Helping with Strength and Power: Woman as a Helper

I’ve been thinking lately about how words can be lost in translation even though the true meaning can still be explained or understood, it takes some of the juice out of the punch line if you don’t realize the true root of the word.

There is a particular word in Hebrew that means ‘help’, but it goes beyond that, it is:

ezer (5828: The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance)

This word was first introduced to me at a wedding, between my college friend and roommate and her long time love.  The Minister/Pastor gave a great and loving speech about marriage and what it means to be committed to each other in the biblical sense and how man and woman are united.  He could have quoted the old stand by of Corinthians, but this gentleman had a much more powerful message.  Maybe it was because I learned something new that day, but since learning what it means to be a ‘helper’ in the eyes of the LORD for your husband it certainly has taken on more meaning then the “through sickness and health until death do us part…”

The gentleman went on to say this particular word is only used a few times in the bible.  Once in describing God’s creation of Eve for Adam and then later in the old testament describing God’s union with the Israelites to help bring them strength.

Using our Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance we can find all the times ‘help(er)’ [5828] as connected to ‘ezer is used in the Old Testament.

Genesis 2:18, 2:20; Exodus 18:4; Deut 33: 7, 26, 29; Psalms 22:2, 30:20, 86:19, 115:9, 10, 11; 121:1, 2, 124:8, 146:5; Isaiah 30:5; Ezekiel 12:14 (depending on translation); Daniel 11:34; Hosea 13:9.

Genesis 2:18

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

I’ll list a few others, so you don’t have to go look them up.

Exodus 18:4

and the other was named Eliezer, for he said, “My father’s God was my helper; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh.”

Psalms 115 (is beautiful in its entirety so I included it here)

Not to us, LORD, not to us
but to your name be the glory,
because of your love and faithfulness.

2 Why do the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
3 Our God is in heaven;
he does whatever pleases him.
4 But their idols are silver and gold,
made by human hands.
5 They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see.
6 They have ears, but cannot hear,
noses, but cannot smell.
7 They have hands, but cannot feel,
feet, but cannot walk,
nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
8 Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them.

9 All you Israelites, trust in the LORD—
he is their help and shield.
10 House of Aaron, trust in the LORD—
he is their help and shield.
11 You who fear him, trust in the LORD—
he is their help and shield.

12 The LORD remembers us and will bless us:
He will bless his people Israel,
he will bless the house of Aaron,
13 he will bless those who fear the LORD—
small and great alike.

14 May the LORD cause you to flourish,
both you and your children.
15 May you be blessed by the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

16 The highest heavens belong to the LORD,
but the earth he has given to mankind.
17 It is not the dead who praise the LORD,
those who go down to the place of silence;
18 it is we who extol the LORD,
both now and forevermore.

Praise the LORD.

Deuteronomy 33:7

And this he said about Judah:

“Hear, 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!”

Deuteronomy 33:26-29

“There is no one like the God of Jeshurun,
who rides across the heavens to help you
and on the clouds in his majesty.
27 The eternal God is your refuge,
and underneath are the everlasting arms.
He will drive out your enemies before you,
saying, ‘Destroy them!’
28 So Israel will live in safety;
Jacob will dwell secure
in a land of grain and new wine,
where the heavens drop dew.
29 Blessed are you, 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 tread on their heights.”

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I found another an interesting on-line source called God’s Word to Women. They go into great detail regarding the translations and roots to the ancient Hebrew. In one of my bible studies under Beth Moore (Lifeway Bible Studies) she explained Hebrew doesn’t use vowels, so the sounds can be difficult to translate.  Here from the “God’s Word to Women” is a snippet on their take of the word ‘ezer.

Usages of ‘ezer in the Old Testament show that in most cases God is a ‘ezer to human beings, which calls to question if the word “helper” is a valid interpretation of ‘ezer in any instance it is used. “Evidence indicates that the word ‘ezer originally had two roots, each beginning with different guttural sounds. One meant “power” and the other “strength.” As time passed, the two guttural sounds merged, but the meanings remained the same. The article below by William Sulik explains this point quite well. He references R.  David Freedman and Biblical Archaeology Review 9 [1983]: 56-58).

