EXPLORING THE WORD
Women's Place in Creation
By Denise Baum
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What is women's place in the world? Barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen? Or equal in authority with men, including in marriage and the church?
It is ultimately dangerous to trust in personal inclination about these pivotal life issues. It is equally dangerous to force the Scriptures to agree with modern social thought and opinion, although there is nothing modern about role and gender conflict. Acknowledging the authority of the Scriptures and with hearts willing to surrender to the lordship of Jesus Christ, let's perform a brief survey of Scripture on this subject. We will discover that the impact of the role of women in God's design is not about what confines her, but the freedom she has to be valuable, and experience the challenge of the amazing breadth of her position and responsibility.
When God created man, he said that it was not good for him to be alone. "I will make a helper fit for him" (Genesis 2:18b). The Hebrew word for helper, ezer, comes from the primary root azar which means to surround, that is protect or aid. Eve was created to help Adam. Paul, in his letter to Timothy recalls the order: "for Adam was formed first, then Eve" (1 Timothy 2:13). Too often, however, readers apply definition before order. The real question is not qualification, because Eve was obviously created with superior skills. The original design was for her to help Adam, not as a servant, but as a companion to that lonely first man. And yet Eve was the first to sin. The Garden of Eden was so perfect, and there was only the forbidden fruit in a single location. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil were the only limitations. [In a way, with the fullness of life surrounding most women on earth today, it seems typical for her to resent the restrictions (i.e. no preaching and teaching men) rather than enjoy the opportunities within her position.] Ever since that black day, sin has warped man's every perspective.
As we journey through the early history of Genesis, we see women as wives and daughters in the original sense of the words. They enjoyed their husbands (Genesis 26:8), bore children (Genesis 4:1), were sounding boards for their husband's grievances (Genesis 4:23-24), companions and passengers (Genesis 7:7), clever professionals (Exodus 1:15-21), leaders in musical worship (Exodus 15:20-21) — amazing helpers.
Then we come to the book of Judges, the starting point for many equality arguments. We are introduced to Deborah, Jael, Delilah, and the Levite's concubine. From sublime to sordid. Many have pointed to Deborah as a God-appointed leader for God's people and therefore role-model for women in the church today. But consider the story of Naomi and Ruth. All these women share a period of history which is defined by this commentary. "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25). It is foolish to update God's role for woman on the authority of this piece of history.
As we advance through Old Testament history, we encounter a stellar cast: Hannah, Peninnah, Merab, Michal, Abigail, Bathsheba, Jezebel, Athaliah, Vashti, and Esther, to name a few. Their influence is indisputable. However, throughout the testimony of Scripture, the common theme of Creation is reiterated over and over again. No new order is established. Man is still the responsible head.
The mother of Jesus was just that, his mother. But first, she was a virgin who was engaged to a carpenter. She encountered the angel of the Lord with fear. Upon hearing his announcement of her conception by the Holy Spirit, though, her surrender was unquestioning and complete. "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38). She had faith, therefore insight and understanding. Her focus was not on her own elevated position with its bill of rights, but on the great Savior. As the prophecies were fulfilled, "Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19). Anna, the elderly prophetess, spent her days in the temple "worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day" (Luke 1:37). No sermon is recorded, but she was privileged to recognize the infant Jesus for who he was.
The New Testament, like the Old, certainly emphasizes the accomplishments of men. Women, like Mary, Martha, Dorcas, Rhoda, Sapphira, Candace, Priscilla, and Phoebe are the splashes of color on the masculine landscape, and, again, it is indisputable that women are gifted and capable. Typically, physically and emotionally the more fragile sex, nonetheless they have always been successful in home, school, government, and church. But we must never forget that the old curse of Genesis 3 is perpetual. Women grasp for dominance and men tyrannize. When men and women function within the Creation order, so much more can be achieved for the glory and honor of God.
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