The Maker Weighs In (Genesis 2:18-24)
God on Marriage
I. Following Bad Directions
Listen to the following news tidbit from the “What Were They Thinking’ file:
A group of South Korean tourists travelling in a remote state forest in Queensland, Australia, dutifully followed their satellite navigation program’s direction until the suggested route led them to get their rented Ford sedan stuck in the middle of a field. According to police, the tourists followed gravel roads, dirt roads, and even opened up a few closed gates in Cordalba State Forest in order to comply with their GPS instructions—all while ignoring several warning signs the non-English speaking tourists could not understand. Finally stuck in a gully, the three men abandoned the car and dialed emergency services.
While it might not seem relevant, this account is actually a fitting illustration of marriage in the modern world. Everywhere we turn, whether we recognize it or not, all of us are receiving directions in regard to the course of our marriage. Whether we are looking back to examples from our family history, or, considering the advice of an embittered neighbor, or, watching the media’s portrayals of marriage, or, even consulting the latest self-help book, we are surrounded by bad advice about marriage, advice we follow, in spite of the warning signs… advice that will get us stuck…advice that has led many to abandon the journey altogether.
This morning, I want us to do something radical. I want us to think about marriage in light of what the designer of marriage has told us about his creation. In the midst of so much confusion and sadness today, we need the Maker of marriage to weigh in on our cultural conversation about marriage.
So in the next three weeks, I’d like to do three things. First, I’d like to talk about what marriage actually is; to define what it is. Second, I’d like to talk about what we should DO in light of this definition of marriage. And finally, third, I’d like to talk about what we should NOT DO in light of this definition.
So let’s begin this morning by turning to Genesis 2:18-24, and work together to understand what marriage actually is, according to God, the Maker of marriage.
II. The Passage: “And They Shall Become One Flesh” (2:18-24)
Listen to what we read in here in the second chapter of the Bible about this thing we call marriage. Listen to what we read here, beginning in verse 18:
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
Now, notice the problem set forth in verse 18. “It is not good that the man should be alone.” Even though God was always with the man, isn’t it fascinating that God teaches us here that we were made to be connected to other created beings.
But at this point in the story of Creation, man is alone. So what we see in these following verses is God’s response to man’s ‘aloneness’. And so when God says that He will make “a helper fit for him [for man]”, He is addressing the issue of kinship.
Kinship is a connection by blood, marriage, or adoption that establishes a family relationship. Notice how the verses describe this process of finding kinship for the man:
A. Finding Kinship: Problem (2:18-20)
In verses 18-20, we learn that God brought all of the animals to man, not ultimately to sift through the specimens and somehow find him a good helper, but as verse 19 tells us, in order “to see what he would call them”. When Adam names the animals, he is demonstrating his authority over them, what chapter 1 called “dominion”.
But as we see at the end of verse 20, in regard to the issue of ‘aloneness’, the issue of kinship, THE MAN can now clearly see that there is a problem when it comes to the animals. They were not like him.
B. Finding Kinship: Perfection (2:21-23)
But look again at verses 21 to 23. What we read here is one of the most beautiful descriptions of human connection in all the Bible. The woman, as Adam calls her, is created from a piece of man. She is a part of him. She is like him. He knows this right away, doesn’t he? Look at what he exclaims in verse 23, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman [ishshah], because she was taken out of Man. [ish]”
So in substance and in name, the man knows he has found a perfect fit. God has brought him a helper suitable to him, so that he will not be alone.
C. Finding Kinship: Pattern (2:24)
Now I want you to notice what is different about verse 24. What we have in verse 24 is the author of Genesis breaking in…
He is breaking into the narrative flow of this chapter in order to point out something remarkable about the account we just read. This account of God creating the woman and bringing the woman to the man, this account that records the man’s declaration about his connection with the woman, this account is the basis for what the first readers of Genesis understood as marriage.
Therefore [in light of how God made woman for man…therefore] a man [any man, any descendant of Adam] shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
Where did marriage come from? The author of Genesis tells us, “Marriage comes from the reality of what God did in the garden when He made the first woman for the first man.”
Now, the key to everything here is the last two words of verse 24. It is that last phrase that stands at the very center of the Bible’s definition of marriage. You cannot understand how the Maker defines marriage unless you first understand this phrase “one flesh”.
In the context here, it’s very clear that the husband and wife becoming one flesh is a reference to establishing a kinship connection, to establishing a new family relationship.
The phrase “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” in verse 23, which is a phrase used elsewhere in the Bible to describe blood relations, that along with the reference to leaving father and mother in verse 24, all of it supports this idea that marriage is the establishment of a new family relationship, AND THEREFORE, it is reordering of family priorities.
When a husband or wife still puts their father or mother before their spouse, there will be problems. Why? Because that’s not God’s design. That’s not how marriage is supposed to work.
So what we learn from Genesis 2 is that when God created the woman for the man, he was also creating the institution of marriage; he was creating a relationship in which a man and woman “hold fast” to one another in order to establish a new family relationship.
