By Valerie Jones
A rather quick glance at the women of the Bible can leave quite a stunning impression. As women of the twenty-first century, we may often find it hard to relate to these historic heroines. Between running the week’s necessary errands, getting stuck in traffic, trying to put meals on the table for the family, and catching up on missed phone calls and emails from friends, we may be tempted to wonder: “When was the last time I saved an entire nation like Esther? When was the last time I solved the civil disputes of a nation like Deborah or simply lingered in the sweet presence of Jesus like Mary? And who can compare with the Proverbs 31 woman? Besides her amazing seamstress skills and words of deep wisdom, it appears as if she had no great need for sleep.”
With so much going on in our lives, our life mission can easily turn into “just make it through the day” rather than trying make an impact on history and those around us. Yet the often neglected Song of Songs contains an intimate look at the story and transformation of a young, overworked maiden who often felt just as overwhelmed as we do.
A Neglected Vineyard
The maiden began the song by extolling the beauty of her beloved, but when the spotlight turned to herself and her own life, she was unable to find anything beautiful or praiseworthy in herself. Why is that?
“Do not stare at me because I am dark,” she said (Song of Solomon 1:6). Her skin was darkened due to her long hours of work in the sun (something not to be celebrated in the pre-tanning-bed culture of the ancient Hebrews). She soon shared perhaps the deepest root of her shame: “My mother’s sons were angry with me; they made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept!” (v. 6).
What was this woman implying? What was her story? Clearly this maiden had people in her life who demanded much from her. These people were close relatives and rather than saying no to their demands or letting them down, the maiden yielded to their requests, all the while carrying a deep shame, knowing that she too had a vineyard and it was thereby suffering neglect. Seeing nothing praiseworthy or beautiful in her daily life, her goal had become “just get by,” unable to have time to tend the vineyard that she felt was her true responsibility.
Does this old story sound familiar? Time and time again, we as women find ourselves in this same situation. Finding it quite difficult to let someone else down or keep up with what feel are the necessary daily duties, we consent to live as overworked and hurried individuals. The end result of busy weeks and years that have gone by too fast is a deep sense of regret over the things we missed or the vineyard of our hearts that we neglected to cultivate. In order to avoid such a remorseful pitfall, we must become aware of a few important truths.
The Ezer Kenedgo Helpmate
First, God made women specifically to be helpers. When God was forming creation, the Bible records that after Adam had been created, even though he was surrounded by all of Earth’s animals, “no suitable helper” was found for him (Genesis 2:20). God immediately set out to amend the situation: “Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man” (v. 22).
The Hebrew term for the woman, ezer kenedgo (translated “helpmate,” “helper,” or “aid”), contains the primary meaning of helping to the max: “girding, surrounding, defending.” The term is used for God himself when he acts as the helper of Israel in times of war or desperate need (Psalm 37:40; 46:5; 115:11). This text in Genesis contains vital information for us as women. We must know that from our very creation we were made to be helpers, ones who see a need and want to run and fill it. We must not be surprised at our desires to help our families, take on that community social project, or encourage a friend or coworker—and yet sometimes we overextend ourselves in doing so. We were wired to help and the longings we have to do so are completely legitimate and God-given.
Second, being an ezer kenedgo is a glorious and beautiful thing, especially when we consider the fact that God described himself as one. Coming to the help of others is clearly a way in which women were made to manifest the glory of God. This is how the women of the Bible stand out in history and show us that none of the actions we take to help others are too little or unimportant in order for God to be glorified. For Ruth, this meant sticking closely by the side of one bereaved and hurting woman (not 50—just one!). For Rahab this meant taking some strangers into her dwelling for one night. For Esther helping meant to fast and pray for three days in order to arrive at a clear plan of action. These simple, helpful actions were able to yield monumental results in the hands of God.
Third, in all of our helping we must remember that we are still human and have limitations. Jesus himself, the greatest helper of all humanity, acknowledged his human limitations—his need to take a break and sit, his need to withdraw from the crowds in rest and prayer (John 4:6; Luke 5:16; Matthew 14:13). Perhaps this is most exemplified in the way that his earthly ministry was limited to one area of the world and mainly focused on “the lost sheep of Israel” (15:24). Isaiah 55:11 implies that Jesus, God’s Word, succeeded because he came down from Heaven and accomplished the thing for which he was sent.
If you feel that the thing for which God has you on Earth right now is to write a book, be a part of a mission project, or help others through your career, don’t let other demands tear you away from that task. If you feel you are entering a season in which you are to put aside your career or other projects and invest more in friends and family, let nothing stop you from that. We must remember that God is glorified not when we meet every demand that comes our way, but when we joyfully complete the tasks he has given us.
Rediscovering the Glory of Our Design
Like the young maiden in Song of Songs, we might be asked to work in others’ vineyards. Sometimes we can say yes and other times we will have to decline. The more time the Shulamite maiden spent with her beloved, the more she was able to see not only the beauty and value of her beloved, but also of herself (Song of Solomon 2:1). Perhaps it was knowing her incredible worth and how valuable she was to her beloved that freed her from needing to perform or meet all of the requirements placed upon her by others. In this same way, remembering that we are incredibly and unconditionally loved by our Creator should free us from a need to live up to so many expectations.
As women who have been given natural abilities to bring comfort, peace, and aid to others, we will always be required to tenderly walk the line of knowing where and when to use these gifts. We must not overlook their importance; like Rahab, who only hosted her guests for one night, you might find that paying for one person struggling in line at a grocery store or babysitting a fraught couple’s children one evening could be a key part in a beautiful work of God where he does more than you could ever imagine. As the Lord directs your heart’s desires to serve in what you believe to be the specific vineyard that he has given you, continue to believe that he is able to direct your helping in ways that stay in sync with his perfect plans.
Valerie Jones and her husband live in Colorado Springs and work with international missions and refugee care.