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Word Study

EZER KENEGDO

Usages of 'ezer in the Old Testament show that in most cases God is an '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).

"She was to be his "helper"--at least that is how most of the translations have interpreted this word. A sample of the translations reads as follows:

‘I shall make a helper fit for him' (RSV); ‘I will make a fitting helper for him' (New Jewish Publication Society); ‘I will make an aid fit for him' (AB); ‘I will make him a helpmate' (JB); ‘I will make a suitable partner for him' (NAB); ‘I will make him a helper comparable to him' (NKJV).

[Source: Hard Sayings of the Bible by Walter C. Kaiser, Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, and Manfred Brauch]

However, the customary translation of the two words `ezer kenegdo as "helper fit is almost certainly wrong. Recently R. David Freedman has pointed out that the Hebrew word ezer is a combination of two roots: `-z-r, meaning "to rescue, to save," and g-z-r, meaning "to be strong." The difference between the two is the first letter in Hebrew. Today that letter is silent in Hebrew; but in ancient times, it was a guttural sound formed in the back of the throat. The "g" was a ghayyin, and it came to use the same Hebrew symbol as the other sound, `ayin. But the fact that they were pronounced differently is clear from such place names which preserve the "g" sound, such as Gaza or Gomorrah. Some Semitic languages distinguished between these two signs and others did not. For example, Ugaritic did make a distinction between the `ayin and the ghayyin; Hebrew did not. (R. David Freedman, "Woman, a Power Equal to a Man," Biblical Archaeology Review 9 [1983]: 56-58).

It would appear that sometime around 1500 B.C., these two signs began to be represented by one sign in Phoenician. Consequently, the two "phonemes" merged into one "grapheme." What had been two different roots merged into one, much as in English the one word "fast" can refer to a person's speed, abstinence from food, his or her slyness in a "fast deal," or the adamant way in which someone holds "fast" to positions. The noun `ezer occurs twenty-one times in the Old Testament. In many of the passages, it is used in parallelism to words that clearly denote strength or power. Some examples are:

"There is none like the God of Jeshurun, The Rider of the Heavens in your strength (`-z-r), and on the clouds in his majesty." (Deut. 33:26, [author's] translation)

"Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is the shield of your strength (`-z-r) and the sword of your majesty." (Deut. 33:29, [author's] translation)

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.

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."

The woman was never meant to be an assistant or "helpmate" to the man. The word "mate" slipped into English since it was so close to the Old English word "meet," which means "fit to" or "corresponding to" the man which comes from the phrase that likely means "equal to."

What God had intended, then, was to make a "power" or "strength" for the man who would in every way "correspond to him" or even "be his equal.""

The Torah Study for Reform Jews says, "From the time of creation, relationships between spouses have at times been adversarial. In Genesis 2:18, God calls woman an ezer kenegdo, a "helper against him." The great commentator Rashi takes the term literally to make a wonderful point: "If he [Adam] is worthy, [she will be] a help [ezer]. If he is not worthy [she will be] against him [kenegdo] for strife." This Jewish study also described man and woman facing each other with arms raised holding an arch between them, giving a beautiful picture of equal responsibility



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