Woman as "Helper"
Helper was the first word used to describe woman in the Bible, and it was used by God, Himself, when He decided to create her (Genesis 2:18). While many try and distort its meaning or ignore it all together, it is of vital importance that we understand what woman’s God-given role is meant to be.
The term helper has taken on meanings that are not Biblical. We always hear the phrase “equal in value, different in roles.” Although this is true, it seems the role of helper is looked at in a weak or insignificant light. Even some who agree that women have equal value in terms of salvation still look at the woman’s role of helper as someone who may not know everything the head does, but will blindly follow wherever he leads, ready to give assistance if and when it is needed.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of false teaching when it comes to this term. In her book Created to be His Helpmeet, Debi Pearl teaches young wives that “God’s ultimate goal is for [them] to meet [their] man’s needs” and that “God’s original intention was that a woman would spend her life helping her husband fulfill his dreams and ambitions" (page 173 of the 10th edition).
Is this really the type of help that God had in mind when he created woman?
In Genesis, after God made Adam, he said “It is not good that man should live alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18). The Hebrew word used here is ezer meaning help, succor, or aid. This word is used 21 times in the Old Testament, and it is most often used to describe God in His relationship to His people:
“There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty” (Deuteronomy 33:26).
“Our soul waits for the Lord, He is our help and our shield” (Psalm 33:20).
“Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:8).
The type of help found in these verses is not something that is available to be used only if desired. On the contrary, it is vital, it is strong, it is useful and it is intentional.
In one of his lectures, theologian John McKinley says the best definition of ezer is “necessary ally.” He states, “God is the ultimate ezer to all people in need, but woman is God’s provision of a necessary ally to men for the good of both and all people that depend on their synergy.” In order to further explain this, McKinley gives examples from Scripture of women being not only allies but also enemies to men and we see the vitality of woman as helper from both.
Going back to the first relationship between man and woman, we see that Eve fails in her role as helper to Adam. Instead of encouraging Adam to obey God’s command and help turn him away from sin, she gives into her own sinful desire and influences her husband to do the same. Warning men to turn away from evil as well as fighting against evil are two ways McKinley says women should be allies to men.
While Eve did not fulfill her role well, we see a great example in Abigail who Scripture calls an “intelligent and beautiful woman” (1 Samuel 25:3). Abigail was married to a man named Nabal who was a fool. Nabal dishonored King David and in his rash anger and revengeful spirit, David took four hundred men with him and intended to slaughter Nabal’s household. Abigail heard of this and went out to meet the king before he arrived. She humbly pleaded with him to forgive her husband and to remember the promises of God to David. She also wisely warned him that if he went through with this he would “have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed” (vs 31). David heeded Abigail’s advice and said “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgement and for keeping me from bloodshed on this day” (vs 32-33). And he confessed that, “if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak” (vs 34).
What an impact Abigail made by being a necessary ally to both Nabal and King David. Had it not have been for Abigail’s wisdom and discernment, Nabal and his household would have been killed (God does kill Nabal later because of his sin [vs. 38]) and David would have had innocent blood on his hands. Abigail fulfilled her God-given role as an ezer by giving wise and constructive counsel. This is another way McKinley encourages women to act as necessary allies to their husbands and even other Godly men in their lives.
While it is irrefutable that the Bible teaches that the office of pastor/elder is to be held by God-fearing men (Titus 1:5-10), this does not mean that women cannot declare the truth of God or give Godly counsel to both men and women. We see in the New Testament that a woman named Priscilla, along with her husband, Aquila, gave counsel and correction to a man who was teaching in the synagogues (Acts 18:24-26). We also know that women prophesied (spoke forth or declared what God said) at different times in the early church (Acts 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11; Luke 2:36).
When we take the Biblical mandate of men holding pastoral roles in the church to mean that women cannot influence and give guidance to men, we are doing harm to both genders. All members of the body benefit from exhorting one another (Hebrews 10:24) and encouraging one another in our fight against sin (Hebrews 3:13).
Another way women are necessary allies to men is in ministry, and not just with tending to children and preparing the food. In Romans 16, Paul mentions at least ten women who are an important part of his ministry. He commends Phoebe who was a deaconess at the church in Cenchreae. He makes mention of Priscilla, Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis who were all women who “worked very hard in the Lord.” He exhorts the church to greet Junia who had even been in prison with Paul. These women were not behind the scenes doing things we would consider “feminine.” They were joining the men on the front lines battling against the enemy and furthering the Gospel of Christ. They were vital to the spread of the early church.
Of course, we should not look down on the responsibilities and blessings of women nurturing children and preparing meals for others or think them to be trivial. These are wonderful forms of service that are important. However, reducing a woman’s contribution to just this is to take away important aspects of what she is called to be as a follower of Christ.
When God created Adam and Eve, he gave them a mission: “to be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). Eve was essential to this mission and not just because she was necessary to bare children. While that is a beautiful and amazing part of a woman’s role, it does not end there. They were to work together to spread the image of God throughout the world and make His name known. This is what a woman’s role as helper and her life’s goal should be. It is not to help fulfill whatever her husband’s hopes and dreams are, but to help him as they work together to magnify the name of the Lord.
After the fall, they were both banished from the perfection of the garden and sent into the harsh and cursed world. It became all the more important for the man and woman to work together, with God as their guide, fighting against evil. They were still to fulfill God’s command and mission for them.
When we water down a woman’s role as helper and see it as nothing more than occasional assistance when called on, we are hurting not only women, but also men, families and the church. We need each other to help sharpen, guide, teach, call out and encourage us to strive to be made more into the image of God, who is to all, the holy, righteous, all-powerful and ever present ezer.