Leave, Cleave, and Become One Flesh

Sermon preached on Genesis 2:18-25 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 02/26/2023 in Petaluma, CA.

Sermon Manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.

Marriage has fallen on hard times recently. As I say that, you might immediately think of gay marriage, and, yes, that is an opponent to the biblical institution of marriage. But the institution has far greater enemies than gay marriage. If you do some searching on the statistics, you’ll find that in the last century the marriage rate has declined drastically. In other words, less and less people are getting married. Cohabitation and fornication are very common, even among people who do eventually go on to get married. Add to all this the continued prevalence of divorce where somewhere in the 40% to 50% of marriages end in divorce. Yes, gay marriage is a contemporary problem we are facing for the institution of marriage. But it is not the biggest problem by any means. I pray that today’s biblical reflection on marriage will help promote a renewed zeal for this institution.

So then, today we come specifically to consider verse 24. This is the formal institution of marriage. In our first point, I want us to consider the importance of the word “therefore” that begins verse 24. That connects the verse to what just happened with God making woman out of man. To say it another way, verses 18-23 describe the historical fact of God making Eve out of Adam, but then verse 24 makes an application of that fact of history to the ongoing institution of marriage.

To say this another way, verse 24 isn’t explicitly about Adam and Eve. You know it’s not about Adam and Eve because Adam didn’t have any parents, but verse 24 mentions a man’s parents. Verse 24 isn’t about Adam and Eve, but about every human marriage after Adam and Eve. And what it is saying is that the each of those marriages is patterned after Adam and Eve. So, verse 24 is about Adam and Eve in that sense. That’s what the “therefore” is all about. What Adam and Eve were, that’s what every human marriage now is supposed to try to reflect and image. They are the precedence upon which the model of the marriage institution is founded. That applies not just to marriage specifically, but also about their differences as man and woman that we discussed last week. Human marriages today are to express and reflect the sort of similarity and difference we studied last Sunday with regard to Adam and Eve.

So think with me further on this “therefore”, on how the marriage institution tries to image Adam and Eve. Verse 24 says that marriage is to be between one man and one woman. That is because Adam and Eve were one man and one woman, verse 23. This speaks against all the ways man tries to pervert marriage today whether it be in polygamy, homosexuality, or bestiality. Biblical marriage is between one man and one woman because is its modeled after the union of the first man and woman.

Thinking more about this “therefore”, verse 24 says that a man when he gets married is to leave his father and mother. That is because Adam didn’t have any father and mother. It all began with just them, verse 23. Likewise, verse 24 says that a husband and wife are to hold fast in cleaving relationally with each other, just like we saw that before Eve, Adam was all alone, but God made Eve to be that helper fit for him so he wouldn’t be all alone but would have a match, a complement, a corresponding partner. How Eve was made as such a fit for Adam is why the marriage institution involves the husband and wife cleaving together. So too, verse 24 says that the husband and wife are to become one flesh. That is because as Adam says in verse 23, he and Eve were one flesh. Eve was literally flesh of Adam’s flesh and bone of Adam’s bone, and that was true of them even before their sexual union. After that, every marriage images and reflects that by becoming one flesh together in that exclusive bond of marital union.

So then, every human marriage is to be a picture of Adam and Eve. One man and one woman, leave, cleave, and become one flesh, and in so doing they picture Adam and Eve who were the first married couple. I remind you then that in last week’s study of this passage we spoke of male headship in marriage as it was rooted in the way God made Adam Eve here in Genesis. We noted that the man was formed first, then the woman. We noted that the woman was made for the man, not the man for the woman. We said that this had an application for male headship in marriage. We noted how the New Testament even affirmed that application in places like 1 Corinthians 11 among others. So then, this marriage institution of verse 24 reminds us why this is the case. What Adam and Eve were, and their creational relationship to each other, becomes the pattern for all future human marriages. Adam was the head of Eve, therefore, in a marriage, the man is to be the head of his wife. That is because human marriage is to be a picture of Adam and Eve’s relationship. This is all embodied in this first word in verse 24, “therefore”.

Let me add an additional application here. Jesus in Matthew 19 speaks against divorce by referencing this passage and saying, “What God has joined together, let not man separate.” Marriage as an institution is so much of God that whenever someone gets married Jesus says that it is God joining them together. This also is surely founded in Adam and Eve, for it was God who joined Adam and Eve together. Jesus says that human marriages continue to reflect that, that when two people consent to be married, it is ultimately God who has joined them together.

