In Genesis 2:18 God said, “I will make him a helpmeet (helper).” What does the bible mean when it says the wife is the helpmeet? Read part of this chapter from Your Marriage God’s Way to learn the biblical definition of helpmeet.
Table of Contents
- A Helpmeet (Helper) Comparable to Him
- A Helpmeet (Helper) Suited to the Husband
- Helping Is a Two-Way Street
- What Does a Wife’s Help Look Like Practically?
- The Virtuous Wife of Proverbs 31
- Three Threats to a Wife as a Helpmeet
- Praise for Such a Helpmeet
A Helpmeet (Helper) Comparable to Him
Some women might find it offensive to be identified as their husband’s “helpmeet,” but the title does not imply that Eve was insufficient in some way. Instead, the term “helpmeet” identifies Adam’s inadequacy! In the Amplified Bible, Genesis 2:18 reads, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good (sufficient, satisfactory) that the man should be alone.’” Woman is the helpmeet man needs because he is lacking without her. God created woman to remove man’s deficiency:
To call a woman a helpmeet is not to emphasize her weakness, but her strength. Not to label her as superfluous but as essential to Adam’s condition and to God’s purpose in the world. Helpmeet is a position of dignity given to the woman by God Himself.Richard and Sharon Phillips, Holding Hands, Holding Hearts (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2006), 26-27.
The Hebrew word translated “helpmeet” is ezer, and it means “help” or “one who helps.” The word occurs 21 times in the Old Testament, including twice in Genesis 2—first in verse 18, then again in verse 20 when Adam named the animals and could not find “a helpmeet comparable to him.” In the other 19 appearances, ezer is never used in a negative sense. The term isn’t used to speak of a sycophant, minion, or slave. Instead, it is used to describe great strength and support. Consider these verses:
- “Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord, the shield of your help [ezer] and the sword of your majesty!” (Deuteronomy 33:29).
- “I will scatter to every wind all who are around him to help [ezer] him, and all his troops” (Ezekiel 12:14).
Considering these contexts, identifying a woman as her husband’s ezer reveals her as a powerful and influential companion.
God as Our Ezer
We see the word ezer used 11 times in the Psalms. Every time, it describes God as our helper. Some examples include:
- “Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help [ezer] and our shield” (Psalm 33:20).
- “Make haste to me, O God! You are my help [ezer] and my deliverer” (Psalm 70:5).
- “O Israel, trust in the Lord; He is their help [ezer] and their shield” (Psalm 115:9).
The very word used to describe a woman’s role is a title that describes God Himself! Because the identification of God as our helper does not make us think less of God, we should not let it think it diminishes a woman’s role as her husband’s helper.
The Holy Spirit as Our Helper
In the New Testament, Jesus used the title of “Helper” in reference to the Holy Spirit when He promised not to abandon the disciples after His departure:
- “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper” (John 14:16).
- “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name…” (John 14:26).
- “It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you” (John 16:7).
What a privilege for women to carry the same title Jesus gave to the Holy Spirit! The title of ezer or helper is not one of inferiority but of honor.
The Commendable Nature of Helping
Biblically speaking, helping and serving are two of the most admirable actions we can engage in as Christians. Jesus modeled such behavior and called His followers to do the same:
Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:26-28).
Few actions are commanded as often in Scripture or look more like Christ than helping and serving. As a result, wives should find it encouraging to be called their husbands’ helpmeet. They should not let society’s stereotypes influence their thinking. Instead, they should joyfully embrace the role God has given them. Well-known author and speaker on marriage Nancy Campbell says,
[Ladies] are you feeling base and discouraged? Don’t listen to these lies any longer. Lift up your head and embrace your mandate from God. You are not working for any earthly employer, but for the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Sovereign God of the universe. When He calls you a helpmeet you can hold your head high.
A Helpmeet (Helper) Suited to the Husband
You would think that if God called wives to be a helpmeet (helper), He would have provided specific instructions on how to help! But interestingly, there is no list in Scripture telling wives how to fulfill this role. I suspect this is because every man is unique. Every husband has different strengths and weaknesses, which makes it impossible to absolutely say how a wife should help because men will want— and need—help in different ways.
Some men love to cook and enjoy taking on that responsibility. For men who struggle just making toast, they will find it helpful if their wives do the cooking. Some men could not balance a checkbook if their lives depended on it, and for those men, it will be helpful if their wives handled the finances. For other couples, the wives feel better about letting their husbands oversee the budget. The important point about being a helpmeet is that wives have the opportunity to learn what their husbands need, then strive to help in those ways.
