19th Sunday after Pentecost – 10/3/2021
A teacher once asked her students to draw a picture of what they wanted to be when they grew up. Various pictures emerged of cowboys, doctors, nurses, professional sports figures, etc. One little girl, however, sat and dreamed. The teacher questioned her seeming idleness. The girl responded that she had difficulty drawing what she wanted to be. Exasperated, she lamented, "I want to be happily married, but I don't know how to draw that!"
Indeed, we all might have a problem drawing that. Broken marriages, marital strife, and the denigration of what it even means to be male and female in our society today have nearly ruined traditional marriage beyond recognition. But dismal views of marriage, I'm afraid, are nothing new. Look at the Gospel text. You have Pharisees attempting to persuade Jesus that divorce was legal in their day. Jesus concedes that Moses permitted divorces because of the hardness of people's hearts. "But," he adds, "from the beginning of creation, this was not to be so." Instead, he says, God has created marriage to be the union of one man and one woman in "one flesh," which He has decreed no one is to "separate."
God-pleasing and healthy marriages don't just happen. After all, every wedding is made up of two sinners. The key to healthy marriages is an understanding, appreciation, and commitment to God's design for this institution in this world. He designed that marriage is the union of one male and one female in one flesh and that all humanity would be blessed through it. It begins with God's observation, "It is not good for man to be alone."
That is not a statement of discovery, as if God, as the Creator, just happened to notice that this poor human creature needed companionship. If that were true, then it would not say much about God's forethought or His design for human beings. After all, God didn't just throw a bunch of dirt together to see what sort of creature would emerge and then only observe after the fact that this male human being needed a female companion to complement him.
On the contrary, with these words, the Holy Creator is making a bold, definitive statement of His design for this being. For you see, unlike every other creature, God created this being from the very substance of the earth, over which he was given headship. God also breathed his own life into him alone. Correspondingly, with these words, "It is not good for the man to be alone," the LORD God of Heaven and Earth declared His unique design for this creature called man. That was already stated clearly by the Holy Writer, Moses, in the first chapter of Genesis when He said, "God created man in His image; in the image of God he created him; male and female He created them" (1:27).
That assures us that, contrary to those voices trying to convince us that gender is subjective and dependent upon one's desires, like picking your favorite ice cream flavor, human beings' binary nature is central to our created humanness. To erase or otherwise confuse or tarnish one's maleness or femaleness is to directly deny the Creator and destroy the essence of humanity itself. To be human is to be either male or female. There is no such thing as a "genderless" or "multi-gendered" human being. Even on those rare occasions where a congenital disability causes some ambiguity as to the outwardly recognizable maleness, or femaleness of a person, the very molecular structure of the person is either male or female.
So, how do we understand this need for male and female companionship that God has built into our very DNA? Is it simply that our God-given nature cannot bear being alone; we need someone breathing next to us, someone to talk to, or we will go insane? One could make such a case. After all, very few of us live like hermits. Even when we don't have any other human companionship, we tend to adopt a pet for company.
The need for companionship is not unique to humans. You rarely find any creatures in the animal kingdom, whether beasts, fish, or foul, that do not congregate in herds, families, schools, or flocks. I know our pet dog can't stand to be alone. He craves being with someone so much that he almost smothers us whenever we return from being away from him. He can't seem to get close enough to us.
But with men, the created need for companionship is quite something else. The LORD God states this unique design of humanity when He says, "It is not good for him to be alone." He's saying that a man requires a woman!
Accordingly, after He created the male from the dust and breathed into him His breath, the LORD God said, "I will make him a helper fit for him." The Hebrew word translated "fit for him," quite literally, means "over against him." God designed man to need someone to be over against him, that is, someone to correspond to him or "compliment him." The male requires a female. God sanctifies this relationship's intimacy alone by allowing it to be the place of His ongoing creative work. He brings another human being into the world through the union of males and females. Procreation is God's very exclamation point to His stated design: "It is not good that man should be alone." "I will make a helper fit for him." Apart from this binary union, there can be no more humans.
You know how many have scandalized and perverted this divinely designed union. In so doing, they are endangering our very existence. The removal of the sexual union from its only divinely designed place in the union of one man and one woman in holy marriage, the toleration and justification of homosexuality and now same-sex marriages, and the intentional movement to eradicate the distinction between male and female all not only directly defy God, but they also undermine and deny our God-given humanity. All of this renders us less than humans—even less than animals! God is the one who says it is not suitable for a man to be alone and then creates a female to complement the male.
Some find it curious that before God created the woman, He brought all the animals before Adam as if He were suggesting that he pick one that he felt could "correspond with him." That is absurd, of course. God knew very well how He had designed a man and had a woman in mind for the man. However, the man did not know it. God then had to teach man about his God-given maleness and that he was only half of the equation of being human. The parade of animals helped to serve this purpose. The man soon learned that companionship with the animals was not the answer. "However, Adam was unable to find a suitable helper."
