In this article about marriage principles according to Genesis 2, there is also a focus on singleness. The relation between aloneness and marriage, the task in singleness, and purpose of God in the unmarried state is discussed. The author looks at the purpose of marriage and the marriage order. The equality of man and woman, and the position of man and woman (headship, woman as helper) is also discussed. Other things that the author focuses on, is the loyalty in marriage, the one life of man and woman in marriage, and the relationship with the parents. Important scripture passages discussed, are Genesis 2:18 and Genesis 2:23-24.

Source: Una Sancta, 2000. 10 pages.

God's Principles for Marriage as Taught in Genesis 2

The Marriage Form describes the institution of marriage by quoting at length from Genesis 2. We shall zoom in on some aspects of these verses in order to pick up more detail of God's instruction.

God's Assessment of Man's Aloneness: “it is not good that man should be alone.”🔗

Aloneness was not God's intent when He created man. Before God completed His creating work on the sixth day, God saw Adam, alone in the garden, and said, “It is not good that man should be alone.” Hence His next act of creating a woman for the man.

Jeremiah🔗

In line with this principle from Genesis 2, we find in Scripture that the 'married state' is the norm, and the 'unmarried state' the exception. In the Old Testament we read of no one who was unmarried, with the one exception of Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 16:2 we read God's instruction to Jeremiah: “You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place.” Jeremiah was to refrain from marriage for a very specific reason. Because of their hardness in unbelief and disobedience, God (according to His covenant promises in Deuteronomy 28) was going to punish His people and the land they lived in:

They shall die gruesome deaths… They shall be consumed by the sword and by famine, and their corpses shall be meat for the birds of heaven and for the beasts of the earth… Behold I will cause to cease from this place, before your eyes and in your days, the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride… Jeremiah 16:4-13

In view of God's impending punishment, Jeremiah's single status was to serve as a living preaching of the fact that there was no future for marriages and families in Israel. The fact that being single was unheard of in Israel made his unmarried state stick out like a sore thumb – and hence attract attention to his message.

Jesus🔗

In the New Testament, too, we find that being unmarried was exceedingly rare. We know with certainty that our Lord Jesus Christ never married. Even though God had said that it was not good for man to be alone, our Lord remained alone due to the special nature of His task. Jesus came to earth with the unique mission of dying on the cross to pay for man's sin. With a view to that mission Jesus did not commit Himself to being husband and father. Only a few are able to make such a choice, said Jesus:

All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: for there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother's womb (i.e., impotent), and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men (i.e., castrated), and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake (i.e., by choice). He who is able to accept it, let him accept it. Matthew 19:11, 12

Jesus belonged to the third group; because of His unique calling, He chose to remain unmarried and to abstain from sexual relations for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus' task lay elsewhere than within the bonds of marriage.

Paul – 1 Corinthians 7🔗

Concerning Paul we do not know for sure if he was ever married. We only know that he was not married at the time he wrote 1 Corinthians 7. From verse 1 we can deduce that the Corinthians had asked Paul whether it was commendable to refrain from marriage and Paul's answer was, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” However, Paul goes on to say that “not to touch” (i.e., to abstain from sexual relations; to remain unmarried) is easier for the one than for the other. Therefore, this cannot be made a rule for all. Not all have the self-control required for this. It is better to marry, writes Paul, than to commit sexual immorality: “… because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband” (verse 2). At that particular point in time Paul was unmarried and he wished that all men were like him in this respect:

 For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am. verses 7, 8

Not all people have received the same gift. To some God has given the gift of married life and to others God has given the gift of unmarried life.

Paul does not at all condemn marriage. In verse 28 the apostle writes: “But even if you do marry you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned.” Similarly, in verse 38 he writes: “So then he who gives (a virgin) in marriage does well, but he who does not give her in marriage does better.” Concerning the widow Paul writes: “…she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. But she is happier if she remains as she is, according to my judgment – and I think I also have the Spirit of God.” It is good to get married writes Paul, but it is better to remain unmarried.

