This is part five of a series called “The Backstory.” Backstory is a reference to the sequence of events which form the backdrop to “The call of Abram” and the unfolding of God’s mysterious plan of redemption.
After the wonderful self-discovery Adam experienced through naming the animals, he was still alone, without a partner in this beautiful new world.
The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.
We tend to understand this name, Adam, as if it were a personal name like Bob or Suzy, but it is more akin to a surname or rather like Elohim in the first Creation Story. Recall that Elohim (Hebrew for God in Creation Story One) is not the personal name of God, it simply refers to a divine being. The personal name for God was not introduced until Creation Story Two when God is introduced by his personal name “YHVH Elohim”, rendered “Lord God” in English. In similar fashion, Adam is a common noun meaning man, mankind or human being. But these descriptions do not carry the earmarks of a personal name. I believe this is how the first man (of Creation Story One) is to be understood, that is until God puts him into a deep sleep and performs a divine operation.
What’s in a Name?
From the opening verse in Genesis, until Genesis 2:23, the word used for man is “adam,” a common, not a personal noun. But something changed in verse 23; let’s see how this works. The words in parentheses are the Hebrew words.
Then the man (adam) said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman (iššâ), because she was taken out of Man (îš). Therefore, a man (Îš) shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife (iššâ), and they shall become one flesh.
From Adam comes îš and iššâ. (Pronounced “eesh” and “eesh-shaw”). Think about this. If you were the only human on earth, would you really have an identity, a uniqueness? Probably not. We are only unique in the context of others, a social structure – to be unique is to understand what separates me from you. Did Adam lose this when he was called îš; I think not. He was both man/Adam and îš. When I marry, I don’t quit being a man, but I add a new quality or role – that of a husband and later a father. In a sense, Îš is a superset of Adam; he is Adam plus Îš, and this becomes his new identity. It is this new man Îš who becomes one with iššâ and together they carry the image of the Most High.
What is the point?
The man, Adam was not changed from adam to îš. He did not lose what it meant to be Adam. The role of îš was added to Adam allowing him to be a greater expression of God’s design for mankind. Is not this how YHVH Elohim represents a richer, more complete expression of the Godhead in the Creation stories.
The narrator then steps in and tries to provide understanding of what just happened.
“Therefore a man (îš) shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife (iššâ), and they shall become one flesh.”
This verse is incredibly mystical. Recall the earlier post, “Who was Adam?” and how Gen. 1:27 shows that it is both the man and woman together who bear the image of God. The verse above (Gen. 2:24) is the parallel verse of this same idea. When the man and woman marry, they together carry the image; it is not two separate images, but one, even as Father and Son are one and the son is the express image of the father (Heb. 1:3).
God has imprinted his image on humanity, but that image is incomplete when we are alone. We are made for community and the original community begins with marriage between a man and a woman. This is the driving force in man to marry. I am lonely and incomplete, but I have the deep drive for wholeness. We don’t often recognize God’s design for marriage in this framework, (for many reasons) but that seems like something the creator has hard wired into our souls.
As the two fall in love and marry, family connections change from family of origin into a new family. What remains for both man and woman are îš and iššâ. Two distinct individuals join to form a cohesive unit which we call family, the source of community. The man and woman certainly retain their uniqueness as îš and iššâ, but they also form a new person, something they could never do alone. This is the oneness of the marriage relationship as well as a human reflection of the Godhead.
Adam is now fulfilled with a sense of wholeness which iššâ provides. Try to feel the excitement in the man’s voice.
“At last!” the man exclaimed. “This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh!
Gen. 2:23 NLT
This is what the narrator is explaining in verse 24 above. Adam has a need to be completed, integrated with the world, and connected with another like himself. He is unable to find the desired wholeness on his own, only iššâ brings this. But she does more than just helping to integrate and connect the man, for YHVH Elohim promised:
And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone;
I will make him an help meet(ʿēzer) for him. Gen. 2:18
Why did the man need a helper and what kind of help would she be? The Hebrew word for “help meet” is ʿēzer. ʿēzer is a fascinating word used to describe what iššâ will do for îš; ʿēzer means to provide help, support or to surround someone especially in times of hardship or distress. It is the same word used to describe the Lord’s help in verses such as:
Our soul waiteth for the LORD: he is our help (ʿēzer) and our shield… Ps. 33:20
My help (ʿēzer) cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth… Ps. 121:2
But iššâ (help meet) also helps in times of hardship and difficulty and so there is to be both protection and defensiveness built into the relationship. Often, the steadfastness, wisdom, and defensiveness of a spouse in times of distress may be the difference affecting the outcome.
If I attempt a summary at this point, it might go something like this. The man, îš is a lot like Elohim in the first creation account. He is strong and powerful, bringing order to the world but somewhat disconnected. iššâ like YHVH Elohim in story two, brings a sense of oneness, integration and meaning to the man. In other words, the world man creates (think mini creator) doesn’t make sense. It is incomplete, without purpose and destiny apart from the qualities which iššâ brings.
- Since the roles and attributes above seem to be God’s ideal for marriage, how has the enemy corrupted this? What is the path of redemption?
- If you are married, how do the qualities of îš and iššâ display themselves in your relationship?
- Considering a woman’s role in the family, church, and world of work, what happens if the woman’s contribution is not valued?
- Genesis 2:24 seems clear that it is God’s will for sons to leave their parents (could that include daughters?) How should we understand and apply this?