Genesis 2: The Ezer
Updated: Apr 22
In seasons past, in circles I frequented, the favored term for what God formed from Adam’s side was “helpmeet.” Somehow, I missed the space between “help” and “meet” and thought, “What an odd word: helpmeet.” And somewhere I got the idea that a “helpmeet” was a woman who followed a man around, picking up after him.
But when I slowed down, determined to set all offense aside, I saw the space. And being the mom of a son who actually enjoyed reading Shakespeare while growing up, I remembered that at the time the King James Bible was written, the word “meet” meant “suitable” or “fitting.” So God made for Adam a fitting helper, one suitable for him. I liked that. And when I set my KJV on the shelf and began reading a Bible I could actually understand, I saw that indeed, some translations said “suitable.”
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:8 NIV)
I was starting to like this reading slower, digging deeper kind of study, so I backed up a bit and took a longer look at the word “helper.” And learned that the Hebrew word for “helper” is ezer.
Now, ezer means helper, all right. But in all other scenes in the Scriptures (there are twenty), the word refers to God! Or to a fellow soldier! Or to a rescuer! This study was getting better and better!
Here’s what Sarah E. Fisher at Hebrew Word Lessons says about the word ezer:
This is one of the most misunderstood words in the Bible, but really it’s quite simple:
Genesis 2:18 Then YHWH God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper [ezer] suitable for him.”
And so God created woman to be an ezer to man. But this word, translated as helper, is not about making brunch and darning a man’s socks. This word means an ally or rescuer, someone who comes running when the people cry out for help. An ezer drops everything to save those in need… An ezer is a hero.
And from the other side of the gender gap, Philip Payne, in Man and Woman: One in Christ, says:
The noun used here [ezer] throughout the Old Testament does not suggest ‘helper’ as in ‘servant,’ but help, savior, rescuer, protector as in ‘God is our help.’ In no other occurrence in the Old Testament does this refer to an inferior, but always to a superior or an equal… ‘help’ expresses that the woman is a help/strength who rescues or saves man.
Recently I learned from my heroes at Bible Project that in Genesis 2:18, the word ezer is paired with neged, and according to the Blue Letter Bible, neged speaks of what is in front of, corresponding to, before, in the sight or presence of, parallel to, in front, and opposite.
Though “opposite” is a very close relative of “oppose,” it’s not nearly as bad as it sounds. Rather than “oppose” as in “against,” think “opposite” as in “the other side.” And that, in fact, is what Woman was.
So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took a part of the man’s side and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the part he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. (Genesis 2:21–22)
If you’ve been following along in your Bible instead of blindly accepting what I say, you’ll notice I’ve replaced the word “rib” with the NIV’s alternate reading, “side.”
Why? Because the Hebrew word translated “rib” in verses 21 and 22 occurs thirty-nine times elsewhere in Scripture, and nowhere else is it translated “rib.” It’s “side.” God took part of Adam’s side and made the woman.
And even though Adam slept through it, he knew it:
“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” (Genesis 2:23)
Bone and flesh. More than just a rib. His side. The other side. Adam’s opposite.
Can we all agree that a woman’s way of reasoning is different than a man’s? That her intuition often points in a different direction than his intellect?
Why? So that they can guard each other from error, restrain each other from foolishness, keep each other from harm.
“No man is an island.” No human knows it all. But without someone else around, in our presence, in front of, and opposite us, we just might think we do. Egads, what a mess we can make!
So let’s try something. Let’s take the English translation’s space between verses 17 and 18 away and see what’s left:
And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:16–18)
An ezer could keep him from death.
Well (insert snarky attitude here), we all know how that ended up.
But that doesn’t mean it was wrong!
The woman could have been the hero. She could have said something like, “Adam? See that serpent over there? There’s something not quite right about it.” She could have said to the serpent, “One moment, please. Let me confer with my other half; I’ll see what he knows about this tree.” Then she could have handed Adam a stick and together they could have beaten the thing to death. But alas, instead, they escorted one another to the fall — woman with her unguarded conversation and man with his silence.
At a crucial time, they chose to be less than God intended them to be: two beautiful sides of one magnificent whole. Held together, complete. Taken apart, sadly (or tragically) lacking.
Although settings and circumstances have changed, the wisdom of God has not.
Humanity isn’t comprised of self-sufficient humans bumping up against other self-sufficient humans. It’s made of a whole messy mix of humans, all short in some things but overflowing in others. To say “we need each other” may seem trite, but it’s true.
Any relationship between two humans willing to invest can become a case of ezer squared. Where better than in a marriage where our differences are evident and our masks become transparent?
“Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” (Genesis 2:25)