Chapter 4: Institution of Marriage - Genesis 2
THE INSTITUTION OF MARRIAGE – Genesis 2:18-24
THE CREATION OF MAN AND WOMAN AND THE INSTITUTION OF MARRIAGE
The Marriage Form traces the institution of marriage back to Genesis 2:18-24. These verses read as follows:
The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman, ’
for she was taken out of man.”
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
Momentarily, we’ll come to a detailed discussion of these verses. First, though, we need to consider the wider context in which these verses appear. As will become apparent later on, these words need to be read and understood in the context of the sixth day of creation. We need first, then, to look briefly at the sixth day.
Sixth Day Overview
In Genesis 1 we read of God’s creative deeds on the six consecutive days of creation. Concerning the sixth day we read:
And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” … God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day (Genesis 1:24-31).
Here we have a bird’s-eye view of what God did on the sixth day: He created animals plus man and woman. Of importance to our topic is the following from Genesis 1:
A. Man and Woman created as equals before God
After God created both the man and the woman, we read in Genesis 1:28: “Then God blessed them….” God did not bless just the man or just the woman, but both the man and the woman. The Bible allows no room here for the notion of a hierarchy with God at the top, the man in the middle and the woman at the bottom. On the contrary, the first time the Bible mentions the two genders of the human race, holy Scripture sets them side by side, as equals before God.
B. Man and Woman created in the image of God
This equality is driven home further with God’s decision to make both male and female in His image. Both were equally equipped to reflect to all creation what God was like. Again, both were to make a point of imaging God as they ruled over God’s handiwork. God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply” implied that their children also, both boys and girls, could equally image God in their daily activities.
Sixth Day Detailed
Genesis 1:24-31 gave a bird’s-eye view of God’s work of creation on the sixth day. However, the details of how God went about making man and woman, and the sequence of events on that day, are given in Genesis 2.
Genesis 2:4 is the start of a new section in the book of Genesis. In our translation vs 4 says. “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” The Hebrew word for the term ‘account is ‘toledoth’ (repeated nine times in the book of Genesis ). These ‘toledoths’ form the frame upon which the whole book of Genesis is built. The word ‘toledoth’ means “what became of….” Hence Genesis 2:4 begins with telling what became of the heavens and the earth God had made in Genesis 1. In so doing, the section following 2:4 (till 4:26) gives further details about the heavens and the earth God made.
Concerning the creation of the man God formed to walk on this earth, verse 7 tells us that God initially created but one human being, namely, the male, Adam. He did so by forming a man out of the dust of the ground and then breathing into his nostrils the breath of life. Earlier the Lord God had made a home for Adam (the garden of Eden), and now He placed him in that garden (verse 8) with the instruction to “work it and take care of it” (verse 15). For food God granted Adam permission to eat of any tree in the garden, except the tree of knowledge of good and evil (verses 16,17).
The passage, then, pictures Adam for us on the sixth day of creation, a man on his own, charged and equipped to care for the garden. God observed His handiwork so far, and did not at this point declare everything good (as He had done on the previous five days). Instead, the LORD God evaluated His work with these words: “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Hence His decision: “I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18).
As Almighty God the Lord was able to tweak the gorilla He’d made earlier in the day to function as a helper for the man. He did not do so. As Almighty God the Lord was able to collect more dust from the earth and make of it a suitable helper. He did not do so. Instead, God did two things:
- He had all the animals and birds parade before Adam. As Adam identified each creature with a name, it became evident that amongst all the creatures God had so far fashioned there was none that could serve as a helper to the man (Genesis 2:19,20).
- He caused the recently created man to fall into a deep sleep. While he slept the Creator performed surgery on the man to remove a section of his side (commonly translated as a ‘rib’), and refashioned this rib into a woman (Genesis 2:21,22).
When Adam, awakened and hale from his surgery, saw the Lord his Creator coming with at His side a woman as gift for Adam, the man burst out in a song of praise to his Creator. The Holy Spirit caused Moses to record in verse 23 Adam’s psalm of thanksgiving, his marriage song:
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
It is at this point in time that we need to place chronologically the words of Genesis 1:31: “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.” God’s earlier analysis to the effect that man’s aloneness was “not good” is now replaced with His divine assessment that all is “very good.” We need to realize that part of the “very good” is also the creation of man and woman, as well as the institution of marriage itself.
