It Has Been Said: Do Not Divorce

Matthew 5:31-32 and Luke 16:18

DIG: What did Jesus say were biblical grounds for divorce? Some rabbis allowed divorce for nearly any reason a husband wanted it? What was their casual attitude towards divorce promoting? How were they misusing Moses’ allowance for divorce (Deut 24:1)? What inner quality is Yeshua seeking instead? Does the Lord command divorce as a result of adultery? What other reason is there for legitimate divorce? Is divorce the unforgivable sin? Does divorce cause a person to lose their salvation? What are the consequences of divorce in this life and the next?

REFLECT: If you are divorced for biblical reasons, should you feel guilty? If you are divorced for unbiblical reasons, what can you do now? Are there any guarantees that you won’t be divorced even if you are both believers? Why? What steps can you take to give yourself the best chance possible of never being divorced?

The disintegration of the family is an epidemic that is causing social chaos around the world. There are several contributing factors which include mothers of young children working outside the home, frequent family moves, the invasion of electronic devices, lack of moral leadership in society and lack of communication in the home. But by far the free fall of the family is due to divorce. There is no doubt about it - the family is under attack. The harmful effects of divorce on children, parents, grandparents, and on the family and society as a whole would be more than enough reason to be concerned about the problem. But the ultimate tragedy of divorce is that it violates God’s Word.

In Messiah’s third example of true righteousness, He teaches about divorce and how the Torah differed from pharisaic Judaism. There were two reasons for divorce in the TaNaKh: social incompatibility (Deuteronomy 24:1), and religious incompatibility (Ezra and Nehemiah). Adultery was not grounds for divorce because it was grounds for execution by stoning. So the pharisaic Judaism believed that Moses permitted a husband to divorce his wife if he protected her from being stoned to death by writing out a divorce document in the presence of witnesses, signing it, and giving it to her (Tractate Gittin 1:1-3, 7:2).

Since marriage has always been a cherished covenant in Judaism, the rabbis had much to say about maintaining a blessed relationship. So important was this document that an entire tractate of the Talmud deals with various interpretations and details of issuing what is called a get. Among some of the particulars, the document must be written and signed before witnesses. Likewise, the get will be approved by the Beit-Din, or a Jewish religious or civil court of law, literally translated as house of judgment,only after a delay of some time. This is due to the hope that there still may be some possibility of restoring the marriage (Tractate Gittin 9:3). In Deuteronomy 24:1, the document is called a sefer kritut (certificate of divorce), which literally means a scroll of cutting off. Divorce is likened to cutting off a limb. It is so tragic that it was stated that even the altar of the Temple sheds tears at the news of a divorce (Tractate Sanhedrin 22a).

ADONAI’s primary purpose here was not to give an excuse for divorce but to show the potential evil of it.Moses wrote: Suppose a man marries a woman and consummates the marriage but later finds her displeasing, because he has found her offensive, ervant devar(unclean thing or nakedness) in some respect. He writes her a divorce document, gives it to her and sends her away from his house. She leaves his house, goes and becomes another man’s wife; but the second husband dislikes her and writes her a get, gives it to her and sends her away from his house, or the second husband whom she married dies (Deuteronomy 24:1-3 CJB).

His intention was not to provide a way out of the marriage, but to prevent divorce. These first three verses are a series of conditional clauses that culminate in the prohibition of a man ever remarrying a woman who he had divorced if she married someone else and is separated from the second husband either by divorce or death. In such a case her first husband, who sent her away, may not take her [back] again as his wife, because she is now defiled (more literally, disqualified). It would be detestable to ADONAI, and you are not to bring about sin in the Land ADONAI your God is giving you as your inheritance (Deuteronomy 24:4 CJB). Because her first divorce had no sufficient grounds, her second marriage would be adulterous. Even if her second husband died, she could not go back to her first, because she was defiled because of the adultery brought about by her second marriage – which is the main point of the passage. Therefore, Moses said that the divorce for indecency or promiscuity created an adulterous situation.

