Women as “helpmeets”?

For many years I was taught that my purpose as a wife/woman, was to help my husband. A sort of divinely appointed personal assistant to him. He was the one to take the initiative; I was there to help him fulfill God’s vision and call on his life. If I was to have any kind of strategic role, it was to be through my husband.

While I am happy to serve my husband, there seemed an inherent injustice in how this outworked itself in church life.

This teaching mainly came from Genesis 2:18, which in the King James Version of the Bible says this:

And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. 

More modern versions also describe the woman as a helper for man.

It was very enlightening for me to discover more about this word “helper.” The Hebrew word, ezer, is used 21 times in the Old Testament. Of these, in all but six it refers to God.  Typical examples include, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence comes my help (ezer).  My help (ezer) comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1, 2) or “Our help (ezer) is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:8). It contains the ideas of power and strength, a guide, mentor and shield.

The Hebrew word translated “meet” or “fit” means literally in front of with the understanding of “comparable to.”

The impression is more of a valued consultant than a personal girl Friday.  It’s a delight to be an ezer.

Photo Credit: Gerry Balding (Creative Commons)

7 thoughts on “Women as “helpmeets”?”

  1. “Help” (KJV) “helper (NIV. ESV, NASB)

    From Strongs H5828
    עזר
    ‛êzer
    ay’-zer
    From H5826; aid: – help.

    Brown Driver Briggs:
    עזר
    ‛êzer
    BDB Definition:
    1) help, succour
    1a) help, succour
    1b) one who helps
    Part of Speech: noun masculine

    New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance:
    עזר
    ezer (740c); from H5826; a help, helper: – help (18), helper (2), helpers (1).

    “Meet” or “Suitable” (NASB & NIV) or “fit” (ESV) or
    Strongs H5048
    נגד
    neged
    neh’-ghed
    From H5046; a front, that is, part opposite; specifically a counterpart, or mate; usually (adverbially, especially with preposition) over against or before: – about, (over) against, X aloof, X far (off), X from, over, presence, X other side, sight, X to view.

    From Keil & Delitzsch:
    I will make him כְּנֶגְדֹּו עֵזֶר, a help of his like: “i.e., a helping being, in which, as soon as he sees it, he may recognise himself”.

    Brown Driver Briggs Lexicon:
    neged
    BDB Definition:
    1) what is conspicuous, what is in front of (substantive)
    2) in front of, straight forward, before, in sight of (adverb)
    3) in front of oneself, straightforward (adverb)
    4) before your face, in your view or purpose (adverb)
    5) what is in front of, corresponding to (with preposition)
    6) in front of, before (with preposition)
    7) in the sight or presence of (with preposition)
    8) parallel to (with preposition)
    9) over, for (with preposition)
    10) in front, opposite (with preposition)
    11) at a distance (with preposition)
    12) from the front of, away from (preposition)
    13) from before the eyes of, opposite to, at a distance from (preposition)
    14) from before, in front of (preposition)
    15) as far as the front of (preposition)

    From Adam Clarke:
    I will make him a help meet for him; עזר כנגדו ezer kenegdo, a help, a counterpart of himself, one formed from him, and a perfect resemblance of his person. If the word be rendered scrupulously literally, it signifies one like, or as himself, standing opposite to or before him. And this implies that the woman was to be a perfect resemblance of the man, possessing neither inferiority nor superiority, but being in all things like and equal to himself. As man was made a social creature, it was not proper that he should be alone; for to be alone, i.e. without a matrimonial companion, was not good. Hence we find that celibacy in general is a thing that is not good, whether it be on the side of the man or of the woman. Men may, in opposition to the declaration of God, call this a state of excellence and a state of perfection; but let them remember that the word of God says the reverse.

    Barnes Notes:
    And the benevolent Creator resolves to supply this want. “I will make him a helpmeet for him” – one who may not only reciprocate his feelings, but take an intelligent and appropriate part in his active pursuits.

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      1. We are obviously mostly in agreement on this post. But there is one thing about your post that does really concern me. It is this statement….

        “there seemed an inherent injustice in how this outworked itself in church life.”

        That one leaves me scratching my head, because Genesis 2:18 obviously has NOTHING to do with church life. I’ve read both the complimentarians and the egalitarians, and no one in either camp uses this verse to to teach on the subject of the role of women in church life. I’d love to know who has suggested that this verse is relevant to that issue. Can you name some teacher who is making that application?

        If you were to give Genesis 2 to a brand new believer, and ask him/her to read it and then ask for the meaning of verse 18, not even 1 in 100 would say, “Oh, that has to do with the role of women in the church”. It doesn’t take a seminary course in Bible Interpretation to know that this is talking about a marriage relationship, not church life. You’d be a few thousand years off in your chronology if you made that application.

        So I have this nagging fear that you trying to set up a straw man that is easily demolished in order to bolster your thesis even though it has nothing to do with this verse. I hope you’re not doing that, because that would border on dishonesty.

        If you really want to put this issue to rest, devote your exegesis to 1 Timothy 2:12-14. That is a clear teaching of Paul that is clearly directed toward the subject in question. If you can prove that those verses do not mean what they say, you’ll win your case, but devoting your exegesis to passages that have nothing to do with women teaching or exercising leadership over men in the church will not do you much good among the discerning reader.

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  2. The whole idea that women should be subservient (literally ‘serving under’, because that is what it boils down to) has an off-flavour to it. It’s the flavour of the enemy doing a lot of damage by a subtle strategy.

    It’s possible to sincerely argue that women should take a supporting role, should not lead and should not speak in meetings or have authority over men and to base the argument squarely on particular verses from Old and New Testaments. But though sincere and well meant, such arguments ignore other verses that suggest the opposite. (See http://jesus.scilla.org.uk/2009/12/putting-women-in-their-place.html )

    And the damage done? It’s incalculable. At the very least it amounts to a significant loss of much needed wisdom and teaching when women with valuable things to say and do are sidelined. Add to this the pain caused to individuals and the unnecessary strain put on relationships and it amounts to a huge package of damage and grief.

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    1. Chris, you are so right. I’ve come across many women who have been hurt and damaged by the often well-meaning but actually destructive comments by both men and women in this area. The problem is that all of us want to obey the Scriptures but the verses that apparently prohibit women from certain roles are open to challenge with integrity.

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