Genesis 04 – Women in the Bible

Adah and Zillah – warnings to be reviled, or mothers of the arts to be celebrated?

Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord.And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear.14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

15 But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. 16 So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

17 Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch. 18 To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech.

19 Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah.20 Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. 21 His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. 22 Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah.

23 Lamech said to his wives,

“Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
    wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
    a young man for injuring me.
24 If Cain is avenged seven times,
    then Lamech seventy-seven times.”

25 Adam made love to his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth saying, “God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.” 26 Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh.

At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.

Chapters 4 and 5 can be seen as contrasting allegories of wicked and righteous living, so I’ll discuss them more next blog post, together.  What I find most interesting today is we have, after Eve, the next three women of the Bible mentioned.  The Bible is filled with male figures and written from a male perspective, so whenever a woman is mentioned, my interest is piqued.  What made her unique enough for the writers to take notice? In a time when women were often viewed as property, gaining name recognition in sacred text is a big deal, so let me share what I’ve found out about them. Poor Naamah is just a name, and I can’t find much on her, so I’ll focus on Adah and Zillah.

I promise this is related, so bear with me: One of my favorite podcasts is Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, where two Harvard divinity graduates use reading practices from different religions and apply it to each chapter of the books, along with a themed reading.  They’re not making Harry Potter sacred, but using it as a starting point for conversations about life’s challenges and truths.  It’s really great, even if you’re not a Harry Potter fan.  But I mention it because this podcast introduced me to Havruta, a Jewish practice of studying the Torah that is based in partnership and conversation.  To paraphrase, the truth is found more so in the discussion than in seeking an actual “answer.”  I loved that idea, and after reading several opinions on Adah and Zillah, I think that the truth of these women may be somewhere in the conversation, rather than any hard-and-fast answer.

First, we’ll start with their names.  Adah basically means adornment and Zillah basically means the tinkling of bells.  OT names often imply some sort of characteristic truth about the person.  If we’re to believe that (which, whether this is a historically factual story or just an allegory, we can either way), then these women were beautiful.

Adah and Zillah seemed to focus upon their beauty by adorning themselves.  Is this a good or bad thing, or just a thing?  It depends who you ask.  Some see it as the first story of female vanity – Adah and Zillah made themselves appealing so Lamech would be tempted into polygamy, where he then used their beauty against them to incur rival-wife jealousies.  Or, perhaps they were so beautiful that he just couldn’t help his attraction to both of them, and they both had genuine love for him.  Others see Adah and Zillah as a mirroring of the dual-female role in other mythologies, and indeed elsewhere in the Bible (such as Sarah and Hagar or Naomi and Ruth).  And there must have been something inspiring about them, beyond their looks: they are the mothers of the closest thing Christianity has to muses. Their sons, the ones they taught and raised, are responsible for music, animal husbandry, and metal-smithing.

So what is the “real” meaning of Adah and Zillah’s story? Are they warnings to be reviled, or are they they mothers of art to be celebrated?  They were human, just like you and me, and a little bit of both.  They loved the wrong man – tell me you haven’t heard that story a million times over.  Maybe they were a little vain – I certainly am.  But, they were good mothers who encouraged their boys to create things the world had never seen before, things that benefited all of mankind.

I think the moral of the story is this:  It is easy to pass people over.  These women are barely more than names, here.  It is also easy to reduce and compartmentalize people.  We need to remember that every person has a complete and complex soul, and there is good and bad in everyone.  It’s hard. It’s downright exhausting, to be honest. And, just like I mentioned last post, we’re going to fail in our compassion. I fail every day. But (trying to) remember that everyone deserves compassion when you come across someone who is mean, or different than you, or even just driving too slow, will help us make the world a better place, one interaction at a time.

Genesis 03 – The Fall of Man

It’s a more compassionate story than you might remember.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

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. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all livestock
    and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
    and you will eat dust
    all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

16 To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.”

17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

20 Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.

21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”23 So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

No doubt this is a sad story of betrayal and consequences, and perhaps it is because I am reading the Bible actively looking for examples of radical love, but even this story of the fall of all mankind, the original sin, is a far more compassionate one than I remember.  It also raises a lot of questions that I didn’t have before, so let’s go through it section by section and examine it.

