The origin of marriage

Genesis 2:18—25

In 1970, over 70% of the population in the United States was married.  In 2002, that number had dropped to under 60%, and in fact, it had slipped 3% between 2000 and 2002 alone.  Almost 50% of custodial mothers and over 50% of custodial fathers are either separated or divorced.  Marriages that end in divorce do so in less than eight years, and second marriages don’t last that long.

Only 63% of children are raised by both of their biological parents in America.  63% of all youth suicides, 90% of all homeless/runaway children, 85% of children with behavioral problems, 71% of high school dropouts, 85% of incarcerated youth, and well over 50% of all unwed mothers come from fatherless homes. (Source:  The Evangelical Sunday School Commentary)

What in the world is happening to the family in America?   Clearly Americans have a problem with commitment.  This is reflected not only in marriage statistics.  Bankruptcies, repossessions, and foreclosures all point that the undeniable fact that unlike their forefathers, when the going gets tough, Americans bail.  Let’s face it; it’s easier to just walk away than to deal with bad situations.

However, what’s easy is not always what’s right.  In the area of marriage and relationships, it’s far easier to consider marriage a “social option,” rather than a “sacred institution.”

Perhaps one of the reasons Americans struggle with marriage commitment is because we have largely forgotten where marriage came from and that a good marriage takes not only commitment and dedication, but also work.

Marriage is as old as creation itself.  So to understand it, we have to go back the very beginnings:  to the book of beginnings, Genesis, to see where marriage started.

(a)  The woman God built, verses 18—20

During the Creative Week, time and again God remarked, “It is good” (or a variation of that) each time He created something.  There was only one aspect of His creation that God was not totally satisfied with.  The man He created in His image was alone, and God did not like that.

“It is not good for the man to be alone.”  (verse 18a)

Most of us are aware that isolation is rarely a good thing; it is not natural and is unwholesome if prolonged.  The implication is that fellowship is a good thing, and so God built a woman.

“I will make a helper suitable for him.”  (verse 18b)

In what sense was the woman to be a “helper?”  Augustine believed the woman’s task as a helper was in the bearing and rearing of children.  Keil and Delitzsch write that the woman was created to help the man till the ground and groom the Garden.  Most scholars see the woman as man’s helper in the broadest sense, including but not limited to bringing children into the world in fulfillment of the Divine decree.  However, it seems to me that something much deeper and more profound is indicated by the Creator’s concern for man’s lonely condition.

The forthcoming “helper” or “help meet” (KJV), was to be similar to the man, sharing his essential nature, yet providing a supplement to that nature.  The man without the woman was incomplete, which is why when God created the man, He was not satisfied; something about the man was not right.  There was something else needed.   Everything that the man’s nature needed for completion—physically, emotionally, intellectually, and socially—was to be found in his altera ego, who would soon be standing by his side (Farrar).

To say that God made a helper for the man simply to help him keep the garden and produce children is to miss the point that the man was created in God’s image, but that man without the woman by his side didn’t look right.  Man is complete and in God’s image when he has his helper by his side.

Sandwiched in-between God’s declaration that man needed a helper and the formation of that helper is an account of the creation of the land animals and the birds of the air.   Of these creatures, we told—

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.  (verse 19b)

In Hebrew, there are not tense forms, so it is an assumption that God formed the animals after He had formed the man, as some translations seem to suggest.  It is just as easily assumed that after man was created and placed in the Garden God brought to him the animals He had previously created.

The intellect of Adam in his pre-Fall state must have been astounding!  Imagine one man being able to name every single animal and bird.  What’s more, the man had authority over all those animals!   Here is an excellent example of the image of God in man.  Adam had the capabilities to think, reason, imagine, and discern the nature of each and every animal brought to him, and give them all suitable names.  In the Hebrew, name and character go hand-in-hand.  Somehow, never having seen a lion or butterfly in his life, the newly created man gave them names perfectly suited to their innate characters!

It wasn’t until after he had named every living creature that it became obvious something was lacking in the man’s life.  This was one of the reasons why God had Adam engaged in this task:  to reveal his loneliness.  God already knew the man would end up lonely; that his work would not fill all of his needs, but the man needed to discover this for himself.

