Adam’s Rib: How God Arranged the First Marriage

Genesis 2:18-25

May 26, 2002 | Ray Pritchard

Yesterday I performed a wedding ceremony for Chris Hall and Kara Hansen. It was a lovely occassion, as weddings usually are, and everything seemed to go well. As I stood on the platform with the happy couple only two or three feet away, I looked into their hopeful faces, and the same thought I have often had at that moment came to mind: So young, so happy, so beautiful … They don’t have a clue. And it wouldn’t do any good to try to explain things to them because marriage must be experienced to be understood. You can only learn so much from premarital counseling. It’s like reading a book about swimming. Sooner or later you have to jump in the pool.

I’m sure that Chris and Kara will do fine and I pray God will give them a long and happy life together. I believe they are off to a good start. And what they need to know, they’ll learn along the way, just like the rest of us. This August Marlene and I will celebrate our 28th anniversary. Back then we had no idea what we were getting into, and that was probably a good thing. At our wedding reception an older gentleman pulled me aside and offered this pearl of wisdom: “Young man, love is blind but marriage is an eye-opener.” Indeed it is! We had to learn about marriage the hard way, which is the same way most people learn about it. As wonderful as marriage is, no amount of premarital counseling can fully prepare you for what you are about to experience.

The “Owners Manual”

One of my favorite stories involves a young minister performing his first wedding ceremony. Fearing he might forget something, he sought counsel from an older preacher. The experienced man told the young minister everything he needed to do and made one final suggestion: “If you ever forget what you are supposed to say, just quote Scripture.” The ceremony went smoothly until he pronounced the happy couple husband and wife. At that point, his mind went blank. That’s when he remembered the advice of the old preacher to quote Scripture. So he quoted the only verse that came to his mind: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Marriage is a challenge in the best of circumstances but it can also be a great blessing. In a society like ours, where healthy marriages are the exception and not the rule, if we can build marriages that move against the prevailing tide, we will have a fantastic base from which to share the message of Jesus Christ with our friends and neighbors. Nowhere will the difference between Christianity and modern secularism be more clearly seen than in a truly Christian marriage.

We all understand that marriage today is under attack. Many young people doubt that a lifelong marriage is possible. They’ve seen so much divorce that it seems normal to them. They are right in one sense. Divorce happens. It happens in the world, it happens in the church at large, and it happens in this particular local church. Sometimes Christian people behave irresponsibly. Husbands and wives don’t always keep their vows. Sometimes they walk out and sometimes they just drift apart. After making full allowance for all the problems we face, it’s still true that God’s way is the best way. When you buy a new car, you take the owner’s manual out of the glove compartment and you read it. We need to do the same thing today. The Bible is the “owner’s manual” for marriage. Perhaps if we were more attentive to the instructions of the Designer we would find that marriage works much better.

The traditional wedding ceremony declares that marriage is “an honorable estate.” It is honorable because God created marriage and gave it as a gift to the human race. Marriage is holy because God is holy and marriage comes from God. It is far more than a legal act made possible because we bought a marriage license.

Our text is very simple. It contains just three things: Adam naming the animals, God fashioning Eve from Adam’s side, and Adam and Eve getting married. This passage makes it very clear that marriage is a central part of God’s plan for the human race. While not everyone will get married, and not everyone should get married, the fact remains that most people will be married at some point in life. Not everyone who reads these words is married, and not everyone who is married is in a healthy, growing relationship. In some ways it doesn’t matter what your particular situation might be. We all need to hear what God’s Word has to say.

I. The Need for Marriage 18-23

A. God’s Declaration

“The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’” (Genesis 2:18).

Context is always crucial when you study the Bible. In this case we need to know that this passage takes place in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. It describes a world none of us has ever experienced—a world without sin. It is a world of created perfection with no hint of moral contamination.

