The story of the first marriage

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Good evening. As the third lockdown nears an end, we are starting to appreciate the immense cost of the three lockdowns to us all: economically, educationally, physically, mentally, but perhaps the full relational cost of the lockdown is only just beginning to be felt.

Lockdown has put enormous strain on many marriages. Back in September 2020, Citizens Advice Bureau said that views on its ‘divorce’ webpage were up 25% compared to the previous year. Family lawyers were predicting a ‘divorce boom’, as couples struggled to cope with the stress of the pandemic or were forced to face up to old problems in their marriages which they were previously content to ignore. And months have ticked by since then.

Lockdown has also enforced loneliness on many single people. It has cut off many of the healthy opportunities for interaction with others. And it has given plenty of space for painful emotions to be amplified many times over: the agony of a divorce, the frustrated desire to be married, the wrench of having lost a loved one. These are issues for some of you right now. And in these kind of situations we just want to scream out for relief: “No more of this! That’s enough! I need a pressure release valve!”And if that’s what we’re looking for, then Genesis 2.18-25 may feel like the ‘wrong’ Bible passage to be looking at. After all, we don’t want anyone rubbing salt in our wounds, telling us what our marriages should be like or reminding us that we are still single. But Genesis 2.18-25 is exactly what we need to hear. We need perspective, God’s perspective.

This evening, we’re going travelling in Dr Who style time-travel back to Genesis 2, but with a return ticket. We’re going back in time to the story of the first marriage, and then we will return to our present trials but with a fresh perspective. Let’s pray:

Father, as we spend time thinking about the world’s first ever marriage, please help us to be captivated by your beautiful design for marriage and face our present realities with greater courage and joy. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

I have three simple points to guide us through Genesis 2.18-25. My first point is this:

1. The problem: Adam needs help to look after God’s creation (Genesis 2.18-20)

In Genesis 1-2, we quickly get used to the familiar rhythm that each part of God’s creation is good…good…good…very good. So it comes as a bit of a shock when we read that there is something that is not good. Not that there was anything bad before The Fall in Genesis 3, but something was missing. Look at Genesis 2.18:

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”

Adam needs help! We men are notoriously reluctant to admit that we need help, whether it’s getting lost in an unfamiliar part of town, or moving furniture in a lockdown furniture shuffle, but God sees that Adam needs help. But what does Adam need help with? Let’s rewind a little. In Genesis 2.5, we read that there was no man to work the ground. So God then forms Adam and sets him to work. Genesis 2.15:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

But Adam needs help to look after God’s creation. He can’t do it alone! So the search begins for a helper. Genesis 2.19-20:

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 Adam throws himself into zoology and ornithology with lots of gusto but, there was still no helper fit for him. Lion? Err… No thanks! A bit dangerous! Hippopotamus? Too hot tempered! Alligator? You must be joking. Fortunately, God has a solution! We read in Genesis 2.18 that He will make a helper suitable for Adam, someone to help him in caring for God’s creation and someone who will bring up many children with him to help in the task.

There’s an important point for us to grasp here: marriage is not God’s answer to loneliness, it’s God’s provision for partnership. The issue for Adam was not that he felt subjectively alone. If you think about it, he probably didn’t feel alone, as Genesis 2 was before the Fall and he was in perfect communion with God. But he was objectively physically alone and God had called him to a task that was far beyond what he could do on his own. So God did not create Eve to meet Adam’s emotional needs, but to help Adam care for creation by her direct partnership and by having children with him. This has big implications in terms of the expectations we place on our marriages or on the hope of a future marriage. I say this carefully, but I do want to underline it. Marriage was not created by God to take away our loneliness or fulfil all our emotional needs. Yes, good marriage can help combat isolation and loneliness, but God has also given us wider family relationships, friendships and the church family. Healthy marriage always has an ‘outward focus’. And for Christians today, this is not just looking after God’s creation (serving the general welfare of the environment and human society) as it was for Adam and Eve but also speaking about God’s salvation (seeking to grow the church by sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others.) That’s the problem: Adam needs help to look after God’s creation. My second point is this:

2. The solution: God gives Eve to Adam to help him (Genesis 2.21-25)

Did you realise that the first ever marriage was an arranged marriage? It was beautifully and purposefully arranged by God. Firstly, God makes Eve from Adam Look at Genesis 2.21-22:

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.

In Genesis 2.7, God makes Adam from the dust, but here God makes Eve from Adam. Secondly, God makes Eve for Adam Look at Genesis 2.22 again:

And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.

God is like the father of the bride at a wedding, giving Eve away to Adam. Thirdly, Adam is thrilled to bits! Look at Genesis 2.23:

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.”

Adam wasn’t so excited about the lion, the rhino, or the alligator but he is thrilled with Eve! She’s the companion and partner he has been desperately waiting for: at last! One who is like him, even from him, yet different to him. “Wow! Praise God for Eve!” These lines in Genesis 2.23 are a prelude to the rich love poetry which we find in the Old Testament Book of the Song of Songs. And we see a picture of the intimacy of their relationship later in Genesis 2.25:

And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Genesis 2.25 is not just talking about physical nakedness, but complete emotional openness and trust. The perfect relationship, to which Genesis 3.7 (after the Fall) forms a sad contrast where Adam and Eve are naked and ashamed. What a beautiful picture of that first arranged marriage. God makes Eve for Adam, from Adam, to Adam’s delight, for service together in the garden.

