Sometimes we use language in ways that are quite different to the way in which it was first used. For example, we use the word “arbitrary” to describe something that is random and without seeming purposes. It describes a luck-of-the-draw decision or action. Originally, the word meant “by the will of the arbiter alone.” An arbiter is someone who has ultimate authority in a matter. In a sense, then, according to the original meaning of the word, it might be argued that God rules the world arbitrarily: by his will alone. According to modern usage, we would hardly describe God’s actions as arbitrary.
There are also words that we use in a way that is quite different from the way the Bible uses the same word. For example, when we think of the word “helper,” we typically think of someone who is strictly not necessary to accomplish a particular task, but who is nice-to-have. This is why some people are confused when Eve is described as Adam’s “helper”: because they are applying a contemporary meaning, rather than a biblical meaning, to the term.
The Hebrew noun translated “help” or “helper” is found 21 times in the Old Testament. It twice describes Eve as Adam’s helper (Genesis 2:18, 20). Three times it describes unidentified human helpers (Isaiah 30:5; Ezekiel 12:14; Daniel 11:34). In every other occurrence, it is used to describe God as his people’s helper (Exodus 18:4; Deuteronomy 33:7; Deuteronomy 33:26, 29; Psalms 20:2; 33:20; 70:5; 89:19; 115:9–11; 121:1–2; 124:8; 146:5; Hosea 13:9). The New Testament summarises: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6).
If God is described as his people’s helper, I trust you see the significance of the term. We would hardly describe God as an unnecessary nice-to-have. We are utterly powerless without him. The help he offers is absolutely necessary.
There was a time when David, at the Lord’s explicit instruction, went to war against the Philistines (1 Samuel 23). Saul had been trying to capture David for some time and when he learned that David had gone to war against the Philistines he tried to capture him on the battlefront. God protected him as he hid from Saul in the wilderness of Ziph, but before long the Ziphites—members of David’s own tribe, Judah—alerted Saul as to where he was hiding. God, however, protected David from Saul.
The Ziphites later betrayed David again but the Lord once more protected his chosen king (1 Samuel 26). Around this time, David wrote Psalm 54 (see superscription). Grateful that the Lord had protected him, he wrote, “Behold, God is my helper, the Lord is the upholder of my life” (v. 4). The English phrase “God is my helper” translates the Hebrew Elohim Ozer Li, which is the name of God before us this week.
As we consider this name of God in the context of Psalm 54, we note at least three significant aspects of what it means for God to be our helper.
First, we must recognise that, without God as our helper, we are quite literally helpless. David knew exactly what Saul intended to do if he captured him. Even Jonathan, Saul’s son, once sceptical of David’s claim that his father was seeking his life, knew what the king intended to do if he captured David (1 Samuel 23:15–18). With the resources of the kingdom at his fingertips, a betting man would have put his money on Saul capturing and killing David. Escape seemed hopeless. Escape was hopeless—if God was not David’s helper. “The Lord is the upholder of my life” (v. 4).
Let us remember that we desperately need Elohim Ozer Li. David was a man of prayer because he understood his utter dependence on God. As has often been stated from our pulpit, prayer is an expression of dependence. There is no Christian discipline that displays an understanding of our dependence on God quite like prayer. We fail in prayer to the degree that we grow self-sufficient—to the degree that we deceive ourselves that we don’t need God’s help.
Second, part of God’s help is the assurance that he will repay evil. “He will return the evil to my enemies; in your faithfulness put an end to them” (v. 5). David did not minimise the threat that Saul posed and took every precaution to ensure that he evaded capture, but ultimately his trust was in the Lord to perform justice. On at least two occasions, he refused to kill Saul when he had the opportunity to do so because he was confident that Elohim Ozer Li would deal with Saul.
Understanding that God is Elohim Ozer Li—God our help—encourages us that he has all things under control, including the commitment and ability to right all wrongs. His help is not only theoretical. He will put an end to all enemies who oppose his people and his purposes. This encourages us, like David, that seeking personal vengeance is unnecessary. How many would have displayed David-like restraint in not executing Saul when he had the opportunity? David’s confidence in Elohim Ozer Li helped him in this regard.
Third, there is a fascinating linguistic connection between Psalm 54 and Genesis 2, where Eve is described as “a helper” (ezer) “fit for” (kenegdo) Adam (v. 18). The word translated “fit” (kenegdo) is the same word used in Psalm 54 of those who “do not set God before themselves” (v. 3). When God created the man, he recognised that the man was incomplete (“not good”) because, unlike all the other animals, there was no “helper fit” (ezer kenegdo) for him. God, therefore, put the man to sleep and created a necessary counterpart—an ezer kenegdo—from the man’s side and brought the two together. The human being—the pinnacle of God’s creation—was now complete.
In other words, God’s intended completeness for humanity was only realised with the provision of an ezer kenegdo—a helper fit for the man. The ezer kenegdo was not inferior to the man; she was his necessary counterpart. In a real sense, she served the purpose, in the words of Gerald Wilson, of “completing the ability of humankind to relate properly among itself as God is able to relate fully within himself.” For humans to be made in the image of God, it was necessary for there to be male and female so that a God-designed interrelationality could be formed.
Of course, sin marred that God-designed interrelationality. But there is a suggestion in Psalm 54 that God stands ready to be the divine ezer kenegdo who will provide the necessary relationship to restore humanity to fullness. But this will only be true for those who do “set God before themselves.” Humanity’s fullness is only realised to the degree that humans recognise and submit to Elohim Ozer Li as their necessary helper.