You shall fear YHWH your God, you shall serve Him; and you shall cleave to Him; and you shall swear by His name. Deuteronomy 10:20
Cleave – Do you know where we first encounter this verb? It’s in Genesis 2:24, the quintessential verse about marriage. “For this reason, a man shall forsake . . . and cleave.” The verb is davaq. It has cognates in other Semitic languages to words that mean glue. But there are some important distinctions. First, this verb is not about sexual union. It’s used for personal relationships between friends, family and God. When it’s applied to marriage, it expresses strong erotic interest and deep affection, but it doesn’t mean sex. Ruth clings to Naomi and Proverbs 18:24 says that men cling to each other in friendship. The theologically significant use of this verb is about our relationship to God. Here, in this passage from the instructions for life, davaq is linked to three other verbs that define the elements of our inclusion in God’s family. Each one is critical.
First, there’s yare. Fear of YHWH is the basis of all my interactions with Him. This is yare as reverence, respect and recognition of His majesty. It is also realization of His power. The bottom line is that God is in charge. He knows. I don’t. Walther Zimmerli calls it God’s “inscrutable sovereignty.” I see what He has done – usually long after He has done it. His ways are a mystery to me in the present. It is only through the long line of history that I come to recognize His engineering that was moving me toward His goal all along. I do not begin to live according to His ways until I come to the place of contentment with His hidden designs. I begin not with what I can understand, but with what I cannot know, but I can feel. I begin with fear.
That leads me to avad – to serve. Of course, this is also the word for work. When my work becomes my service to the Most High, I begin to see His careful construction and my part in redemptive history. I begin to see it. That’s all – just a glimpse, a hint of something deeper, something beyond me. But as I serve, He is delighted to use me – and I rejoice in being used for what I was meant to do. It fits.
Davaq comes next. Sticking together like glue. I won’t be much good to Him if I keep breaking the bond that holds us. Of course, He doesn’t break that bond. This is the basis of the covenant – a commitment to davaq based in the very character of God Himself. Forever. Permanent. Reliable. Solid. That’s the kind of glue God provides. Marriage is to be a present-world tangible representation of this permanent, reliable, solid stickiness. Where it is not, the heavens hurt.
Finally, nishba’ bishemo – to swear by His name. It means to take an oath of fidelity to Him and follow His directions and His alone.
Topical Index: marriage, glue, fear, serve, swear, davaq