We plug into the narrative with God speaking in verse 18: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” This tells us two crucial things. First, God was moving to meet the problem of Adam’s loneliness. Even in paradise Adam was lonely. He was the king of creation, yet something was lacking. The perfection of Eden could not satisfy the void within. In all of creation, only one thing was not good. It was not good for Adam to be alone. Second, Eve was the answer to Adam’s loneliness. The answer was not another man or a group of men. No man was ever meant to find his deepest satisfaction in his hunting buddies or the guys at work. As a matter of fact, no man was ever meant to find it in women in general or in one woman after another. The answer to the loneliness every man feels is one woman—given by God—with whom he can spend the rest of his days. That is the most basic purpose of marriage.

When God says he will create “a helper,” many people picture someone who sweeps the floor, makes the beds, prepares the meals, and in general does the housework while the man of the house sits in his soft recliner with the remote control in his hand flipping from one channel to another. That’s not what the word means. In the Old Testament this particular Hebrew word was often used of God himself (see Psalm 46:1). A “helper” in this context means one who supplies what is lacking in another person. God created Eve to do what Adam cannot do by himself. And that points us to an amazing truth about marriage: The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. When a man and woman are united in marriage, the result is greater than 1 + 1 = 2. It’s more like 1 + 1 = 37! The result is all out of proportion to the talents and abilities of the two people involved.

Marriage, then, is meant to be a shared companionship between a husband and a wife. As they walk through life side by side, hand in hand, they share everything together. It’s not as if the husband can say, “This is my area. Woman, stay out of it.” Or the wife can say, “This is my realm. Keep your hands off.” While there will definitely be a division of labor depending on gifts and talents and desires and time available, in a good marriage everything is shared on a basis of honesty, openness and love. In that light we can say that marriage is God’s chief answer to human loneliness. It isn’t the only answer. There are others, such as family and friends and neighbors and co-workers and villages and towns and cities and nations. And the body of Christ stands as a supernatural expression of a universal brotherhood of believers in Christ. Here we find a family that in many ways transcends our earthly family. But marriage stands apart as God’s first answer to the need we all feel for friendship and intimacy.

I pause at this point to add an important word. This passage conclusively refutes the modern evil known as “homosexual marriage.” In God’s eyes there is no such thing. The biblical pattern is one man with one woman for life. When God created Adam and Eve, he established the fundamental order of human society. He created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. He did not create two men or two women, and he did not create Adam and a group of women or Eve and a group of men. And it’s not Adam and then Eve and then one woman after another. The divine pattern is crystal clear from Genesis 2. The whole case against homosexuality begins right here. And all the prohibitions against homosexuality in the Bible must be read in the context of this crucial passage. Homosexuality in all its forms is a perversion away from the pattern God established in the beginning. Living as we do in a society that increasingly elevates homosexuality as “natural” and “normal,” we need to understand why it is wrong or else we will soon be seduced into thinking that it’s not really so bad after all.

B. Adam’s Investigation

“Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found” (Genesis 2:19-20).

Having said that, we might expect the next verse to say something like, “So God created Eve.” Instead we get the story of Adam naming the animals. What’s that all about? Just this. As Adam names the animals, God is preparing him for marriage. He is teaching him to be a leader. The power to name is the power of authority. “That’s a giraffe, that’s a monkey, that’s an armadillo, and that’s a whippoorwill.” By giving Adam the right to name the animals, God was training him to be the king of creation, the vice-regent of the earth answerable only to God.

God was also training him to be a lover. As Adam surveyed the animals he saw Mr. Giraffe and Mrs. Giraffe, Mr. Crocodile and Mrs. Crocodile, Mr. Eagle and Mrs. Eagle. And so it went throughout the animal kingdom—always male and female. But where in all creation could he find a counterpart for himself? God was creating within Adam a gnawing hunger for a life partner, a hunger God would soon meet in the creation of Eve. Naming the animals was Adam’s premarital counseling session.

