Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed 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.”
(Matthew 19:1-9 ESV)
We care currently studying a passage in which the Pharisees – the religious leaders of Israel and Jesus’ arch enemies – try yet again to discredit Him by attempting to get Him to contradict their own (mis)understanding of Scripture. In this case, what was recorded in Deuteronomy by Moses on the topic of divorce and remarriage.
At this point in Israel’s history, women had come to be treated like merchandise and as a result divorce had become common. Men could divorce their wives for any reason at all or for no reason at all. This was a popular teaching of the day most notably by Rabbi Hillel and which was embraced by the Pharisees and pretty much most of the male population of Israel.
Other teachers, such Rabbi Shammai, held a more strict interpretation of God’s word, Their view was understandably less popular. Mankind is always more willing to accept more liberal teachings, regardless of whether they are beneficial or accurate, as no one likes to be constrained by rules.
Jesus, as He always did, quoted Scripture Himself in order to correct the misapplication of Scripture by His opponents. In this case He quotes Genesis to point out that divorce has always been against God’s will [Genesis 1:27, 2:24]. God design for marriage was for it to be permanent therefore a man shall leave his parents and hold fast to his wife. The Hebrew word for “hold fast” is וְדָבַק (pronounced: dā’ baq) means “to cement together”.
God’s plan was for marriage to be permanent and unbreakable. This is because, in God’s view, the man and woman become one flesh and it would be inappropriate for man to separate what God considers inseparable. Throughout history people have thought they can trump God by creating their own moral and spiritual loopholes to justify our inherent sinfulness. Divorce essentially calls God a liar.
Also notice that Jesus says that marriage is between one male and one female. In the original Greek these two words are emphatically placed in the sentence meaning that the speaker (Jesus in this case) was stressing this fact. Marriage was established on the sixth day – as part of creation – and it is a good thing, perfect in its original design [Genesis 1:31].
While God did tell Moses to allow a husband to give a certificate of divorce to his wife, He did not command it, as the Pharisees mistakenly thought. God invented this procedure because He knew the hardness of the human heart – He knew how selfish we’d be. God has always (from the beginning) been against divorce. As we previously learned, such a certificate was a way of protecting the woman in a culture that did not treat women (especially divorcées) very kindly.
The only concession God makes is if adultery has been committed. In that case, as a way of protecting the innocent spouse from having to spend a lifetime with someone who does not want to be with him/her, God allows divorce and remarriage. Under any other circumstance, both are sin.
Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.