When the man had been fully instructed, it was time to receive his corresponding helper. Again, the LORD God created uniquely and intimately. Our text states, "So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept, he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh." "And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man" (2:21, 22).
This report of how God created the woman remarkably and wonderfully reveals God's design for the relationship between male and female, especially within the confines of marriage.
The fact that she was fashioned from a man's rib alone is quite instructive about their complementary natures. Martin Luther observed that the woman was not taken from the flesh of the man's head to represent that they held the same office... She should not be viewed as someone to be trampled on by his feet. She may not feel independent of him from other sources. But she was formed out of flesh from his side to stand as his equal, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be loved by him.
That brings us to the term "helper," or as the King James Translation calls it, "helpmeet." This woman was assigned to assist the man. I know this word raises all sorts of "red flags" in our day and age! Some argue that such a term demeans the woman, as if she is subhuman or, at best, a slave to the man, someone who must be at his beck and call.
In keeping with the very prediction the LORD God made after the man and woman fell into sin that the woman would desire to "run over" the man and the man would "dominate" her, the term "helper" has been used as a license by men to treat their wives as their personal property, as well as an excuse by some women to demand their right to be independent of any husband or male authority.
But with the term "helper," God is not saying that the first man, the progenitor of our species, required a helper in the sense that he needed someone to assist him with the enormous task of tending the Garden of Eden or to do his dirty work for him, carrying out all his orders. "Helper" or "helpmeet" does not mean "slave" or "servant." This same term "helper" is applied to God Himself by the Psalmist: "Hasten to me, O God!" "You are my help and my deliverer; O Lord, do not delay!" (Psalm 70:5). No, God is saying that, by design, man needs a corresponding partner to help fill in his programmed gaps. She can complete him, and he can complete her. As Moses states, "They become one flesh."
Some believe that the complementary nature of male and female in humanity is intended to reflect God's character as three distinct persons yet one divine being. After all, God created human beings in "His image."
That very well could be. But one thing is sure: all this does tell us that "woman," so named by Adam as an equal partner with man, is also placed by God in a relationship that reveals a religious order. The woman was given to the man after the man was created. The first is an initiator, and the second is a responder. One is a teacher, the other a learner. One is the leader, and the other willingly submits to the leader.
Once again, the description of God's creating activity is so important: "God brought her to the man." The woman is God's "gift" to the man. A gift is not "property owned." By its very nature, a gift is a tangible expression of the giver's love for the receiver. The advantage of woman to man is a visible manifestation of God's love and service to humanity. The traditional wedding ceremony depicts this. The father gives the bride to the groom. The man no longer has to be alone. He has been gifted with a "helper fit for him" by God, the Eternal Father, Himself!
Husbands, do you view your wife as a gift to you? If you do, how should that change your perspective on your relationship with your wife? Wives, do you view yourself as a gift to your husband? If you do, how should it affect how you relate to him? Young unmarried persons, do you see that God gave wives and husbands as gifts to each other? If you do, how should it affect how you look at the institution of marriage and your attitude toward it?
Adam fully acknowledges the true blessing of this gift of a woman. He expresses his delight and joy with the first poetic verse in the Bible and, in fact, in all of human history. He states, "This, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called a woman because she was taken out of man."
That is not a "love song" for the woman but a song of love and praise for God and His wonderful gift and design for humanity. The man expresses his delight in this gift by naming the woman God gave him after his name. Adam decreed: "She shall be called woman"; she is "out of man."
It is also important to note that the unique nature of a gift always obligates the receiver. The gift only becomes the blessing it is intended to be if it is received with sincere appreciation and responsibility. God's giving compels the husband to be responsible for the gift of his corresponding helper.
The apostle Paul writes, "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her" (Ephesians 5:25). Giving up the rib for the woman could indicate the husband's loving sacrifice, which is to be a part of every marriage. After all, every marriage is to be a model of Jesus Christ's relationship with His bride, the Church. The LORD God presents the Church as a gift to the Heavenly Bridegroom, who gives up His life for her!
Just as God has designed us to be a blessing to others in our respective male or femaleness, Jesus Christ has redeemed us all to be gifts to others. "Love others as I have loved you," he says. Thanks be to God and His grace. His sacrificed blood sets us apart to be gifted to our spouses and fellow humans. And thanks be to God. His sacrificial blood cleanses us from times when we have not been "gift-like." As God clothed the nakedness exposed by the sin of that first husband and wife with the skins of innocent animals, our Creator, our Father, has, in Holy Baptism and the proclamation of His forgiveness, clothed our exposed iniquity with our perfect husband's righteousness.
How great is the Father's love for us! Thanks to God for this divinely engineered blessing to humanity!