I was a child of the 80’s and graduated high school in 1990, the same year that Bette Midler’s song The Wind Beneath My Wings won multiple awards at the Grammys. I vaguely remember seeing the music video on MTV with a dramatically emotive Midler standing arms crossed and belting it out. Even though Bette was not singing about biblical womanhood, many years later I now view the wind beneath my wings as I way to describe what it means to be the Ezer God created us to be.
This Hebrew word ezer has become the source of a good deal of controversy among Christians. It’s the word that has been translated by some as “help meet,” which is both the result and source of certain perspectives on the status and place of women in a biblical home or society. That word in the original language is most simply translated as “help” or “one who helps.” It was only in the King James version of the Bible, published in 1611, that the word was translated “help meet”; the New American Standard Bible translation is considered one of our most literal and it dropped the additional “meet” from every instance of the word. Even in the KJV, that rendering “helpmeet” was only used 2 of the 21 times the same word was found in the Hebrew scripture, and both of those occurrences were in Genesis when referring to Eve, the first woman (Gen. 2:18, 20). The other 19 times the word was translated only as “help” or “helper,” and most importantly those uses of the word refer to the Lord. It is God himself who is called Ezer, our Help or Helper.
Does the idea of being “helper” make you feel limited, put in your place, defensive, or maybe even confused about what you can or can’t do? Like so many things, our cultural values and assumptions have clouded how we understand the truth communicated in the scriptures. As followers of Jesus we have a constant challenge to question how we understand the Word of God in ways that are consistent, timeless, and fit with the context of the entire Bible. Scripture interprets scripture for us..
“Our soul waits for the Lord;
He is our help (ezer) and our shield.” Psalm 33:20
“My help (ezer) comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:2
When I first discovered that the Lord himself was called our “help” I was surprised and immediately felt valued and empowered. While I thought I had been taught that the term was for females only and therefore my label that represented positional authority (or lack of it), I had wondered how to use the spiritual gifts that God had graced me with in appropriate ways. When I came to understand that God, who is limitless in power and authority, is always willing to be our Helper, that all changed. I felt compelled to be a helper, to come alongside people who might need what I have been given to lead them to Jesus, live an abundant life in Christ, or just bless them in His name.
When we come to see that a woman is not a smaller addition to what a man or any other person might be or do, but the counterpart who is vital to achieve God’s purposes, our identity in Christ becomes more firmly rooted. God’s kingdom design was that both Adam and Eve needed each other not for what was lacking in the other, but because this is the good representation of being created in His image, our relational God. In examining the bible passages on the spiritual gifts given for the body of Christ, we see the gifts distributed are different for each of us, but never assigned according to gender (see especially 1 Corinthians 12). According to this perspective, an ezer offers her gifts and strengths to others willingly and becomes a woman eager to lift others up and accomplish our purpose together to glorify God.
I didn’t grow up in the church, but after several years as a Christian my husband and I found a home in a denomination. I was very surprised to find that our movement used the term “Bishop” for our highest level of leadership, because it conjured images of highly traditional vestments and maybe pointy hats. As I began to lead in ministry, I met the three Bishops, (wearing jeans and sweaters I think) and had a great deal of respect and some awe for their gifts and leadership and authority. Much to my surprise, the Lord called me to a new church last year where several current and former Bishops attended or attend now. As I became friends with one recently retired Bishop, a man who had held the position of being my overseer, I poured out my heart regarding some of the challenges I was facing. He made a comment in passing that I won’t forget, a constant reminder about one of the ways that I want to resemble Jesus. As he brainstormed some ideas with me, this humble leader remarked, “Feel free to ignore any of this, my commitment to you is just to be an ezer for you and the church, to find ways to support you and lift you up.”
Being conformed to the image of Christ looks like both the humility and the sense of confident strength and value to offer ourselves as an ezer so that others can be lifted up…like the wind beneath their wings.
Spring Arbor Free Methodist Church, Lead Pastor