In the account of Creation, in the first two chapters of Genesis, God created woman. Like Adam, she was created for a purpose. Every living thing in the story of Creation had a space and their place in that space served the good of the whole.
What Does Ezer Mean?
In the account of Creation, the text tells us that “God created man (humankind) in His own image…male and female He created them” Genesis 1:27 NASB.
If you skip ahead to Genesis 2:20, the text says, “but for Adam there was not found a suitable helper for him.”
A suitable helper?
The Message paraphrase uses the word companion, which makes sense because God earlier says it was not good for man to be alone.
The ESV translation uses this phrasing: “But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.” Fit here is referring to the King James Version that used the phrase “help meet”. Meet, in middle English, meant fit, proper. That’s a meet career for your skills.
Etymology is tricky, right. It’s the study of language and how it changes over time. I’m a word nerd — etymology is something I dive headfirst into. Let’s turn to the Hebrew (the language the Old Testament was originally written in) to see what the original author (Moses) intended his original audience (the Jews at the foot of Mount Sinai after wandering the desert and fleeing Egypt’s Pharoah) to understand from this account.
The Hebrew word translated as helper in English is ezer which means: helper, succor (support in times of distress or hardship), one who helps, aider. At least, that’s what it looks like at face value, but there’s lots of nuance to glean here, stay with me.
What Does “Suitable” Mean?
The word translated “suitable” in the NASB or “fit” in the ESV is the Hebrew word neged which means: before, against, opposite to, a counterpart. Eve was created to be Adam’s opposite (male and female), but also a counterpart who might also go before, against, or with him.
“Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”
Proverbs 27:17 NASB.
Where Else Is Ezer Used In The Old Testament?
Another way to discern what a Hebrew word originally meant is to find other instances of that word in the Old Testament (a word study). Ezer is used 21 times in the NASB and I looked up and wrote out each one. If you want to look them up for yourself, here’s the list:
Gen 2:18; Gen 2:20; Ex. 18:4; Deut 33:7; Deut 33:26; Deut 33:29; Ps 20:2; Ps 33:20; Ps 70:5; Ps 89:19; Ps 115:9-11; Ps 121:1-2; Ps 124:8; Ps 146:5; Isa 30:5; Eze 12:14; Dan 11:34; Hos 13:9.
Outside of Genesis, ezer refers to God’s role as “helper” to Israel. He is Israel’s help in time of war or hardship. Huh? Does that mean women were created to be warriors?
In Hebrew, each word has a word family with a root word at the head of the family; each family word captures a difference essense of the root word. In English, over time, we see examples of these word families collapsing in on themselves so that we get a word like fast which can denote speed, an intentional decision not to consume food or fluids, or something held firmly in place. This was true of even some Hebrew words at the time Moses was writing.
The root word for ezer is azar which is one of those merged words which had two meanings. This explains what seems like vastly different usages of the word ezer. Let’s dive a bit deeper. The two word families for ezer could mean: to rescue, to save. It could also mean to be strong or strength when paralleled with “majesty” or other power words. (source: Epic Of Eden, by Sandra Richter) So, we see this word ezer being translated as “help” in English across many meanings and nuances.
Suddenly, ezer doesn’t ONLY mean Eve was created to be a “helper” which I know many women bristle over. Rather, Eve was created to be a helper but specifically to be an equal ally, to protect, restrain and support — his rescue and his strength (as Yahweh is to Israel).
Here’s a fun video depicting the fall of Eve in Creation. Wait for the ending. Doesn’t adhere strictly to the Biblical account, but it’s uplifting and encouraging.
There’s much more here to glean about God’s original intent when he created Eve and I’ll write more about another aspect of Eve’s creation that blew my socks off.
How do you feel about the word “helper” as it’s used in Genesis 2?
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