God created woman to fill up the loneliness in Adam’s life and to provide him the spiritual and physical companionship that he would need to perform his assigned task on the earth. She was and is the ‘help meet’ that he was given to provide spiritual protection and helping in maintaining a close relationship with God. After the fall the entire blame was placed on the woman and thereafter her status was brought low to that of a junior partner in the relationship. But did God intend this to be her role?
Why was the woman created out of man? – Much like the difference between the heavens and the earth, God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours and difficult to comprehend (Isaiah 55:8-9). Apostle Paul also exclaimed the same about ‘the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God’ for God’s ways are past finding out (Romans 11:33). So I will not question God’s judgment about the process of woman’s creation. But if we try and analyze the role of the woman, probably we may be able to gain some insight.
After creating everything God saw what He had made and declared it to be ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31). Later in the same creation then, God found what was ‘not good’, that man should not be alone and a ‘suitable help meet’ was created for him (Genesis 2:18). Hebrew word ‘ezer kenegdo’ is translated as ‘help meet’. Word ezer is used 21 times in the Old Testament and it is always and only used in the context of vitally important and powerful acts of rescue and support. Ezer is a warrior and kenegdo means ‘opposite as to him or corresponding as to him’. Out of 21 times word ‘ezer’ is used for woman 2 times, nations 3 times and for God 16 times as help. Scriptures depict God as a help (Psalm 33:20 & Hosea 13:9). Evidently God did not create woman to be subservient to man but as an equal partner with supporting roles.
God created both male and female ‘in His own image’ (Genesis 1:27). What does this mean? We were created to have a creative mind like God, an imagination like Him and a sense of independence like God. Apostle Paul reminds us to ‘Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 2:5). When God breathed into us, a living spirit was given and this was not given to the animals. Now what is the difference between man and woman, for she was created as ‘ezer’ or ‘help meet’ and not help mate or ‘sahayak’ as we generally understand? She is there to help in understanding for the word ‘ezer’ comes from two root words meaning ‘to rescue, to save’ and ‘to be strong’. Dr Chaim Bentorah, a Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek languages scholar, says that this word is also used for a courtyard, an open space surrounding a building. In ancient culture the courtyard had no roof and was open to the sky or the heavens and was used for all activities of a home but in an open space. In comparison the main covered building provides security, shelter, or protection from weather or other threats from outsiders.
In like manner a helpmeet was open to heaven and its revelations while Adam provided safety and security. Thus woman was the one who would help man to see heaven or understand God and meet Him. The Hebrew word for alone is ‘bad’ which comes from root word ‘badad’ which means ‘separated, isolated, straggler’ (Genesis 2:18). Elsewhere this word is used, ‘like a wild donkey alone by itself’ (Hosea 8:9). Man had none else but God as his counterpart and separation from God creates that ‘being alone’ and woman was created to help bridge that gap.
Why did God not use dust of the earth to create the woman? – She was supposed to be ‘ezer’ or help meet to man and not an opponent. A separate and independent created being would have become an self dependent entity and not a ‘help meet’. Only a creature of the same bone and flesh could fill this role while matching wits, love and personhood of man. Thus firstly, a woman is to help man see and understand God so as to bring harmony in the relationship and secondly she is supposed to be his support and rescuer in times of distress.
Why did the devil target Eve first and not Adam? – Apostle Paul says, ‘woman is the glory of man’ which means that she is his ‘inherent, intrinsic value/weight or worth’ of man (1 Corinthians 11:7). And the ‘weight of glory’ referred to by Apostle Paul means the enhancement of that worth of man by the woman (2 Corinthians 4:17). Secondly, the devil always attempts to reverse God’s order and the woman who was made after man was chosen by him to be tempted. Third, she is man’s spiritual protective wall and without her man could not have been reached by the devil. There may be opposition to this viewpoint but this is probably the reason why women outnumber men in the church and she encourages the family in their spiritual growth and maturity.