When society around us says that marriage has had its day and that there are alternative legitimate ways of living together, society diametrically opposes what God has said. God said from the beginning that “it was very good” that a man and a woman should be united in marriage as instituted by Him on the sixth day of creation. To seek and practice alternatives to God’s only way for marriage can only have negative consequences, for God’s blessing can only be expected when God is obeyed. Let man, creature that he is (and sinful at that), not set himself up as judge over his Creator’s pronouncement that the ordinance of marriage as Biblically defined is “very good”. To do so is arrogance.
GOD’S PRINCIPLES FOR MARRIAGE AS TAUGHT IN GENESIS 2:18
This overview of how God created the first man and the first woman, and then joined them together in the holy state of marriage, leads to a number of principles basic to marriage. The following can be mentioned.
It is not good that man should be alone.
Aloneness was not God’s intent when He created man. God Himself was dissatisfied with the man-by-himself, and so created the woman. By the same token, aloneness was not God’s intent for the woman either – as is evident from the fact that she was created for the man. The two genders need each other.
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 fact, 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 must not marry and have sons or daughters in this place.” Similarly, of all the people mentioned in the New Testament, we know with certainty only that our Lord Jesus Christ never married, due to the special nature of His task. Of Paul we know that at the time he wrote 1 Corinthians 7 he was not married, for he writes in verse 7: “I wish that all men were as I am” – and the context makes clear that that’s a reference to being unmarried. These words do not, however, exclude the possibility that he used to be married and was now widowed. It is also worthwhile to realize that it is “hypocritical liars” who “forbid people to marry” (1 Timothy 4:2,3). Celibacy, though encouraged by the church in the name of the Lord over the years, has no Scriptural basis, and is certainly not the norm God intended for man or for woman. So we do well to encourage our young people to seek the holy state of marriage.
The woman is Helper
In response to God’s observation that “it is not good for a man to be alone,” the Lord in sovereign wisdom determined to “make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18). The ‘helper’ did not end up standing at a distance from man, but was united to the man in marriage. These two factors, the problem and the solution as recorded in Genesis 2:18, together capture 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 complement each other as they go about their task of imaging God.
In the course of church history, there have been those taught that woman is inferior to man. Thomas Aquinas, for example, wrote in the thirteenth century 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.”
This, however, was certainly not God’s intention when creating the woman 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 passages give us a flavor of what the Scriptures mean with the word ‘helper’.
- As a fugitive in Midian Moses named his second son ‘Eliezer’ because (he said), “My father’s God was my helper; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh” (Exodus 18:4). Pharaoh’s sword was too much for Moses; he needed help to escape it, and that help came from the Lord God.
- After Israel defeated the Philistines in battle, Samuel set up a memorial stone named Ebenezer to commemorate that, “Thus far has the LORD helped us’” (1 Samuel 7:12). God’s help had come in the face of Israel’s great fear of the Philistines; the Lord used the forces of nature to thunder against the Philistines and rout them. The point is that Israel was deficient in the face of the Philistines and so needed a helper.
- As the psalmist eyed the road he needed to travel and considered the dangers of highwaymen, sun-stroke, or sliding out on the pebbles of the trail, he wondered where his help might come from. His answer: “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2). Here’s an awareness that the road has more risks than he can overcome on own strength, and so a recognition that he needs help.
- In similar vein, the psalmist of Psalm 124 confessed in the midst of fierce attacks and raging waters that “our help is in the name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:8).
In all these cases (and others could be mentioned), the person concerned does not have within himself what it takes to face the challenges before him. There’s a deficiency that makes ‘help’ necessary.
The Lord God said of man He’d created that he needed a helper; his aloneness was a deficiency rendering him less than able –physically, emotionally, spiritually to carry out the challenges of the task God had given the man. To overcome that deficiency, the Lord created the woman to be ‘helper’ for the man. She completes him. More, to overcome that deficiency, the Lord did not set the woman at a distance from the man, but bound her to the man in the holy state of marriage. With the woman taken from his side –and hence now at his side– the man Adam was complete, now able to look after the garden, able to face the questions of life. The man needs the woman; the woman is for the man.
