic Nobel prize.
Nevertheless, it's time to say a good word for the man. As the man and woman pick up the pieces of their lives following God's pronouncement of judgment, Adam names his wife. Eve, he says, shall be her name, "because she was the mother of all living" (3:20). If he had been a lesser person, he might have looked upon his wife as the bearer of death. After all, she had led the way in the transgression that brought death upon them and brought their expulsion from the garden. And since he was so quick to transfer blame to his wife when God confronted them for their sin, we wouldn't have been surprised if Adam had found a name for his wife that was at best neutral and at worst condemning. Instead he named her "mother of life." He recognized that the future lay in this remarkable First Lady.
This naming event is a moment of grace and hope. Eden is gone; the gate is locked behind them. Innocence is gone; God has provided them with garments to cover their nakedness. Nature is no longer unanimously on their side; now it will also bring forth "thorns and thistles," and to gain its benefits will mean working by "the sweat of your face" (3:19). Furthermore, when each human life comes to an end, the human will "return to the ground" from which the raw material has been taken. But in the face of all this that is so negative, Adam sees life, and he sees it in his companion. Therefore, he reasons, he must name her life. And with that, he takes hold of a future of hope, regardless of all the tragedy that at the moment is so dominant. Adam looks at the woman and names her life. At this moment in the story, I'm proud to be one of Adam's descendants.
Eve lives up to Adam's faith and more because she has a faith of her own. When God passed judgment on the serpent, the woman, and the man, there was an encouraging word for the woman in the curse pronounced on the serpent.
"I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel." (3:15)
There will be continuing conflict between the serpent and the woman's offspring and mutual suffering—but the suffering inflicted on the serpent by the woman's offspring will be much more dramatic than that which the woman's offspring suffers.
It seems clear that Eve remembers this promise when she conceives and bears her first child. She names him Cain, which in the Hebrew sounds like "produced" or "gotten." As Robert Alter's translation puts it, "I have got me a man with the Lord." Alter comments, "Eve, upon bringing forth the third human being, imagines herself as a kind of partner of God in man-making." Eve had been told that she would experience pain in childbearing, but her response to this first child is not only a spirit of joy and gratitude but also a sense of divine service. She sees herself as a co-laborer with God.
And in this naming of Cain, Eve also seems to calculate that with this child she will get revenge on the serpent. If this child is, indeed, someone she has gotten with God's help, she can count on him to inflict judgment on the adversary that has robbed them of Eden.
I love Eve's faith and optimism. Unfortunately, the optimism is not well-founded. Instead of carrying forward a new, godly character, Cain reflects the spirit that got Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden. Adam and Eve's sin was, among other things, an attempt to find a quick path to godliness; "you will be like God," the serpent had promised (3:5), but he didn't mention that there are no shortcuts to true godliness. Cain, when grown up, seems susceptible to the same weakness. The writer of Genesis doesn't give us many details. We're told that when Cain and Abel brought their offerings to God, Cain—as a farmer—brought "the fruit of the ground," while Abel—a herdsman—brought "of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions" (4:3-4). There is a hint that Abel's offering represents specific sacrifice, since he brings a firstling, and the "fat portions," at that. But we learn more about the lack of quality in Cain's worship in that he becomes "very angry" when he realizes that God doesn't approve of his offering. True worship ought not to result in anger. And when we're in trouble we do well to seek the reason rather than becoming upset. God tried to help Cain, urging him to resist the sin that was "lurking" at his door. Instead of responding to God's generous invitation, Cain killed his brother, Abel.
So new tragedy has come into the first family. But with all of this heartbreak, Eve doesn't give up, nor does Adam. With the younger son killed and the older son banished because of his crime, the couple are now essentially childless. So they conceive again, and another son is born. Eve names this one Seth, which in the Hebrew sounds like "appointed"— because, Eve says, "God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel, because Cain killed him" (4:25). And it is from Seth's line that "people began to invoke the name of the LORD" (4:26).
Professor Kass sees new maturity in Eve in the birth of this third son. "Seth, unlike Cain, is received as a gift—from beyond, precious, unmerited. Seth, unlike Cain, will be less likely to suffer from excessive parental expectations."
I see Seth as one of the early instances of the grace of God. When the Genesis story shows us humans moving from disobedience in Eden to murder in the family, we might conclude that our story is going to end in hopeless ignominy. Instead, God gives another chance, through the birth of Seth. But when God extends grace, there must be a recipient, a carrier. Grace doesn't hang in the air like a cloud, it works in and through human beings. Eve serves as the receptacle and carrier. She bears the child of grace, and knows the name the child deserves. She knows that the child is an appointed one. The human story will go on. It won't end with the death of goodness in Abel or the spirit of jealousy and murder in Cain. Eve sees an "appointed" quality at work in this new child. Seth is an act of God's grace, and Eve is a knowing partner in the grace enterprise.
Some people read the story of Adam and Eve as a particular story about two specific persons. Others read it as a symbolic story, the saga of our human race, repeated endlessly over the centuries. I feel that neither one gives proper sympathy or credit to Eve. She loses her original home, her husband blames her exclusively for the troubles, and her first child murders her second child. If that isn't enough to make you weep, you have a pretty hard heart.
But the First Lady rises above it. She had named her first child with hope and faith, and when he disappointed her and she lost both of her first sons by the sin of the son of hope, she didn't stop hoping. She conceived again, and believed again, and once more expressed her faith in the name she gave to this third child. And in it all, she saw herself in partnership with God in her role of transmitting life. It's true that she got in trouble by her brash conversation with the tempter, but her disastrous misstep didn't make her give up on theology or on God. I like to think that the best of Eve is coming through when I read that after the birth of her grandson, Enosh, "people began to invoke the name of the Lord" (4:26). With all her problems, Eve proved with her faith, her courage, and her resiliency to be a most remarkable First Lady.
Excerpted from A Faith of Her Own by J. Ellsworth Kalas. Copyright © 2012 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
1 The Ultimate First Lady 1
2 A Woman Who Married Trouble 13
3 The Compleat Woman 25
4 A Mother Who Played Favorites 37
5 They May Have Been Twins-but Not Identical 49
6 The Original Big Sister 61
7 Israel's First Female Prime Minister 73
8 The Perfect In-Laws 85
9 The Ladies' Chorus 97
10 The Woman Who Saved a King 109
11 Counselor to Kings and Clergy 121
12 Two Young Women of Courage 133
Study Guide 145