The First Woman
Last week I asked the question, “What does it mean to be a man?” And I mentioned that this was a scary question to ask in 2021. Well, if that was a scary question to ask, I thought of one scarier: “What does it mean to be a woman?”
I say these questions are scary because for the past several decades much of our culture has been engaged in a pitched battle against God’s design for men and women. And sadly many Christians have been duped into joining them.
And yet, when I say they are scary I have my tongue in my cheek a fair bit, because I know I’m speaking today to dozens of men and women who love God and love His word and therefore love His design for men and women. And so I’m full of expectation that our study of this passage will not be a source of conflict or contention but rather joy.
It’s special that we get to look at this passage on Mother’s Day. I didn’t plan it that way, but I think it lines up well. And I trust that all women today—mothers or not—will be encouraged by what God has to say.
Now this is one of those passages which is just dripping with truth. There’s just so much good stuff here today for us to see. And so a big question for me this week was how to organize everything here so that we don’t get lost. And so here’s our roadmap this morning: we’re going to start by walking through the passage and making three big stops. We’re going to see first, in vv. 18-20, that God saw Adam needed a helper. Second, vv. 21-23, God made Adam an helper. Third, v. 24, God was establishing a pattern. In other words, what He did with Adam and Eve wasn’t just for them but was a pattern for all time.
After that we’re going to ask three big questions. First, what does this mean for women in marriage? Second, what does this mean for women in general? Third, what does this mean for all of us? And I trust that what we uncover will be a blessing to all of us here today.
1. God Saw Adam Needed a Helper (v. 18-20)
So let’s make our first stop today, in verses 18-20, where we see that God saw Adam needed a helper. Look at what verse 18 says: “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him’” (Genesis 2:18).
There’s a few things that are really noticeable in verse 18. First, the phrase “it is not good” is really jarring, given how many times in chapter 1 we heard “and God saw that it was good.” Here, for the first time, God sees something that is not good. And what is not good is that Adam is alone.
Notice also that it’s God who said “It is not good that the man should be alone.” God is the one who notices and acts to intervene. This shows us God’s care for His creation. He’s watching, paying attention, carefully working to bring things to the point where they are “very good.”
So let’s ask: why wasn’t it good for Adam to be alone? Some have suggested that it means that Adam was lonely. And it could be true that he was lonely, but that’s not what the passage actually says. The word here for “alone” just speaks about being solitary; it doesn’t imply that he felt lonely.
Some have suggested that these words speak to a fundamental need in men for a woman. “It is not good for a man to be alone, period.” Last week I mentioned Rick Phillip’s book “The Masculine Mandate,” which is a great book. I’ve actually ordered a copy for the library. But I really disagree with him when we writes about “the man’s need for a partner.” And he says,
God looked on Adam in the garden, saw him alone, and said, “This is not good.” God says the same thing about single adult men today. He looks into their apartments and refrigerators and sighs, “Not good.” More importantly, God looks into our hearts and our characters, and says: “I have made man to be in partnership with a woman. It does not work very well when a man remains unmarried.” … It is vital for the well-being of almost any adult man that he becomes married. [The Masculine Mandate: God's Calling to Men (p. 77, 80). Reformation Trust Publishing. Kindle Edition.]
I really struggle with that, because it runs in the opposite direction from so much of the good marriage counsel I’ve received over the years and which I’ve seen lived out over and over again, which says that marriage doesn’t magically change anybody.
If someone feels incomplete before marriage, they’ll feel incomplete in marriage. If someone is a slob before marriage, they’ll be a slob in marriage. If someone is ungodly in their heart or character before marriage, they’ll be ungodly in marriage.
I could introduce you to dozens of people I know who got married in the hopes that marriage was going to be this magic fix to their or their spouse’s problems, and who found out, the very hard way, that it doesn’t work like that.
And so I really struggle with the idea that “it is not good that man should be alone” means that Adam was fundamentally incomplete and needed a woman to complete him.