Let us now turn in our second point to unpack these three things that it says are to be happening in a marriage. I refer to the leaving, cleaving, and becoming one flesh. I’ve described how those things reflect Adam and Eve, but let’s actually think through what each means.

So then, marriage involves a leaving that takes place. This speaks of how marriage is establishing a new social unit. Here it says that a man shall leave his parents to be married to his wife. The same happens for the woman, of course. Before, you are born into your family to your father and mother. You and your siblings with your parents are a family. But when you grow up and go off and get married, there needs to be some kind of a break there. Your allegiances will change in some sense. Now the husband and wife are starting their own new immediate family. This leaving idea doesn’t mean they won’t ever see their parents again, but it’s about establishing a new family unit even with a new chain of command. While they should always still honor their parents, they are no longer under their formal authority.
Instead, the new husband and wife have their own new authority structure, where the husband will serve as head of that marriage. May this be a reminder to the parents of the newlywed to remember to respect those boundaries, as well as a reminder to the couple. The wife needs to look to their husband as their head now, not her parents. And the husband needs to make sure that the parents aren’t allowed to run their lives, and you should especially protect your wife from that. But a wise husband and wife will still find plenty of ways to be gleaning wisdom from their parents and involving them in their lives and honoring them.

So then, the next thing it says is that marriage involves the idea of cleaving. It says that the man will hold fast to his wife, which the KJV uses that traditional language of cleaving. This is about becoming one. There is to be a unifying of two lives into one life. When you get married, you begin to live together, you merge all your belongings together, all your finances together, everything. You pursue to be one not just in all those outward ways, but even inwardly, emotionally, spiritually, etc. To clarify, this cleaving is not something that is perfected the moment you are married. Rather, it’s a lifelong pursuit of marital oneness. I’ve seen many a problem in a marriage when the couple tries to overly maintain personal separate things. Cleaving is a pursuit of oneness.

And so, the third thing it says about marriage is the idea of becoming one flesh. While this could have been embodied in the idea of cleaving, it is of such importance in the marital union that it is called out on its own. It is such an integral feature of marriage, that we speak of a marriage only being officially consummated after that physical union has taken place. It is also so central to marriage, that as we learn all the more clearly elsewhere, that this is the only biblically acceptable place for sexual activity to be expressed. As Hebrews 13:4 says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” That means all sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful. This is surely one major reason why marriage is so neglected because so many people cohabitate and become one flesh outside of marriage. But that is wrong, just as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6 that sexual intimacy with a prostitute is wrong, because you are becoming one with someone who is not your spouse. But this one flesh aspect of marriage is to be a sweet blessing to the married couple. They are to bless each other with one another, not withholding this, but regularly delighting in this together. While it is related to procreation, it is also intended for pleasure.

Having thought about this leaving, cleaving, and becoming one flesh, I think this would be an appropriate time to comment about the nature of male headship in marriage, to note that not all biblical authority structures are the same. Husbands, listen up here, as this is very important to not miss. Think of some of the main authority structures in the Bible, such as civil government, church leadership, and parents with their children. These different authority structures don’t all have the same scope of authority, nor the same tools to enforce their authority, nor the same distance between the people in authority and the people under authority. In civil government, they especially judge matters of conflict between neighbors and the Bible says they have a physical sword to enforce their authority, and the distance between the government and the citizens tends to be fairly great. In church authority, the elders exercise authority only in matters that are moral and spiritual, and the Bible says they only have a spiritual sword, and the distance between the elders and church members is usually quite closer. Then in a family, parents are to lovingly chasten their children to rear them in godliness, and they even had a rod to do so, referring to corporal discipline. There is a very close relationship between parent and child, and thus the discipline is to be all about loving correction and rearing. But what about in a marriage? Nowhere does the Bible say that the husband has a sword or rod to use against his wife to enforce his leadership. If you try to find any sort of tool that a husband has to enforce his leadership, you really have to go back to Old Testament case law to try to glean some insight. There you can find some cases of conflict where a husband in one case needs to bring his accusation against his wife to the priest for adjudication. Other circumstances would involve the elders to make a decision between a husband and wife. Interestingly, there is only one place I can find where the husband under Old Testament case law is described as acting on his own to basically punish his wife and that’s in writing her certificate of divorce to send her away. But, Jesus in the New Testament clarifies that this passage was addressing the sinful hard-heartedness of men in doing such, not advocating for that, and in fact Jesus points back to Genesis that God’s institution is the permanent lifelong union of man and woman in marriage.