Let me share an example from my own life. Much of my ministry revolves around preaching, and Sunday’s sermon receives significant attention. I go over the message twice each week with Katie, and her feedback greatly improves it. She is a godly woman who knows the Word well, so she makes wonderful contributions. A weakness I had when I started pastoring was sharing a lot of technical information in my sermons, but little in the way of application. My wife has helped me in this area by regularly asking, “What does this have to do with our lives? How is this going to challenge us in the different roles we find ourselves?”
Katie has also helped me to speak more clearly, letting me know when something I say is confusing. I might respond, “This is what I was trying to say,” and she will say, “That’s not how it sounded before. What you just said makes more sense.” Because of this feedback, I often say from the pulpit, “When I was going over the sermon with Katie…” The congregation knows how much Katie helps me, so I often hear people say, “You two make a great team.” And they’re right! I am a better preacher because of the time and effort Katie has committed to going over my sermons with me.
While your husband probably isn’t a preacher, the principle is still the same. As a wife, you want to look for the unique areas in which your strengths can complement your husband’s needs and weaknesses.
Hopefully, a wife will be committed to helping her husband even if the way she helps is not something she enjoys doing. Consider what happens when children say they want to help. When we give them suggestions for what they can do, they sometimes respond, “I would rather do this instead.” As a result, the children end up not being much help at all. Unfortunately, some wives have a similar attitude. They say they want to help their husbands, but only if they can do something they enjoy doing. Wives who have this attitude can end up not being much help to their husbands.
Helping Is a Two-Way Street
One of the most common complaints I hear from wives is “My husband doesn’t communicate with me!” Wives are not mind readers, and husbands are notorious for giving short and sometimes ambiguous answers. Plenty of wives who desire to be good helpmeets cannot do so because they don’t know what their husbands want. Husbands can help their wives tremendously by communicating with them clearly and more frequently. I will say it like this: Husband, help your wife be your helpmeet by letting her know how she can help you.
Also, just because God graciously gave Adam a wife to complement him and help meet his needs does not mean that a wife should endlessly serve her husband while he does not lift a finger. Though Scripture identifies wives as helpmeets, husbands are also to help their wives. There may even be times when a husband is called to take over some of his wife’s responsibilities.
Katie has a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum, which means she gets extremely sick during pregnancy. During this season, Katie can barely get out of bed some mornings, much less care for five other children eight and under. We homeschool, so they need their work supervised. Our youngest child needs to be watched so she does not fall down the stairs, put something in her mouth that she should not, or find herself crushed when her older brothers wrestle with each other.
By God’s grace, my job has a flexible schedule. On those days (or weeks) when Katie’s sickness is worst, I stay home in the morning and work later in the evenings. I also take over several of Katie’s everyday responsibilities. Every time I “play mom,” I am reminded of how hard my wife works, and this causes me to be very thankful for her.
What Does a Wife’s Help Look Like Practically?
Just as the curse was pronounced on Adam’s work, it also was pronounced on Eve’s labors. God’s Word reveals the two areas in which He primarily wants women invested. In Genesis 3:16, He said to Eve, “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” In this passage, God mentioned a woman’s children and husband because this is where most of her time and energy are committed and needed. This pattern continues all through Scripture: When God speaks about a wife’s calling in life, her husband, children, and home are emphasized. For example, 1 Timothy 2:15 says women “will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.” We know from other passages in Scripture that this doesn’t mean women are spiritually saved by having children. So what does it mean that women “will be saved in childbearing”?
First, raising children is the primary sphere of ministry in which married women serve the Lord and work out their salvation. Second, in this verse, “saved” is used synonymously with sanctified. Any mother can tell you raising children is sanctifying! Is there any other occupation that teaches patience, gentleness, self-denial, and self-sacrifice more than mothering? My wife says nothing in her life causes her to cling to the Lord and trust Him more than caring for our children. This is one of the reasons children are a blessing (Psalm 127:3).
Several verses in Scripture encourage married women to focus on the care of their homes:
- “The wise woman builds her house” (Proverbs 14:1).
- “I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house” (1 Timothy 5:14).
- “Older women…admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers” (Titus 2:3-5).
Our culture diminishes the value of a woman caring for her home, but because Scripture emphasizes it so much, we can tell it’s important to God. Keeping this in mind helps us appreciate the value of homemaking because value is determined by God. Even if homemaking is despised in the world’s eyes, if it’s important to God, then it is important regardless of what anyone else says. The woman who cares for her home is doing something that pleases God and has spiritual and eternal value.