First, let’s talk about the serpent.  Nowhere in this passage is the serpent called Satan, and I find that interesting.  According to other commentaries, it is made clear later in the Bible that the serpent is indeed an agent of Satan, so I’m going to reserve judgement on this omission until I’ve read more.  But it is interesting, and I wanted to point it out, in case it’s been a while since you have read this story, too, and maybe forgotten some of the details.

Next, in verses 1-6, Eve and the serpent talk, and she eats from the Tree of Knowledge.  Again, I’m going to pose a question that I do not have the answer to: Why will eating from the Tree of Knowledge cause death? Perhaps I’m succumbing to the same child-like curiosity Eve did in thinking, “if it looks pretty and smells nice why can’t I eat it?”  Basically that’s the same reasoning we are warned about as parents, and why I keep my bright purple bottle of Fantastik cleaning solution well out of the girls’ reach.  But the difference is I know Fantastik is poisonous and why, but I know nothing about the Tree of Knowledge and it’s fruit.  If anyone can provide any good insight into what makes the Tree of Knowledge so forbidden as to cause death, please do share!

Verse seven is where Adam and Eve realize their nakedness, and try feebly to cover it up.  Again, this reminds me of little kids.  Have you ever caught a child (or perhaps remember being a child) trying to fix a mistake beyond their abilities?  One time, mom had clean laundry in folded piles in the bathroom.  My sister and I were taking a bath and got splashy, as kids do.  I realized we had gotten some of the laundry wet and sudsy, so got out of the tub (all wet and sudsy myself) and tried to rearrange it to hide it.  Mom came in to check on us, and grab some of the laundry away at the same time.  Of course, she found the wet laundry right away and long story short, we got in trouble.  My husband remembers playing with matches when he was little and hearing his dad coming. Knowing he was in the wrong, he quickly blew it out and hid the matches.  His father, unbeknownst to a little and completely mystified Chris, smelled them, and Chris subsequently got in trouble for playing with matches.  Sewing the fig leaves together is so human, so identifiable in my own childhood and in my own children, that it kind of breaks my heart.

In verses 8-14 it just gets even more heartbreaking.  Look at the intimate communion we had with God: he would walk through the garden with us.  One of my favorite things to do when I visit my parents, still to this day, is to go on a garden walk with them.  They have a huge vegetable garden of 40 raised beds and every season it is a delight to see the little beet shoots coming up or peppers ripening, snap a fresh piece of asparagus off the stem or pick a handful of blueberries. I can just imagine walking through the garden with God in a similar manner, talking easily about the past day as the shadows begin to lengthen.

God calls, “where are you?” Like a human father of naughty children, he knows full well where Adam and Eve are, he’s giving them a chance to come repentantly to him.  And, like naughty children, both immediately shift the blame for their sin.  The woman made me do it.  The serpent told me to.  It just seems so pitiable, especially since God is walking through the garden on a nice evening to find his children, not running after them yelling in anger.  Is he disappointed? Of course! Mankind even gets a punishment in a few verses.  But does he still love us? Yes.

The rest of the chapter spells out our punishment.  All of it more or less makes sense to me except verse 16, where Eve is told “your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”  I’ve read a few commentaries that suggest this means a woman’s willful disobedience to her husband, or trying to rule over her husband herself, are in direct conflict with God’s orders.  I don’t think a good marriage should have either party “ruling over” the other one in such a way, so I’m having trouble reconciling this one.  Especially since, at least according to this verse, Eve’s desire will be for her husband. Is it even part of the punishment, or is it part of the conciliatory statement?  Could this desire for her husband be matrimonial love, that maybe wasn’t originally part of the plan? I really don’t know.  Again, if anyone has found a good explanation they wish to share, I would love to read it!

