Wrestling with God

Last week our focus was on Abraham and the faithfulness God showed he and Sarah by keeping his promises even when they tried to take a shortcut.

This week we will talk about a difficult character to address: Jacob. Even from the beginning Jacob showed signs of who he would become as he exited the womb grabbing the heel of his brother. He’s given the name “Jacob” which means he grabs the heel. That’s an interesting little bit of information, but when you realize what he grabs the heel in Hebrew is an idiom for he takes advantage of, or he deceives, the story gets more interesting. Seriously, who would want to name their child “deceiver” when they are born?

As we look at the story of Jacob we find out he deceives and takes advantage of situations quite often. He extorts his brother’s birthright (Gen. 25:29-34), he stole his brother’s blessing (Gen. 27:5ff), he deceptively builds great herds and flocks from his father-in-law (Gen. 30:41-43), and the list goes on and on. Not exactly role model material in some ways.

And yet, in some ways he’s exactly who we should be. Our sermon this week will focus on Jacob wrestling with God. We’ll explore the details of the story Sunday, but for now I want you to consider if you ever find yourself wrestling with God about something? I would say most often those times of wrestling are brought on by our desires. We want something and initiate the wrestling in hopes of getting our way. In Jacob’s case it is God who initiates the wrestling.

Why would God physically wrestle with Jacob? 

That’s a great question to wrestle with ourselves. Jacob’s story is a strange one that ends in a strange way. But the episode ends with God changing Jacob’s name to Israel which means he struggles with God. Think about this for a moment. The entire nation of Jacob’s descendants came to be known as those who struggle with God. And that title applies to us as well since Scripture tells us we have been grafted into Israel (Eph. 2:11-22).

We’ll explore other points of this text on Sunday, but for now I want you to find peace if you are wrestling with God. Jacob persisted in wrestling with God because he wanted to receive a blessing. I pray that’s why you are wrestling with God, and that the blessing comes to you as well. 

We can wrestle with God, his promises, his purposes, his Word, and walk away blessed. Just as Jacob limped away we will be changed by the encounter, but if we are persistent in our wrestling we too can be blessed through the encounter.

(Sermon text for 9/22: Genesis 32:9-13; 22-30; Mark 14:32-36)

He will rule over you: Prescription or Description?

I realize that this is a series on the women of the Bible and their stories, and last week I spent the entire article talking about the first sin, but it’s important to our understanding of the stories of women in the Bible. So much of what we believe about Genesis 1-3 influences the way we read the rest of Scripture. A bit more heavy lifting this week, and then on to other stories next week.

Last week we discussed how Genesis 3 is not an elevation of man over woman. It shows us that sin is a problem that impacts all creation – humans, animals, and even the garden which is now devoid of its human caretakers. The point we are to take away is that sin affects everything. That is consistent with the consequences of the sin that God enumerates in the last half of chapter 3. I find it fascinating that the word “cursed” is applied to the serpent, and to the ground because of Adam’s failure, but not to Eve.

The real reason we are looking at this passage again is our understanding of verse 16, specifically the last half of the verse:

“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

Genesis 3:16b NIV

Many have interpreted this verse as a sexual desire on the part of the woman, and God now wants man to be in charge. Let’s take a look at this verse within the immediate context of Genesis 3, and the larger context of Genesis and the whole of Scripture.  Genesis 4:7 is a parallel verse to Genesis 3:16 using the same Hebrew words:

“…[sin] desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Genesis 4:7 NIV

With regards to Cain we understand from the same Hebrew language that sin wants to possess Cain, but Cain’s response should be to rule over sin. We get that. Yet the same language when used with the consequences of sin in the Garden gets interpreted differently because we think God wants men to rule over women. This is not how God established relationships in the Garden. He did not create Eve as subservient to Adam (as we looked at for the last two weeks.) Remember, the Garden was God’s ideal environment for humans, but now as a result of sin there will be broken relationships between humans and God, and between men and women, each seeking to dominate the other. I really appreciated Derek Kinder’s statement about this phrase in his commentary on Genesis.

“‘To love and to cherish’ becomes ‘To desire and to dominate’. While even pagan marriage can rise far above this, the pull of sin is always towards it.”  

Derek Kinder, Genesis: an introduction and commentary

So are we to take Genesis 3:16b as God describing the effects of sin, or are we to take the statement as a prescription/authority for man to rule over women going forward? We will answer that question through the rest of this series. From here we will continue to look at how God’s Word describes the relationship between men and women throughout the story of the Bible. We’ll look at how each story portrays this relationship and how those stories should influence our churches today.

Next week we’ll look at Miriam, who is much more than the sister of Moses. She is a child of God with an important role to play.

Question: What was Miriam’s role in God’s rescue of Israel?