Throughout the long afternoon of the Sixth Day of creation, Adam named the animals. But “no suitable helper was found.” Unless that need was met, Adam would live forever and still be lonely in paradise.

Without a woman, a man could never be in love.

Without a wife, he could never be a husband.

Without a queen, he could never be a king.

He had no one to talk to, no one to laugh with, no one to taste the ripe peaches with him, to run through the meadows by his side, to laugh as he leaped in the air, and no one to nestle with him in the evening. This week I read about the famous stage actress Gertrude Lawrence who once announced to her friends that she would like to get married. They were shocked. She had everything she could want or need. Why would she want to get married? “It is because I want so desperately to have someone to nudge,” she replied.

By naming the animals Adam is learning the limitations of his power. He could rule the world but he had no one to share his joy. So many men seem never to learn this lesson. We become workaholics as we climb the ladder of life, desperately trying to make it to the top. Along the way we may go through two or three wives and several sets of children. When our day of triumph finally arrives, there is no one by our side to share the moment with us. What’s the point? Why climb to the top of the heap if you end up all alone?

C. God’s Operation

“So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:21-22).

Skeptics like to ridicule these verses as mythical, but there is no reason not to take them literally. If we accept the supernatural nature of creation, why shouldn’t this be an accurate account of how God fashioned the first woman? The fact that it seems unusual simply reminds us of the First Law: He’s God and We’re Not. When the text mentions Adam’s ribs, the word is general, meaning “from his side.” I believe God took a rib plus some flesh, which is why Adam says “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” The point is, Eve is literally fashioned from Adam. She comes from the essence of who he is.

Note that Eve is formed while Adam slept. That means he had nothing to do with it other than supplying the raw materials. It’s not as if God asked for his input or allowed him to place an order: “I’d like her to be just over 5’6”, dark hair, brown eyes, with freckles.” Nothing of the sort happened. God created the woman while Adam slept. Which teaches us men that God doesn’t need our help in designing a wife suitable for us. Blessed is the man who doesn’t try to “improve” upon God’s gift to him.

Adam’s deep loneliness is met by a woman created by God. From this we learn that the gift of a wife comes from God himself. When God brought Eve to Adam, he showed his sovereignty over the most intimate areas of life. And we learn that God can be trusted to provide a mate at the right time and in the right way. Anxious single men and women need to hear this word from the Lord.

Verse 22 tells us that God “brought her to the man.” Yesterday I watched as Kara’s father escorted her down the aisle with a big smile on his face. That is precisely what happened in Eden. God was the father of the bride and he personally brought her to Adam. There was no courtship and no dating. The first marriage was an arranged marriage. God led Eve gently through the flowers and presented her, with her fast beating heart and the blush of first love on her cheeks, to Adam. God himself performed the first ceremony as minister, father and witness.

D. Adam’s Celebration

“The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman,” for she was taken out of man’” (Genesis 2:23).

This is the first “boy meets girl” story in history. Verse 23 contains a poetic exclamation in Hebrew that unfortunately is lost in our modern translations. The first three words “This is now” actually mean something like “This is it!” Imagine the scene. Adam is flat on the ground, just beginning to awake from the divine anesthesia. As he opens his eyes, he sees the Lord and next to him a beautiful, blushing creature looking at him in wide-eyed anticipation. As he runs down his mental list, he can’t connect her with any of the animals he has seen. She’s definitely not a giraffe. Not a rabbit or a porcupine. Who or what is she? She looks like him. In fact she looks a lot like him but clearly she’s very different in several important ways. Then his brain says, “This is it!” and he blurts out, “Oh baby! Where have you been all my life?” Or something like that.