Is there any change in her role after the fall? – After their sin, the question asked by God to the woman is translated as, ‘What is this you have done’ (Genesis 3:13). Hebrew word ‘mah’ translated as a ‘what’ in a question form can also mean an exclamation ‘how’. The All-Knowing God’s question to the woman was about ‘how’ and not ‘why’ implying that she should have realized the consequences of the action. God then lists out the resultant effect of her action on the future of the woman, ‘your desire shall be for your husband and he will rule over you’ (Genesis 3:16). From an equal, her role became one of subservience. The words from God to Adam and Eve are descriptive of the consequences of their action and not punitive. Only the serpent and the earth were cursed (Genesis 3:14 & 17).
There was no change of role for man and woman both, but to be fruitful and multiply would be painful for the woman and to dominate and subdue the earth would be hard labor for man. The woman to fulfill her role of ‘ezer’ will face opposition from the man himself for he will try and control her. A son, Cain, was born to Eve and she said, ‘I have acquired a man from the LORD’ (Genesis 4:1). Though daughters were also born but there is no mention of their names nor about any other details except in rare occasions. The woman accepted her lowered status and man assumed control over her life from birth to death.
After redemption what should have changed for the woman – The time gap between the period of Prophet Malachi and coming of the Redeemer Lord is about four hundred years. The prophecy regarding the coming of Prophet Elijah before the Savior Lord was fulfilled in John the Baptist (Malachi 4:5). The Divine silence of long period, when no word from the LORD was heard, was broken by angel Gabriel in the Temple before Zacharias, the priest, proclaiming the birth of John the Baptist. Zacharias, however, doubted the word of God and became mute for his unbelief (Luke 1:11-20). The same angel proclaimed the birth of the Savior and Mary gladly accepted the message to say, ‘Let it be to me according to your word’, without bothering for the likely punishment of being stoned to death for conceiving a child without being married. Mary’s song of worship and praise starts with, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior’ (Luke 1:26-38 & 46-47).
The message about the birth of the Messiah was received by a woman first and the second person to know was again a woman, Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. Since divorcing a woman even for petty causes was rampant for degradation of the woman, Lord Jesus preached, ‘what God has joined together, let no man separate’ (Mark 10:2-12).
The ministry of the Lord is about restoring all that was lost and it goes beyond the forgiveness of sins. Woman’s status was elevated before men from before His birth itself and the first person to learn about His true identity was also a woman, and that also a Samaritan. Travelling from Jerusalem back to Galilee, ‘He needed to go through Samaria’, a route shunned by all Jews, for He had to meet a woman at Jacob’s well (John 4:4). It is that woman who is offered ‘living water’ that would become a fountain of water springing into everlasting life’. She is then taught the right way to pray, ‘in the spirit and truth’. It is again a woman who gets the revelation of identity of the Redeemer, ‘I who speak to you AM HE’. Lord Jesus statement that she ‘had five husbands and the one whom you now have is not your husband’ is interpreted that the woman was a seeker of satisfaction of lusts of the flesh. If this was so why would the Lord discuss spiritual matters with her and make such revelations that would be beyond her comprehension? She proclaimed to the villagers, ‘He told me all things that I ever did, Could this be the Christ’ and was she proclaiming about her promiscuity? And many believed in Lord Jesus because of her testimony, the testimony of such a woman? In verse 38 Lord Jesus told the disciples, ‘I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored’ then who had worked in this Samaritan village to get the crop of souls ready? The Samaritans declared to the woman after listening to the Lord, ‘Now we believe not because of what you said’ and obviously they used to listen to her despite the fact that she was a great sinner as generally believed.
