And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
Genesis 2:18, KJV
Having grown up in a Christian environment, I’ve heard the non-word “helpmeet” tossed around a lot. Not at home so much, but occasionally in church and a lot in popular Christian literature. There are whole books on how to be the best possible helpmeet, or how to prep to become one. “Helpmeet,” loosely translated, means “wife.” Its origins lie in the King James translation of the Bible, where it appears as two separate words. Flipped into a more modern syntactical order, the verse would read “meet help.” “Meet” (also loosely translated) means “fitting” or “suitable,” which is how most other translations of the Bible put it.
This non-word has always bothered me. I didn’t resent the word, exactly, but I always felt as if it didn’t fully capture what God meant. The Bible, after all, wasn’t written in King James English. It wasn’t written in English at all. It was written in Greek and Hebrew. And “helpmeet,” while cute, didn’t seem to encapsulate all that my mother was as a woman, or any of the wonderful women I knew growing up.
Turns out, I was right.
The Hebrew word at the root of the translation “help” or “helper” is ezer (pronounced ay-zer). Ezer is a beefy word that shows up 21 times in the Old Testament. It appears twice in the Bible in reference to women, and both times to Eve (Genesis 2:18 and 20).
The last 16 refer to God Himself.
(I am pulling my research from an excellent book called Lost Women of the Bible by Carolyn Custis James. This Bible scholar has produced several books on the subject of women in the Bible, and has written far more eloquently than I ever could. I am no scholar, so I must depend on those with an education in Greek and Hebrew to do some of the linguistic digging for me. My dear fellow Christian women, if my travel notes don’t answer your questions, please go read her books. Side note over.)
Yes, God calls Himself an ezer. A very strong help. Ezer was not intended, it seems, to evoke images of docility and subservience. Ezer carries with it the connotation of military might, of power, of an unstoppable force. An ezer is a warrior of incredible strength.
And this is the word God used to describe Eve. No, the word is not a mere description: ezer is what she is. Ezer is what all women were created to be.
I know far too many women who think they can only be a “help meet” once they are married. That ezerhood is only hers once that ring is on her finger. Too many women wait, and believe God wants them to wait, to live their lives until they are attached to someone in marriage. There is nothing wrong or degrading about marriage–marriage is pretty fantastic. But if Eve was an ezer, then every woman is born an ezer. As Custis James put it, “Marriage is one major area where the ezer stands with man in battle. It by no means exhausts the possibilities” (Custis James 37).
When God wrote of women for the first time, He called them strong. He gave them the same name He calls Himself when He refers to His own unlimited power. He made woman to be a warrior, the kind of person you’d want to watch your back in a tight spot.
The non-word “helpmeet” doesn’t cut it.