What exactly is the role of a woman according to the Bible? And what does it mean to be a “help meet”? Certain segments of secular culture blur the lines between the roles of men and women. Traditional Christian culture has delineated some very distinct roles for each. But most answers to these two questions, even some Christian ones, are derived from common social norms instead of Biblical truth.
My aim here is to help women see themselves as who God created them to be, not what secular culture wants them to be, not what men would like them to be, and not even what traditional Christianity has made them out to be. Our discussion begins in Genesis 2:18-22 with the phrase “help meet” as found in the King James Version of the Bible.
When God Made Woman
If we want to define womanhood, then we need to start at the beginning and see why God created women. He states it very explicitly in Genesis 2:18. Let’s look at the verse in three different translations
And the LORD God said, [It is] not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.” KJV
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” ESV
The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” NIV
Clearly, the reason was to be a helper to the man. What does being a helper mean? Are we supposed to get them coffee every morning? Are we to plow the fields alongside them? Or do we hold their shields in the midst of battle? Helper can mean different things to different people and so it is important that we seek to find out the meaning that God intended.
The Traditional View of “Help Meet”
A very traditional Christian view of “help meet” has relegated women to a little more than servants. Keep the house clean. Keep the kids quiet so our husbands can concentrate. Make sure our makeup is just how he likes it. Is this really what God intended?
In my efforts to be a good wife, there was a time period that I accepted that. Who am I to argue with the Creator? But I have to admit that I struggled. I am not a very good homemaker. To celebrate my dysfunction in that area, my husband gave me a coffee mug that read, “domestically disabled.” Our marriage is full of humor and we love to tease each other about our “shortcomings.”
Interestingly enough, however, my husband never really saw those things as shortcomings. He never really cared if dinner was ready on time. He likes things tidy (he is a retired Marine), but he never saw it as my responsibility to clean nor organize his stuff. Even as a stay-at-home mom, I don’t iron, I rarely do the laundry (husband happily took on that responsibility), I abhor vacuuming and cleaning in general. I am a so-so cook and by God’s grace, my children are still alive.
I tried so hard to fit into that mold so that I could be the best “helper” to my hubby. I was finally freed from that burden when I attended a conference where the speaker presented a different view of the words “help meet.” I certainly didn’t want to take the speaker’s words for it because I take God’s word very seriously. So I decided to look into it a bit further and do my own research. Just like my study on the Proverbs 31 Woman, I was shocked by what I found.
The Hebrew Words Behind the Words, “Help Meet.”
The phrase “help meet” became popular from the King James version of the Bible. However, that phrase was translated from the Hebrew words “ezer kenegdo.” If you are new to the Bible, know that modern-day Bibles were translated from ancient Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic manuscripts. However, sometimes things are lost in translation or we may use our own cultural biases for the interpretation. In other words, “help meet” is the literal translation, but without understanding how that particular Hebrew word was used, we will miss some of that meaning.
The Uses of the Word “Ezer.”
The best way to see what God intended with the use of the words “ezer” and “kenegdo” is to look at the context in which the words are used in other parts of scripture. Thankfully, that is easy to do with online resources. This link will take you to all the uses of the word “ezer.” These are my observations.
- Ezer is used 21 times in the Bible.
- Two of those times is in reference to women, both of which are in Genesis chapter 2.
- The word is used 17 times in reference to God. God calls himself the “ezer,” the helper.
- Two times it is used in reference to other people. One of those helpers are presumably the counselors and advisors to a prince. The other is in reference to people having limited help during a period of suffering.
The Uses of the Root Word, “Azar.”
I also looked at the root word of the word “ezer” which is pronounced “azar” and is used more frequently, 82 times to be exact. Most of the uses of the word are in reference to military assistance, help provided by allies to nations and/or kings, or the help that God provides to His people. A handful of references were to everyday people. The poor not receiving help (azar), for example.
The Meaning of the Word “Kenegdo.”
The King James Version of the Bible uses “meet” as the translation. The ESV uses “fit for” and the NIV uses “suitable for.” The literal meaning of the word is to stand opposite or to stand face to face. I believe that one of the best translations of this word that I have heard is “counterpart.”
Putting It All Together, What Does “Help Meet” Mean?
After looking at the uses of the word in other parts of the Bible, we should begin to see a pattern. The purpose of the woman is to be a counterpart to the man that helps him, but helps him how?
