A Helpful Definition of “Helper”

By August 20, 2010One Comment

Now that I’ve been married for a full year, I can say that I have learned a LOT about marriage and what it means to be a Christ-centered wife. I can also say that I have a LOT left to learn! Sometimes I feel like such a dufus–how many times do I have to make the same mistake before I get it right?? There are a lot of things about Christian marriage that are taking awhile to sink in to my thick head, but that’s not the only reason marriage can be hard. Sometimes marriage is hard because I don’t fully comprehend what Scripture says about my role as a wife.

Take, for instance, Genesis 2:18-22. In this passage, God creates Eve as a “helper” for Adam. It is because of these verses that the Church has long taught wives to be “helpers” to their husbands. But what exactly does that mean? Help him with what? With keeping the house clean? Making dinner? Tending the garden? Naming animals??

There are a lot of different ways to interpret this passage, so the best approach is to look at how the word “helper” is used elsewhere in Scripture. Interestingly, “helper” (the Hebrew word is ezer) appears numerous times throughout the Old Testament, and it oftentimes refers to God Himself (Examples: Exodus 18:4, Deut. 33:7, Psalm 20:2, etc.).  Right away, that tells us that this word has an extremely positive connotation. But what does it mean on a more practical level?

To answer this question I found a helpful explanation from a Bible scholar, Linda Belleville, that offered the following interpretation:

All of the other occurrences of ezer in the OT have to do with the assistance that one of strength offers to one in need (ie., help from God, the king, an ally, or an army). There is no exception…Help given to one in need fits Genesis 2:18-20 quite well. The male’s situation was that of being ‘alone,’ and God’s evaluation was that it was ‘not good.’ The woman was hence created to relieve the man’s aloneness through strong partnership.”

Belleville then responds to interpretations that understand the word “helper” as little more than a term of subordination. She does this by pointing to Ezekiel 12 in which Judah is “helped” by allies in its defense against Babylon:

“Judah’s allies would hardly have thought of themselves as Judah’s subordinates…When Jerusalem was besieged by the Babylonians and Egypt came to the city’s ‘help,’ it was one with superior strength (Isa. 30:5). “ (Two Views on Women in Ministry, p. 27-28)

While these examples from Scripture are not evidence that women are somehow stronger or better than men, they do remind us that there are areas in which wives offer strengths that their husbands do not have–and vice versa. We help our husbands when we make use of our God-given strengths.

I should also add that I particularly love the above example from Ezekiel. It reminds me that, as a married couple, we are not simply playing house together. We are warriors in a spiritual battle (Eph. 6:12) and it’s my role as a wife to help my husband in that battle. “Helping” him is not a passive activity, and it has a much larger scope with far greater weight than I often remember.

What is ultimately at stake in understanding “helper” this way?

This interpretation calls women to more than we are often comfortable with, and that is a challenge we sorely need to hear. Just consider, for example, a phrase that is common amidst discussions of this sort. Oftentimes a woman teaching on the topic of leadership and submission in marriage will summarize her husband’s role by confessing, “I’m glad I’m not the spiritual leader because I wouldn’t want that kind of responsibility!”

Without disrespecting or belittling the genuine humility of these women, there is something behind that answer that concerns me. What troubles me is not so much their conclusions as it is the logic behind them. As followers of Christ, there are times when God calls us to tasks that make us uncomfortable. He asks us to take on responsibility that we might not always choose for ourselves. Given this reality, a simple lack of desire or fear of doing something is no sign of God’s leading or will. In fact, it is often just the opposite. So while I understand what these women are trying to say, I also worry that Christian women sometimes hide behind verses like Gen. 2:18-22, using them as an excuse to be a spiritual wallflower when God has called us to be spiritual warriors.

Of course your role in the battle may look slightly different from the woman next to you. One women might fight her spiritual battle by helping to raise godly children, whereas another women may raise up godly women in her church, and the next might help to foster racial reconciliation in her community. Regardless of your position in the army, the call is the same: Each marriage should be actively working to build up the Kingdom of God. Being a “helper” in this cause does not mean we are without responsibility or that God expects less of us. He expects quite a lot. So I challenge you to consider what battle God has called you and your husband (if you’re married) to fight, and then honestly examine how well you are fighting it. Do you use verses like Gen. 2:18-22 to hide from the grit of following Jesus, or do you hear it as a call to arms?

One Comment

Leave a Reply