The benefits of modesty aside, femininity became a new way to behave, a role I played, a corset I wrapped around my soul and tightened down to get approval. Femininity quickly became something I did to get what I needed or wanted in life. It was something to use, not something I owned.
I don’t think this is what God intended when he created Woman. In Genesis 1 God wanted to splash more of the Trinity onto Earth. So God made Man and Woman to mirror his image (Gen 1:27). Femininity in its truest, original sense was one way God’s image appeared, and this image was not weak, catty, emotionally crazy, or inferior because God is none of these things. Femininity wasn’t a role Eve played to get what she needed; femininity was part of who she was. Even after Eden, as broken image bearers, we reflect God. If a child is humble, she mirrors her God. If a man is gentle, he mirrors his God. If women are feminine in the original sense, we reflect our God.
My main problem with this is that “feminine” and “femininity” are social and sociological constructs, not biblical or theological terms. Genesis 2:26-28 states:
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
God did not make “masculine” and “feminine” in God’s likeness. God made Male and Female in God’s likeness. And what does this image and likeness look like? According to these verses it means that man and woman subdue the earth and rule it as well as being fruitful and multiplying. Both the man and woman are commanded to have a family and to have a vocation.
In Genesis 2, we found that God created a human being and placed the human in the Garden of Eden. God decided that it was not good for the human to be alone, so God made an ezer cenegdo for the human. After the ezer is made there is now man and woman. What exactly is an ezer? Outside of Genesis 2, it appears 20 times in the Bible*. Seventeen of those times, ezer is used to describe God. In each instance military imagery is used to describe God coming to help Israel against its enemies. I found Psalm 146 particularly fascinating:
1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul!
2 I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
3 Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.
4 When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.
5 Happy are those whose help [ezer] is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God,
6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;
7 who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free;
8 the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.
9 The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
10 The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD!
After telling the congregation not to put their trust in human leaders, the psalmist proclaims: “Happy are those whose ezer is the God of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah!” (author’s paraphrase). The psalmist then goes on to describe how God helps Israel: God executes justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, sets prisoners free, opens the eyes of the blind, lifts up those who are bowed down, and loves the righteous. God watches over the strangers, upholds the orphan and widow, and brings the way of the wicked to ruin. God’s help is not to dominate the people, but to lift them out of poverty and hunger, to set them free from oppressors and oppressive debts (most people in prison then were in debtor’s prison: they could not pay their debts). God helps the orphans and widows: those in society who have no one else to help them and be strong for them. God uses God’s strength and power to help those that no one else will help because they are seen as weak, poor, and marginal. Again we see military imagery used to describe God as Israel’s ezer or helper.
Carolyn Custis James does a wonderful job of exploring the word ezer and its military connotations in her book, Lost Women of the Bible: Finding Strength & Significance through Their Stories, in the chapter on Eve. She translates ezer as “strong helper.” Woman was created in the image of God to be a helper to the man as God was a helper to Israel. But this does not make her superior to the man. That’s where the second word of the phrase comes in: cenedgo, which means standing or sitting face to face. It means equal. So the full translation of ezer cenedgo is a powerful helper equal to. Woman was created to be a powerful helper equal to the man the way God is a powerful helper to God’s people.
Man and woman are created in God’s image to image God in our world. Psalm 146 gives a description of what God is doing in the world. God is not only fighting enemies and saving God’s people. God is also taking care of those who can’t take care of themselves. This means that both man and woman should be doing the things God does to image God to our world. This includes fighting systemic and spiritual evil, but it also includes tenderness and compassion toward those who are poor, needy, and those whom society overlooks.
I want to look at two women in the Bible; one in the Hebrew Scriptures and the other in the New Testament. Deborah is the woman of Hebrew Scriptures that I want to look at. We are introduced to Deborah in Judges 4. She is a prophet and judge, and she leads Israel. The Israelite people come to her with the problems and disputes, and she mediates God’s will as Moses had once done. She is married, but she is a working woman. God has called her to be a prophet and judge, and she has answered. When God commands Israel to go to battle with their enemy Sisera and the Canaanites, Deborah summons the military commander Barak, and tells him what God says. But Barak will not go into battle without God’s representative, Deborah. Both Barak and Deborah lead Israel’s armies into battle. Here we see a man and a woman working together to fight the people’s enemies and obey God’s words and will. And irony of ironies is that Deborah’s husband, Lappidoth, is probably in the troops following his wife.
Deborah, Barak, and Lappidoth do not resemble or act according to the societal constructs of masculine and feminine, but they are obeying God and building God’s kingdom side by side. Leading men into a battle is not considered “feminine” in Western society, but Deborah was obeying God. God called her to lead her people and protecting them from their enemies. She was an ezer who was imaging God in her every word and action.
The next woman I want to look at in the New Testament is Priscilla (or Prisca). Priscilla ran a business with her husband, Aquilla. They made tents together. They worked in Corinth with Paul where they heard the Gospel and were saved (Acts 18:1-3). Later the couple would meet Apollos who had heard only of John’s baptism and not heard of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension or the baptism of the Holy Spirit. When Priscilla and Aquilla heard him, they took him aside and “explained the Way of God to him more accurately” (v. 26). They also lead a home church when Paul wrote his letter to the Romans (Romans 16:3-5). It is very odd during this time for a wife’s name to be mentioned before her husband’s, and yet four times Priscilla’s name is put before her husband’s. Many scholars believe that she was the dominant one in ministry: the teacher and pastor of the churches that met in their home.
Again we see a man and woman working side by side making a living and building God’s kingdom. There is no mention of what is masculine and what is feminine. They work together as the team God created them to be.
I think being made in male and female in the image of God has very little to do with modern notions of femininity and masculinity. It has everything to do with faithfully imaging God to our world by obeying God’s callings on our lives and working together–both men and women–to build the kingdom of God on earth.
*Exodus 18:4; Deuteronomy 33:7, 26, 29; Psalm 20:2; 33:20; 70:5; 89:19; 115:9-11; 121:1-2; 124:8; 146:5; and Hosea 13:9.
The New Revised Standard Version is used for biblical quotes unless otherwise noted.