Order in Creation: the Man First, the Woman Second
As almighty God, the Lord was able to form the woman first from the dust of the earth, and thereafter fashion man from her side. In His sovereign wisdom, He did it the other way around. Though He fashioned both to image Him and gave them both the mandate to be fruitful and to rule over all creatures, He put the man in the Garden before He formed the woman, and told the man alone to work the garden and take care of it. His was the mandate to cultivate the earth and to develop culture. Hers was the mandate to help him in this task.
Through the apostle Paul the Holy Spirit draws out the implication of this order of creation. “I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3). And later: “For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (1 Corinthians 11:8,9). Paul describes a hierarchy in descending order from God to Christ to man to woman. The Father begot the Son, and not the Son the Father – and so there is ‘priority’ to the Father in the relation between these two Persons of the holy Trinity. This ‘priority’ does not mean that the Father is more important than the Son, nor does it mean that the Son is less than the Father; within the Trinity the two are equal. Similarly, “man did not come from woman, but woman from man” – and so there is ‘priority’ to the man in the relation between these two genders of the human species. This ‘priority’ does not mean that the man is more important than the woman, nor does it mean that the woman is less than the man. But it does mean that the one is the head, and the other is not! The man’s headship holds true in marriage, and yet not only in marriage, no more than the Father’s headship over Christ is limited to one aspect of Their existence. Adam alone was placed in the Garden and was told to “work it and take care of it,” cultivate the ground and develop culture (Genesis 2:15). His aloneness made him insufficient to the task so that God created the woman to complete him, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that in his daily work Adam was the head, and the woman was his helper. The hierarchy of ‘first’ and ‘second’ pertains to all of life.
To be clear: this priority of the man does not mean that he is master over his wife, or that she is somehow his footstool – even as the Father’s ‘priority’ over the Son does not make the Father a Master over the Son or the Son His footstool. Paul says this about the matter in 1 Corinthians 11: “In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman” (verses 11,12). Though God created man first and the woman second, Paul recognizes that there is a mutual dependence between the two genders. From these building materials supplied in Genesis 2 lie hidden what the Bible later teaches about the specific roles of husband and wife in marriage and society.
The First Wedding Song
After Adam awoke from his deep sleep, God brought to him the gift He had made for him: a helper suitable for him so that he would be complete. His eyes beheld her coming to him: the woman fashioned from his rib. 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,’
for she was taken out of man” (Genesis 2:23).
This phrase “bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh” comes back in other places in Scripture, and turns out to mean more than that one is kinfolk.
- After Jacob arrived at his uncle Laban’s place in Padan Aram, Laban said to him, “You are my own flesh and blood” (Genesis 29:14). Other translations capture the Hebrew literally, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh” (NKJV), and so draw the link with Adam’s words in Genesis 2. On grounds of the kinship between the two men, Jacob not only lived with Laban but also began to work for him. To be ‘bone and flesh’ led to cooperation, being a team.
- After his father died, Abimelech “went to his mother’s brothers in Shechem, and said to them and to all his mother’s clan, ‘Ask all the citizens of Shechem, Which is better for you: to have all seventy of Jerubbaal’s sons rule over you, or just one man?’ Remember, that I am your flesh and blood.” Or, as the Hebrew has it, ‘I am you flesh and bone.’ The result of his request was that “the citizens of Shechem … inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, ‘He is our brother’” (Judges 9:1-3). As a result a cooperation developed between Abimelech and the people of Shechem.
One can refer also to 2 Samuel 5:1, 2 Samuel 19:11,12, etc. This becomes clear: to speak about being flesh and bone is more than to acknowledge biological kinship; to speak of flesh and bone is to engage in cooperation, to do things with and for each other.
This is what happens in Genesis 2 also. When God brought the woman to Adam, the man in his wedding song did more than acknowledge a blood relationship; he also confessed that the two would work together, would be a team. Was she not to be his helper, the gift God gave to complete what was insufficient in Adam? Precisely because she was his flesh and bone could they work together in the Garden and develop the creation God entrusted to their care.
There is something remarkable about Adam’s wedding song. The woman was a stranger to him; Adam did not know her character, let alone the characteristics of womanhood. Yet he received the woman eagerly, and was excited about the possibilities her arrival presented. Here was evidence of trust in the God who gave Adam this woman. God the Creator would make no mistake in giving this woman to this man. By definition, she was a perfect fit. Interestingly enough, Isaac responded in the same way when the Lord God in His providence provided him with Rebekah. Note the progress of action in the following passage, “Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her” (Genesis 24:67). Though he did not yet know the woman God gave him, Isaac married her and eventually learned to love her. This was because he received Rebekah from God’s hand – and he believed that whatever God gives is well given. In faith, then, he made a point of loving this woman.
