Have you ever read through the entire Bible? I’ve done this several times, and my new Bible—this one with ruled margins for note-taking!—was a good reason to do it again. One reason I commit to reading every page (even the genealogies) is that I can’t skip the parts I don’t like—the parts that make me cringe. Yes, I have some issues with parts of the Bible, but I don’t blame God. It could be that His ways are simply higher than mine, and I can’t possibly see His viewpoint. It could be that I just don’t understand the context. Or, it could be the translation.
The first of my “cringe worthy passages” is found in Genesis 2:18-20. In verse 18, God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Verse 20 reads, “But for Adam no suitable helper was found.”
Every time I read this, I picture the ads I grew up with showing little girls and their mommies, both wearing aprons, with a caption that says something along the lines of “Mommy’s little helper.” (This was long before the Rolling Stones’ hit that changed the meaning of that phrase.) It drives me crazy. Cringe-crazy!
In case I am I being too sensitive, I looked up the official definition of “helper”:
- Mirriam-Webster: one that helps especially : a relatively unskilled worker who assists a skilled worker usually by manual labor
- Dictionary.com: a person or thing that helps or gives assistance, support, etc.
- Wiktionary: One who helps; an aide. That which helps; anything serving to assist.
The term feels condescending, and it’s not just me. Does God really mean for women to be the cheerleaders, while men win the game?
Once again, I realized that I was reading the passages in isolation, so I went online to find out what the Hebrew word is, and where else it’s used in the Old Testament. It was… enlightening, to say the least.
The word translated “helper” or “helpmeet” in Genesis 2:18 and 20 is ezer (pronounced “ay-zer”). It’s used 21 times. We’ve already seen the first two, relating to Eve. Three times it is used in the context where people are relying on other people to come save the day (see Isaiah 30:5, Ezekiel 12:14, and Daniel 11:34). The other 16 times, ezer refers to God. (You can see my list here.) You may recognize some of these passages, such as:
- 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)
- Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God. (Psalm 146:5)
This is the kind of help that strengthens us (see Psalm 89:19) and rescues us. It’s the kind of help we receive from the Holy Spirit. (The word describing the Holy Spirit as a helper is paraclete. Since it’s Greek, it doesn’t appear in the Old Testament, which was written in Hebrew. However, it is the word used in the Greek Old Testament in Genesis 2.)
Psalm 70:5 reads, “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.” That’s a call of desperation,! It’s not a request for someone to cheer you on. This helper isn’t someone relegated to only simple or less important tasks.
Nowhere do we get the sense that God is subservient to mankind. So why do some Bible commentators use this passage to conclude that Eve is subservient to Adam—and therefore all women are to be subservient to all men? Rather, we are to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (See Ephesians 5:21, but look at the passages that come right before this verse, too.)
Adam couldn’t do it alone—he needed an appropriate, corresponding companion. I love the way our pastor uses his relationship with his wife to illustrate this truth: “Sometimes, the Holy Spirit looks a lot like Pam!”
Here is a list of places where ezer appears in the Bible:
After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro received her 3 and her two sons. One son was named Gershom,[a] for Moses said, “I have become a foreigner in a foreign land”; 4 and the other was named Eliezer,[b] for he said, “My father’s God was my helper; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh.”
This is the blessing that Moses the man of God pronounced on the Israelites before his death. And this he said about Judah:
“Hear, Lord, the cry of Judah;
bring him to his people.
With his own hands he defends his cause.
Oh, be his help against his foes!”
“There is no one like the God of Jeshurun,
who rides across the heavens to help you
and on the clouds in his majesty.
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.”
May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.
We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield..
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.
Once you spoke in a vision,
to your faithful people you said:
“I have bestowed strength on a warrior;
I have raised up a young man from among the people.
All you Israelites, trust in the Lord—
he is their help and shield.
House of Aaron, trust in the Lord—
he is their help and shield.
You who fear him, trust in the Lord—
he is their help and shield.
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.
Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.
Isaiah 30:5 – doesn’t refer to God, but to Pharaoh. The Israelites turned to him for help (instead of God), but he was no help to them.
NKJV: I will scatter to every wind all who are around him to help him, and all his troops; and I will draw out the sword after them.
NIV: I will scatter to the winds all those around him—his staff and all his troops—and I will pursue them with drawn sword.
Help refers to an army to was to protect the king from his enemies.
“Those who are wise will instruct many, though for a time they will fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered. 34 When they fall, they will receive a little help, and many who are not sincere will join them.
“You are destroyed, Israel, because you are against me, against your helper.