One wonders: why does Paul commend the unmarried state? Should we in fact commend the single state above the married state? Yet that cannot be, since God in the beginning said that “it is not good for a man to be alone.” We do well to read carefully what Paul writes:

...(the married) will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you. But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none… For the form of this world is passing away. But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord – how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world – how he may please his wife… The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world – how she may please her husband. And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction. 1 Corinthians 7:28-35

The “time is short,” writes Paul. The pressure is on. Christ can return to earth at any moment. Paul wishes to spare his readers of any additional concerns and worries in the times of tribulation preceding Christ's return. He wishes his readers to engage themselves in service to God without distraction, including then the distractions and cares that come with marriage and raising a family.

Jesus – Matthew 24🔗

The picture the apostle puts forward here is not unlike that which Christ put forward to his disciples: “But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing in those days!” (Matthew 24:19). The disciples had shown Jesus the buildings of the temple and Christ responded with the prediction of their fall: “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2). A great tribulation was to overcome Jerusalem because of Israel's rejection of the Christ. So (in accordance with the covenant promises of long ago), one “… will hear of wars and rumours of wars… For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. (Matthew 24:6-8). Given that such tribulation was predicted for Jerusalem on account of her covenant breaking, did the boys and girls of the city do well to marry? “Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing in those days!” (Matthew 24:19). And the married of Jerusalem discovered to their hurt that when the Romans besieged the city and ultimately destroyed it in 70 AD, marriage brought its own burdens and responsibilities hard to bear.

Paul Again🔗

The apostle Paul was well aware of Jesus' words, well aware too of the hatred of Satan as he seeks to destroy the church of God. It is true that marriage is good, is God's solution to man's aloneness. Nevertheless, moved by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 7:40), Paul advised that – in the heat of the battle of the spirits – it is better, easier, less burdensome to refrain from marriage.

This is not to say that Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 7 can be used to prove the Roman Catholic doctrine of celibacy for the priests. Though Paul wishes for all (and he makes no distinctions for different positions in church or society) that they would remain unmarried like himself, he acknowledges that not all have received the gift of no marriage. To some God does give the gift of marriage and so it is not sinful to marry: “But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that” (1 Corinthians 7:7). God Himself permitted the high priests in the Old Testament, who we would consider to be the most holy people, to marry. “And the LORD said to Moses,

Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: …They shall not take a wife who is a harlot or a defiled woman, nor shall they take a woman divorced from her husband; for the priest is holy to his God… He who is the high priest among his brethren … shall take a wife in her virginity. Leviticus 21:1, 7-13

For the Old Testament high priests too, irrespective of their important office, God considered that it was “not good that man should be alone.” Therefore God did not forbid the high priests to marry. God does not forbid marriage in the New Testament either. Only false teachers, writes Paul, who try to be wiser than God, forbid people to marry: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, … forbidding to marry…” (1 Timothy 4:1, 3).

It is possible that one receives the task of no marriage. From Scripture we know, with certainty, of only one person in each of the Old and New Testaments that they remained unmarried. However, the norm of Scripture is that people got married. Scripture is clear on God's ordinance that it is not good that man should be alone and that in answer to such aloneness God instituted marriage. That is also why the apostle wrote: “Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry…” (1 Timothy 5:14). Let us therefore encourage each other, and the youth of the church, to marry. Marriage is no luxury, but an ordinance of God.

God's Answer to Man's Aloneness: The Woman as Helper🔗

Companion for Each Other🔗

In Genesis 2:18 God reveals more than just His observation that “it is not good that man should be alone.” God also revealed His solution to man's 'aloneness': i.e., “I will make him a helper comparable to him.” God's answer was marriage. God ordained marriage as a necessity with a view to man's aloneness. These two factors recorded in Genesis 2:18, the problem and the solution, together convey the very purpose of marriage.

