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.
We are currently looking at the topic of Marriage and Divorce, and what God’s word has to say concerning it. This will be our seventh installment in that series. As I have mentioned previously, I understand this is a complex topic, and even as we search the scriptures for answers, it can be daunting. However, all truth originates with God, and if we are to know how to succeed in our marriages we must be willing to explore His truth. We have been exploring the conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees where this topic was discussed at length, and using that as our focal scripture. I mentioned that Jesus, desiring to speak primarily about the righteous subject of marriage, asked the Pharisees about the law hoping they would expound on Genesis 2:24. Rather they chose to focus on Deuteronomy 24:1-4 to defend their perspective concerning their ability to divorce.
As we made our way through most of that scripture phrase-by-phrase I pointed out some important details relevant to the correct interpretation of it, and mentioned that the Pharisees, as scholars of the law, would have been well aware of each of those truths.
- Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is case law not demonstrable law – it’s structure leaves no question as to its classification.
- In Old Testament case law, the directive is given only after the facts of the case are presented and no legislation should be derived from those facts-in-evidence unless it had been presented elsewhere in the law previously.
- To conclude that the facts-in-evidence equated to demonstrable law where none had formerly existed was an illegitimate reading of the law. This is important in this situation because several errant conclusions were being drawn (though I don’t believe they were arrived at unintentionally)
- Those from the school of Shammai (the more conservative group who I believe Mark wrote concerning) concluded that some indecency had to be discovered in one’s spouse to justify divorce. They errantly determined that the facts-in-evidence presented in the case law in Deuteronomy 24:1 equated to God-ordained grounds for divorce. This is supported by their initial question to Jesus, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” I think they knew they had misrepresented case law as demonstrable law and were as Mark stated, asking this question for the purpose of testing Jesus. If He answered that it was not lawful they would have espoused their inaccurate reading of the law to be correct, if He would have said it was lawful, they would have pointed out that He apparently didn’t know case law from demonstrable law and shouldn’t be trusted as a Rabbi.
- Those from the school of Hillel (the more liberal group I believe Matthew referred to) also misconstrued the meaning of this scripture. They believed that the example of the second husband detesting his wife without a stated cause should be interpreted to mean that divorce was permissible for any reason a husband found himself displeased with his wife. They too, demonstrated this by their initial question to Jesus recorded for us in Matthew. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” If Jesus had simply said no, He would have begun a heated dispute between the two groups of Pharisees and been the apparent cause of a large public disruption. If He had answered “Yes, any reason will do” the Pharisees from either group could have pointed out that the Rabbi obviously didn’t understand that case law was not demonstrable law.
- Both groups of Pharisees were misrepresenting that Moses had specifically instructed them as to how to obtain a divorce. Because the listed circumstances of the case included an accepted societal procedure used to validate divorce, The Pharisees were selfishly misappropriating it as Mosaic law. In order for the facts-in-evidence to contain such law, it would have had to already been “on the books” so to speak. This is not the case. The contents of the book of Deuteronomy have long been agreed to be a “Farewell Sermon” from Moses to the people just prior to his death and their entrance into the Promised Land. It is widely accepted to be a summary of much of the law found in the book of Exodus and does not contain any ‘new’ demonstrable law. As such, any legislation contained in Deuteronomy would need to reinforce law already existing in the Pentateuch. Although Leviticus mentions divorce 3 times, Numbers refers to it once and Deuteronomy makes note of it 2 other times prior to chapter 24 none of those examples give any instruction pertaining to the process for divorce. Without any prior mention of demonstrable or case law legislating the procedural format legitimizing divorce, one cannot be justifiably concluded from Deuteronomy 24:1-4.
With that understanding we can now look at the actual legislation found at the conclusion of this passage and determine what its true meaning is. Deuteronomy 24:4 Then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.