The case that begins to build is that we can be sure that `ezer means “strength” or “power” whenever it is used in parallelism with words for majesty or other words for power such as `oz or `uzzo. In fact, the presence of two names for one king, Azariah and Uzziah, both referring to God’s strength, makes it abundantly clear that the root `ezer meaning “strength” was known in Hebrew.

[Editor’s note: ‘ezer, Ezer, and even Ezra are all variations of the primary word, azar. All mean ‘help’ and what the author of this article is referring to that the significance/importance varies with what the word is paired with.]

Therefore, could we conclude that Genesis 2:18 be translated as “I will make a power [or strength] corresponding to man.” Freedman even suggests on the basis of later Hebrew that the second word in the Hebrew expression found in this verse should be rendered equal to him. If so, then God makes for the man a woman fully his equal and fully his match. In this way, the man’s loneliness will be assuaged.

The same line of reasoning occurs with the apostle Paul, who urged in 1 Corinthians 11:10, “For this reason, a woman must have power [or authority] on her head [that is to say, invested in her].”

This line of reasoning, which stresses full equality, is continued in Genesis 2:23 where Adam says of Eve, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” The idiomatic sense of this phrase “bone of my bones” is a “very close relative” to “one of us” or in effect “our equal.”
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Here are some historically interesting ‘equals’, not necessarily all Christian, but I think a fun and fascinating look at some famous couples from our collective past.

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Summary of Mumtaz Mahal, the inspiration for the Taj Mahal.

In 1607 AD (1016 AH), Prince Khurram, also known as Shah Jahan, was betrothed to Arjumand Banu Begum who was just 14 years old at the time. She would become the unquestioned love of his life. They would, however, have to wait five years before they were married in 1612 AD (1021 AH), on a date selected by the court astrologers as most conducive to ensuring a happy marriage.

After their wedding celebrations, Khurram “finding her in appearance and character elect among all the women of the time”, gave her the title ‘Mumtaz Mahal’ Begum (Chosen One of the Palace).

Mumtaz Mahal had a very deep and loving marriage with Shah Jahan. Even during her lifetime, poets would extol her beauty, grace and compassion. Mumtaz Mahal was Shah Jahan’s trusted companion, travelling with him all over the Mughal Empire. His trust in her was so great that he even gave her his imperial seal, the Muhr Uzah. Mumtaz was portrayed as the perfect wife with no aspirations to political power in contrast to Nur Jehan, the wife of Jahangir who had wielded considerable influence in the previous reign.

She was a great influence on him, apparently often intervening on behalf of the poor and destitute.

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Justinian I and Theodora

Justinian I was the heir to the Byzantine Empire established by Constantine I and founded a second Roman capitol in Istanbul renaming it Constantinople.

…the emperor Justinian I, who was crowned in 527. In addition to legal reforms, great achievements in Byzantine art and architecture marked his rule. The glories of his reign, however, were not his alone. His wife, Theodora, ruled as his partner. Her intelligence and courage helped save and advance the Byzantine Empire.

When she was 16, Theodora traveled to northern Africa as the companion of an official named Hecebolus. She stayed with him for almost four years before heading back to Constantinople. On the way, she settled briefly in Alexandria, the luxurious capital of Egypt. While there, she adopted the beliefs of Monophysitism. This form of Christianity held that Jesus of Nazareth was wholly divine, not both human and divine as orthodox Christians believed. Because they went against accepted Church teachings, Monophysites were scorned by other Christians.

After her conversion to Monophysitism, Theodora gave up her former lifestyle. She returned to Constantinople in 522, settled in a house near the palace, and made a living spinning wool. It was here that she drew the attention of Justinian. He was 40 years old at the time, almost twice her age. Justinian wanted to marry her, but as heir to the throne of his uncle, Emperor Justin I, he could not. An old Roman law forbade government officials from marrying actresses. Justin finally repealed this law the following year, and Justinian and Theodora were married in 525.

