For when being chosen isn’t enough

Painting from Saint Isaac's Cathedral, Saint Petersburg
God Appears to Moses in Burning Bush. Painting from Saint Isaac's Cathedral, Saint Petersburg.

“But Moses pleaded with the Lord, ‘Oh Lord, I’m just not a good speaker. I never have been, and I’m not now, even after you have spoken to me. I’m clumsy with words.’” (Exodus 4:10, NLT)

You’d think it would be amazing to hear directly from God that He’d chosen you to lead His people, that it’d instantly erase all your doubts about yourself — but it didn’t work that way for Moses.

This was his fourth objection to the job. God tried pointing out that, since He was the one who made mouths and made people so they could speak, He’d tell Moses what to say and help him say it, but Moses still begged God to send someone else. God was angry, but He caved. Moses’ big brother Aaron became the public speaker, with Moses feeding Aaron the words God fed him. It was a little convoluted, but it worked.

Until, after about six weeks in the desert, Moses didn’t need it anymore.

The Bible is silent about this transition. Did Moses just get used to public speaking? Did watching God come through with the unimaginable over and over get through to him?

Or did Moses maybe never really have a problem?

The Israelites weren’t shy about criticizing Moses and complaining about other things, but we have no record of the people jeering at Moses for how he talked or blaming his halting speech for their failures.

It’s at least possible that Moses believed something about himself that wasn’t true, and that kept him from accepting that he was the kind of person God would call – even as God was right there, calling him a leader. Even as God was right there, promising to help Moses lead.

Do you believe something about yourself that might not be true? Do you believe that something basic about yourself (shyness, hyperness, age, gender, poverty, physical or intellectual ability, etc.) disqualifies you from serving God? Do you ever think, “Someone like me could never…”?

God is always choosing you, and constantly offering His help. Sometimes, that’s enough to dissolve your insecurities. Sometimes, it isn’t, and, like Moses, you need time — but it’s time to learn while serving. Moses didn’t figure out his issue by practicing alone with his sheep. You don’t need to have yourself all straightened out first. Get moving, work some modifications … until, one day, you won’t need them anymore.

Helpmate, Schmelpmate

Alternate title: When something is both awesome and infuriating.

There is a Hebrew word in the Bible that is translated as “strength” or “help”: ezer. (All verses from the New Living Translation, unless noted.)

There is no one like the God of Israel. He rides across the heavens to help you, across the skies in majestic splendor (Deut. 22:26).

But as for me, I am poor and needy; please hurry to my aid, O God. You are my helper and my savior (Ps 70:5).

I look up to the mountains — does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth (Ps 121:1-2).

I was amazed to see that no one intervened to help the oppressed. So I myself stepped in to save them with my strong arm (Is 63:5).

In the majority of its uses, ezer refers to help from God or from a mighty military leader (who may or may not help you): someone powerful helping someone less powerful. The helper is the savior who comes from a position of strength.

So why the &^%$ does it become, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him'”? There is little impression of strength here. It makes me think of helpers I’ve had over the years in children’s worship, some are just right for me, others require too much work — but I am clearly in a superior position to my helper.

The prior verse was from the NLT; my printed NLT says, “I will made a companion who will help him.” The Message, “I’ll make him a helper, a companion.” Although few translations use helpmate, the tone of that word infects the conversation because of the King James’ “help meet for him.” In historical fiction, a companion is a woman with lower social standing who is paid to accompany a woman in higher standing. A companion certainly isn’t a partner.

So when ezer is used about God or national leaders, it refers to a powerful helper. When it’s used about women, it is given a “lesser-than” connotation. That’s infuriating, because this section of Genesis has been used to justify teachings about the “lesser-than” position of women in marriage and in the church.

I didn’t know about this issue of the translation ezer in Genesis 2 until this week, when my minister mentioned it in a sermon about marriage. A visit to my friend Mr. Google, and I found other Christian thinkers who’ve noted it and argued for a better translation. Bruce Harkins suggests, “I will make a power [or strength] corresponding [and equal] to man.”

That’s not bad, but I think it’d be fun to play with the verse a bit, to use the connotations of contemporary language to better reflect the fuller implications of woman being an ezer to man.

There’s a really fine line to navigate here, because I don’t want to get all essentialist, saying that Woman balances out Man in ways that he needs that only she can provide and then go on to suggest that it’s nurturing or gentleness or some other typically feminine virtue — the union of man and woman that doesn’t include nurturing, strength and gentleness from both parties is not a union I want to be a part of. Yes, my husband and I each balance out some weakness in the other, but I think that’s due to personality as much as gender.

Also, this is a weird little story. God sees that the man shouldn’t be alone, that he should have one of his own kind, so what does God do? He parades all the animals in front of the man for the man to ooh and aah over and give names to. That doesn’t make any sense — unless God knows that the man won’t appreciate a partner of his own kind until he’s been confronted by his own aloneness. (I’m going avoid being sexist by expanding my next question to include all of us.) Is God saying, in effect, “People, you don’t know a good thing when I give it to you. Let me distract you with a bunch of stuff that isn’t the gift so you can recognize the gift when it comes”?

