Time to celebrate the helpmeets…
Every year Mother’s day rolls around and we’re treated to hearing a sermon based on Proverbs 31, Esther or perhaps about Mary. A few times a year women are highlighted. Why is there only a handful of messages that talk about women? I think one reason might be with some of the awkward texts in the Bible. I’ve read through the Bible a few times and I always struggled with how women are depicted. Contextually in society, women were treated as not equal to men, but the Bible stands in and out of context and shouldn’t it speak more clearly to strengths of women?
In The Beginning…
As with most Biblical things, there is more to it than just a simple reading. In Genesis, God creates a woman out of a man and calls her a helpmeet. Helpmeet? That sounds an awful lot like helper. Helpers are what you call people that can’t do as much as you but try to help. When my kids were younger and they helped me with a task, they were “helpers.” Yes, my wife is physically weaker than me but she’s not the weaker vessel. Why did God use that word?
It turns out, He didn’t. He used the word Ezer (ay’-zer) in Genesis 2:18. A word that’s so hard to define because of how it’s used and what it’s roots are. Ezer is a Hebrew word that means helper or savior. While that doesn’t sound much different than what was written above, the context of how this word is in used in the Bible is important. Ezer is often used to describe a shield or protector. God also used the word to describes Himself at times (Psalm 33:20). A shield, a savior and a protector are words that I don’t often associate with “help.”
Let’s see ezer in context (bolded)
- The God of my ancestors was my helper; he rescued me from the sword of Pharaoh. – Exodus 18:4
- Give them strength to defend their cause; help them against their enemies!” – Deuteronomy 33:7
- “There is no one like the God of Israel. He rides across the heavens to help you, across the skies in majestic splendor.” – Deuteronomy 33:26
- He is your protecting shield (KJV says “shield of thy help”), and your triumphant sword! – Deuteronomy 33:29
- May he send you help from his sanctuary and strengthen you from Jerusalem. Psa 20:2
- We put our hope in the LORD. He is our help and our shield. Psa 33:20
- But as for me, I am poor and needy; please hurry to my aid, O God. You are my helper and my savior; O LORD, do not delay. Psa 70:5
- Long ago you spoke in a vision to your faithful people. You said, “I have raised up a warrior. I have selected him from the common people to be king. Psa 89:19
- O Israel, trust the LORD! He is your helper and your shield. Psa 115:9-11
- I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth! Psa 121:1-2, 124:8
- But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper, whose hope is in the LORD their God. Psa 146:5
- “You are about to be destroyed, O Israel— yes, by me, your only helper. – Hos 13:9
Ezer is used in Isaiah 30:5, Ezekiel 12:14, and Daniel 11:34 in reference to God removing help. Since those weren’t as encouraging I didn’t include them on this list.
That gives you a clear picture of ezer, but if you go deeper into the meaning, you find its even more complicated root word azar (aw-zar). This word somehow means to comfort and help. However, it’s usage is usually either depicting a mother comforting their children or a war alliance (a war helper) to conquer an enemy.
In other words, ezer and azar are the kind of helpers you need when you go to war. If we were talking about a physical war, then maybe women would be a “helper” but our fight isn’t with flesh and blood. We need spiritual warriors to fight this battle. Warrior princesses.
Back to the beginning
While I still don’t like the word “helpmeet” or “helper” I do think the word ezer correctly defines women. When I think of “help” I think of me doing something and receiving assistance. However, when the Bible uses “help” it’s more like God is doing something on behalf of us. When I think of the women in my life, God certainly did something for us as a family of believers. I think of women who can both comfort and be fierce. Women who are full of love and are amazing prayer warriors.
Trying to compare women to men is a disservice to God. He made us equal. Yes, we all have unique gifts, but comparison is what the enemy wants us to do. If you study this word out as I did you’ll inevitably find writers that try to say that women are inferior to men because ezer means helper and subordinate to men. You’ll also find writers that write that women are in fact superior to men because ezer sometimes means savior. In this instance, I’d say yes. They are both wrong and right (this blog goes into some of these thoughts). I think this is the beautiful mystery of marriage, a union of 2 people becoming one, but that’s a blog for another day.
So what does Ezer really mean.
I’m convinced the English language doesn’t have a word for it. If you fell off a cliff and someone reached out and grabbed you, they’d be a big help. If you were caught in a dangerous situation and someone stepped in and protected you, you could call them a helper. If someone loved you so vigorously and so completely that they’d literally die for you, you’d call that person ezer.