Hi this is Pastor Ken, thanks for taking part in the Monday Marriage Message. This is the fifth episode in our series of study concerning marriage and divorce. For those who may be checking in for the first time we are primarily basing our study on a conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees recorded for us in Matthew 19 and Mark chapter 10.
Last week I took time for a sidebar from that conversation we are looking at so closely. I took the time to explain to you why I think it is so important for us to literally break that scripture down phrase-by-phrase. As we move forward my prayer is that the slow and methodical way we are working our way through this will be a blessing and not a frustration. God’s word is so jam-packed with truths, and His ways and thoughts are so much Higher than ours…as high as the heavens are above the earth…that slow and steady is the only way to not leave too much grain in the field.
The week before last I shared with you the two questions recorded for us in the gospels of Mark and Matthew that Jesus posed in response to the initial questions asked of Him by the Pharisees. There is irrefutable evidence that there were in fact two different factions of the Pharisees who disagreed with each other as to what constituted grounds for divorce. These schools of thought covered far more territory than simply marriage and divorce. They disagreed on matters of ritual practices, ethics and theology. They were known as the House of Shammai and the House of Hillel named for the sages who founded them. Those who followed Shammai’s teaching were the more conservative when it came to divorce and those who subscribed to the teaching of Hillel were the more liberal of the two. I shared with you a few weeks ago that I believe each group came posing a question intended to entrap and discredit Jesus. Mark records the more conservative question and Matthew recorded that the Pharisees asked about a more liberal view of divorce.
I shared with you in that episode that Jesus answered their questions without taking a side as they had hoped He would. Instead He responded to them with a few questions of His own. He asked the first group, “What did Moses command you?” and essentially asked the second group if they had failed to read what Moses had commanded and then quoted the portion of the law (Genesis 2:24) He was referring to in his question to their colleagues. By doing this Jesus was asserting that their question was actually one of Marriage and not divorce. He was pointing out that marriage was the God ordained institution, divorce was man’s created remedy when marriage became too difficult. Essentially Jesus was redirecting the Pharisees into an honest and truthful conversation.
In this edition we will look at the Pharisee’s responses to Jesus’ follow-up questions. When you look carefully at how they answered, it is quite telling and explains the condition of their hearts. Let’s read now what those recorded responses were. I will read each excerpt including the follow-up question Jesus posed and the answer the Pharisees gave. As before we will begin with Marks gospel where I believe Jesus is speaking with the more conservative group. Mark 10:3-4 says, And He answered and said unto them, “What did Moses Command you?” They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her”. Now from Matthew; the question to, and the answer from the more liberal group of Pharisees. Matthew 19:4-7; And He answered and said to them, “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 shall 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”?
The way this conversation is framed is of significance if we want to have a complete understanding of Jesus view (or in other words, God’s view) of marriage and divorce. As I mentioned last week, it is critical to see the different twists and turns the direction of the conversation took. As I said a few moments ago, Jesus responded to the Pharisees’ question with follow-up questions of His own. He did this for two reasons. First, to avoid doing as they wished He might, and take a side that would be then used to discredit Him. Additionally, He did this to redirect the original flawed questions back to a basis of truth. His reasons for answering their questions with questions was to solidify truth rather than to confuse it with falsehoods. They, on the other hand came back at Jesus with retorts designed to drag Him back out into the weeds of their preferred distractions.
There is an old saying that if you say something with confidence you will fool half the people most of the time. This is what the first group of Pharisees attempted to do. Their answer to Jesus question of “What did Moses command you?”, was, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her”. Notice the effort to deceive. It was meant to be a confident retort that contained a discrepancy they hoped Jesus and those listening in would not pick up on. Jesus asked what Moses’ command had been, they told him what Moses permitted. This realization is central to avoiding a common misunderstanding of this scripture. All too often I find that Christians are still being misled by the Pharisee’s intended deception recorded in this passage. Today it is still being read and simply accepted that the answer the Pharisees gave to Jesus question lines up correctly with the portion of the law they were referring to. They were twisting a scripture found in Deuteronomy 24 which we will look at in greater depth in a future episode. I think their answer was worded the way that it was, so they could skew their interpretation of the law to fit their selfish desires. They wanted to be able to divorce when their marriages did not meet their expectations. These conservative Pharisees may not have been as eager to open the grounds for divorce up as wide as their counterparts were, but they did want to be able to infer that divorce was a God given remedy for a problematic marriage.
