The People of the Covenant (Genesis 2:18-25)

So as we catch up with the people of Israel here, they have been camped at the foot of Mount Sinai in Arabia for more than a year. They have assembled and consecrated their tabernacle — which was their sacred tent, a mobile temple. They have seen the glory of God descend from the mountain and move into the tabernacle. And ever since then God has been preparing them for their big move northward to the land he promised to give them. He has commissioned them to be a nation of priests, destined to work the land and protect it from outside pagan influences.

But they have a problem: the pagan influences do not just come from outside, they come from inside as well. See, the people of Israel have just spent 400 years in Egypt, and while they were there they picked up a lot of bad pagan ideas. And so God — through Moses — is having to deconstruct what they learned in Egypt and reconstruct a proper understanding of reality.

And as part of this process, Moses has been telling them the story of creation. Because one of the best ways to teach people what God wants from them in the future is to remind them of how God designed things to be in the past.

And so far in the creation story, the people have learned that God has created a special creature called a “man”, has put him in a sacred garden, and has commissioned him to be the high priest and the prime minister of that garden. The man’s job is to work the garden and protect it.

So now as we pick up our text here in Genesis Chapter 2, verse 18, we remember that God has just finished making that covenant with the man. God is the king; the man is God’s Prime Minister. God is God; the man is God’s High Priest. They are bound together — God to man and man to God — in perfect covenantal relationship. Life is complete, right?

Well…no, apparently not. [18] The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”

And this would have gotten the Israelite’s attention, because this is the first time God says that something is “not good”.

Until now, everything has been “very good,” and as we have already discussed, “very good”  does not mean that everything is complete — it just means that everything is on the way to complete. At the edges of the universe things are less orderly, reflecting God’s character less clearly; at the centre things are the most orderly, expressing God’s character most clearly. There we find the tree of life, and the tree of revelation — and we find the man, who is God’s son, God’s priest, God’s prime minister.

But here we find out that even at the center, at the very pinnacle of creation, things are not yet complete. This situation is not good enough.

And this would have been a shock to the ancient people of Israel: “What do you mean it’s not good for the man to be alone with God? Isn’t he a priest? Isn’t that his job, to be alone with God?”

But that is one of those false pagan ideas they picked up in Egypt. See, in ancient Egypt — and in most pagan cultures — priests were spiritual men who avoided contact with the unclean physical world. So for the ancient Egyptians — and the ancient Israelites, who had picked up this idea — for them, this idea of a priest living in spiritual isolation alone with God would have been their idea of perfection.

But God says no, this is not good. This situation is incomplete. This man — this priest — needs something more.

What does he need?

God goes on: “I will make a helper — “

— and the Israelites would have said, “Oh, yes, of course! Priests need helpers. They need servants to help run the temple. They need altar boys and acolytes and monks, people like that!”

But Moses would have said, “Hang on, let me finish the sentence! The Lord God said, ‘I will make a helper suitable for him.’”

And this would have been a second shock for the ancient people of Israel. Because this word that Moses uses — “suitable” — literally means “like opposite” to the man. In other words, God is saying that this priest needs a woman to help him in his garden-temple!

And that is just unbelievable! Because — remember! — many ancient pagan priests were supposed to avoid contact with the unclean physical world. And guess which part of the physical world was the most unclean? That’s right: women. Why? Because women are the opposite of men, the opposite of spiritual. How do we know this? Because they have babies.

— and this is where we pause to say, “How does that make any sense at all?” But there is a twisted logic to it: if men are the priests, holy and spiritual, then what is the opposite of that? Women: the anti-priests, unholy and physical. And the proof of this is contained in the reproductive system: men produce spiritual seed, this mysterious life-giving substance. Women, by contrast, produce physical babies. Men are from heaven, and produce heavenly seed; women are of the earth, and produce earthly babies.

So, in the minds of ancient pagan people, women were the opposite of men — and this was a bad thing. But here God is saying that, yes, women are the opposite of men — but this is actually a good thing, something the man needs.

And this comment would have made everyone sit up and listen.

And so now that Moses has everyone’s shocked attention, he tells them the story:

[19] Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. [20] So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.

So here we find that the man and the animals have a lot in common. Back in verse 7, God formed the man out of the ground and made him a living creature. Here, in verse 19, we are told that God also formed the animals out of the ground and made them into living beings. So it is not true that men are spiritual and women are earthly; men are earthly — literally.

