2024-01-11
leave and cleave
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Marriage is God’s concept. When He created Adam and Eve, He gave instructions for marriage’s purpose and design, including the phrase “leave and cleave.” Every significant culture has some form of marriage connected to the practical aspect of having and raising children. Still, the purpose goes past the practical. The biblical narrative expresses an aspect of love and lifelong commitment.

Our modern culture has expanded the idea of marriage and love. Finding a spouse is the goal of many Hallmark or romantic comedy movies, often to fantastical degrees. Now, the phrase “leave and cleave” seems archaic and old-fashioned, but perhaps we can still learn God’s design and will from the start and find joy and hope for the future.

Where does the Bible say leave and cleave?

“Leave and cleave” comes from Genesis 2:24, which says that man shall leave his parents and hold fast to his wife as they become one flesh. This verse is part of the creation story, detailing how God made the heavens, earth and humanity. The Bible initially introduces God as a Creator before any of His other roles. It continues to stress how God, the source of creation, gives Him authority, which means He’s unlike us, the creations. Before Him, the earth was void and without form, under darkness and chaos. God first speaks light into the darkness and differentiates the light from darkness. This light was different from the sun and moon, created later.

The New Testament puts Jesus there at creation as the Word through which God created the world. The apostles further deem Jesus the light, meaning He was the light spoken into the darkness in that first moment. With God’s Spirit hovering over the waters, we see an image of the Trinity in the first few Bible verses. God continues to speak, commanding creation forth from Himself in days and stages. On the sixth day, God created humanity. However, He didn’t create through speaking. Instead, He forms humanity with His hands and makes them in His image.

Adam couldn’t be the image of God alone because he isn’t alone within himself. There are three people as one within God, so the Lord declares the one thing that isn’t good: Adam has no one like him. God is loving, so He addresses Adam’s lack and gives him a woman, Eve, who is like him but not the same as him. Adam also needed Eve to participate in God’s goal for humanity: to be fruitful and multiply. God could’ve made Adam capable of reproduction on his own, but He creates a relationship of oneness, so the person made in His image must, too. It’s in this context that the Bible makes a statement about marriage: leave your parents and cleave to your wife.

What does it mean to cleave to something?

To cleave has multiple meanings. We typically think of one meaning: something being separated, like a cleaver separating meat into pieces. However, the interpretation depends on the context. In the biblical context, specifically in Genesis 2:24, cleave is translated as “cling” or “hold fast.” In this sense, to cleave to something signifies a robust, unwavering attachment or commitment. It conveys the idea of profoundly bonding with someone or something, maintaining an intimate, close connection. In the marriage context, as described in Genesis, it signifies the husband’s commitment to his wife, creating a bond meant to be inseparable and enduring.

Aside from its biblical usage, the term “cleave” can also imply the act of separating or splitting. This alternative meaning adds a layer of nuance to the interpretation. It indicates a decisive or forceful action, often involving a metaphorical or physical breaking away from one entity to join another. The biblical instruction to leave and cleave in marriage captures both senses of the word: leaving the origin family to attach oneself to a spouse. Leaving and cleaving underscores the transformative nature of marriage, emphasizing the shift in priorities and allegiances. It highlights that the husband and wife form a new family unit, separate and distinct from their respective families of origin.

This separation doesn’t diminish the importance of honoring parents. It creates the marital relationship as a special and paramount connection. In the New Testament, when questioned about divorce, Jesus confirms the principle of leaving and cleaving, referring back to Genesis 2:34 in Matthew 19:4-6. This reaffirmation by Jesus underlines the enduring importance of the leave-and-cleave principle, showing marriage as a divine union that surpasses individual family ties. The bond between husband and wife is shown as inseparable and sacred, and the command to leave and cleave serves as a foundational principle for a strong and unified marital relationship.

How do we leave and cleave in a God-honoring way?

Leaving and cleaving in God-honoring ways involves balancing establishing a new family unit while maintaining connections and respect with the family. By adhering to biblical principles and integrating a spirit of communication, love, and mutual respect, couples can create healthy relationships and build a foundation that honors God. First, God-honoring leaving and cleaving prioritizes the marital relationship. This involves recognizing the special bond between husband and wife. The marriage relationship holds a definite and central place in God’s design. Hopefully, the parents of both husband and wife personified these healthy ways to interact with the family.

Second, effective communication is essential. Couples should openly discuss their desires, expectations, and boundaries about how the extended family will be involved. By sharing their viewpoints and actively listening to each other, couples can have a shared approach. They can make sure they share the same understanding of what it means to leave and cleave. Setting healthy boundaries is another crucial aspect of leaving and cleaving in a way that honors God. Establishing these limitations allows couples to maintain autonomy while creating positive connections with extended family members. This involves discerning when to ask for advice, when to establish independence, and how to communicate these boundaries respectfully.

Moreover, leaving and cleaving in a God-honoring way includes seeking God’s guidance through prayer and relying on biblical principles. Prayer lets us seek discernment, wisdom, and strength. With God’s help, we can have the love and confidence we need for interactions with family members.

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