This is love at first sight. Do such things really happen? Certainly. Adam and Eve fell in love from the first moment they saw each other. Adam rejoices in God’s provision for his need. He doesn’t waste any time looking around or seeing if he could get a better deal (not that there were any other choices available at the moment). He accepts God’s gift on the spot. Proverbs 5:18 instructs young men to “Rejoice in the wife of your youth.” And Proverbs 18:22 reminds us, “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD.” Husbands, your marriage would improve 100% overnight if you stopped criticizing your wife and started treating her as God’s gift to you. When was the last time you thanked God for your wife? Wives, try thanking God for your husband instead of complaining about his shortcomings. It will do a world of good for your marriage.

In Adam’s joyful exclamation, we find the secret of a lasting marriage. There is genuine sharing based on a common origin: “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” A few days ago I asked Chris and Kara to write down what they saw in each other that caused them to fall in love. They both wrote similar things but Kara said it best: “I can be myself around him.” It’s a wonderful thing to feel that you don’t have to play a role in order to impress another person. She added that they can talk and talk and talk for hours and still enjoy being together. Marriage is all about sharing your life completely with another person. You’re made from the same stuff. You are joined so closely together that, as Paul notes in Ephesians 5:29, hating your spouse is like hating yourself. It doesn’t make sense.

This verse also reveals something about male headship in marriage. God’s answer to Adam’s loneliness is simple and profound. He created a partner for Adam—like him, from him, yet different. The Hebrew words tell the story. The word for man is “ish,” for woman “ishah.” Eve is taken from Adam, not Adam from Eve. He is the head of the relationship by virtue of his being created first (a point Paul makes in I Timothy 2:13-14). It’s not that the husband “should” be the head of his wife; he “is” the head, and the only question is whether or not he will rise up and demonstrate godly leadership. This speaks of responsibility and spiritual accountability. It has nothing to do with bossing someone around or making all the decisions for another person. But it does mean that if a man chooses to be married, he must accept the responsibility that goes with that position. God will hold him accountable in a special way for what happens inside the marriage relationship. Many Christian marriages struggle because Christian men abdicate their God-given roles. When a man fails as a spiritual leader, there is only so much that a wife can do to remedy the situation. She can never fully replace her husband’s leadership.

Writing over 300 years ago, Matthew Henry has a wonderful word at this point: “If man is the head, she is the crown, a crown to her husband, the crown of the visible creation. The man was dust refined, but the woman was dust double-refined.” That’s an intriguing thought. We know that Adam and Eve are the apex of God’s creation. But who is created last? The woman! She is the crowning glory of all that God made.

Matthew Henry also writes this about our text: “The woman was not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”

II. The Nature of Marriage 24-25

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:24-25).

The closing verses of this passage are an editorial comment on marriage. They teach us that marriage is not a man-made institution that we can discard whenever we like. From the ancient story of Adam and Eve we learn God’s plan: One man and one woman joined in marriage for life. We need to teach these things to our children and to encourage them to look forward to the day when they too will be married.

An Exclusive Relationship

Marriage involves leaving and cleaving. We are to leave our parents emotionally and physically and financially in order to form a new family with our mate. Leaving normally is a one-time event but “cleaving” (which means “to glue oneself” to another person) is the work of a lifetime. Of necessity it demands an exclusive commitment that removes the possibility of looking around to see if we can get a partner we like better. In our culture we symbolize that commitment with a wedding ring. Someone has said that the wedding ring is a small piece of jewelry on your finger that cuts off your circulation. Erma Bombeck said that no personal possession has given her more value for the money than her wedding ring. “For years, it has done its job. It has led me not into temptation. It has reminded my husband numerous times at parties that it’s time to go home. It has been a source of relief to a dinner companion. It has been a status symbol in the maternity ward. It has reminded me every day that I have someone who loves me.”

Someone asked Henry Ford, maker of the Model T, to explain the secret of a good marriage. “The same formula as the making of a successful car,” he replied. “Stick to one model.”

