DIVORCE

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Old Testament laws about:

If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indescent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD.  Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance. – NIV Deuteronomy 24:1-4

Some think this passage supports divorce, but that is not the case. It simply recognises a practice that already exists in Israel.  All four verses must be read to understand the point of the passage; it certainly is not suggesting that a man divorce his wife on a whim.  Divorce was a permanent and final act for the couple.  Once divorced and remarried to others, they could never be remarried to each other (24:4).  This restriction was to prevent casual remarriage after a frivolous separation.  The intention was to make people think twice before divorcing.

In Malachi’s day:

You ask, “Why?” It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.

Has not the LORD, made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his.  Any why one?  Because he was seeking godly offsprings.  So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. – NIV Malachi 2:14-15

Divorce in these times was practised exclusively by men. they broke faith with their wives and ignored the bonding between a husband and a wife that God instills (the two became one person), as well as his purpose for them (raising children who love the Lord, “godly offspring”).  Not only were men breaking faith with their wives, they were also ignoring the bonding relationship and spiritual purpose of being united with God.

Wrong attitudes towards:

“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.NIV Matthew 5:31-32

Divorce is as hurtful and destructive today as in Jesus’ day. God intends marriage to be a lifetime commitment (Genesis 2:24).  When entering into marriage, people should never consider divorce an option for solving problems or a way out of a relationship that seems dead.  In these verses, Jesus is also attacking those who purposefully abuse the marriage contract, using divorce to satisfy their lustful desire to marry someone else.  Are your actions today helping your marriage grow stronger, or are you tearing it apart?

And adultery:

But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.NIV Matthew 5:32

Jesus said that divorce is not permissible except for unfaithfulness. This does not mean that divorce should automatically occur when a spouse commits adultery.  The word translated “unfaithfulness” implies a sexual immoral life-style, not a confessed and repented act of adultery.  Those who discover that their partner has been unfaithful should first make every effort to forgive, reconcile, and restore their relationship.  We are always to look for reasons to restore the marriage relationship rather than for excuses to leave it.

Pharisees’ two views about:

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one.  Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” 

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.  I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven.  The one who can accept this should accept it.” – NIV Matthew 19:3-12

John was put in prison and killed, at least in part, for his public opinions on marriage and divorce, so the Pharisees hoped to trap Jesus too. They were trying to trick Jesus by having him choose sides in a theological controversy.  Two schools of thought represented two opposing views of divorce.  One group supported divorce for almost any reason.  The other believed that divorce could be allowed only for marital unfaithfulness.  This conflict hinged on how each group interpreted Deuteronomy 24:1-4.  In his answer, however, Jesus focused on marriage rather than divorce.  He pointed out that God intended marriage to be permanent and gave four reasons for the importance of marriage (19:4-6).

Why God’s law made provision for:

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.  I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” – NIV Matthew 19:7-8

This law is found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. In Moses’ day, as well as in Jesus’ day, the practice of marriage fell far short of God’s intention.  The same is true today.  Jesus said that Moses gave this law only because of the people’s hard hearts – permanent marriage was God’s intention.  But because sinful human nature made divorce inevitable, Moses instituted some laws to help its victims.  These were civil laws designed especially to protect the women who, in that culture, were quite vulnerable when living alone.  Because of Moses’ law, a man could no longer just throw his wife out – he had to write a formal letter of dismissal.  This was a radical step towards civil rights, for it made men think twice about divorce.  God designed marriage to be indissoluble.  Instead of looking for reasons to leave each other, married couples should concentrate on how to stay together (19:3-9).

The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven.  The one who can accept this should accept it.” – NIV Matthew 19:10-12

Although divorce was relatively easy in Old Testament times (19:7), it is not what God originally intended. Couples should decide against divorce from the start and build their marriage on mutual commitment.  There are also many good reasons for not marrying, one being to have more time to work for God’s kingdom.  Don’t assume that God wants everyone to marry.  For many it may be better if they don’t.  Be sure that you prayerfully seek God’s will before you plunge into the lifelong commitment of marriage.

Jesus’ words about:

“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female’.  ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’  So they are no longer two, but one.  Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.  –  NIV Mark 10:5-9

God allowed divorce as a concession to people’s sinfulness. Divorce was not approved, but it was instituted to protect the injured party in a bad situation.  Unfortunately, the Pharisees used Deuteronomy 24:1 as a proof text for divorce.  Jesus explained that this was not God’s intent; instead, God wants married people to consider their marriage permanent.  Don’t enter marriage with the option of getting out.  Your marriage is more likely to be happy if from the outset you are committed to permanence.  Don’t be hard-hearted like these Pharisees, but be hardhearted in your determination, with God’s help, to stay together.

“Anyone who divorces his wife and marriages another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. –  NIV Luke 16:18

Most religious leaders of Jesus’ day permitted a man to divorce his wife for nearly any reason. Jesus’ teaching about divorce went beyond Moses’ (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).  Stricter than any of the then-current schools of thought, Jesus’ teachings shocked his hearers (see Matthew 19:10) just as they shake today’s readers.  Jesus says in no uncertain terms that marriage is a lifetime commitment.  To leave your spouse for another person may be legal, but it is adultery in God’s eyes.  As you think about marriage, remember that God intends it to be a permanent commitment.

Staying with an unbelieving spouse:

To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.  For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband.  Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.  –  NIV 1 Corinthians 7:12-14

Because of their desire to serve Christ, some people in the Corinthian church thought they ought to divorce their pagan spouses and marry Christians. But Paul affirmed the marriage commitment.  God’s ideal is for marriages to stay together – even when one spouse is not a believer.  The Christian should try to win the other to Christ.  It would be easy to rationalise leaving; however, Paul makes a strong case for staying with the unbelieving spouse and being a positive influence on the marriage.  Paul, like Jesus, believed that marriage is permanent (see Mark 10:1-9).

But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.  How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband?  Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?  – NIV 1 Corinthians 7:15-16

This verse is misused by some as a loophole to get out of marriage. But Paul’s statements were given to encourage the Christian spouse to try to get along with the unbeliever and make the marriage work.  If, however, the unbelieving spouse insisted on leaving, Paul said to let him or her go.  The only alternative would be for the Christian to deny his or her faith to preserve the marriage, and that would be worse than dissolving the marriage.  Paul’s chief purpose in writing this was to urge the married couples to seek unity, not separation (see 7:17; 1 Peter 3:1, 2).

©Kingsway International Church 1973.

 

 

 

 

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