God says in Genesis 2, “It is not good for the human to be alone. I will make for him a help(er) negedō.” A lot hangs on the meaning of this innocent-looking Hebrew preposition. What it means is foundational for the relationship of male and female in Biblical theology.
The word neged is used 143 times in the Hebrew Bible. Its basic meaning is “face to face”, from which it branches out into a range of meanings. It is used in Psalm 23:5: “You prepare a table before me, right-in-the-face-of my enemies.” Eleven times in Nehemiah 3 it refers to points on Jerusalem’s wall “opposite/next to” a particular reference point on the map. It is used similarly seven times in Ezekiel, including one place where a door was “opposite/facing” another door (Ezek 40:13). 36 times it is used in the Psalms, either with someone’s “eyes” as its object, meaning “in my/your/their presence,” or it can convey this meaning without the term “eyes,” as in Psalm 51:3, “My sin is ever before me.” Likewise, in Ruth 4:4, Boaz urges Naomi’s closest kin to buy her land in the presence of the elders and all who are sitting in the gate: do it “face-to-face” with everyone on the scene. Likewise, God declares that David’s wives will be violated by another man in an “in-your-face” divine action “before all Israel and before the sun” (2 Sam 12:12).
While neged is often used to express the general idea of presence or sight, some of these verses clearly express the notion of “facing” directly across from the object of the word, a meaning which most closely approximates the root meaning of the word. In Joshua 3:16, Israel crosses the dried-up Jordan River at a point “opposite Jericho.” Three times in 1 Chronicles (5:11, 8:32, 9:38) we are told that a family lives “alongside” or “opposite” another group as a point of reference. Such a meaning of “directly opposite” is echoed in the use of this word in Genesis 2:18.
God declares that the human being needs a companion who is a point-by-point counterpart to himself (to borrow language from Koehler-Baumgartner’s lexicon). An animal will not do. A robot will not do. Any being that is a less-than-equal companion will not do. What is needed is a person who corresponds to the man almost like a mirror image, someone of whom he can say, “Bone from my bone and flesh from my flesh!” Not a clone, to be sure; if two of us are identical, one of us is not necessary. What is needed rather is someone who is a perfect match, who sees their partner eye-to-eye, on the same level, who corresponds with their partner at almost every point. Such is the image that God gives us of the intended one-flesh partnership between male and female, hinging on that one little word neged.
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Rev. Tom Hobson, Ph.D., is Assistant Pastor at Bonhomme Presbyterian Church (ECO), Chesterfield, MO, and author of What’s on God’s Sin List for Today?