Created to be Different?
We live in an era where the traditional roles of men and women have become increasingly confused. In the workplace, women are taking up traditionally male-dominated jobs and excelling at them. We have seen the emergence of the strong-willed, independent career woman, able to rise up the corporate ladder as quickly as her male counterparts. More and more women are choosing their careers over their families, electing to marry later, have children later, or remain single. Women have replaced the men as the chief breadwinners in some families. Women all over the world, revelling in their freedom from years of oppression in society, are now celebrating the strength of the female gender, believing that whatever men can do, women can do too. And more than that, women’s rights activists push for equal rights for women in the workplace, believing that whatever man can do, women should be allowed to do too.
This is a very sensitive topic that tends to provoke very strong reactions from either sex. The purpose of this article is to return to a biblical point of view- what does the Bible say about the role of men and women in life? Now having said that, many women fear what the Bible has to say because it is traditionally believed to portray women as the inferior sex, with less rights and smaller roles. But is that really what the Bible has to say? Let’s find out…
We begin our search at Creation. The first account of the creation of man and woman is as follows-
“Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." Genesis 1:26-28
What is significant here is that the first known command to work in the Bible was given not just to man, but to man and woman. It was a joint task that they had. Now we move to the second account-
“Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." And the Lord God said, "It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him." Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him. And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.” Genesis 2:15-22
Now what exactly does the word “helper”, or “help-meet” in the King James Version, mean? In Hebrew the word used is “ezer kenegdo”, a word that is in the worlds of Hebrew scholar Robert Altar, “notoriously difficult to translate”. Quoting from the book Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge,
“The word “ezer” is used only twenty other places in the entire Old Testament, and in every instance the person being described is God Himself, when you need him to come through for you desperately…Most of the contexts are life and death, by the way, and God is your only hope. Your ezer. If he is not there beside you… you are dead. A better translation therefore of ezer would be “lifesaver”. Kenegdo means alongside, or opposite to, a counterpart.”
So from the first account we know that work was given to both man and woman, a joint task. From the second account we know that the first command was given to man, and then woman was created as an indispensable counterpart to man, one who would be there in his most desperate need, when his life itself was at risk, his only hope, his only support. Now let’s move on.
After the Fall, God cursed the human race. It is important to note that he cursed man and woman differently-
“To the woman He said:
"I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;
In pain you shall bring forth children;
Your desire shall be for your husband,
And he shall rule over you."
Then to Adam He said,
"Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, "You shall not eat of it':
"Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are, and to dust you shall return”.
It is fascinating to see the nature of the curses- they were not just any other curses, but specifically tailored to the roles that God had given Man and Woman at Creation. Woman was cursed in her role of childbearing, that it would ever forth be painful; and more importantly, in her role as Man’s ezer-kenegdo. A friend of mine pointed out to me that the Hebrew word translated as “desire” in this passage is the same one used in Genesis 4:7, where God speaks to the angry Cain- “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” The kind of desire it speaks of here is a desire to overwhelm, a desire to control, a desire to be master of and rule over. Woman was created to be Man’s counterpart, who would come to his rescue in his darkest hour of need; instead, she becomes his rival, wanting to control and rule over him.
Similarly, Man was cursed in the role that was given to him primarily, and that is to “tend and keep” the Garden. Ever forth in his work of tending to nature and eating of its fruit, he would face extreme difficulty.
So from the account of Creation we know that Man and Woman were given distinct and different roles. Man, to work the land and harvest its fruit; Woman, to be his counterpart, companion and support in the work, and to bear his children. From the Fall onwards both of them would face extreme difficulty in fulfilling their God-given roles, which is indeed what we see today, and will talk about later.
We move forward now to the New Testament, to Paul’s exhortations to the Ephesians.
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be their own husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.”
Again here we see different roles for Man and Woman. But here the divine mystery deepens- for the first time in the Bible we see that the relationship between Man and Woman is but a foreshadowing, like the sacrifical lamb of the Old Testament, of something much greater to come- the relationship between Christ Himself and the Church. In Biblical times women had a much smaller role in the worship of God than men. They were not allowed to enter the Temple, they were not allowed to speak in the synagogues, they had to wear head coverings, and so forth. It was the men who took the lead. And here we begin to understand why- women were meant to be to men as the Church is to be to Christ- subject and submissive. To respect Christ’s words and commands, to listen and obey, to let Him take the lead.
At the same time, Man too has a specific role, to be to his wife as Christ is to the Church. Christ “loved the church and gave Himself for her”, even His very life; in times of danger, men are called upon by God to be ready to give their very own lives to protect and save their wives. Christ sanctifies and cleanses the Church, and presents her as “glorious”, “holy and without blemish.” What a calling! In those times was given to men the task of leading the women in religious affairs, and along with that also the responsibility of sanctifying them and helping them to grow in Christ such that they may be “holy and without blemish”. Which also means that they themselves too must be likewise! That is the complete picture. Just as Christ our Lord “nourishes and cherishes” the Church, so men too are called to nourish and cherish their wives, never to take them for granted, but to love them as they love themselves.