And Moses makes this point clear by using Adam’s name here for the first time. Until now, we have only known him as “the man”. Here we are given his name: Adam. And there’s actually an ironic joke here, because, in Hebrew, Adam literally means “Earthling”. “Dirtling.” The name itself is a reminder of where the man comes from.

But even though the man and the animals are living creatures formed out of the ground, they are also very different. Back in verse 7 God formed the man slowly and carefully, like an artist finishing his masterpiece. Here in verse 19 the animals are just…formed. It is hard to capture the nuance in English, but the idea here is that the animals are mass produced like in a factory, whereas the man was hand-crafted.

We also saw back in verse 7 that God breathed his Spirit into the man and this made him a living creature. Here in verse 19, we are told the animals are also living creatures, but there’s no mention of God breathing into them. Animals obviously have some kind of living spirit — but it’s not God’s Spirit.

So the man is earthly like the animals — but he is also spiritual like God. He is God’s son. And God has commissioned his son to work the garden and protect it as high priest and prime minster. And this means that the man is also commissioned to work and protect the citizens of the garden, the animals.

So God, like a proud father, brings the citizens of the garden to the man and says, “Here, Son: you name them, you give them jobs to do.” In Genesis Chapter 1 this is what God did with all the different parts of the universe: he named them and gave them jobs. Here, the man gets to imitate God in this small way.

And at this point some of us wonder if Moses has already gone off-track: because isn’t this story supposed to be about the creation of a helper for the man? Why are we suddenly focusing on the animals?

Well, actually, this is good story-telling. Moses is deliberately slowing down the narrative in order to increase our tension as readers. Once again, he does not give us a time reference. But as we consider just how many animals there are in the world, and how many days, months — years? — it might have taken for Adam to see each one, and think about it, and name it, and give it a productive place in God’s kingdom…well, as we consider just how long this process might have taken we begin to feel what Adam felt. Animal after animal, day after day, but for Adam no suitable helper was found. For us, it would be like living in the world’s greatest palace with every possible luxury available at our fingertips — and no one to share it with…except God.

Which sounds heretical to us, doesn’t it? How can sharing with God not be enough? But it actually makes sense if you think about it: what can you give to the God who already has everything? It’s great that he has given you everything, but after a little while you would begin to realize that the relationship is really very one-sided, like a father to a baby. Eventually, as you grew a little older and more self-aware, you would want a chance to share, to give back, to pass on what you have been given. You would want a relationship with someone who is more like you, where there can be more of a mutual give and take.

Fortunately, God agrees: the man needs more.

[21] So — after turning up the narrative tension for a while — Moses tells us that the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. [22] Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man.

And like so much else in Moses’ creation story, this episode has ordinary physical elements mixed in with deep symbolism. It is simple enough for any child to understand, and yet there is also a mystery here that scholars have debated for thousands of years.

On the surface this looks like God gives the man an anaesthetic and performs a physical surgery: takes a rib from the man and makes a woman out of it.

But the language Moses uses is also very poetic language. For instance, this word for “deep sleep” is used seven times in the bible, and everywhere else it is used to describe a visionary experience where God reveals a mystery to someone. The Greek word for it is “ecstasy”: the Lord God caused the man to fall into an ecstasy.

And then this word “rib” is used about 40 times in the bible, but everywhere else it is used to describe the whole side of a building. In other words, while the man was sleeping, God took one of his sides and then closed up the place with flesh. As in: God cut the man in half and then made a woman out of that half! — which, you have to admit, is very, very radical surgery.

And herein lies the mystery: is Moses describing a literal, physical surgery, or is he describing something that God revealed to Adam through a visionary experience…?

And the answer is: yes. Remember, Hebrew prophets always tried to root their prophecies in reality, in history, as much as possible. But they were also very willing to pack that reality with poetry and metaphor and symbols in order to give that reality as many layers of meaning as they could. Moses wants us to believe that something real happened here — but if we start to get obsessed with the science of what exactly happened…Moses would just shake his head at us and shrug, because for him how it happened is not as important as why it happened.

Why did God reveal to Adam — and to us — that the woman is made out of the other half of the man? Why is it important for us to know this?

Three reasons:

First, many ancient pagans believed that men were spiritual and women were earthly. But here God is showing us that, actually, it’s the other way around! The first man was made out of dirt; the first woman was made out of the man. So she is actually the first living being to be created from another living being; everything else was made out of dead dirt. And this means the woman is special.