This isn’t to say a woman can only care for her home, family, and children. While these are a woman’s primary sphere of influence, this doesn’t mean they are her only realms of influence, as we’ll see later in the chapter.
Important Considerations for Helpmeets
Life does not always go the way we expect. I have known couples who would like the wife to be able to stay home, but economic realities, an injured husband, or a financial emergency required the wife to bring in some income. Some women don’t have husbands because they never married or they are widowed. Their greatest desire might be staying home, but they find it necessary to work so they can provide for themselves and their children.
A young wife might long to have children, but perhaps she’s been unable to get pregnant. She takes good care of her home and husband, but she still has enough time to do some work outside the home. She is willing to do so and is able to contribute to the income without neglecting her other responsibilities. Then there is the very difficult dilemma faced by a single mother. She might want more than anything to have a husband who provides for her and her child so she can stay home. But the most responsible thing for her to do is work to care for herself and her child.
Women who find themselves in these and other situations should never be made to feel condemned because, given their circumstances, the best way for them to honor God and care for their families (or themselves) is by working outside the home.
Don’t Despise the Day of Small Things
Let me share an account from the Old Testament that I hope will encourage wives. When the Babylonians conquered the southern kingdom of Judah in 586 BC, they destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. They then took most of the Jews into exile in Babylon.
Decades later, King Cyrus of Persia permitted the Jews to return to their land and rebuild the temple. Keep in mind that some of these exiles had seen Solomon’s temple before it was destroyed. When the people laid the foundation for the new temple, “many of the priests and Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this temple was laid before their eyes” (Ezra 3:12). They wept because they thought the new temple wouldn’t compare with the previous one. God rebuked them with two questions He asked through the prophets:
- Haggai asked, “Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? In comparison with it, is this not in your eyes as nothing?…The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former” (Haggai 2:3, 9). In man’s eyes, the new temple was inferior to Solomon’s temple, but in God’s eyes, it would be greater.
- Zechariah asked, “Who has despised the day of small things? For these seven rejoice to see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. They are the eyes of the Lord, which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth” (Zechariah 4:10).
When the prophet wrote, “These seven…are the eyes of the Lord,” he wasn’t saying God has seven eyes. Rather, in Scripture, seven is the number of completion, and here, the prophet refers to God’s omniscience or complete knowledge, which allows Him to see “throughout the whole earth.” A “plumb line” is a builder’s tool, and God “rejoiced” to see it in the hand of Zerubbabel, the Jews’ leader. As the Jews rebuilt the temple, they “despised” it as a “day of small things,” but in God’s eyes, the work was great enough to cause Him to “rejoice.”
This applies to all of us. We may find ourselves despising what God wants us to do by viewing our work as small things. When that happens, we should encourage ourselves with Zechariah’s words to the Jews. God rejoices in the seemingly small. We shouldn’t despise the things that cause God to rejoice, for that means they aren’t small! They’re great because they please Him and bring Him joy. A calling or task is great when it brings God pleasure.
We find similar examples of this in the New Testament. In the parable of the talents, the master commended the first two workers, saying to them, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:21; see also verse 23). Similarly, in the parable of the minas, the master said, “Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities” (Luke 19:17). Note that in both parables, the master didn’t commend faithfulness over great things. Instead, he rewarded faithfulness over “very little” and “few things.” These small areas of faithfulness might seem insignificant from an earthly perspective, but because the workers pleased the master, they brought him joy, and earned wonderful rewards.
What does this have to do with wives helping? When wives focus on caring for their homes and families, their lives might seem to be filled with small, despised things such as laundry, meals, and cleaning. If God has called women to do these things, then they aren’t small to Him, which means they shouldn’t be considered small to us. Women will find themselves tempted to pursue the things that seem great from an earthly perspective, but they’re doing great things when they do what is great in God’s eyes: care for their husbands and homes:
The woman who makes a sweet, beautiful home, filling it with love and prayer and purity, is doing something better than anything else her hands could find to do beneath the skies.J.R. Miller, Secrets of Happy Home Life: What Have You to Do With It? (New York: Thomas Crowell, 1894), 12.
