Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What A Surprise!

At my churches we read chapter by chapter through the Bible and some months ago a seemingly small detail was brought to my attention. When God commands the sons of Israel to rest on the sabbath day (Saturday) and also to give their children, servants, and livestock a rest, there’s a glaring omission. No mention of the wives!
“But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day: because the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”
Why is this? Think of what a wife is to man. Whereas your son or daughter may be said to belong to you, a woman throughout the Bible is emphatically not the property of her husband. A wife is simply not “his” to rest or not rest. A woman hears God’s command to her husband, and as we will see, it is hers to obey, study and interpret but it is not the husband’s lookout to cause her to do any of the above! This goes back to the very beginning. Eve was created to be a “help” to her husband. The word for “help” in Hebrew is “ezer.” The only other person in the Bible who is said to be a help to man is God himself. A woman, single or married, is like an angel sent from God for the help of mankind.
But the Bible does not put women up on an ivory pedestal either. The temptation to burden women by idealizing them is tempered when we remember how Eve was deceived by the serpent. In addition, man seems to have “pride of place.” The bare fact is that Adam was created before Eve. Judah may have been favored by God but Reuben is always the first born. Throughout the Bible we see God giving weight to birth order. The first born is set apart to God (Exodus 34:19, Numbers 18:15). The fact that Adam was created first also helps to explain another issue that is prominent throughout the Bible. Again and again, we see God addressing men. Not exclusively but repeatedly. We see it in the ten commandments and throughout the Old Testament. We see it in the New Testament where Jesus, Paul, Peter, James and John speak to the “brethren,” in their sermons and letters. For many hundreds of years students of the Bible have surmised that when the Bible uses the term “brothers” it refers to both brothers and sisters. Today some people use the word “mankind” to refer to both men and women. But the Bible is doing something much more interesting. When the Bible says “brothers,” it means exactly that, because it is memorializing the one on one relationship that God had with Adam in the very beginning. Peter addresses the crowds in Acts 3 as “men of Israel” because he is remembering how the ten commandments were given to the men of Israel. In turn, the ten commandments are given to the men of Israel because the Bible is remembering the very beginning, how God commanded Adam in the garden with the singular “you,” “you shall not eat...”. Now what is interesting here is that by the time Eve is created she is more than aware of God’s command and she has taken it to herself to obey, study and interpret both for herself and Adam! We hear her telling the serpent, “we may eat freely of the fruit of the trees of the garden but of the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘you (plural) shall not eat it, neither touch it lest you (plural) die.’” Notice Eve’s thinking here. First she interprets the command to be spoken by God to both her and Adam and second that the fruit of the tree should not only not be eaten but not touched. In the same way, when the crowds at Jerusalem hear Peter speaking to the “men of Israel” women are clearly not addressed but at the same time he is very much addressing them in the sense of the sermon being for women to hear, obey and research perhaps even more than the men! Let’s ask one more question to illustrate: How a woman can be a help to man? As Proverbs 31 tells us a good wife, “considers a field, and buys it,” a good wife is “trusted by her husband,” and a good wife “reaches out her hands to the poor,” but first and foremost, women, whether they are single or married, can be a help to mankind by being what they seem to have been created to be, students of the Bible and theologians.