Second, this confirms that the woman really is “like opposite” to the man: she is, quite literally, his other half. But, as we have already mentioned, to God this is not a bad thing. This does not make her the anti-priest; this makes her the man’s equal in value. She is the queen to his king. She is the priestess to his priest. She is God’s daughter just as the man is God’s son.

Third, this confirms that even though the woman is equal in value with the man, she is still “like opposite” to him: she is different from him — the man’s mirror image, we could say. And because she is made differently, she is also called to a different task. The man was made out of dirt because his job is to bring life and order out of the dirt. The woman was made out of man because her job is to help bring life and order out of the man.

— and I’m going to pause at this point to address something. I realize that, to our modern ears, this idea that the woman was created to be the man’s “helper” sounds…patriarchal and heirarchical and male dominated and other words like that. But, before we pass judgement on this concept, we really need to consider it in its original context. We have to remember the alternative.

See, in that ancient pagan world, men only needed women the same way they needed dirt: as a place to plant their seed. Nothing more. Women were just baby-making machines, and — added bonus — they were also very useful as slaves when they weren’t busy making babies. In the pagan world women didn’t “help” men because men don’t need help!

By contrast, in God’s world, men do need help. And God created women to be that help. And really, truly, to be called a “helper” in scripture is no insult at all. Because — get this! — the word “helper” is used many times in the bible, and it almost always describes how God is the helper and protector and saviour of his people.

So when God talks about the woman being man’s “helper”, this is not a patriarchal insult to the value of women. Quite the opposite. It is a celebration of mutuality in male-female relationships. In the ancient pagan world, male-female relationships were not mutual at all: women depended on men but men really didn’t depend on women. In God’s world, however, women need men, and men need women just as much — or, actually, even more! as we are about to see.

This is how the Apostle Paul summarizes this whole idea in the New Testament: “In the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.”

So in other words, the man is named after dirt, and his job is to work the dirt and protect it. The woman is named after one of God’s most beautiful attributes — the covenant Helper! — and her job is to work the man and protect him.

And the net effect of all this was to elevate the women of ancient Israel far above the women of any other culture at that time.

In Egypt they had been taught that they were earthly, unclean, unspiritual; here God has revealed that they were actually the final step of creation and the first step toward consummation.

In Egypt they had been taught that they were less valuable than men; here God has revealed that the sexes are equal in value.

In Egypt they had been taught that men were complete and women incomplete; here God has revealed that actually it is the man who was incomplete, and it was the woman who was designed to make up for what he lacked.

In short, this is the radical, anti-pagan concept that God has revealed to his people: men need women — and not just physically but relationally.

And the ancient people of Israel would have struggled with this concept. Their time in Egypt would have taught them that the only way a man can have a satisfying emotional, intellectual, and spiritual relationship is with another man. Ancient pagan people believed that women were simply not developed enough to have any kind of profound relationship with a man.

But while the ancient Israelites might have struggled a bit with this concept, Adam does not struggle with it at all! After all that time he just spent naming the animals, looking for a partner…well, at this point he totally understands just how much he needs a helper who can connect with him relationally in every way.

So when God brings the woman to him —

— and we’re supposed to hear the wedding music playing as the Father brings his daughter down the aisle —

— the man takes one look at her and bursts out, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man!”

And that, friends, was covenantal language. That was relational language. That was a wedding ceremony. It has all the necessary elements for a covenant. First, the man outlined all the benefits he has already provided for her (his whole side!). Second, he outlined their mutual obligations (the continued sharing of flesh and bone). And third, he outlined all the benefits she would enjoy going forward (the equality — or even the privilege — of being called ‘woman’, the only living counterpart to the man).

And just in case we missed the significance of what just happened, Moses makes this editorial side comment in verse 24: That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Pagan cultures emphasized how much women need men. But Moses turns that around: men need women so much that they are willing to give up the security of their father’s house and go out looking for a woman to marry. It is a huge risk! — but it is a risk that comes with a promise: that out of that fire, out of that passion, out of that need to find a helper, there springs a new creation: the man-woman, the marriage, the new family…the next generation.

And in the New Testament, Paul fills in the ultimate significance of this moment for us: a man’s willingness to give up everything to win a woman for himself is actually a foreshadowing of Christ’s willingness to give up everything in order to win for himself his woman: his bride, the Church, the people of God.