Rightly does the Form for Marriage say that “the LORD also today gives husband and wife to one another.” Since the Lord’s hand is behind the wife I receive I am duty bound to love her, and to keep loving her despite what time and stress can do to her character, her looks, her health, etc. In His wisdom God has ordained that she is the particular woman needed to complete me as I travel the road of life over the years God gives. The same, of course, holds true for the woman in relation to the man God in wisdom gives her. Here the child of God lives and acts by faith.
God’s Principles for Marriage as Taught in Genesis 2:24
After Moses recorded how the Lord formed the woman on the sixth day of creation (Genesis 2:18-23), the Holy Spirit moved him to record for the benefit of all future readers what consequence followed from the way God made the woman and from the way God gave her to the man. Wrote Moses: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Let it be clear: God’s pronouncement on the sixth day of creation that “it is not good for the man to be alone,” and His subsequent creation of woman and marriage had a relevance and application valid for every man and woman who came after Adam and Eve. That the New Testament would three times quote this conclusion from God’s work in Genesis 2 (Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:7,8 and Ephesians 5:31) points up that this conclusion remains valid for all people in all times and cultures. The following principles flow from it:
A. 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. Man does not complete man, but woman completes man. Similarly, woman is not a ‘helper’ for another woman, but is a ‘helper’ to a man. Marriage is not a union of two individuals of the same sex, but is by God’s ordinance a union between two individuals of opposite gender the union of a man and a woman.
B. 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’, ie, 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. Adam did not need multiple wives to be complete, nor did Eve need multiple husbands – though God was mighty to create such a situation. After having united one woman to one man in holy marriage, God judged that all was “very good” (Genesis 1:31).
C. To marry means to leave father and mother
God had earlier told Adam and his wife to “be fruitful and increase in number” (Genesis 1:28). This instruction included, we understand, the task to raise the children God granted. We picture in the eye of our mind, very rightly, a home where sons and daughters live with father and mother. Yet when the son received a wife from God’s hand –says the Holy Spirit– he “will leave his father and mother.” In first instance this means that the young man develops a new priority in his relationships. The deficiency that was there with his manliness has been completed through the wife sovereign God in wisdom has given him. His allegiance must now be geared first to her. She has become his God-ordained ‘helper’, together the two have become ‘one flesh’, and so the young man’s relation with his wife must take priority over his relation to his parents. The same is true for the young wife. Precisely because the Lord God has made her a helper to the man to whom God wed her, her focus is now to be her husband and not her parents. Physically leaving the parental home in order to live with the new spouse can certainly help bring about a healthy emotional or psychological ‘leaving’ of father and mother. So a young couple will make decisions together, and wise parents will give their married children space to make their own decisions – and mistakes.
D. Marriage involves cleaving to each other
The young man who receives a helper from God’s hand is not just to “leave … his father and mother,” but is also to “be united to his wife.” The word translated as ‘united’ is used elsewhere in Scripture to convey the notion of cleaving, and has within it the nuance of loyalty and faithfulness. 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). The nature and 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). Said Ruth: “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separate you and me” (Ruth 1:16,17). Here is a forceful sense of loyalty and devotion that would remain till death them did part. This is what’s caught in the word ‘cling’, the same word the Holy Spirit used in Genesis 2 concerning marriage.
One finds something similar in 2 Samuel 20:2. When Sheba, a Benjaminite, led Israel in a rebellion against King David, “the men of Judah stayed by 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.
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. “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul…. Fear the LORD your God and serve Him. Hold fast to Him...” (Deuteronomy 10:12,20; see also 11:22; 30:20).
The NIV translation ‘be united’ in Genesis 2:24 is, then, too weak. The ordinance of God as caught in the verb the Holy Spirit uses is that the young man and his wife shall cleave together, shall stay loyal to each other through thick and thin. Such cleaving together is the obvious consequence of God’s divine decision to give the man a ‘helper’. It’s true of the young man raised in the parental home as much as it was true of Adam in Paradise: “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Since God in His wisdom has given a ‘helper’ to fill that deficiency, the two must cling together as long as God gives them life, and so make a point of being for each other what God ordained them to be. It is not without significance that this is the text Jesus quoted when He taught about the permanency of marriage, and hence resisted divorce (see Mark 10:2-9).
