In my book “Favored, Blessed, Pierced: A Fresh Look at Mary of Nazareth,” I called Mary of Nazareth an “ezer warrior.” To help shed more light on why I did, I am posting an article I wrote about ten years ago for a church publication (with some minor editing).
As a woman who strives to live according to the word of God, I am always looking for clues in scripture that help me understand myself, my value, and my gifting. Recently, some authors alerted me to a wonderful discovery regarding the traditional role of “helpmeet.”
And the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will made an help meet for him.”Genesis 2:18 (KJV)
More modern translations say “helper suitable for him” (NIV) or “suitable partner for him” (CEV). In Hebrew, the words are ezer kenegdo.
In some circles this phrase has conjured up visions of cooking, cleaning, housekeeping, and doing whatever is necessary to ensure the advancement of a husband’s career. Some have even felt that this phrase has damned them to a life of inferiority and servitude. These authors challenged me to take a new look at the Hebrew meaning of this word ezer and it’s adjective kenegdo. Understanding their meaning has helped me to know what God expects of me and all women in all stages of life.
Ezer appears twenty-one times in the Old Testament. Of those references, sixteen refer to God as the helper of his people: “He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will tread on their heights” (Deuteronomy 33:29). “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2).
As I read over all these verses, I saw that God is a help against foes, a deliver, a shield, a savior, a strength, a power, and a sword for his people—certainly not a junior assistant or even a vice president. From these references, I concluded that an ezer is a strong helper, an ally, one who comes to the aid of another, often in times of battle.
Kenegdo means “corresponding to, when you relate to face-to-face as an equal.” Walter Kaiser (professor of old testament) believes Genesis 2:18 should this be translated: “I will make the woman a power or strength corresponding to the man.” Author Carolyn Custis James calls women “ezer warriors.” I like to use the phrase “ally in battle.”
According to our verse, the man needed to not be alone. After naming animal after animal, the fact of his aloneness became more and more apparent. What then did he need? He needed someone like himself, someone corresponding to himself. In what ways did he need a partner or a corresponding strength? He didn’t need someone to wash his clothes since he didn’t wear any. He didn’t need someone to cook his meals since all his food was provided in the garden. He didn’t need someone to clean his house since he had no physical home. In other words, he didn’t need a partner to provide for needs he himself could potentially take care of.
We also see in Genesis 1:28 that “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living thing that moves on the ground.'” Obviously the man needed the woman for procreation but he also needed a partner to help him steward and manage the earth.
Carolyn Custis James sums all this up very well:
The woman is the man’s help, his ally in battle, not his competitor, his critic or his adversary. Her mission is to build him up in God, to stand with him in truth and to oppose him whenever he veers onto wrong paths. She is a valiant warrior conscripted by God, not to fight against the man but to fight at his side as his greatest ally in the war to end all wars.Carolyn Custis James, When Life and Beliefs Collide
This study of ezer kenegdo has shown me that God calls me to fight alongside my husband and the other men in my life for our marriages, for our children, for spiritual transformation, for all of us to reach maturity and especially for the kingdom of God. Whether we are single or married, the bottom line is, men and women need each other.
REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
How can you be an “ezer kenegdo” to the men in your life?
If you are a man, how can you empower women to be an “ezer kenegdo?“
Lord, Teach me and my sisters how to be strong warriors and allies for the men in our lives. Teach my brothers to encourage and accept the help of their sisters.
Deuteronomy 33:7, 26
NOTE: This blog was originally posted on December 15, 2019.