Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper (ezer) corresponding to him.” Genesis 2:18 CSB
Many Christians today rightly understand that the Hebrew word ezer, used in Genesis 2:18 and 2:20, does not have the sense of being lowly or subordinate assistant. Rather ezer (pronounced “ay-zer”) is always used in the Hebrew Bible with the sense of a vital, necessary, strong, and even a rescuing kind of help. The word is usually used of God’s help and occasionally of vital military help.
For some women, it has been freeing to discover that God did not design the woman of Genesis 2 as a lowly assistant for man’s use. For other women, however, the understanding that an ezer is a powerful help makes them feel pressured.
I’ve heard from wives who are anxious that they are somehow not fulfilling their role as an ezer in their marriages. These women usually believe that being an ezer is a uniquely feminine role and that the men in their lives do not have an equal obligation to be “ezers.” Is this really the case? Is being an ezer, a helper, a distinctly feminine role?
The NET Bible on Ezer in Genesis 2
The word ezer is qualified in verses 18 and 20 of Genesis 2 with the word-phrase kenegdo. Kenegdo means “corresponding (or similar, or equal) to him.” This word-phrase indicates that the woman and man were similar. And while it is not spelt out, it can be inferred that the woman and man were to help each other.
The New English Translation (NET) translates ezer in Genesis 2 as “companion.” “Companion” is not a literal or precise translation of ezer. Nevertheless, the NET translators believe they have captured the overall sense of what God says about the woman in Genesis 2.
Here’s their note where they explain their translation decision. Note the last two lines.
The English word “helper,” because it can connote so many different ideas, does not accurately convey the connotation of the Hebrew word עֵזֶר (ʿezer). Usage of the Hebrew term does not suggest a subordinate role, a connotation which English “helper” can have. In the Bible God is frequently described as the “helper,” the one who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, the one who meets our needs. In this context the word seems to express the idea of an “indispensable companion.” The woman would supply what the man was lacking in the design of creation and logically it would follow that the man would supply what she was lacking, although that is not stated here.
NET Bible Note 57 on Genesis 2 here. (Bold added)
I wish “indispensable companion” was not just in their note, but also in their translation of Genesis 2:18 and 20.
Mutual Help in Marriage
That husbands and wives should help each other is a basic tenet of the Christian faith. For example, the Westminster Confession of Faith, drawn up in 1646, gives a few reasons for marriage but the first reason is this: “Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife.” (WCF 24.2). Mutual help!
To fulfil God’s plan for humanity, men and women need to work together and help each other. According to Genesis one, this means sharing the responsibility for procreation and for ruling God’s earth as his regents and stewards (Gen. 1:26–27). For the couple in Eden, it meant serving together in the garden which was a sacred space (Gen. 2:15).
In 1 Corinthians 11:9, Paul alluded to Genesis 2 and reminded the Corinthians that woman was made for man. He wrote this to make a certain point. However, Paul goes on to say that men and women who are “in the Lord” are mutually interdependent (1 Cor. 11:11–12). We need each other. (More on 1 Cor. 11:9 here.)
Furthermore, the message of love found throughout the New Testament should tell us that helping others is not a gender role. Helping others is what loving, caring, and considerate people do. And, as Paul points out in his letter to the Romans, “Love is the fulfilment of the Law” (Rom. 13:8).
Ezer is a Masculine Name
If being an ezer was thought to be a uniquely feminine role in Israelite society, we might expect to see this word used in women’s names in the Bible.
Here are the names of all the people in the Bible who have the noun ezer, or related verb azar, as part of their name: Abiezer, Ahiezer, Azarel, Azariah, Azriel, Azrikam, Azzur, Eleazar, Eliezer, Ezer, Ezra, Ezri, Hadadezer (called Hadarezer in one verse), Hadarezer, Iezer, Lazarus, Romamti-ezer.
Here are the possible meanings of these names based on their etymology:
Abiezer (Abi-ezer): “My father is help/er”
Ahiezer (Ahi-ezer): “My brother is help/er”
Azarel (Azar-el): “God is help/er”
Azariah (Azar-iah): “Yah is help/er”
Azriel (Azri-el): “Help of God”
Azrikam (Azri-kam): “Help rises up”
Azzur: “Helpful, helper”
Eliazar (Eli-azar): “My God is help/er”
Eliezer (Eli-ezer): “My God is helper”
Ezer: “Help, helper”
Ezra: “Help, helper,” but the name may be derived from different words (az + ra’a) meaning “strong vision.”
Ezri: “My help/er”
Hadadezer (Hadad-ezer): “Hadad is a help/er”
Hadarezer (Hadar-ezer): “honour + help” “perhaps, “to help is honourable”?
Iezer (I-ezer): “he will help”
Lazarus/ Lazaros: A Greek version of Eleazar used in the New Testament.
Romamti-ezer: (rum + ezer): “help has risen”
These are all men’s names and Ezer is still a masculine name. For example, Ezer Weisman (1924–2005) was the seventh president of Israel. I couldn’t find any woman’s name in the Bible with ezer in it.
The woman in Eden was created to be an ezer kenegdo. She was made because it was not good for Adam to be alone and, presumably, he needed help in fulfilling the task of caring for the garden in Eden. However, being an ezer is not a gender role―women do not have a special obligation to be helpers. We are all meant to help each other and care for each other depending on the situations we are faced with and depending on our individual abilities.
It is sad that some wives are feeling pressured and are second-guessing their roles in marriage and their relationships with their husbands because of faulty doctrines that make special demands of women. In everyday life, it is usually enough that spouses are cooperative and mutually kind, caring, supportive, and helpful.
 You can see this for yourself: I’ve quoted every verse that contains the noun ezer at the bottom of my article A Suitable Helper (in Hebrew).
 The Jerusalem Targum (written in Aramaic) likewise understands that ezer kenegdo in Genesis 2 is primarily about companionship. It interprets the phrase as “a yoke-fellow, going forth with him” (בַּר זוֹג כַּד נָפִיק בֵּיהּ).
 See John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 70.
 Paul uses the word “love” six times when addressing husbands in Ephesians 5:25ff (cf. Col. 3:19). More on Paul’s words to wives and husbands here.
 Ebenezer, meaning “a stone of help” (1 Sam. 7:12), and Jazer, meaning “he will help,” are names of places in the Bible.
 Caring for the garden is the only ongoing task given in Eden. The woman was made from a part or side taken out from Adam’s body, and we can imagine that the couple then worked together, side by side, caring for the garden, a sacred space. Sex and procreation don’t seem to have been part of the Eden experience. There are none of the usual Hebrew words that refer to sexual relationships in Genesis 2 like we have in Genesis 4:1, 17, and 25, for example. Nevertheless, the man and woman formed a close and exclusive bond. They were a couple. And this was later consummated.
© Margaret Mowczko 2021
All Rights Reserved
This article was first published on my Patreon page.
Photo by Gustavo Fring via Pexels (cropped)
Do women have a special obligation to be helpers?
A Suitable Helper (in Hebrew)
A Suitable Helper (in the Septuagint)
Kenegdo: Is the woman subordinate suitable, or similar to the man?
Kenegdo = Equal to Him (Genesis 2:18 & 20)
The Human (Ha’adam), Man (Ish) and Woman (Ishshah) in Genesis 2
Woman Created for Man (1 Cor. 11:9), in a Nutshell
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority
All my articles on gender in Genesis 1–3 are here.