Sometimes it may take a lifetime to understand just who we are, with our unique purpose and gifting to others. Some women, it seems, learn much quicker than others and will go straight to God and seek to know and be shown clearly their value and strengths in Him and walk boldly. Others, maybe like me, will listen first to others around them and try to walk accordingly within the traditional gender roles–of which I have, to the best of my ability –albeit many times with an insistent cry of injustice and subsequent confusion in my heart. Our experiences and understandings of where we ‘fit’ as women in this world varies broadly between cultures, religion and time. Rules have always been there to shape the understanding of who and what we are in relation to men, in both our public and private domains. And because these traditions of gender roles have been consistently portrayed as sanctioned by God, our lives can appear inescapably cut out for us from cradle to grave.
Due to contradictions in the messages given me and a point of crisis in my life, I knew with clarity that I needed to know for myself, how God (YeHoWaH) sees me as a woman, as my heart’s confusion and sense of injustice ultimately lands in His lap. He being the one I walk before, and in whose eyes I sink or swim. I wish I had sought Him first, but God being rich in mercy and grace uses even our faulty understanding and resulting pain to direct us to Him. He indeed causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him, and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28).
I want to share with you what I have discovered in the meaning of the two Hebrew words given together – ezer (רֵעזֶ) kenegedo (גְדּוְֺכּנֶ), that describe the very first woman of whom YeHoWaH Elohim spoke in Genesis 2:18, and was the filter that removed all other creatures from qualifying as Adam’s soul-mate and companion in Genesis 2:20.
‘Ezer kenegedo’ is the English transliteration (the phonetic spelling of the spoken word) and has been translated into English as: suitable helper; help meet; helper – counterpart; helpmate; helper – compliment; authority corresponding; corresponding companion.
Most of the English bibles translate it as: ‘a helper suitable’ or ‘help meet’, and as such, is the most familiar for the majority of people. Unfortunately it is right here, where most of our confusion lies, this is because:
- There is more meaning in the original Hebrew than what is translated in English.
- Our everyday use and understanding of the words themselves –‘suitable’ and ‘helper’ inevitably flavour and distort our understanding of its meaning in casual reading. These ‘umbrella like’ words lend themselves to variation in interpretation, and open themselves wide to personal preference defining what a woman’s help actually looks like in the flesh. Most teaching from the pulpit and in society’s traditions appear as coming from a male perspective.
These two words are found side by side only in Genesis 2:18,20 and specifically refer to the design of the woman, as yet unformed, her entrance recorded later in verse 22. ‘Ezer’ is found elsewhere 21 times, as is ‘neged’ occurring 150 times – neged being the base word or ‘stem’ on which kenegedo’s meaning is built. The actual word – ‘kenegedo’ – is only found in conjunction with ‘ezer’ in Genesis chapter 2 verses 18 and 20.
With much thanks to biblehub.com, here are their meanings:
Strong’s Concordance (SC) gives the meaning of ‘ezer’ as – a help or helper, and is a masculine noun.
What is unfortunate is, it seems most commentators and translators have decided on this as being sufficient for our general understanding. However ‘ezer’ has an underlying meaning that reveals the kind of ‘help’ given. Ezer comes from the word ‘azar’ -which is a primitive, root word, it’s meaning –to surround in the sense of protection or aid (-Strongs Exhaustive Concordance –SEC).
Within the 21 times of ‘ezer’ occurring in the Old Testament, 16 of those times it is used in reference to God as man’s ‘help’, being effective or strong -to save, deliver, protect and aid. Twice, as we know, it is used of the woman with the same meaning and no contextual negative to change the overall meaning, therefore also an effective/strong help. The other three times it is used, it’s word meaning remains the same, however the context is negative. It refers to the ‘help’ of human agency –it’s strength and power -as being unable to save, deliver, protect or aid. The context of these three occurrences combined give a clear understanding of what looking to human strength is: too little and false, a shame and reproach, and finally, ineffectual against YeHoWaH Himself.
It is interesting that God fashioned woman from out of the ribcage, which surrounds and protects the vital organs, from external pressure and impact that would cause them damage. Genesis 2:21 says God removed ‘a rib’ in Adam, leaving him with a gap – so to speak – in his armour. Figuratively and obviously physically speaking, women do not replace this armour of protection for men, but they have as ‘ezer’ implies, been provided by God, as an integral part therein. It is of interest also, that God chose the ‘masculine’ noun in the description of the woman in preference to the feminine ‘ezrah/ezrath’, as this also means – help, to protect or aid. However, we find in the majority of the 26 occurrences, the surrounding context stresses the need or the direness of the situation as being uppermost, therefore giving the idea of a weak, doubtful and ineffective kind of help. He did not use this word in describing the woman’s help for man.
‘The help’ in our English language can refer to a servant, therefore many have accepted or assumed this as the wife’s position/role in marriage and even society, however we would never assume this of our creator who chose the same word to describe Himself in relation to us. If indeed God had intended for women to be a ‘servant’ help to their husbands or men, He could have made it clear by use of the word ‘amah’ -meaning female- servant, maid, slave. But there is no hint even suggested of this in the Hebrew of the ‘ezer’ help. It appears as far as YeHoWaH is concerned only God Himself and women are given as being of real effectual help to man – curious and interesting indeed!
