Some people think it was a sin for Adam to listen to Eve, that he sinned not only by eating the forbidden fruit but also by listening to his wife. From this they seem to surmise that it is not only dangerous but also wrong for a man to listen to a woman, especially if that woman happens to be his wife.
As support for their view they cite God’s words to Adam in Genesis 3:17:
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you…”
The idea is that Adam fell into a heap of trouble for two reasons: wife-listening and fruit-eating, two equally rash and sinful behaviors. Even though Adam received no prohibition regarding the evils of wife-listening, apparently he should have known.
Adam sinned at two levels. At one level, he defied the plain and simple command of 2:17. That is obvious. But God goes deeper. At another level, Adam sinned by “listening to his wife.” He abandoned his headship. According to God’s assessment, this moral failure in Adam led to his ruination.
He should have known, he should have known.
I understand where they’re coming from and I could track with their reasoning if it weren’t for Sarah. You may remember Sarah, reportedly still turning heads in her sixties and beyond, making us wonder if the Bible is just one more example of fake news. And we might think it is except for Christie Brinkley, the modern Sarah. You know, sixty-three and a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model.
I guess there’s one in every generation.
But it’s not Sarah’s demoralizing beauty that helps me understand what happened between Adam and Eve. No, not that. It’s what God said to Abraham about Sarah in the middle of Genesis 21:12 that helps me out.
Which, I might add, is my favorite verse of all time, because my name is also Sarah. If there were ever a time I could be tempted to take a verse out of context, naming and claiming it as my own, proof-texting my way through life, this would be it.
…Listen to whatever Sarah tells you…
But that, as you no doubt realize, would be an inappropriate use of Scripture, which my husband helpfully points out every time I try to use Genesis 21:12 to win an argument.
Things had gotten really messy around Abraham and Sarah’s tents. Sarah had finally provided Abraham with a son but instead of bringing peace, this event elicited resentment and jeers from the son who had hoped to be the heir. Sarah couldn’t take it anymore and wanted Ishmael and his mother out of there.
Which was understandably distressing to Abraham. I can’t imagine what this was like for him. Some of you are familiar with these situations, when you have a new family now but you have your old family too and you love them all and want them to get along. But they don’t. And you’re not sure what to do.
In Abraham’s case God made it very clear.
Listen to whatever Sarah tells you.
In this situation it was Sarah who had insight into what needed to happen, however mixed her motives may have been. There was no good solution, only bad and worse, sad and sadder. So Abraham did what he needed to do.
Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. (Gen. 21:14)
How many times throughout history has a faithful wife counseled her husband in a difficult situation? And how many times has a wise husband listened to his wife? Beyond counting, no doubt.
It’s not wrong. It’s not wrong for a husband to listen to his wife or for a man to listen to a woman.
Neither is it wrong for a wife to listen to her husband or for a woman to listen to a man. But no one seems to be questioning that.
No, that seems to be a given in spite of the fact that husband-listening took Sapphira out. Ananias had a plan, Sapphira went along, and both paid the price.
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 5:1-2)
Peter didn’t really like this lying-to-the-Holy-Spirit business and God seemed to appreciate it even less. Ananias and Sapphira lost their lives for trying to look holier than thou, Ananias first and Sapphira three hours later. Peter gave her an out, but Sapphira held fast to the plotline Ananias had concocted.
Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?” “Yes,” she said, “that is the price.” (Acts 5:8)
Sapphira listened to her husband. She didn’t confront him, contradict him, contravene his wishes. And Sapphira paid the price.
Husband-listening led to her demise.
It’s not wrong for a woman to listen to a man or for a man to listen to a woman.
Except when it is. Except when we ought to be listening to God instead of listening to one another, instead of being led and misled into wrongdoing. Part of the The Importance of Being Human is being discerning, being accountable, knowing when to listen and when to turn a deaf ear.
That was Adam’s problem. God got on his case not because listening to Eve was wrong, but because listening to Eve when she encouraged him to do the opposite of what God had commanded was. Adam was passing the buck – the woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree (Gen. 3:12) – and that’s why God replied the way he did in verse 17. In effect God was saying, “No Adam, you can’t blame Eve. You’re the one who chose to listen, who chose to eat when I told you not to. You are responsible for your own actions.”
I sense a fear. A fear that listening to the opposite sex is dangerous, that it will get me in trouble, that it might even be sinful. But it’s not. We need to listen to each other, to consider each other’s counsel, to appreciate what each side brings to the table. We should be discerning, yes; fearful, no.
Should men listen to women? Yes. And women should listen to men. We all have a lot to learn.
 Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr., “Male-Female Equality and Male Headship: Genesis 1-3,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (1991/2006), ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem, 110.