God Calls Me an “Ezer”: Realizing My Worth
A few years back I learned something that rocked my world: It was the meaning of the Hebrew word ezer.
For those of you who are familiar with the story of creation in Genesis, ezer is the original Hebrew word describing the first woman, Eve, at the time she was created:
“The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper (ezer) suitable for him.” ~Genesis 2:18 (NIV)
For so many years, I had heard that phrase ezer translated as “helper” or “helpmate” and, in the religious circles I grew up in, this idea of Eve being a “helper” was taught as though it meant that Eve was created to be a sort of second-class citizen, merely an “assistant” to Adam. He was the doer, the dreamer and the leader… and her purpose was just to follow his lead and— apparently— revolve her life around him and his needs and desires. And, as logic would have it, this meant that the rest of us women were to take on that role with the men in our lives, too.
At least that’s how it all translated into my little brain and heart.
And I must admit: it kind of jacked me up. At best, it felt overbearingly humbling; at worst it felt suffocating. And, to be quite honest, it always gave me the impression that God created women as “less important” than the men of the world. So I ached— because I didn’t feel that this very narrowly-defined role of womanhood was an appropriate fit for me or for so many of the gifted, passionate, God-adoring women around me.
I wasn’t hungry for power or anything like that; I simply didn’t feel valued by the God who had created me.
On top of all that: when I finally stopped to think about it, this disregard for women that I was hearing about and seeing modeled didn’t seem logical. None of the above views of women fit in with how I saw Jesus treat and talk about women when He was here. Unlike so many of the teachings I had been spoon-fed regarding the subservient “helpmate,” Jesus treated women as though they mattered. As though they, too, had a divine purpose all on their own in this world. He spoke to them with respect, let them sit at His feet and learn from Him just like all His male disciples, and He even gave them important tasks to do (i.e. “Then Jesus said to them [the women at His tomb], “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” ~Matthew 28:10)
And in the Old Testament, too: even though it was a patriarchal society, I see women like Deborah, both a prophetess and judge, leading the Israelites and even offering military advice to the top military leader of her people. And Esther was a woman of strength and courage, fully affirmed for being such. And Ruth and Rahab and Abigail and Hannah and Jael and Miriam: all of these women did bold, incredible feats in their time— and they are praised and honored for doing so.
So the whole “women are only meant to be the personal assistants of men” thing started really bugging me.
But then I learned what ezer really meant! I learned that ezer doesn’t mean “helper” in a passive, weak, subservient way at all. It’s not a word of weakness, but of great strength. In fact, this passage in Genesis is the only time ezer is used in reference to a mere human at all. Every other time we see this word used in the Bible, it is in reference to God Himself— and how God swoops in and “helps” His kids in a strong, extremely necessary, often life-saving, militaristic way.
“There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides across the heavens to help (ezer) 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 (ezer) and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will tread on their heights.” ~Deuteronomy 33:26, 28
“But as for me, I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help (ezer) and my deliverer: you are my God, do not delay.” ~Psalm 40:17
“But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help (ezer) and our shield.” ~Psalm 33:18-20
God— our Ezer, our life-changing, life-saving Helper— is not some weak, manipulatable toy for us to wield when we have a whim. There is nothing small or trifling about Him. There is nothing “leftover” or second-class there. Yes, He assists. Yes, He is a “helper.” He fills in when His people lack, He comes into our lives, into our chaos, into our mess and our troubles in a humble, unassuming, self-sacrificial, love-filled way— yet with a strength and a ferocity and a level of capability that none can match.
And He chose to use that characteristic of Himself when He first mentions a woman: the new kind of creation He was about to make in order to “help” His new son Adam.
So He reached into Adam’s sleeping body, took a rib from his side, and breathed that rib into an ezer kenegdo for Adam— a helper suitable for him.
Pretty awesome, right? So let’s live with confidence and courage, ladies. We, just like our brothers, have been created in God’s image— and that, my friends, is a good, good thing.
P.S. As a side note: an incredibly informative book tackling all sides of this issue is Sarah Sumner’s Men and Women in the Church: Building Consensus on Christian Leadership. Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women, while not nearly as theological or academic, is another good read. And Kim Rogers’ sermon “Favored: Deborah & Jael” is a great message relating to this topic as well. Just FYI!
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What about you?
Have you ever struggled with the whole man vs. woman’s “roles” thing? What has God shown you in this area?
Please feel free to share your comments or your own journey in the comment section below.