Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.'”
In Saturday’s Life for Leaders edition, we began to consider how Genesis 2:18 shapes our understanding of the relationship between man and woman. We saw that the woman is to be a “helper” for the man. “Helper” translates the Hebrew word ‘ezer. The most common use of this word throughout Scripture is as a description of God and the assistance God provides. Knowing this, we might rightly wonder if Genesis 2:18 establishes the woman as the superior member of the male-female pair. Is she to be the helper for the man in the way God is our helper?
The phrase “as his partner” qualifies the meaning of “helper.” The Hebrew expression used here means something like “opposite to him” or “corresponding to him.” The woman is not a stronger, wiser, and therefore preeminent version of the man. Rather, she adds distinctive and complementary strengths in the male-female partnership. She is not superior to the man. Nor is she inferior. Rather, the woman is the man’s colleague in the business of tilling and keeping God’s garden (not to mention the work of being fruitful and multiplying and filling the earth, 1:28). God intends there to be a perfect partnership between man and woman in the sphere of work, which, in Genesis, includes the realm of the family.
Of course, as we know, this partnership gets messy as a result of sin (3:16). We’ll focus on this when we get to Genesis 3. For now, however, I want to underscore God’s intentions for the working relationship between the sexes. In Genesis 2:15, God places the man in Eden “to till it and keep it.” But, in 2:18, God recognizes that it is “not good that the man should be alone.” The context of this statement relates to the man’s work. The Lord recognizes that he needs a business partner, so to speak, one who as “helper” brings needed capabilities to their working relationship. Yet, as the partner to the man, the woman is not his superior even though she is called his helper. Rather, man and woman are equal partners in the work of the garden.
Today, there is much conversation about the roles of men and women in the workplace. In her bestselling book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg examines the often complex relationships between male and female leaders, pointing to systems and patterns that limit the contributions of women (and men as well, for that matter). Though Sandberg doesn’t mention Genesis 2:18, she assumes that women and men need to discover how to work together effectively. Those of us who see workplace relationships in light of Genesis may not agree with everything Sandberg writes, but we can embrace the ideal of a partnership between man and woman that enables workers of both sexes to flourish, as well as the world in which they work.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
When you read God’s observation that the man needed “a helper as his partner,” what comes to mind?
Have you experienced workplace relationships between men and women that fleshed out this reality, however imperfectly?
What do you think helps men and women to be effective partners in their work?
Gracious God, thank you for ensuring that we are not alone in this world, even and especially in our work. Thank you for choosing to create the woman as a partner for the man. Thank you for how this model of perfect partnership can teach and encourage us today.
Lord, as you know, workplace relationships among men and women are often complicated, for all sorts of reasons. May your intentions for us guide and inspire us. Help us as men and women to work together in a way that honors you and enables us to be faithful in the work you have given to us. Amen.