Far from encouraging divorce, most references in the TaNaKh put restrictions on it. For example, the Torah says that a husband who falsely accuses his bride of not being a virgin that the leaders of that town are to take the man, punish him, and fine him two-and-a-half pounds of silver shekels, which they will give to the girl’s father, because he has publicly defamed a virgin of Isra'el. She will remain his wife, and he is forbidden from divorcing her as long as he lives (Deuteronomy 22:14 and 19 CJB). In the same chapter we read: If a man comes upon a girl who is a virgin, but who is not engaged, and he grabs her and has sexual relations with her, and they are caught in the act, then the man who had intercourse with her must give to the girl’s father one-and-a-quarter pounds of silver shekels, and she will become his wife, because he humiliated her; the man may not divorce her as long as he lives (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).

In God’s eyes, even the granting of a divorce document did not in itself make a divorce legitimate. Far from approving divorce, Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is a strong warning against it. The passage suggests, perhaps assumes, that a divorce on proper grounds, accompanied by a divorce document, was permitted. It does not offer a divine provision for divorce, but rather shows that divorce often leads to adultery. Even on the grounds of adultery, divorce was tolerated in the Torah only as a gracious alternative to the capital punishment of stoning that adultery justly deserved (Leviticus 20:10-14). But pharisaic Judaism had turned what YHVH had provided as reluctant permission into a legal right.529

During the time of Christ, all the Pharisees agreed that Deuteronomy 24:1-4 permitted divorce, that only the husband could initiate it, and that remarriage was assumed. The essential part of a Jewish bill of divorce was when the husband said to his wife, “You are free to marry any man. And this shall be to you from me, a book of divorcement, and a letter of release and a write of dismissal; to go to be married to whichever man you want. You are a free woman” (Mishna, Gittin 9:3). But they disagreed on the grounds of divorce.

There were two schools of thought. Some liberal rabbis like Hillel held to a wide range of interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1, ervant devar, or for any other reason (Tractate Gittin 9:10). Hillel believed that if a wife deliberately burned her husband’s food, a get would be permitted. Other rabbis like Akiva believed that if a husband found a woman that he thought was better looking, divorce was acceptable. However, conservative rabbis like Shammai took the narrow interpretation that the phrase ervant devar was strictly limited to sexual immorality on the part of the wife, the literal implication of the term.

It has been said by Moses to the Israelites in the desert: Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a divorce document (Matthew 5:31). The ease with which divorce could be obtained, and its frequency, can be seen from the question the Pharisees asked the Messiah during the training of His apostles (see Ij – Is It Lawful for a Man to Divorce His Wife?). For we know that it included every kind of bad behavior, such as going about with loose hair, spinning in the street, commonly talking with men, treating her husband’s parents badly in his presence, speaking to her husband so loudly that the neighbors could hear her in the house next door (Chethub. 7.6), a general bad reputation, or the discovery of fraud before marriage. On the other hand, a wife could insist on being divorced if her husband were a leper, or affected with polypus, or engaged in a disagreeable or dirty trade, such as a tanner or coppersmith. One of the cases in which divorce was obligatory was, if either party had become heretical, or disavowed their faith in Judaism. But even so, there were at least checks to the danger of general lawlessness, such as the obligation of paying to a wife her portion, and the need for a divorce document, without which no divorce was legal, and had to be worded a certain way, handed to the woman herself, in the presence of two witnesses.530

But Jesus gave no more approval of divorce than Moses did when He said: I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality (Greek: porneia, where we get the word pornography), and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery (Mattityahu 5:32; Luke 16:18). Yeshua affirms exactly what Moses taught in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, that unjustified divorce inevitably leads to adultery. It was as if the Meshiach was saying to the self-righteous Pharisees and Torah-teachers, “You consider yourselves to be great teachers and keepers of the Torah, but by allowing no-fault divorce you have caused the great stain of adultery to pollute Isra’el. By lowering the holy standards of ADONAI to meet your own lusts, you have led many people into sin and judgment.”

