18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” 19 And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 And the man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 And the LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 And the man said,
“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”
24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. [NASB ‘77]
Even though God created a perfect human and put him in a perfect garden and gave him a perfect purpose to exist, something is not right. There is a missing element for the man and God knows it. In this final section of the creation story, God puts the finishing touch on an environment perfectly suited for humans. He completes the man.
God makes an amazing statement in verse 18. Everything up to this point in the creation week has been good. Light was good, the dry land was good, the trees and vegetation were good, the animals were good. But something now is not. God looks at the male He has formed out of the dust and says it is NOT good that he is alone.
It is interesting and important to notice that God is the one who observes this. Man does not come to God and complain about being lonely (since he apparently was just created he probably is not walking around pointing out things he would like changed). God looks at man and says he should not be alone. God continues to be the actor in creation. Marriage comes from God.
God does not only identify the problem. He also says what He will do to remedy the situation. He says He will make a helper suitable for man. The word for suitable carries with it the idea of “corresponding to.” The person will fit the man physically and emotionally. The new human will also be a helper, someone who fills in what is lacking in the man (the word helper by itself does not denote a subordinate role). There is the idea here that the man is not only alone but incomplete. God will complete the man and complete creation when He makes the helper.
The English word “helper,” because it can connote so many different ideas, does not accurately convey the connotation of the Hebrew word עֵזֶר (’ezer). Usage of the Hebrew term does not suggest a subordinate role, a connotation which English “helper” can have. In the Bible God is frequently described as the “helper,” the one who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, the one who meets our needs (Ps 33:20). In this context the word seems to express the idea of an “indispensable companion.” The woman would supply what the man was lacking in the design of creation and logically it would follow that the man would supply what she was lacking, although that is not stated here. (NET Bible, Note on Genesis 2:18; 29)
[Interesting side note: God establishes marriage before the fall when a perfect man lives in a perfect paradise – seemingly what the new heaven and new earth will be like. Yet Christ says there will be no marriage or anyone given in marriage in the new creation (Matt 22:30). Why is this? Obviously there is no way to know for sure (although it makes sense that earthly marriage does not carry over since a person can be married more than once – the problem Jesus responds to with this answer – and since there are marriages between spiritually unequal spouses) but perhaps it is because man will not be alone from the start and relationships on the new earth will surpass even what marriage holds in Eden?]
In verse 19 it says God forms every beast of the field and every bird of the sky and brings them to man. However, in Chapter 1 it says the birds were created on Day 5 and the beasts were created before the man on Day 6. Skeptics point to this verse as another example of the contradictions between the two chapters.
This does not seem to be that hard to explain. Several possibilities exist but two seem the most reasonable. The Hebrew that is translated formed can also be translated “had formed” (as the ESV and NIV show it). God simply brings the animals He has already created to Adam. The other possibility is that God creates special animals just for Eden. He does not bring all the animals to Adam, just the Eden ones He has just created.
[This also speaks to a problem that day-age proponents use to further their case against literal 24-hour adherents. How does Adam name every animal and bird on earth in seemingly one afternoon? The 24-hour believers say it is a supernatural occurrence. Perhaps, though, he does not name every animal on earth but instead just names a group of animals specific to the garden? Regardless of the answer, the whole of Chapter 2 – beginning in verse 6 – uses terminology that is difficult to fit into 24 hours. Not impossible to fit, just difficult.]
God brings the animals to Adam so he can name them. Adam names the cattle and the birds and beasts of the field (thus showing his dominion over them – 1:28). But remember the context of these verses. The problem is not that the animals need names. The problem is that man is alone and does not have a helper suitable for him. So as Adam sees the animals go by and assigns names to them he also notices that they are very different from him and do not correspond to him. He also sees that they are male and female and he is only one.
It is hard to know how this verse should be read. Is God doing this so Adam realizes he is alone and does not have a match like the animals do? Or does Adam already realize the problem and God does this to show him there is not a match already in creation? It is a subtle – and probably inconsequential – difference, but it is interesting to wonder.
Regardless of which is true, the outcome is the same. Adam sees animals that correspond to each other but none that corresponds to him. He is alone and it is not good.
God now acts. He causes the man to fall into a deep sleep and takes a piece of his body from his side (the Hebrew seems to refer to his side more than specifically to his rib) and uses the hunk of flesh to build the woman.
Notice that the woman is created out of the flesh of the man. When God later says they will become one flesh in marriage, He effectively tells them they will reunite into the one flesh they were before she was created. They began as one flesh and will reunite into one flesh.
God brings the woman to the man. Again, God is the actor throughout this passage. Marriage and the relationship of the man and woman are totally ordained by Him.
The man seems to like what God has done. When he sees the woman he says, “This is now (which carries with it the idea of “finally” or “at last” – after looking at all the animals and seeing nothing that corresponded to him, he now sees one who definitely DOES) bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh (he realizes what God did to make the woman and also realizes what his relationship to her will be – they will be tied together – there is a covenantal aspect to his words – he is not simply observing how she was made, he is stating what they will be to each other going forward). She shall be called Woman because she was taken out of man (this is wordplay in the Hebrew – using similar words to show they are two sides to the same being).
In light of our culture it is important to notice that God solves the problem of finding a helper suitable for the man by creating one woman. He does not bring another man to him to see if that will work. He does not bring multiple women to him. He does not supply a vague resolution. It is one woman specifically made to correspond to the man. Neither human is sexually confused or unsure of his/her sexual identity. And as they are both naked it is very clear to both that they are specially made for each other. This is not a difficult situation for either one to understand.
