A Suitable Helper

By Margaret Mowczko

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the human to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him.” . . . but for the human no suitable helper was found. Genesis 2:18 & 20

In the past, people have diminished and narrowed the meaning of the word helper, used in Genesis chapter 2, in reference to the first woman.  They have literally demeaned it!  So much so, that many people have thought that the word basically implied that the first woman – and all women in general – were designed by God to be nothing more than domestic servants, whose role it was to take care of the family and the household; and in particular, to cater for the needs and demands of their husbands.[1]

Why this narrow and lowly view of the word helper in reference to Eve?

In English, the word help has a broad range of connotations.  Help can refer to a simple, modest act or to something much more significant.  An example of significant help is the assistance and counsel provided by professionals such as doctors or lawyers, etc.  In Hebrew, the word for helper used in Genesis 2:18 and 20, is ezer, and it is always and only used in the Old Testament in the context of vitally important and powerful assistance.  According to R. David Freedman, the word ezer is a combination of two roots, meaning “to rescue, to save”, and ”strength”.[2]

Ezer is used only 21 times in the Old Testament.  Twice it is used to refer to Eve, 3 times it is used to refer to nations that provided military assistance to Israel, and the other 16 times it is used in reference to God as a helper.  All of these verses are talking about a vital, powerful and rescuing kind of help; yet when ezer is applied to the first woman, Eve, its meaning has been diminished to fit with traditional and cultural views of women’s roles.

In Exodus 18:4 it says that Moses named one of his sons Eliezer, which in Hebrew means: “God is my helper”.  This verse goes on to explain why Moses named his son Eliezer: not because God had done Moses’ laundry (no disrespect intended), but because God had delivered Moses from Pharaoh’s sword!

Ezer describes aspects of God’s character – he is our strength, our rescuer, our protector  and our help!  And ezer was the Holy Spirit’s choice of word to describe the first woman.  Eve was someone who would provide valuable and vital strength and assistance to Adam. (Please see endnote 3!)

The Hebrew word kenegdo, usually translated as suitable in Genesis 2, gives the meaning that Eve was designed to be a corresponding companion and partner for Adam.  There is no sense of subordination stated or implied, or even hinted at, in this passage in Genesis 2, whatsoever. (See endnote 4.)

Ezer kenegdo – a suitable helper is used in reference to Eve without any prescribed limits, narrow qualifications, or carefully crafted cultural restrictions.  In other words, it does not state anywhere in Genesis 2 how the first women was to express and apply her strength and help towards her husband.  Unfortunately too many people have just assumed that the woman’s role was to be subservient.  These people have read Genesis chapter 2 with narrow, preconcieved notions and have not seen the wonderful expressions of equality, affinity and unity in this passage.

Women: In what ways can you be an ezer – a valuable strength – in your family, in your church, at your work place, in your community?


Endnotes

[1] At the time that Eve was taken out of Adam (Genesis 2:21-23), Eve did not have children and may not even have had a household to run.

[2] The Hebrew word ezer is a combination of two roots: `-z-r, meaning “to rescue, to save,” and g-z-r, meaning “to be strong.”  R. David Freedman, “Woman, a Power Equal to a Man”, in Biblical Archaeology Review 9, 1983, pp56-58.  Quoted in Hard Sayings of the Bible by Walter Kaiser, et al.  Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996, p93.  I recommend that you read the relevant passage here.

[3] It has been said by some that Eve was provided to help her husband, but not vice versa. Surely to  suggest this  goes against everything we know from New Testament teaching on human relationships (e.g. Eph 5:28-29).

[4] The whole purpose of the Creation of Eve narrative in Genesis 2:21-24 is to emphasise the unity and mutuality of husband and wife.  To read it any other way is to miss the point and distort its meaning and purpose!  Eve was quite literally “taken out” of the first human being (23b).  Before her creation, Eve was already a part of Adam, in some way.  When Adam looked at his new partner he exclaimed  that she was “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone”!  A profound expression of equality.  There is no hierarchy here!  But to further emphasise the point, verse 24 says that when a husband and wife join in marriage, they become one flesh – a point which Jesus also highlighted (Matthew 19:4-5; Mark 10:6-7).  Men and women together are made in God’s image.  God’s ideal at creation was that the husband and wife be completely equal and rule over nature together (Genesis 1:26-28).  Complete gender equality is the Godly ideal we should aim for.


I have included the following verses so that you can see the context of every Bible verse where “ezer” is used.  Be encouraged!

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the human to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him.” …but for the human no suitable helper was found. Genesis 2:18 & 20

For [Moses] said, “My father’s God was my helper.”  Exodus 18:4b

“Hear, O LORD, the cry of Judah; bring him to his people. With his own hands he defends his cause.  Oh be his help against his foes.”  Deuteronomy 33:7

“There is no God like the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you, and on the clouds of His majesty.”   Deuteronomy 33:26

Blessed are you, O Israel!  Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD?  He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword.  Deuteronomy 33:29a

May He send help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.  Psalm 20:2

We wait in hope for the LORD; He is our help and shield.  Psalm 33:20

Yet I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God.  You are my help and my deliverer…  Psalm 70:5

“I have bestowed strength (ezer) on a warrior; I have exalted a young man among the people.”  Psalm 89:17

O house of Israel trust in the LORD – He is their help and shield.  O house of Aaron trust in the LORD – He is their help and shield.  You who fear Him, trust in the LORD – He is their help and shield. Psalm 115:9-11

I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?  My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.  Psalm 121:1-2

Our help is in the Name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.  Psalm 124:8

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God.  Psalm 146:5

Though they have officials in Zoan and their envoys have arrived in Hanes, everyone will be put to shame because of a people useless to them, who bring neither help not advantage…   Isaiah 30:5

I will scatter to the winds all those around him – his staff (ezer) and all his troops – and I will pursue them with a drawn sword.  Ezekiel 12:14

When they fall they will receive a little help… Daniel 11:34

You are destroyed, O Israel, because you are against Me, against your helper.  Hosea 13:9

© 1st of November, 2010; Margaret Mowczko

This article first appeared at newlife.id.au here.

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This entry was posted in Adam and Eve, Genesis 2, Marg Mowczko. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Suitable Helper

  1. TL says:

    Excellent! I think also that there is a better translation for kenegdo. It comes from ‘neged’, which has basic meanings of ‘facing, before one’s face, corresponding,and similar’. There is an overall sense of equality in the word. There is also a sense that it can be for or against or opposing, because the other is directly in the presence of, seeing and observing. There is even the sense that both are in the full presence and eyesight of the other. Both fully see each other. How better to be a rescuing help to another, than to fully aware of his person viewing from a fully equal stance.

    This is likely why some Rabbi’s say that “if the man is worthy, the woman will be a helper; if he is unworthy, she will be against him.” (The Stone Edition Chumash, pg 13 quote by Yevamos 63a;Rashi) The footnote in the Chumas even goes on to say: “Thus, the verse (vs. 2:18) means literally that there are times a wife can best be a helper by being against him.”

  2. Pingback: The Bible and the Nature of Woman | Christian Egalitarian Marriage

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