The central or primary purpose of marriage is not procreation (although this in itself is a very important purpose of marriage and is a blessing of God upon marriage; cf. Genesis 1:28). The primary purpose of marriage is for a man and a woman to give to each other companionship and help as they go about their task of imaging God.

What God says concerning man – that it is not good for him to be alone – applies equally to the woman. God's creation of woman on the sixth day had everything to do with His creation of man earlier in the day. God created woman with man in mind. God created woman for the specific task of being a helper, a companion, for the man. She was not meant to stand alone; God rather created the woman to stand beside the man.

The Woman as Helper🔗

There was a time in the history of the church that a passage such as Genesis 2:18 was understood to mean that woman is inferior to man. Thomas Aquinas, for example, wrote that

Woman was made to be a help to man. But she was not fitted to be a help to man except in generation, because another man would prove a more effective help in anything else.1

This, however, was certainly not God's intention when creating Eve as a helper for Adam.

After all, the word 'helper' occurs at least a dozen times in the Old Testament concerning God Himself. Can one imagine God, Almighty Creator, being but a limited, bumbling 'help' for man, a creature?

The following texts are examples of the word 'help' or 'helper' being used about God:

  • Exodus 18:4 “… and the name of the other was Eliezer (for he said, 'The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh).”

    Moses had two sons: Gershom and Eliezer. Through the name Eliezer God is described as a helper for man. The three Hebrew words that make up Eliezer's name are: 'El' meaning 'God,' 'I' meaning 'my or me' and 'ezer' – an identical word to that found in Genesis 2:18 – meaning 'help' or 'helper.'

  • Deuteronomy 33:7 “And this he said of Judah: 'Wear, LORD, the voice of Judah, and bring him to his people; let his hands be sufficient for him, and may You be a help against his enemies'.''

    Moses asks God to be Judah's help.

  • 1 Samuel 7:12 “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, 'Thus far the LORD has helped us'.“

    The name 'Ebenezer' consists of the two Hebrew words 'eber' meaning stone and 'ezer' meaning 'help' or 'helper.'

    Again, the Lord God is described as Israel's 'helper'.

  • Psalm 121:1 “I will lift up my eyes to the hills – from whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD who made heaven and earth.”

  • Psalm 124:8Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”

Notice how each of these texts expresses a need. Needs are met through receiving help. Notice too how each of the above texts conveys a high regard for God's help. God's help is a positive and beneficial thing to those who receive it. Therefore, if in need, turn not to people, but to God. He alone has help available to meet every need. In contrast to God's help, man's help is not so dependable; one cannot set his hopes on it. In that context one finds the word 'help' used in a negative sense in Psalm 146:3: “Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help.”

God said of man that he should not be alone, that man needs a helper. Hereby God gave expression to the task of the woman: she is a helper to the man. God had given man the task of tending the garden. Man could not do this on his own; he needed help. The help he needed was not simply the kind of help someone gives by way of 'lending a hand.' Man needed help not only at the physical level but also at the emotional, spiritual and social levels. Such a helper God provided by creating woman. She was the helper God considered “comparable” (NKJV) to man, fit for him” (RSV).

It was with a view to man's aloneness that God ordained marriage. God instituted marriage as the honorable solution to man's need for a helper comparable to him. Woman is the fitting helper for the man; she supplies his needs. With a woman at his side, as his helper, the man Adam is able to look after the garden, able to face the questions of life.

Man and woman, then, fit together like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. They do not look identical; rather, they are opposites. Yet, they fit together. They complement each other in their differences. A footnote to the words 'man' and 'woman' in Genesis 2:23 explains that the Hebrew word for 'man' is 'Ish' and the Hebrew word for 'woman' is 'Ishshah.' The Hebrew term 'Ishshah' is simply the feminine form of the masculine word 'Ish'; in other words, the word 'woman' means 'the female man.' That is how similar the two are, yet different. The two belong together.

