Summary: The matriarch of the Hebrew family has much to teach the Christian disciple concerning faith. This sermon explores the power of faith lived out in this woman's life.
Let’s see…a guy preaching on putting women in their place. What could possibly go wrong? Wait! Don’t answer that question. I already know the answer. We talk about putting women in their place, and our minds, unfortunately, return to a less pleasant time in history. Culture even framed the debate with the philosophy that “a woman’s place is in the home.” That sentiment is neither healthy, helpful or correct, unless a woman chooses to make the home her place. Actually, as we look at biblical history, we discover that women are integral to the story…integral to the plan and purposes of God. The purpose of this message series is to explore some of the key female characters of the bible, and in so doing, remind ourselves of the holy and sacred place God has for women in the Kingdom. We’ll do so by spending four weeks looking at some women in the bible who had a life-changing impact on those around them. We’ll only look at four because it fit well with sermon planning. Actually, we could do an entire year or more because the bible is filled with influential women who made an impact in their culture, family or community. We begin with a look at the matriarch of the nation of Israel, Sarah.
Before I delve deeply into Sarah’s story, let me take a few moments to remind us of the creation story of Genesis. That takes us back to the first woman—Eve. Here’s how the story is told in Genesis 2: 18 – 22:
18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” 19 So the Lord God formed from the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would call them, and the man chose a name for each one. 20 He gave names to all the livestock, all the birds of the sky, and all the wild animals. But still there was no helper just right for him.
21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep. While the man slept, the Lord God took out one of the man’s ribs and closed up the opening. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib, and he brought her to the man.
This single passage of scripture does all that needs doing in debunking any theory that women are somehow inferior to men. In the interest of time, look at one primary point this passage makes—that of complementation. Here’s the key phrase, “a helper fit for him.” There’s even a key word in the phrase—helper. The word helper is a difficult word in the Hebrew because it's highly contextualized. The only way it makes sense is how it’s used in the sentence.
Let me illustrate it this way. The English word fast is a hard word. It can mean speed. It can mean abstaining from food. It can mean stubbornness in position. We can run fast, or we can go on a fast, or we can hold fast to the doctrines of the faith. The only way to know what fast means is to put it in a sentence. Suppose I say, “Yesterday I ran a fast 5K,” you know exactly what I'm talking about, because the context dictates the word. If I said, “We’re going to fast 40 days for Lent,” you don't think we’ll be doing wind sprints on the parking lot.
This Hebrew word for helper is similar. It's used throughout the Old Testament, and the context always matters. The word help is most often used in regard to God helping man. Let me give you a couple of these texts. Exodus 18:4: “…and the name of the other, Eliezer…” Here's the meaning of his name. “…(for he said,’'The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh’).” God is my helper. Deuteronomy 33:7: “And this he said of Judah: ‘Hear, O LORD, the voice of Judah, and bring him in to his people. With your hands contend for him, and be a help against his adversaries’.” So God is our helper. One more, for good measure—Psalm 33:20: “Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield.”
Here's my point: God being called helper throughout the Bible brings honor to the position of helper. Since God has been called the helper, a helper cannot be inherently inferior. So if woman has been made a “helper fit for him,” a woman as helper to the man cannot mean the woman is inferior in any way. To say that a woman who is helping is somehow inferior to the one with primary responsibility is to make the accusation that God is inferior for the help he gives his children. That’s absurd. So, she is a helper fit for him. Not a helper like him, but a helper fit for him. The phrase, “fit for him,” leads us to the idea of complementarian relationship. The man and the woman were created unique by God, both in the image of God, equal in dignity, value, and worth, but they have been meant to complement one another, not compete against one another. The weaknesses of one are strengthened by the strengths of the other, and the strengths of the other one are made even stronger by the strengths of the other. I’m sorry to spend so much time on this, but I want for us to understand that even from the beginning, women were never subordinate or inferior to men. Somewhere in time, that understanding was lost. I do mention it, however, because we see that type of relationship lived out in the life of Sarah and Abraham.