Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 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. 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. 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. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 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.”
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:18-25)
In our study of Ephesians, we came to the latter half of chapter 5 where Paul addresses the distinct roles of husband and wife. As I said last week, it’s difficult to begin a study of marriage at what might be considered the end of God’s revelation about marriage. Paul is revealing what was previously unknown about the institution. He writes, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:32). Marriage was a hidden plan of God until its fulfillment by Christ himself.
You’ll notice that when Paul or Jesus teaches about marriage, they both reference Genesis 2. This chapter is foundational to our understanding of the subject. Rather than start at the end, I thought we should start at the beginning.
To briefly reiterate what I said last week, Genesis shows us that marriage is the design of God for the glory of God. He decided that man should not be alone. He decided that his other creations (the animals, birds, etc.) were insufficient companions. He specifically and intentionally created the first woman to be Adam’s wife.
In fact, the apex of the creation story is not God’s creation of Adam, but the joining together of Adam and Eve in the first marriage. According to Genesis 1, it was only after God joined Adam to his wife that he declared his creation to be “very good” (Ge 1:31). Until that point, it wasn’t complete. Each component was good, but God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Ge 2:18). The entire creation story was building up to the moment when God formed Eve from Adam and made them one flesh together.
Why did God do that? Most people would answer, “Adam needed companionship. God said so himself.” While that is true, it’s not the full answer. We know it’s not because of what Paul tells us in Ephesians 5. More than a means of companionship, marriage puts God on display. It is a manifestation of the gospel. Paul says, “It refers to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:32). Marriage is a sacred covenant which binds husband and wife together just as Christ is bound to the church. It is a permanent relationship built on God’s design where a man and his wife become inseparable.
Long before “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” in the person of Jesus, God created marriage to illustrate the joining of the church with Christ. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul says, “For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (1Co 6:16-17). In redemption, we are united with Christ. In his letter to the Romans, Paul asked, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? … [Nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ro 8:35; 39).
Needless to say, we shouldn’t have a casual, take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward marriage. As we can see, the world doesn’t know what to do with marriage. People get married every day. They also get divorced every day. They commit adultery. Some couples live together as though they are married, wanting the benefits of marriage without the commitment. Worse yet, some couples engage in an unholy, unnatural relationship with a member of the same gender and call it marriage. How can they be so confused about marriage? It is because one cannot truly comprehend marriage apart from knowing the gospel.
Even in the Lord’s day, the Jewish people who supposedly served God and kept his law could not fully comprehend the institution of marriage. When Jesus taught only briefly about the subject, his disciples responded, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry” (Mt 19:10). They faced the same problem our current culture faces. They didn’t understand the new covenant which Christ made with his bride, the church, so they couldn’t quite conceive of the permanent, intimate relationship that Jesus described.
Once again, I want to draw your attention to the flow of the story in Genesis 2 before we move on. Verse 18 begins with a decree. Before all else, God sovereignly purposes to give Adam a wife.
Not everyone is made for marriage. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul says:
I wish that all were as I myself am [i.e., unmarried]. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.
To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. (1 Corinthians 7:7-8)
There is no shame in being single. I’ve known people who tortured themselves because they couldn’t find a significant other. Don’t do that to yourself. God knows what you need when you need it. He gave Eve to Adam, and he’ll lead someone into your life when the time is right. In the meantime, don’t be anxious. Pray about it. Work on your own spiritual growth. Ultimately, “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts … And be thankful” (Col 3:15).
If God does bring someone into your life, you can be certain that he or she will be perfect for you. Concerning Adam, God said, “I will make him a helper fit for him” (Ge 2:18). Literally, the text says, “I will make a helper corresponding to him.” He would make a wife for Adam who is a perfect equivalent.
Let’s not get the wrong idea here. Our culture will send unmarried people on an impossible quest to find the perfect spouse. Almost every romantic comedy teaches us that if you try hard enough without settling, you will find someone who meets your every criterion. First of all, God’s idea of the perfect person for you may not be your idea of the perfect person. Second, the goal is not to find the perfect person anyhow. If it is God’s will for you to be married, then you are currently incomplete. Your future spouse is incomplete. You will be complete only after you are together. You are not looking for the perfect person.
Perhaps to make a point, God parades all of the animals in front of Adam. It seems God wanted to make it clear to him that he was in need of a suitable companion. None of the animals would suffice.
In verse 21, God takes a piece of Adam’s side—the word is translated rib, but it literally means “side,” which likely included both bone and flesh—and creates Adam’s wife. There is plenty of symbolism in this text, but I want to focus on the latter part of verse 22: “And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man” (Ge 2:22).
We are reading the first wedding ceremony in history where the bride’s Father walks her down the aisle. God brought her to Adam. It aligns perfectly with something Jesus said about marriage during his ministry. He said, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mt 19:6). God alone is the authoritative force which binds husband and wife together. That’s not to say we don’t make a choice to get married, but God seals the marriage. He says, “You are no longer Person 1 and Person 2; you are one flesh until death and death alone separates you.”