But the real reason I struggle with that is because the text itself doesn’t teach that. If we keep reading verse 18, we will find out why it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone. And the reason was that he needed a helper. God did not say “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him someone to complete him.” Rather He says, “I will make him a helper fit for him.”
Adam needed a helper. And what did he need a helper for? Not cleaning out his fridge or having godly character. Rather, he needed a helper because of the work that he had been given to do. The mission he’d been given to accomplish.
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). And before then was God’s commission in 1:18: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Adam needed help to work and keep the garden. And Adam certainly needed help to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. On his own, he wasn’t able to do the work God had assigned to him. He wasn’t enough to complete the mission God had given him. So he needed a helper.
And the kind of helper he needs is demonstrated in verses 19-20 as God brings all of the animals to Adam for him to name them.
Naming something is an act of authority, and so this is a wonderful example of Adam having dominion over the animals. God does not tell Adam what they are called; God lets Adam choose.
And yet, “For Adam there was not found a helper fit for him” (v. 20). God made some incredible animals, many of whom could help Adam in some way or another. Oxen could pull plows and horses could be ridden and dogs could herd sheep but there’s not a helper fit for him. There wasn’t one companion that corresponded to him and complemented him in the way that he needed to accomplish his mission.
2. God Made Him a Helper (v. 21-23)
So, God saw Adam needed a helper. Our second stop is in verses 21-23, where God made for Adam a helper. We read, in verse 21, that the “Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.”
There’s some elements in this verse that are really interesting. There’s this idea of God once again taking the initiative here to bring about his desired purposes. He puts Adam under and He does surgery on him.
Also interesting is this word “rib.” Every other time this Hebrew word is used in the Old Testament it’s translated as “side.” Eve came from Adam’s side. So the idea is probably not that God precisely removed a single rib as much as Eve came from Adam’s side.
Matthew Henry famously said “that the woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”
Those are wonderful words which are true even though they may go a little bit beyond the intention of the original text.
The main reason for making Eve from Adam himself was that Eve was thus fully human. She was not a different type of creature, a different creation. Rather, she was the same kind of creature as Adam who was fit for him because she was like him.
And we know this because after God makes Adam’s side into a woman and brings her to the man—verse 22—Adam says, “Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man’” (Genesis 2:23).
Now this is a verse where we love reading all kinds of things into the passage. I’ve read so many people who make Adam’s words to be a statement of romantic thrill.
And maybe there was romance between Adam and Eve, but that’s not what this verse is telling us. This verse is telling us that after going through all of the animals and not finding a helper suitable, when Adam finally sees someone who is like him, he rejoices: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” In other words, “Finally, here is a helper who is suitable to me because she is the same kind of creation as I am. She is human, like me.”
Eve was not exactly like Adam. God made a woman, not another man. But she was clearly the same kind of creation as he was. Someone with whom he could be fruitful and multiply; someone who was a suitable helper for him. And he rejoiced.
We should notice, in the rest of verse 23, that Adam named her. “She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” We’ve already seen how naming something is an act of authority. Eve did not walk up and say “My name is Eve because I was taken from you.” Instead, Adam exercises authority over Eve by naming her, an idea that we’ll come back to.
3. God Was Establishing a Pattern (v. 24)
So we’ve made two stops in the passage. First, God saw Adam needed a helper, and second, God made Adam a helper.
Our third stop comes in verse 24, which reads, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
This verse tells us that what God was going with Adam and Eve was not a one-off. He was not just providing a wife for Adam. He was also establishing a pattern which men and women would follow in for ages to come.
Therefore—because of what God had done with Adam and Eve—a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. God took woman from man and in so doing he was establishing a pattern of women and men coming together and becoming one again.
Now there’s a few elements here we want to explore this a bit more. First, what does it mean to “become one flesh”? Obviously there is a physical element here. God physically took Eve from Adam and when a man physically “holds fast” to his wife, they “become one flesh” in a physical way.
