In Half the Sky, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Kristoff and WuDuun document the global exploitation of women—an abuse to which we have become indifferent. According to WuDunn and Kristoff, the wholesale degradation of women is not often considered newsworthy. They write:
When a prominent dissident was arrested in China, we would write a front-page article; when 100,000 girls were routinely kidnapped and trafficked into brothels, we didn’t even consider it news (Kristoff and WuDunn, xiv).
When more than 100 million females vanished in 1990, Noble Prize researcher Amartya SenSen noticed a correlation between a culture’s devaluation of females with steep drops in their numbers (Kristoff and WuDunn, xv). By contrast, in those communities where gender equality is valued, the ratio of women to men resembles gender ratios in the United States. The message is clear. When culture values women and men equally, these very attitudes stem the abuse of women. What is more, when dollars are invested in women’s health, education, and businesses, we not only raise women’s standard of living, but that of their families and communities. Educating women reaps clear social benefits—these women elevate the health, economic, and educational standards within their social networks. Perhaps you are like me when you read this research. You cannot help but remember God’s purpose in creating woman as a strong helper.
According to Genesis, the only cloud hanging over Eden was man without woman: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner” (Gen. 2:18, NRSV). What is the good or strong help women offer? According to R. David Freedman, the Hebrew word used to describe woman’s help (ezer) arises from two Hebrew roots that mean “to rescue, to save,” and “to be strong” (Archaeology Review (9 : 56–58). Ezer is found twenty-one times in the Old Testament. Of these references, fourteen are used for God and four for military rescue. Psalm 121:1–2 is an example of ezer used for God’s rescue of Israel: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”
The quality of Eve’s help is never that of an inferior or subordinate. Eve by definition was created to lend a vital form of power. When you remember “woman’s creational DNA” as ezer—as strong help, it explains two perplexing issues. First, it shows how women, as a whole, never perform according to the cultural devaluation made of them. Throughout history and within Scripture, we observe women’s successful leadership, which, I tell my students, is a fact not readily incorporated into curricula used in churches, colleges, or seminaries. Second, if ezer is woman’s “creational DNA,” this also explains why women are so devastated and demoralized when churches fail to recognize their God-intended purposes. Treating females as inferior and subordinate violates an essential component of their calling as ezer. And, it also explains why the more we recognize women as powerful help, the more they in turn extend strong help to others.
When churches and mission organizations recognized women’s capacity as ezer on mission fields and ministries throughout the 1800s, women’s empowerment and release led to quantum growth in Christian faith around the globe. Moreover, as these female missionaries began serving, they also elevated the education, commerce, and health in the very communities where they served.
What if with every female who comes to faith, with every girl who enrolls in Vacation Bible School, with every book we write on dating, and with every youth curriculum we publish, we present women not in terms of their ability to captivate by their physical appearance, or their passivity so as not to offend men, but by their calling as ezer—a help likened to God’s rescue.
I remember growing up in a Jewish neighborhood. If I wanted to play with my neighbor friends on Saturdays, I had to join them in Saturday school. It was there that I encountered the strong women of Scripture: Deborah, Miriam, Jael, Esther, Rahab, and Ruth. My Jewish teachers were careful to show that every girl in the room had the capacity for enormous leadership as an ezer, as God’s envoy in this world. It was one of the most empowering experiences I had as a child. Perhaps it was in Saturday School that I discovered my dignity and worth as a female, created like Eve, to bring a special version of rescue to our world. Our task as ezer is not to wait for permission from men to serve. My vocation comes from God, who from the beginning created me as a powerful agent of rescue.
As evangelicals who hold a high view of Scripture, should we not also cast similar vision for our daughters today? Rather than suggesting that their leadership repels males, could we not celebrate our daughters as ezers, as powerful help to their communities, just as organizations and researchers are now discovering? Rather than limiting their access to positions of leadership or requiring their passivity in relationships with males, let’s equip our daughters with the truth about their creational DNA—to provide strong rescue. As my niece used to sing in her Christian school:
I am a promise, I am a possibility
I am promise with a capital P
I am great big bundle of potentiality
I am a promise to be, anything God wants me to be.
This to me is the teaching of Scripture.