Do you see here the tenderness, the care, the foresight, the purpose, the delicacy of God at work here as he orchestrates this first ever marriage?
People can be cynical about marriage today. “It’s old-fashioned. Boring. Restrictive.” Underneath the cynicism often lies the pain of broken marriages. That’s simply not the picture of marriage in Genesis 2. Marriage is not boring and old-fashioned. It’s beautifully original. And, as we’ll consider more in a moment, just as Adam’s marriage with Eve was really special, so every human marriage today is really special. Beautifully original.That’s the first ever marriage. There was a problem: Adam needed help to look after the creation. There was a God-given solution: God gave Eve to Adam to help him. My third point takes us on the return leg of our Dr Who time travel, back to marriage today. It’s this:

3. The pattern: God joins one man and one woman together for life (Genesis 2.24)

In Genesis 2.24, there is an intentional break in the narrative. The writer of Genesis pauses to make a profound theological comment which is referred to many times over in the New Testament:

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

The writer is saying what happened to Adam and Eve in the first human marriage is the pattern for all human marriages for all time. Some things are quite obviously different about Adam and Eve’s marriage. Firstly, the creation of Eve from Adam was completely unique. Secondly, Adam and Eve’s marriage was arranged. Marriages today can be arranged, but don’t have to be. Thirdly, Adam and Eve had no parents to leave before they cleaved together. But Genesis 2.24 insists that their marriage forms the theological pattern for all human marriages everywhere for all time until Jesus comes back. So here’s God’s blueprint for marriage:

Firstly, there’s the public recognition of marriage as one man and one woman leave their respective families to form a new family unit. Secondly, there’s the passionate commitment of marriage as the couple hold fast to each other. Thirdly, there’s the profound union of marriage as the man and woman become one flesh. These three things happen in every marriage between a man and a woman, regardless of whether or not people acknowledge it, regardless of what they believe. Because marriage is an ‘ordinance of creation’ for all mankind. Let’s look at each of these three points in turn and consider the implications. Firstly, the public recognition of marriage.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Today we often approach marriage very individualistically. We see marital privacy as a sacred right. Married couples expect to be ‘given space’ and others dare not ask too many questions about their marriage, for fear of coming across as ‘nosy’. But for every one busybody who sticks his/her nose in other people’s business too much, there are probably ten of us who feel far too comfortable walking by on the other side when we sense a couple’s marriage is in serious difficulty.

I remember speaking with one man who bravely shared with me the story of the failure of his first marriage. He and his wife had got into real difficulties in their relationship. No-one had helped them. Time moved relentlessly on. The difficulties became insurmountable and they split up and were divorced.
Now, it’s easy to point the finger at this man and criticise him for not working through the issues with his wife. But surely the better question to be asking is this: where was the help this man and his wife needed when they needed it?

Healthy marriages are the responsibility of society not just the couple. They are the responsibility of the whole church family not just the couple. Single people can play a very important role here too, because they can more easily ask “How is your marriage?” and not be perceived as being critical. So do you know a married couple who are really struggling with lockdown? Prayerfully consider one thing you can do this week to help them. Or do you know someone who is about to get married? Or has just got married? Now more than ever they will need to your support. Brothers and sisters, let us not be content to just speak highly of marriage as an institution. Let our actions back up our words. Let’s support those inside and outside our church to help cultivate healthy marriages as best we can. Hebrews 13.4 says simply Let marriage be held in honour among all. That’s the public recognition of marriage. Marriage is the responsibility of the whole community; not just the couple.

Secondly, let’s look at the passionate commitment of marriage:

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Our culture often judges a marriage by feelings of ‘happiness’, or the absence of conflict. But at its heart, marriage involves a steadfast passionate commitment to love your husband or wife, even if the romance is not happening and arguments are many. Even in the middle of the third lockdown! So, if that’s where you are now, don’t give up on your marriage. Persevere. Don’t put unhelpful pressure on yourselves to feel passionate feelings or agree on everything, but just resolve to be passionately committed to each other. This sounds unromantic, I know. But it’s realistic. It takes the ‘performance pressure’ off our marriages and helps us to persevere in faithful commitment through times of romance and harmony, and coldness and strife. That’s the passionate commitment of marriage. Marriage requires passionate commitment not passionate feelings.

Finally, let’s see the profound union of marriage:

Therefore a man shall lave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

There is something really important to grasp here. Fundamentally, Marriage is God’s doing, not our doing. Sure, marriage is also a human commitment. The man and the women make an active decision to leave and cleave. The make real promises to each other but becoming one flesh is something God does for every man and woman when they marry. I’ll just spell this out a bit more, because it’s hard to grasp. Marriage is more than a legal contract between two parties. Marriage is also more than a religious lifelong commitment expressed publicly in the context of supportive family and friends and before God Himself. Marriage is actually God’s doing as he unites the man and woman in one flesh union, of which sexual intimacy is the deepest human expression. This one flesh status is not an ideal to live up to, it’s given when God joins us together. Jesus emphasises this point in Matthew 19.4-6:

He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, [here’s the quote from Genesis 2:24:] ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? [And here’s Jesus’ summary:] So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

So if you are married, you are one with your husband or wife. United. God has joined you together in marriage for life. This one flesh union in marriage is also a picture of the relationship between Jesus Christ and Christian believers. Paul writes in Ephesians 5.31-32:

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

Paul writes about the profound union of human marriage, and as he does so he is also writing about the profound union of Christ and the church. So why was marriage created? Marriage was created by God as a one-flesh union between a man and a woman for life. It was also created by God to picture the spiritual union between Jesus Christ and His church forever. And if you’re a Christian believer, this includes you, whether you are single, married, divorced, or single again through bereavement. If you’re watching and you’ve not yet had personal dealings with Jesus, maybe you sense that you’re missing out. As Augustine put it:

You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.

It’s time for you to come to Jesus, so that He might join you to God for eternity. Let’s pray as we finish:

Father, we thank you for the wonderful gift of marriage. May we as a church family honour marriage, honour you through our marriages and may our marriages point everyone around us to the Great Marriage on the Last Day between Jesus and his Church. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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