It was the sixth day of history. God had just created Adam out of the dust of the ground. He had just brought to him the animals to be named, impressing upon him his need for a wife. He had just put Adam to sleep and from a rib made Eve. He had just brought the two of them together in the first marriage ceremony. Now God gives important, timeless instruction for marriage: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).
The importance of this passage for marriage is evident from the fact that it is repeated often in the Bible (Matt. 19:4-6; Mark 10:7-8; Eph. 5:31). Recognizing the importance of this passage, some have referred to it as “God’s blueprint for marriage.” Just as the blueprint is essential for the home being built, so is this passage essential for the marriage that is being built. There are two important steps in this blueprint: leaving and cleaving.
First, what does it mean to leave father and mother?
It certainly does not mean that we are utterly to forsake our parents. When we are married, we must still have an attitude of respect for them, and we may even have the responsibility of caring for them when they are old and sick.
Neither does leaving father and mother simply mean that children move out of the house when they get married or move a long distance away from their parents. There are some people who have moved to the other side of the world and still have not left their parents. And there are others who live right next door to their parents and have truly left father and mother.
Leaving father and mother involves a radical change in your relationship to your parents. Before, you were under their authority and dependent upon them, but now that changes. You are no longer under their authority as you were before. You are not dependent upon their affection, assistance, and advice anymore. You establish an adult relationship with them, a relationship more on the level of friends.
It can be a temptation, often early on in marriage, for married couples still to cleave to father and mother. This can be done in any number of ways.
Married persons might be slavishly dependent upon their parents for advice and help. It certainly is not wrong to be close to your parents and even ask their advice about certain things. But a wife might wrongly talk to her mother about all sorts of intimate things without ever talking to her husband about them. And a husband might wrongly talk to his dad about an issue he is having without ever talking to his wife.
Another way this is done is by married persons living for their parents’ approval. She might want to have the perfect, Joanna-Gaines-inspired home and the model children so that her parents approve. He wants to make a lot of money, have a successful career, or follow in the family business to make his dad happy.
This might show itself in trying to change your spouse to be what your parents want. The husband might try to change his wife so that she is just like his mother, and a wife might try to change her husband so that he is just like her dad. He might tell his wife that she’d better cook the way his mother does, and she might tell her husband that he has to be handier around the house like her dad.
Our failure to leave father and mother might show itself in the way we think and act. A husband might do certain things because that’s the way his dad did it, and a wife might do certain things because that’s the way her mom did it. When they get into an argument, the husband blows up in anger because that’s the way his parents handled their issues, but the wife bottles up and runs away because that’s the way things were dealt with by her parents. He has no problem spending money because that’s the way it went in his house, and she is extremely tight because that’s the way her parents were.
When children don’t leave father and mother (and when the parents don’t let them leave!), it is disastrous for a marriage. Marriages are being torn apart at the seams because couples have foolishly refused to leave father and mother.
If you are dating or engaged, be ready to leave father and mother. And if you are already married, be sure that you have left father and mother. For the sake of the marriage!
The second step in God’s blueprint for marriage is that couples cleave to their spouse. God’s purpose in their leaving is their cleaving.
To “cleave” means to cling to something, to hold it very close to you, and to protect it with your life. Husbands and wives must cling to their spouse, hold them so close, and protect their relationship with their lives. This means that our primary concern as a married person is for our marriage. This is what receives the most attention. This is where we find the most joy. This is where we share ourselves. This is where we look for guidance, advice, encouragement, and comfort.
What this reminds us is that real love in marriage is selfless commitment. Real love in marriage is not primarily a feeling, because feelings come and go. There are times in marriage where our spouse annoys us, gets on our nerves, and sins against us. If love were only a feeling, then our marriages would collapse. But love is more than a feeling; it’s a commitment to cleave to each other, in good times and in bad.
Husbands and wives have the calling from God to strive to be one in marriage. On the one hand, their oneness is a reality in marriage. This is an amazing miracle that God performs on their wedding night. On the other hand, this oneness is something that must be worked at. Couples must constantly be working toward a greater oneness in thinking and desiring, in shared hopes and disappointments, in labors and goals, in possessions and interests. They cannot coast along, but must constantly be working at their marriage. Every marriage is either moving toward isolation or toward oneness. We must be intentional and proactive in cleaving to one another.
How practically do we cleave to one another? Here are a few suggestions:
Recognize and root out all the things that get in the way (e.g., pride, selfishness, self-righteousness, breaking of trust, anger, busyness, independent lives).
View your marriage as a top priority, your most important earthly relationship, even more important than your relationship with your children.
Spend time together.
Converse constantly. Quality time is not spent binge-watching Netflix but talking.
Grow together spiritually. God is the one who unites us together, and if we are not growing in our walk with him, then we cannot expect to grow together.
In the way of our leaving and cleaving to one another in marriage, we enjoy the blessing of peace and joy in our marriages. Think about what happens when we live opposite of the way God commands. When we fly in the face of God’s blueprint for marriage, we invite disaster. When we leave and cleave, this does not mean that we will be without sorrow or struggle in marriage. But it does mean that God will cause us to truly enjoy oneness and joy in our marriages.
And in living this way, God will be glorified in our marriages. This is his ultimate goal in marriage. His purpose is not first of all our happiness, but his glory. God is glorified when we live faithfully in marriage. This is the case because in that way we reflect something of who God is. Our commitment to each other in marriage is a witness to the world of God’s commitment to his chosen people in Christ. Our sacrificial love for one another in marriage is a witness to the world of God’s sacrificial love for us in Christ. The blessedness and joy that we experience in marriage is a witness to the world of the blessedness and joy that is found only in God.
For the sake of God’s glory, follow God’s blueprint for marriage! For the sake of the exaltation of his love for us in Christ, leave and cleave!