I actually think the key to the story is in verse 20b, “But still there was no helper just right for him” (NLT).

Anyway, here goes:


“I’m creating someone with some serious skillz. Don’t be stupid about her.”

A Little Less Flippant

 God looked at the man he had made. The man was good. Really good. But he was going to need some help. Big help. And he wasn’t going to like the idea that he needed help. Better ease the man into it.

So God  showed the man all the animals He had made. The man was fascinated by all the different kinds of creatures with all their colors and shapes and sounds. Eventually, the man noticed that the other animals not only came in pairs, but there was no animal like him. Indeed, there was no one strong enough to counter the man. So God made the woman and presented her to the man.

“At last,” the man said. “Here is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”

Maybe even a little tender

God looked at the man he had made. He loved the man, but He knew He wouldn’t be enough for the man. The man needed someone strong, someone like him, to be with.

Then God brought the man all the animals He’d made, in all their variety. Some of the animals made the man laugh, others intrigued him; he even felt affection for some of the animals. Some of the animals could help him with tasks, but none of them were right to be his partner.

The Lord caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and then took a part of the man’s side and made a woman from it. He brought the woman to the man.

“At last,” the man said. “She is like me. We will be one.”

What do you think? Was this a crazy exercise? Was I too flippant about God’s Word? Did you already know about the ezer issue or was it new to you, too? Got any other translation frustrations you want to share?




Go Ahead, Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out

Good riddance to you, 2012.

Not that you were all bad. I started this blog, which (this 3-week break notwithstanding) I’ve really enjoyed. I finished the first manuscript in my David and Saul series. I read a number of really good books. I took many great trips with my family. My children are thriving. I laughed a lot.

But I also cried. A lot. This has been a year of too-soon deaths, cancer diagnoses, scary health issues, church angst, lack of success in my publishing journey, and personal issues I’m despairing of ever turning the corner on. And compared to some of my friends, I had a pretty good year.

This doesn’t sound related, but I think it is: I’m annoyed with the Old Testament. In my goal of reading the entire Bible, I got from Psalm 116 to Isaiah 37 so far this year. Lots of great stuff, but also so many promises to be faithful and all will go well with you. “Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires. Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him and he will help you” (Ps. 37:3-5).

Which sounds great. But what if you feel you were a pretty faithful servant (given your usual failings), yet things did not all go well? Was I just not faithful enough? Not trusting enough? Not delighting enough? Can I ever be faithful or trusting or delighting enough to earn things going well with me?

Phfft. Of course I wasn’t faithful enough to “earn” no strife and no difficulty and no pain. There is no such thing. I’m a New Testament gal, with New Testament expectations that I will suffer, but that God will be with me in my suffering. Also, I am living safely in the land and I am prospering in many, many ways. There’s nothing like complaining about emptiness for making me realize how full my life is.

That’s what my head tells me. But my heart has been reading the Old Testament for the last three years, and has stored up all those promises. So my head knows that it is very, very, very hard to get traditionally published, but my heart cries out, “I’ve felt God’s hand on me and on this project from the beginning, how can it not be happening yet?”

This is similar to the difference between my 3:30 p.m. brain and my 3:30 a.m. brain. My 3:30 p.m. brain can take an issue and look at all the sides of it rationally, and recognize a good course of action. For example, it can take a loved one’s cancer diagnosis and look at the current research and agree that waiting and seeing is a right thing to do. But my 3:30 a.m. brain is incapable of this, and it swirls round and round in an ever-tightening noose of fear and anxiety. I’ve been waking up at 3:30 a.m. a lot this year.

So the more I argue with myself (OT vs. NT, 3:30 a.m. vs. p.m.), and, by extension, with God, the simpler my prayers are getting. They’re more basic. Not much more than, “I’m sorry,” “Help,” and “Thank you,” with a few “Wows” thrown in for good measure. Which is why Anne LaMott’s latest book, Help, Thanks, Wow, is so timely for me.

I will end this whine with her words (from p.27):

If I were going to begin practicing the presence of God for the first time today, it would help to begin by admitting the three most terrible truths of our existence: that we are so ruined, and so loved, and in charge of so little.

That feels so hopeful to me, more hopeful than promises of victory over my enemies, or reward for my faithfulness (such as it is). I am so ruined. I am so loved. I am in charge of so little. Help. Thanks. Wow. And (because I cannot shake my Calvinism), I’m sorry.

I’m going to try to start the new year by nestling these terrible truths and those simple prayers in my heart and in my brain — both the 3:30 a.m. and p.m. varieties. Maybe that’ll help me stop arguing with myself and set me free to really go after my heart’s desires.

How about you? How was your year?