E. In marriage two people become one flesh
By God’s ordinance, the young man and his new bride “will become one flesh.” At its most basic level, this is a reference to sexual relations. The fact that the apostle Paul quotes this phrase in 1 Corinthians 6:16 confirms this: “Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, ‘The two will become one flesh.’”
On this understanding of the phrase, this text also stipulates when a man and woman may engage in sexual activity. Notice the sequence of the three phrases in verse 24: first a man leaves his parents, then he joins his wife (ie, 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 –by God’s ordinance– 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. 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. In fact, properly understood, sex is a symbol of the full unity that characterizes marriage any moment of the day or night – a unity not limited to the marriage bed. By the ordinance of God the man needs the woman to complete him, and the woman fulfils her purpose by being helper to the man. His deficiency and her help are not limited to sexuality! For the one to complete the other, the married couple need to share ever aspect of their being, including their hearts, minds, souls and bodies. 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.
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: “In this same way, husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” Husbands receive their example from Jesus Christ: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). As Christ was not driven by concern for Himself, but instead emptied Himself 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: “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, 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: “The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another…” (1 Corinthians 7:3,4,5). 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-centered’ or ‘other-centered’? Oneness in marriage, ie, 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 the concept caught in the phrase “one flesh”: each looks after the interest of the other before the self. After all, “no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church” (Ephesians 5:29).
The two people God created on the sixth day of creation, united by God as they were in holy marriage, “were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:25). They were totally open with each other, exposed in heart and soul for the other to read and know, fully comfortable in each other’s presence – to say now nothing of the presence of their holy Creator. They could be open with each other simply because they conformed fully to the role God created for husband and wife in marriage, for God’s work was “very good.”
The beauty of marriage as God created it was unrecognizably marred by subsequent events in the Garden of Eden. For reasons left unexplained to us, the serpent addressed the woman in the Garden with the suggestion that she eat from the forbidden tree. She did so, and then offered fruit to her husband, who in turn also ate. It is futile to theorize about why Satan approached the woman instead of the man. It is futile also to theorize about what would have happened had Adam refused to join his wife in transgression. The fact of the matter is that both disobeyed the instruction of the Lord their God. The result was instantaneous: the harmony and unity of their marriage relationship was broken. When the Lord God confronted the man with his sin, he pointed a big finger at his wife: “The woman You put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (Genesis 3:12). From this point in history onward, people still married, but never again did they experience the beauty of marriage as God created it. Same-sex marriage, bigamy and polygamy, parents dominating and frustrating the lives and hopes of children and children-in-law, divorce, lack of communication in marriage, selfishness in relation to sexuality, tyranny within marriage (be it from the husband’s side or the wife’s), and so many other ills have characterized the marriages of so many millions since the days of Genesis 3. Because of the fall into sin, marriage was distinctly no longer “very good.”
How wonderful, then, that when the Lord God sent His only Son into the world to atone for sin, Jesus Christ began His public ministry at a wedding (John 2:1-11). That young couple in Cana of Galilee had all the hope and expectation that any young person brings to marriage, but their depravity dictated that their marriage would know just as much pain and frustration as their ancestors had experienced for countless generations. In fact, the shortage of wine at the wedding feast served as a painful symbol of the shortages and brokenness that was sure to characterize their marriage. But the Christ who would soon go to the cross to pay for sin and reconcile sinners to God solved the problem of the shortage in a wonderful way – and so foreshadowed that His redeeming work on Calvary would also impact the brokenness the couple would experience in marriage. Thanks to the renewing work of Christ’s Spirit, godly couples can again taste something of the beauty of marriage as God intended.
The revelation of God about the institution of marriage in Genesis 2 is recorded for the benefit of people living today, in a fallen world so totally different from the circumstances of Paradise. If this institution were of no relevance today, the Lord would not have told us in such detail about how and why He created marriage in the first place. As it is, the Lord Jesus Christ has in principle returned God’s people to Paradise Restored. So the fundamentals of marriage as revealed in Genesis 2 are of vital importance to marriage today, as the following chapters will attempt to show.