Christian Marriage Sermon Notes
#4 A Helper Suitable for Him
Pastor Jeffrey J. Meyers
This history, this account of the first man and woman in Genesis 2 is not simply history, not only history, but historical theology. This history has been written to explain the world of humanity, specifically the relation between a man and his wife. In truth, Genesis 2:18-24 contains the Bible’s entire doctrine and practice of marriage in a nutshell. Everything is here. Moreover, the compact character of the account means that the Holy Spirit has infused every little detail, every word with enormous significance.
Think about this. Of all the things we would like to know about mankind’s pre-fall existence (for example, did animals kill one another? What was Adam and Eve’s appearance of age when God created them? Were they created at the perfect age of 42? Did they have belly buttons), of all the interesting details that God might have told us about, what he does tell us about is marriage. This is because marriage is essential to human life and to the completion of the mandate that God has given mankind. Marriage is that weighty.
This story of Man and Eve’s union is the only recorded human history before the fall. In fact, as we shall see, the only recorded human speech before the fall is not a hymn or even a prayer, but a poetic love song—the first man’s speech directed toward his new woman. But we are not there yet. This morning we pick up were we left off in the middle of v. 18. Actually, we will park next to just one word in this verse—the designation “helper.”
And the LORD God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him” (Genesis 2:18).
What’s the Difference?
The Christian church has struggled mightily with just how to formulate and understand the difference between male and female, husband and wife, not merely physiologically, but also in their complex relations with one another. Unfortunately, we as Christians have often settled for less than adequate conceptions of how we relate to one another and to the world as male and female, oftentimes borrowing, without much critical reflection, cultural and philosophical conceptions from outside of the Scriptures.
For example, in our own day, far too much of Christendom in the West seems intent on effacing the differences between male and female, husband and wife. Here the church seems to be giving in to the ever increasing democratization of American culture, a culture which seems to exercise an increasingly totalitarian reach into all the globe. With all the evidence that boys and girls are different, not merely bodily, but psychologically and in ways that cannot be quantified, our whole culture has been bullied into silence about these differences. And yet. . . Christians cannot but be baffled by the paradoxical cultural chaos that has been set in motion in modern times. On the one hand, we shout and spit about the equality of men and women—and not just equality, but their essential sameness. But then, on the other hand, while we are trying to level out all distinctions in the personal, social, and family spheres of life, we are at the same time accentuating the biological/sexual difference with the most sensual, pornographic exploitation of women in history. It boggles the mind.
But this is just the latest example of the confusion that has crippled the Christian church for centuries. We have never been able to shake ourselves free from the contamination of alien cultural and philosophical misconceptions of the nature of male and female. We have not been attentive to the “norming” sanity of the Word of God. For example, one of the most dangerous and powerful contaminants comes from the Greeks. And it is simply put: Men think, women emote. Men are logical, women are emotional. It is the stupidest, most blatantly contrary to fact assertion that was ever made in the history of humanity. No Christian ought to countenance such a ridiculous error. In due time I will address this. I bring it up now only to introduce the important questions we will ask in the next few weeks as we move through Genesis 1:18-25. Now, as Allender and Longman say in their excellent book Intimate Allies: “We have a choice: we can either delight in diversity or destroy distinctions” between men and women. But delighting in diversity presupposes that we get the diversity right and don’t impose an alien diversity on male and female.
What does it mean to be male and female? What does it mean to relate to one another as male and female in marriage? How do we function together as husbands and wives to fulfill the creation mandate to bring glory to God by ruling the creation? And how does being man and woman satisfy this deficiency of aloneness that God himself has declared is not good? The answers to these questions must be progressively unveiled for us as we move through the relevant Scriptural passages. There is no simple slogan or single word that will capture the richness of the relations between male and female, husband and wife. This morning I want to focus on one aspect of that relation. The one mentioned first in the Scriptures.
The Gift of a Helper
The first word used by God to describe the woman and her relationship with Adam is the word “helper.” Yahweh says, “I will make him a helper corresponding to him” (Gen. 2:18). What does this mean? What does it mean to be a helper? Well, first of all, it is imperative to say something about what it does not mean. To be a helper does not mean that the woman is man’s servant or slave. It does not mean that the husband has absolute sovereignty over his wife to use her in any way he sees fit. As we shall see in future studies, the man’s sinful inclination will be to dominate and tyrannize his wife. The Lord is not giving Adam permission to do so here. As if he would be justified in treating her as household “help,” in the same category as a hired servant. Here I am distancing myself from some of the unhealthy distortions of “male headship” that are too often found in our own circles. In some of these groups a wife’s life must be totally regulated by the husband. She must punch the time clock ever day for her husband, be told by him what she can and can’t wear, and even get permission to get her hair cut. In these situations a man’s house may be his castle but it becomes a dungeon for the women and children.