Order in Creation: The Man First, the Woman Second🔗

On the sixth day of creation God created man first. That man was created before woman was also God's ordinance. It was man that God saw alone in the garden (not woman) and it was of man that God said it is not good that he is alone; he needs a woman as helper beside him. Man was not created for woman but woman for man.

This is exactly Paul's point in 1 Corinthians 11:7-10. There Paul addressed the Corinthian women's attitude and conduct in relation to covering their heads when praying or prophesying:

For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

Man was not created from a rib taken from woman but (as we read in Genesis 2:21) the other way around. There is a specific order in God's creation: not man from woman, but woman from man; not man for woman either, but woman for man. God brought the woman to the man and not the man to the woman. In the relationship between God and people, man and woman are equals before God as His image-bearers. But in the man-woman relationship there is a ranking: man first and woman second, for woman was created after man, from man and for man. This prompts the apostle to write in 1 Corinthians 11:3: “the head of woman is man.”

The same notion is found in 1 Timothy 2. Paul builds his argument of male headship/female submission upon God's created order: man first, woman second. Having forbidden “a woman to teach or to have authority over a man” (verse 12) Paul continues with the reason: For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (verse 13). Paul's conclusions that the man is the head of the woman and that the woman has received a place under man are conclusions based on Genesis 2:18. God created woman as helper for man.

Yet this is not to say that the man 'owns' his wife, or that she is his footstool. Paul says this about the matter in 1 Corinthians 11:

Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.verses 11f

Though God created man first and the woman second, Paul recognizes that there is a mutual dependence between man and woman. From these building materials supplied in Genesis 2 lay hidden what the Bible later teaches about the specific roles of husband and wife in marriage and society.

The First Wedding Song🔗

Adam awoke from the deep sleep God caused to fall on him. God brought him a gift: a helper comparable to him so that he would no longer be alone. His eyes beheld her coming to him: the woman fashioned from his rib. A woman, his complement. She was a new sight for his eyes, but not strange. He recognized her for what she was: a part of him. He and she belonged together. So Adam sang: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Genesis 2:23)

This notion of “bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh” comes back in other places in Scripture:

  • Genesis 29:14 “… Surely you are my bone and my flesh.”

    This is how Laban greeted his nephew Jacob when he arrived in Padan Aram. Here is an acknowledgment of kinship: Laban recognized Jacob as a relative of his, his kinsman, his flesh and blood.

  • Judges 9:1-3 “Then Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem, to his mother's brothers, and spoke with them and with all the family of the house of his mother's father, saying, “Please speak in the hearing of all the men of Shechem: 'Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal reign over you or that one reign over you?' Remember that I am your own flesh and bone.” And his mother's brothers spoke all these words concerning him in the hearing of all the men of Shechem: and their heart was inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, “He is our brother.”

    Abimelech appeals to the close relationship he and the inhabitants of Shechem share: they are of the same flesh and blood, brothers, kinsfolk.

  • 2 Samuel 5:1 “Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and spoke, saying, 'Indeed we are your bone and your flesh.'“

  • “We are all children of the one father,” said the Israelites to David. “We have a familial bond a blood relationship.”

  • 2 Samuel 19:11, 12 “So King David sent to Zadok and Abiathar the priests, saying, 'Why are you the last to bring the king back to his house, since the words of all Israel have come to the king, to his very house? You are my brethren, you are my bone and my flesh. Why then are you the last to bring back the king?' And say to Amasa, Are you not my bone and my flesh?'“

These various usages of the phrase “my bone and my flesh” capture the notion of kinship, blood ties. However, there is more to it.

A kinship between two parties has implications and consequences for the two parties. Jacob stayed with Laban for a month, and then the two entered into a business contract. Abimelech being their brother inclined the hearts of the Shechemites to co-operate with him and to make him their king. Blood ties motivated allegiance of subjects to king as it did between Israel and David at Hebron. It was kinship that David appealed to when requesting the elders of Judah to restore him to his throne. Kinship, blood-ties, binds and motivates people to work together, to do things with and for each other.