Certainly by more than getting coffee, cooking nice meals, cleaning toilets, and producing children. Now, I don’t want to disparage any of those activities. Everything can have a purpose and a place to fulfill God’s will. Sometimes cleaning toilets is a simple act of love that can touch hearts–or at least keep the house from smelling and offending visitors. But there are so many other things that we can and should do!
The Biblical usage of “ezer” and its root word “azar” implies highly qualified help. To use a modern phrase, we are NOT “the help.” That is not the context in which this word “ezer” is ever used. There is an element of power to both Hebrew words–God helping his people, a nation is providing help to another nation. You will also see in the use of the word a sense of rescuing and protecting. It is implied that “the helper” is highly skilled and able to provide that kind of assistance.
God uses “ezer” to refer to Himself. Let that sink in. There is no shame in being “the helper.” On the contrary, there is honor in it. And if we are to provide that type of assistance, it means that God created us equipped to be able to do that.
A “Help Meet” is the Executive Officer, not the Maid.
The relationship between a husband and his wife is NOT a master-servant scenario. And it is not a parent-child scenario either. It is more like the relationship between the Captain of a ship and his Executive Officer, XO for short.
For those of you not familiar with these military terms, let me explain. The Captain is usually the one that holds the highest command on a ship. He or she sets the strategic direction and guidance based on the guidance he or she receives from above (those of higher rank than him/her) and with inputs from his XO and other officers. The XO is the second in command and the Captain’s right-hand man (or woman). He or she is a highly qualified and trained individual with the full capacity to take command of the ship if he or she ever needed to (Captain dies in the midst of battle). The XOs are also the ones that run the day-to-day operations and have day-to-day contact with the crew.
I once worked as the assistant to an Executive Officer. He was one of the most brilliant people that I have ever met who challenged and pushed me to take my professional skills to the next level. I also knew the Captain well. He was also very intelligent and highly experienced. However, I can tell you that the Captain’s success depended heavily on the knowledge, skill, and wisdom of the XO. And the XOs success depended heavily on the knowledge, skill, and wisdom of the Captain. It was a symbiotic relationship. And the mission would have suffered greatly if these two had failed to get their act together.
The Captain may set the course and have the final say on a matter, but the Executive Officer is the engine that keeps the whole thing moving forward. He or she does not need to consult the Captain on every decision and the Captain does not view the Executive Officer as completely helpless nor finds the need to guide him or her through every problem (nor would he want to).
The Wife as the XO.
So how does this translate to the husband-wife relationship? First, women have to recognize that God highly equipped them with varying skills and abilities. And we do have the responsibility to use the full extent of our strengths, skills, intellect, wisdom, and spiritual power through Christ to help our husbands fulfill his mission. And part of that mission will be (and should be) how to help his wife use the tools that God gave her to better serve His Kingdom and His will.
How exactly this will look like in our lives will depend on the goals that our families have prayerfully set and the dynamic within our household. Sometimes it will mean being knee-deep in household chores, but it can include things like going back to work, running our own businesses, or running the finances. It will also include coming alongside our husbands in prayer (or sometimes protecting and rescuing them through prayer). Husbands should also rely heavily on our wisdom and counsel. At the end of the day, it will look different for every family and every woman.
Remember the Proverbs 31 Woman? Not surprisingly, the Hebrew word behind the word “virtuous” is a military term (read my blog on the topic). To me, it is no coincidence that “ezer” and its root word “azar” also have a military connotation. We are fellow warriors with our husbands. We may not be the Captains, but we are warriors nonetheless. It is who God made us to be.
A “Dysfunctional” Housewife, but Still a Help Meet
When I was getting ready to sell my home, I requested the help of my friend to stage my house. I am not a good decorator. She called my house the perpetual “man cave.” I just didn’t get those genes. (But thank goodness for her amazing skills because she made my home look like something right out of Martha Stewart!) And there are a lot of other genes I did not inherit—most of your typical and traditional stay-at-home skills.
So when I think back to the pressure I had put on myself to fit into a certain label, I realize that I was putting undue stress upon myself. And it was self-imposed because my husband was certainly not pressuring me to be any of those things. I was not appreciating the skills that I was bringing to the table and using those to their full potential.
I am great with numbers so I manage the household finances. I have a keen eye for good real estate deals, so I purchased an investment property that has been a great source of secondary income (income that helped us scrape by during some difficult financial times). I am a pretty good handyman and have been able to fix broken toilets, spackle walls, and fix other things around our home. This proved to be particularly useful during my husband’s deployments and when he worked ridiculously long hours while in the Marine Corps.
