"They Shall Be One Flesh"
Therefore shall a man leave his father and
his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.(Genesis
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, NIV).
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24, NRSV).
takes us back to what had just happened in this context. God saw it was not good for man to be alone, so He made a suitable helper. The record says that: "...the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man." On this occasion Adam said, "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman because she was taken out of Man." When these creation events took place, God said: "THEREFORE," or "for this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." [NEW TESTAMENT REFERENCES: Matt. 19: 5 & Eph. 5:31].
The statement in Genesis 2:24 was meant for every human being. Adam had no father and mother; thus it is implied, this is meant for all in the human race; everybody with a father and mother. God was setting up an institution for the human race.
"...Leave his father and his mother..."
It is noteworthy, there is a "cleaving" in this statement, but before the "cleaving," there is "leaving." This is about leaving your family of origin and making your own family. As vital and permanent as the child-parent relationship is, a proper husband-wife relationship warrants leaving the earlier relationship.
"...And shall cleave unto his wife..."
This is about marriage as God intends it, and this involves leaving and cleaving. Sometimes the English word "cleave" means to divide or split (a butcher uses a cleaver to cut meat). But in Genesis 2:24, the opposite is meant: to adhere, to stick, to be attached by strong tie. It is a verb, and it involves determined action to stay with somebody, out of deep love and commitment; It is not just emotional; it is not passive; it is the attitude and activity of staying close to someone. It is adherence rooted in a shared will or intent. The same word is used in Deut. 10:20 (NASB) and other passages in that context, to signify wholehearted commitment (Deut. 11:22; 13:4; 30:20). Marriage requires maintenance!
To be one flesh is the result of leaving and cleaving; and this is much more than just a physical union. This is about giving and receiving; joining and responding. This is emotional; this is intellectual; this is about love and care and attention. And - only as we leave and cleave and develop closeness in all these other ways - can there be the kind of physical union that's right, ideal and nourishing. This union should last as long as we live. The Bible teaches one man and one woman for life with only one exception (Matt. 19:9).
When marriage is dealt with in Matthew 19 by Jesus, and Ephesians 5 by Paul, both refer back to God's institution of this union at creation. Here is something that has never changed: The law that binds a man and woman together in this relationship is the law of God, expressed in the statement: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh."
By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 8.10; October 2001