The Virtuous Wife of Proverbs 31
A well-known passage reveals what it means—and does not mean—biblically for a wife to be her husband’s helpmeet. Proverbs 31 includes a portrait of what is commonly known as the virtuous wife. One might say this is a description of the ideal woman. Interestingly, these verses were written in a cultural context when women were not only legal possessions of men, but their sphere of influence traditionally did not extend beyond the home and raising children. As a result, this passage’s description of the attributes of a virtuous woman can help us to break out of stereotypes that are often perpetuated about women’s roles.
Verses 11-12 say, “The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life.” This husband trusts her in more ways than one. He knows she works hard and does not need someone looking over her shoulder to ensure she is making good use of her time or the family’s finances. He also trusts her faithfulness to him, knowing she is the opposite of the adulterous wife in Proverbs 7:10-23, who entices the foolish young man with the temptation, “My husband is not at home.” The husband of a virtuous woman has “no lack of gain” because, as his helpmeet, she works hard to “[do] him good.”
The rest of the passage elaborates on the ways a virtuous wife does good for (or helps) not only her husband, but also her family and others. Proverbs 31:13- 16 describes her activities:
She seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands. She is like the merchant ships, she brings her food from afar. She also rises while it is yet night, and provides food for her household, and a portion for her maidservants. She considers a field and buys it; from her profits she plants a vineyard.
She gathers materials to help her family. She is diligent with her hands and journeys to secure the best food for her loved ones. Her hardworking nature is shown in the way she gets up before dawn to have food prepared not just for her family, but also for the servants. She is industrious and resourceful; she buys a field and then reinvests the profits to make more money. This is important because it shows that women can engage in work that provides for their families financially. Simply put, men are not the only ones who can earn money.
The passage then elaborates on other ways this woman helps her family, the poor, and herself. Proverbs 31:17-22 states:
She girds herself with strength, and strengthens her arms. She perceives that her merchandise is good, and her lamp does not go out by night…She extends her hand to the poor, yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household is clothed with scarlet. She makes tapestry for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple.
This virtuous woman’s hardworking nature enabled her to be strong and healthy. Everything she made for her family, such as food and clothing, was of high quality, and she was willing to work late into the night to make these provisions. Her inventory was large enough to help those in poverty. She anticipated her family’s needs and made sure they were met. While providing for others, she did not neglect to provide high-quality possessions for herself.
Verse 24 continues, “She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies sashes for the merchants.” That is, her efforts bless many. Note especially that while she was working for the benefit of others, she was careful to keep her home a priority: “She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness” (verse 27).
The virtuous wife is a skilled homemaker, yet at the same time is able to be engaged in industrious activities outside the home. In the New Testament, we find two examples of godly women working:
- Lydia “was a seller of purple…who worshiped God” (Acts 16:14).
- Priscilla and her husband Aquila “were tentmakers” (Acts 18:3).
How do we reconcile these two investments of time and energy for women— working and homemaking—that seem to be at odds with each other? The simple answer is women worked without neglecting the care of their families. They probably performed many of these activities from their homes. Whatever work a wife does should still allow her to care for her home and help her husband. These are her most important ministries; therefore, they should never suffer from anything she engages in.
Three Threats to a Wife as a Helpmeet
There are three major threats that can prevent a wife from being the helpmeet God desires for her to be.
Threat One: Pursuit of Wealth
The wealth a wife accumulates while caring for herself and her family is not a threat. Instead, the threat is the pursuit of wealth that comes from keeping up with neighbors or pursuing a more upscale lifestyle than necessary or can be afforded. While it’s reasonable for women to work for the reasons previously mentioned, it’s unreasonable for them to work for selfish pursuits that cause them to neglect their home and husband. No godly woman will look back and say,
- “I’m so glad we got this bigger house, even though it meant hardly seeing my children.”
- “This extra income has been such a blessing, even though it meant late nights away from my husband.”
- “I’m so thankful for that promotion, even though it meant rarely being home.”
Threat Two: Idleness
First Timothy 5:13 warns women against being “idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not.” The Proverbs 31 woman is the opposite of what Paul described—she’s busy with her own house and her own family’s affairs rather than the houses or affairs of others.
Even when women are at home, idleness can still cause them to neglect their husband, children, or home. They must be intentional to ensure they aren’t overly invested in frivolous activities. There are plenty of ways women can waste their time, and you’ll know best where your time wasters are if you ask God to reveal them to you.
There are many activities Scripture doesn’t forbid, yet engaging in them prohibits women from paying sufficient attention to the priorities God has given them. Though the Proverbs 31 woman engaged in several activities that could be called hobbies, we can see that those pursuits benefited her family.