The law given in response to the circumstances of the case is simple; If a man divorces his wife and she remarries, he is not to marry her again later regardless. The stated reason for this law is slightly more complex. Marriage was always intended to be a covenantal relationship that reflected the image and likeness of God. Divorce mutates that design, and is the reason God said He hates divorce in Malachi 2:15, a scripture we will look at more closely in a future episode. This particular scriptural statute however emphatically dictates that once the woman in this situation remarried, her former husband was never to marry her again no matter what may come in the future. It clearly says, that to do so would be an abomination before the Lord. Let’s consider the reasoning for such strong language.
In Deuteronomy 24:1-4 the reason given for the initial divorce was indecency – this indiscretion would not have been adultery or fornication as the legal remedy for those at the time was death by stoning. The indecency referred to here would have been a lesser offence. The Hebrew word used in the statute is Er-vah and literally means nakedness and might indicate that the wife had shown too much of herself to another man or in a public setting. It’s possible that she have spoken some indecent thing to another man, whatever the case was it was less egregious than the sexual act of adultery, which would have as I said a moment ago carried a penalty of capital punishment. Jesus made it clear in our focal scriptures that anything short of adultery is not considered grounds for divorce in God’s eyes.
Mark recorded that after the conversation with the Pharisees had presumably concluded His disciples asked Him more about the matter privately. There we read that Jesus said to them that if a man divorced his wife and married another he committed adultery, and that if a woman divorced her husband and remarried that she would be committing adultery. (Mark 10:11-12) I believe that Jesus was reinforcing for His disciples that God considers marriage a life-long covenantal relationship that is not designed to end except by the death of a spouse. Earlier Jesus had told the Pharisees that in marriage a man and a woman are joined and made one by God, and that mere man should not try to undo what God has done (Mark 10:8-9).
Matthew records that Jesus had more to say to directly to the Pharisees who had asked Him if they could divorce for just any reason. Matthew wrote that Jesus told them that if they divorced for anything short of pornia – sexual immorality, and remarried they would be committing adultery. He added that if they married a divorced woman they would also be committing adultery. (Matthew 19:9) There are several theories as to why the book of Matthew is the only one of the synoptic gospels that includes the exception clause for pornia. My belief on this distinction centers around the theory that there were two different groups of Pharisees each asking Jesus their own questions. Allowing that to be accurate, the more conservative of them (spoken of in Mark) would have been experiencing a much lower rate of divorce than the more liberal group written about here in Matthew. I shared in previous episodes that there is far reaching belief among biblical scholars that those of the school of Hillel were using their interpretation that any reason for divorce was permissible, to divorce and remarry with regularity. Many of those scholars go so far as to say that this group of men were using their twisted version of Mosaic law to justify rapid divorce and remarriage, exclusively to satisfy their sexual desire for multiple partners. They felt that as long as they were married while having sexual relations it was permissible by the law so long as they divorced one woman before marrying another. I believe that when Jesus addressed these men He specifically said that pornia (adultery) was the only true grounds for divorce for multiple reasons.
- He wanted to drastically narrow and correct the parameters for divorce that these men had so dramatically widened.
- He wanted to identify that the condition of their perverse hearts and minds toward the God ordained institution of marriage was indeed sinful.
- I believe that He wanted to make the irony clear that the only reason God accepted for divorce was precisely what these sinful men were using a perverted view of the law to accomplish. Jesus had previously stated that if a man even lusted after a woman, God who reads the heart, saw it as the same as if he had actually committed the physical act (Matthew 5:28). I think Jesus was making it abundantly clear to these men that using the law to cover their tracks did not in any way absolve them of the guilt of being adulterers.
- Finally, I find it interesting that by making these statements concerning the consequences of marriage, divorce and subsequent remarriage, Jesus was explaining how the woman in the Deuteronomy 24 example became defiled by the 1st husband who divorced her, and why this was an abomination before the Lord!
Next time as we continue our study of Marriage and divorce, we will look at the scripture I mentioned earlier found in Malachi chapter 2.
So now, growing more steadfast each day to honor your marital commitments to your spouse and your God…Go be Awesome!