Pursuing Partnership: Men & Women in Ministry
The Blessed Alliance – Week 4
The EZER KENEGDO
By Carolyn Custis James
A four-letter word is emblazoned on the back of my car. It follows me wherever I go. It’s a word I once thought didn’t apply to me. For years I thought I was too young. Then, after college, a stretch of singleness seemed to disqualify me because I wasn’t married and didn’t have children.
That four-letter word is the Hebrew word EZER. It’s my Pennsylvania license plate.
Of course, a custom license plate like that is easy to remember and sure to get me reported should I break the law while driving. But the risk is minor compared to the public statement I’m making. The label “ezer” is indelibly attached to every female born in the world. We are all ezers—from birth to death and a lot is riding on how firmly we embrace that label. Ezer is what our Creator names us when, in Genesis 2, he reassesses his creation and, instead of the repeated refrain of thunderous approval, “It is good!” God says,
“It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper [ezer] suitable [kenegdo] for him.” —Genesis 2:18
The church has historically relegated the ezer to a wife. So a few clarifications are needed before we proceed:
First, we need to be careful about embellishing the Creator’s words or altering the big statement he is making here. Read God’s statement again. Nowhere does God define the parameters in which it is “not good for the man to be alone.” He doesn’t mention marriage, home, family, or any other parameters. God is making a blanket statement. So although there are certainly strong implications for the ezer kenegdo in in marriage, the Creator’s words encompass every imaginable context and the entire spectrum of a female life—from first to final breath. Every girl-child born in the world is an ezer-kenegdo.
Second, we also need to avoid backing into the creation narrative from Genesis 3 where everything disintegrates, distorting human relationships. It is a common but serious mistake to retro-fit the way things are arranged in today’s world onto what God is saying here before humanity rebelled. (We’ll say more about this in a future segment). Genesis 1 and 2 must stand on their own. Not only that, but the significance of what God states at Creation governs everything that follows. This is God’s vision for the world he loves, a vision he has never abandoned, and the vision Jesus came and gave his life to recover (John 17). This vision stands in stark contrast to the world we know. So we must be cautious about importing concepts and elements that aren’t in the text. Furthermore, every other chapter in the Bible must be subjected to the scrutiny of these two chapters.
Third, for the record, God isn’t fixing the male, nor is he downsizing the female. Human beings are created at the climax of God’s creative activity. The man is a masterpiece, as is the ezer. Instead, God is reinforcing his vision that depends on his sons and daughters working together. God himself is communal—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Blessed Alliance cannot adequately reflect God’s image if we are all the same. Unity in diversity is a major biblical theme that gets stronger in the New Testament. But that theme begins right here—with the creation of the ezer-kenegdo. She is created from the man. When he sees her he sees himself: his bones; his flesh. Yet she is profoundly different from him. This is a mystery, and the differences will deepen and multiply—and are essential to the reflection of God’s image on earth.
If Genesis 1 focuses on the vertical relationship between God and his male/female image bearers, Genesis 2 focuses on the horizontal relationships between image bearers within the Blessed Alliance. And so it becomes important to understand how the triune God designed them for oneness and mutuality in that Image:
“Then God said, ‘Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness . . .in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” —Genesis 1:26-27
Next week we will look more closely at the specific words God uses to describe the female image bearer: ezer kenegdo.