Why did the snake go to the woman?
On the surface, this feels like a bit of a useless question. But as we pull back the layers on this one, I think you will find there is always more to the story than we first see. And in order to get at the answer, we need to back up a bit.
God formed Adam out of the dust. Adam is his name. But he is a man. The Hebrew word for man is ish. So, Adam is a man. Have I made that point? It matters a lot!
As you might assume, “ish” is a masculine word. Why? Because men are masculine and Adam is a man. So, Adam is, in all ways, masculine.
Here is the first twist in our tale: When God forms “ish”-man (masculine man), He breathes into Adam “the breath of life.” The phrase “breath of life” in Hebrew is nephesh hiyah. What is so weird about that? The phrase is feminine. Grammatically, it is very odd that this most masculine of men has something feminine placed in him by God. We would assume that whatever God places in this man would be masculine, but it isn’t. More on that later.
The first job given to this manly man is to name the animals. In Adam’s stewardship of the garden, it is critical he takes this role as manager of everything God created. How does he start the process? By naming the animals.
Why does this signify the point at which he takes his position as leader in creation?
By naming the animals, Adam does two things: first, he describes their character. This is a universal reality in the biblical world. When you give someone a name, you are not just “tagging” the person — you are describing their character. It is not uncommon to see people given a new name in scripture to better represent what someone else sees God working out in that person’s character. Second, Adam takes authority over the animals. Giving something a name is a way to move into a position of authority in that thing’s life. Whether it is a person or an animal or a plant. As Adam names the animals, he is describing their character and taking authority over them.
If you want more information on this, Nahum M. Sarna, David Fohrman, and Skip Moen are great resources.
As Adam is in the process of naming the animals, something becomes apparent. It is not good for him to be alone. This is a call to relationship for us all, no doubt. But more than that, God is going to make the perfect counterpart for Adam. God is going to give Adam the exact thing Adam needs in order to steward creation better — the exact thing!
So what does God do? First, He causes Adam to fall into a deep sleep. Then He pulls a “round” out of Adam. What is a round? Well, we don’t know exactly. Over the years, it has been translated as rib, which makes sense at one level. Adam will say, “she is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” But the problem is that the Text doesn’t say it was a rib. It says it was a round.
So what does God pull out? Here is my considered opinion:
Remember that feminine thing God breathed into Adam? Whatever that was, God separated it from him.
My strong contention is that Moses agrees with me on this. In writing the story down, Moses stops telling the story for a minute and interjects a thought. Look at Genesis 2:23.
“It is for this reason that a man will leave his father and mother, be cleaved to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”
For what reason? Because God separated the masculine and the feminine pieces of Adam. And God knows that in order for there to be a whole, they must be reunited. What is the goal of marriage? The separated two will choose to give up their individualism and become one again. When a marriage is focused on this idea, it is beautiful and it works. As soon as one or both partners in the relationship focus on their own desire more than becoming one, it falls apart. Remember that “naked and unashamed” idea — no other voices, not even my own.
God gives Adam full access to his masculinity and invites him to reunite with the feminine counterpart. But what was this “helpmate suitable for him” about? And now we start to see smoke barrel out of our ears.
The Hebrew here is really important, and it will play out in the story in major ways. The words are ezer (eh•zeer) kenegdo (keh•nehg•doe). The English doesn’t do us any favors.
First the word, ezer, does in fact mean “helpmate.” So that isn’t totally wrong, but it is important we see what kind of helpmate we are talking about. Growing up in church, I was taught that the woman (she still doesn't have a name, and that matters) was made to come up under Adam and help him do his thing. She was created weaker and subservient and if a man is Godly enough, she will want to submit to her husband. At this, every woman reading will automatically chuckle, because that is NOT true. And you know it isn’t true. Churches that preach such nonsense sound foolish when they speak.
Let me give you a picture of ezer. From Rachel Held Evans:
“Far from connoting subjugation, the Hebrew term ezer, or “helper,” is employed elsewhere in Scripture to describe God, the consummate intervener—the helper of the fatherless (Psalm 10:14), King David’s helper and deliverer (Psalm 70:5), Israel’s shield and helper (Deuteronomy 33:29). Ezer appears twenty-one times in the Old Testament—twice in reference to the first woman, three times in reference to nations to whom Israel appealed for military support, and sixteen times in reference to God as the helper of Israel. The word evokes both benevolence and strength, and is a popular name for Jewish boys, both in the Bible and in modern times.”
The idea of this word is not so much a servant role, but one who is a helpmate for us in the sense that God is our helpmate. Perhaps a better translation would be that she is the strength, the power, the focus, the support, and the provider for Adam. In this sense she is his helpmate, but not in the sense that she is his servant. An ezer is NOT a servant. This is a word of strength and power, of authority and leadership. And this is a BIG deal!
The second word, kenegdo, is a very difficult word to translate. And so, the translators don’t. You will not find an English translation dealing with this word. It means “of the same nature” or “equal but opposite force.” Another great way to translate this word is “opposed support.”
