Sunday, October 18, 2015

Lessons from Cain and Abel

Paul urges us to not be conformed to the world, but rather to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  To do that, it is vital to go back in Scripture to see how things once were, so that we will have perspective on our own day.  A little fish born and raised in muddy water is unaware of the mud.  How the perspective changes for those who read of times when waters ran clear....
Read Gen. 4.  How can you reach all the way to God?  Toss your inadequacies?  Bridge the distance?  That was the driver that caused Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit because the promise was that eating would make them like God, knowing good and evil.  That is the driver for many failed strategies early in Genesis for people to reach to God.  Now, Adam and Eve have children and the issue is still the same.  Cain and Abel would like to make it all the way to God, to close the distance.  But some things have changed even since Adam and Eve.

First, do not fail to notice that the environment has changed—and this is true for us as well as for these new children.  We share the new environment.  Adam and Eve were in Paradise, in the Garden of Eden, in an environment that was at all times pleasant and fulfilling.  But as punishment, they are cast out of the Garden into a new environment.  The designation for this new home is ambiguously described as “east of Eden.”  If you think about it, that means that God is thought of as being to the west, and so to move eastward is to move away from God instead of toward God.  Btw, if you look at the holy temple in Jerusalem, it was built with the most holy place—the very section of the temple where God was said to keep His presence—that part was to the west and so as a person left the temple, they would go out to the east and away from God.  And I say that because as we continue to read Genesis, anytime someone goes east, it indicates a move away from God.

Now the reason why the first sinners are banished from the Garden is because there is another tree located there—the tree of life.  And to eat of that fruit would break the final barrier that now existed between God and His human image-bearers.  If Adam and Eve ate from the tree of life, they would become immortal like God.  Now, immortality is a reasonable and worthwhile desire.  It is something that we should want, and it is something that God obviously longs to give us.  But not simply by eating fruit--not any longer!  We have sinned against God, and immortality can never again be had that easily again.  There are lessons to learn and deficiencies to overcome if we ever want to go all the way to God.

So the new environment, east of Eden, is a place of mortality.  It is a place where people live and die.  And yet another difference began with Adam and Eve.  Not only is the new environment a place of mortality, it is a place where sin has invaded to epidemic proportions.  Can you imagine how easy it would be to avoid sin if you lived in a sin-free environment like Eden?

  • Just think how easy it would be to tell the truth in a world where none of the people around you ever told lies! 
  • Just think how easy it would be to remain sexually pure in a world where everyone was sexually pure!  Imagine if the only people having sexual relations were married, and they only related sexually with their own (opposite-gender) spouses!
  • Just think how easy it would be to obey God in a world where obeying God was the normal thing for people to do!

But that is not the environment we live in, is it?  One of the strongest arguments against drinking alcohol it has to be consumed in a sinful environment.  Not only is alcohol a substance to impairs sound judgment and moral thinking, its effects are made worse because our environment is so corrupt.  I want to share with you a quote from Jim McGuiggan:

What produces alcoholism?  Loneliness and alcohol.  Rejection and alcohol.  Illness and alcohol.  Financial stress and alcohol.  Marital troubles and alcohol.  Parent-child crises and alcohol.  These, and a hundred more ills of society, combined with alcoholic beverages produce slavery to liquor.  The liquor industry doesn’t have its stills in heaven where all are safe from devouring pressures.  [The liquor industry] performs here on earth where the people of this nation brawl and agonize with a thousand inequalities, gross injustices, humiliation, shame and despair.  It comes at people already weakened by grinding poverty, or worse, a deep sense of inner futility….