This we see in Genesis 2 also. When Adam saw Eve approaching him, he said, “This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” In other words, “you were made from a part of me, from my rib; we are kinsfolk.” Adam acknowledged more than a sharing of flesh and blood. Kinship, as illustrated by the texts quoted above, implies a co-operation between two parties, a working together, a team effort.

What had God said in Genesis 2:18? “I will make him a helper comparable to him.” The helper God made for Adam was woman: his bone and his flesh so that she and Adam could team together, work together, exercise dominion together.

How did Adam respond to God's gift of the woman? “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” In other words, Adam admitted that she was his helper, confessed that she and he could work together. Did Adam know Eve's character before he said this? Did he know that it would click between the two of them, that he and she could work together? Admittedly, sin had not yet corrupted him or Eve. Nevertheless, we can regard it as a profession of faith on Adam's part when he said of Eve, “This is my flesh and blood; this is the helper God gave me; we can and will work together.” Adam had no time to understand what made Eve tick before he said this concerning her. Here is an attitude we do well to adopt also. Does one really know or understand what one is getting oneself into when getting married? Hardly, for real understanding develops over time. Yet, each husband, like Adam, can say of his wife, in faith, “She is my helper and I accept her as such, convinced of this for it is God who gave her to me – and He knows my needs.”

It was by holy inspiration that Moses, centuries later, recorded in writing the poetic words of praise Adam uttered at his marriage. In Genesis 2:18-23 we read a description of the events that took place concerning man, Adam, receiving a helper in woman, Eve.

The conclusion the Holy Spirit was pleased to append to these verses, which He moved Moses to write in Genesis 2:24, is this:

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

In other words, God's pronouncement on the sixth day of creation that “it is not good that man should be alone,” and His consequent institution of marriage had a broader relevance and application than just for Adam and Eve.

Granted, Adam receiving from God a helper – a woman fashioned from one of his ribs – was a unique occurrence that took place only in Paradise. Yet, what God instituted there by bringing a man and woman together serves as a model to be patterned by Adam and Eve's descendants. The fall into sin did not alter the fact that it is not good for man to be alone. Scripture itself confirms this, for the New Testament quotes Genesis 2:24 verbatim in three places: Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:7, 8 and Ephesians 5:31. What God established in Genesis 2 before man's fall into sin, i.e., the need for marriage and the institution of marriage, continues to apply after the fall. Therefore not only marriage remains valid for today, but also all principles of marriage as taught by God in Genesis 2:24. These principles include the following points:

Marriage Involves Two Genders🔗

Genesis 2:24 does not speak of a man leaving his father and mother to be joined to another man but, rather, to be joined to his wife: a woman. Here already, in the very first book of the Bible, the whole matter of homosexuality is condemned. Marriage is not a union of two individuals of the same sex. Rather, it is a union between two individuals of opposite sex: the union of a man and a woman.

Marriage is a Monogamous Relationship🔗

Genesis 2:24 speaks of 'man' and 'wife' in the singular: a man … his wife.” The principle of Genesis 2 allows no room for 'bigamy', i.e., having two wives or husbands at once, as Lamech did (Genesis 4:23). Equally, there is no room for 'polygamy', having many wives or many husbands. God's ordinance from the beginning is for a man to have only one wife and for a woman to have only one husband. To defy this ordinance is to defy God.

To Marry Means to Leave Father and Mother🔗

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother…” It is a Scriptural notion that a man leaves the house of his parents for a house of his own, and to be joined there by his wife. Both the man and the woman have to leave their respective father and mother.

