Cleave Unto His Wife

The first, and perhaps most important human relationship described in scripture is marriage; it’s introduced immediately after Man and Woman are created and it’s oriented in the husband’s responsibility to “cleave unto his wife”. (Ge 2:24) What does this mean?

The prerequisite for cleaving is that the man “leave his father and his mother”: separate himself from his birth family.

This leaving is evidently inherently both physical and spiritual; physical in the sense that each man is to have his own house, a dwelling where he cares for and protects himself and his family. (De 22:2) To do so effectively he must first learn to care for and provide for himself:  have an occupation, a means of generating value, and become productive and proficient in his work. (Pr 24:27)

This leaving is also spiritual in the sense that the man is to be recognized by other men, particularly by his own father, as a man, received and understood by others to be an independently functioning, responsible member of society. In many cultures this is marked by a special ceremony where a boy, having demonstrated the necessary skills to provide for himself, participates in a ritual, after which his father acknowledges his manhood and receives him as an equal among other men.

Once a man leaves his parents and takes a wife, one given him by God as a suitable helper (Ge 2:18) in pursuing a unique destiny together (Ge 2:28), he becomes one flesh with her; husband and wife experience a metaphysical union and become part of a single human organism, permanently interconnected, members one of another. (1Co 6:16) It is in this context that the husband is to — cleave unto his wife.

The immediate context then informs us that this cleaving relates to an orientation in the man which initiates, encourages, facilitates and promotes an ongoing pattern of interaction with his wife which enables them to seamlessly live and work together to overcome the challenges they will inevitably face in pursuing their mutual destiny. It is a joining of his mind, soul and heart with his wife such that the two of them are thinking and acting together more and more as one; in the same way the two have become one flesh, the goal is to be of one heart, one mind, and one soul. (Ac 4:32)

This marital union is intended to produce a single metaphysical being capable of achieving what neither of the two could ever accomplish on their own, and the man is to lead and manage their interactions so as to produce this type of unity in his marriage.

God has called Man to this most complex and difficult task of cleaving to Woman, a unique and separate individual bearing the image of God, and necessarily very much unlike himself. Their differences, their unique orientations, inclinations and capabilities, are an intrinsic part of this design, enabling and strengthening the union they are to produce together. This mysterious process is, in itself, the work of God, the shadow of an eternal, heavenly marriage between God and Man. (Ep 5:31-32)

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One thought on “Cleave Unto His Wife”

  1. A few corollaries:

    1. If a man is leaving his father and his mother, which are his primary relationships in life before marriage, it follows that he is also leaving every other relationship in the same way, to be exclusively joined to his wife. This does not mean entirely abandoning other relationships (he is still to honor his parents), it means to prioritize the marriage relationship above all other relationships, including those with children and siblings, friends, etc.

    2. The command to the husband translates naturally to the wife, since the husband cannot cleave unto his wife in the sense observed unless his wife cooperates and fully participates with the same objective.

    3. Parents have a responsibility to raise their children to fully and effectively participate in this process, to equip and enable them for their unique responsibilities in marital life, to make wise choices in spouses, and to make good life decisions in providing for and raising their own. Fathers have a particularly critical role in raising their sons to become good husbands and fathers.

    4. Choosing a mate involves SO much more than physical attraction and chemistry; such chemistry is merely one tool to enable this cleaving process. We must know ourselves well enough to understand what kind of person would be compatible with us in becoming one flesh, we must carefully vet potential mates to ensure we aren’t forming an unequal yoke, and we must BE the kind of person who can fully participate in this cleaving process in a way that edifies and uplifts our spouse.

    5. We are, first and foremost, to cleave unto the Lord (Ac 11:23); cleaving to a spouse shouldn’t diminish or supersede being in intimate fellowship and constant communion with God. This makes it all the more critical that any potential mate have the same orientation: cleaving to God must be their ultimate priority.

    6. Pursuing such personal intimacy with a wife in love, inviting her into their innermost being, requires men to be pure in heart; don’t invite a spouse into chaos, confusion, corruption, selfishness and lust. A man is to put his own inner house in order before taking on the responsibility of a wife and family, becoming the kind of man who can confidently call his wife into healthy intimacy with himself on every level.

    7. The husband must understand that he cannot force intimacy or oneness with his wife; commanding her like a master would a slave, or a general would a soldier, will not get him where he needs to be, not even close. His wife’s participation in this process is in reality, and by definition, entirely voluntarily. He must be able to lead her by selfless example and facilitate their oneness by lovingly inviting her into alignment, submission and cooperation with himself.

    8. The wife must submit herself to this process in a way that maintains her unique identity in God, yet complements her husband and enables him to give direction to their relationships and activities without conflict or fear of reprisal. Being in such intimacy precludes both selfish exploitation in the husband and also selfish insubordination in the wife.

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