Hi, this is Pastor Ken thanks for joining me once again for the Monday Marriage Message where we search God’s instructions to experience a highly successful marriage.
This will be the ninth installment in our series focusing on the topic of marriage and divorce based primarily on a conversation Jesus had with some of the Pharisees recorded for us in Matthew chapter 19 and Mark chapter 10. Over the past several weeks we have looked at that portion of the law from Deuteronomy the Pharisees were using as evidence for their position in the discussion, as well as scripture found in the book of Malachi that clearly states God’s stance on the matter. This week we will resume with the conversation Jesus was involved in that we stepped away from a few episodes back.
When we last visited their conversation, Jesus had just asked the Pharisees a couple of questions. I will remind you as I have shared in past episodes that I believe Jesus was having a three-way conversation between himself, and two opposing groups of Pharisees. Though it is admittedly only my belief that both of these groups were independently questioning Jesus as a part of the overall conversation, the existence of these differing groups is not in question. The two schools, one of Hillel and the other of Shammai were so named after the sages who founded them. Those who followed Shammai were more conservative when it came to matters of divorce believing based on Deuteronomy 24:1-4 that some indecency must be found in one’s wife to justify divorcing her. I believe the book of Mark records the portion of the conversation that was the exchange with them. The school of Hillel was far more liberal in terms of what they believed Deuteronomy 24:1-4 allowed as grounds for divorce. Their position was that all a man needed was be displeased with his wife, literally for any reason, and He could divorce her. It is my thought that Matthew chapter 19 records Jesus’ interaction with these men.
It is recorded for us in Mark 10:3-4 that Jesus asked the Pharisees, “What did Moses Command you?” to which they replied, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and dismiss her.” It is recorded in Matthew 19:4-7 that his question to them was “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together let not man separate.” They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce and put her away?”
In recent episodes I’ve uncovered for you the scripture they were using as the basis for their replies to Jesus. In Volume 6 of this series I went through the portion of the law found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and broke it down explaining its meaning phrase by phrase. In volume 7, I explained the differences between demonstrable law and case law, along with other facts important to the correct interpretation of the aforementioned scripture. Additionally, I explained why the Pharisee’s sinful actions of the time tempted them to misappropriate this particular scripture.
Before moving on to the conclusion of the exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees, I want to point out why I believe Jesus to have been speaking with delegates of both of these groups. I think that His questions to each recorded by Mark and then Matthew were intentionally presented because of their varying thought processes. I think Jesus asked each questions that lent themselves specifically to the more conservative or liberal beliefs of the two groups. I also believe that because the Pharisee’s had come to Jesus with only one unified mindset…to test and entrap Jesus in His answers, He turned the tables and allowed their selfish motivations to entrap them in the answers they gave. In doing this, Christ not only avoided the pitfall they were attempting to lay to cause Him a problem, He also exposed the error in both groups thinking, and that it was robbing them of the opportunity to know the fullness of God’s blessing in their own marriages.
Picking up now where we left off, let’s look at what Jesus had to say in response to the Pharisees answers to His questions. Mark 10:5-9 tell us, And Jesus answered and said to them, “Because of the hardness of your heart, he [Moses] wrote you this precept. [Deuteronomy 24:1-4]. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh; so then they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together let not man separate. In this account given us by Mark and in my belief, spoken to the more conservative group of Pharisees, this is His reply to their answer to What did Moses command you? This reply clearly indicated to them that their error was in the portion of the law they were turning to when considering the topic. Jesus was redirecting them to the correct answer regarding what Moses had commanded them in Genesis 2:24. Christ was clearly saying that the command once married was to remain in the “One Flesh” condition God had created of them and their spouse. Jesus went on to reiterate that what God does, in this case taking a man and a woman and making them one, man does not have the capacity to undo…and shouldn’t even try.