On April 4, 527, Justin crowned Justinian and Theodora emperor and empress. When Justin died in August of that year, the couple assumed control of the Byzantine Empire. Although they did not officially rule as joint monarchs, they in fact did. Justinian allowed Theodora to share his throne and influence his decisions because he recognized her abilities and intelligence.

It was during the Nika revolt that Theodora proved her leadership. Two rival political groups existed in the empire — Blues and Greens. Disagreements over Monophysitism and orthodox Christianity had further separated them. In January 532, while staging a chariot race in the hippodrome, these two groups started a riot. They set many public buildings on fire and proclaimed a new emperor. Unable to control the mob, Justinian and many of his advisors prepared to flee. At a meeting of the government council, Theodora courageously spoke out against leaving the palace. She thought it was better to die as a ruler than to live as nothing. Her determined speech convinced all. Justinian’s generals then attacked the hippodrome, killing over 30,000 rebels. Historians agree that her courage saved Justinian’s crown.

Following the Nika revolt, Theodora and Justinian rebuilt Constantinople. They transformed it into the most splendid city the world saw for centuries. They built aqueducts, bridges, and more than 25 churches. The greatest of these is the Hagia Sophia, Church of the Holy Wisdom. It is considered to be one of the architectural wonders of the world. Its dome measures 108 feet in diameter and its crown rises 180 feet above the ground. Rich marbles and mosaics of emerald green, rose, white, blood red, black, and silver decorate its walls. In the fifteenth century it became an Islamic mosque; today it is a museum.

Theodora influenced Justinian’s legal and spiritual reforms. She had laws passed that prohibited forced prostitution and that granted women more rights in divorce cases. She also established homes for prostitutes. Even though Justinian supported orthodox Christianity, Theodora continued to follow Monophysitism. She provided shelter in the palace for Monophysite leaders and founded a Monophysite monastery in Sycae, across the harbor from Constantinople. After her death, Justinian worked to find harmony between the Monophysites and the orthodox Christians in the empire.

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Love story of an American Icon; Phoebe Anne Mosey aka Annie Oakley

She was born Phoebe Moses in Darke County, Ohio. She never attended a regular school and was introduced and taught to shoot by her father in the woods around the farm where she lived. During hard times, she helped support her family with the game she caught. Her career as a sharpshooter stated at age 17, when she defeated the noted marksman, Frank E. Butler at a competition in Cincinnati, Ohio. The two eventually married and traveled with the Buffalo Bill Show for 17 years (1885-1902). She assumed the show business name of Anne Oakley.

On a trip to Europe, Queen Victoria of England was quite impressed with her abilities, and on one occasion the crown prince of Germany encouraged her to shoot a cigarette from his mouth. Her expertness in marksmanship at the height of her career made her the best known cultural icon in the United States. At 30 paces, she could slice a playing card held edgewise, shoot holes through coins at a similar distance and scramble eggs in midair. She shot ashes out of cigarets, snuffed candles and shot corks out of bottles.

A railroad accident in 1901 partially paralyzed her, but she continued to tour regularly. In 1916, she and Frank made Pinehurst, North Carolina their winter retirement home. At the famous resort known for its golf course, fox hunting, and its trapshooting range, Anne Oakley became a teacher. She taught women how to defend themselves as well as the fine art of trap shooting. Her health began to fail, suffering from pernicious anemia (Lead Poisoning) from all the ammunition she’d handled. In 1922 the couple moved back to Darke County, Ohio where the anemia took her life. When Frank was told, he simply stopped eating and died 18 days later. The couple is buried near the woods where little Annie Mose first hunted and trapped to sustain her impoverished family. (Bio by John R. Bacak)

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An interesting piece of history from the Ukraine on Rabbi Sholom Rokeach aka Sar Sholom

Archives New York Times, Religion Notes By ARI L. GOLDMAN

Rabbi Sholom Rokeach, (1779 – September 10, 1855), also known as the Sar Sholom (in Hebrew “minister of peace”, Isaiah 9:5), was the first Belzer Rebbe.

