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The Divine Purpose for the Woman: Man's `ezer Kenegdo

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David A. Magalong

Genesis 1:27.


God created man A

in His image; B

in the image of God B

he created him; A

male and female B1

He created them." A1

This is the first poetic statement in the Bible. Its first part is structured as a chiastic A-B-B-A, where the same letter means identical contents. The second part, the B1-A1 portion, explains or expands the idea of the first group through a parallelistic structure, where B1 expands on B and A1 expands on A. The poetic parallelism between the phrases "image of God" (B) and "male and female" (B1) thus reveals that the "image of God" is reflected not only in the man, or the "male," but in both "male and female." In other words, the one, standing alone, cannot fully express the image of God without the other: it takes the collective attributes and functions of both man and woman to fully reflect the image of God. The creature of performance (the "male") cannot completely reflect the image of God without the creature of relationship (the "female"). For in the first part of Genesis 1 God is portrayed as the One who performs, who works, as the Creator of the universe (Genesis 1:1-25). But in second part of Genesis 1 as well as in Genesis 2 He is portrayed as the One who enters into partnership with another in the creation of man ("Let US make man in OUR image..." Genesis 1:26); as the One who initiates relationship with the man as He brings him into the place of intimate fellowship - the garden (2:7-8); as the One who enters into covenant with him through His word (2:16-17; also Genesis 1:28-29); and the One who meets the man's personal need for a companion-partner (2:18ff.). God, perfect in performance, perfect in relationship, created man and woman to reflect those two dimensions of his image. In fact in Genesis 1 the title used for God is the generic term "Elohim" which emphasizes His transcendence as the Creator of the universe, while in Genesis 2, His covenant name, "Yahweh" appears for the first time, the name that signifies relationship.

The poetic parallelism between the phrases "image of God" and "male and female" when related to the divine declaration of intent in verse 26, "Let US make man in OUR image, in OUR likeness..." yet reveals another aspect of the image of God in the man and woman. For the first time in the sequence of His creative acts, God, at this final act of creation, expressedly enters into partnership with another - "Let US make man..." As God works in partnership with another so he creates man with the same capacity for partnership - "male and female he created them," that is, man and woman are to reflect the divine image by expressing that example of divine partnership on earth. That is why after God appoints the man to be tiller of the soil in the Garden (Genesis 2:15), He proceeds to create the woman to be his partner-helper in fulfilling that task (Genesis 2.18).

When God said in Genesis 2:18 that "it is not good for the man to be alone," he did not mean simply that the man was feeling lonely. In fact, the man did not even have that awareness until after he named the animals (Genesis 2:20). For it was through that encounter with the lower orders that God intended to bring about that awareness in the man. The God of relationship was thereby making man aware of his need for true human community, for intimate relationship with another after his kind. Thus, after he had named the animals, it is reported that "but for Adam, there was not found a helper suitable for him."

The divine words, "it is not good for the man to be alone," rather expressed the divine intent, that man, by himself alone, without a partner-companion, cannot fully express the purpose of God - which is to reflect His image on the earth. In this second chapter, which provides a more detailed description of the creation of man previously reported in Genesis 1:26-27, the meaning of the "image of God" in man and woman is given a more concrete exposition and description. To understand better how the image of God is reflected in man and woman, we need to properly interpret the meaning of God's proposed solution to the man's need for community: "I will make a helper [Hebrew`ezer] suitable [Hebrew kenegdo] for him."

`Ezer means "help, succour, support".{5} It is a probably a derivative of the verb `azar,{6} a primary root which means "to surround",{7} and thus the meaning "to defend, protect, aid, help, support." But new studies have suggested that the word more possibly comes from a combined root which carries the main idea of "strength, power" that "rescues, saves" another.{8} The noun is used 21 times in the Old Testament and an analysis of each use reveals, indeed, that the idea of "strength" or "power" is basic to its meaning. The word, for example, is best translated "strength" in Psalm 89:19 (so NIV). In a number of passages it is used in parallelism to words that clearly denote strength or power. For example, In Deuteronomy 33:7 it is used in parallelism with the word `rab ("sufficient" - KJV, "strengthen" - NRSV); in Deuteronomy 33:26 and 29 it is used with ga`avah ("majesty" - BDB); in Psalm 20:2 it is used with sa`ad ("strength" - KJV, ASV; "support" - NIV, NRSV). It is also often used together with words that denote protection and deliverance (Exodus 18:4; Psalm 33:20; 70:5; 115:9-11) - again, the idea of a strength or power that supports or rescues.

This understanding of the meaning of `ezer indicates that the woman, who is designated by that title, is to be a source of strength and support for the man as his partner in the work God has given him to do. That she was taken from the "rib" of the man, a bone ("bone of my bones" - v. 22), the basic substance of her creation (Genesis 2:21), does indeed imply her role as a strength and support, as



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