One of the questions asked in studying Genesis 2 is what does it mean that woman was created to be the “helper” for man? In the Hebrew text the word is “ezer” which is traditionally translated in English as “helper”. But what does ezer mean and how was this word used elsewhere in the Old Testament?
Many opinions of women have been shaped by the word in Genesis 2:18, “helper.” Was the woman to be merely a helpful assistant to the man? In our day we use the word “helper” in the sense of an assistant, helping the boss do his job. Yet the meaning of the Hebrew word is rather different.
The word ezer occurs twenty-one times in the Old Testament: Twice in Genesis for the woman (Genesis 2:18, 20), three times for nations to whom Israel appealed for military aid (Isaiah 30:5; Ezekiel 12:14; Daniel 11:34), and here’s the interesting part — sixteen times for God as Israel’s helper (Exodus 18:4; Deuteronomy 33:7, 26, 29; Psalms 20:2; 33:20; 70:5; 89:19 [translated “strength” in the NIV]; 115:9, 10, 11; 121:1 – 2; 124:8; 146:5; Hosea 13:9). God is the one who comes alongside us in our helplessness. That’s the meaning of ezer – it does not suggest ‘helper’ as in ‘servant’ – but help, savior, rescuer, protector as in ‘God is our help.’ It is a term often used in a military context.
Descriptions of the woman as dependent, needy, vulnerable, deferential, helpless, leaderless, or weak are — to put it simply — wrong. The ezer is a warrior.
John Walton writes about the word “helper” (ezer) in the Old Testament in his commentary on Genesis (NIV Application, Zondervan, 2001):
The word “helper” is common enough as a description of someone who comes to the aid of or provides a service for someone. It carries no implications regarding the relationship or relative status of the individuals involved. In fact, the noun form of the word found in this verse as used elsewhere refers almost exclusively to God as the One who helps his people. If we expand our investigation to verbal forms, we find a continuing predominance of God as the subject, though there are a handful of occurrences where people help people. In this latter category we find people helping their neighbors or relatives (Isa. 41:6), people helping in a political alliance or coalition (Ezra 10:15), and military reinforcements (Josh. 10:4; 2 Sam. 8:5). Nothing suggests a subservient status of the one helping; in fact, the opposite is more likely. Certainly “helper” cannot be understood as the opposite of “leader.”
It is also interesting that Ezer as a male name appears elsewhere in the Old Testament. In Exodus 18:4 it says that Moses named one of his sons Eliezer, which in Hebrew means “My God is my helper” (Eli = “my God”; ezer = “helper”). This verse goes on to explain why Moses named his son Eliezer, because God had powerfully delivered Moses from Pharaoh’s sword.
Even in recent history, evidence is strong that the name Ezer still carries a lot of weight. Ezer Weizman (1924-2005) was an Israeli military hero. He built an international reputation as a fighter pilot, commander of the Israeli Air Force, the Minister of Defense, a world leader involved in Middle East peace negotiations, and Israel’s seventh president.
The woman was not created to serve the man, but to serve with the man as his partner. Without the woman, the man was only half the story. She was not an afterthought or a last-minute addition to help out an independent, self-sufficient man. God said in Genesis 2:18 that without her, the man’s condition was “not good.” God’s intention in creating the woman for the man was for the two to be partners in the many tasks involved in stewarding God’s creation.
Women, know that God values you and intended you to be a strong helper and defender. Men, be grateful the Lord has given you a strong ally and warrior. Every time we chose to partner and work together, we demonstrate that by God’s grace we can overcome the division between us that was a consequence of the fall in Genesis 3.