That is already the environment in which Cain murders his brother, Abel.  Mom and Dad (Adam and Eve) had already sinned, and by this time had probably sinned in more ways than just eating forbidden fruit.  The children had probably seen their parents sinning.  They may already have a history of sin themselves.  And now as they pursue their own desire to draw near to Almighty God, there are more sinful strategies close at hand than the one pursued by the parents. 
Both boys offer their sacrifices to God, but only Abel pleases God and gets His favor.  Abel offered a blood sacrifice; while Cain who was a farmer offered a sacrifice of agricultural produce.  And it is not that God likes meat rather than vegetables, because later He calls for both kinds of sacrificial offerings when the sacrificial system of Israel's religion was fully developed.  Hebrews 11:4 places Abel at the very top of a catalog of people who might be called heroes of faith.  It says, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice to God.”  That means that Abel’s heart was more true toward his relationship with God.  The overtures of his heart were more sincere and well-intentioned and fervent.   And therefore, says the writer of Hebrews, “even though he is dead, he still speaks through his faith.”  He is speaking to us, if we have the ears to listen.

So why did Cain choose to murder Abel.  God had seen his unhappiness written all over his face, warned Cain that sin was crouching at his door like a coiled-up lion, ready to pounce and kill and devour him.  And God made it clear that Cain, if he were to survive that encounter with sin, would have to master it with total effort.  So it looks like Cain thought the best way to do that was simply to eliminate the competition.  He took his brother to a remote field, rose up against him, and killed his brother—the first recorded murder in human history, and the first death recorded in Scripture.

Obviously, this was a failed strategy.  Like his parents before Him, Cain finds himself once more standing before God.  Where God had said to father Adam, “Where are you?” now God asks his oldest and now only son, “Where is your brother?”  Cain has been exposed as the first in a long line of people who seem to think that as long as they are religious, they can treat other people as badly as they want.  What was he thinking—that God would say, “Oh, I see you’ve murdered your brother, but no big deal because you’re the guy who brought me all those lovely vegetables last week, aren’t you?”  Think here of the religious people, one a priest and the other a Levite, who passed by a severely injured man because they were on their way to worship at the temple.  Think of religious who will pray to God to help people in need, but are too stingy to give them from their own supply.  All through the Bible, the message is that anyone who fails to love the people who are visible will never find success in loving God who is invisible.  If you really want to connect with God, you can’t just be religious; you have to love people.  .  Many of them will sin against you (they have been impacted by the new environment), but your challenge is to love them anyway.

Notice that God’s punishment of Cain is stronger than what his father received.  Adam would be forced to work the hard ground in pain and sweat, only to watch it yield nothing but thorns and thistles.  But Cain loses the farm.  He is cast out as a man without a home, without a livelihood, to wander about like a refugee, seeking a place to call his own, but always moved on from one place to another.  This might not frighten us, but it filled the ancients with dread.  We are happily mobile, and leave our place to land in another distant place in the prosperity we call America.  But imagine being uprooted and dropped into the third-world--with its deprivations, and lawlessness, and threats to survival.  And would anyone like to guess in which direction Cain goes?  Well, of course, he goes eastward and settles in the land of Nod (which means the “land of wandering”). 

Finally, if you want to get to God, you had better take notice of something that God values above anything else, but something that people seem to regard with unbelievable cheapness.  Listen to this story from FOX News:

A 12–year-old boy was tortured and killed along with 11 other Christians weeks ago in Syria, in the latest heart-wrenching account of ISIS’ cruel brutality to trickle out of the black-clad jihadist army’s isolated caliphate.  Word of the murders, which occurred outside of Aleppo, came from a colleague of the boy’s father, a local ministry leader who works with the Christian Aid Mission, a non-profit organization assisting persecuted Christians overseas. ISIS militants cut off the boy’s fingertips, severely beat him and the others before crucifying them, according to the colleague.  “All were badly brutalized and then crucified,” he told the Christian Aid Mission in a conversation recounted to “They were left on their crosses for two days. No one was allowed to remove them.”  Eight other ministry team members, including two women who were publicly raped, were beheaded, according to Christian Aid Mission.  The eight were offered the choice of converting to Islam, but refused to renounce Christ.  They prayed as they knelt before the Islamic State militants, according to the ministry leader, who spoke with relatives and villagers while visiting the site.  "Villagers said some were praying in the name of Jesus, others said some were praying the Lord's Prayer, and others said some of them lifted their heads to commend their spirits to Jesus," the ministry director told Christian Aid Mission. "One of the women looked up and seemed to be almost smiling as she said, 'Jesus!'"

