Summary: A sermon about Eve: the first woman, the Fall, and the life-giving gift of God's grace.
For the first chapter and a half of the Bible. We see God busy at work; creating the place we call Earth and all that is a part of it. And at every step of the way, God declares his creation “good.” Then it all changes. Halfway through chapter 2, God is busy helping the human, Ha’adam he is called in Hebrew, get acclimated to this new environment. You can eat your fill here in the garden, God tells Adam, just “don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” But as God is interacting with the human, God discerns that there may be something about creation that is not good. The man has no companion, no counterpart. “It’s not good that the human is alone, I will make him a helper that is perfect for him.” This expression, “helper that is perfect,” in Hebrew does not imply subordination or inferior rank. So it is that none of the animals seems to satisfy the companion that God has envisioned. Because what God seeks for the man is a helper like himself (ezer-kenegdo); something very special, a perfect fit. So God puts Ha’adam into a deep sleep, pulls a rib from his body and fashions a woman. The Bible tells us that both the man and the woman are created in God’s image and with a specific purpose to fulfill; they are to be helpers to one another as they serve God in the world. And so, like most good stories, this one begins with both a hero and a heroine.
And their lives are perfect; at least for a while. It’s not exactly clear how long the man and the woman reveled in divine goodness together in Eden. But as the saying goes, “All good things must come to an end.” And that’s exactly what happened. A villain appeared, promising a better life simply by eating the fruit of that mysterious and forbidden tree. The fruit is described as “pleasing to the eye and desirable for gaining wisdom,” and it proved too much of a temptation for the woman. She takes a bite and then gives some to her husband, who also eats. Immediately, their eyes were opened, and for the first time, humans experienced shame.
The man blamed the woman, the woman blamed the serpent, but God holds all three accountable for the act of defiance. One writer has observed, “it would be odd, indeed, if Adam were to be found blameless in the situation since Eve was made equally from him.” This is an important and often over-looked fact of this story of “the fall,” as we call it. Indeed, the woman was the first to eat the fruit, but when presented with the same choice, the man responded in the same way. When God appeared after the transgression, the person he addressed was the man, “Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” Adam doesn’t answer God’s question, though; instead, he points to the woman and says, “She gave it to me!” He even put some of the blame back on God when he refers to Eve as “the woman you gave to be with me.” Certainly, Eve is not without blame, but Adam shared equally in this sin and then furthered the transgression by trying to blame it on someone else. And so the punishment is shared equally, too; the serpent must slink through life on its belly in the dirt, man must toil against stubborn, inhospitable land until his death, and to the woman belongs pain in childbirth and the grief of being dominated by men.
Somewhat surprisingly, though, it is right after God doles out the punishment, as the humans are mired in guilt, that the man finally gives the woman a name. It will be “Eve,” which means “the mother of all living.” This woman defied God and did the one thing God warned them would bring death. And still, Adam calls her the “mother of all life.” It’s really beautiful, I think. Right here in the middle of what we call “the Fall,” there is yet a message of God’s redemption; life will go on, and it will happen in part through this same defiant woman. We are led to believe that, indeed, this is the “mother of all life,” when after their expulsion from the garden, Eve gives birth to their first son, Cain. “I have given life to a man with the Lord’s help,” she says. Then, soon after Cain comes Abel.
But once again, death enters the story. Many of us are familiar with this story of Adam and Eve’s first offspring. Cain becomes wildly jealous of his brother, who wins the Lord’s favor, and so Cain lures his brother out into the fields, attacks him, and kills him. It would seem that the destiny of all humans now is nothing but suffering and death, but then something else happens. Again, the focus returns to Eve as she gives birth to a third son. This one she names Seth because, Eve says, “God has given [me] another child.” Then, Genesis says, “Seth also fathered a son and named him Enosh. At that time, people began to worship in the Lord’s name.” Perhaps with her grandson, we see the best of Eve coming through.