This passage of Genesis takes place in the second chapter, during the more specific account of the sixth day of creation. God creates Adam (v. 7), designs the Garden of Eden (v. 8-9), and then places Adam in the midst of the garden. There, Adam is given a duty: to tend the garden. He’s then given an early form of the Law – he may eat of every tree except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (v. 15-17). For all intents and purposes, one would think the story was over.
Yet then the Lord, in divine contemplation, announces two things: 1) it is not good that man should be alone; 2) He will create a helper for him. The Lord is referring, of course, to woman, specifically the creation of Eve. The term “helper” does not mean a subordinate in every sense of the term, but moreso an indispensable companion (something even 18th century commentators recognize). The term translated “fit for” means literally “the opposite of”, and perfectly summarizes the relationship between man and woman. Men and women serve different roles in a relationship, and compliment one another in different ways – anyone who denies this has never truly understood relationships.
It is interesting to note that, after saying this, the Lord does not immediately create Eve – in fact, He doesn’t begin the creation of Eve until verse 21. Why the delay?
What must first happen, it seems, is that God must instill within the man the realization that he needs a helper. He takes the animals that were created from the ground and brings them to the man, permitting Adam to name them all (v. 19). It is interesting that at the very end of verse 20, after Adam has surveyed all of creation, he laments that “there was not a helper fit for him.” While even domesticated animals can provide the simulation of companionship, man was not created to live in a house with forty cats, nor to live out in the woods with a dog and be settled with that. Dogs and cats can offer unconditional love, but they cannot offer the kind of love that a man truly needs from his partner.
Adam has now come to realize this very thing – he realizes, as God had realized before, that there is no helper suited for him. Nay, he needs a helper suitable for him. I’ve known many people – men and women – who lived a life of lonely monotony and believed they were content, only to reach an older age and realize that, in actuality, they were not. There comes a time when even the coldest of people desire companionship. As we see here, God early on instilled in us that kind of need.
With the need given to Adam, God causes a deep sleep to fall upon him, and while Adam is asleep, God takes one of his ribs and closes the flesh in place (v. 21). The original Hebrew which we translate as “rib” literally means “side,” so that there was most likely a lot more taken from Adam than just a rib (hence the need for God to close the flesh up). God is literally taking part of Adam’s side to make someone to be at his side. Matthew Henry gives a beautiful explanation of the immediate significance of this: God takes a piece not from Adam’s head to rule him, nor from his feet to be trampled upon, but from his side; from his side to be equal, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.
A greater significance, of course, is that we can see here an early Messianic foreshadow. Out of Christ’s own side, after it was pierced by a Roman spear, came blood and water (John 19:34). It was from this blood and water that God would secure and sanctify His bride, the church, who was bought for and purified by His blood (cf. Eph 5:25-26).
With this chunk of Adam, God fashions the woman Eve and brings her to the man (v. 22). Many commentators say that the language used in this verse is similar to language used of a father bringing his daughter to the groom. It’s very fitting, given that God is now presenting Adam with his bride, Eve. Again, we have an early Messianic foreshadow: God brings Adam his wife, just as God gives to the Son His bride – those who are in the church (John 6:37).
Adam, upon awakening, is ecstatic over Eve – not for any special beauty or personality, but for the realization of what God has now given him. We see this with his immediate response: “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” (v. 23). Keep in mind this is not giving man complete sovereignty over woman in the same manner he did the animals in verse 19, to whom he also gave names. The name given to her is not simply for name’s sake, but for a specific reason: she was taken out of man. She is literally “bone of his bones” and “flesh of his flesh” – no other living thing could have been talked about in such a fashion.
The order and place of man and woman within creation is seen in the rest of scripture. Most notably the apostle Paul writes: “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). Some say this is sexism and misogyny, placing woman at a lower or secondary place than man and compelling her to submit to his authority. They seem to forget, however, the beauty of what this narrative teaches: woman is God’s gift to man. She was made for him as a gift to complete and fulfill him. She is given to the man by God as a gift, so that the two can, as scripture goes on to say, “become one flesh” (v. 24).
Therefore, any man who dishonors his wife does not dishonor her, but dishonors the God who granted her to him as a gift. Any man who beats his wife, demeans her with psychological abuse, or plays the scoundrel against her and commits adultery, is spitting into the face of the Lord who granted her to him. Any man who by his own cause and want destroys that which no man should separate (cf. Matt 19:6) and does not repent of it is transgressing mightily against the Lord, and on the Day of Judgment he will have to give an answer for it.