Have you figured it out—what does God value that people regard as cheap?  I’ll give you another hint.  Whatever it is, it goes really cheap at Planned Parenthood, where millions of American babies were killed in pure innocence, just as Abel was and with at least as much innocence.  The same cheapness shows in Chicago where the murders this year alone are over 400.  And this from the AP:  A baby girl was thrown from a sixth-floor window of a NYC apartment building to her death on Thursday, witnesses and police said, making her the third child killed that way in the city in three months.

God values life.  Life is His gift, and people must regard that gift as something cheap given the way they are so quick to murder others and to trash the gift that God has given others.  God told Cain that the ground on which Abel’s blood was spilt had a gaping mouth to swallow up that blood—not to hide it, but to cry out to God--to blab out loud the dark secret of the murder.  God knows every life that has been taken by every murderer who ever lived and God will avenge those whose lives have been taken and whose blood has poured to the ground.  But this sequel to the failure of Adam and Eve also ends on a note of God’s’ grace.  The first episode ended with man and women in shame, hiding behind fig leaves.  God in His grace covered them with skins.  Cain now fears that he will become a target of murder as a consequence of murder, but God prevents this by placing a protective mark (not a mark of stigma) upon Cain.  That mark will ward off dangerous people and will reserve for God to judge and punish the sin of Cain.

It seems that three primary lessons come to us:
  • We should recognize the spiritual dynamics of the environment that we were born into.  Sin crouches at our door also.  Its desire is for us; but we must master it.
  • We should recognize that religion that connects us to God, but has a disconnect from people, will never succeed in reaching all the way to God.  We are our brother's keeper.
  • We should recognize life as God's most precious gift and we should never take part in stealing that gift from another person.

The Enemy of the Woman and Her Seed

When I was a boy there was a TV show called The Rifleman starring Chuck Connors.  In one episode, Lucas McCain (Connors) is sacked out in his bedroll and when the other cowboys wake up they are surprised to find that Lucas is late getting up, since he is usually the first up, and they begin cajoling him about being a sleepy head.  He is laying there flat on his back under the blanket with his cowboy hat covering his face.  When even their boisterous teasing fails to wake him up, someone finally pulls away the hat and Lucas’ face is beaded up with sweat and his eyes are wide with terror.  It seems that in the middle of the night, a rattlesnake got under his blanket and liked the warmth so much that it refused to leave. 

Ever since the Garden of Eden, it has not gone well between humans and snakes.  Let’s go back to Gen. 3:14-15.  God has learned of the serpent’s attempt to lure the most prized creatures that God had created away from God in a rebellion led by Satan.  And the devil had succeeded; both the man and the woman were tempted to eat the forbidden fruit and in that act rebelled against the Creator who had given them not only life in paradise, but even gave them the privilege of wearing God’s image.  That privilege belonged only to mankind, and not to any other creature under heaven.

When God came to investigate, he started with Adam, who pointed the finger of blame at Eve, and she pointed the blame at the serpent.  God takes it all in and responds in reverse order:  first, He addresses the serpent.  The gist of it is that instead of achieving status and exaltation and raising himself above God by leading a rebellion, the serpent’s place will fall to the dust, in humiliation and defeat.  God is making absolutely clear is that He is by far the superior power in this fight.  We may be tempted to think that God and Satan--both superhuman in power--are equal but opposite powers (dualism).  They are not; God is vastly superior.  The devil set himself in opposition to almighty God, and God casts the serpent down to the dust.  
But it is what comes next that is especially interesting.  God determines that there shall be perpetual warfare between the woman and the serpent, and between the “seed of the serpent” and the “seed of the woman.”  Henceforth, as far as the eye can see, there will be two species that are enemies with each other.  And although the story picks up on the natural fact that we human beings do not like snakes, and the plain fact is that they do not much care for us either, aside from that this incident in the Garden of Eden marks the beginning of spiritual warfare.

