The Wonder of Woman

By now it has become clear that God’s creating woman to be man’s helper is a great honor for her as much as it is a great blessing for the man. A helper provides what the other urgently needs, and so a helper is highly regarded and deeply appreciated. Since the Lord is the ultimate Helper of His people, the woman is to be esteemed as an extension of His help to the man.

But there is more to this relationship than merely solving a lack in man, something indicated by the manner in which the Lord created the woman. The Lord could have chosen any method to create her. He could have formed a second pile of dust and repeated what He had done with the man. Or He might have simply spoken a word to make her instantly appear. Instead we read, “So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh” (Gen. 2:21, English Standard Version). Why did God do things this way?


Dependence and Distinctions

One reason is to teach us that man and woman, husband and wife, are so intimately connected that they are dependent on each other. As much as a man needs a woman, so a woman needs a man, for she comes from man and is designed to support a man. If we need to guard against male sexism in our time so we also need to guard against feminism. Feminism teaches that women are totally independent of man, can be happy and content on their own, and are in no way bound to men.1 The idea is that women are free to serve themselves, but the Bible says that the Lord made woman to be a helper suitable for man. Woman’s existence is intricately connected to man—she literally is born out of the man (in a unique way, to be sure) just as later men will be born out of women. God created her out of man and for man, to bless him as his complement and co-worker in subduing creation. Any twisting of that will not lead to peace and contentment but to unrest and bitterness.

Still there is more to God’s design. Inside of this mutual dependence is a divine ordering of the relationship. The Lord chose to first make the man and only later the woman. The Lord set Adam alone in the garden and gave him the command to work it and keep it. By God’s design, the woman did not yet exist when Adam received instruction about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God also gave to Adam while alone the royal task of naming the animals. Clearly, Adam was meant to later teach and explain these things to his wife.

What does all this show? It shows that God made man to be head of his wife and woman to follow the guidance of her husband. There was a time when Adam was the only human alive, the one whom God set in charge of the garden and the animals. Adam is the one God created as His representative king over creation and head of the entire human race (Rom. 5:12). When God creates from Adam’s rib a woman to be his wife then she certainly joins him in exercising authority over the world as God commanded them both in Genesis 1:28, but at the same time she too comes under his authority. To be sure, they both hold equal worth in God’s eye as both are created in God’s image, but God distinguishes their roles by giving Adam the responsibility that comes with authority. The buck stops with Adam. Eve is to help him in every way, and Adam is to seek her aid and cherish her as God’s gift to him, but in the end Adam is the responsible authority figure in the marriage. Adam shows his authority by naming his God-given helper, calling her first “Woman” and later “Eve” (Gen. 2:23; 3:20). The Lord Himself confirms Adam’s headship by first addressing the man in the wake of the couple’s fall into sin (3:9).

Authority and Cherishing

In our current cultural setting it will be hard to maintain the truth of a husband’s authority over his wife, but if we want to stay faithful to God we must. This truth has implications as well for how we do church, as the Holy Spirit makes clear through Paul: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Tim. 2:12–13). Elsewhere Paul writes that a woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head. “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (1 Cor. 11:8–9). There is an unmistakable God-ordained difference in roles: man has authority over his wife as her head and this in turn affects the roles men and women may undertake within the body of Christ.

A husband’s authority, however, is never to be demeaning, damaging, or abusive but always respectful, edifying, and for the flourishing of the wife. That’s how God intends all authority to function. Just as it is an appalling thing to see governments or parents misuse their authority to the detriment of their citizens or children, so it is appalling to see a husband do so toward his wife. However, the abuse of authority does not mean authority itself is a bad thing. Authority remains a good thing when it is used as the Bible teaches: not to oppress but to bless. God teaches not power-hungry domination but servant-like headship; not husbands lording it over their wives and ordering them around, but husbands loving their wives as their own bodies and caring for them with tender compassion just as Christ cares for His bride. Though Jesus is the church’s Lord, He became a slave in order to save her, and this is the model for husbands (Eph. 5:25–28). The church despised Him but nevertheless He sacrificed for her benefit. He has authority over her, but He is never rough, abusive, or neglectful, but always kind, gentle, and attentive. Christ treats His bride like His own body, in purity of love, and that’s how every husband should treat his wife.

Doesn’t God show that too when He makes the woman out of Adam’s own rib? For what the Lord presented to Adam after he awoke was not some creature remote from himself. What the Creator brought was a living being made from Adam’s own flesh, as he joyfully acknowledges: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (2:23). How could Adam ever demean his wife, his own flesh? How could a husband who knows this truth ever treat his wife badly? It would be as foolish and sinful as harming himself. If you are a husband, your calling is to cherish your wife as a precious gift from God, gladly providing her with what she needs so that she can fully be the uniquely suited helper whom God made for you.

Thriving Wife

If a husband’s authority is not to be oppressive, and if a wife submitting to her husband is not to be drudgery, what does this look like in real life? The Holy Spirit gives us a picture of this godly marriage in Proverbs 31 where first the “excellent wife” comes into view. And what is life like for her? Is she being told by her husband to clean the house, do the laundry, have dinner on the table when he gets home, and for the rest keep quiet? Far from it! Instead we read, “The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain” (v. 11). The excellent husband trusts his excellent wife. He doesn’t micromanage her life. He’s not looking over her shoulder at every penny she spends. To say it in today’s terms, he gives her access to the bank account and the keys to house and car with the full conviction that she will manage it all well. Husband, do you trust your wife like that? Do you give her room and encouragement to be the good helper to you God meant her to be? Do you pray for her and with her?

For the good wife is energetic and active in managing the household. “Like the ships of the merchant . . . she brings her food from afar” (v. 14). On the one hand she “provides food for her household and portions for her maidens” but on the other hand she “considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong” (vv. 15–17). This woman is happy and thriving in her home. With her husband’s blessing, she eagerly takes up responsibility to provide for her family and even improve their circumstances. Not only is she a mother caring for children but she’s a fellow worker with her man, to assist and help him by managing the affairs on the home front while he is busy elsewhere subduing the earth in his daily labor. Wives, do you see how vital a role you play in helping your husband? Do you take pleasure in running your homes well so that your husband is enabled to do his work?

Perfect Match

For notice that after God formed the woman from Adam’s rib, “he brought her to the man.” It was a beautiful moment: the Father in heaven giving away His own daughter. And He gave her to the man. There is order here once again. The man is not brought to the woman but she to him. Like the wife in Proverbs 31, she is meant to be for her husband, as a precious helper.

And Adam knows what a blessing she is: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘Woman,’ because she was taken out of Man.” He’s virtually singing his joy and wonder! A little earlier, God had led him to understand that his aloneness is not good and that among all the animals he’s just named there was no match for him. And now he is presented with a special act of God’s grace in forming the one he so badly needed—the woman. What a wonder!

Husband, honor and cherish your wife as helper. Wife, respect and cherish your husband as head. This is your Creator’s design and will, within which you can expect His rich blessing.

Rev. Peter H. Holtvlüwer is minister of Ancaster Canadian Reformed Church (ON) and editor of Christ’s Psalms, Our Psalms.

1 It’s important that we do not neglect the fact that singles can be happy and content on their own when God leads them into or keeps them in that state. Far too often the singles feel a bit lost in the church. They too love and value marriage and the family and they too lament the destruction of the family in western culture, but their singleness seems to be overlooked.