At the same time, there’s more than this, because in the Old Testament, the phrase “hold fast” is phrase that’s also used to speak about covenantal faithfulness. People holding fast to each other in a covenantal bond.
For example, Deuteronomy 10:20 says “You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him” (Deuteronomy 10:20). “Hold fast” there is talking about being faithful to God within the covenant.
So when I’m doing pre-marriage counselling with couples, one of the things we’ll do is read this verse and I’ll ask, “when this talks about holding fast and becoming one flesh, is this talking about physical union, or is this talking about being united in the covenant of marriage?”
And the answer is “yes.” God intends for husbands and wives to “hold fast” to each other in covenantal union, like Malachi 2:14 says. And within that covenant, the physical union between a husband and a wife is a reenactment of their covenantal union. What they are doing physically is picture of what has happened between them covenantally, just like baptism is a reenactment of our union with Jesus in His death and resurrection.
So there’s a double entendre here, where “hold fast” speaks both about both physical union and covenantal union.
We actually see something similar in the book of Ruth, when Ruth “clings” to Naomi, which is the same word in Hebrew (Ruth 1:15). And the following verses make clear that Ruth isn’t just giving her a long hug but is choosing to be faithful to her. “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you” (Ruth 1:15–17).
That is a covenant vow. And so once again, there’s this interplay between physically holding fast to someone and covenantally being faithful to them.
And in a much deeper way, in a much more intimate way, that’s what’s happening in Genesis 2:24. This is why the Bible consistently teaches that sexual intimacy is only to happen in the context of marriage.
Our culture has been telling us for several decades that physical intimacy is just what people do when they love each other. We have that preached at us every day from the media and most people today believe that. Sadly, many people who say they are Christians are starting to believe it, too.
But from the beginning God designed the physical union to be a portrayal, a reenactment, of the covenantal union of marriage. That’s what it’s for.
And so being physically intimate with someone before marriage is like wearing a wedding ring before getting married. Or having hot tub parties in the baptismal tank. It’s wrong at a very fundamental level.
There’s two other elements in Genesis 2:24 we need to notice. One is this matter of “leaving.” “A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife.” In order to become one with your spouse, you have to leave your family in a certain sense.
When Aimee and I were going through pre-marriage counselling, our pastor told us that many of the marriage problems he had seen came from not people not leaving well. The husband and wife maintained unhealthy connections to their families which made it hard for them to start their own family.
I was so blessed at my wedding because when my father-in-law came up to give the speech, he did not say “welcome to the family, Chris.” He understood that I was not joining his family. Instead, his daughter was leaving his family to start a new family with me. And so he told me, “Aimee has been under my care and authority, but she’s over to you now.” And we have a fantastic relationship with Aimee’s parents because they understand this so well.
A final element here with this pattern that God was establishing in Genesis 2:24: “A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife.” This verse tells us that God’s design, God’s pattern, is for all sexual intimacy to belong to marriage, and for all marriages to be between one man and one woman for life. That’s what it says, and that’s what Christians believe because we believe that this book is God’s word. He is the creator. This was all His idea, not ours. He designed all of this, not us. He calls the shots, not us.
Question 1: What Does This Mean for Women in Marriage?
So, three major sections in the passage. God saw Adam needed a helper, God made Him a helper, and, finally, God was establishing a pattern.
Now there’s more to be said here. There’s more connections to make. And so what we’re going to do is step back and ask three questions:
“What does this mean for women in marriage?” And then, “What does this mean for women in general?” And then, “What does this mean for all of us?”
Let’s start with the first one. “What does this mean for women in marriage?”
Our answer to that question begins with one big observation from this whole passage: God created Eve to be Adam’s helper. That should not be a controversial statement. That’s just what this passage says.