Threat Three: Misplaced Self-Worth
Some women don’t find the same satisfaction caring for their homes, husbands, and children that they find in the workplace. Money, promotions, praise, and the opportunity to compete with men can appeal to their sense of self-worth. While on the surface these might seem good things, we need to remember where Scripture places its emphasis with regard to a married woman’s calling. What seems to us to be small things are great in God’s eyes, which also means that what seems great in our eyes can be small in God’s eyes. What does God value most?
Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” God has informed us, in Scripture, about His “good and acceptable and perfect will.” We’ve seen passages that affirm the greatness of a woman as a helpmeet who cares for her home and children as well as affirm that a virtuous woman can pursue business interests outside the home. Because both are possible, it’s vital for us to remember what is of greatest value to God so a woman’s self-worth isn’t misplaced.
Biblically speaking, women have allowed themselves to become conformed to this world when they work outside the home for these reasons:
- They believe focusing on home and family gives them less value.
- They assume their self-worth is based on work pursuits and not caring for their home and family.
- They feel that caring for their home and family doesn’t allow them to experience the fulfillment they crave.
When any of these perspectives affect a woman’s thinking, she has been influenced more by the world than by Scripture. When that happens, she will want to renew her mind by reading God’s Word and letting it shape her thinking, as urged in Romans 12:2.
When a married woman fulfills God’s priorities for her, she will receive her greatest sense of value. When she focuses on being a helpmeet, she will experience her greatest sense of self-worth. The married woman who is humbly fulfilling the role and responsibilities God has called her to should feel more valuable than if she were a company’s CEO.
Although our culture is quick to put a positive light on women climbing the corporate ladder, research suggests there are many women working outside the home who are finding less satisfaction in their jobs and are longing to return to their families.
Researcher Daniele Lup, a senior lecturer in quantitative sociology at Middlesex University, studied ten years of data from thousands of male and female employees who were promoted to upper and lower-management roles. She concluded that men reported an increase in job satisfaction after being promoted, but women experienced significantly less satisfaction when they were promoted. This was true even in corporate America.
In 2009, the IZA Institute of Labor Economics published “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness.” The study found that in the 1970s, women rated their overall life satisfaction higher than men. Since then, with more women working outside the home, the women’s scores have continually decreased while men’s scores stayed around the same. By the 1990s, women were unhappier than men even though their salaries went from earning less than 60 percent of a man’s median salary to earning more 75 percent of it. In other words, even while women continued to seek satisfaction in the business world and experienced greater success, their happiness headed in the other direction.
This serves as confirmation that true fulfillment is found not in following culture’s expectations, but God’s design.
Praise for Such a Helpmeet
How does the virtuous wife’s family react to her? Proverbs 31:28-29 says, “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many daughters have done well, but you excel them all.’” There are not many satisfactions a woman can enjoy more than receiving her husband and children’s praise for her diligence in caring for them!
Verse 30 goes on to say, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” Of all that can be said about the virtuous wife, this is the highest compliment, indicating she is as strong and impressive spiritually as she is in all the other areas of life. Her character outweighs her industriousness or business expertise. Holiness and godliness are of greater importance—and deserve more respect—than any amount of charisma, natural talent, or physical beauty.
Proverbs 31 concludes with verse 31: “Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates.” While this passage is instructive for women, it is a strong admonition to husbands to praise their wives when they pursue excellence in their labors. Women who have done so much for others should, in turn, be thanked and rewarded for what they have done.
In our day, the reference to “praise her in the gates” might be like putting a notice in a public place, such as the local newspaper, a community bulletin board, or social media. In Bible days, the gates were where the leaders of the city sat in session and where the news and commerce were distributed. Earlier in the passage, we were told that the virtuous wife’s husband “is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land” (verse 23). He is a well-known leader in the community and, by implication, part of his good reputation results from his wife’s good reputation. But a loving husband does not merely bask in his wife’s good reputation. The implication here is that he openly brags about her to others because of the wonderful helpmeet she is. We husbands should never complain about our wives, but rather, make a point to praise them to others.
Despite what the world preaches and promotes, let’s keep in mind that in God’s eyes, women who care for their homes and families serve an incredibly valuable role. What seems small in the world’s eyes is often great in God’s eyes. Women can have a very powerful influence on their husband, children, and many others beyond their immediate family. Every work that they do that pleases the Lord will bless the people in her life and will have eternal consequences.