The “seed of the serpent”, as this develops in the Bible, is:

  • Satan and all of the spiritual forces aligned with him in rebellion against God:  demons, fallen angels, and wicked spirits of every sort.
  • It would also include human beings who have lined up with the devil against God (John 8:30-47).  Here Jesus offers freedom or liberation because He understands that people who are caught up in sin are being held in slavery.  Ironically, those same people think that they are finding freedom for themselves by going where sin leads them.  And so, the people to whom Jesus speaks want nothing of the liberation He offers.  So Jesus drives the issue back and declares that freedom or slavery is determined by who your father is.  Jesus is the divine Son of God; His Father is God.  But since they are slaves, rather than children, that means they do not have a lasting place in God’s house.  And Jesus admits the truth of their claim that they are “children of Abraham.”

Let me tell you about Abraham.  As you follow the story of Genesis, wickedness among human beings spreads and multiplies until the flood of Noah.  Under those terrifying waters on which floats the ark, God puts all of humanity to death and scours His creation of sin, and wickedness, and evil.  The creation has been refreshed and cleansed.  But sin erupts again, and God calls a man named Abram, and the plot of the story demands that Abram (or Abraham, as he comes to be known), will be part of God’s solution to this epidemic problem.  From Abraham come the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and only they of all the nations of the earth can claim Abraham as their spiritual ancestor.  They are the children of God’s problem-solver.

But then Jesus comes and declares that it is not enough to merely be the physical descendants of Abraham.  The problem of sin won't be fixed by them.  What really counts is to be the children of Abraham in a spiritual sense.  Abraham was a believer; a man of faith.  And only those who shared his faith could properly be called his children.  And Jesus draws attention to the fact that the people to whom He speaks, although they are physically Abraham’s children, at the same time they are of a mind to kill Jesus.  That is something that Abraham, as a spiritual person, would never do.  And that shows that these people have a different father, a different spiritual father (read).  You see, these people are obviously part of the Satanic rebellion against God.  They are really part of the “seed of the Serpent” of which God prophesied in Gen. 3:15.

  • Finally, the seed of the serpent includes the false religions of the world.  Paul declared in 1 Cor. 10:20 (Rev. 9:20) that when the Gentiles offer their sacrifices to idols, they are really sacrificing to demons!

And so the seed of the serpent will be the enemies of the seed of the woman.  And who are her seed?  Well, on the one hand, these are the entire human race.  Eve becomes the mother of all living beings; every single human being can trace ancestry back to Mother Eve.  And so, Satan really is the enemy of every person who has lived and who ever will live.  But people will finally win the fight.  Even though Adam and Eve fell, and even though every human being to follow took part in the rebellion against God, they would be victorious over the serpent.

And at the end of v. 15, God declares in advance a winner and a loser in this enduring battle.  And suddenly there is a startling shift from the plural to the singular.  Suddenly God is not talking "they and them", about them plural in warfare against them plural.  Suddenly, this conflict boils down to "him vs. him"—one particular “seed of the serpent” against one particular “seed of the woman.”  And notice that God declares that there will be injury suffered on both sides, but the injuries will not be equal.  The woman’s child will strike injury to the head of the devil, but the devil-seed will merely strike the woman’s child on the heel.  One injury will be serious; but the other injury will be fatal.

