In our “Chronological Bible” reading this week, we came across a few more well-known stories in the first half of Genesis. Tara and I found ourselves discussing several of these stories from time to time, especially those stories that were surprising or troublesome in some way or another. Let’s take stock of what we have seen so far:
- Abraham passes off his wife Sarah as his sister in Egypt.
- Sarah gives her servant girl Hagar to Abraham as a wife. After Hagar gives birth to Ishmael, Sarah has her (and the child) kicked out of the household.
- Lot very nearly sends his own two daughters outside to be raped by the men of Sodom.
- Lot’s wife is suddenly and inexplicably (other than the “look back” to Sodom) turned into a pillar of salt.
- Lot’s two daughters choose to sleep with their father and have (grand)children by him.
- Abraham passes off his wife Sarah as his sister again, this time because of King Abimelech. Meanwhile, the women of Abimelech’s household are afflicted with infertility because of this situation.
- Isaac passes off his wife Rebekah as his sister, again because of King Abimelech.
- Esau learns that his parents don’t like him marrying foreign women, so he marries another one.
- Jacob marries Leah, even though he wanted to marry (and thought he was marrying) her sister Rachel.
- Leah and Rachel are portrayed as petty competitors for the most children with their husband Jacob. To this end, two other women (slave girls) are given to Jacob as his wives.
…and that’s just from twenty chapters of Genesis! Do you notice a pattern here? How is it that so many stories in the first book of the Bible have such a negative slant against the women in the stories? Sure, ancient Middle Eastern culture tended to be rather patriarchal in nature – and many cultures around the world today, including our own, still tend to favor men to varying degrees.
Having a patriarchal culture is one thing, but telling so many stories that portray women in such a negative light is another thing. What is going on here?
I can’t really make sense of this. The women of Genesis get a pretty bad rap, and I don’t have a good explanation. They are mistreated, abused, neglected, and disrespected on multiple occasions. The important overarching story of Genesis is God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the twelve sons (all men). The sign of the covenant is circumcision (only for men). In many cases, the women seem expendable.
Maybe the best conclusion to draw is simply to make sure that the same thing does not happen in our world today. Maybe the experience of reading these stories in Genesis should compel us all – men and women alike – to treat women with utmost respect in our everyday experiences, our churches, our schools, our workplaces, our government, and our homes.
I encourage you to read about a present-day movement emphasizing gender equality (#HeForShe) at this website: www.heforshe.org