faith, Light, war on women

Help Meet

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I had the word “helpmate” thrown at me the other day by a woman who was schooling me in my “biblical” role as a woman.  I did not bother to debate her, however, since I had already laid out my viewpoint and she was deaf to it.  Any further pearls tossed her way would likely be trampled.

But, since the word “helpmate” is still being used, erroneously, let’s deconstruct:

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him.”   Genesis 2:18

The word for helper here is the Hebrew word ‘ezer.  It is the same word translated as help in the following Psalms:

Psalm 33:20:  We wait in hope for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield.

Psalm 70:5  But as for me, I am poor and needy;
come quickly to me, O God.
You are my help and my deliverer;
Lord, do not delay.

Psalm 121:1-2  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 124:8  Our help is in the name of the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

Did you catch that the word implies divine help?

God is our helper, and He is certainly not our servant.  So when did we twist divine help into subservient help?

Some translations call woman a “suitable” helper; King James calls her a “help meet”.

The Hebrew word translated “suitable” or “help meet” is neged.  The definition:  “in front of, in the sight or presence of, before the eyes of, face to face”.

In other words, woman is divine help that man can see.  She is face-to-face help he can look in the eye; divine help that is standing right in front of him.  Scripture has more to say about that, but I’ll save it for another post.

In the meantime, I like Rachel Held Evans’ description of the kind of help she is to her husband because it describes my hubby and me:

The teaching that men are to be the “spiritual leaders” of their homes is found nowhere in Scripture, and yet I—along with far too many young evangelical women—spent hours upon hours fretting over this in college, worrying I’d never find a guy who was more knowledgeable about the Bible than I, who was always more emotionally connected to God than I,  who was better at leading in the church than I, and who consistently exhibited more faithfulness and wisdom than I. (In fact, under this paradigm, I came to see many of my gifts as liabilities, impediments to settling down with a good “spiritual leader”!)

Well guess what. I never found such a person. I never found a spiritual “leader.” Instead, I found a spiritual companion to travel with me on the journey of faith, for better or worse, in good times and bad, in times of spiritual wealth and in times of spiritual poverty.  Dan isn’t expected to always be the strong one while I am always the weak one. Instead, we cheer each other on, help each other up, and challenge each other to do better. Sometimes we walk side by side, moving along at a quick pace. Sometimes we help each other over boulders and fallen trees. Sometimes I’m leading the way; sometimes Dan is. Sometimes I carry him and sometimes he carries me. The journey of faith is far too treacherous and exciting and beautiful to spend it looking at the back of another person’s head. Jesus leads us down the path, and we tackle it together, one step at a time.   (You can read the rest of her post here.)

The church has been promulgating an erroneous understanding of the role of women for far too long, but thank God He is calling many of us to take a fresh look at the Scriptures.  So look, and before you utter the phrase “help mate” or “help meet”, understand that it means divine, face to face help.  Otherwise, a whole lot of men, marriages and churches will continue to miss out on the divine wisdom God has given them.  And that would be a pity.

© The Reluctant Baptist, 2014

 

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20 thoughts on “Help Meet

  1. Alma Mater says:

    This is really interesting, and although I’m not sure how much I agree, I appreciate having my eyes opened to a different perspective to what I usually hear in response to ezer neged.

    I’m not sure what to think about the idea of woman being divine help. Of course, woman is divine help insofar as she is the help that God provided for man. But she is certainly not divine. I don’t believe that the idea of help means that she is subservient. I like the illustrations from the Psalms to see that help is not necessarily subservient. Indeed, neged implies that she is in front of, opposite him, not below him. Isn’t there a meaning of counterpart to neged as well? Which does not seem to denote subservience but equality, opposite each other.

    On the other hand, I also see that Adam named her “woman,” and I believe that naming another shows some sort of headship or proprietary sense over that other. Like, parents naming children. I studied Judith Butler in university, and I remember learning about the interpellation of humans as social beings through naming. The act of naming someone, in essence, provides a definition of who they are. Whether the person accepts that name or not, they must admit that it has some power to define them. It speaks loudly to me that Adam took responsibility for woman when he named her.