In the town of Skohl he was influenced by Rabbi Shlomo (Flam) the Rebbe of Skohl (also known as the Lutzker Maggid), who was the personal writer and second hand of Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch, the successor to the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hasidism.

Since his uncle (and father in law) was opposed to Hasidism, Rabbi Sholom would secretly be let down the window by his wife, to learn at Rabbi Shlomo Lutzker’s Beis Midrash during the nights. He was also a disciple of the Seer of Lublin.

He composed several songs – most still sung by the Belzer Chasidim, including one tune, to (click the link to hear a version on YouTube —>) “Tzur Mishelo“, sung during the Shaleshudes third ritual meal on the Sabbath, which is still popular today.

Many of his teachings are preserved in an anthology entitled “Midbar Kadesh”.

He reigned as rebbe from 1817 till 1855.

All who visited his home would always find his wife, Malka,  by his side.

R. Haim Halberstam, the Sanzer Rebbe once commented on the palpable feeling of peacefulness permeating the couple. This atmosphere was enhanced by the unique relationship that the Belzer Rebbe had with his wife whom he consulted in all matters, both personal and rabbinic. Their unrestrained respect and admiration and their mutual devotion  are well-known to Belzer Chassidim  to this day as an example to be followed.

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C.S. Lewis found a partner late in life

Clive Staples Lewis commonly referred to as C. S. Lewis was born (29 November 1898 – 22 November 1963), and known to his friends and family as “Jack”, was one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century and arguably the most thought-provoking and influential Christian writer of the modern era. Author of the bestselling “The Chronicles of Narnia” and The Screwtape Letters.

An Irish-born British novelist, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian and a close friend of J. R. R. Tolkien—both authors were leading figures in the English faculty at Oxford University and in the informal Oxford literary group known as the “Inklings”.

In Lewis’s later life, he corresponded with and later met Joy Davidman Gresham, an American writer of Jewish background and also a convert from atheism to Christianity. She was separated from her alcoholic and abusive husband, the novelist William L. Gresham, and came to England with her two sons, David and Douglas.

Lewis at first regarded her as an agreeable intellectual companion and personal friend, and it was at least overtly on this level that he agreed to enter into a civil marriage contract with her so that she could continue to live in the UK.

Lewis’s brother Warnie wrote: “For Jack the attraction was at first undoubtedly intellectual. Joy was the only woman whom he had met… who had a brain which matched his own in suppleness, in width of interest, and in analytical grasp, and above all in humour and a sense of fun” (Haven 2006).

However, after complaining of a painful hip, she was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer, and the relationship developed to the point that they sought a Christian marriage. Since she was divorced, this was not straightforward in the Church of England at the time, but a friend, the Rev. Peter Bide, performed the ceremony at her hospital bed in March 1957.

Gresham’s cancer soon went into a brief remission, and the couple lived as a family (together with Warren Lewis) until her eventual relapse and death in 1960. The year she died, the couple took a brief holiday in Greece and the Aegean in 1960.

Lewis continued to raise Gresham’s two sons after her death. While Douglas Gresham is, like Lewis and his mother, a Christian, David Gresham turned to the faith into which his mother had been born and became Orthodox Jewish in his beliefs.

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I hope you have enjoyed this new take on what it means to be not just a helper, but an equal to your husband.

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One response to “Helping with Strength and Power: Woman as a Helper

  1. I appreciate the thought that went into this post. I know in my own marriage, my husband and I are very much each other’s strength. When we were married way back in the dark ages, we took a few days after the wedding to finish packing me up and loved me out. I was in Portland 7 days after the ceremony. That was a really hard thing for me. The only person I knew here was my brand new husband. I didn’t have a job or friends or anything. We figured this would make or break us.

    Well, here we are nearly 13 years later and I have to say they have been the very best years. Our marriage is built on equality and unity-we are as one and have been since day one. I feel very very blessed by God.

    Thank you for an awesome post to remind me again that I am the most blessed of women and I lack for nothing as long as my dearest husband is by my side and with me in all things.

    Blessed be, Tracey.

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