And the man knew Havvah his wife and she conceived and bore Cain and said, “I have gotten a man (with the help of) YHWH.” Genesis 4:1
et YHWH – Some time ago we examined this verse in the context of the verb qanah. Havvah will not be denied her role as ‘ezer. In spite of her husband’s attempt to resist her spiritual DNA, she finds an outlet for her design. It is her son, Cain. This is, of course, a further disastrous consequence of failure and lack of forgiveness. We looked at the verb qanah in order to see that Havvah negotiates a purchase of a new relationship for her role as ‘ezer. Her child takes the place of her husband. That message is underscored by the fact that she does not say, “I have a child with the help of the Lord.” Instead, the text uses the word ish, a word for an adult male, a man or a husband. Cain replaces Adam in her quest to be fulfilled. This is further emphasized by the verb qanah, used here for acquire, barter or negotiate. This is no gift from God. This is Havvah determining her own destiny. Sin compounded in the broken world. In English translations, all of the words “with the help of” or the equivalent are added to the text. In Hebrew, the impact is much more dramatic. Havvah literally says, “I have purchased a man et YHWH.” This strange sentence needs explanation. What we discover is that it is at the heart of the problem with broken relationships, between men and women and between human beings and God.
Let’s go back to the verb. The verb qanah seems to have two separate branches of meaning. In the first branch, qanah has at least four senses: to purchase, to acquire, to buy and to possess. One of those senses is extended when it is used to describe the acts of God. In Exodus 15:16, qanah is the verb used to tell us that God redeems (that is, buys back) His people. This is the verb used for ransoming a slave. It is undoubtedly the Hebrew equivalent of Paul’s Greek concept of ransom from sin. Clearly, the verb has some very powerful implications.
The second branch of qanah means to create or to bring forth. God creates the heavens and the earth with qanah. The womb brings forth a child (Psalm 139:13). God creates Israel (Deuteronomy 32:6). So, it’s possible that Havvah’s use of the verb is simply an expression of the production of her womb (branch 2). But other linguistic clues suggest that this is not the case. The deliberate use of ish, the failure to even mention the name of her husband, and this very strange et YHWH tell us that something else is happening here.
The particle et, as you know, is a linguistic signal that the next word is the direct object of the sentence. In this case, the sacred name, YHWH, is the direct object. This in itself is remarkable. The very first time in Scripture that the sacred name is uttered by a human being, it is uttered by a woman! This is God’s personal name. It is used by those who know Him. Havvah uses the Name, but in a very odd way. All of the context that enables us to understand what she means must be supplied, added, to the text. All that that text actually says is this: “I have bought back, purchased, a man YHWH.” But this is very strange because the direct object of the verb qanah (to buy back) is not YHWH. It is ish, Cain. Yet the textual marker, et, clearly tells us that YHWH, not Cain, should be the direct object of the sentence. Therefore, the added prepositional phrase “with the help of” isn’t correct. Those words do not appear in the original text. What can this mean?
Consider the role of the direct object in a sentence. The direct object is the thing acted upon. The direct object receives the action of the verb. In Havvah’s statement, she acts upon YHWH in order to obtain a substitute man. But is this even possible? Does a woman barter her children from God? Is a child the result of payment? Clearly not. Children are God’s gifts. We parents receive His blessing with the birth of a child. We do not act upon God to get a child. We are the direct objects of His gracious benevolence.
But not for the injured, unforgiven and shamed Havvah. Her man fulfilled his part of God’s prescriptive announcement. He took charge. He exercised dominion. In doing so, he shoved her face in it. So, she went around him. She used him to get what she really needed, a new object for her built-in function. Only this time, her “man” did not come as a gift from God. He came as part of a deal. Havvah thinks that she has bartered with God to get what she needs. Sin spins another layer of consequences. Her son attempts the same kind of et YHWH bartering later in life, and the results are also tragic.
So, what does all this have to do with us? Isn’t it all ancient history? Nope. Each of us still finds resistance to our God-given roles. The world is still broken. Dominion is still an issue. But what we learn from Havvah is this: when we try to manage our way around the consequences rather than seeking the face of the Lord and healing the broken relationships, we end up worse than before. God will not be manipulated. He has provided a way of escape and that way usually runs directly through confession and repentance. Neither Adam nor Havvah seem to have taken that step – and life just got progressively worse.
How are you doing at managing broken-world tragedies? Are you buying your way back to the Garden?
Topical Index: havvah, qanah, et YHWH, barter, direct object, ‘ezer, Genesis 4:1