The idea of kenegdo is that she is there to knock the edges off of Adam so he can be everything he needs to be to properly steward the garden. And that makes sense in our modern relationships. Why is it that no matter what a husband does, his wife believes she has a better way to do it? (Yes, I am exaggerating — but not by much.) Maybe it is tied to her created purpose. And maybe the fall and our fundamental nature is still at work in our world. (We will explore this idea further at a later time.)
So a couple of questions are raised in my mind. First, in a functioning relationship, who knocks the edges off of whom? Does the leader knock the edges off of the follower or does the follower knock the edges off of the leader? Sure, in one sense you can say both are true, but primarily it is the leader who shapes the follower. Now, who was the kenegdo?
Second, the one who fulfills the God role in the relationship, is that the leader or the follower? It seems to me that if we let the Text say what it says without bleeding church tradition into it, the woman was created to be the leader.
Don’t believe me?
Remember how I keep saying she doesn’t have a name? Why not?
Adam, the ish, calls her ishshah — woman. He doesn’t name her. Why doesn’t he name her? Remember what happens when you name something? You describe its character and you take authority over it. If we just let the Text say what it says, I think it is pretty safe to conclude she was made to be the leader in the relationship. And that makes the fall even more impressive for both of them, which is the topic of the next post.
Only God Himself could give the woman a name. Adam could not, and therefore did not.
Part of the “naked and unashamed” piece of the garden existence was a functioning hierarchy that played out as God designed it to function. That raises many questions, not the least of which is, If that is true, why does the fall in Genesis 3 flip things on their head? We will get there. But to whet your appetite, what is the first thing Adam does after the pronouncement of the punishments from God? Adam gives the woman a name. Why? Because now he can. Why can he give her a name now and he couldn’t before? And what does the name mean? And what are the implications of all this? And how does that show up in their children? And who ultimately pays the price for all of this dysfunction? And where did the mess really begin?
Hold on. It’s all coming.
Now with that background, we return to our original question. Why did the snake go to the woman first? I was taught growing up that it was because she had a weaker will than Adam. She was more easily manipulated than he would have been.
What if she was the leader? And what if the snake getting her to eat the fruit guaranteed Adam would also eat it? What if Adam would trust her and do whatever she asked him to do because she was the leader?
Even if the woman was perhaps of a weaker will (I don’t believe this, but let’s run this idea out), this still doesn’t explain how she got Adam to eat it. Could he not stand up for the truth of the command he received directly from God Himself?
But if she was supposed to be the leader in the relationship, it makes everything fall in place. Not only that, but it explains so much about our marriage relationships today. Again, more on that later.
So why did the snake come to the woman first? Because it was the only way to guarantee the snake could get both of them to mess up.
Now we have a new question: what is the appeal to the woman to eat the fruit in the first place? The Text again has some interesting things to say.
“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.”
It was desirable for gaining wisdom. Why would wisdom matter to the leader of this outfit? What is the appeal? What if, for the first time, the woman wondered if she could take matters into her own hands and do her job more effectively? What if she wasn’t being deceptive or rebellious in eating the fruit, but the rebellion landed in the lie that God was holding out on her? What if her dilemma was in trying to gain an advantage in doing her job that God Himself didn’t give her?
Maybe now we can give her a lot more grace. There is probably some naiveté in her decision. After all, she doesn’t have a Bible to pull information and ideas from. All she has is Adam’s word.
How many times have I tried to take matters into my own hands instead of waiting on the Lord to give me all I need? And this is the crux of most of the trouble in my own life. Do I believe God gives me everything I need to succeed? Or do I believe God is holding out on me?
This tension is foundational for us as followers of Jesus. The truth is that God has given us everything we need. But I often find myself trying to force knowledge, experience, and ideas into the situation that wind up not being an advantage.
I often see this idea with my kids. They are trying to grow up so fast. And yet, once they are exposed to the things they define as “grown-up,” it is a mistake they cannot take back. Now they know, and they wish they didn’t. But they do, and they cannot take it back. It is tough when the thing I thought would help out backfires and now it only hurts me.
Maybe one of the major keys to “naked and unashamed” is that we don't need more information than what God gives us.
I would suggest that being able to trust God’s provision is the key to experiencing Shalom instead of Chaos. God always offers peace. And His promise contains everything we need to experience peace regardless of the tricks, lies, and deception of instant gratification, impulses, and instincts.
So, may you find rest in trusting everything God has provided for you. May you find peace in His promise. May you honor and value the truth of God’s created design. And may you celebrate the power of your spouse as you unveil your own purpose.
Questions for this session:
- How do you see this tension of leadership play out in your marriage?
- What deceptions have you bought into instead of trusting God’s provision?
- Where does your life show that you believe God is holding out on you?
Question for next time:
Why do you think God reversed the roles through the consequences in Genesis 3?