What is this all about?  Well, the description of the seed of the woman is a peculiar way to refer to children, because in the Hebrew Scriptures, children are usually identified in relation to their father.  In part, this was because the ancient cultures sometimes were polygamous; in a given family there might be several mothers, but just one father (Jacob had 13 children to four mothers).  So why do we have reference to the "seed of woman"?  The day would come after many centuries that God sent His own Son from heaven to earth.  He was born of a woman and her name was Mary.  This birth began with a conception in which no human father had a part.  The virgin mother was impregnated directly from God as she was overshadowed by the Spirit, and they named Him Jesus.  Although it was cultural convention to identify a child with his father, this child was truly “the seed of the woman.”

The most famous and magisterial work of Paul was his letter to the Romans.  In chapter five, Paul set forth Jesus as the New Adam.  Where Adam had been a failure who was won over by Satan against God, this New Adam kept unbroken faith with God.  He stood against the Devil and never rebelled against God.  Each Adam performed a noteworthy act that brought a result for all people.  The first man, Adam, famously committed an act of trespass against God, and that act brought death--death to everyone.  But the second man, Jesus Christ, performed an act of justification, and that act brought life--to all of us.  What he means is that while Adam ate of the forbidden fruit, Jesus (the seed of the woman), even though He never joined rebellion, Jesus went to the Cross to suffer death.  And that death was the punishment that God set on the rebellion of Adam and Eve, when He declared that whoever would eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would die.  Jesus ate no fruit, but he took the penalty for those to whom the penalty for sin applied.  And in that moment, Satan had done his worst to injure the holy offspring of the woman--us and Him.  That injury was so serious that Jesus died.  But by the power of a gracious God, Jesus was resurrected to life.  He recovered from Satan’s injury and won a victory that takes in all of the other descendants of Eve who end their rebellion against God and give their faith to Jesus.  But more than that, when Jesus was crucified, that was a death-blow against Satan.  The death of Jesus defeated the devil and brought his rebellion against God to an end.

Paul has much more to say about Jesus and His victory, but I want us to turn to Romans to focus on just one verse (16:19-20).  The idea is that while Jesus dealt the death-blow to Satan, he though wounded will remain active for a while.  Until his demise,  you and I have been empowered to contribute to the downfall of Satan.  You know, there was an occasion when Jesus sent out 70 of His disciples on a mission and as they represented Jesus in their ministry to people, demons were cast out of people.  And when they returned to Jesus they related to Him with great excitement that even the demons submitted to them!  I mean, usually the demons had power over people.  But Jesus simply said, “Listen—you don’t know the half of it; I watched Satan fall from heaven like a lightning flash.”  While they were casting out demons, Jesus was able to see into the invisible heavenly realms that that ancient serpent was cast down from lofty spiritual heights down to the dust, just as God had prophesied.  That downfall was the result of the work in ministry of Christians like us.  And just as in Romans 16, that great fall taken by Satan took place when the people of God became enemies of the devil.  It is not just the Cross-work of Jesus that slays the serpent; it is our working as the body of Christ that crushes his head.

Back in the Garden, after Adam and Eve tried to cover their shame with fig leaves, God did something unusual, something gracious.  He gave the man and the woman the skins of animals to cover themselves with—fur and leather.  And that means there had to be a death.  The animals had to die as a sacrifice as a consequence to human sin.  Follow this in the Bible, and it leads to centuries of sacrifices and the shedding of rivers of the sacrificial blood of animals until, on the Cross, Jesus became the sacrifice that made all other sacrifices obsolete.  The serpent struck His heel, but by pouring out His own blood, Jesus had crushed the serpent’s head and covered our shame.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Gender in Genesis

This article is a sermon text from a series entitled, “From The Beginning.”  The impetus here is taken from the method taken by Jesus when He was asked to speak authoritatively on divorce.  The Son of God chose perspective on the current cultural situation from the ancient Scriptures in Genesis.  Jesus insisted that what is written there still speaks with an authoritative voice from God.  When Jesus addressed such issues, He sought out what was “from the beginning” (Matthew 19:8).

