Women In Genesis As a collective human element, women in Genesis often appear as obstacles to Gods broad overriding goals through noncompletion of their particular roles in the divine scheme. From the Garden of Eden right through to the story of Joseph, women, as wives, mothers, and daughters, are typically unreliable, inadequate, deceitful or, simply by virtue of their womanhood, an outright liability, and they frequently threaten to undermine God’s will as it is expressed in the opening book of the Bible. God’s first instruction to a human being occurs during the initial telling of the creation story in Genesis. Adam and Eve have the mutual responsibility to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it(1:28). However, it is really the second narrative, detailing the creation of man and woman that establishes God’s structure of the world. In this structure, Eden is created for the first man, Adam, who has one basic function, to work and guard Eden (2:15), and only one prohibition, to abstain from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge (2:16).
Starting right from Genesis, in this additional description of the Eden story, tension already arises between Eve, the first biblical woman, and the divine process. Duped by the serpent, she not only succumbs and eats the forbidden fruit, but also encourages Adam to join her, thereby causing their expulsion. Thus, God is forces to confront human intractability from the very beginning of his quest, and the first instance comes from a woman, the very creature created to solidify Edenic perfection. God had intended Eden to be a self-contained universe, a paradise for Adam where he would live comfortably without toil or hardship. By disobeying, and then including Adam in her crime, Eve indirectly causes his punishment: a life that requires him to labor for his sustenance.
Eve was created to be her husband’s helpmate (2:20); instead she turns out to be a catalyst for his demise and the cause of humankind’s expulsion from the Utopia. In the creation story, the satisfaction of both God and human are at stake. God aims to realize his will in the world, and the happiness and the content of humanity hinge on God’s ability to realize his plan. Eve is created to complete Eden. But, instead of conforming to God’s plan, she is a stumbling block to the construction of the divinely conceived universe.
The idea that God is striving to create an ideal world recurs in Genesis. And in many instances, as in the case of Eve, it is a woman who impedes the fulfillment of God’s vision. However, disobedient actions are not always the mode of obstruction. Sara and Rachel threaten God’s plan with their infertility. Although the text does not explicitly blame the matriarchs for their inability to conceive, they are involuntarily liable for not propagating. In every instance, it is the women, rather than their husbands or God, who are passively the physical barriers to conception.
God, the narrative explains opens wombs when he so chooses. But closed wombs are never stated to be the result of God’s initiative. And, even if conception is perceived as God’s intervention, it is significant that infertility in the text is always a result of women’s, rather than men’s, faulty anatomical equipment, making infertility an inescapable female problem. Propagation is a central these in Genesis. In the Noah story, which is God’s attempt to reconstruct the world after the first few generations of humankind have proven incorrigible, God commands Noah to be fruitful and multiply (9:1) immediately after Noah emerges from the ark. Clearly, the production of offspring is integral to the divine conception of this world, just as it was in Genesis 1.
And later in Genesis, when God sets out to build his chosen people, part of his blessing to Abraham is to make his offspring as abundant as the dust of the earth (13:16). Women are the obvious vessels necessary for the realization of the blessing. Thus, any women who does not conceive is in direct opposition to both God’s desire to populate the world in general through Noah and his descendants, and his aspiration to see his select nation flourish. And culpability is not an issue. The narrative voice in Genesis is objective.
The biblical tone ascribes neither guilt nor vindication, despite the desperate pleas of many of these women for children. Fertility is the divine right of the male establishment, and barren women are the material obstacles to the acquisition of this divine inheritance. The text does not dwell explicitly on the significance of barrenness. Instead, barrenness is presented as a straightforward problem, much like a technical glitch that requires either a major or a minor repair. In the case of God’s specific goals for a select nation headed by the patriarch Abraham, Sara’s infertility most severely jeopardizes God’s plan. Not only does she impede the perpetuation of the Abraham line; her infertility also prevents the possibility of any progeny inheriting her husband’s legacy and breeds dissension in the House of Abraham.
Sara, with her infertility, also falls short of her marital duties and belittles the blessing. It is very difficult for God to fulfill his promise to Abraham if Abraham’s wife does not become pregnant. Sara tries to compensate for her inadequacy with a gesture that seems altruistic. She gives her maidservant, Hagar, to Abraham. But all that does is circumvent her obligation, create rivalry, and produce and Abram line that is divided and at war throughout the remainder of the book of Genesis.
The barrenness of Rachel similarly jeopardizes God’s goals and, more particularly, their family legacy. She endures an infertility crisis not dissimilar to the former travails of her husband’s grandmother. Like Sara, Rachel tries to overcome her inferiority as a barren wife by offering her maidservant in her stead. However, this measure does not alleviate her grief, and the text goes on to describe a transaction wherein Rachel, in the hope of conceiving, haggles with her sister Leah over a plant thought to be an aphrodisiac with fertility powers. Rachel, in despair, pleads with Jacob to Give me children – otherwise I am dead (30:1). Despite her willingness to bear children, Rachel presents an obstacle to the value of fertility.
Although she does not pose the extreme threat that Sara presented, since Jacob sires children through Leah and his two concubines, her infertility still represents a serious obstacle to both her universal and her particular function as child bearer. Hence, the values in Genesis are contravened by yet another woman who does not conform to the female archetype of fertile mother. While fertility is an overriding value in God’s human construct that women in Genesis threaten to undermine, women also obstruct the natural course of history which God has set in motion as part of his ideal world. After God reconstructs the world through Noah and then Abraham, the divine element recedes from the world slightly, and a natural historical course begins to play out through the momentum that God has initiated. The first incident in Genesis in which a woman interferes with this momentum involves Rebecca, who intervenes on behalf of her second born son, Jacob. The second involves Leah who heavily veils herself, tricks Jacob, and takes her younger sister’s place under the bridal canopy.
As a result of Rebecca’s manipulative directives, Jacob, the younger son, inherits the divine blessing from Isaac, though it is clear from the text that Jacob’s brother, Esau, had been Isaac’s favored child. Rebecca’s actions are subversive because they result in the violation of the law of primogeniture that seems to have been the standard practice of inheritance in the book of Genesis. And by reassigning the inheritance, Rebecca threatens to destroy the course of event’s God has anticipated en route to the creation of his select nation. While the text shows that Rebecca had received a prophecy that the older would serve the you …