“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife and they shall be one flesh…” (Genesis 2:24)
I have thought a lot about this verse lately, in terms of a mature marriage. And, as we mature and age, I am realizing that heart cleaving is different from physical cleaving. There’s been a realization that he would be there tomorrow and the next day, even if the physical act of sex didn’t happen. That this loyalty wasn’t a condition of our covenant, it was an expression of our unity of faith, and one-flesh union of our hearts.
The world has tried to convince couples that marriage simply means obtaining the exclusive right to sleep with somebody. Sure, we think of all the benefits outside the bedroom: friendship, companionship, children. Happily ever after. But we are human, and rarely does life deliver our dreams and expectations. There are lots of unexpected ditches and curves.
So what is really meant by the old-fashioned term “cleaving unto”? Essentially, it’s bondedness–two people living very closely to each other through the good and the bad. The morning breath, the farts, the disgusting habits.
In the Bible “cleave unto” also indicates a “dependent” takes refuge in a stronger one (like Israel does unto God). The man and the woman are interdependent on each other.
In the original Hebrew “cleave to” points especially at strong love or committed, unbreachable troth. And troth is essentially different from sex. It means reliability, genuineness, honesty, integrity, and fidelity.
In a christian marriage covenant, troth is promised to each other before witness, and before God.
Bottom line: we’re making a promise for a lifetime. Only death should bring an end to it.
This is why you don’t enter into these things lightly or without maturity.
“Cleave unto”may be the deepest mystery of marriage. If you do not cling to each other in troth, your marriage will inevitably be doomed.
It is wonderful to be in love with each other, and in the beginning love and passion practically falls into your lap like a gift. However, to remain in love means effort, sometimes a duty. There are times you can barely stand the sight of each other. If she asks that question one more time, you’ll go berserk. If he leaves the toilet seat up one more time, you’ll lose your mind. Our troth, and our “cleave to,” carry us through the inevitable low points of marriage.
How does it do that? And, what about the “being one” or “one flesh?”
Cleaving unto already implies being one: the marriage is a permanent union. So what about the sexual? The playful, spontaneous, free, joyful and complete bodily surrender to somebody else and the equally joyful receiving of somebody else? The Old (Authorized) Translation refers to becoming one flesh.
Well, folks– not to get morbid here, but the reality? The flesh is temporary, it is mortal. “The flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38) “At the end of your life, flesh and body are spent” (Proverbs 5:11). Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. “The spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.” John 6:63. The perishable does not inherit the imperishable (don’t even get me started on the word flesh in the bible– suffice it to say that in most cases, flesh is seen as a weakness, and far inferior to the spirit).
The Song of Solomon of course describes this physical attraction of man and woman in the detail. God Himself created man and woman to have sexual urges and wants mankind to enjoy this. But sex alone does not create troth. Rather, sex reveals, confirms, reinforces, and deepens the troth to each other. And while sexual union in marriage is very important, it’s not the one and only union. The “sex appeal”, the physical attraction, may begin to disappear, and then the marriage still has to go on. If there is not unity among man and wife in many more aspects, and if their unity does not grow, then the sexual bond will also lose its strength.
Unity outside the flesh extend to matters like financial (merging and sharing assets); emotional (sharing of joys and sorrows; honesty and openness; compassion and understanding). And let’s not forget forgiveness. There will be tensions, fights, disagreements, quarrels. I’ve had to daily remind myself: Slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to become angry. No one is perfect, me included.
The strength to endure the unlovely things, the hard things, is only possible with unity of faith for a couple. The strength of God’s grace in Christ is the only thing that can carry us through seemingly insurmountable hardships and odds.
The mutual growth in faith has to be the highest priority in a marriage. Remaining close to God in prayer and scripture reading will give your marriage the fuel to go the distance.
(paraphrases and excerpts from https://thebigpicture.homestead.com/files/LEAVE.html)