The first time marriage is mentioned in the Bible, the word for Adam’s new companion is not wife, spouse, or partner. God doesn’t refer to Eve as Adam’s mate, lover, or better half. He definitely doesn’t call her the old lady. Not even the missus. No, the term God chose when he created marriage was “helper.” Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper as his complement” (Genesis 2:18).
Every time I read this, I start chuckling because this is the first time in the creation story God looks at what he made and doesn’t say, “It’s good.” Instead, when the Lord looks at the man, he says, “Hmmm. Something’s not right here. He needs help.”
You’ve probably heard the joke: God was practicing making people one day, and made a man. But after seeing the flaws and the mess he had made, he decided to try again. This time, he perfected his creation, made a bunch of improvements, and the result was a woman.
Or this one: God’s original idea was to make only men. But after taking a look at the first one, God said, “No way this dude should be on his own. He needs help!” So, he added women to the plan, and the world became a better place.
Women have known for a long time, Don’t leave a man all by himself too long. That’s not good.
OK, putting the jokes aside, at least we have to acknowledge that there’s s a startling change in the pattern established in the creation narrative, because for the first time, God looks at what he made and doesn’t say “It is good.”
As we examine the scripture, we see that God himself presents a view of marriage that is theological, practical and visionary. Right from the start, the Lord makes it clear how he wants men and women to see each other, and how to relate to each other.
Marriage was designed for husband and wife to help each other. Why? Because life is hard, and we need help. We need someone who is there day after day, committed to making our life a bit better and more bearable. With a helper like that, life is more fun. There’s more joy and satisfaction.
A lot of people think a helper is someone who is less important, less skilled, or less capable. Several dictionaries define a helper as an unskilled worker who is there to assist the tradesman or the professional. They offer synonyms like assistant, adjunct, apprentice, deputy, and sidekick. In our culture, a helper is considered an underling, a hireling, or a subordinate.
We call them gophers. We even talk about the hired help—people who do the tasks the important people don’t want to do or don’t have time to do. We see this in the novel, The Help, and the corresponding movie. It shows up in shows like Downton Abbey, too.
You can probably think of several characters in TV shows, comic books, movies, and novels who have a sidekick. There are lots of them: Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Batman and Robin, The Lone Ranger and Tonto, Han Solo and Chewbacca, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Andy Griffith and Barney Fife, Captain Kirk and Spock, Robinson Crusoe and Friday, Robin Hood and Little John, Shrek and Donkey, Moses and Aaron, Paul and Silas.
It seems almost every hero has a sidekick who provides comic relief, but also offers serious friendship and assistance along the way. It’s a classic technique in literature and drama, where sidekicks play an important role. They help the main character reach his goals or accomplish the mission. They offer friendship and provide insight. Usually, they perform tasks that are beneath the dignity of the hero. Sometimes they serve as a contrasting personality. The sidekick may be a commoner or a bumbler, allowing the audience someone they can relate with. Usually, the sidekick isn’t quite as smart, but helps the star come up with brilliant ideas. Always, the sidekick is of lesser importance.
The problem is that we actually think the Bible supports the concept of a helper as someone who is inferior. No wonder we tend to think of the wife, and indeed, of women in general, as less important, inferior, and easy to make fun of or dismiss. But that’s not what the Lord had in mind when he designed marriage, and that’s not what helper means in the Bible.
The Hebrew word for a helper in the Old Testament is ezer, and comes from a verb that means to rescue, deliver, or help. Whenever it’s used of human beings, it’s talking about someone who is bigger, stronger, more powerful, smarter, or richer who reaches out to the weak or needy. Most often, however, the word helper refers to God himself. The psalmist wrote God is my helper; the Lord is the sustainer of my life (Proverbs 54:4).
Some people think of a wife as the husband’s sidekick. He’s more important. He matters, and she doesn’t. He makes the decisions. She’s basically there to adorn his life and serve much like a classic sidekick. However, that’s not even close to the meaning of helper in the Bible.
An example of help given by someone who is stronger, to one who is weaker is 2 Samuel 14:4, When the woman from Tekoa came to the king, she fell with her face to the ground in homage and said, “Help me, my king! The king was obviously richer, more powerful, and of greater worth in the eyes of the people. Yet, he becomes her helper.
It’s astonishing that Genesis introduces woman this way, and that marriage is presented this way. In essence, the God who is our Helper created someone who will stand in for Him and provide the help the man needs. It absolutely cannot be construed to refer to a lower-ranking female who helps the more-important male. God didn’t make Eve to be Adam’s sidekick.
No, God designed marriage to be a relationship in which husband and wife are devoted to helping one another. This is the first responsibility on their job description when they get married. God is our helper, and those who are married have a second helper. Someone they can rely on, trust, and gain strength from. Someone whose aim in the relationship is to contribute toward wholeness and happiness. Someone who lends a hand and provides help in a thousand little ways, and in some huge ways.