III. Understanding the “One Flesh” Union
But to truly understand the significance of this “one flesh” reality, we need to find out what else the Bible teaches us about this phrase.
A simple search will reveal that the phrase “one flesh” is used in four other biblical passages, all of them in the New Testament. And in all of these passages, the speaker or writer is explicitly referencing Genesis 2:24.
This is simply a confirmation for us that we started in the right place; a confirmation that Genesis 2:24 is the foundational verse when it comes to understanding God’s definition of marriage.
Let’s do this: let’s look together at these other passages and see how they can help us to better understand Genesis 2:24. Ready to flip some pages?
A. One Flesh: A Divine Oneness (Mark 10:2-9 (cf. Matthew 19:3-6))
The first passage is Mark 10:2-9. Now I mentioned four other passages that contain the phrase “one flesh”. Well, two of those passages are “parallel passages”, that is, they contain roughly the same material. So if we were to look at Matthew 19:3-6, we would find something very similar to what we are looking at in Mark 10:2-9. Let me read from Mark 10:
And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” 5 And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ [a reference to Genesis 1] 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ [There’s Genesis 2) So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
So how does Jesus help us to better understand this idea of a man and a woman becoming “one flesh” in marriage?
The unique emphasis of Jesus is in verses 8 and 9. According to Jesus, the phrase “one flesh” is not simply legal or cultural verbage used to describe a family relationship. No, Jesus points beyond the words to an actual oneness that exists in marriage. So they are no longer two but one flesh.
And how does this mysterious oneness come about. Look at verse 9 again: What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Now remember the context here. Jesus is fielding questions from the Pharisees, not about the correct interpretation of Genesis 2 and what happened in the garden long ago. No, they are asking questions about divorce in the present. And so that means Jesus’ teaching on this divine oneness, or divinely crafted oneness, should be applied to every marriage, not just the very first marriage.
So, according to Jesus, we could describe this “one flesh” reality as a divine oneness.
B. One Flesh: A Sexual Oneness (I Corinthians 6:16)
Let’s turn to our second passage, I Corinthians 6. Look with me at verse 16. Think about what this verse tells us about the “one flesh” reality described in Genesis 2:24:
Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.”
Now, the word prostitute her should alert us to the fact that we are not talking about marriage. We are talking about either adultery or what the Bible calls fornication. But in quoting Genesis 2:24, Paul is, nevertheless, telling us something important about the idea of becoming “one flesh”.
What Paul is emphasizing here is the fact that an important aspect of becoming “one flesh” is related to sexual oneness. Like those South Koran tourists and their GPS, our culture is not only following bad directions about marriage, they’re also following bad directions about sex.
When God created sex, He created it to be more than a physical merger. It is a merger of all of oneself to the other. That’s why recreational sex, or any sex outside the protective walls of faithfulness in marriage, can leave such deep scars.
So when Paul uses the original creation account to make a point about sex, he has also revealed something important to us about the bigger picture of becoming “one flesh”. The divine oneness forged by God in marriage is consummated by and tangibly represented by sexual oneness.
C. One Flesh: A Personal Oneness (Ephesians 5:28-31)
Now, flip one last time with me over to Ephesians 5, starting in verse 28.
In the same way [the same way as Christ loved the church] husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
So once again, Paul has gone back to Genesis 2:24 to drive home the point he is making about how husbands are to love their wives.
And he drives that point home by first reminding husbands about the basic love they have for themselves: …no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it…
Guys, the way you take care of yourselves by eating, and proper hygiene, and going to the doctor, all of it, demonstrates a natural commitment you have to yourself.
In most cases, a person will go to incredible extremes to preserve his or her life.
Paul tells husbands here, “You need to direct that same commitment you have for your own flesh, you need to direct it TO YOUR WIFE.” Why? Because she is your own flesh! Paul is expanding on the same point Jesus was making in Mark 10:8: So they are no longer two but one flesh.
Marriage, in some sense, is about a oneness of identity. The “one flesh” unity that defines marriage could be described as not only a divine oneness, or a sexual oneness, but a personal oneness.
In some mysterious way, my wife is a part of me, not simply because some piece of paper says so, or some pastor or judge said so, but because God made her a part of me. And I am a part of her. Our lives are not only intertwined, they are fused...they are fused.
D. One Flesh: A Covenant Oneness (Ephesians 5:32)
But I want you to see something else here, something else in Ephesians 5. If we read Ephesians 5:28-31, we must also read verse 32. Now, listen…even though verse 32 is just fourteen words in the original Greek, it is one of the most profound verses in the entire Bible. Paul says it himself. Listen to verse 32 (beginning with verse 31):
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
There’s the word “profound”. What is “profound”? This mystery is profound… What mystery is Paul talking about? The “mystery” of the one flesh union; how God can make the two into one.
But here’s where it really gets interesting… This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. What? What refers to Christ and the church? Genesis 2:24! Paul is saying that Genesis 2:24, the mysterious reality of two becoming one flesh, refers to Christ and the church.
