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Hebrew Thoughts

‘êzer - עֵזֶר (Strong's #5828)
Help

‘êzer 'Help' עֵזֶר (Strong's #5828)

"And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him." (Genesis 2:18, KJV)

The masculine noun עֵזֶר ‘êzer means "help" (Strong's #5828, x21) as in the names ‘eben-ezer "stone of help" or Ezra "help", often spelled with an א or a ה at the end (Strong's #5830/ #5833).

The use of the root verb עֵזֶר ‘âzar (Strong's #5826, x82) in the Hebrew Bible extends to some 80+ occasions, generally of military aid, help and support from a position of supply or strength. The noun is also used of military aid (e.g., Isaiah 30:5; Ezekiel 12:14; Hosea 13:91).

David Freedman notes that the possible root behind עֵזֶר ‘êzer may have been either ‘-z-r "to rescue, save" (as the Ugaritic) and/or ‘g-z-r meaning "to be strong". The Hebrew letter (gh)ain probably, like Arabic, having previously had two forms implying two roots that may have later got confused when just one Phoenician sign served for both letters.

A survey of עֵזֶר ‘êzer's 20 or so uses reveals strong contexts and parallel terms for might or power, not ones of domestic servitude. Help is paired with shield on several occasions (Psalm 115:9-11). In over 80% of the occasions it is used, it refers to God as help. Another 3 refer to the help of man or armies. In the remaining 2 verses it refers to Adam's need of "help" in Eden, not as workforce, but as partner, as Genesis 2:20 reveals when he names all the animals but finds no "help" suitable, in this sense clearly a companion is being sought.

Based on this some commentators have suggested a new translation of v18: "I will make a power/strength corresponding to/equal to man", a relationship of equals. The term "help-mate" is a mishearing of the AV phrase, "an help meet for him" and was used in Darby's 1884 translation, "a helpmate, his like". It is clear from the word's use as a superior force, whether aid, armies or the Almighty, that no sense of inferiority can be implied from the word, if anything the opposite.

The LXX, Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, uses the word βοηθοσ boêthos (Strong's #998) to translate עֵזֶר ‘êzer. Of its 45 uses, boêthos is used 42 times to refer to help from a stronger one, from a more secure or strengthened position, without need of reciprocal help. This strengthens the idea of "help" as equal or superior rather than inferior.

   
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KJ Went has taught biblical Hebrew, hermeneutics and Jewish background to early Christianity. Their "Biblical Hebrew made easy" course can be found at www.biblicalhebrew.com.

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