An Intimate Relationship

To become “one flesh” starts with the sexual relationship in marriage. “One flesh” is more than sex, of course, but it isn’t less than that. Out of the physical union comes a profound fusion of two hearts, two minds, two bodies, two personalities until they are so intertwined that it is hard to know where one ends and the other begins. In a good marriage the most important word is “ours,” not “mine” or “yours.” And as couples live together for a long time, they begin to act alike and sound alike and even to look alike. They even begin to think alike. Sometimes I’ll be sitting in a car daydreaming about a certain song and suddenly my wife Marlene will start singing it. How does she do that? I don’t know and she won’t tell me. And many times I’ll start a sentence … and she will finish it, which drives me nuts but she just smiles and tells me to think faster but I’m pretty sure she thinks faster than I do anyway.

An Open Relationship

The final verse tells us that Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed. This is both literal and figurative. It describes a relationship where there is nothing hidden because there is nothing to hide. In our world, we can’t walk around naked. What would it be like to go to church if everyone came naked? The very thought is hard to digest. Nakedness is the blessing we can hardly bear. We like to be noticed; we hate for someone to stare at us. It makes us uncomfortable, as if a stranger is trying to peer into our soul. But in marriage a part of that original transparency can be regained. In the security of a lifetime commitment, a husband and wife can relax and feel comfortable together and slowly the walls can begin to come down. It is the work of decades. And that’s why you can be married 20, 30, 40, 50 years and still discover new things about each other. You are recapturing some of what Adam and Eve experienced in the beginning. That’s what it means—at a very deep level—to be naked and not ashamed.

Make Sure Jesus is There

Let’s wrap up this message with one final thought. A healthy marriage is the work of a lifetime. God has ordered the universe so that it is simply impossible for newlyweds to fully enter into a transparent relationship. That comes after years of hard work. Being newly married does have its own rewards, most notably the joy of taking the first few steps on a journey that will take a lifetime to complete. But God has seen fit to ordain that a good marriage gets better with age. That one fact ought to give hope to every struggling couple reading these words. God fully intends that your marriage be better next year than it is this year. Before you give up on your marriage, why not give God a chance to see what he can do?

Marriage was God’s first gift to the human race. Is a young man wrong to feel a desire for a young woman? No. Is it wrong for a woman to desire the companionship of a man? No. Sometimes men and women make poor choices and live to regret it. But the desire of a man to spend his life with one woman and the desire of a woman to spend her life with one man—that is not wrong. Far from it. That desire is placed in the human heart by God. God planned the human heart for love, marriage, companionship, home and children. The only thing man brought with him out of Eden was marriage. The angel blocked the way back in, but thank God, Adam and Eve came out together. Marriage even in a fallen world is thus truly “Holy Matrimony” and the only touch of paradise we will ever know this side of heaven.

A little boy sat through a Sunday School class and learned about the time Jesus went to a wedding and turned water into wine. “And what did you learn from that story?” asked his father. The boy thought for a moment and answered, “If you’re having a wedding, make sure Jesus is there.” That’s good advice. Put Jesus at the center of your marriage and no matter what else happens, you will truly live happily ever after.

Father, we thank you for the gift of marriage. We acknowledge that your ways are perfect and that you make no mistakes. We gladly confess that without you we can do nothing. Help us to submit ourselves to you completely with no strings attached. May we become a church of happy Christian homes where Jesus Christ can be seen in our closest relationships. We pray for those who are hurting and lonely that they might receive a fresh touch from your Spirit. Grant healing and hope to us as we pray.

We lift up all the marriages in our congregation and pray that each one might be strengthened. We stand united by faith against everything the devil would do to destroy those marriages. We pray that none would be lost, that all would be preserved. And we thank you for husbands and wives who love you and who love each other. Grant that our marriages will not merely endure, but that they will grow and prosper and be filled with joy. Give grace to each couple that they might serve the Lord together joyfully as long as they both shall live. And when the time to leave this life comes, may they still be together, still in love, still faithful, and still believing in the promise of eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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