Let me end with a little aside: Many will find this a very sympathetic, perhaps overly sympathetic, reading of the fall of mankind. Some may even see this whole project as me trying to excuse all our guilt, rendering sin an obsolete concern.  That’s not what I’m doing.  We have a lot to answer for, I just think it may be different than what we sometimes get hung up on. The more I read the Bible, pray, and talk to others, the more I think the main goal is to love as much as possible, and when we lapse in compassion, that is when we sin.  We’re going to mess up.  I raise my voice to my kids and roll my eyes at my husband basically every single day.  That is not loving behavior, and I ask God forgiveness.  But with His help, I’m trying to be more compassionate every day.  If people say that I’m too sympathetic….well, that’s better than a lot of other things they could say about me, so I’ll take it.

Genesis 02 – It’s All in Your Head, Man.

Cultivate a Garden of Eden mindset.

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.)13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

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. 21 So 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 he brought her to the man.

23 The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
    for she was taken out of man.”

24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

Oh, now this is tantalizing.  We have the location of the Garden of Eden, at least in theory: verses 10-14 give us four rivers from which we can work backwards to locate it.  And if you look up “four rivers from Genesis” or some variation thereof you will find all sorts of theories on which rivers those are (or were) and where the Garden of Eden may be hidden.  Most seem to think it’s somewhere in southern Iraq.  So, technically, we should be able to locate it, right?

I’m going to get a little woo-wooey Christian here in my theory.  I think the Garden of Eden does exist, just as Heaven does, but it exists alongside us, or maybe even within us, kind of in a separate plane, so searching for it physically is a fool’s errand. One of the things about Christianity, and probably a lot of religions, if you think about it, is contradictory or seemingly impossible things can exist at once.  For example, God is One in Three.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three entities, but Christianity is not a polytheism because they are also one entity.  It’s a concept, I admit, I struggle to comprehend – how something can be wholly separate and wholly one at the same time.  Advent is another good example of kinda weird overlapping: We are awaiting both the infant Jesus and his return as Messiah.  How can we await the birth and the full-grown return of the same man, arriving at the same time?  If you believe that time is a human structure that doesn’t really have any metaphysical boundaries, then it’s possible….but also kind of headache inducing to think about too hard, at least for me.

I believe a lot of the stuff we are tempted to take way too literally in the Bible – The Garden of Eden, Heaven, the Rapture, maybe even Hell – are much more subtle and complex than we give them credit for.  This is my major beef with all face-value interpretations of the Bible: basically, we’re selling ourselves short by coming up with the easiest answers.  Again, the simple and complex answers can be true at the same time: if you stare head-on at a cube you do indeed see just a square, but you’re missing so much of the picture.

Ok, let’s step back from this acid-tripping theoretical stuff and talk about how this might apply more readily to our physical, here and now, day to day life.  In verse 15, God “took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Here’s human-kind’s very first job description – Head Groundskeeper. Now, I’m not arguing that everyone should drop everything and go out to be some mystical farmer/forester, but I do think that this is the concrete part of the chapter – rather than the possible location of the Garden of Eden – that we should be focused upon. 

Are you following God’s calling in your calling? You know what, let’s take one more step back, and not even take that too literally.  Some people truly are doing God’s calling in their jobs, but everyone needs to pay the bills and not everyone can be a spiritual warrior, so perhaps your job is just that – a job, and that’s perfectly fine.  But are you living your life fully in God’s calling?  Because the more people that do so, the more I believe we will find that Heaven, and the Garden of Eden, have been here all along: It’s just a mindset we need to tap into.  

As we’ll see when reading more of the New Testament, we are told over and over to be prepared for the return of the Lord.  It’s good advice, but rather abstract, and in the absence of concrete steps to take, I fear that many turn to judgement of their brothers and sisters as well as unnecessary guilt over their own perceived shortcomings.  So, my advice – and this is just my own, novice, un-ordained, un-trained advice – is this: Focus on your own work, cultivating your own Garden of Eden mindset.  Find happiness in your daily work.  It can be little things, but really focus on that joy.  I, for example, take great joy in folding towels because they make nice, neat rectangles and are easy to put away.  I step back after the dishes are done to admire my empty sink. Finding these little joys will allow you to be more present for others.  Recognize those you come across have their own burdens, and it is not for us to judge, but to help where we can.  Creating a mindset in ourselves where we can be nice to others, and then extending that kindness to those around us, will bring us all a little closer to that Garden of Eden mindset, and closer to God.