Genesis 2:24 lists three equally essential points that together make a strong foundation for marriage. If firm, they are as sturdy as a three-legged stool, but if one leg fails, it will surely collapse. We need all three elements of this trio to develop a healthy marriage.
“A man will leave his father and mother” shows that the bond between husband and wife trumps the bond between parent and child. It marks marriage as the foundational institution. Some may wonder why God led Moses to specify that the husband must leave his family, but says nothing about the wife. The answer is that in that culture everyone assumed that the wife left her family. No one had to say it. But Moses adds, “The husband must leave too. He must not take his wife into his father’s house and place her under his authority. He must start a new family.”
Wedding ceremonies wisely embody this in the moment we call the giving of the bride. The father takes his daughter’s hand and gives it to the groom, not (originally) to create a photo opportunity, but to show that his daughter is leaving his household and entering another.
“A man will . . . be united to his wife” means husband and wife build intimacy into that new family. They “cleave,” as the King James Version puts it, meaning they stick close together. They are “glued together,” says Paul, quoting Genesis 2 in Ephesians 5. They become companions for life, growing in affection and fidelity. They work at their relationship, despite its trials and vicissitudes.
After “leave” and “be united,” we come to the third leg of marriage, “one flesh.” One flesh refers to the sexual aspect of marriage. The next line underscores this, “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” The sexual aspect of marriage hearkens back to the idea that Adam and Eve must “be fruitful and multiply.” Reproduction is central to our sexuality. Yet we notice that this statement about marriage does not mention children. Perhaps it was superfluous for Moses to mention children again in Genesis 2, since they are so prominent in Genesis 1. Still, the silence about children suggests that while they are the normal result of marriage, they are not essential to marriage. A couple is truly married even if they miss the blessing of children.
Finally, while the nakedness of Adam and Eve refers to their physical intimacy, it also refers to their spiritual intimacy. In biblical language nakedness refers to both physical and spiritual exposure (see Isa. 47:3; 2 Cor. 5:3; Heb. 4:13). To be exposed without shame is to have nothing to hide (see Gen. 3:7–11). Because Adam and Eve knew neither sin nor guile, nothing shameful separated them. The idea of nakedness without shame suggests their perfect trust, ease, and openness.
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Daniel M. Doriani is vice president of strategic academic projects and professor of theology at Covenant Theological Seminary. Previously he was senior pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Clayton, Missouri.
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