Has the term ‘helpmeet’ ever grated on you? Perhaps you’ve wondered how to align your desire to be a helpmeet—a loving, godly, submissive wife—with your sharp mind, strong spirit, and various other gifts which don’t seem to fit neatly into the ‘submissive’ box. In this article, Maria Dyck shares how understanding the Hebrew term ‘ezer kenegdo’ helped free her from expectations in her marriage that were more cultural than biblical, and gave her a desire to lean into her identity as a helpmeet, rather than run from it.
I hurled the book across the room. What nonsense! At every page I felt belittled and chastised for my failings as a wife. I simply couldn’t read any more. When I calmed down, I picked the book up again, feeling a bit ashamed for physically hurling a book across the room—particularly since I had loaned it from a friend!
I longed to know what it meant to be a helpmeet—a loving, godly, submissive wife. And this book had promised me the answers. But what I found in its pages reminded me all too much of my Mennonite heritage and a culture of passive submission and subjugation ripe for abuse. While I wanted to be submissive, I also knew God had given me a sharp mind, a strong spirit, and various other gifts which didn’t fit neatly into the ‘submissive’ box.
Defining the Terms
For years, the term ‘helpmeet’ grated on my nerves. It seemed to imply an emptying of my own thoughts and ideas in order to serve my husband. It connoted a dying to my own desires and dreams in order to elevate his, and a life of serving coffee and sex on demand. Thankfully, as the years have gone by, I’ve gained a newer understanding and appreciation for the term. It no longer haunts me as it once did. And this shift began when I studied Scripture and came across the Hebrew phrase: ‘ezer kenegdo’.
Knowing and understanding this term has freed me from expectations that were more cultural than biblical. And it has given me a desire to lean into my identity as a helpmeet, rather than to run from it.
EZER: A POSITION OF HONOR
When God created woman, He imparted upon her a distinct identity, which she would carry for the rest of her life. In Genesis 2, God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a help meet for him” (Genesis 2:18, KJV).
The word help comes from the Hebrew word ‘ezer’, which means to rescue/save, to be strong. The Old Testament uses this word sparingly. It is found only 21 times throughout Scripture, and each time its use is significant. Ezer is used twice when referring to Eve in Genesis and three times when referring to nations on whom Israel calls for help. But perhaps the most interesting and profound use is when it is used to describe God.
“I look up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help [ezer] come” (Psalm 121:1)?
In fact, 16 times throughout the Old Testament—mostly in the Psalms—we read that God is our ezer!
Understanding this changed everything for me.
A Position of Honor
Where once I had understood helpmeet to mean a position of servitude or subjugation, I began to see it was really a position of honor. For if God was an ezer and I was ezer, then perhaps being an ezer was not the insult I had taken it to be. In fact, it seemed as if God had taken one of His most endearing qualities and bestowed a reflection of it on women as a gift to the world—a help to man and all mankind.
While being an ezer is a position of honor, it can not be accomplished without having a servant-minded heart. If God Himself came to earth and “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant,” (Philippians 2:7, NIV), and if I embrace Him as my Lord, then I too am a servant. Not a servant unseen and unloved, but one who is treasured and valued.
Fighting For His Good
Being an ezer is not about fulfilling my husband’s every wish and desire. Rather it’s about being a trustworthy companion who fights for his good. Sometimes this means celebrating him in his victories. But other times, it means holding him accountable when he makes a wrong decision. God is not our fairy godmother. In fact, sometimes the ways in which God helps us also hurt us. But out of His great love, God often gives us what we need instead of what we want.
When we serve our husbands from this position of honor, it changes the atmosphere in our marriage. I do not serve because I am a slave to my husband. Rather, I serve because I am a slave to Christ. And while I am an ezer to my husband, I am not alone. For God is my help and my shield—my ezer who enables me to walk with dignity and honor.
KENEGDO: A POSITION OF STRENGTH
The second part of the term ezer kenegdo is just as important as the first. Whereas ezer describes who we are, the word ‘kenegdo’ describes to what extent. It means: corresponding or opposite to him. To further clarify, the word ‘corresponding’ means: identical in all essentials or respects. To sum it up, kenegdo could be translated as: identical in all essentials and opposite to man. The English word ‘meet’ simply does not capture the significance of this Hebrew word.
If you grew up in a home where women were valued—free to speak their thoughts and share their opinions—then this may seem fairly obvious to you. But if you grew up in a home where men were prioritized over women and women were taught to be silent, this is a welcome truth. A woman is equally valuable, equally competent, and equally strong. Her strength and her giftings may look different than a man’s, but God created her to be a powerful ally both for her husband and for God’s kingdom.
Teammates in Life
As a young girl, I learned very early on to keep my thoughts and ideas to myself. My father ruled our home with a strong hand, and any opinion outside of his own was not considered. It was one of many reasons why I fell in love with my husband. He was the first man who truly heard me and valued me. From the beginning, he would say, “we are a team.” But it took years for me to navigate what this looked like because I struggled to speak up when necessary. I didn’t understand the position of strength God had given me. But as I learned to embrace it, our marriage benefited. My husband admires my strength because it usually is in areas where he struggles. Where I am weak, he is strong. Where he is weak, I am strong. And when we work together, we complement each other beautifully.
EZER KENEGDO: A POSITION OF GREAT RESPONSIBILITY
As I grew in my understanding of what it meant to be an ezer kenegdo, I began to realize the great responsibility that comes with this role. While it is a position of honor and strength, it has the potential to do much damage when it is used selfishly.
Perhaps you’ve heard the saying: “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” Sadly, this is often true. I see it in my husband’s face when I am having a bad day—the way he gingerly skirts around me and stays out of my way. I see it in his eyes when I lash out in criticism. And I hear it in the sigh of his voice when I’m being unreasonable. I have the power to make or break our marriage—to build up or to tear down.
While the health of a marriage rests on the shoulders of both parties, I believe a woman who takes her position as an ezer kenegdo to heart is a powerful force to be reckoned with both in the spiritual and physical realm. And she affects those beyond her marriage. As women, we carry tremendous influence within our families, churches, and communities. If we aren’t healthy women, our home isn’t healthy. If the women in our church are critical gossips, our church isn’t healthy. And if the women in our community are selfish and abusive, our community isn’t healthy.
A LIFETIME JOURNEY
Where there is a thriving marriage, home, or community, you will find women who are embracing their roles as ezer kenegdos. They are understanding the great responsibility that comes with this position. They have taken what God has entrusted to them and are using it for the good of others and for the glory of God.
Learning to be an ezer kenegdo is a lifetime journey. There are days we walk confidently and see the fruit of our obedience. But there are also days when we struggle to get out of bed and face the day. When those days come, it’s important to remember: you cannot be an ezer kenegdo and live in the fullness of your identity unless the Spirit of God dwells within you.
When I picture a woman, I think of a garden. Not the beauty or the flowers, but the soil in which everything grows. She is the source of life in her home and community. Without her, there is a great and terrible void. If those around her are to benefit from her gifts, she needs to be healthy, whole, and filled with life-giving nutrients. She cannot do this without the life of Christ living in and through her. God is not asking her to be more than He made her to be. He is not asking her to do more than He made her to do. He is, however, asking her to surrender her life to Him and allow Him to be her Ezer in a world that desperately needs her to embrace her identity.
Does Maria’s explanation of an ezer kenegdo resonate with you? Is it different from what you’ve grown up hearing? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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