My point is that the authority structure of marriage is different than these other structures. The husband does not wield some special weapon to enforce his will on his wife. That is surely because of the nature of the oneness of marriage. That’s why the most proper language is that the man is the head of the marriage, and not the king or dictator, because headship is the imagery of a united body. If the distance between citizen and governor is great and the distance between parents and children is near, there is supposed to be no distance between you and your wife. The head of a body should love and take care of his body. And if the rest of the body wants to be healthy it shouldn’t keep walking her head into a wall. Husbands and wives, you need to work together and follow the Bible’s guidance on how to walk in life.

In our final point for today, I want to reflect on the marriage institution in a uniquely Christian way. In Ephesians 5:32, Paul quotes verse 24 here and makes an application to Christ and the church. There it says that the institution of marriage can be seen as a mysterious picture of Christ and the church. Paul calls us then think that way about our marriages, so that then our marriages become modeled after Christ and the church. So, Paul there in Ephesians 5 calls the husband to sacrificially love his wife like Christ loved the church when he died for her to sanctify here. So, he calls husbands to be like Christ in sacrificial loving leadership that is looking to bless and care for his wife. Paul goes on to say that this also means that a husband should love his wife and care for her as his own body, because she is. As a side note, surely that would be another argument against a husband employing physical punishment ever against his wife, but I digress.

Likewise, Paul in Ephesians 5 calls the wife to submit to her husband as the church is called to submit to Christ. Paul explains that this means that as you would submit to Jesus, that’s how you should endeavor to submit to your husband. Now, a wife might say that her husband is no Jesus, and yes, that’s absolutely true. But Paul says that doesn’t give you a reason to not show him respect. Likewise, husbands, know that your wife is not perfect, and she won’t always submit perfectly. But that doesn’t give you a reason to not sacrificially love her and care for her.

I would add to this thought the final verse in our passage, where in verse 25 it mentions how Adam and Eve at this point are naked and yet not ashamed. That is a foreshadowing of how next chapter they will fall into sin and bear the shame of it. So, we know human sinfulness has affected marriages since then. But that is also why Christ needed to die for the church his bride. Christ Jesus gave up himself to redeem the church his bride from all their sin.

Though think of if Adam had acted with Eve the way he should have in next chapter? Could not Adam have protected his wife from the serpent, to keep her from falling into sin? And even once she did sin, instead of joining with her sin and ultimately blaming her for it, could he not have said to God “I will die for her, in her place?” But he did not, and thus we needed a Second Adam to come and give up his life for his bride the church.

So then, the idea of Paul in Ephesians 5 is that our marriages can be a beautiful picture of the relationship of Christ and the church. Think about how we started out today. We said that this marriage institution in verse 24 said human marriages were supposed to image and reflect the relationship of Adam and Eve. Now, Christians are told today how their marriages should reflect the relationship of the Second Adam and his bride the church. Let us indeed seek to image and reflect Christ and his church in our marriages.

Stepping back, let us appreciate that if you are member of Christ’s church, then you have a oneness with Jesus Christ. For Christ to be the head of the church, his bride, it means that we are the body of Christ, and individually body parts of that body. My hope is that our teaching today on marriage can then also help us appreciate more of that wonderful oneness we have with Jesus. What a wonderful reciprocal application that we get here! Our human marriages remind us of our union with Christ, and our union with Christ reminds us of our human marriages. May that reciprocal application mean that we be encouraged and built up in both today. And this is what our world needs too. Our world needs a higher view of marriage. Our world needs a higher view of Jesus and Christians. May our embracing of biblical marriage serve as a testimony to the world in both of these areas.

As I conclude this message, we’ve remembered human sinfulness again today. It is such sinfulness that is of course why marriage is in such decline in our day. Humanity is fallen, and in many ways it was a failing of the first marriage that caused it. Can we really be that surprised that humans have such a low view of marriage when the first one’s failing caused us all so much trouble? And yet it is wonderful to think of how marriage finds a redemption of sorts by God using it to describe Christ and the church. Here in Genesis, God presents Eve to Adam. And Ephesians speaks of how one day the church will be presented to Christ. In other words, we are actually right now just the betrothed to Jesus. The wedding is yet ahead. Let us look forward to that consummation when Christ returns.


Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.