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Series on Marriage

We’re talking about Christian marriage again this morning. There are a lot of different understandings of marriage in the world today, both secular and religious. And so I am sharing with you three key components of what Christian marriage entails to help us get oriented and grounded in what the Scriptures have to say about this.

Last week we looked at the first component – a “one flesh” union. This has to do with sexual union, but also a joining of two people in every way, and the bonding of the two into one. But as we will see today, Christian marriage is not just a sexual union. Our second component is a companionship of partners.

This is talked about in several places in Scripture, for instance Proverbs 2:17 speaks of the husband as “the companion (or partner) of her youth,” talking to a wife. Malachi 2:14 speaks of the wife, saying, “she is your companion (or “partner).” And in Song of Solomon 5:16 the wife says to her husband, “this is my beloved, this is my friend” – different language, but the same idea.

But certainly –

Genesis 2:18-25

– is the key passage that teaches this. So let’s look at this and see what it has to say about partnership and companionship in marriage (Genesis 2 handout).

18Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone . . .’” So there’s a problem. Even though the man is living in paradise, something is wrong. “It is not good” stands out, in contrast to chapter one where everything is declared good.

What’s the problem? The man is alone; all by himself. Even though God is there with him, still something is missing. As we will see, the problem is that there is no woman yet. The creation is not yet complete.

Well, God initiates a solution to the problem. “. . . I will make him a helper corresponding to him.” What is “a helper corresponding to him”? First we have the word “helper” (ezer). This can also be translated as partner or companion. It does not in any way refer to someone who is subordinate, although the English word can give this idea. The Hebrew word is most often used of God helping his people Israel. And God, of course, is superior to Israel.

The second word, “corresponding to him” (kenegdo) conveys the idea of compatibility, similarity and equality. As we will see, in context it means someone who is on a par with the man, who is of the same kind as him, even though different.

19Now 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. 20The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for the man there was not found a helper corresponding to him.”

So the search begins. God makes and brings all the animals to the man for him to name. But there’s more going on. In the process of naming he is examining all these animals to see what to call them. And he himself comes to the conclusion that he is alone, because none of these can be his partner and companion.The animals have partners and companions suitable to them – but he does not. This self-realization was, no doubt, a part of God’s purpose.

21So 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. 22And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman . . .” So we have some divine surgery going on here. God takes a rib from the man, and from this, it says literally, he “built” a woman.

The rib comes from his side and the word “rib” can also mean “side.” The idea seems to be that the woman is to be his partner and his companion, standing by his side. You have no doubt heard some version of this famous saying – “Eve was not taken from the feet of Adam to be his slave, nor from his head to be his ruler, but from his side to be his beloved partner.” (Peter Lombard)

“and (God) brought her to the man. 23Then 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.’” “At last!” “Wow!!!” “Finally!” The man is recognizing that she is different than all the animals, because she is on the same level as him. She is of the same order as him. The phrase, “bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh” indicates that she is just like him in terms of humanity; she is from him and therefore they are the same.

Here is one who is his equal in every way, someone who “corresponds to him,” so that even in their differences they complement each other.

The man also names the woman, but it is a bit different than with the animals. Because in the act of naming her, he acknowledges her equality with him. “Bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh” – you are just like me, fully human.

He also names himself, after seeing her. He calls her “isha” = woman (wife), and for the first time he is called “ish” = man (husband).  (This is the first occurrence of this particular word for man.) He finds out about his own identity in relationship to her. (Sarna). And there is a play on words here between “ish” and “isha.” Even though they are from a different root word, they sound very much alike, pointing to the similarity between the man and the woman. They share a common status as humans.

24Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” As we saw last week “one flesh” is not just about a physical relationship, it is the joining together of two people at every level. And as we also saw last week ‘they were both naked and not ashamed’ indicates that they had nothing hidden between them. Both of these point to a relationship of intimacy and companionship.

Let me draw out –

Three key themes for emphasis

1. Humans are made for relationships. Something was not good when the man was alone. And so we learn that being alone; being solitary is not ideal. Now, even though we are talking about marriage here, the lesson is larger and applies to singles, in terms of connections with family, friends and fellow believers. We all need relationships.

It is in relationships, just as with the first man, that we find out who we truly are. When he saw the woman he discovered something about himself. And it is in relationships that we discover things about ourselves – both our weaknesses and also our strengths.

2. The woman is on an equal footing with the man. She is different than the man, and they are to complement each other in their differences. But the emphasis of the passage is clearly on how they are on the same level with each other.

She is the center point of the story (see handout). She is the completion of the creation, as the story is told in Genesis 2. Things aren’t fully good until she is made. She is “a helper” or partner. She “corresponds to him” and is thus similar, compatible and equal. She is made from his rib to stand beside him as his partner. She is bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh, that is, of the same nature. Even the names “man” and “woman” point to similarity. She is a full partner. She brings as much to the relationship as he does.

And all this agrees with Genesis 1 where both male and female are together made in the image of God and both together are to rule and fill the earth.

Now, this is not to say that there aren’t aspects of marital roles in Genesis 2, which we will talk about later. But just to say that these roles need to work toward the partnership that is described here, not unequal relations. Hierarchy and Patriarchy come after the entrance of sin into the world, as we see in Genesis 3:16, when it talks about a husband ruling over his wife. Just as with the permanence of marriage, the ideal to which we are to strive in the kingdom of God is laid out for us in the original creation.

[Note: In 1 Timothy 2:13-14 Paul refers to the broader story of Genesis 2-3 to speak of marital roles. He appeals to the fact that the man was created first and that Eve was deceived and sinned. He is apparently countering teaching that did away with marital roles and so he needs to emphasize these points and not the partnership theme of our specific story. In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul refers to our story in Genesis 2 in reference to marital roles. If in vs. 8-9 he contemplates that the woman is made from and for the man, he balances this in vs. 11-12 by saying, “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.”]

3. Because they are true partners they can share true companionship. To the degree that you lessen the status or dignity of a woman, through a misreading of this passage, to that very degree you lessen the relationship of companionship that is possible. It is precisely because they are on a par with each other; because the woman is the equal of the man, that they can experience true and full companionship with each other.

Finally, let’s end by looking at some –

Aspects of a companionship of partners

It means to be in deep relationship with each other. They were naked and not ashamed. Nothing was hidden. They had intimacy at all levels. They were together and not alone. They communicated and related to each other. And each one knew what it was like to be truly known by someone and accepted and to know someone truly and accept them.

It means to be united in purpose. This has to do with family life and raising children, working to provide for their needs – with both husband and wife laboring at this, subduing and filling the earth. And it has to do with serving God together and working for the kingdom of God.

 It means to have a shared life journey together. To love each other, care for each other, encourage each other, support each other, help each other, forgive each other. It means finding each other’s weaknesses and also discovering each other’s strengths as we travel along. It means weeping with each other, but also rejoicing with one another; sharing our burdens and our joys.

William Higgins

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