After creating Adam and Eve, God established the institution of marriage with these words:
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, Moses 3:24, Abraham 5:18
“Cleave” is an unusual word; it has two nearly opposite meanings, depending on the context:
- To split or sever something: “The mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south” (Zechariah 14:4, emphasis added).
- To adhere strongly or to become emotionally attached to something: “take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law,… to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Joshua 22:5, emphasis added).
In the Book of Mormon, the word “cleave” always has the second meaning. Jacob implores us to cleave unto God as He cleaves unto us (Jacob 6:5). Mormon observes that people with faith will “cleave unto every good thing,” and he urges us to “cleave unto charity” (Moroni 7:28, 46).
In modern revelation, God encouraged Emma Smith to cleave unto the covenants which she had made (Doctrine and Covenants 25:13).
And in a revelation known as “the law of the Church,” the Lord reiterated the instruction given to Adam and Eve:
Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else.Doctrine and Covenants 42:22
The General Handbook of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides the following explanation:
God has commanded husbands and wives to cleave to each other (see Genesis 2:24; Doctrine and Covenants 42:22). In this context, the word cleave means to be completely devoted and faithful to someone. Married couples cleave together by loving and serving each other.General Handbook, 2.1.2: “Husband and Wife”
Elder David A. Bednar explained how this perspective on marriage aligns with our goals as disciples of Jesus Christ:
The divine doctrine of eternal marriage is infused with ennobling and selflessly motivated duties and obligations. The covenant and responsibilities of marriage provide a sacred context within which we gradually turn from self-centeredness and selfishness to selflessness and service. In marriage, we live not exclusively for ourselves but for our spouses and children and posterity.“The Divinely Designed Pattern of Marriage,” Humanum Conference, 9 March 2017
Today, I will strive to cleave more fully to my wife. I will find ways to serve her. I will prioritize her happiness. I will be grateful for the opportunity marriage and family gives me to gradually overcome my self-centeredness and become more Christlike.