Monday, February 14, 2011

Eve the "Helper" - The Wit and Irony of God's Word Choices

Much has been made of the designation of Eve as “helper” for Adam in Genesis 2:18;20. Some claim that it means Eve was designed to provide Adam some domestic aid as he went about his preeminent job of tending the garden. Kind of a “maid with benefits”, if you will. On the other end of the spectrum (where I fall), some point out that the word often translated as “helper” is a word in Scripture that is almost universally used for God. If God is not subordinate to us, how could Eve be subordinate to Adam. Those positions have been long discussed, including here, and I do not intend in this post to resurrect that tired debate (especially since it is clearly settled in my mind). Instead, I want to share a small but significant new irony that I have discovered about this little Hebrew word - ezer.

As mentioned above, the word ezer more often than not is used of God in scripture. In fact, of the 19 occurrences outside of Genesis 2, all but three are in reference to God. But what does this word say about God? And how is that ironic in terms of how we view both Genesis 1-3 and marital relationships in general? Let’s look.

In 5 of the 16 God-reference verses[1], God is spoken of as a “shield of…help” or “help and…shield”. In these verses, God is clearly identified as a protector. He both fights off foes and shields His people from their attacks. One legitimate interpretation of ezer, then, is clearly “protector”.

In 7 more of the 16 verses[2], God is spoken of as a provider or supporter. Phrases such as “may he send you help (ezer)…and support”, and “my help (ezer) comes from the LORD” are examples. So, “provider” is another prominent (in fact, the most prominent) general interpretation of ezer.

“Provider” and “protector” - there is something very familiar about those two words. When do we often hear them in connection with marriage? It is, of course, almost exclusively in reference to husbands. Culture (and many Christian philosophies) tells us that the males are the sole providers and protectors in the marriage and the females are the sole nurturers. Isn’t it ironic that the bible tells us the exact opposite.

Now, to be fair, the translation of ezer as it relates to God that best describes Eve in relation to Adam is “rescuer”, as in “you are my help (ezer) and deliverer”. That occurs in 3 of the 16 verses[3]. The “help” that Eve provides is actually to rescue Adam from his “not good” state of being alone by being an equal partner[4] with him. Still, I can’t help but chuckle that God in His infinite wisdom also turns the concept of gender “roles” on its ear in His provision of Eve for Adam.

1. Deu 33:29, Psa 33:20, Psa 115:9-11
2. Psa 20:2, Psa 89:19, Psa 121:1-2, Psa 124:8, Psa 146:5, Hsa 13:9
3. Exd 18:4, Deu 33:26, Psa 70:5
4. The final verse with ezer referring to God - Deu 33:7 - shows God as a fellow warrior, standing side by side as an equal with His people.

1 comment:

  1. I can almost hear the patriarchs screaming in frustration from here... Sorry complementarians, as it turns out, men need help from women just as much as women need help from men.