Notice Adam’s response. I didn’t talk about this part of the story last week, but it’s worth mentioning. I think it’s safe to say Adam was excited on his wedding day. He rejoices with the world’s first love song. He says, “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” (Ge 2:23).
First, notice that Adam had previously craved this woman. He said, “At last, finally—“ Apparently, God’s parading of the animals in front of Adam worked. He came to realize that he needed someone else for companionship, so when God brought Eve to him, he shouted, “At last!”
Second, consider Adam’s perspective of marriage. He thought of his wife as a part of him. “[She] is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” he said (Ge 2:23). Granted, that was literally true, but I have to believe he meant something more by that statement. What does Paul tell husbands in Ephesians 5? “Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies” (Eph 5:28). We also read here in Genesis 2, “They shall become one flesh” (Ge 2:24).
When we talk about the marriage covenant, we may think of a binding contract absent of emotion. Covenant sounds like a cold, lifeless legal agreement. While it is a binding contract, it is far from emotionless or cold. Woven into the marriage covenant is a profound intimacy. Let me show you. Turn back to Genesis 1.
Genesis 1 tells the creation story step by step. Over and over again, God speaks, then something is created or formed. In verse 26, however, something different takes place. Suddenly and without explanation, God is no longer working alone. Verses 26-27 say:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)
When God set out to create man and woman on the final day of creation, he doesn’t just speak them into existence as he did everything else. Instead, he joins forces, so to speak, with someone else. Who was with him? Why the change in this particular part of creation?
Let’s start with the first question. Who was with God? Jesus. John says, “In the beginning was the Word [i.e., Jesus], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). Who else was him? His Spirit. Look at Genesis 1:2: “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Ge 1:2). The full Trinity was present at creation, yet God waits until the moment he creates Adam and Eve—the text says, “male and female” (Ge 1:27)—before alluding to the entirety of the Trinity. Why?
If nothing else, it should be obvious that the creation of man and woman was unique. It was special. There was something different about it than the rest of creation. More than that, the participation of the full Trinity was required in the creation of Adam and Eve, the first couple to enter the sacred covenant of marriage. I don’t believe we’re reading a meaningless detail in the text when it changes from God creating to “let us make … male and female” (Ge 1:26-27).
I don’t know whether I can prove this interpretation definitively, but it seems to me that the full Trinity came together in the creation of the world’s first husband and wife to signify the kind of relationship Adam and Eve were meant to have with one another. In marriage, we are to be as close, intimate, and unified with our spouse as the members of the Trinity are with one another. “They shall become one flesh” just as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one (Ge 2:24). While they may have distinct functions, their identity can’t be separated.
My point is, the marriage covenant is not an impersonal legal contract. It is a binding contract, but it’s also deeply personal. It must be because marriage is modeled after the gospel which is deeply personal. In Scripture, a redeemed person is not only bound to Christ, but he or she is also in Christ. Throughout Ephesians, that phrase, “in Christ,” is one of Paul’s favorites. There is intimacy between Christ and his bride, and there is to be the same kind of intimacy between a husband and wife.
Though it should go without saying, divorce, adultery, neglect, mistreatment, or the abuse of a spouse violates the very nature and design of the marriage covenant. Divorce and adultery are usually obvious to us, but we may not realize the heinousness of other potential offenses (e.g., neglect). Neglecting our spouse physically or emotionally violates the covenant because marriage is the intimate union of husband and wife as one flesh. We are to love, respect, nourish, and cherish our spouse just as much as we do ourselves if not more.
With that in mind, let’s look at the last verse of Genesis 2. Moses writes, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Ge 2:25). That seems like a strange way to end the creation story. What are we supposed to learn from this verse? Specifically, what does it teach us about marriage?
Most Bible commentators jump to the broadest application of the text. They point out that Adam and Eve were not ashamed because they were still sinless. Once they sinned against God, however, they felt shame and, according to Genesis 3, “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God” (Ge 3:8). I agree with that interpretation, but I also think we should take it a step further. Given the context of verse 25, I’m inclined to believe it has a direct connection to the marriage covenant.
Let me read it along with the verse that came before: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Ge 2:24-25). It reads as though it were the conclusion to the institution of marriage. Surely, there is more intended by this verse than merely pointing out that Adam and Eve had perfect bodies before sin.
A successful, covenantal marriage is not based on perfect people. It’s the covenant itself that creates the context for a shame-free marriage. If we were still flawless, then, of course, we wouldn’t feel any shame. But a God-ordained covenantal relationship between a husband and his wife will also remove our shame.
In other words, the first way to be shame-free is to be perfect; the second way to be shame-free is to experience the grace of covenantal love. In the latter case, it is that love which covers all our flaws. As the Bible says, “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1Pe 4:8).
Again, let’s not forget that God designed marriage to display Christ and the church. The very essence of marriage is demonstrated by Christ’s love for his bride. His bride was utterly flawed. She was hideous. She was unloving to the extent that she hated Christ, but what did Christ do? He sacrificed himself to forgive her. He removed her shame. He loved her so much that he was willing to give his life for her. In turn, his love covered her flaws.
