What it Does and Does Not Mean That Woman Was Made as a ‘Suitable Helper’
- Mike Leake Borrowed Light
- Published Aug 29, 2022
My dad was a mechanic. When I was a little boy, I loved to be in his shop and help him out. Truth be told, I was probably more of a hindrance than a help. But one thing I was finally able to master was flashlight holding.
As a five-year-old, it felt pretty good to be a significant helper in fixing a broken vehicle. I knew that if I hadn’t been there to hold that flashlight, then dad couldn’t have finished the job.
In Genesis 2:18, we read that Adam was alone, and that wasn’t good, and God, in response, said, “I will make a helper suitable for him.” There has been much misunderstanding with this verse.
What does it mean for woman to be created as a suitable helper? Is it more like “flashlight holder extraordinaire” or something entirely different?
What Does ‘Ezer’ and ‘Neged’ Mean?
When you think of the word helper, what do you think of? I tend to think of an assistant or an apprentice.
We often recruit teens to be “helpers” for VBS with the expectation that they will be the ones to help dab glue on the crafts or cut out pictures or make sure unruly children are paying better attention.
We do not think of the “helper” as the main teacher. So, when we think of the word “helper” in Genesis 2:18, we can easily read that as if it means something like “assistance” to the man.
The Hebrew word translated “helper” is the word ezer. Let’s consider a few of the times where that word appears in Scripture:
In Exodus 18:4, we read that the name of one of Moses’ sons was Eliezer. Why? Because “the God of my father was my ezer and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.”
In Psalm 10, the psalmist cries out to the LORD for help in times of trouble. In 10:14, he refers to God as “to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the ezer of the fatherless.”
Just as the woman was taken from the side of the man as a symbol of togetherness and companionship, so also the LORD is shown to be a helper in similarly close proximity.
The word ezer is more frequently used for God than it is for humanity. It would be more accurate to say that in Genesis 2:18, the woman is given a name that is frequently attributed to God than to say that in the other places of Scripture, the LORD is taking up a quality, which is often attributed to the woman.
Philip Payne summarizes it well:
"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."
What then would it mean for her to be a rescuer for a protector who is suitable? For the word translated “suitable,” we have the Hebrew word neged. It’s a word that means something like “in front of, on the face of, etc.”
It’s often used in speech acts. It could be translated as “opposite of.” According to Gesenius’ Hebrew Lexicon, it means to “stand boldly opposite to.” When you read that, you might think that it sounds like the first couple was set up to argue with one another.
But think of it more like the old phrase if you want something to change, you cannot do things the way you’ve always done them before.
I think here, especially in the context of Adam’s task of naming, it means something like “that which you haven’t ever seen before, totally different than everything else.”
This becomes clearer when we relate this to the image of God.
How Does This Relate to the Image of God?
“And it was good….”
That phrase reverberates through the first two chapters of Genesis. Genesis 2:18 is supposed to feel like an earthquake when the LORD God declares, “it is not good.” That’s a pre-fall declaration. Something wasn’t good. What was that? It was his aloneness.
The “suitable helper” is the answer to Adam’s loneliness. But what does that mean? Is her “helping” merely an answer to his loneliness? Did it have something to do with sexual intimacy or procreation?
Did Adam see other animals being together and then feel the ache of his own loneliness? Every other creature had a mate. They could all reproduce. But not Adam. Is he burning with sexual desire, and so it’s not good for him to be alone?
Or is it some other need, which Adam has within himself that cannot be met apart from a woman? Is it an emotional need? A physical need? A spiritual need?
There is certainly a lack in Adam. And those are all certainly potential needs for Adam, but that’s not the whole answer.
The greater reason why it’s not good for man to be alone goes back to Genesis 1:26 and 1:28. “Let us make man in our image…” and then being tasked with being fruitful and multiplying is not something, which Adam can do alone.
The creation mandate for him to be fruitful and multiply and to work and keep the Garden are in peril because Adam cannot properly image God by himself.
The Trinitarian community cannot be modeled by a solitary male. (That is not making a comment on singleness. It’s making a comment on the necessity of both men and women in properly imaging God).
Adam needed Eve to accurately reflect God. He, to fulfill his creation mandate, needed a Rescuer.
The woman was not created to be Adam’s happy assistant. She was created as an equal co-bearer of the creation mandate. They need one another to properly image God.
She wasn’t created to serve him; that is not how she “helps” him. She was created to serve alongside of him. Her help is a rescuing type of function — Adam needs her; she is necessary for the fulfillment of God’s call to humanity.
How Is This a Picture of the Gospel?
Adam was in need. He needed God to help (there’s that word again) him fulfill his calling. He couldn’t do it alone. God provides what humanity needs. That should have been the lesson that Adam learned from the creation of Eve.
But only a few verses later, we see a crafty serpent convincing our first couple that God was holding out on them. The serpent’s message was that they weren’t being provided for. If they wanted to be made whole, they’d need to grab that piece of fruit and eat it.
When the first couple believed the lie that God wouldn’t provide for all their needs, a spiral of rebellion and death followed.
Now instead of the glory of God spreading through the world, it would be sin, rebellion, and death. They were booted out of the Garden and could no longer work it and keep it. God’s purpose for them and the beauty of creation would now be tainted.
As this painful story in Genesis 3 comes to a close, we do see a couple of hints of good news. There is talk of a seed of the woman who would rescue humanity. And there is a vivid picture of God once again providing for humanity.
Adam and Eve tried to cover their nakedness with fig leaves. A picture of what the human condition would not entail — self-atonement and self-provision rather than seeking God’s provision. But God stepped in and provided a suitable covering.
Just as with Adam’s need for a suitable helper, so now the first couple would need a suitable covering. But that covering was only temporary. What humanity really needed was a suitable sacrifice, a fitting sacrifice.
Jesus Christ is that fitting sacrifice. He is the Rescuer. You might even say that in regards to providing atonement for our sin, Jesus Christ is our suitable helper. Yes, it is true that in other regards, there is a relationship between Christ and the male.
But that is also true of Christ and the female. We both are rescued by Christ and our calling restored. And we both are able to uniquely image the greatness of God.
In Christ, the woman is able to be a suitable helper as she, through grace, once again comes alongside the man to accomplish what God calls us to do — be fruitful and multiply and work and keep the Garden.
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