But the word “helper” is not a slur; indeed, it does not have any negative connotations whatsoever. Just the opposite. The Hebrew word used here, the noun rzu (’ezer) is only used about 20 times in the Old Testament. Interestingly, it is most often used in reference to the Lord as man’s helper. Consider the following passages:
Moses has two sons by Zipporah, the name of one was Gershom (for he said, “I have been a stranger in a foreign land”) and the name of the other was Eliezer (for he said, “The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh") (Exodus 18:3-4). Note that Eli-ezer is a compound name made up of Eli (“my God”) and ’ezer (“helper”). The familiar name Ebenezer comes from 1 Sam. 7:12, “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us” (1 Sam. 7:12). It means “rock” (eben) of “help” (’ezer).
And this he said of Judah: “Hear, Yahweh, the voice of Judah, and bring him to his people; Let his hands be sufficient for him, and may You be a helper against his enemies” (Deut. 33:7).
There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides the heavens to help you, and in His excellency on the clouds (Deut. 33:26, see also vs. 29).
May He send you help from the sanctuary, and strengthen you out of Zion (Ps. 20:2).
Our soul waits for the Yahweh; He is our help and our shield (Ps. 33:20).
But I am poor and needy; make haste to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O Yahweh, do not delay (Ps. 70:5).
O Israel, trust in Yahweh; He is their help and their shield (also vss. 10 & 11).
“I will lift up my eyes to the hills--From whence comes my help? My help comes from Yahweh, who made heaven and earth” (Ps. 121:1-2).
Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God (Ps. 146:5).
"O Israel, you are destroyed, But your help is from Me,” says Yahweh (Hosea 13:9).
I cite all of these passages primarily to impress upon you the fact that there is no essential subordination, no inferiority, no bondage or slavery implied in being someone’s “helper.” This is the importance of that fact that the majority of cases in the OT usually refers to divine assistance. Here again we see that the woman as companion takes the place of God in some sense. God is not going to be at Adam’s elbow snapping his miracle-working fingers whenever he needs help. Adam will need human help to overcome this aloneness. Which brings up another connection that often goes unnoticed. What is the woman to help with? Is she one who helps the man with his work? That is surely implied, but is that all? I don’t think so. The immediate preceding context of Genesis 2:18b is Genesis 2:18a. There the essential “problem” for Adam was identified by God as his being “alone.” Now, the very next declaration by Yahweh is that he will make for Adam a “helper suitable for him.” The woman is a helper in the sense that she will help solve man’s problem of being alone. Adam is given a gift of another person to be with, to speak to, to have personal union with. He is given a woman to help him with his loneliness. Interestingly, Allender and Longman confirm what I said in my last sermon:
God does not exclusively fill the human heart. He made mankind to need more than himself. The staggering humility of God to make something that was not fully satisfied with the Creator and the creation is incomprehensible (Intimate Allies, p. 146).
In the light of this, the wife’s calling as a helper becomes clear. A wife’s “calling is to [be a helper in the sense that she is] a warrior of relationship, a guardian of truth in relationship, one who is made to uniquely reflect God’s heart for relationship and his hatred of loneliness” (Intimate Allies, p. 148).
Surely you can see the implications of this for masculinity. Men are not self-sufficient. If the wife is given by God as man’s helper, then every man must know and acknowledge that he needs help. Simply put, if the woman is a helper, the man needs help. But confessing the need for help does not come easy to fallen men.
Christians husbands, do you acknowledge that you need help? Are you humble enough to recognize that without your wife you are helpless. Out with this macho, American self-reliant pride. You can’t live without your wife. You can’t accomplish what you need to accomplish without her. Without her you are alone. Every married man knows this in his heart of hearts. His wife and kids go away for a week and he plans all of these great projects. He thinks, “I will have all this time alone to accomplish all the things that I have wanted to accomplish for months.” But then what happens? She leaves and he sits in front of the TV incapacitated. The house is too quiet. He has no helpmeet. He’s hamstrung. Or when the wife gets sick and is bedridden for any length of time, then the husband really learns how indispensable she is.
Christian wives, are you presently engaged in helping your husband? Are you his companion. Are you a “warrior of relationship” or have you given up?
Name It and Claim It
For a man to concede that he needs help and that his wife is there to provide it, is only the first step. Once he humbly acknowledges this, the husband must learn how to elicit that precious help from his new spouse. Adam had to learn this even before his new wife is brought to him. He had to learn the value of helpers and the proper method of rule by service. How does he learn this? Well, but naming the animals (Gen. 2;19-20).
Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him (Genesis 2:19-20).
Of course, Adam learns how he needs a suitable or fitting helper by observing the paired animals, but for now, I want you to consider his naming the animals. This is often missed. If the only reason the animals were brought to Adam was for him to observe that they all had mates and he didn’t, then there would not have been any need to name them. Think about that. But he does name them. Just as he names his new mate in 2:23 and 3:20. The two activities, I believe, are related. The animals are brought to Adam and he names them; then the woman is brought to Adam and he names her (Gen. 2:23). What his this naming all about? How does it relate to the creation of Eve?
In a nutshell, by naming the animals 1) Adam images God in establishing personal ties with those that he has been called to serve and guard, and 2) Adam learns that ruling necessarily involves careful analysis and accurate knowledge about those given into your care. Mankind not only owes the animal world such a service, but this is also a fundamental service that men owe to their spouses.
