While the Bible teaches women to “help” their husbands, there’s a lot of confusion about what that actually means. There are a number of different factors contributing to this confusion, but I was challenged and encouraged on this topic by a recent post on Wendy Alsup’s blog.
She begins with the misconception that many women have about what godly manhood looks like as it is lived out by imperfect men. Married women and single women alike should bear this advice in mind and adjust our expectations accordingly. We cannot help our husbands if we don’t know how they need help:
“There is much teaching now on strong male leadership in the church and home. If effort isn’t made in a book or sermon to carefully parse the doctrine of sanctification, distinguishing between the image of God to which we are being conformed and the realities of our depravity until we are glorified, a woman can become very discouraged by the nebulous image of Joe Christian Dude, pastor dad, leading his family from a position of strength and power, constant in character in the marathon Christian walk. The truth is that that caricature of the overcoming Christian man is just that … a caricature. He doesn’t exist. Or actually he does exist, but only in one single person, the perfect man Christ Jesus. For ALL other men, he may be the goal, but he is not the reality. Get that, ladies – even the pastors who seem like that guy, the ones that you secretly wish you’d married, do NOT have it together like that. Godly men may be somewhere along that journey, but none of them have arrived.”
Don’t miss that! On the days when your husband seems like an insensitive jerk and you wish he was more like your pastor who has it all together and seems like such a strong spiritual leader, remember Alsup’s words! Your pastor is a man, just like your husband, which means he wrestles with a lot of the same struggles as your husband. That also means your pastor’s wife bears a lot of the same frustrations and doubts as you. We will only be bitter, begrudging helpers until we accept that fact.
Alsup then goes on to examine the Hebrew word for “helper” used in Genesis 2, ezer, to explore this concept further:
“God created the first woman to be a “helper suitable” to her male counterpart. But it is important to note that the Hebrew word for help is much stronger than our English term. When you think of “the help”, you may envision a maid, butler, or cook standing to the side waiting for a master of power and authority to give some order. If that’s your idea of what it means to be a helper suitable to your husband, you have missed the Biblical meaning of the term. Instead, think of the Man of Sorrows carrying His cross toward Gethsemene. As He stumbles, Simon of Cyrene steps in to carry it with (or for) Him. This is a much closer picture of the Biblical concept of Help. It’s not a maid….It’s not a mindless sidekick waiting on an order. It’s Morpheus or Trinity to the Matrix’s Neo. The Hebrew word is strong.
Consider again the Hebrew word translated helper at the first mention of the first woman in Genesis 2:18. We absolutely must let Scripture and not preconceived notions from our culture guide our thinking on the meaning of this term. The Hebrew word translated “helper” is ezer, meaning to help, nourish, sustain, or strengthen. It’s used in the Old Testament of God Himself, as in Deuteronomy 33:29:
Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will trample down their high places.
Ezer is used 21 times in the Old Testament, 16 of which are descriptions of God Himself. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is also called our Helper, Counselor, and Comforter (depending on which translation of the Bible you use—these are all translations of the Holy Spirit’s role of “paraklete”, or one who comes alongside in help.) God Himself is the greatest example to us of what He is calling us to do in fulfillment of this term.
So let’s consider God’s example on this issue of Help.
– In Exodus 18:4, God our Help defends (in contrast to attacking or ignoring the fight altogether).
– In Psalm 10:14 God our Help sees and cares for the oppressed (rather than being indifferent and unconcerned).
– In Psalm 20:2 and 33:20, God our Help supports, shields and protects (rather than leaving unprotected and defenseless).
– In Psalms 70:5, God our Help delivers from distress (rather than causing distress).
– In Psalm 72:12-14, God our Help rescues the poor, weak, and needy (rather than ignoring the poor and needy).
– And in Psalm 86:17, God our Help comforts (rather than causing discomfort or avoiding altogether).
God’s example reveals a high and worthy calling for wives as “helpers suitable to their husbands”. We are not glorified maids, butlers, or cooks simply waiting on an order to perform from a master. This is not God’s example of help at all!! We are called to show compassion, to support, defend and protect, to deliver from distress and to comfort, to bear burdens and sometimes hold up as a crutch. We are called to be conduits of God’s grace in our homes. We are called to be like Christ.”
(To read the whole blog, click here.)
I really appreciate Alsup’s explanation of “helper.” Not only does she separate roles from tasks (two terms that our culture often conflates) but she reminds us to keep our expectations Biblical. If a man was perfect like Jesus, he wouldn’t need help. We should never judge or look down on men for wrestling with insecurities or fears. They are not less masculine when they struggle or doubt themselves. On the contrary, those battles only clarify our role as a helper.
Knowing that, we will not fulfill our calling to help by learning how to bake the perfect casserole or decorate a home just so. Those are tasks. Your role is to build your husband up as a man of God, and you can only do that as a diligent woman of God. Being a godly helper therefore starts not in the kitchen, but in God’s Word.