What is a “Helpmeet”?

As CFM and I begin to teach our daughters about the truths of Scripture, we will undoubtedly have to wrestle with certain passages. This isn’t because we have trouble with the Scriptures, necessarily; however, it’s a fair bet that many of our daughter’s peers will have been taught certain interpretations of these verses that serve to confuse matters. In any congregation our daughters will encounter friends who have been taught very misogynistic, oppressive things. CFd1 and CFd2 will need to be prepared with answers or they may slowly begin to internalize the sexism.

For this reason I’m starting a series of posts that go through several passages of Scripture. These posts will detail how CFM and I intend to teach the passages to our daughters so that they will be prepared to question and challenge errant teachings when they hear them. (Now, some of these are several years down the road, but here they are anyway.)

To begin, in the 2nd chapter of our Bible (Gen 2) there is a phrase in the Hebrew that seems to be a sticking point for a great many people. There have been sermons preached and books written about this phrase. It’s all over the place; however, I really don’t think there are too many people who understand it.

In the story, after the creation of the Universe, the Lord places Adam in a garden, paradise. God realizes that Adam is alone, and that this is not good. God then proceeds to create a companion for Adam. This is where the term “Helpmeet” comes from, as it is used by God to describe this companion. Well, sorta…

Except…

There is no such thing as a “Helpmeet”. That’s not a thing. It’s a linguistic abomination passed down to us from fans of the King James Version. The phrase is “help meet” (two separate words from the Hebrew “Ezer Neged”).  In King James Old English, “meet” is an adjective that means “suitable” or “proper”. You shouldn’t just say “help meet” any more than you should say “lunch cooked”. It’s “help meet for him” or “lunch cooked for me”.

Consequently, that should be a red flag for you to start with. If you hear someone talking about a “Helpmeet” as if those two words were one noun, you can be fairly sure that he/she has not really looked into things very deeply.  The phrase translated in the KJV as “help meet” or in other translations as “helper comparable”, “helper who is just right”, “Helper fit”, etc. is “Ezer Neged”.

Let’s take a look at the word Ezer. The meaning of this word is expressed in the Strong Concordance as a “help”, a “succour” or “one who helps”. Ezer is used 21 times in the Hebrew Old Testament, listed below (quotes are from NIV):

  • Gen 2:18 – “a helper who is just right for him”
  • Gen 2:20 – “no suitable helper was found”
  • Exo 18:4 – “My father’s God was my helper
  • Deu 33:7 – “Oh, be his help against his foes!”
  • Deu 33:26 – “who rides across the heavens to help you”
  • Deu 33:29 – “He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword.”
  • Psa 20:2 – “May he send you help from his sanctuary”
  • Psa 33:20 – “He is our help and our shield”
  • Psa 70:5 – “You are my help and my deliverer, Lord”
  • Psa 89:19 – “I have bestowed strength on a warrior”
  • Psa 115:9-11 (same phrase repeated 3 times) – “He is their help and shield”
  • Psa 121:1-2 – “Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord”
  • Psa 124:8 – “Our help is in the name of the Lord”
  • Psa 146:5 – “Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob”
  • Isa 30:5 – “bring neither help nor advantage”
  • Eze 12:14 – “his staff and all his troops”
  • Dan 11:34 – “They will receive a little help
  • Hos 13:9 – “You are against me, against your helper

Given that most of the time Ezer is used in the Old Testament it is used to describe God, and the frequency with which it refers to military might, I’m left to wonder about our current understanding of Eve’s role as an Ezer. I’m sure many of my readers were led at a younger age to a different understanding of what constitutes an Ezer.

On a whim, I also consulted the septuagint. The Greek used for the Hebrew word Ezer is βοηθὸν (bo-e-thon, #G998). The only time it is used in the New Testament is Hebrews 13:6 to say “The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” The root of the word is βοή (boe, #G995), which was an exclamation crying for help, aid or vengence (see Jas 5:4).

I’m really not getting a weaker/lesser/smaller vibe from the title of Ezer after looking at this information. It seems odd that these first two uses of the word are interpreded in such a way. Hopefull we’ll be able to instill this extra knowledge in our daughters’ minds so they can bring it up in conversations about “Helpmeets”.

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