Late Dr Gopal Singh, a Sikh scholar, in his epic poem about Lord Jesus, ‘The Man Who Never Died’, claims that the Samaritan woman’s five husbands were fleshly desires of sex, anger, greed, attachment to worldly possessions and pride and that she had prevailed over these. The sixth one was the time and she was trying to control this also, thus declaring her to be a great saint, respected by the villagers for she would keep trying to turn them to God. As per this then, she was trying to conquer time just like Jacob who tried to be firstborn, holding on to Esau’s heel and receive blessings before daybreak, through wrestling with God. If we accept this view then Lord Jesus discourse in John 4 becomes clear.
The first person to meet the Risen Lord and receive an evangelical assignment was Mary Magdalene, ‘Go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God’ (John 20:17). The coming of the Messiah and His resurrection were both first revealed to women and the Lord restored the lost glory to both male and female. The promise of God that all believers are given the right to be ‘children of God’ is effective for both male and female, irrespective of their gender (John 1:12). He has given the lost glory back to both sexes, thus empowering both (John 17:22). Mary Magdalene and other women ‘provided for Him from their substance’ and Lord Jesus accepted their contribution thus granting them an equal share of work in His ministry (Luke 8:2-3).
Lord Jesus’ proclamation from the cross, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30) resonates with the end of creation process where God rested from His work and blessed and sanctified the day for His work was completed (Genesis 2:2-3). The responsibility of giving effect to His work by carrying forward the assigned task was for man, who claimed everything for himself treating the woman as a subordinate partner.
Why did Apostle Paul restrict a woman’s role? – Women are commanded by the Apostle to be silent in the Church for it was considered shameful (1 Corinthians 14:34-35). Again women were directed to be moderate in their dress with no permission to teach for ‘Adam was not deceived but the woman’ (1 Timothy 2:9-14). Apostle Paul’s letters are time, region and context specific and addressed to a pagan culture where a woman was treated as a possession. A woman had to be supported by her father, husband or the temple of Aphrodite, the goddess, and the only option for her in the temple was to cut her hair short and become a religious prostitute. That is the reason for all those restrictions suggested by the Apostle and the real position and a woman’s role is given by him differently. Believers are neither male, nor female but one in Christ and in Him, heirs according to the promise of God to Abraham (Galatians 3:28-29).
Lord Jesus has established the way of life for all believers, ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5:16). The ministry of Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna has been acknowledged in the Scripture (Luke 8:3). Apostle Paul has also recognized the women in ministry and Romans 16 is a classic example of recognition of various women in ministry. There is Phoebe, a deacon in Cenchrea, who helped many including the apostle himself and Priscilla and Acquilla, the husband and wife team is mentioned six times in the New Testament for they had a church in their house. They even ‘explained the Way of God more accurately’ to Apollos, a preacher from Alexandria (Acts 18:26). The other women recognized as such are Mary, Tryphaena, Tryphosa and Persis; Mary the mother of Mark (Acts 12:12). After release from prison Apostle Paul went to the house of Lydia in Philippi being sure of a welcome there (Acts 16:40).
To take words written to a people in a particular location due to the low moral standards prevailing there and then apply the same universally would amount to distortion of the message. In the world we are all likely to be victimized, which comes from outside, and suffer some form of abuse, affliction or calamity caused by circumstances or people or institutions over which we have no control. On the other hand victimhood comes from within the individual, for no one can make you a victim but you yourself. We become victims not because of what happens to us but when we choose to hold on to it and develop a victim’s mindset through rigid thoughts, blaming others, attitude of being pessimistic, stuck in the past, unforgiving and without healthy boundaries. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a great theologian says, ‘Your life as a Christian should make the non-believers question their disbelief in God’. Most people will probably never read the Bible to come to the Church but be influenced by a fellow believer’s life – male or a female.
God created both man and woman in His image and likeness and salvation is restoration of that same state. Since salvation is for both sexes, how can God, who is love, accept unnecessary domination of one by the other? Rather the effort to do so is likely to result in withholding of answers to our prayers. Is my life setting an example for others to make them curious to know Lord Jesus? If not, then I need to do a serious introspection and my being a man or woman will matter little to God on the Day of Judgment.