The ordinance to “leave … father and mother” must not be regarded as license to abandon Dad and Mum. God's fifth commandment remains as valid for the five-year-old child's relationship towards the thirty-year-old parent as it does to the fifty-year-old adult's relationship towards his eighty-year-old parent. Always it remains God's will that children “honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12). That is why Jesus condemned the practice of the Pharisees who thought they had found a way to free themselves of using their earnings to support their parents. Jesus responded with reference to the permanence of the fifth commandment:

All to well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. For Moses said, 'honour your father and mother'; and, 'He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.' But you say, 'If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban” (that is, a gift to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down.Mark 7:9-13

In other words, it remains God's will and command for children, married or unmarried, to show honour for their parents by supplying for their needs. That is why Paul too instructed Timothy as he did:

But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God… But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.1 Timothy 5:4, 8

Leaving father and mother in order to cleave to the spouse is no license to abandon the parents. The duty to honour, and hence return to parents in their senior age the care they extended to them when they were children, always remains God's will for the younger generation. Nothing, not even marriage, absolves children of this responsibility. And the responsibility is not a burden but a privilege.

What, then, does leaving father and mother mean? Leaving father and mother involves first of all a change in one's relationship towards one's parents. That is, with marriage the children develop a new priority of relationships. Once married, the spouse receives precedence over the parents; the spouse becomes the primary focus. Marriage requires the husband and the wife to work together as a team. What is to motivate a married couple's decision making is no longer how they can fulfil their parents' wishes but, rather, how they, as husband and wife together, can please and obey God.

To put distance between parents and the self may take some doing. Interference from parents in one's marriage is not conducive to the growth of the marriage. A married couple is to be more involved with their relationship towards each other than with their relationship towards their parents. This means for parents that they are to give space to their married children. Already before children get married their parents need to train them to stand on their own feet. Let parents, then, give their married children space to learn to stand on their own feet as married couple also. It is God's ordinance that they leave the nest, and so parents have to let them leave.

Marriage Involves Cleaving to Each Other🔗

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife.” (For 'joined' the RSV uses the word 'cleave': “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife.”) Whilst both the words 'joining' and 'cleaving' express the notion of being united, 'cleaving' conveys the nuance of loyalty and faithfulness. Cleaving, for example, is what Ruth did to her mother-in-law. When Naomi advised Ruth and Orpah to stay in Moab instead of accompanying her to the land of Judah, Orpah farewelled Naomi “but Ruth clung to her” (Ruth 1:14). In this text one finds the same word that has been translated as 'joined' in Genesis 2:24 (NKJV). Here we need to imagine more than just a physical clinging on Ruth's part. The significance of Ruth's clinging becomes obvious from her reply to Naomi's second entreaty to Ruth that she please return to Moab, “… back to her people and to her gods…” (Ruth 1:15). But Ruth said: “Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. The LORD do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me” (Ruth 1:16, 17). In clinging to Naomi Ruth did more than simply give her mother-in-law a hug. Ruth's hug and physical clinging underlined her determination to spend her life with her mother-in-law. We know from the rest of the book that that is exactly what Ruth did.

One finds something similar in 2 Samuel 20:2. Sheba, a Benjaminite, led Israel in a rebellion against King David. However, not all the Israelites followed Sheba: “…But the men of Judah …remained loyal to their king.” Here too one finds the same word as in Genesis 2:24. Those who were loyal to David were willing to lay down their lives for him and eventually restored him to his throne.

Similarly, the word 'cling' is used various times in the book of Deuteronomy to describe what Israel ought to do in relation to God. Israel was to cling, or hold fast, to God; to remain faithful and loyal to Him as He was to them. For example: “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, …You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him, and to Him you shall hold fast…” (Deuteronomy 10:20).

So, in Genesis 2:24 God gives His norm for the duration of marriage. God's ordinance that “a man shall be joined to his wife” is an instruction for a man to hold fast to his wife. Husband and wife are to cling loyally to each other, for life. The inherent principle taught here is that there is no room for opting out of marriage. Marriage is not a short-term thing. God has not made an escape route out of marriage. So, when Jesus spoke on the matter of divorce (see Mark 10:2-9), He could insist that from the beginning God had not created room for divorce.