We now know that an ‘ezer’ is a ‘helper who surrounds – in order to protect and aid’. But what exactly does that help look like? We discover this in the meaning of ‘kenegedo’.
Brown-Driver-Briggs (BDB) gives the meaning of ‘neged’ (-the stem word for ‘kenegedo’), as being primarily positional – ‘what is conspicuous or in front of’ and ‘corresponding to’ – with the idea of ‘equal and adequate to.’
This again however, is not the end of our understanding, as the word ‘neged’ comes from the root word ‘nagad’ meaning, as well as ‘to be conspicuous’ (SC), properly: -‘to front, to stand boldly out opposite. Figuratively it means –to announce (always by word of mouth to one present) and specifically –to expose, predict, declare, denounce, expound…speak, surely tell, utter, – all being undeniable attributes of a ‘messenger’(which is also present in it’s specific meaning list). Within that list, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance also uses the word ‘bewray’ (in it’s meaning of nagad) which is an old word, largely unused today meaning – ‘to reveal, divulge or accuse’.
Pause for a bit… and let this sink in…this is her function God designed – as the ‘help’ for man.
It is always interesting to see the origin of words – especially when God uses them to say something specific to us. There are no mistakes in the words He used. He wrote them with precision and design. The Hebrew root meanings filter through, giving layered and deeper meaning to the end word used. It appears, in some cases very little – if anything – may change in meaning from one to the other.
Again, if the meaning of kenegedo was indeed only the ‘positional’ aspect of the woman to the man – as is the most widely held understanding – there is another word that God could have used with no hint of anything other than ‘togetherness’. That word is ‘ummah’ – close by, side by side with, – a feminine noun (SC). Brown-Driver-Briggs adding ‘parallel to, agreeing with, corresponding to’ to it’s meaning. It’s root ‘amam’ meaning – close association… But this word wasn’t used for the woman.
There is a reason God chose kenegedo above any other in her description. The most important aspect of the woman being a ‘helper’ to him is her voice and physical presence – both being tools of communication. Physical strength or might was never in the equation for equality with man. In God’s sight Adam needed help. When someone is in need their position is of weakness, when another can meet that need –their position is of strength. How wonderful that God, once again, uses something or someone considered as ‘weak’ by this world, to show His strength and solution. This is by His design. I think because of ezer kenegedo’s meaning, women’s communication to men (especially her husband) is the most important form of ‘help’ given him. It may or may not be fully appreciated, but this is God’s provision, and was deemed ‘good’. We must remind ourselves that it is not our plans but God’s plan that is worth labouring for in this life. As women, to be a ‘help meet’ is not to support the plans or desires of men, but to be ‘a strength’ for them in this life in their walk before God. God designed both men and women to be able to meet each other’s needs –we are not independent of each other as I Cor 11 rightly says. The New Testament says ‘submit one to each other’ –this is not for the needs of the other but submitting under their strengths – accepting the help available from the other as a provision given by God for our individual and corporate walk before Him.
This is never a picture of lordship or entitlement over another –it is simply recognising and valuing what God has provided in others concerning us. When women’s physical presence and voices are removed from any aspect of society –especially leadership (including the home and church)- the situation as YeHoWaH Elohim declares in Genesis 2:18 –“is not good.” God does not rank us under or over each other –He sees us as one. There is no hint of gender roles, or female subservience implied within the meaning of ezer kenegedo, and should not therefore be added or imbued into the way we perceive a woman’s primary purpose in God’s economy.
Scripture confirms the woman’s voice and presence as being intentionally designed in her by God. It is not an isolated understanding within the Old or New Testaments. We need to look again, with fresh eyes to see what God is saying to us in the passages that are used to silence and confine the voice and presence of women. They have been used as a denial of what God has clearly purposed.
In conclusion we can see that God chose these words specifically, to clearly identify His provision of the woman’s physical voice and presence, as the-most-valuable-help needed for protecting and aiding man. It is because of this, Paul, in 1 Cor 11:10 speaks of her having authority as she was made as a messenger – having a similar function to the angels. It is not in her authority to abuse and seek entitlement over others, but simply – so there be no misunderstanding – God Himself has given her authority – to speak.
So how should ‘ezer kenegedo’ read in our English bibles? If ‘ezer kenegedo’ must be translated in two words, I think The New Living Translation is maybe the closest with ‘authority corresponding’ – especially if the old meaning of corresponding is understood – cor = ‘together’ and respond = ‘to say or do something in reply as a reaction to someone or something.’ Unfortunately it seems we have lost the meaning of close communication within today’s use. But both words, however, still come up short, and we are still inevitably robbed of some important truths in the original Hebrew. My preference therefore, would be to adopt the transliteration itself – as has been done in many other instances – ‘amen’ being just one example. When people don’t recognize ‘ezer kenegedo’ in the text, it then becomes an opportunity for them to learn it’s full meaning.
Its important to know how God sees us – as being one authorised by Him to speak in strength to men. To be able to recognise what is true from that which is a lie, or simply man’s traditions, and to make known the things hidden when freedom and liberty are for everyone in Messiah. I am an ‘ezer kenegedo.’ If also created a woman – likewise are you. May the Spirit of Yeshua enable us to walk in His strength concerning this. Amen.
Ezer Kenegedo 2 for the man’s sake
Ezer Kenegedo 3 echoes of confirmation