When answering phones for the Billy Graham Telephone ministry on Tuesday, I spoke with one woman whose husband had left her. He was a lawyer and made a lot of money, but did not support her after he left. She felt abandoned by him. I was saddened by the way in which their marriage had broken apart.
I once heard about a man who kept his wife locked in the house. He did not let anyone befriend her and treated her much as a slave. It made me angry to realize the abuse that was happening in this situation.
I have heard the stories of marriages in which the husband and wife simply exist together. There is no relationship, no friendship, no sharing of good times. He lives his life and she hers, but they have no life together beyond the fact that she cleans the house and he pays the rent. How sad!
Today many young people see marriages that break up, that are filled with yelling and screaming or that are lived in a cold separateness and decide that they will just live together and not get married because, in their experience, marriage does not work. Can we really blame them?
Is that what God had in mind for marriage?
We have been looking at Genesis and have discovered that it deals with some foundational issues. In these opening chapters of the Bible, God’s original intention for marriage reveals that it should be a beautiful relationship of partners who bless each other in their friendship and who help each other. This morning, I would like to examine this original intention and think about how God’s intention for marriage can be lived out in our marriages today.
Let us read Genesis 2:18-25.
The discussion about marriage begins with the statement, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” It is rather interesting that this is stated at this point. Adam was in the garden of Eden, was still without sin and was living in a relationship with God. In many places in the Bible, we are often directed to God as the one who can meet all our needs. Psalm 121:1 asks, “where does my help come from?” and answers “My help comes from the Lord.” If God is our helper, then why do we need another helper? Yet it was God’s evaluation of the situation that even though Adam was in an ideal place and in a relationship with God, it was “not good.” God declared that being alone, being the only one of a kind, having no one who is like us to relate to is a very lonely place to be.
We sometimes talk about a dog being “man’s best friend.” Could the companionship Adam needed be found in the animal creation? Adam examined each animal and gave it a name, but at the end of the day, the conclusion, given in verse 20, was that “no suitable helper was found.” In other words, Adam was still alone.
Adam needed a helper who was like him. The same phrase is used in verse 18 where it says, “I will make a helper suitable for him” and in verse 20 which says, “no suitable helper was found.” That was what God intended marriage to be a relationship with a companion, someone who would be like him, someone with whom he could share life and work together.
But as we look at marriage today, we see far too many marriages that are not like that. Why is that?
The conclusion of this passage declares in 2:25 “they were naked and felt no shame.” This phrase expresses that what God intended actually existed. It tells us that there was an openness between Adam and Eve - they had nothing to hide. There was an innocence - they trusted each other. There was a closeness - they loved each other. They lived wonderfully as husband and wife - as God intended.
In a few verses, we read the word “naked” again, but this time with a very different response. When we read Genesis 3:7, we read that they realize that they were naked and they tried to hide the fact from each other and from God. What changed? Well, we know that the relationship to God was broken. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate of the fruit which was forbidden. Immediately, the blessedness of the marriage relationship was changed. The openness was gone - they needed to hide. The intimacy was gone and they had lost their innocence because of sin.
When God confronted them He began to spell out the implications of their sin. One verse deals with the implications of sin on the marriage relationship. We read in 3:16, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
What we see, particularly in the phrase, “he will rule over you” is the destruction of the companionship that God intended at first. Some read these chapters and believe that since Adam was created first and named Eve, he had always had authority over Eve and that “he will rule over you” means that the way in which he exercised that rule had now changed. Adam, and many husbands since, became an autocrat, a dictator and began to abuse his power. Others read these chapters and believe that the original intention was that Adam and Eve were created for companionship and that the hierarchy of a husband over his wife came as a result of the fall into sin. The phrase “he will rule over you” is a consequence of the fall into sin. Either interpretation leads us inevitably to the conclusion that marriage changed from what God originally intended it to be. Today we see so clearly how marriages are not what God intends them to be. Instead we have marriages in which husbands demand sexual favours from their wife and take them by force. We see marriages in which husbands abuse their wives and beat them. There are relationships in which wives become demanding and abuse their husbands by becoming cold and uncaring. The blessing is gone because the wife is bound by a desire for her husband so strong that she will even be willing to live in an abusive relationship and the husband abuses his power over his wife to get what he wants.