Matthew 19:8-9 record what Jesus told the Pharisees who asked “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” He said to them, “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife except for sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” What was Jesus saying to these men? Was He saying it to just them, or was it for all of us? In my belief…both. These were the far more liberal group of Pharisees. These were of the school of Hillel who believed that Deuteronomy 24 gave them license to divorce their wives for any reason they found fit. These men were extremely cavalier when it came to their marriages. For them, marriage was little more than an arrangement that allowed them to have sex with a woman without committing fornication. Because of their incredibly casual valuation of marriage, their hearts had become very calloused and hard toward their relationship with God. They were mutilating scriptural guidance meant to direct them into blessing so they could pervert it, and use it to justify their own wanton selfishness. Historical documents of the time reveal that these particular Pharisees were literally marrying and then divorcing as soon as their desire for a new wife emerged. Their use of marriage had nothing to do with covenant and everything to do with covering up their sinful hearts by ensuring they were married to the current woman of their desire. There was never any intention for their marriages to last a lifetime…only as long as their lust endured.
With this historical context in mind, it becomes clearer that Jesus was indeed speaking directly to these men. He was pointing out their hypocrisy by telling them that if they divorced for any reason short of pornea, the unfaithful sexual immorality of a spouse, they were committing adultery, and were causing anyone who married their former spouse to commit adultery. Jesus’ answer contained an incredibly interesting parallel to the facts in evidence in the very case law the Pharisees used to justify their freedom to divorce. If you will recall, the circumstances of the case were that if a man found some indecency short of sexual immorality and divorced his wife, it was insinuated that by unjustifiably putting her in a position to remarry another, her former husband defiled her.
What about Jesus statement that Moses had indeed permitted them to divorce…even if because of the hardness of their hearts? Doesn’t that indicate God says we can divorce? Yes…and no. God will let us divorce, but does not offer His express permission to do so. We can’t accurately cherry pick the parts of Jesus statement we like and ignore the existence of the ones we don’t. His words recorded for us in Matthew 19:8 were “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. Considering His complete statement there are several things that must be taken into account if we are going to use this scripture to endorse divorce.
“Because of the hardness of your hearts” Jesus is abundantly clear…divorce is a result of a hard heart. While we might think the hardened heart is toward the spouse of the one seeking a divorce, and that might be true, I believe Jesus was pointing out it really reveals a hard heart toward God. Jesus said that short of pornea we shouldn’t try to undo what God has done. To do so is to act in opposition to God. A person in a “bad marriage” who seeks to divorce, is a person who has decided to end the marriage instead of waiting on God to have His will and way. Am I saying that if people will simply remain in difficult marriages longer God will always change the heart of their spouse…I am not. What I am saying is that to remain in the “One Flesh” condition God created is the best setting for necessary change to take place…in both spouses.
“Moses…permitted you to divorce your wives” first we have to look at the inference in the original text we translate to the English word permitted. Literally it means that Moses suffered them to divorce their wives. the meaning is much the same as when we allow, permit, or suffer our children to make a difficult mistake that we know will have painful consequences. No good parent does this when they might be able to persuade their child to do the right thing. This permission is only given when the child cannot be dissuaded and they are headstrong to do the wrong thing. The parent then stands back, knowing their child is in no uncertain terms headed for a painful outcome, but helplessly remains as close as allowed to help pick up the pieces later. This statement in no way indicated Moses or God had agreed with the people that divorce was a solution to their difficult marriages.
“but from the beginning it was not so” Here Jesus was making the point that divorce has never been the plan when it comes to marriage. Therefore, when we divorce we are acting contrary to God’s plan for us, and we are outside His will. Tough words I know, but Jesus said them, you’ll have to plead for your own exclusion. Or…if you have divorced you can do what should be done, repent. This is one of the most difficult, and freeing things you can do. Ask God to forgive you for stepping outside of His plan for your marriage and your life. If necessary, seek the forgiveness of a former spouse as well. Then regardless of your current marital status, determine in your heart you will never go down that road again. In the future you will allow God to lead and to guide, but you will not seek to undo what He has done.
So now, committing to remain in the “One Flesh” condition God has created of you and your spouse, and seeking His help to make your marriage all He wants it to be…Go Be Awesome!