Ezer: helpmate or mighty rescuer?

Photo by  Xuan Nguyen

Photo by Xuan Nguyen

The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’
— Genesis 2:18

As we discussed in the first post of this series, God first created adam, or adamah, a human who gained the identity of a man after a woman was created from part of his side. God created the woman because the man needed a “suitable helper.”

What does that mean?

When God brings the woman to the man, the verses that follow clearly set up the idea of deep companionship and partnership between men and women. She was taken from his side, indicating closeness and equality. They are made of the same stuff, “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” and are intended to be united together again as one when they marry (Genesis 2:23-24).

The first woman came from the first man, but all other men come from women. Yet, men still play an irreplaceable role in the start of each new life. The jobs God gave to men and women and are inextricably shared (Genesis 1:28).

When God says that the man shouldn’t be alone, he doesn’t say, “You need someone who will enable you to reproduce and none of these animals will suffice.” No. He says that the man needs a helper. There are a lot of opinions on what a “suitable helper” means. I wanted to spend my own time reflecting on it because it’s the clearest definition God gives for the purpose of women.

In this context, the term "helper” often has the connotation of a subordinate or less important role than the one being helped. I grew up thinking this, until a friend told me what the Hebrew word for helper, ezer, actually meant.

By definition, ezer means strong, powerful help or support. I’ve also heard ezer being described as a “mighty rescuer,” since it’s used to refer to important acts of rescue. In Scripture, it is used twice to reference the first woman, three times in military contexts and 16 times to describe God’s rescuing help.

Kenegdo, a Hebrew phrase which is now translated in various ways, such as “suitable for him,” “meet for him,” or “help-meet,” actually has connotations of “like,” “as,” “opposite to” and “equal to.” In fact, the New King James Version translates the passage, “a helper comparable to him.”

Ezer kenegdo: a powerful, equal helper-rescuer.

Consider these examples of how the word ezer is used in the Old Testament to describe God’s mighty rescue:

“My father’s God was my helper; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh.” – Exodus 18:4

“Hear, O Lord, the voice of Judah, and bring him in to his people. With your hands contend for him, and be his help against his foes.” – Deuteronomy 33:7

“There is no one like the God of Jeshuran, who rides across the heavens to help you on the clouds of his majesty.” – Deuteronomy 33:26

“Blessed are you, Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will tread on their heights.” – Deuteronomy 33:29

“May he send you 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 our shield.” – Psalm 33:20

“But as for me I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and my deliverer; Lord, do not delay.” – Psalm 70:5

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

When I think of myself as a wife, I do not think of myself as a warrior, fighting shoulder-to-shoulder—or at times rescuing—my husband.

And yet, not long after I began delving into this topic, God gave me a startling image of a warrior woman with long hair, armour and a sword. There were flames all around her, but her feet were firmly planted on the ground and the flames did not penetrate her armour. As I thought about that image, Romans 13:12 and Ephesians 6:10-17 came to mind. These passages refer to wearing God’s strength like armour, taking a stand and fending off the flaming arrows of the evil one.

I knew at once that I needed this reminder, but I still struggle to accept it.

I fear coming on too strong or trying to be fierce because modern-day feminism says I should be. I don’t want to be fierce just because society says so. That kind of fierce would look hard-edged, judgemental, arrogant and manipulative. It would be the dark side of female strength that I talked about in my last post. I know what that version of me looks like because she slips out every now and then. She’s loud and opinionated without always being wise or sensitive. She flaunts her confidence in the face of other’s doubts. She’s self-absorbed.

But, if God tells me that part of my identity as a woman is to be a strong, valiant rescuer, I don’t want to settle for less. If my role as a wife is to protect my husband where he’s weak (just as he’ll shield my weak spots), then I don’t want to shy away because I’m afraid of failing.

I know what the godly-fierce side of me looks like, too. She’s popped up more often in the past couple of years. She’s blunt and not afraid to state what’s true, but she’s careful to do so in God’s timing and way. She’s unafraid to be vulnerable because she doesn’t fear other’s opinions. She’s recklessly joyful and able to laugh at her mistakes. I’m proud of her and inexplicably thankful to God for showing me how to find her.

Of course, just as men are not perfect like Christ, women cannot rescue men with God-like power and perfection. I do not think these references are so much comparisons as they are calls.

What if women shielded, protected and rescued men from both their weaknesses and the attacks of others? What if men not only protected women but were bold enough to allow women to protect them, too?

Jeremiah 30-31 prophesies about the future restoration of Israel, describing what it will look like when God’s perfect will is restored among all his followers. Tucked in amongst the many promises is one very fascinating verse.

"How long will you waver, o faithless daughter? For the Lord has created a new thing on the earth: a woman encircles a man.” – Jeremiah 31:22

The translations vary, some saying “encompass a man” others, “protect the man.” I think the point here is an important one. It indicates that when God restores his perfect order, women will again be raised up to their true role, which is both vital and powerful.

The wife’s job is not to sit passively in the background, but to stand her ground beside her husband, having his back and fighting for him when he’s tired or weak. And men are called to the exact same standard of vigilant, tender love and protection for their wives (Ephesians 5:25-33).

God loves us too deeply to give us second best. This not only means he has a high view of women, but that he also wants to offer men the best companion possible. I believe the Lord intended woman to be man’s partner, joy, asset, ally, protector and equal. Like him, but different.

FURTHER READING:

If you want to dig deeper, here are a few other voices who’ve weighed in on this topic.

Word study: Ezer kenegdo

A suitable helper (in Hebrew)

All instances of “ezer” in Scripture

Ilana ReimerComment