Covenant love is based on grace, not merit. God doesn’t love us because we are inherently lovable. He loves us despite the fact that we are unlovable. Though Adam and Eve were perfect in the beginning, the absence of shame described in verse 25 should relate to every marriage. My wife should not feel ashamed around me. I shouldn’t feel ashamed around her. A few years from now when my gut is hanging over my belt, and my hair has fallen out, God willing, I still won’t feel ashamed around her because covenant marriage says, “I love you no matter what.”
In the case of Adam and Eve, we witness a complete breakdown of the marriage covenant which seems to have stemmed from a rebellious desire for independence. Let me read to you what happened in Genesis 3:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”
And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. (Genesis 3:1-7)
The serpent promised that Adam and Eve could eat of the forbidden tree and become like God. They would raise themselves to a God-like state. In other words, they wouldn’t need God because they would essentially be God. Independence from God was the temptation.
In case I haven’t made it clear yet, the marriage covenant designed by God doesn’t work apart from God. Again, look around us. Godless people get married every day. They also get divorced and commit adultery at a rate much higher than genuine Christians. Just as one cannot fully understand marriage without knowing the gospel, an unbeliever has much less incentive to keep the marriage covenant when God has never been a part of that covenant. If you don’t believe God joined you to your spouse, then separating isn’t a big deal. Why shouldn’t man separate what man has joined together?
When a husband and wife attempt to remove God from their covenant with one another, they are pursuing independence which creates additional problems. If disobeying God weren’t bad enough, independence undermines the biblical roles of husband and wife. There’s no room for independence in marriage. How can two people becoming one flesh live independently of one another? It’s impossible.
Notice what happened in the case of Adam and Eve. We often lump them together because they both sinned against God, but they sinned independently. Listen to how Paul later described what happened: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1Ti 2:13-14). If nothing else, they clearly had different motivations for eating the fruit.
The serpent tempts Eve, fooling her into thinking that eating the forbidden fruit would be a good thing, so she eats. Meanwhile, Adam is with her the entire time. Verse 6 says, “She took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Ge 3:6). According to Paul, Adam knew what he was doing. The serpent didn’t fool him. Why did he go along with it? He may have been motivated by sheer curiosity. I know what will happen, he thought, but I don’t know what that will be like. I guess I’ll eat and find out.
Not only were Adam and Eve acting independently from God, but they were also acting independently of one another. Eve should have consulted her husband. Instead, she grabs the fruit, takes a bite, and offers it to Adam. Adam, on the other hand, should have protected his wife. He should not have stood by without saying a word. He failed to lead his wife because he had his own selfish reason for allowing sin to happen.
The result was this: “The eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Ge 3:7). Instantly, they felt ashamed. It stands to reason. Eve put her selfish desire before Adam, Adam put his selfish desire before Eve, and they both put their selfish desires before God.
What causes shame? The first cause is guilt. If I feel guilty, then I also feel ashamed. Please don’t look at me. The second cause is a lack of trust. If I don’t trust my wife, then I can’t bring myself to be vulnerable in front of her. To put it another way, I don’t feel comfortable being naked in front of her.
I suspect Adam and Eve experienced both. They certainly felt guilty, but they also lost trust in one another. Notice what God says to Eve in verse 16: “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you” (Ge 3:16). The Hebrew text is difficult to translate here. A literal translation might be: “Toward your husband your desire.” A future verb has to be supplied by the translators, and the ESV seems to accurately convey the intended meaning.
As a consequence of sin, God describes an ongoing struggle between every husband and wife. Though God has purposed the husband to lead his family, the wife will always be tempted to take charge, creating conflict. This conflict will make keeping the marriage covenant even more difficult, but it also provides all the more reason to understand that marriage is a binding covenant. Whether marriage is difficult or not, “what therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mt 19:6).
We can’t reinvent marriage. We can’t ignore the roles which the Bible prescribes for husbands and wives. After bringing shame into their marriage and destroying trust, Adam and Eve attempted to fix the situation. “They sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Ge 3:7). They tried to close the gap between what they were and what they knew they should be by hiding the problem.
As I said before, we’re not perfect people. If you’re a single person looking for a spouse, your future husband or wife won’t be perfect. You’re wasting your time if you think you’ll find someone who is perfect. If you’re married, it won’t help to pretend your marriage is perfect, but that’s okay. A successful marriage doesn’t need perfection; it needs grace.
Glance down at verse 21: “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Ge 3:21). Adam and Eve did not deserve a new set of clothes. God had every right to strip them of their inadequate fig-sewn loincloths and leave them to walk in nakedness and shame for the remainder of their lives, but he chose to show them grace. By grace, he clothed them better than they could ever clothe themselves.
What does the end of this story teach us about marriage? I’ll make two points: (1) We can’t keep the marriage covenant without God; (2) We can’t keep the marriage covenant without grace.
Next week, we’ll probably go to Colossians 3 to consider the necessity of grace and forgiveness in marriage. If you want to witness a marriage that is falling apart, then all you have to do is look for one where a husband and wife have stopped forgiving one another.