Proper 22 / Year B
“It is not good for the human to be alone.”
This morning we hear one of the best known stories in the bible, which is also one of the most misunderstood. Even if you have never read the bible or attended a church service you know God creates Eve (the woman) out of Adam (the man) to be his “helper” or “helpmate.” And most likely you interpret this in some form or fashion to mean Eve is created as subordinate to Adam. This is the part of the story most everybody knows and it is also the part everyone gets wrong. Allow me to explain.
“It is not good for the human to be alone.”
After each the creative acts in the first chapter of Genesis, God looks at what has been brought into being and evaluates it as being good. But here, in the beginning of the second chapter, God identifies a problem. The first human is alone and this is not good. God recognizes the human needs an ezer kenegdo, a Hebrew phrase translated most often in this text as “helper”, but this translation is a bit misleading because it tends to imply inferiority. Ezer kenegdo is used most often in the Old Testament to describe God… “the Lord is my helper” (ex: Psalm 54:4). Ezer kenegdo conveys the notion of deliverer, rescuer, and even life-saver. The problem God sees is not that the human is lonely, but that the human is lost, isolated, and lacking the kind of relationship necessary to become complete and whole.
God’s initial solution to this problem is to parade every created animal before the human to see if one will suffice. Again, if companionship is the problem, most likely a dog or a cat or a horse would suffice. But no creature can bring about the completeness God sees is lacking. So God does a remarkable thing. God causes the human to enter into a deep sleep and removes part of the human’s side to make another human.
Again, the textual translation of “rib” is a misleading because the Hebrew word suggests “side” as a more accurate rendering. What is removed from the human becomes a female. What remains becomes a male. And if you have been paying attention, up until now I have referred to first person as “the human” because in a strict sense this person was both man and woman. With the separation of genders each person now has an ezer kenedgo – a person who enables them to grow into the fullness of human potential.
Most often we see this special relationship being manifested in a marriage. We had a wonderful wedding here yesterday and at it I read the familiar words of the liturgy:
The union of husband and wife, in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy [and] for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity.
And we prayed this for them:
Give them wisdom and devotion in the ordering of their common life, that each may be to the other [note the sense of mutuality] a strength in need, a counselor in perplexity, a comfort in sorrow, and a companion in joy.
This is the ezer kenegdo found in marriage. Each partner helps the other to live into the fullness of God’s intention for him or for her. And this simply is not possible if we are alone/isolated.
But is ezer kenegdo specifically reserved for matrimony? Does this mean those of us who are not married or divorced or widowed are alone in the sense God deems to be not good? Note how the text says “For this reason a man shall leave his parents and ‘cling’ (or ‘cleave’) to his wife.” This fierce connection and loyalty appears to be a prerequisite for ezer kenegdo. Elsewhere in the bible we find the same word “cleave” used to describe the relationship between Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi. Ruth and Naomi become each other’s helper, each other’s ezer kenegdo.
Think about the relationships you enjoy in your life. They come in many different shapes and sizes. Some are more superficial than others. Some are more important to us than others. And my guess is you have a few relationships marked by ezer kenegdo; a person who may be a mentor or a confidant or a gentle corrector or a shoulder to cry on. It maybe someone you talk with multiple times in a day or someone you see only a couple of times a year. It may be a spouse or a sibling or a childhood friend. The handful of people who fill this role in your life share one thing in common: each helps you to realize you are not alone in this world. And this is God’s deep desire for you and it is God’s gift to you.