    Liked by 2 people

    • “Of course, woman is divine help insofar as she is the help that God provided for man.”

      Yes, this is what I meant.

      What you say about naming is interesting, but it doesn’t speak to me in quite the same way. I see the privilege God gave Adam to name things as an opportunity to exercise his brains and creativity. To me it is an example of how God allows us to join Him in His work and to display His image. Adam named all the creatures, but he did not own them.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Alma Mater says:

        No, I wouldn’t say ownership, but definitely responsibility for. Parents name their children, it’s part of claiming them as our own. Certainly not as owners, but as under our authority. I don’t think that men have authority over women in the same way as over children (or over animals!), but I do think there is an authority implicit in the naming. Women are told to submit to their husbands twice in the Scripture, and men are told to submit to their wives once. Children are told to obey their parents, but parents are never told to obey their children (just not to exasperate them!)

        It is, perhaps, easy for me to say that I submit to my husband, because he is not the type of man who wishes to force me to submit. Being married to a different kind of man would be another matter. But I don’t see that it is man’s role to force his wife into submission.

        Also, I find it very distasteful to listen to a sermon by a man on wifely submission. I don’t see that it is man’s role to tell other women how to behave. Older women are meant to disciple younger women, as in Titus 2. (Now that I’ve said that, I realize that it is indeed a man (Paul) who sets that out for us, in something very like a sermon. But it is somehow horrible to hear a man preaching from the pulpit about how women are to submit. I spent last year in a fundamentalist Baptist church, and our pastor actually commented to me about how women shouldn’t allow their nipples to show through their clothing when they dress! How inappropriate! I was absolutely mortified! Was he hinting at me??! I took to wearing very thick sweaters to church. It was just awful.

        Anyway, it’s a tricky issue, and I don’t fully understand my role as a wife. I know that I don’t want to be raising my daughters to be doormats, nor to be raising my sons to be domineering. But I don’t want to be substituting my own beliefs about how it should be for God’s. I was a very strong feminist, before I was saved, and I know that many of my beliefs were very much in error.

        So it’s a struggle, and a definite journey, to find God’s meaning about this issue. Our first church after being saved was what I now consider a rather worldly church. We swung on the pendulum to a fundamentalist church, and that was awful. Now we’re starting out at a new church, again.

        Wow, I just glanced up and saw that this comment is LONG! Sorry. Better stop here. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hi Alma,

          Thank you for sharing. Coming to a clear understanding of the heart of God on this – or any issue – is certainly a journey worth taking. Daniel set his mind to understanding and heaven esteemed him for it (Daniel 9 and 10). Heaven also rewarded him with some insight and answers. I was raised by a feminist mother. After I was saved as a young adult, I learned what the church teaches via Paul. I accepted it and retooled my thinking without question even though it never really rang true in my Spirit. After speaking to young people for many years about relationships, dating and purity, I was baffled as to why many Christian young people insist on defiling themselves. I got on my knees and asked God to explain it to me (kind of like Daniel did at the beginning of chapter 9). He did explain it to me. He took me right back to Genesis 1 and laid it out. He showed me where the church has misinterpreted some things and why. I wrote a whole Bible study sharing what He taught me. I expect I’ll be sharing lots of it in my blog.

          Eww, yes, that pastor was very creepy. You were wise to move on from there. I have often pondered this scenario: Let’s suppose a man and a woman are shipwrecked and they wash ashore a remote, inhabited island. The people there are hungry to learn about God. The man knows only what he vaguely remembers from his childhood in Sunday school. The woman has spent the last 20 years studying the Bible and cultivating a close relationship with God. Which one do you think God would want to feed His word to these hungry people? A baptist would most likely choose the man (the woman, they would say, would glorify God by submitting to the fumbling, possibly inaccurate teachings of the man). But, based on Matthew 12:10-14, Mark 2:23-27, John 4:1-38, etc. I think Jesus would choose otherwise.