In Marriage Two People become One Flesh🔗

“…and they shall become one flesh.” At its most basic level, this part of the text is a reference to sexual relations. The fact that the apostle quotes this phrase in 1 Corinthians 6:16 confirms this: “Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.” Harlotry is just that: sexual intercourse.

On this understanding of the phrase, this text also stipulates when a man and woman may engage in sex. Notice the sequence of the three phrases in verse 24: first a man leaves his parents, then he joins his wife (i.e., he clings to her: vowing lifetime loyalty to her), and only then does he become one flesh with her. In other words, sexual relations do not precede marriage but belong within the marriage bond. This principle not only prohibits pre-marital sexual relations, but also prohibits extra-marital sexual relations. They, husband and wife exclusively, become one flesh; i.e., within marriage there is no place for a third party.

But to become one flesh with one's spouse encompasses more than just the sexual act. If husband and wife do not involve themselves in things deeper than sex, they will soon experience sex as something hollow and unsatisfying. When holy Scripture speaks of a husband and wife becoming one flesh, Scripture means by this phrase that the married couple share everything of their being, including their hearts, minds, souls and bodies – their whole selves. Only when a sharing of the deeper things of life forms the backdrop to sexual relations between husband and wife can sex be the beautiful thing it is described to be in the Song of Solomon.

In marriage two different persons are able to become one when each shares all with the other. The two of them, husband and wife, form a team: talking, thinking and working together. For this to work successfully each partner in the marriage is to focus not on the self but on the other. In Ephesians 5:28 the apostle exhorts husbands to focus their attention and devotion not on themselves but on their wives:

So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.

Husbands are to look to Christ for their example: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25). As Christ did for His church, so the husband must also empty himself for the good of his wife. Similarly, Proverbs 31 exalts the virtuous wife: the woman who focuses her attention on doing good for her husband: “Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life (verses 10-12).

Paul echoes this notion of husbands and wives giving themselves to each other totally for each other's benefit when he writes: “Let the husband render to his wife the affection due to her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body but the wife does” (1 Corinthians 7:3, 4). Here Paul makes a distinct reference to sexual relations between husband and wife. Who in the marriage determines whether to have intercourse or not? Is it me, because I have the urge? Is my focus `me-centred' or 'other-centred'? Oneness in marriage, i.e., for two to be of one mind, one flesh and one being, depends on an attitude of taking an interest in the other before yourself. This is notion of being one flesh: each looks after the interest of the other before the self. After all, “no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church” (Ephesians 5:29).

Conclusion🔗

It is a fact that the oneness the Lord wants in our marriages remains hindered by sin. Sin divides what God united. See how sin caused division between Adam and Eve. With the fall into sin Adam pointed the finger at Eve: “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” When sin entered the world, discord, selfishness, bitterness, stubbornness, pride, etc, all extended their treacherous fingers into marriage and destroyed what they could. So we experience marriages so different from the norm outlined in Genesis 2.

In the face, though, of people's need for a Saviour, God in mercy sent His Son. Where sin severed man's relationship with God and consequently affected interpersonal relations too, Christ came to restore both. By restoring man's relationship with God, Christ opened the way for the restoration of interpersonal relationships also. This renewal of relationship between God and man, so graciously worked once and for all by our Saviour, provides the model for the renewing work that must take place continually between husbands and wives. Thanks to our Saviour's triumph over sin, two different people can, each with their own character strengths and weaknesses, truly become one in the real sense of the word. It is Christ's total self-denial, even to death, that makes it possible for a man to deny himself for the good of his wife, and for a woman to deny herself for the good of her husband.

Endnotes🔗

  1. ^ As quoted in Susan T Foh, Women and the Word of God (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1979), pg 60.

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