What is the REAL Model of Biblical Womanhood?

What is the REAL Model of Biblical Womanhood?

I hate to be the one to tell you – fellow women friends (and men too) – but we’ve gotten a completely screwed up picture of what Biblical womanhood is all about.

Instead of truly understanding the Hebrew definitions of “help mate” and “a virtuous woman,” the Christian culture morphed the whole idea of the wife’s role to counteract the razzle dazzle model of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1960s and 70s.

Ezer Kenegdo

In all fairness, the idea started with our old friend King James in 1611 when he translated God speaking to Himself in the second chapter of Genesis: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.”

Stay with me a minute as I do the academic breakdown. You’ll either get really excited about where this blog ends up, or you will get angry, but you won’t be where you were when you started reading.

“Help meet” [a helper appropriate] is the Hebrew word ezer (pronounced “azer”). Strong’s Concordance translates it as “helper.” Research, however, clearly indicates the word was originally from two root words – “ezer” and “kenegdo.” One means “power,” the other means “strength.” Archaeological discovery reveals that the two words merged into one around 1500 B.C. and were further mistranslated as “helpmate.”

In every one of the other twenty times “ezer” is used in the Old Testament, it clearly refers to God rescuing his people in power or strength. Only in this one place does it refer to a woman.

“Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD? He is your shield and ezer and your glorious sword” (Deut. 33:26).

“I lift up my eyes to the hills-where does my ezer come from? My ezer comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Ps. 121:1-2).

“May the LORD answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you. May he send you ezer” (Ps. 20:1-2).

The presence of two names for one king, Azariah and Uzziah, both referring to God’s strength, makes it abundantly clear that the root `ezer meaning “strength” was known in Hebrew. Often the word is used in combination with war instruments indicating the power and strength have to do with overcoming an enemy.

Kenegdo means “facing.” It can also mean “opposite.” Thus, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a power facing him.”

“I will make him a strength opposite him.”

“I will make him a rescue that looks him in the face.”

Each of these translations of ezer kenegdo is infinitely closer to the truth than “helpmate, helper or assistant.” The character of Arwen in Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring beautifully depicts this idea as she rescues Frodo telling Aragorn that she is the better rider and can get him to safety quicker than he can.

As if that isn’t enough to blow holes in our so-called Biblical definition of Christian womanhood, let’s look at one more misunderstood concept.

Eschet Chayil

From the time I became a young wife and mother (in the 1960s), I have been told that Proverbs 31 is the model for Biblical womanhood. I’ve acquired untold numbers of books, been to conferences, taught Bible studies – all based on this idea that Proverbs 31 is the blueprint.

Like you (my women friends), I’ve often struggled with all the ways I didn’t measure up to that blueprint. But deeper study has brought revelation recently that has caused me to say “Wow! That’s different!”

In Proverbs 31 we begin in verse 10 with “Who can find a virtuous woman?” Most of us cut our Christian eyeteeth on this passage, but what does it really mean? The word woman comes from the same Hebrew word used in for woman in Genesis, the word isha. A derivative of the word is eschet. What kind of woman was Solomon describing in Proverbs? A helpmate at home making muffins or something quite different?

The word virtuous in Hebrew is chayal – a word that does indeed mean virtuous, but that is not all it means. Its full translation is strength, might, power– especially warlike. It speaks of a woman of valor, a mighty warrior. Think Deborah, Commander in Chief of Israel during the period of the judges; think Jael, who drove a tent peg through her husband’s brain and saved Israel from destruction. Or Ruth – the great-grandmother of David, a bold woman who went after Boaz with great determination. Even Esther, who had the audacity to face the king and tell the truth about Haaman, thus delivering all her nation from extinction. This is the picture of a virtuous woman they forgot to tell us about.

There’s a beautiful old tradition among Jewish people that has all but passed into antiquity, but was still used among Orthodox Jews even in our lifetimes. Instead of the women memorizing Proverbs 31:10-31 and trying to fulfill every little detail, the men memorized it. It is actually an acrostic poem that personifies the Shekinah glory (the presence) of God, wisdom, or the Torah itself. While we have seen it as a eulogy to the ideal wife, Judaism sees it more as an allegory of broader scope. Something like the passage in Proverbs 3 where wisdom in personified as a woman whose value is far above rubies. Men sang this at the beginning of Shabbat, when the candles were lit, as he blessed his wife and children.

The summation of it all…a woman is called to be a strong, valiant warrior; she is the strength of her family. There is no blueprint per se. There is just this life we are called to live that is complex and requires community and long conversations to work out the details and be a person of faith. My highest calling is not being Bob’s wife, or the mother of my children. My highest calling is to follow Christ in a brave, valiant way that sometimes requires battle for righteousness.

And by the way, I make some mean cranberry-walnut muffins.

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Comments

  1. I love your article! I believe this is how God does see us. We are filled with power and strength! He provides His spirit behind all who seek after Him.

  2. Wow, I feel empowered. Thank you for researching and sharing all of this.

  3. This was not only marvelously written, but really ministered to and stengthened me!

    What an article! I love it and the timing is so perfect ~! Thank you, dear heart!

    God bless you, Cathee xoxoxox

  4. Great analysis on my favorite subject.
    It is wonderful to encourage one another in our strengths.
    God definitely created us to be Women of Worth, valiant and strong.