Moreover, I recalled from decades ago the declaration that Genesis addresses the pressing issues of our day.  The statement has to be more true today than it was then.  This is the ninth lesson in that series, and the third to address gender, our creation as male and female.  I offer it much as it appeared in print on my podium, with minor editing and gratefully taking the opportunity to credit a few sources that inform the lesson.

I treasure Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood:  A Response to Evangelical Feminism (ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem, Crossway Books:  Wheaton, IL, 1991).  Especially, I credit Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr.’s chapter, “Male-Female Equality and Male Headship:  Genesis 1-3” for a clear expression of what “male headship” is, and is not.  I also credit Wayne Grudem’s chapter, “Wives Like Sarah, and the Husbands Who Honor Them:  1 Peter 3:1-7” for a clear expression of a wife’s submission.  Any sermon addressing the touchy issue of gender would be derailed without clarity in these areas, and I appreciate that these clear expressions enabled me to speak on the issue clearly and concisely.

Also, I have drawn a quote from Dr. Larry Crabb (with Don Hudson and Al Andrews), The Silence of Adam (Zondervan:  Grand Rapids, MI, 1995).  I will confess to not having read the volume, and turned to it only to find an expression of the theme (p. 12).  I would expect this volume to draw from a pastoral counseling perspective.

Finally, at close I heartily recommend the lessons of Dr. Tony Evans, which I heard on radio broadcast.  I believe he has published this material with the titles, Kingdom Man and Kingdom Woman. 

Last week we saw that Eve led the first human pair into rebellion against God.  Today we are going to see why it is Adam who usually gets the blame for the Bible’s first sin against God.  It is Adam, and usually not Eve, who gets the reputation as the original sinner.

In earlier lessons we established that God created man and women to complement each other; to fit together relationally in a way that was an advantage both to him and to her.  And we also established that both genders share the supreme honor of being created in the image of God, and that suggests a certain equality between the sexes.  This morning we are going to explore another dynamic created by God in His overall design for gender relations.  Although man and woman are equal in bearing the stamp of God’s image, God has arranged us in a hierarchical arrangement, so that the male is assigned a position of authority or what is sometimes called “headship” and the female is assigned a position of submission to that authority.  This arrangement runs hard against natural expectations and, in fact, seems quite vulnerable to instability.  Failure comes easily if love and faithfulness go slack.

Before we go to the Scriptures to explore this theme, let’s clarify what we are talking about:

       First, as leader, the man bears primary responsibility for leading the partnership in a God-glorifying direction.  I like the term “headship”, and I mean by its use nothing beyond this limited responsibility.

       As a helper, the woman is submissive in the sense that she has a disposition to yield to guidance and an inclination to follow leadership.

       To make this arrangement work, God looks for willing submission by the woman.  Nowhere is a man—who is designated a leader—nowhere is he given authority to use force to coerce her submission.  That comes willingly, or not at all.

       For this arrangement to work, the leader and the helper have to recognize each other as equals.  That will bring both a humble quality to the leadership and an understanding quality to the follower.

       Although Biblical gender roles place her in an inferior position (a position of weakness), this has nothing to do with competence.  God did not make men leaders because they are superior to women.  Men are not superior to women.  And God did not make women submissive to men because they are inferior.  Women are not inferior to men.

       What we call “male headship” is the opposite of “male domination.”  He has no authority from God to assert his will over the woman without regard for her equality, her rights, and her value.

Some clarifications about submission:

       Submission does not mean putting a husband in the place of Christ.  The Christian wife first follows the Lord, and her husband’s headship should lead precisely in this direction.  If he goes another direction, she should still follow Jesus.

       It does not mean giving up independent thought.  Marriage is not a “one brain” arrangement.  Both partners will have lively thoughts and ideas about the future of the relationship, and both are valuable.

       It does not mean a wife should back away from efforts to influence and guide her husband.  He may decide against her input, but any wise leader takes input and gives it full and respectful consideration.

