Greater Men and Women of the Bible by James Hastings: 007. The Woman

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Greater Men and Women of the Bible by James Hastings: 007. The Woman

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The Woman

As a woman of independent will and individual responsibility, Eve comes before us first in the third chapter of Genesis, and that chapter is the story of the Fall. There Eve is representative of the temptation that assails man. As Adam is representative of man in the Creation, the primitive state, and the Fall, so Eve is representative in the story of the Fall of those temptations which every human being, male or female, has to meet.

1. The temptation was threefold, being addressed to the body the soul, and the spirit. “When the woman saw (1) that the tree was good for food, and (2) that it was a delight to the eyes, and (3) that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat” (Gen_3:6). So is it always. And so was it with Jesus. When we compare the temptations to which He had to submit, as recorded by St. Luke, we see at once that He had to submit to exactly the same temptations as Eve.

(1) Eve “saw that the tree was good for food”-it was a temptation addressed to the bodily appetites. So “when Jesus was afterward an hungered,” the devil came to Him and said, “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.”

(2) Again, Eve saw that the tree “was a delight to the eyes”-it was a temptation to the mind, to the sense of beauty, to the unlawful indulgence of those higher gifts of ear and eye which find their expression in science and in art. So also Christ was taken to the top of a high mountain and shown all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, in a moment of time. “All these,” said the devil, “will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” What an appeal the sight must have made to the mind of Christ. All knowledge and all beauty were comprehended in the vision. But knowledge that is gained without self-sacrifice is sin; and beauty that is divorced from truth is deformity. Many a man has become eminent in science and in art through the worship of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Christ will become eminent also, but only by obeying the precept, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”

(3) Once more, Eve saw “that the tree was to be desired to make one wise.” There is a wisdom or experience that can be reached by man. There is a higher wisdom or experience which belongs only to God. Eve was tempted to pass beyond the bounds of human experience-as the devil put it, to be as a God, knowing good and evil. This is the ambition which Shakespeare says was the temptation of the angels. It is the highest form of temptation that comes to man; it is the temptation to his spiritual nature. Christ was tempted spiritually also. He was placed on the pinnacle of the Temple, and told to cast Himself down. For was it not written that the angels had charge of Him, and that He would not dash His foot against a stone? It was the temptation to enter upon an experience to which as man He was not called. The wisdom that can arrest the laws of nature is wisdom that belongs to God. Christ will exercise that wisdom by and by, when He goes forth to do the work of the Atonement; but now He is being tempted as a man, and He refuses to ask God to bear with Him while He undergoes an experience to which God has not called Him.

The second picture of Watts's great trilogy of Eve represents the Temptation. It shows Eve with her face buried amid a profusion of leaves and flowers and fruit in the bowers of Eden, her hand touching the shell-like apple blossom, her nostril inhaling the fragrance of the fruit, and her mouth taking the fatal bite. God made man innocent and upright, and placed him in a world of beauty and brightness. Eden was the work of God, the pattern of His thought and purpose for man. And the remembrance of that fair Eden prevents man from forming dark thoughts of God, regarding the origin of evil. The root of sin is in man, not in God's world; and the evil that blighted Eden came from him and not from God. The temptation of Eve contains the germ and pattern of all temptation, and reveals the method by which it invariably carries on its baleful work. It shows how Satan succeeds by half-truths, when falsehoods on the one hand, and whole truths on the other, would be sure to fail. He insinuates a doubt as to whether our first parents understood aright the Divine prohibition regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. “Yea, hath God said-ye shall not eat of every tree?” It is as if he had said, “Surely it is not possible that a wise and gracious Being could forbid so innocent an indulgence, and issue a prohibition for which no kind of reason can be given.” He thus makes an indirect reflection upon the character of God, and causes the woman to think that He is not so good and wise as she supposed Him to be, seeing that He so seriously restricts the liberty of herself and her husband. She gives way to the temptation. She waxes bold enough to stretch forth her hand, to pluck the fruit of the forbidden tree and to eat of it. Sensuality, vanity, ambition lend their aid; doubt and distrust pass into open unbelief; and when her husband joined her, seduced by her example, and saw further than she saw at first, that Eve did not die from eating of the fruit, everything conspired to the fatal act of disobedience and ingratitude which, as Milton says, “brought death into the world and all our woe, with loss of Eden.”1 [Note: Hugh Macmillan, The Life-Work of George Frederic Watts, 147.]

2. The sin of Eve, if we may express it in a single sentence, was the seizing of that which did not belong to her, or did not belong to her yet. In time she might be wise as God to know good and evil. But at present there is mystery wrapped round the wisdom of God, and that mystery must be respected. More than that, the price must be paid. It is the experience of life, interpreted by the Spirit of God, that brings wisdom. Eve had not yet passed through that experience or paid that price. Life is the price, and, for us now at least, death is especially the price.

“Sphœra cujus centrum ubique, circumferentia nullibi,” was said of Mercury, that messenger of the gods who marshalled reluctant spirits to the Underworld; and for Mercury we may write Life with Death as its great sacrament of brotherhood and release, to be dreaded only as we dread to partake unworthily of great benefits. Like all sacraments it has its rightful time and due solemnities; the horror and sin of suicide lie in the presumption of free will, the forestalling of a gift-the sin of Eve in Paradise, who took that which might only be given at the hand of the Lord. It has too its physical pains, but they are those of a woman in travail, and we remember them no more for joy that a child-man is born into the world naked and not ashamed: beholding ourselves as we are we shall see also the leaves of the Tree of Life set for the healing of the nations.1 [Note: Michael Fairless, The Roadmender (1911), 79.]

It is an old story, that men sell themselves to the tempter, and sign a bond with their blood, because it is only to take effect at a distant day; then rush on to snatch the cup their souls thirst after with an impulse not the less savage because there is a dark shadow beside them for evermore. There is no short cut, no patent tram-road, to wisdom after all the centuries of invention; the soul's path lies through the thorny wilderness which must be still trodden in solitude, with bleeding feet, with sobs for help, as it was trodden by them of old time.2 [Note: George Eliot, The Lifted Veil.]

What is this sin of woman? Something antediluvian, you say. No, something intensely modern-a temptation which besets the woman of the twentieth century as much as it overshadowed the woman of the world's first day. That sin can be expressed in one word-extravagance. The word “extravagance” literally means “wandering beyond.” It is inability to live within one's income. That was the sin of Eve; that is proverbially the sin of many of Eve's daughters. But you will observe that neither to Eve nor to her daughters does the sin present itself in its true colours. The act of the primitive woman is really an act of theft; she appropriates the possession of another. To live beyond one's income is always the appropriation of another's possession. It is a trespass on somebody's tree under pretence of buying the fruit. But happily for Eve she is not consciously guilty of the fraud she is perpetrating. If the tempter had said, “Steal!” he would not have been listened to for a moment. But the tempter does not say, “Steal!” he says, “Speculate!” He says, “You are only buying the fruit after all; the increase of your resources will make you far more valuable to the master of the vineyard whom you serve; you will pay him back by and by in double work, in intelligent work, in remunerative work.” Temptation since the days of Eden has never ceased to clothe itself in a seemly garment. The subtlety of the serpent does not lie in its stimulation of the passions, but in its pretence of being dispassionate-of not letting its own interest obscure the interest of the Divine. It ever paints the downward way as leading to an upward path which will issue in the elevation of the soul, “Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”1 [Note: G. Matheson.]