On Divorce (Matthew 5:31-32)

Photo by Will Francis on Unsplash

God is holy, and because God is holy, He never kills unrighteously. God does  not even kill a relationship with an unfaithful sinner, and we thank God for that every time we return to Him in repentance! But if God is not willing to turn away a repentant sinner – even if it is the umpteenth time they’ve committed the same sin – than how could it be that we His children are willing to turn away from the one we promised to love and cherish all our days? 

Yet such is the human heart, and for this reason Moses received instruction from God that permitted divorce – but only in the case of indecency, “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent 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.”

The indecency Moses talks about was “ʿerwat dābār (“something indecent about her”; lit., “the nakedness of a thing”). [Suggesting] the improper uncovering of the private parts.” That did not necessarily mean adultery. In fact it likely did not because the penalty in ancient Israel for adultery was stoning to death. What it did mean is that it was possible for a husband to be so disgusted with his wife that he subjects her to a very public shaming and banishes her from his household and his relatives (“sends her from his house”). 

One would only do something like that in a very extreme and unusual circumstance – perhaps if she became a serial exhibitionist or a twisted threat to the children. Unfortunately by Jesus’ day the teachers of the law had applied it to such trivialities as improper preparation of food and other minor inconveniences. So Jesus – teaching in His Sermon on the Mount – clarifies God’s intention, “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.” 

What is clear- firstly from Moses’ Law and secondly from the lips of Christ – is that divorce in God’s eyes is something to be avoided at almost any cost. Like the cutting off of a limb, it reduces the whole of the persons involved, inflicts incalculable suffering and effectively cripples the people involved from full participation in everyday life. Effectively, it is a lifetime sentence to trial and hardship. 

God is good – even to sinners. Those who reflect His character must therefore be exceedingly cautious about doing anything that might not be good. Especially if it might impose a lifetime of trial and hardship , and even more so with regard to sentencing another to it. That doesn’t mean it can never be done – there are always going to be unique and bizarre situations that call for the harshest of sentences. But these are rare exceptions. They are never to become the norm. One should think about divorce with all the seriousness that we give to amputation.

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Jesus (Matthew 7:12)

APPLICATION: Intentionality 

How are you reflecting the goodness of God to those around you?

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