Posted by Lin on March 14, 2007
“What does it mean to “leave and cleave” in traditional wedding vows? How do you balance “leave and cleave” with honoring your parents?”
Answer: Genesis 2:22-25: “Then the Lord God made a woman. He made her from the rib He had taken out of the man, and He brought her to him. The man said, ‘Her bones have come from my bones. Her body has come from my body. She will be named “woman” because she was taken out of a man.’ “That’s why a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife. The two of them will become one”.
One version of the Bible says, “For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh .” Matthew 19:6, 8-9 says, “So a man must not separate what God has joined together”.
To “cleave” means not giving up when things aren’t going well. It includes talking things out, carefully listening to your spouse express his/her thoughts and feelings, patiently willing to work to correct problems, being willing to admit when you’re wrong and asking forgiveness, hanging in there with your spouse when everything seems to be going wrong, in order to discover commitment, security and oneness with your spouse.
Dealing with In-Laws
How do you balance “leave and cleave” with honoring your parents?
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24)
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1)
“Honor your father and mother, so that you may live long on the earth” (Exodus 20:12)
1. Leave – This indicates that in a family there are two types of relationships. The parent-child relationship is the temporary one…there will be a “leaving.” The husband-wife relationship is the permanent one (“let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6). Problems occur in family life when these two roles are reversed and the parent-child relationship is treated as the primary relationship. When an adult child has married
and this parent-child relationship remains primary, the newly-formed union is seriously threatened.
2. Cleave – the Hebrew word translated “cleave” refers to 1) the pursuing hard after someone else and 2) being glued or stuck to something/someone. So a man is to pursue hard after his wife after the marriage has occurred (the courtship should not end with the wedding vows!) and is to be “stuck to her like glue.” This cleaving indicates such closeness that there should be no closer relationship than that between the two spouses, not with any former friend or with any parent.
3. And they shall become one flesh – Marriage takes two individuals and creates a new single entity. There is to be such sharing and oneness in every aspect (physical, emotional, intellectual, financial, etc.) that the resulting unity can be best described as “one flesh.” Again, when there is greater sharing and emotional support gained from a continuing parent-child relationship than from the husband-wife relationship. the oneness within the marriage is being seriously threatened and is un-biblical.
Caring for Elderly Parents
With that in mind, there are also the scriptural admonitions to honor one’s parents. This includes treating them with a respectful attitude (Proverbs 30:11,17), obeying them when their commands are in keeping with God’s laws (“in the Lord” – Ephesians 6:1), and making sure they are taken care of as they get older (Mark 7:10-12; 1 Timothy 5:4-8).
The line is drawn between these two commands where one is being asked to comply with one principle in such a way that it violates another principle or command. When the meddling of a parent violates the “leaving” because it is treating the parent-child relationship as primary (demanding obedience, dependence, or emotional oneness over the desires/dependence/oneness with the spouse), it should be respectfully rejected and the spouse’s desires honored. However, when there are genuine needs of an aging parent, (assuming the “need” does not supersede the “leaving” principle), the need is to be met.
When a parent violates Genesis 2:24 principles, they should be respectfully disobeyed. One must distinguish biblical physical and emotional needs from the “felt needs” of an overbearing, demanding parent.