This is the first post in our “Biblical Women” series. I am thrilled to walk with you through the Bible, studying our Scriptural women who lived incredible lives, led their families and whole nations, and pushed the story of this world forward through their compassion and strength.
Today we start with the first woman to enter the biblical scene. Prior to her creation, God orders the world in a way that God deems, “Very good” (Genesis 1:31). However, in Genesis 2, God places “the human” (ha-adam) into the garden, and realizes that despite a perfect relationship with God in a paradisaical location, the human was still lonely. So God gathers the animals together from all of the land and the sky, and the human names each of them; yet none of them are his “perfect helper” (Genesis 2:15-20).
So God then puts the human in a deep sleep, and removes what the Hebrew calls his tsela, which God uses to create the woman.
Most of us have learned that God removes Adam’s “rib,” right? I even remember hearing a terrible Christian pick-up line in college that went, “I gave you my rib, can I have your number?” Awful, I know.
We see the word tsela all over the Old Testament. The weird thing is that Genesis 2 is the only time we translate it as “rib.” The other 31 times we find the word tsela, it actually means “side.” In fact, fifteen of the times tsela shows up, it’s used to instruct the Israelites about how to build the sides of the tabernacle.
I know that it can feel uncomfortable to translate that word as anything other than “rib,” but I want to challenge us to consider what it would mean for us to translate tsela as “side,” as it is throughout the rest of the Bible.
The image that Genesis gives us is of God putting the human into a deep sleep, and removing his side, then closing it up with flesh. He turns this side into the woman, and introduces the two of them to one another. The man then responds in Genesis 2:23,
“This one finally is bone from my bones
and flesh from my flesh.
She will be called a woman
because from a man she was taken.”
The words “man” and “woman” are meant to sound very similar, because the Hebrew words sound very similar: “ish“ and “ishah.” He claims her as his own, as a part of him. He recognizes that God used a number of his bones and part of his flesh to create her, rather than one measly rib.
We then read, “This is the reason that a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife, and they become one flesh” (v.24). So we start with God putting the human into a sleep, taking off his side, and creating his exact counterpart. And by the end of the chapter we have God introducing the two humans, who are now called “man” (ish) and “woman” (ishah), so that they can return to being “one flesh.”
This is the beautiful order that God craves and that the text continues to show us over and over again. Splitting one into two, and then making the two one again. And the meaning gets even deeper when we consider what we learn in Genesis 1:27:
“God created humanity in God’s own image,
in the divine image God created them,
male and female God created them.”
God created humanity in God’s very image. Then, in the following chapter, we see in detail how God went about creating the first human, splitting that human in half, and using the bones and flesh of his side to create the perfect counterpart.
In the creation of humanity, God ties manhood and womanhood to God’s own self, and depicts exactly why we are meant to be together. Our first mother meets her counterpart face to face, and they recognize that they are already a part of one another. God has woven the fabric of our lives in a way that demands order out of chaos, that springs forth life out of loneliness, and that in its essence bears the very image of God. So may we claim our place in God’s creation today, and celebrate the first woman, who bore God’s image and claimed her role as the perfect partner to her companion in the garden.