Wenham says that the post fall situation is: “perpetual conflict and frustration in relations.” “To love and to cherish” becomes “to desire and to dominate.”
God did not want Adam to be alone nor is the brokenness we see today what God wanted. Genesis reveals to us what God’s intention for the marriage relationship has always been. What was God’s intention?
Adam was alone, but God created a helper suitable for him. All the animals were created out of dust, as was Adam, but the woman was created out of the man. After God had created Eve, it says, “He brought her to the man.” You know how at a wedding, there is a formal blessing of the couple by the parents? Well at the first wedding, it was God himself who introduced them. It says, “He brought her to the man.” This is a wonderful statement. It affirms that marriage is from God. It assures us that God is the one who has ordained the marriage relationship. What are the implications of that for our marriages today?
There have been some who have tried to make marriage less spiritual than singleness. They have looked at the intimacy of marriage as wrong or dirty. When we read the phrase, “he brought her to the man” we know that this is not true. God is the one who has given us marriage and we need to accept it as a blessing from Him. Of course, at the same time, we need to be careful not to think that it is more right or more spiritual to be married. We sometimes act under the assumption that marriage is the only way to go. This is not true. Later in the New Testament we have some things written about the gift of singleness and the blessing that it can be. But today we are talking about the blessing of marriage and what God has given to us in marriage right at creation.
At weddings, we often use the phrase, “what God has joined together.” Another implication is that this phrase is supported by this verse. I won’t comment on marriages in which God is not at the center of the marriage, but for marriages of believers, this concept needs to be taken very seriously. When a man and a woman come together in the presence of God and their witnesses, they need to understand that it is God who is bringing them together. Loving intention and strong will are not sufficient to join husband and wife as one. God’s presence is the only thing that will join and keep two people who love Him as one. Is God the one who holds your relationship together? Is He at the center of your marriage?
What comes out most strongly in this Scripture is that God has blessed us with a relationship. The message of this text is that God has given marriage so that we can live in a blessed union, a wonderful shared relationship and a joyful companionship as husband and wife. A number of different expressions in this account indicate this intention and the different aspects that make it a beautiful relationship.
The phrase used earlier to describe the lack which existed was that there was no “helper suitable” for him. Then God created a “helper suitable” for him. This is an interesting expression made up of two words.
The word “helper” means that the woman was there to help the man. This suggests that the man is not adequate by himself. He needs someone who can cover his inadequacies and who can help him in what he cannot do himself. How often does one partner say, “Can you come here, I need help?” How much we need each other in marriage!
The word “suitable” is a word that would better be translated “like opposite him.” What this suggests is that she was not one who is identical to him, but one who is complementary to him. The woman would not be exactly like the man, but would be similar enough to be closer than anything else in creation, but different enough to meet the needs that he could not meet. Of course, in part this refers to the sexual relationship which would bring together the two different, but similar parts needed for the human race to bear children, but it goes much further than that. Our interests and abilities often cover what our partner lacks. I have relied deeply on Carla’s sensitivity to people. She has looked to me for my logic. We help each other in many ways. Each partner in a marriage has something unique to offer to the marriage. Do we value the unique contribution of our husband or wife?
What a blessing God intended in the “suitable helper” who can be our complement, our opposite, our partner, our friend, our helper.
A further suggestion of the companionship which many have discerned as they have read the description of the creation of Eve is that she was created out of the rib of the man.
Casuto wrote, “Just as the rib is found at the side of the man and is attached to him, even so the good wife, the rib of her husband, stands at his side to be his helper-counterpart, and her soul is bound up with his.”
Matthew Henry said, She was “not made out of his head to top him, not out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”
This suggests an equality that we have not always lived. It suggests that one person does not stand over the other, but rather that they stand beside each other. Does the voice of each count? Is there equality in the way resources are shared?
