"The moment the word 'why' crosses your lips, you are doing theology."
—When Life & Beliefs Collide                

Monday, December 5, 2005

The Return of the Ezer


The LORD God said,
"It is not good for the man to be
alone.
I will make an ezer
(helper) suitable for him."
—Genesis 2:18


Three A.M., and my life was about to change forever. I was wide-awake. No, I wasn’t tossing and turning in my bed. Bed was the furthest thing from my mind. Oddly enough, I was pouring over books, smuggling volumes out of my husband’s study, searching for answers. I felt like a detective and I knew I was onto something.

For years I’d been troubled by interpretations of Eve that left me (and a lot of other women) out in the cold. I could relate to what one single woman confided, as she tried to fit in, “I don’t mind being called a helpmeet. I like helping people. But helpmeet doesn’t encompass everything about me.” Little did I realize that the “helpmeet” version of Eve was about to topple and something better—for all of us—would take her place.

Is God's Blueprint Too Small?

My attention zeroed in on the word God used to describe the woman when he created her. “Ezer” (usually translated “helper”) has historically been defined in terms of marriage, motherhood and domesticity. According to this line of thinking, a woman fulfills her highest calling when she marries, bears children and manages the home.

Wonderful and significant as marriage and motherhood can be, this definition creates serious problems for all women.

When we are little girls, God’s purposes for us are pushed out into the distant future, to the day we don a wedding veil and head for the marriage altar. It intensifies the difficulties of singleness and the heartache of childlessness. Elderly women are troubled by the thought that God’s purpose for them has expired. Like Cinderella’s stepsisters, we end up trying to squeeze ourselves into a creation blueprint that simply doesn’t fit us all.

As I studied through the night, my curiosity was fueled by a deep longing to know if God’s blueprint included me. Is God’s blueprint for us really too small?

A Warrior For God’s Purposes

The word ezer appears in the Old Testament twenty-one times—twice for the woman in Genesis 2:18 and 20, three times for nations Israel turned to for military assistance when they were under attack, and sixteen times for God. This information resulted in upgrading the ezer from “helper” to “strong helper” and led to a divided (and at times heated) discussion over the word strong. How strong is strong, after all?

I decided to look up the references. To my surprise, I discovered powerful military language in every passage. Whenever ezer appeared—for the three nations, obviously, but also for God—it was always within a military context. God is His people’s helper, defender, deliverer, sword and shield. He is better than chariots and horses. He keeps sentry watch over his people and with His strong arm overthrows their foes. Based on the Old Testament’s consistent usage of this term, it only makes sense to conclude that God created the woman to be a warrior.

Further reading uncovered additional evidence of the strength and significance of the ezer. I discovered that the original inventory was off. Ezer shows up more than twenty-one times and in the most unexpected places. You just have to look more closely to find it.

Reading through one of those tedious genealogies (the passages we tend to skim when reading through the Bible) I spotted ezer again—in men’s names. Ezer was one of Judah’s male descendants. Moses named his son Eli-ezer. Abi-ezer belonged to the elite band of David’s mightiest warriors. Samuel raised a monument to God’s glorious deliverance and named it Eben-ezer.

Even today, the name Ezer still carries a lot of weight. Ezer Weizman was an Israeli military hero, a world leader who served as Israel’s seventh president. I doubt if anyone made fun of a man like that because his parents named him Ezer.

Ezer represents the strength and valor of a warrior. God created women to be warriors. “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Our brothers need us, and God calls us to join forces with them in advancing His kingdom wherever we are.

The Perfect Fit

That night, while the rest of the world slept, my identity changed forever. I couldn’t think of a single moment, situation or relationship in my life where my calling as an ezer-warrior for God’s purposes didn’t apply.

My three little nieces are just starting out in life, but they are ezers too. I regularly hear from moms engaged in fierce battles for their kids. A young single is battling for the souls of women in Ghana, as another woman launches a new consulting business on the home front. A friend of mine faces huge challenges in his business and is stronger and wiser in his own battles because of his ezer-warrior wife. A ezer in her nineties ministers actively to lost souls in her extended care facility.