       It does not mean that the wife should give in to every demand of her husband.  Headship is not about him getting his way.  It is not even about bringing happiness to the marriage.  It is about bringing honor and glory to God.

       It is not an admission of inferiority and it does not mean being weak or timid.

Now, let’s go back to Genesis.  What are the indications that the relationship we have described is the one that God intends for us to accept?  First, you will recall that Adam, the man, was created first and that later the woman was created for him to be his helper.  Travel through time across the centuries and you will find the apostle Paul assigning to men the authoritative roles of leadership in the church that require them to be the ones who bring authoritative instruction and teaching.  In contrast, women are to model quietness as the expression of her submission.  And why, Paul, are men and women to accept these roles?  Paul said, “For Adam was created first, then Eve” (1 Tim. 2:13).  In other words, God’s sequence in creating the genders was not arbitrary.  He could have created two genders in a single act, as He apparently did for all of the species in the animal kingdom.   But humans were to be different—the male comes first and is given precedence as the leader.

Second, notice that human beings collectively—both men and women as a group—are called “man” (Gen. 5:2).  God could have created woman first and then could have designated the whole human race as “woman”.  But He did not.  He refers to humanity as “man” and orders that from the creation of Adam in God’s image, before any human female yet existed.

Third, recall that God created Eve to be a helper for Adam, not vice versa.  Her creation is bound up with a support role to the man who has been given precedence.

Fourth, recall that the woman was created “out of” the man.  God took a rib out of Adam and from that created Eve, so that she is a derivative of Adam.  He existed first, and then she arrives as part of him.

Fifth, recall that Adam is given the privilege of naming the woman.  First he calls her “woman” (for she was taken out of man) and later he gives her the personal name “Eve” (because she will be the first mother of all living people).  Just as Adam was given the task of naming all of the animal kingdom over which he would rule as the assistant of God, so Adam assigns a name to the helper created for him as his equal and counterpart.  God does not tell Eve who she is; He allows Adam to name her.

So then, watch again how this plays out when the Serpent slithers into the Garden of Eden.  The responsibility for leading the partnership in a Godward direction belongs to whom?  It belongs to Adam; he has been appointed to be the leader.  But who does the Serpent approach?  Not Adam; he goes to Eve.  Now to honor Adam’s leadership, Eve should have either kept to a strictly Godward direction.  She did not; she was led by the Serpent into rebellion.  To be a truly submissive follower to Adam, she should either have held the course, or she should have deferred to Adam and said, “Satan, God has made Adam the one primarily responsible in such matters; you need to speak with him directly.” 

But wait a minute, Adam was there and, if that does not jump out as obvious, it is because Adam is apparently standing there quietly, listening but saying nothing!  Remember we said that the male has the responsibility for speaking and woman is to defer in quietness?  Well, here Eve is the one speaking and the quiet one is Adam!  What we are witnessing is a role-reversal, an inversion of the arrangement set forth by God.  Eve failed to embrace her femininity, but part of the blame for that has to go to Adam for failing to embrace his masculinity.  Satan goes to the Garden and he finds a failed leader and a failed follower.  Adam and Eve should have provided a unified front to defend the honor of God.  Instead, they became rebels against their Creator.

You remember that when God arrives to confront the rebellion and to get to the bottom of it, notice who God goes to first.  He goes to the man, because he had top authority and therefore he has top responsibility.  Btw, this is why when you read the rest of the Bible, responsibility for the first sin is usually given to Adam rather than to Eve.  His failure to speak up was a sin even before Eve bit the apple.  And God finds all kinds of finger-pointing going on:  Adam blames the woman for giving him the forbidden fruit and, truly Adam actually blames God because it was the woman that God gave me, you see, that caused me to become a rebel myself.  Then Eve blames the Serpent, and the Serpent had no leg to stand on, nor any finger to point.