Adultery was another reality that God never intended, and, up to the time of Christ, it was the only thing that could break the bond of marriage because the guilty party would be stoned to death (Leviticus 20:10). But here, Messiah specifically mentions divorce being permissible on the grounds of adultery (Matthew 5:32, 19:9). Why did God allow divorce to replace stoning? The answer could possibly be that Isra’el was so immoral that she didn’t have the willpower to carry out the death penalty. When all was said and done, ADONAI, Himself chose not to enforce it (see Gq – The Woman Caught in the Act of Adultery). Apart from the death penalty, divorce became the divine alternative tolerated only because of the hardness of the human heart as Yeshua states in Mattityahu 19:8: Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.

But it is also important to understand that the LORD does not command divorce, even in the case of adultery. Otherwise Ha’Shem would have given His divorce document to Isra’el (see my commentary on Jeremiah At – Unfaithful Isra’el), and Judah long before He did. A legitimate divorce document was allowable for adultery, but it was never commanded or required. It was a last resort – only to be used when the unrepentant immorality had exhausted the patience of the innocent spouse, and the guilty one refused to be restored. Although God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), He acknowledges that there are times when it does not result in adultery. The innocent party who has made every effort to maintain the marriage is free to remarry if his or her spouse insists on continued adultery. It’s very noble to wait and try to work things out, or to go to counseling. But when you know that your spouse is in another’s bed, waiting is like bleeding to death. It’s slow and painful.

Later in First Corinthians, Rabbi Sha’ul added one more legitimate reason for divorce and subsequent remarriage. He said: 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 (First Corinthians 7:12-13). After giving the reason for that instruction, he adds: But if the unbeliever wants to leave, let it be so. The brother or sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace (First Corinthians 7:15). The Greek word translated leave (chorizo) was often used for divorce. Consequently, if an unbelieving spouse deserts or divorces a believer, the believer is no longer bound and is free to remarry.531

I would like to conclude with a word to those who are already divorced. God has revealed Himself and His will through His Son and through His Word. When we follow His biblical principles about divorce (whether we are aware of them or not) our lives will go smoother than if we didn’t follow them; and when we violate His biblical principles (whether we are aware of them or not) our lives will be bumpier than if we followed them. That’s the way that our universe is set up, and it doesn’t matter if you believe it or not. It’s inescapable. Take for example, a man who doesn’t believe in gravity. If you take him up to 10,000 feet and toss him out of the plane without a parachute, it doesn’t matter if he believes in gravity or not – he is still going to hit the ground. Such it is with biblicalprinciples and divorce.

However, let me say that divorce is not the unforgivable sin. Rejection of the Holy Spirit is the unforgivable sin because once you reject the wooing of the Ruach HaKodesh, you have rejected Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and your sins cannot be forgiven, thus being the unforgivable sin. Sin is sin is sin, and you need to ask for forgiveness: If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (First John 1:8-9). This is not cheap grace. Just because you have been forgiven, doesn’t mean that you’re pardoned from the consequences of your sin. Does that mean believers who knew the biblical standard and went ahead and divorced anyway will lose their salvation? By no means (see Ms – The Eternal Security of the Believer). Nevertheless, it does mean that they will suffer loss of peace in this world and reward in the next (see my commentary on Revelation Cc – For We Must All Appear Before the Judgment Seat of Christ).

Let me give you an example. After David committed adultery with Bathsheba, killed her husband Uriah, and then married her (Second Samuel 11:1-27), his life fell apart. Amnon, David’s son, raped his half-sister Tamar. Several years later Absalom, David’s son and Tamar’s full brother, murdered Amnon. Not satisfied with that, Absalom led a revolt against his father to replace him as king. Betrayed by his son, David actually had to flee Jerusalem. Finally troops loyal to the king killed Absalom and David mourned bitterly. After returning to Jerusalem, Sheba rebelled against David. Then there was a famine for three years. After that there was war against the Philistines. Even though David was still king and a man after God’s own heart, the prophet Nathan came to him and prophesied that the sword would never depart from [his] house for the rest of his life (Second Samuel 12:10). What a mess. Needless to say, David paid an extremely heavy price for his adultery.


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