We are all ezers—from our first breath to our last. We follow Jesus, and He calls us to advance His kingdom no matter where He puts us.

I agree with the single woman who didn’t quite fit the “helpmeet” mold, but found the ezer fit her perfectly. “Warrior covers all of who I am.”

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Carolyn - Your words ring true...like the lingering chime of real crystal. The scripture that comes to mind, "My sheep hear My voice..."
Thank you letting God use you to give back to His daughters that which was lost in the Fall. God bless you and may your tribe increase!

Anonymous said...

Carolyn, I have been following your blog and Synergy Conference for some time. Your words are like soothing rain. Women of all ages need this post to understand their value and purpose. This sounds more like the heart of God than much of what I've read regarding women through the years...thank you!

Anonymous said...

wow...i just finished reading your book "the gospel of ruth"...i was just kind of led to it at the bookstore, not really familiar with the story of ruth...only that the story involved a mother and daughter-in-law with no frame of reference of how they came to be. i noticed the use of the word "-ezer"...i clicked on the 4th or 5th result because the summary mentioned God and none of the other listings did...imagine, my surprise to see your name and photo on the blog...i was led to your writing again! what a blessing!

jytdog said...

Thanks for your comment! This is a great dig-down into the word ezer to bring out the term's power and strength.

However, you translate "kenegdo" as "suitable for him" and this reading -- while the traditional one -- also a) runs against the way this term is used everywhere else in the Bible and b) has been used to bury women. The term has a soundly oppositional meaning -- this is the only (!) place in the Bible where the term is twisted this way to mean something quite different. I would love to see a treatment of kenegdo on your blog!

Thanks

Rebecca Matthews said...

I have read most of your blogs, and I wanted to go back and start over so I could leave comments! There is so many nuggets of wisdom here!! I only found you last week, and you are opening up so much knowledge for me that I knew in my heart, but had never resarched it before. I grew up with women not being 'allowed' to to hardly anything in the church, yet feeling at times like I wanted to burst out of my skin. Thank you for helping me to see it the way it is, not the way others claim it is!

Carolyn said...

Rebecca,

Thanks for your comments. I'm glad to connect and want you to know you are not alone. There are many of us who want to move forward, join forces with our brothers, and answer God's call on our lives. So welcome, and I look forward to your comments!

CJ

SchonbergShoreblog said...

I just heard this phrase today in a Bible Study - thank you for what you wrote about it. "I have fought the good fight of faith" - we are all called to be ezer warrior's of faith for God. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Mrs. James,

As a young woman in the church I look forward to marrying a godly man and submitting myself to him. As women, God has called all of us to be wives and mothers. Even if God does not bless us with a husband and children, we need to be spiritual mothers to the children of the church. We must not try to reinterpret the Word of God and by doing so, justify our disobedience and rebelliousness. When God said women are made to be man's helpers, He meant it. Yes, men need women. God created men and women equal, but He gave us both different roles. Husbands were made to protect, provide for, and rule over their wives. And wives were made to submit to and love their husbands. Stop denying this. Accept God's will for you and He will bless you with great peace.

I have been and will continue to pray for you, dear sister. Do not continue in your rebellion. Embrace the role God has given you.

Carolyn said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for your comment. My response is here: http://www.whitbyforum.com/2013/05/dear-mrs-james.html

CJ

Susan said...

Dear Anonymous,
I'm so glad you've found Mrs. James's blog. There's much to think about here. You reference reinterpreting the Word of God but reference no scripture for your view of a woman's calling. I'd be interested to know what you make of the fact that the word ezer is so dominantly tied to being a warrior in the Old Testament. I'd also make the observation that reinterpreting scripture is not the same as misinterpreting it. It is a challenge to do the one while avoiding the other. I'd suggest, though, that reinterpretation is always required of us as His word is living and active and always drawing us into deeper relationship with The Word.

Living Liminal said...

Simply brilliant! Thank you.