As I have shared already I think this was one conversation that included three positions, the conservatives, the liberals and Jesus. Jesus having received a confident yet elusive answer from the first group asked the second a more direct question that included the correct answer to His question for those He had just been speaking with. He asked them, “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 shall 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.” This group tried to use Jesus own tactic against Him, and answered His question with another of their own. Knowing the passage of scripture from Deuteronomy 24 that the first group had referred to, and seeing their peer’s attempt at deception, they tried to continue with that same falsehood as if it were a truth. So they asked Jesus, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and put her away”? When we look at their response, the attempt to disguise a lie within an apparent truth is even more blatant than that of their associates. This is not all that surprising when you consider that this response came from those who wanted to be free to end their marriages for any reason they chose. Being further from the truth of God’s design for marriage they were willing to go to even greater lengths to avoid it. They asked Jesus to tell them why Moses had done something he had never done. There was never a command in the law as to how to enact a divorce. The more conservative Pharisees knew this and that is why when Jesus asked what Moses had commanded them, they told Him that Moses had permitted them to do something in terms of divorce. I believe the liberal Pharisees were well aware of that, but because of the condition of their hearts toward their own marriages, they were being overtly being dishonest, even with themselves, about the intent of the law.
If we do not take note of the inconstancies employed by the Pharisees in this passage, we can easily become deluded as well. As I said a few minutes ago, all these years later Christians are still being misled by the intentional inaccuracies the Pharisees were using in their argument with Jesus. What would cause the leadership of the Jewish people of the time to want to stray so far from the intent of the law they claimed to love so much? Why would they be willing to go to such lengths to misrepresent the truths contained in the law?
Their aim it seems was gaining the ability to extract themselves from unpleasant marriages and have the freedom to try, try again. This motive did not escape Christ as we will see farther along when He addresses that unrighteous mindset. We also have other contemporary non-scriptural writings on the Pharisee’s disagreement with each other concerning the subject. Those illuminate the Pharisee’s motives behind their search for caveats to God’s original intent of lifelong marital covenant. Some commentaries go so far as to suggest that the more liberal minded of the Pharisees were using repetitive divorce and remarriage as a legal loophole for a steady change of sexual partners. They were making a mockery of marriage just to satisfy their own sexually lustful desire for multiple women without breaking any laws. Essentially, the Pharisees wanted to be able to placate their sinful desires while imagining they were sidestepping consequence. Jesus was fully aware of their heart set and spoke to it directly as we will discover in a future episode in this series.
Questions to answer:
- Have you ever stopped to consider the intent of the Pharisees to circumvent the intent of the law by twisting the letter of the law?
- Does it surprise you that they were being stubbornly elusive to satisfy their own desires?
- When you consider the divorce rate today, do you think there is validity in our currently accepted “Grounds for divorce”?
- How many people do you know who you would say divorced a spouse for the explicit reason of being free in the future to try, try again?
Actions to take:
- Talk with your spouse about your personal commitment to remaining married for the rest of your lives.
- Discuss why divorce should never be looked at as an escape clause from an unhappy marriage.
- Pray that God will preserve your marriage and give each of you the grace necessary to work through your difficulties without walking away from the marriage.
- Commit to one another right now that no matter what difficulties or troubles lay ahead that you will walk into them hand-in-hand, and you will walk out of them hand-in-hand as well.
So now, recognizing the sanctity of the marital union God has gifted you with, commit yourselves anew to your “One Flesh” relationship…and go be awesome!