Let’s now turn to the punishment that God dishes out, first to the Serpent (3:14-15).  I want to come back to this next week, but look at what God says to Eve (vs. 16).  She is punished with pain in childbearing.  It is not childbearing that is the punishment, but the associated pain (just as Adam will be afflicted with a different kind of pain).  And then God says, “Your desire will be for your husband, yet he will rule over you.”  To help us understand this, notice that the same words for “desire” and “rule” are found a few verses later (4:7).  The sons of Adam, Cain and Abel, are competing for attention from God, and God is favoring Abel over Cain and tells him that sin is crouching at the door and “its desire is for him” (meaning that sin is out to overpower him), but that Cain must rule over it.  Now since the statement about Eve is expressed in exactly the same terms, the apparent meaning is that her desire will be to overpower Adam, but Adam will rule over her.  She will assert herself against Adam’s authority, but that authority will stand because God has ordained it and has appointed Adam to that leadership role.

Then look at God’s response to Adam (vs. 17-18).  Before measuring out an appropriate punishment for his sin, God declares that the sentence will fall, first of all, because Adam listened to his wife’s voice!  Adam tried to blame her, but the blame was his because instead of speaking up as a responsible man, he was caught passively listening to her.  His punishment is not just work, because work is a good thing.  Adam’s punishment is work that is painful in the first place, and beyond that his efforts are destined to be incapable of being fruitful and productive.  It doesn’t matter how much he works; there will still be unmet needs and unfulfilled dreams and expectations after much frustration.

The challenge that is bound up in our relating as men and women is to join together in a way that truly honors God.  It means that we stand up to the Serpent by recovering our true masculine and feminine identities, and it means that we now have to do that not in the midst of Paradise, but in the midst of a painful existence.  And there is something essentially vital in the challenge of gender that is at the heart of what God wants us to master as we learn the lessons of life.  The three holy Persons in the Trinity of God have mastered the ability to relate and work together.  Even though each of the Three is equal in essence to the others, they are able to maintain this equality even when one of them takes a role of leadership while another person of God embraces submission. 

A word to the men:  I want to read a quote by Dr. Larry Crabb, author of many books including, The Silence of Adam.  The full title is, “God calls men to move beyond the silence of Adam becoming men of courage in a world of chaos.”  He writes:

The silence of Adam is the beginning of every man’s failure, from the rebellion of Cain to the impatience of Moses, from the weakness of Peter down to my failure yesterday to love my wife well.  And it is a picture—a disturbing but revealing one—of the nature of our failure.  Since Adam every man has had a natural inclination to remain silent when he should speak.  A man is most comfortable in situations in which he knows exactly what to do.   When things get confusing and scary, his insides tighten and he backs away.  When life frustrates him with its maddening unpredictability, he feels the anger rise within him.  And then, filled with terror and rage, he forgets God’s truth and looks out for himself.  From then on, everything goes wrong.  Committed only to himself, he scrambles to make his own life work.  The result is what we see every day:  sexual passions out of control, uninvolved husbands and fathers, angry men who love to be in the driver’s seat.  And it all began when Adam refused to speak.

And to our women, you need to recognize as we (men) do that being submissive does not make you inferior.  Being submissive did not make Jesus inferior.  And you need to recognize that God did not make men leaders because they are superior.  But we know and we want you to know that while submission is difficult, it is also not easy to take on the responsibilities of leadership.  And we need your support if we are to get beyond the silence of Adam and become the leaders that God wants us to be.

For both men and women, I want to recommend the lessons by Dr. Tony Evans.  He is a black preacher from outside of our fellowship.  And I mention his race only because his communication style is one that may be a challenge to people outside of the black community.  To be frank, Dr. Evans shouts at the top of his voice!  But if you listen to what he says in his lessons under the titles of Kingdom Man and Kingdom Woman, he will lay out the Bible view on gender roles and gender relationships.