Again if we look at the Proverbs 31 woman, we will see that she engaged in hard physical labor (read my blog on the meaning of Gird up Your Loins in Proverbs 31), ran a business, made real estate investments, and managed her household. Managing a household is very different than doing all the chores. Her employees did that, but she certainly wasn’t afraid to step in when she had to.
Not all of us will be wealthy and we may not have maids to manage. However, if our family’s goals are better served by you working and then hiring someone to do the things that we are not good at—that is an efficient use of our skills. No need to feel guilty about it!
My husband’s and my goal is to glorify God, be fishers of men, and disciples others (starting with our children). As a good leader of our home, he wants me to use my skills to their full potential to achieve those goals. If that means he doesn’t get a home-cooked meal, he is okay with that. As he likes to often say, “There is always Dominos.”
What If You Are a Single Woman?
Honey, you are the captain of your own ship! At the end of the day, all of our goals are the same, whether married or not. It is to love like Jesus, glorify God, be fishers of men, and disciple others. As a married woman, I have to take into consideration my husband’s wishes and the needs of my children. As a single woman, you can focus solely on serving God.
How do you achieve that? By using the skills and talents that God gave you. That may mean becoming a Christian lawyer, being a Christian carpenter, or teaching children in Sunday school. God needs people in every walk of life and in every pond. There is fish everywhere, so go catch them!
Equal in Christ
I would be remiss if I didn’t address the fact that in Christ we are all one. Galatians 3:28 says,
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
There are spiritual reasons for a hierarchal structure in the church and in a marriage that are necessary in this broken world that we live in. That being said, in Christ, we are equal. And in the eyes of God, women are equal to men in worth and value. Christ died for us both. And God also created us women in His image. Both men and women hold that honor.
Relevant Article: Created in His Image, An Important Truth for Women
Despite this spiritual equality, the authorities that God has put in place may be unsettling to many. I plan to address this in a different blog as I think that structure is often misunderstood and often misused. But I do believe in the structure and hold to the idea that the husband is the head of the household (the Captain of the Ship). However, I will also be the first one to say that I often see men use this to their own ends. I see women crumbling from the weight of the church forcing them into roles that were not meant for them because of notions that are tradition-based and not biblically supported!
These women have skills and talents that are not being used and they feel lost, confused, and unfulfilled. If they have those gifts and talents, then they are God-given. Husband, as leaders of your homes, make sure you are encouraging your wives to use those skills to their full potential for the sake of the Gospel. To dismiss or ignore her talents and skills is akin to a Captain making his XO wash the deck of the ship. What a misuse of the XO’s skills and talents!
A Note to Traditional Homemakers
I just want to make it clear, that the purpose of writing this blog is NOT to minimize traditional homemakers. Their God-given skills and talents may be in traditional homemaking. Praise God! Every skill and every talent has a purpose and a place in The Kingdom. I have an incredible amount of respect for women that can keep a neat, tidy, and highly organized home or create five-course meals from scratch. Having been a stay-at-home mom for the last 10 years, my lack of skill in those areas helps me appreciate those that have them!!!!!
A Final Note on the Seasons of Life
How each woman is a “help meet” may change with each season of life. As a mother, I have had to change explosive pooped diapers. It didn’t matter that I could write, paint a portrait, or run a business, the kid still needed to be changed. In that moment, at that time, I needed to do what I need to do, get my hands dirty, and clean my kid.
We will all find ourselves in seasons where we will do things that we do not like nor are they up our alley. Joseph was born to run Egypt, but he had to spend time in prison first. David was born to be king, but he had to spend years running and hiding in caves. For some of us with little kids, it may feel like a prison or feel like we are lost in the wilderness. Or we may be in a marriage where we are not getting the support we need. Or our time and energy may be spent at the moment caring for a loved one with health issues.
These seasons may feel frustrating at times. However, serving and sacrifice are part of the Christian walk. Struggle comes with the territory when we become a follower of Jesus. Just remember, no tear, no struggle, no pain is ever wasted. This is the time to open our spiritual toolbox and make good use of prayer and meditation on God’s word and promises. This may be a season, that just like David and Joseph, God is using to prune us for a much greater task.
Psalm 139:14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
I am interested in your thoughts! Please comment below.