(Exo. 18:4) [T]he other was named Eliezer, for he said, “My father’s God was my helper; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh.”
(Deut. 33:7) “And this he said about Judah: “Hear, O LORD, the cry of Judah; bring him to his people. With his own hands he defends his cause. Oh, be his help against his foes!”
(Deut. 33:26) “There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty.”
(Deut. 33:29) “Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will trample down their high places.”
(Psa. 20:2) May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.
(Psa. 33:20) We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield.
(Psa. 70:5) Yet I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay.
(Psa. 89:19) Once you spoke in a vision, to your faithful people you said: “I have bestowed strength on a warrior; I have exalted a young man from among the people.
(Psa. 115:9-11) O house of Israel, trust in the LORD-he is their help and shield. O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD-he is their help and shield. You who fear him, trust in the LORD-he is their help and shield.
(Psa. 121:1-2) A song of ascents. I lift up my eyes to the hills-where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
(Psa. 124:8) Our help is in the name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
(Psa. 146:5) Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God,
(Isa. 30:5) [E]veryone will be put to shame because of a people useless to them, who bring neither help nor advantage, but only shame and disgrace.”
(Ezek. 12:14) I will scatter to the winds all those around him-his staff and all his troops-and I will pursue them with drawn sword.
(Dan. 11:34) When they fall, they will receive a little help, and many who are not sincere will join them.
(Hosea 13:9) “You are destroyed, O Israel, because you are against me, against your helper.”
In the vast majority of cases, ‘ezer refers to God Himself. In a few cases, the enemies of God’s people are criticized as not being the helper that God is. Indeed, ‘ezer is seen as a central element of God’s relationship with His people.
Obviously, God’s calling Eve ‘ezer does not mean that Eve is subordinate to Adam or that women are subordinate to men. If that were so, then God’s inspiring Moses, David, and the prophets to call God ‘ezer would mean that God is subordinate to Israel! Calling Eve “helper” certainly means that Eve was Adam’s complement. She completed what was lacking in Adam. But there is no basis in the scriptures to find subordination or a principle of male leadership in this word.
Perhaps our difficulty in interpreting ‘ezer can be better seen by noticing how we use “helper” in English. We speak of “mother’s little helper,” a “plumber’s helper,” being a “good helper.” In current English, “helper” carries the connotation of a subordinate — even a child.
Roget’s International Thesaurus (5th ed., Harper Collins, New York, N.Y. 1992), page 919, lists “subordinate” as the first choice for synonyms for “helper.” The Random House Unabridged Dictionary (2nd ed., Random House, Inc., New York, N.Y. 1993) lists as synonyms of “helper”: aid, assistant, supporter, backer, auxiliary, and ally. Of these, only “ally” does not connote inferiority.
Thus, if I were drowning, I’d call out, “Help!” But I wouldn’t refer to the person who rescued me as my “helper.” My rescuer truly helped me, but calling him “helper” would be too condescending — even belittling.
But these thoughts are utterly foreign to the Hebrew ‘ezer. There is no condescension in the Hebrew word at all, so that “helper” (or “help meet,” as in the King James Version) is truly a clumsy translation. In other verses, ‘ezer is used in the sense of “rescuer” or “liberator.” The word is also used in the sense of “one who fights alongside against a common foe.” “Comrade” or “ally” would come close to the sense in many contexts. Thus, the psalmist sings that God is Israel’s help, not a mere helper — but an ally so powerful that Israel must prevail.
When the United States’ armed forces came to the rescue of Kuwait, we were there to help, but we were not helpers — the U.S. military was an ally, a comrade, and an overwhelming superior to any military capability that Kuwait could have mustered. This is the sense ‘ezer used with respect to God and His relationship to His people.
Therefore, because Eve was unto Adam as God was unto Israel, ‘ezer carries with it no notion that a “helper” is inferior or subordinate. An ‘ezer is one who helps another, but not one who necessarily helps from a position of inferiority.
On the other hand, ‘ezer can refer to an inferior. In Ezekiel the “helpers” were the king’s staff-inferiors.
“Complement” is therefore a proper if not excellent translation. The Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines “complement” as —
1. something that completes or makes perfect: A good wine is a complement to a good meal. … 3. either of two parts or things needed to complete the whole; counterpart. … To complement is to provide something felt to be lacking or needed; it is often applied to putting together two things, each of which supplies what is lacking in the other, to make a complete whole.
[italics in original].
Clearly, a complement may be the more important or less important of the two parts of the whole under consideration. God was the complement of the Israelites, in that He won battles for them that they could not have won without Him, and yet the Israelites also had to fight. Just so, a general’s aides may be considered his complement, as those whom he needs to perform his duties. Thus, the word connotes neither superiority nor inferiority. Accordingly, I will normally use “complement” when referring to Eve as Adam’s helper or helpmeet.
Now ‘ezer does have a deeper significance. God’s declaring Eve as complement means that God gave Eve a special role in relationship to the man. She is to complete, finish, and make God’s creation of man good. Clearly, therefore, a wife may not, consistent with her God-given role, belittle her husband or injure his reputation. Neither may she act as an independent agent, free of concerns for the impact of her behavior on her husband. She must act as part of a greater whole.