From the Old to the New Testament, can you now see how the different roles that God gave to Men and Woman were meant to compliment each other so perfectly? Because the relationship between Man and Woman is but a foreshadowing of the perfect relationship between the Church and Christ, the Bride and the Bridegroom spoken of in Revelation? But sadly we still live in a fallen world; the echoes of Eden are still heard today. Men and women are struggling to fulfil the roles that God gave them, and are straying from them.
Mention the words “submit to your husband” and many women will flare up and get upset; “why should I have to submit? Do I have less rights as a woman? Was I created inferior to, weaker than man?” Women, instead of trying to support their husbands and be there in their time of need, sometimes end up competing with them, trying to outdo them. Many women have rejected their role as childbearers, choosing to focus on their careers. They believe that they deserve more than to just submit.
Man is not doing much better. The curse of the Fall still holds true today- man faces a hard time bringing money home to support their families, in a competitive and unforgiving society and workplace- the modern parallel of Adam's task of working the land. They toil and sweat long hours at jobs that leave them physically and often emotionally drained, with little time and energy for anything else.
And more importantly, instead of loving and cherishing and nourishing their wives, both in the physical and the emotional and spiritual, we see men abandoning them and leaving them to suffer. Instead of giving all that they have to protect and save their wives they often shun away when it comes to the crunch, leaving women lonely and torn. Instead of sanctifying their wives and helping them to grow in Christ, men themselves stray from Christ and commit adultery, wife abuse, and the like. And the women are left to fend for themselves. Some remain wounded and broken; some, in an effort to erase their past, try to be strong to face the world on their own, without men. But deep inside, many of them still tenderly nurse the wounds that never seem to heal.
And we see the results in our very own society. On the outside we are a cohesive, prosperous nation. But just dig a little deeper and you will find that it is really a mess. Broken marriages, broken relationships, that crave for the strength, protection and faithfulness and the submission and support that men and women were made to offer to one another respectively. Children grow up secretly suffering from the lack of a godly father who not just loves and sanctifies the mother but also “brings them (the children) up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4) They suffer from the loving touch that only a mother can offer; so many mothers are so caught up in their work that, like their husbands, they hardly have any time to spend with their children. And so the children are also left alone, left to face this cruel and dangerous world without much guidance and many of them end up lost and confused. The family unit is disintegrating, because men and women are not fulfilling their God-given roles.
To both men and women I would say this- your roles have been given to you by God; do not reject them. He who gave them to you has also made and equipped you to carry out that role powerfully.
To the women I would say this- do not give in to the ancient lie of Satan, that just because you have been given a different roles from men, the chief of them being to submit, does not mean that you are any lesser than man, that you are not equal with him in the eyes of God. In the Garden of Eden Satan lied to Eve, “You will not surely die.” But in doing so he was also tempting Eve to disobey the role given to her- to submit, to obey, not to take things into her own hands. “For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man…nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord.” 1 Cor.11: 8-9,11. I believe with all my heart that the roles given to women are extremely noble and powerful ones. Remember that in Jesus’ earthly ministry, it was women who walked with him, supported him and took care of him as he walked from place to place, city to city. And it was to women that Jesus first appeared when He rose from the dead. Women are extremely precious, and indispensable in God’s plans. It takes great strength, courage and humility to fulfil your roles, especially in today’s society. And there is great healing and joy to be found when you do. I am not saying that every woman should leave her job and stay at home and look after the family. That is an unhealthy stereotype that we would do well to dismiss. Pray and seek the Lord, and discover between you and Him, how you can fulfil your roles in your own life in your own special way, with what God has given you. And you are certainly not lesser than man; “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Gal 3:28. Does God love women less than man? Certainly not!
To the man I would say this- you have a very high calling, an immense responsibility, to be to your wife as Christ is to the Church. Do not be passive, do not neglect that role; remember that when Satan tempted Eve and Eve eventually gave in and took the fruit, Adam was standing right beside her. And he did nothing. “She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.” Genesis 3:6. He did nothing to sanctify her with the truth of God, to remind her of what was right, and he himself did what was wrong. People think that in today’s modern society, men are become weaker and being challenged by women. I say to you, embrace the strength that God has given you and fulfil your role. The world- and women- are desperately in need of such men, who will be strong for them, who they can depend on and trust, who themselves being “holy and without blemish” will help them to grow likewise, who will be worthy of respect and submission. Men who will be living examples of what Christ is to the Church and hence shine His light forth.
And to both men and women I say finally- you were created to be different, you were given different roles. And it is when you both faithfully carry out those roles, with the help and grace of God, that we will see the touch of God on earth. “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not of the hand, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.” 1 Cor 12:15-18. I believe with all my heart that the roles are not there to restrict us; we were made and wired for those roles. And in fulfilling them, we will find the glorious freedom and joy of becoming who God made and always intended us to be.