  5. Cathee! This was outstanding, a must read for all women (and men like you stated). I like to think that we have been on the right track all along. This is quite a life we have been called to and it ain’t over yet Toots! From one wild woman to another, you nailed it. Loved the muffin bit too.

  6. I think your presentation is terrific. Alice is a warrior, Cathee is a warrior, Nicole is a warrior. Abe Lincoln’s mother was a warrior,and Washington’s. You are on to something here.

    I am heading for the local bakery.

    Bruno

  7. I really enjoyed reading this article!!! Empowering indeed!! However, the one issue I have is about Ruth “going after Boaz” that’s not what the text indicates. Ruth was being led by her mother in law. She in herself was not exactly interested in him otherwise. Thats my only complaint 🙂 oh and Prov 31 is actually Solomon’s mother speaking to him. Not exactly his idea but hers which is still cool 🙂 Overall an excellent hermaneutic 😉

  8. This takes off the pressure of trying to live up to all of Proverbs 31! Thank you for putting it into perspective. Very valuable study. Amen.

  9. Being a Man, I’ve been searching for articles to learn more about what the Word says about a Wife/Help Meet. Dating different women, I’ve realized the variance in personalities, traits and talents. In particular, I’m trying to understand this concept of being “equally yoked”, relative to your points of Strength & Opposite. I am motivated to use my talents to change the world and I’m very analytical. I’ve dated a woman who is the complete opposite; passive aggressive, slight shy, domesticated, VERY supportive, thoughtful, and Loving. Considering a family, she would make a WONDERFUL home. On the contrary, the Word says a man who doesn’t seek the advice of his help-meet doesn’t operate to his full potential –> When I ask her advice, her ability to think analytically and/or give valuable advice is quite poor. Her strength is on the side of family and she helps me escape my “work hard” life.

    I’ve dated another woman who is similar to me; very driven, wants to affect change, and can give valuable advice and can support my endeavors and build connections if I need any. She’s supportive, thoughtful and Loving. However, when it comes to the “family” side, she clearly is not on the level as the other woman. I know that Woman are naturally capable of juggling Family & Career to an extent. These are +’s on the business end, but I am watchful of understanding the category that she falls in between a Wife and Business Partner.

    I’m clearly at an impass. In closing, your points about “Strength & Opposite” can be interpreted in many different ways. The 1st woman I described is an “opposite” of me, and the 2nd woman is strength and/or power. I’d like to understand more about what these mean?

    • Dear Friend

      Thanks for your thoughtful response to the blog on biblical womanhood. It sounds like you need to find a woman who is a combination of the two, if that’s what’s important to you. Women are to be different from men. Many of your weaknesses are our strengths and vice versa. A woman who has allowed God to make her whole will be an equal power facing you but she’ll also have the characteristics that God endued women with. Blessings on your search!

      Cathee

  10. My Readers Disguest version of this topic:
    The Greeks when they interpreted the Hebrew scriptures didn’t have the full meanings of words and in many cases didn’t even have a word to match what was being said in Hebrew. Ruwach is one of them. Ruwach is the spirit of the Lord as in….the Spirit of the Lord was over the face of the deep….

    Ruwach is a feminine noun and indicates that the Holy Spirit is feminine, (Strongs 7306). Derick Prince first brought this to my attention about 20 years ago. Then if we were to look at Gen 1:28, where the Father states; “let us make man, (mankind), in our image…..in our image let us make man and woman” – He wasn’t talking to the angles, ….but to who? That’s a big question.

    Then we have to ask another big question and that is, where did the blue print for a woman come from? We can see that man was made after the image of the male side of the Father, (Jesus), but where did the woman come from? This is all spiritual by the way and not physical. Then if we look at the verse that says when a man and a woman come together, they are one. Following me?

    The Greeks misinterpreted the Holy Spirit by first indicating that the Spirit was neuter. In fact some of the interpretations for Ruwach are breath, smoke, vapor or mist, but the Greeks at first didn’t indicate that the Holy Spirit was male or female, as the Hebrews did. So…..if you allow yourself to think outside of the box and try and put yourself in Hebrew shoes, (sandals), then when the verse the two shall be one is used to indicate man and woman becoming mysteriously one, then wouldn’t it also make sense that Jesus and the Holy Spirit together equal the Father? Maybe there isn’t a trinity, but rather just two, and the two equal one. Which could easily be misinterpreted at the three in one, or what we have today as the Trinity.

    Also take a look at the attributes of the Holy Spirit – comforter, nurturer, etc. These are traits that almost all women are born with but men, for the most part, are missing those traits. To me, women have been patterned after the Holy Spirit, spiritually, and men have been patterned after Jesus, spiritually. Jesus and the Holy Spirit equal the Father. Man and woman equal one when both are walking in the Spirit. It’s a great thing and ezer kenegdo is a fantastic …. idea? thought? ideal?

    As a man, I get it. I didn’t used to, but I do now, and I am searching for my ezer kenegdo and a woman who fully buys into this idea that men and women are created equal. (Personally, I also think women know this deep down, but men don’t.)

    • Joe
      Thanks for this thoughtful response to the blog. I will save your notes. So much here to ponder. I think The Shack tried to address this topic of the feminine in the Trinity. Of course, it’s there. Part of His image, as you so adroitly point out. Appreciate you.
      Cathee

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