Listen, what the original readers of Genesis could not have known, but what has become clear now because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, is that God’s original design for marriage was first shaped by His purposes for Jesus and the church. That means God did not look around one day, long after creation, and decide that marriage was a decent illustration, a pretty good way to describe His commitment to and relationship with His people
No, this means that from the very outset, God intended marriage to be a picture of His covenant love and faithfulness through Jesus. If you were amazed before at what God has to say about marriage, this truth just sent everything through the roof.
But does the Bible really describe marriage as a covenant? Listen to Malachi 2: And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord's altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. [now listen, here’s another reference to Genesis 2:24…verse 15] Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union?
The concept of covenant is originally a part of how human beings acknowledge and define the reality of this “one flesh” union in marriage. Just as we do today, a covenant is formed through the exchange of promises and vows. Even the phrase “hold fast” from Genesis 2:24, even that comes from the language of covenant-keeping.
But remember what Jesus said is Matthew 22:30. He taught that in the new heavens and the new earth, there will no longer be human marriages. Marriage was only designed for this age. It is only temporary.
And so our covenant relationship in marriage was originally designed to point to the fullness of God’s covenant relationship with His people through Christ. Our temporary marriages here are intended to point to the marriage of Jesus to His church throughout all eternity.
And only in that marriage will we find the joy and comfort and fullness and peace that we struggle to find in our relationships with one another.
IV. Definitions and Implications
Now, let’s stop and catch our breath. As we bring things to a close, I want to remind you of what we’ve been doing this morning. We have been listening to God as He weighs in on the topic of marriage. He is the Maker of marriage, and so only He can tells us what it’s all about.
A quick look at any dictionary will give you an idea of how our society generally thinks about marriage: Marriage is a social union or legal contract between people that creates kinship. OR Marriage is the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law. (I would add to this the belief in our society that ‘love’ or ‘being in love’ is the glue that holds this union together.)
But while what we’ve seen this morning does not necessarily contradict these basic definitions, it does reveal how tragically inadequate they are in light of God’s definition.
So, in light of everything we’ve seen this morning from the Scriptures, how does God define marriage?
I think we could put it this way: marriage is a divinely-forged oneness, a sacred bond in which kinship is created and through which our covenant faithfulness to the other points to the unshakeable and unconditional love of God for His people through Jesus.
This is the reality of, the implications of, and the purpose of the “one flesh” union described in Genesis 2:24, and further explained by Jesus and Paul.
So...is this your working definition of marriage? Husbands, wives, when you wake up in the morning, is this the definition of marriage that sets the trajectory for your attitude and actions? Whose directions are you listening to…in spite of the warning signs? Singles, if you desire to be married, is this the kind of marriage you want? If it is, how should this affect your search for a spouse?
You see, all of us, in one way or another, have accepted a dumbed down view of marriage; to differing degrees we have accepted a view of marriage that falls short of God's original design. And how we answer the question, “What is marriage?”, directly affects how we live each day as a husband or as a wife; it directly affects our passion, our priorities, and our resolve.
Think about it this way. Imagine a cobbler (someone who makes shoes); imagine this cobbler, when asked about his job, simply says, “I make shoes. That's it. It's a way to make a living. It beats digging ditches, right?” His job brings him some benefit in terms of financial rewards, and some days, he even enjoys the work. But ultimately, it's just a job. If things got tough, if there was no work or there was too much work, he might think about doing something else.
But what if one day, a man walked into his shop and told him this:
“You don't know me, but every month I send someone into your shop to buy your shoes. I am the royal outfitter. Because of your shoes, our generals have weathered the grueling conditions of the battefield. Because of your shoes, royal expiditions have discovered unknown lands and recovered lost treasure. Because of your shoes, royal builders have stood firm on scaffolds to erect castles and monuments. Your shoes even carry the king through all the important duties of his day.”
If the cobbler knew all this, do you think he would think differently about his job? About how he carries out his job? Yes! He wouldn't simply tell people, “I'm a cobbler. I make shoes.” He would say, “I'm a cobbler, which means I create the shoes that people use to accomplish great things for a grand purpose that is bigger than any one person.”
Well, this morning, God has just walked into the cobbler shop of our marriages and he has reminded us about the great things and the grand purpose of His design. Our perspective cannot stay the same. Our marriage cannot stay the same.
This is the 'true north' that we need. This is the reorientation that every marriage needs, to rescue us from the rocks, to rescue us from going in circles, to guide us into the amazing waters of God's goodness.
What is marriage? Marriage is a divinely-forged oneness, a sacred bond in which kinship is created and through which our covenant faithfulness to the other points to the unshakeable and unconditional love of God for His people through Jesus.
Only Jesus can enable us to live in the fullness of God's definition. Only Jesus can give us the example to follow in terms of love, and the grace to change in terms of our hearts.
Do you want your marriage to be all that God designed it to be? Then let's ask him to change our hearts and our minds, this morning, in light of His perfect word and the power of His Holy Spirit. Let's pray.