Once again, Adam is imaging God. In Genesis one, God named the new things he created. Now God brings these animals to man for him to name them himself. Adam learned to speak and name things by listening to God. God shows his personal involvement with his creation in that he gives his own names to the things he makes. Don’t let this escape your attention. Giving names to things and people constitutes personal relations. God didn’t assign numbers to things.
To name something or someone is to come to know it or her in some measure. In other words, if you have a name for something, then you have some knowledge of that thing or person. Adam was told to rule over the earth, including the animals (Gen. 1:26-28). This ruling was be accomplished, first of all, by serving and guarding the garden (Gen. 2;15). Now all these animals are brought to him to rule, that is to serve and to guard (just like the woman will be brought to him, Gen. 2:22b). And the first thing he does is not to start barking out orders or passing laws or harnessing the bunnies with yokes. . . the first thing he does is names them—an activity which implies careful observation in order to learn something about the nature of the animal.
Here’s the point: Before you can rule and guard, you have to know what and who it is you are given to rule and guard. No one can effectively rule over people (whether as a manager in company, a father over his family, an elder over a flock of God’s people, a woman over her children, a Sunday school teacher over a classroom)—no one can effectively rule over others who does not first seek to understand them. If ruling is service, then one cannot possibly serve another unless you know who that other person is, what they love, hate, what they are good at, and what they truly need.
Adam learns this when he gives appropriate names to the various animals. Animals have their own place in God’s creation, even apart from their usefulness to man (remember Job 38-40). But in so far as animals and humanity interact, the animal world is there to teach man how to rule. Remember that the wisest man in the Old Testament, Solomon, as a new Adam named plants and animals as training for ruling over men (1 Kings 4:29-34). Witness the Proverbs, which direct us to the plant and animal world to gain wisdom (“Go to the ant, you sluggard,” Prov. 6:6). God created the animals to teach mankind. Dealing with animals is training for dealing with people. This is one of the reasons why we domesticate animals and make them household pets and then give charge of them (in some measure) to our children. Why? It’s fertile ground for learning how to care for another. Children learn that if you don’t properly understand the needs of your pet dog, her or she will not thrive or maybe even live. If you don’t your pets right, they won’t be very good companions. These are very simple lessons, you might say, but they are foundational for later life. Adam’s service to the animals and plants is preparation for his leading (serving) another human being. He will learn how to rule first by gaining wisdom in the garden dealing with plants and in the field with these animals, then Yahweh will bring a woman for him.
As we shall see when we move through the biblical data that speaks to marriage and the role relationship between a husband and wife, the husband will have the leadership role in the family. He will be the head and ruler. The one to whom the wife must submit and the children must obey. What does it mean to be the head? What does it mean to be the ruler and leader? Well, one rules by serving! Adam cannot successfully bully plants and animals. He must learn about them first. He must accurately categorize and classify them before he begins using them. Before you can guard, you have to serve. That is, you have to know how valuable and precious what you are to guard is.
Back to the Mystery of Marriage
Adam and every husband must first understand the woman’s proper nature and function. She has been given to man as a helper, as we have seen. This implies no essential inferiority. She is not merely an assistant. She is certainly not a servant or slave. She images God by being an ever present help to her husband in his time of need. And his need is primarily for companionship.
But she also helps in the accomplishment of the “cultural mandate” (Gen. 1:26-28). At the beginning of the sermon I mentioned various erroneous ways in which fallen cultures (even Christian cultures) have sought to explain the differences between men and women. And I have explained one of the proper differences this morning—the woman is given to man as a “helper.” Men need help and women are created to be helpers. One of the ways in which this works in the biblical world view is very simple, deceptively simple: men start things and women finish them. Men start things, and women finish them. This is how God has made us. Here at the beginning of the history of humanity, Adam is created first but cannot complete his task unless he has a second, a helper. The woman is created to help Adam finish his work.
Consider some examples of how this—men start things, women finish them—works in our daily lives. Men begin the process of procreation, for example, but their wives finish the job (as every women well knows!). Men buy the house, but the woman makes it into a home. Women tend to put the finishing touches on the projects that we as men initiate. Even better, women will “glorify” what the man begins. This is part of what Paul means when he says that “the woman is the glory of man” (1 Cor. 11:7). Just as mankind is the image and glory of God in order to bring glory to God by finishing the glorification of the world initiated by God himself in Genesis one, so also the woman is the image and glory of her husband in order to bring honor to him by helping him complete his work. The wife will complete and carry forward the work of her husband. This same relationship holds true for Christ and his bride, the Church. What Jesus initiated is carried on by his bride. In fact, Jesus leaves and commissions his bride to go into all the world and complete the mission that he began: to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19). It will be Jesus’ bride that brings glory to him by finishing the work that he began. This being the case, there cannot be any shame or humiliation in a wife’s joyous acceptance of such a calling.
 Dan Allender and Tremper Longman, Intimate Allies: Rediscovering God’s design for Marriage and Becoming Soul Mates for Life (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1995), p. 144. For the most part, I am impressed with this book and recommend it to you.