          I went to a church that did not allow women to lead a Bible study for mixed-gender groups. Instead they allowed a man to lead the study whose only “qualification” was that he was once a professional baseball player. By his own admission, he had very little Bible knowledge. That’s where the church’s misunderstanding of the Scriptures can lead, as well as to the existence of the kind of creepy pastor you encountered. Lord, have mercy!

          Liked by 2 people

          • Alma Mater says:

            I didn’t have much time to reply yesterday, but I wanted to agree wholeheartedly with the idea that women should be allowed to teach. Weren’t their female apostles, after all? Philips daughters were prophets (Acts 21:9), and Priscilla and Aquila taught Apollos in Acts 18:26. I really can’t understand how men can say that women shouldn’t teach men, when Priscilla obviously taught a man. There is also a good case to be made that Junia was a woman apostle, not a man.

            I can only deduce that Paul, in telling the women to be silent in the churches, was speaking to a specific problem in a specific church. The particular women there must have been stirring up a particular problem. Perhaps they were publicly opposing what their husbands were saying/doing, and causing their homes to be divided.

            Whatever Paul intended, it cannot have been a general command for women not to teach, when that is not held up in other places in Scripture.

            I do think that I fall under my husband’s headship at home. But I do not think that I fall under every man’s leadership, nor am I commanded to be submissive to every man, pastor or no pastor. That would be ridiculous.

            I agree with both of your examples about how women can be more qualified than men to teach. At that fundamentalist church we attended last year, the pastor actually wouldn’t have a woman lead the hymns. So even though there were several women who were capable in our church, we went without a hymn leader until a man stepped into the role (who had no particular talent for the job). It was CRAZY!

            We did learn a lot while we were there, about fundamentalism, judgement, self-righteousness, hobby-horsism, etc. It was an interesting experience for sure, since we did not come from that kind of background at all. We felt led into that church, and I really think God intended for me to be there while I learned a lesson about my own self-righteousness.

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            • Now that I have a little more time to respond, I just want to say that this is a great reply. I agree!

              With regard to “I can only deduce that Paul, in telling the women to be silent in the churches, was speaking to a specific problem in a specific church.”

              My guess is that the issue wasn’t that they were women, but that they were uneducated in the Scriptures. Remember the movie Yentl (or are you too young?) Only men were allowed to formally study Scripture. So the women speaking were probably speaking off the cuff and not with much knowledge. Paul might have more accurately said, “I do not allow the Scripturally illiterate to speak in church.” Which, now-a-days would extend to a lot of men, too. It is so annoying when someone offers their opinion in a Bible study without having actually read the Bible.

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  2. Marianne K says:

    I really like your explanation of the word help. It really does help to understand each word from the original language it was written in. Even so, the word “meet” should be a little easier for most to understand, because even in English it implies equality. In fact, the online dictionary where I looked it up, uses “come face-to-face with” as a definition. I’m so glad to come across a Christian blogger who thinks like I do. Keep up the great work!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you ladies for this eye opening thoughtful dialogue between women about women’s roles in the church. I have nothing to add except that it has been an honor and humble privilege to witness an honest outpouring and sharing of concerns between women in the faith. Very refreshing, without the pomp, circumstance and haught that has reared up to impose itself and assail every aspect of my being of late.
    Thanks be to God!
    Anthony

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I lays shudder at how so much of Scripture is taken out of context! Thank you for returning it. The Greek and Hebrew re far more gracious. My wife was and is a gift from God. Like all good gifts for God we can either properly respect and use them, or abuse them. T denegrate any gift from God is to insult the giver!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Miss Quoted says:

    I didn’t have time to read the whole discussion, but I liked where it was going… I like the term “meet” as part of a God-given “help.” Meaning that the help given is up to the job. Thanks for your wisdom!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: The Fabled Rib. | Light & life

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