That is how valuable women are supposed to be!

And the woman must have accepted the terms of the covenant, because Moses tells us next that Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

It was not good for the man to be alone with God in the garden. Now he is no longer alone: he is in covenant with a helper suitable for him. They have together become a new creation. They are in perfect relationship. They have nothing to hide from one another, or from God, and so they have no reason to feel ashamed of their intimacy.

So, what does this have to do with us? How are we supposed to apply this to our lives?

Well, we can start by realizing that our situation is not that different from the ancient people of Israel. They had picked up many bad ideas during their 400 years in pagan Egypt. We have picked up many of the same ideas from the cultures around us.

It is quite astonishing, actually, how many similarities there are between ancient paganism and modern secularism.

For instance, take this idea that, in order to be really, really spiritual, priests have to keep themselves from women. In ancient pagan thinking there was a very close connection between spirituality and sexuality. It was often believed that by avoiding sex with women, the priest was able to increase his spiritual energy.

Of course, the result was temples full of very sexually frustrated men, which could result in a dangerous build-up of aggression as well as spiritual energy. So ancient paganism came up with a solution to this problem: even though sex with women was considered unclean, sex with men was okay. And this is why pagan temples were full of acolytes — younger men who were in training to be priests. And part of the training program was that the younger priests had to be sexually available to the older priests.

— and this, by the way, has been true of every religion in history that insists on some form of celibate priesthood. It is true of certain sects of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and even some parts of Christianity. If a society insists on a celibate priesthood, they inevitably end up producing a homosexual priesthood. If you doubt me, do a little research and you’ll find that that it is true.

But that is not where the process stops. See, after a homosexual priesthood becomes normalized in a pagan society, the women of that society inevitably become even more devalued. It is like a deadly feed-back loop: the culture begins by assuming that women are somehow unspiritual. Then, as homosexual sex is accepted as an easy and “safe” way to get rid of extra energy, sex with women becomes less and less valuable. The culture begins to celebrate male relationships above all. And in the end women are only valuable if they are beautiful, productive, or fertile.

And at this point some of you are wondering, “Why are we suddenly talking about this?” Well, this is why: this same cycle that always happened in ancient pagan societies is happening to us today. Most people don’t recognize it because it is disguised as a non-religious thing, but the truth is this: as homosexual sex becomes more and more normalized and celebrated in our global society, ordinary relationships between a man and a woman become more and more despised. Marriage becomes more and more despised. And every time marriage loses value in a society, women always end up losing value.

— and there is actually a scientific explanation for this. Modern economists have done the math and they are able to show exactly why women suffer more when marriage goes into decline. It basically has to do with economic incentives: a culture that values marriage highly produces a seller’s market in which women have more choice and more control over who they marry; but a culture that devalues marriage produces a buyer’s market in which men have all the control and women have to compete sexually for male attention. This is what has been happening in the west ever since the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, and this is why western women are more sexualized that ever before —

But anyway, I don’t want to get into the details of all that. If you doubt me, you can check the research for yourselves.

And also, please understand this: we am not here to demonize people who struggle with same-sex attraction. The mere existence of same-sex attraction in a society is not the problem; it is the acceptance and normalization of same-sex attraction that is the problem. All of us here, in this church, struggle with a variety of sins, and a variety of sexual dysfunctions. So if you are here today and same-sex attraction is something that you are wrestling with, please do not feel that you are being judged for that from this pulpit. You, as an individual, are not a threat to society. We are all caught up in larger cultural currents, and the wide-spread acceptance of same-sex attraction is simply a symptom of a deeper spiritual problem.

If you want to know more about this cultural pattern, it is outlined fully in Romans Chapter 1.

Anyway, the bottom-line point today is this: ancient pagan cultures went through a consistent developmental pattern where exclusively male relationships — and exclusively female relationships! — became more valuable than male-female relationships. Every times this happened, marriage would go into decline. And as marriage went into decline, the value of women would also go into decline.

This is what the ancient people of Israel experienced during their years in Egypt. And this is what we are experiencing in our global culture today.

Do you doubt me? Are you thinking, “No! Women are more valued in our modern culture than ever before!” Well, consider this: aren’t we all being told, with louder and louder voices, that gender is just a construct, that women are no different from men? Now, if you think about it, isn’t that just another way of saying that women are not really women. Isn’t that just another way of saying that womanhood — the state of being a woman — is no longer a valuable thing?