It is worthwhile to step back from this scene and think through the different nuances of it. We do not know for how long man has been alive. It could be hours, it could be much longer (depending on your theology). Regardless of the correct answer, it is apparent that the man is aware of who and what he is. He is not walking around Eden looking at his hands and wondering what they are there for. He is not feeling his face and trying to figure out what he is. God has created him fully aware and with a fully functioning intellect. He could not name animals and speak poetry about his new companion if he were still trying to figure out what is going on. Consequently, it makes sense that the woman is also aware of both who she is and who and what Adam is (and if this is all taking place in a 24-hour day, his first words to her after the bone of my bones speech might be, “You would not believe the day I’ve had! I was created, God put me in charge of the garden, I named every animal on the face of the planet, I had surgery, you were created – I’m whipped! Seriously, if every day is like this I think I’m done! I sure hope tomorrow is a day of rest…”). So it is reasonable to assume that this meeting between the two is incredible. They KNOW they are made specifically for each other and are perfectly suited to each other. Each one completes the other and each knows it. What an amazing scene!
Notice that Adam finishes speaking in verse 23. The words in 24 and 25 come from the narrator – not Adam – and thus are God’s words (which Christ confirms in Matt 19:5). God says that for this cause (the cause being to reunite into one flesh – it refers back to Adam saying the woman comes out of man) a man shall leave his father and mother (interesting that it specifically references the man instead of the woman – could be cultural in that the man oftentimes stays close to his family and works the land he will inherit – the point is that the marriage relationship will supersede all other family relationships for both the man and the woman) and shall cleave to his wife (cleave is the same word used in Ruth 1:14 to describe Ruth’s commitment to her mother-in-law and is then defined in the following verses – 1:15-17 – “…for where you go I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me” – see also Deut 10:20 for usage that goes along with covenant loyalty – the context suggests a covenant relationship between the man and woman – the man will hold fast to his wife in covenant faithfulness) and they shall become one flesh (the woman and man will effectively become one again – this is most clearly demonstrated through sexual union – they are two sides to one unit and complete each other).
[A note to singles. If Genesis 1 and 2 were the only passages about male/female relationships and marriage it would paint a depressing picture for those who are not one flesh. And many have used God’s command to be fruitful and multiply and His creation of woman to say that singleness is not God’s plan for anyone. However, we do have passages other than Genesis 1 and 2, and it is instructive to remember that Jesus never married and Paul not only stayed single but recommended it to his readers as a way to be more easily committed to the work of the gospel (I Cor 7:25-40).]
The section ends with a very interesting observation by the narrator. It both summarizes the current state of the two humans and also serves as a bridge to the events that will take place in Chapter 3. The author uses this statement to transition from creation to the first major event that takes place in creation.
The narrator says the man and woman are both naked and unashamed. It is not entirely clear what this means. The traditional view – and the one that seems on its face to make the most sense – is that this is a picture of marriage before the fall. Each spouse perfectly loves and accepts the other and knows that he/she is perfectly loved and accepted by the other. There is no insecurity whatsoever (it also helps to have perfect bodies unstained by sin or age). There is nothing to hide because there is complete intimacy. Since each person has perfect love for the other, he/she also knows the other has perfect love for him/her. There is no selfishness – it cannot yet exist. With no selfishness there is no suspicion or doubt (I doubt you because I know how much you should doubt me). They are completely free and completely transparent.
Another – and less widely held – view is that this describes two pre-pubescent kids. They are naked and unashamed because they are children who are blissfully unaware of their state. In this view the effect of the fall in Chapter 3 is that they instantly progress through adolescence and thus become sexually aware and aware of their nakedness. While this at first seems outlandish, it does have the advantage of clearly tying this verse to the story of the fall. However, it seems hard to reconcile the rest of Chapter 2 – and specifically Adam’s words about covenant loyalty and one flesh – with a picture of two 10 or 11-year-old kids living in the garden.
What This Text Teaches About Marriage
- Jesus refers to verse 24 to refute the Jews’ belief about the appropriateness of divorce. He says that God intended marriage to be for life and that God is the one who joins the husband and wife together. “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt 19:4-11).
- Paul references the same verse to say that marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. Christ is joined to the church in the same way that a husband is joined to his wife. And as the church is subject to Christ, so the wife is subject to her husband. And as Christ cannot break His covenant faithfulness to the church, so the husband cannot break his covenant faithfulness to his wife. Nevertheless let each individual among you also love his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see to it that she respect her husband (Eph 5:22-33).
- Man and woman are both created in God’s image (1:26-27). Since that is the case it seems reasonable to also see in marriage a picture of the Trinity. Husband and wife united in one flesh model God in three persons. Two become one as the Three are One.
- This text begins to establish roles within marriage. God creates Adam first (I Tim 2:13). The problem God solves by creating the woman is that man is alone – not vice versa (I Cor 11:9). God commands Adam regarding his role in the garden and the forbidden tree before the woman is created (and will later demand accountability from him after the fall – 3:9). Adam identifies the woman and later names her (3:20). While the man and woman are equal in creation – they are both image bearers of God – within the covenant relationship of marriage the man will have a leadership role. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be embittered against them (Col 3:18-19).
God gloriously remedies the only thing in creation that was not good – that man was alone. The man and woman now live in a paradise made specifically for them and live in perfect relationship to each other. But remember the duty God gave to Adam in verse 15. Adam is to tend the garden – the natural temple of God – as God’s priest and head worshiper. If that is the case, and if the man and woman are united in one flesh, it means they now worship in the temple as one. They are perfectly suited to each other and perfectly suited to serve their Creator. God solves the problem of the man being alone and in so doing brings even greater glory to Himself. And the man and woman unite to serve God better than man could serve alone.