Can you imagine the excitement of Adam, after not finding a suitable helper among all the animals, when he declared, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh?” Adam had observed all the animals and although there were many similarities, they all had skin and bones and eyes and feet, yet they were so different from the way he was that he found nothing that was “like him.”
Adam’s statement “This is now” suggests comparison between the woman and all the animals. She alone is like him. In the phrase “bone of my bone” we understand the reality of what it meant that she was made from the rib of the man.
This picture speaks of the blessing of companionship, the filling of the loneliness gap with someone who would be in a close relationship with Adam. That is God’s intention for marriage, that it will be a relationship which fills the need for companionship in a way that nothing else can.
The further indication of the close relationship which God intended for marriage is seen in the next phrase, which is a commentary on the event by the author. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife.” The leaving and uniting speaks of a social relationship that is very close indeed.
We understand the closeness of a blood relationship. We make all kinds of allowances when it comes to our children because they are close as blood relations. Brothers and sisters take some significant liberties in their conversations with each other because they are blood relatives. Our society does not understand the depth of this as much as some others including the ancient societies who were the first readers of this material. Last week Rolf Kruse talked about the way the communities in which they work in Africa look at family. He said, “The brothers of my father are all my fathers, the sons of my uncles are all my brothers.” If we understand blood relations in this way, it is quite amazing that although the marriage relationship is not a blood relationship, when a couple is married, they are looked at just as closely as a blood relationship. That is something of the power of what it means when it says “united to his wife.”
Once again we see the importance and closeness of what God intended in the marriage relationship.
The last picture of the intimate relationship which God ordained and blessed in the creation of the marriage relationship is the “one flesh” picture.
Physically it was so for Adam and Eve. Because she was taken out of Adam, she was physically one flesh with Adam. Of course, that is not true anymore, but “one flesh” is a picture of the close and intimate relationship which God has created between a husband and a wife.
Whenever I do pre-marriage counselling, we talk about what “one flesh” means to the marriage relationship. We talk about the physical intimacy that this permits. So when Isaac was in the land of Abimelech and Abimelech saw Isaac caressing Rebekah, he knew that they were married. We talk about the economic unity that this represents so that we can talk about joint ownership, joint bank accounts and privileges with the government because of marriage. We talk about the way in which society looks at a couple as one and sometimes when they talk about them, they mean the couple even though they may use singular phrases.
What is evident and is reinforced over and over in this passage is the blessing of a unified, relationship of two who are different, but one, who supply what is missing in the other in a bond that is closer than any other. That is the blessing that God intended and this passage serves to clearly present this as the intention which God had for the marriage relationship right from the beginning of creation.
God’s intention is clear and intended for a blessing, but brokenness is also a reality. How do we live in a world in which relationships break up, but God’s intention stands?
First of all, we examine our own marriage. I want to ask those who are married a hard question. Is your marriage lived after the pattern of the fall in which power is exercised and intimacy is absent or is it lived according to the intention and pattern which God provided in the beginning? If it is the former, I want to invite you to get the help that you need in order to restore a relationship modeled on the Genesis pattern. If Jesus is the center of our marriage, such a relationship is possible.
Secondly, we teach God’s intention for marriage. I want give a challenge to those who are single and anticipating marriage some day. The first challenge for you is to seek the partner about whom you can truly say, “God has brought us together.” Furthermore, I want to encourage you to build a marriage after the pattern God intended from the beginning. Such a marriage is a possibility and a blessing.
Thirdly, when marriages are faltering, we do all we can to restore and build them up. I know of a couple in which there was adultery and they were divorced. Today they are remarried to each other and have a beautiful family. God is the God of resurrection and can restore what is faltering.
Finally, when marriages are past repair and divorce happens or is near, we love those involved. We do not shun them or judge them. We recognize the terrible pain that such a brokenness brings with it and we let them know that we will stand with them. We pray with them that God will bring healing to their broken lives.
I pray that God will help each of us to live according to His gracious and loving intent.