Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 2:18–20

Genesis 2:18–20
18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.”
19 The LORD God formed out of the ground every living animal of the field and every bird of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them, and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.
20 So the man named all the animals, the birds of the air, and the living creatures of the field, but for Adam no companion who corresponded to him was found.
(NET Bible)

What the man can’t do without

Throughout human history the relationship between man and woman has been discussed through the perceptual grid of power. The relationship has been called “the war of the sexes.”

Why was woman created? Was competition between sexes part of God’s design? What kind of relationship did God intend between the first man and woman?

“Against the sevenfold refrain of ‘and God saw that it was (very) good’ in chapter 1, the divine observation that something was not right with man’s situation is startling,”[1] says Old Testament scholar Gordon Wenham about Genesis 2:18. Consider that this is God’s evaluation, not Adam’s; Adam has not figured it out yet.

The word “alone,” an adjective in English, translates a Hebrew noun which means “solitude.”[2] A more literal rendering could be “The-man-in-his-solitude is not good” (a rough translation). Why is this situation negative? First, there is no way for the man to be fruitful and multiply as God intends (Gen. 1:28). Second, the need for companionship is more fundamental than many recognize. For example, solitary confinement is widely regarded as extremely stressful and can even produce mental disorders.

The contemporary social history of the United States makes it difficult to translate the word offered as “companion” at the end of Genesis 2:18. The King James Version of the Bible (1611) gives the last phrase as “an help meet for him.” This phrase led to the development of “helpmeet” and then “helpmate.” These derived words are based on a misunderstanding and obscure the actual meaning of the author.

The words of the Bible may be used in many ways; not all such ways are fitting. Some, not guided by the love of Christ, have used the word “helper” (NIV, NASB, ESV) or the phrase “help meet” (KJV) in a way that demeans wives and women in general. Primarily to avoid such distortion, the NET Bible uses the translation “a companion for him who corresponds to him.” Similarly, the New International Version (2011) offers “a helper suitable for him.” A word study will further clarify the crucial word.

Word Study (“companion” or “helper”)

The Hebrew word ‘ezer, translated by NET as “a companion for him” in Gen. 2:18 means: “help, assistance.”[3] The NET Bible Notes say: “Usage of the Hebrew term does not suggest a subordinate role, a connotation which English ‘helper’ can have. In the Bible, God is frequently described as the ‘helper,’ the one who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, the one who meets our needs.”[4] Exodus 18:4 and Deuteronomy 33:7 provide examples.

Hamilton adds: “The verb behind ‘ezer is ‘azar which means . . . ‘save from danger,’ ‘deliver from death.’ The woman in Gen. 2 delivers the man from his solitude.”[5]

The Missing Person

In light of the above analysis, the NET Bible made a wise choice with “a companion for him who corresponds to him.”

One by one God creates “every living animal” (Gen. 2:19) and brings them before Adam. Wenham says: “This hold-up creates suspense. It allows us to feel the man’s loneliness.”[6] Adam examines each living animal and names it. But while the animals exist as male and female, nowhere is there found a fitting companion for the man (Gen. 2:20). Presumably Adam has learned what God said at the start: “It is not good for the man to be alone.”

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 68.

[2] L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner and J. J. Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, translated and edited under the supervision of M. E. J. Richardson. 5 vols. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994-2000)  bad, solitude, q.v.

[3] HALOT, ‘ezer, help, q.v.

[4] NET Bible Notes for Gen. 2:18.

[5] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 176.

[6] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 68.


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