Now there are some unfortunate ideas that can come into our mind with this word “helper.” We might think of a child in kindergarten being assigned to be the “teacher’s helper” for a day. Or like when I worked construction, and as an basic labourer I was assigned to be the “helper” for an electrician for three weeks. And I basically did all of the unskilled work and he came along and did all of the skilled work.
“Helpers” are often those who are less able, less skilled, less strong, then the ones they help. In the Bible, that’s not the case. In fact, 60% of the time this word is used in the Bible, it’s used of God who is described as the helper of His people. And He is able to help because He is stronger than them.
And I can say that in my own marriage, Aimee helps me precisely because she is stronger than me in many areas. Every husband should be able to say this in some degree. His wife is way better than him in certain respects.
On it’s own, this word helper not imply strength or weakness. A helper is just someone who helps because they are able to. So we should know that this word does not imply that Eve was Adam’s slave or his hired hand.
At the same time, we should recognize that Eve was created to help Adam, not the other way around. Eve helps Adam accomplish the work God gave him, not the other way around. Adam names Eve, not the other way around.
And so we are on the right track if we look at this passage and see a difference in the roles that God designed for men and women in marriage.
At least twice in the New Testament, men and women are described as having different roles based on the fact that Adam was created before Eve (1 Corinthians 11:8-9, 1 Timothy 2:13). And several more times in the New Testament we are told that it is God’s design, for all time, for husbands to have loving authority over their wives, like Adam had over Eve.
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands” (Ephesians 5:22–24).
“Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” (Colossians 3:18).
Those verses should not be controversial. This is God’s word. As I say that, I recognize that there’s a ton more to be said. I’ve only read portions of those passages. What I haven’t read is, “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:19). “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). That’s the full story. God gave husbands authority so that they would use that authority to serve and protect their wives.
So there’s a lot we could say about this. But the big idea we can see here in Genesis is God’s design for marriage. Husbands are primarily leaders, initiative-takers and responsibility-carriers, and wives are primarily helpers, using all of their gifts and abilities and intelligence and strength to come alongside of their husband and help him and complement him as he engages in the work and mission God has given to him, of which his day job is only one part.
Remember, we were created in Christ Jesus for good works, and that’s really where this all should be pointed.
Now don’t hear me saying that helping her husband is the only thing a wife is ever supposed to do. Aimee does all kinds of things that do not directly help me. But she understands that her primary role is my helper.
And in the context of pastoral ministry, that means using all of her gifts and abilities and strengths to complement mine as together we embrace this mission God has given me. Knowing that, by giving it to me, He’s given it to us.
Husbands and wives need to understand this because it applies to so much more than just what we do. These roles get down to our very hearts. Listen to these words from Ray Ortlund about marriage:
God made Adam first and put him in the Garden with a job to do, a mission to fulfill. In the heart of every fallen man is the self-doubt that wonders, “Am I man enough to climb this mountain God has called me to? Can I fulfill my destiny?” A wise wife will understand that question at the center of her husband’s heart. And she will spend her life answering it, communicating to him in various ways, “Honey, I believe in your call. I know you can do this, by God’s power. Go for it.” In this way, she will breathe life into her man.
God made Eve from Adam, for Adam, to help him follow the call. In the heart of every fallen woman is the self-doubt that wonders, “Do I please you? Am I what you wanted?” A wise husband will understand that question at the center of his wife’s heart. And he will spend his life answering it, communicating to her in various ways, “Darling, you are the one I need. I cherish you. Let me hold you close.” In this way, he will breathe life into his wife.
There’s a lot more to explore. But hopefully we’ve seen a little sketch of God’s design for husbands and wives and the joy that follows when we follow it.
Question #2: What Does This Mean for Women in General?
Now a second question. What does this mean for women in general? And what I’m asking here is, “Does God’s design for Adam and Eve say anything for how a woman should relate to a man to whom she is not married? What about a woman who is not married or no longer married? What is a woman’s role if she does not have a man to help?”
These are huge questions and all I’m going to do today is sketch out some material which hopefully you can follow up on yourself. But simply put, my answer is that yes, God’s design for men and women does mean things for men and women even when marriage is not in the picture.