Now, I’m not a woman so I don’t know. But, sisters, you tell me: is it your experience that our culture values you for who you are? Or are you told that your value lies in your beauty and your productivity? It seems to me that every advertisement aimed at women is either a beauty product or the promise of advancement in career or child-rearing or rock-climbing or whatever. As far as I can tell, the only difference between ancient paganism and today is that today you are told you can achieve all this for yourselves instead of for a man — but in the end where does your self-worth come from? It looks to me like our modern pagan culture still ties your value to your appearance and your productivity. But again, like I said, I’m not a woman, so I don’t know. I can only tell you how it looks from the outside.

Okay. So we are facing exactly the same issues the ancient Israelites were facing.

What is the solution, then? How are we to stand against these massive cultural tides that want us to join in the process of devaluing women?

Well, in this passage, God offered ancient Israel a very clear solution, and this solution is also meant for us in our day.

What is this solution? What is this force that will stand against the tides of culture and transform society and elevate women to their proper place?

Here it is. Are you ready?


Marriage is the solution. Faithful covenant relationship between a man and a woman.

Marriage is the foundation upon which all healthy societies are built. In fact, marriage is the foundation upon which our entire faith is built, because as we have already noticed, scripture tells us that our human marriages are actually an image of Christ’s marriage with the Church.

So the way we are called to stand against these cultural tides is by continuing to celebrate marriage. We must continue to preach these three truths that God has revealed to us here.

First: men need women, and women need men.

Second: the sexes are equal in value and dignity.

And third: the sexes are different in calling and expression.

But of course, preaching these truths is not all we are called to do. We are also called to live them out. So how do we do that?

Well, if you are here today and you are married, then God’s instructions are quite simple, quite clear:

Sisters, you were created to be your busband’s helper. You were created to help bring order out of the chaos of his life. This is not an insult to you. Actually, it’s an insult to your husband. The institution of marriage is God’s way of telling men, “Son, you need help!”

And, of course, brothers, we know this very well, don’t we? So let’s be humble and just admit it. Let’s let our lives as husbands reflect Christ’s life: let us work to give up everything, let us be willing to take any risk, to win the delight of the wife God has given us. Let us resist every career ambition, let us resist the world’s definition of where our value lies as men, and let us live sacrificially as husbands and fathers above all.

Now, if you are here today and you are not yet married, then here are your instructions. Guys, if you feel that God has called you to marriage, then follow his instructions: go! Give up everything you’ve got to win a wife of your very own! And sisters, if you feel that God has called you to marriage, then: take your time and choose carefully! Do not fall for every dork that comes around, because the better the man you marry the easier it will be to live alongside him as his helper.

And finally, if you are here today and you feel that God has not called you into marriage, then allow me to assure you that you are not somehow less than complete. It is true that the wife is the other half of the husband, and the husband the other half of the wife. As Paul points out in the New Testament, this is a profound mystery. But this does not mean that unmarried people are only half a person. Male or female, you are who God has created you to be, with gifts and skills unique to your sex, unique to your situation. You are valuable to this church family. And the ultimate truth is that you aren’t actually single: you are part of the bride of Christ, and you participate in all the benetfits of that covenant relationship, every bit as much as your married brothers and sisters.

In the end that is our only Good News. Just because we are Christians does not necessarily mean we will enjoy a good marriage. Sometimes spouses die. Sometimes relationships end in separation or divorce. Some argue all their lives, while others have to fight to remain faithful. Many Christian marriages struggle with some kind of sexual dysfunction. Ultimately, our testimony to the world around us does not come from how we all live in these perfect Christian marriages. Ultimately, our testimony to the world around us comes from how we live when we do not have a perfect Christian marriage.

In other words, the Good News is this: we do not point to Christ by pretending to have perfect marriages; we point to Christ by admitting when we do not have perfect marriages. We point to Christ by confessing our sins, and repenting, and turning back to the great Helper who has redeemed us.

So whether you are happily married or unhappily married, whether you are happily unmarried or unhappily unmarried, whether you are widowed or divorced or whatever your state, hear this: in Christ, we are complete, we are bound to him and to one another in eternal covenant, we are destined for eternal happiness.

So let’s live with that hope shining from everything we do.


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