Eve: Equality with Adam – Part 2

We continue our look at the women of the Bible by looking again at Eve’s story. Last week we noted that nothing in Genesis 1 or 2 indicates that Eve is somehow inferior to Adam. In fact, it proves quite the opposite. Both Adam and Eve are fully created in the image of God. We ended with a question last week: Who sinned first? Adam or Eve? Let’s look at a few verses to find the answer.

And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

1 Timothy 2:14 NIV

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned…

Romans 5:12 NIV

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

1 Corinthians 15:21-22 NIV

Confused yet? Upon first glance it would appear Paul is too, but not quite. Let’s look at one more verse.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

Genesis 2:15 NIV

The word for “take care of it” would be the Hebrew word shamar which means “to keep, guard, keep watch and ward, protect, save life.” Adam was charged as the keeper and protector of the Garden. Yet in Genesis chapter 3 as he is with Eve (3:6), he fails to do this. (by the way, all of the serpent’s statements are made using the plural “you,” not singular).

Eve was the first to be deceived (per Paul), but Adam failed to shamar his wife and the Garden from the deception of the serpent. Notice also that both the humans and the serpent are punished; first the serpent, then Eve, then Adam. All three sinned.

So who sinned first? Could it have been Adam for not kicking the serpent out of the Garden? Perhaps. The serpent for deceiving Eve (3:14)? It would seem likely this was the first, although the serpent isn’t human (that’s a theological discussion for another time). Was it Eve who ate the fruit?

I think the way the story is told is intentional to show how intertwined we humans are. Adam was supposed to obey God through his shamar of the Garden and Eve. He failed at this at the same time Eve failed at obeying God’s command through the deception of the serpent. Genesis 3 is not an elevation of man over woman. It shows us that sin is a problem that affects all creation – humans, animals, and even the garden which is now devoid of its human caretakers. Sin affects everything. This is not a problem that we can blame on Eve or Adam. I think Paul understood this as well.

There is no difference…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:22-24 NIV

Question: So does God want Adam to now rule over Eve because they have sinned?

Eve: Equality with Adam

Today we will begin a series of articles that will focus on the women of the Bible. I must confess that for many years I read the Bible without noticing many of these names and their significance to God’s story, but they are significant to God’s story! Knowing the stories of these women is vitally important to understanding the nature of God. Based on a show-of-hands poll at a recent Bible conference I attended, many (including some in ministry) don’t know these stories even though the Spirit placed them in the pages of the Bible. I hope in some small way these articles will begin to change that. The first woman we will look at is not a stranger to most. In fact she’s the first woman of all: Eve.

Eve has received a lot of blame, scorn, and shame throughout the centuries even though she did what you and I do virtually every day – Eve disobeyed God. For some reason scholars and believers have tried to make Eve somehow fundamentally less than Adam, though that was certainly not how God viewed things. Eve was created equal to Adam. She is just as important to God’s story as he. Consider the following verses:

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27 NIV

Notice that both Adam and Eve are created fully in the image of God. Notice also that they are one: mankind. Nowhere in the story is it even hinted that Eve is somehow less than Adam. Our roles of gender inequality have been heavily influenced by Plato and Aristotle who believed that women were sub-human, less human than men (see Politics 1.1260a). For years we’ve read this worldview onto the story of Eve, as well as other women in Scripture.

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

Genesis 2:18 NIV

Time for a Hebrew lesson. The Hebrew phrase translated here as “helper suitable” and in other translations “help meet” is ezer kenegdo. Many look at this phrase from an English standpoint and say this means Eve was less than Adam because she was his helper. The problem with that is that God himself is referred to as our ezer (helper) in a number of places in Scripture (see Ps. 33:20 for example). Does that mean that God is somehow less than us because he helps us? Quite the contrary! He is more powerful than us which means he can help us! God himself is the only other ezer in all of Scripture: God & Eve! The word kenegdo regulates ezer by indicating that this is a helper in likeness, someone who is like the other that can help. According to Dr. Kindy DeLong, without kenegdo a Hebrew reader would have to assume that Eve was more powerful than Adam, but kenegdo shows equality.

Nothing in Genesis 1 or 2 indicates that Eve is somehow inferior to Adam. In fact, it proves quite the opposite. Both Adam and Eve are fully created in the image of God. Eve is a “helper” (ezer) for Adam just as God is a “helper” (ezer) for the psalmist. Instead of God being superior to the psalmist, Eve here is portrayed as equal (kenegdo) to Adam. Next week we’ll look at Genesis 3, and how the New Testament uses that story.

Question to consider: Who sinned first? Adam or Eve? (hint: re-read Gen. 1-3)

Much of the content of this article was inspired by a lecture i attended given by Dr. Kindy DeLong during Harbor 2019 at Pepperdine University. You can listen to the lecture by clicking here.