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I heard in a sermon podcast I was listening to, this claim:

Now the word used for helper when describing Eve is the same word used to describe God in the way he helps Israel

This being in Genesis 2:18 (NIV):

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

The point being that 'helper' is not a pejorative, but is highly honorable.

Can anyone confirm or deny this?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The key clause in Genesis 2:18 is

אֶעֱשֶׂהּ־לּוֹ עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ
ʾeʿĕśeh-lô ʿēzer kᵉnegdô
I will make for him a helper fit for him

This noun (עֵזֶר, ʿēzer, the same root that the name "Ezra" comes from) appears 21× in the Hebrew Bible.1

It is indeed used for Israel's help from the LORD, unambiguously, e.g., in

  • Ps 33:20[esv] Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield.
  • Ps 121:2[esv] My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. (cf. 124:8)

Here's the Brown-Driver-Briggs entry for it:2

BDB entry for עזר (n)

As that entry puts it, ʿēzer is not used exclusively of the LORD, but it is "especially" used of the LORD.

So, it is true that the same term that Genesis 2:18, 20 uses to refer to the "woman" (אִשָּׁה, ʾiššâ, Gen 2:22) made to go with the "man" (אָדָם, ʾādām), also refers to the LORD being a "helper" for Israel. Obviously it is not an exclusive relationship (i.e., not an exclusively "theological" term). Thus it would not be true to claim that it is, itself, a term of honour -- that comes with context.


Notes

  1. Gen. 2:18, 20; Exod. 18:4; Deut. 33:7, 26, 29; Ps. 20:3; 33:20; 70:6; 89:20; 115:9-11; 121:1-2; 124:8; 146:5; Isa. 30:5; Ezek. 12:14; Dan. 11:34; Hos. 13:9.
  2. The little dagger symbol at the beginning of the entry indicates that all occurrences are cited.
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Haha, I was in the middle of editing that typo when you did. Good answer. –  Daи May 24 at 13:05
    
@Daи - ha! I'm sure there are more (sadly!). –  Davïd May 24 at 13:06
    
I'm having a hard time not seeing עֵזֶר as inherently a "term of honour" relatively speaking from the perspective of the one being helped (sarcastic use being an exception). If one considers oneself aided, there is a form of honor given simply in acknowledging that. To not feel helped has a dishonor associated with it (e.g. Isa 30:5). Now absolutely speaking, thieves or murderers helping each other is not honorable, because the act is not honorable (e.g. Ezek 12:14); but they would still relatively hold their helpers in some form of honor by acknowledging them as helping. Thoughts? –  ScottS May 25 at 11:52
3  
@ScottS - I can see the line you're taking, but that's not how I understand semantics to work. "Relatively inherent" is a way of saying it depends on context, no? And your "relative/absotlute" distinction is just another way of saying there are different contexts. The quality of "honour" isn't conveyed by ʿēzer, but by context (cf. Is 30:5; Ezk 12:14; Dn 11:34). Contrast, e.g. hādār, which does bear this nuance. For more, see D. Geeraerts, Theories of Lexical Semantics; Cruse, Meaning in Language. –  Davïd May 25 at 14:40
    
"Depends on context"? No. Take Ezek 12:14. The word "help" can be viewed both relatively & absolutely from that context. Relatively, those helping the prince are going to be viewed by the prince with honor (else they were not helpful), while absolutely, God views the helpers with dishonor (because He is against their rebellion, v.9). So regardless of context, the one being "helped" looks on that help positively, never pejoratively. But from an outside view of the morality of the help offered, it may or may not yield a positive. So by definition, help is positive to the one so helped. –  ScottS May 25 at 17:17

I think you're focus in this verse is misplaced. Genesis 2:18 quotes G-d as saying that he will make make man a "helper corresponding to him" (Art Scroll translation) but the Hebrew says "ezer k'negdo" which literally means a "helper against him.". The Babylonian Talmud's commentary on this verse (Yevamot 63a), and Rashi's commentary, explain that the Torah is saying that she will be a helper when he is worthy, and that she will be an adversary when he. Is not worthy. It is the wife's obliation to support her husband when he seeks to do what is right and oppose him when his evil inclination leads him instead. At those times she helps him most by opposing him. That G-d does the same is obvious, but Judaism understands that women are inherrently more spiritual than men and therefore are first line of defense before our mistakes equire Divine. Intervention.

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