(b)  Bone of my bones, verses 21—23

Before God made a partner for Adam, He caused the man to fall into a deep sleep.  This was not a sleep caused by the work of naming all the animals.  It was a supernatural sleep brought on by God.  It is interesting to note trends in the Bible, and this is one of many.  When God communicated or initiated a new relationship with a man, the recipient of this divine provision slept while God acted (for example, the covenant with Abraham in 15:12 and the covenant with Jacob in 28:11).   The purpose of these divinely-induced naps is to illustrate man’s passivity when God acts.  The best thing for a person to do when God is moving in their life is stay out of His way and let Him work.  For most human beings, this is a hard thing to do; so taking a nap is a good solution.

As to why the woman was created from one of man’s ribs is not known, although theories abound.   At first glance, the mention of a rib seems superfluous, but upon closer examination there is likely a lesson God wants man to understand.   This lesson is expressed beautifully Cassuto:  “Just as the rib is found at the side of the man and is attached to him, even so a good wife, the rib of her husband, stands at his side to be his helper-counterpart, and her soul is bound up with his.”

Verse 22 is one of the most touching verses in all of Scripture:

Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

To show just how unique the woman was, she was not “created,” she was “made.”  A completely different verb is used, yiben, which literally means, built.  God built a woman for the man and then God did a most amazing thing:  He brought the woman to the man for his approval and his appraisal.  Man had to name the animals, but had to approve of the woman.  God wanted the man’s opinion of the helper He made for him.

But the most interesting part of the story is Adam’s jubilant response to seeing Eve:

“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”  (verse 23)

No wonder man was happy; here was a perfectly suited friend for him, created from the same stuff he was created from.  The woman was not made from an inferior substance; she was and is man’s equal in every meaningful way since she was taken out of him.  No man, with an ounce of intelligence, can conclude that women are in any way inferior to him; she is him in another form.  This Adam recognized immediately by describing her as “bone of his bone” and “flesh of his flesh.”  She was part of himself and completely suitable for him in every way.

(c)  One flesh, verses 24—25

In effect, these verses describe the institution of marriage and the nature of marriage.

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife. (verse 24)

This verse is frequently quoted in the marriage ceremony, yet it is never explained.  From its inception, God intended that marriage should be exclusive and intimate.  It’s hard to be exclusively devoted to your spouse  and almost impossible to be intimate with your spouse if you are still living with mom and dad, and sleeping in the bedroom right next door!  It’s virtually impossible for a husband to please his wife when he has to please his mother by virtue of never having “left” her, either physically or emotionally.

To “cleave” to his wife is full of meaning.  Leaving mom and dad means that the man will sacrifice the safety of home for the freedom of creating his own home.  Such an admonition is not given to the woman.  At home, she lived in security with her parents, and when she marries, she has every right to expect that same security from her husband.

Furthermore, the suggestion is that when a man leaves his parents, he is no longer answerable to them; he does not live in subjection to them.  The intimation is that at marriage, the man’s obligations are now directed toward his wife.  He is now responsible for her.  He now answers to her, in the sense that he owes her what he used to owe his parents.

This is the essence of marriage.  Leaving and cleaving are essential.  A new couple must learn how to make it own their own, through their commitment and dedication to each other.  There should be NO divided loyalties in a marriage, and it is unfair of parents to put their married son or daughter in the position having to choose between their spouse and them.

Another interesting part of this verse is the use of the word “wife.”  Where did that word come from?  Who made it up?  Since Adam named all the animals, it is likely that he came up with the word “wife” to describe his helper.

Finally, with verse 25 we read another factoid about the first couple—

The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.  (verse 25)

Since the challenge of modern Christians is to find a reasonable application for every verse or teaching in Scripture, what is the application we may glean from this verse?  Obviously, it’s not a good idea to be naked all the time, so there is probably another lesson to be learned here.

Marriage is all about commitment to each other; mutual commitment is essential.  Neither Adam nor Eve was ashamed of their own nakedness, or the nakedness of their spouse.   They were dedicated to each other and they were not ashamed of the other person.  This is what a good marriage should look like; not physical nakedness, but emotional and spiritual nakedness, where each spouse sees the other in a way nobody else does.  The needs of each should be obvious to the other and should be met within the bounds of marriage.

Talk about commitment and dedication!  Each partner looking out for the other one, knowing exactly what they need because they are that intimate with each other; this is what marriage is supposed to be.  If couples lived in this kind nakedness, they would never feel the need to look elsewhere to have their supposed needs met.

Happy and satisfied is the man who has a wife that knows him better than he knows himself.   (that would be me, by the way…)

(c)  2010 WitzEnd
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