One example is Deborah and Barak in Judges 4. Some people make a big deal about Deborah because she was a leader who was a woman. What they miss is that Deborah first told Barak to assemble the troops and go fight. Barak refused to go without her. And in verse 9, Deborah said, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” (Judges 4:9).
Even though Deborah was a prophetess, she had an inclination to defer leadership to Barak simply because she was a woman and he was a man. She gave him the right of first refusal and warned him about the glory he would loose by not going without her.
So men and women treat each other in a certain way because we are men and women. That’s why John Piper, in the book “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,” wrote,
At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man's differing relationships.
At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman's differing relationships.
So yes, this goes beyond marriage. It looks different in each case. It’s “appropriate to our differing relationships.” But a mature and godly man will have a general sense of responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women. And a mature and godly woman will have a general disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength from worthy men.
Think on those words. Read the Bible as you think on those words and I think you’ll see many wonderful examples of what it looks like in real life.
One more comment I want to say here is that we should remember how much the New Testament affirms singleness. A woman who is not married is not just waiting around for a man to help. God has created every one of His sons and daughters in Christ Jesus for good works.
One of the things that drew me to Aimee when we met was that she wasn’t sitting around waiting for a man. She was pursuing a life of good works. And we got married because we figured that the two of us could do our good works better together than apart. And if Aimee wouldn’t have gotten married, she’d still be off somewhere blessing people’s heads off.
Question #3: What Does This Mean for All of Us?
One last question: what does this mean for all of us? I ask that question as a lead-in to one final passage that some of you have been waiting for all morning. Ephesians 5:31-32: “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31–32).
Paul identifies Genesis 2:24 as a “mystery.” That word “mystery,” in the New Testament, does not mean something hard to understand, like a mystery novel. Rather the word means something that was hidden but has now been revealed.
And what was hidden, but now revealed, is that Genesis 2:24 is actually talking about Christ and the church.
How is that? How is a verse about Adam and Eve actually about Christ and the church? What the rest of Ephesians 5 shows us is that God deliberately designed the marriage relationship to be a shadow of the reality, which is Christ and the church.
It’s not like Paul wants to teach wives and husbands how to treat each other, so he uses Christ and the church as an illustration of that. Rather, back in Genesis 2, God was wanting to give us an illustration of Christ and the church, so He invented marriage.
And what that means is that Adam and Eve were shadows. Marriage is a shadow. If you are married today, your marriage is a shadow. There’s a real thing which is casting that shadow. And the real thing is Christ and the church.
And that means that if you know Jesus, and have been saved by His death and resurrection for you, then you are in on the real thing to which Adam and Eve and marriage was pointing all along.
The shadow will pass away. There will be no marriage in the New Creation and already, in this era of the story, marriage is no longer necessary in the way it was before Christ. But the reality is here to stay.
The church is the bride and Jesus is our husband who left HIs Father’s side to come lay down His life for us to win us back to Himself. And today we live, devoted to His mission, spending all the strength He gives us so that He might have dominion over all things.
So, if you’re married, read Ephesians 5:22-33 and shape your marriage after this pattern of Christ and the church. Make it a really good shadow, pointing to that reality. But whether you are married or not, by faith in Christ we all get to participate in the real thing to which marriage only points.
That means submitting to Christ in all things, like Ephesians 5:24 says. And it means knowing that we are being sanctified, cleansed, nourished and cherished by Jesus, like verses 26-29 says, knowing that we are members of His body and that He is working to present us “to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that [we] might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).
If you’ve been saved by faith in Christ, that’s you. And if you haven’t been, this could be you. You can come to Jesus today, right now. Know that God made you. You’ve sinned and rebelled against Him, and deserve His judgement, but Jesus died to take that judgement in our place. And by believing in Him we can be reconciled to God and know Him now and forever. So come to Jesus and be saved.