It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32)
The issue of divorce is a hugely important subject. I believe that it goes to the heart of the problems in our society. As I was considering what to write, I looked at lots of statistics about divorce and to be honest I found them quite alarming. According to the British Government statistics it is believed that 42% of all marriages will end in divorce. 1 in 7 divorces were issued on the grounds of adultery (the subject we have been looking at recently), but there are many other reasons. It doesn’t take much imagination to work out that divorce is damaging on many levels.
It is of course not just the separating couple who are affected. Divorce introduces a massive change into the life of a child no matter what their age. Witnessing the loss of love between parents is a huge burden for Children to bear. Many feel inexplicably responsible for the break up and have to cope with the overwhelming feelings of guilt. Then there is the turmoil of a daily absence of one parent and only seeing them (if at all) at limited times. In the personal history of a child, parental divorce is a watershed event. Life that follows is significantly changed from how life was before.
As you can imagine, God has something to say about a subject which causes so much pain to His children. In fact simply put, the bible says “I hate divorce, says the LORD, the God of Israel” (Malachi 2:16) (NASB)
In this passage today from ‘The sermon on the mount’ Jesus is once again addressing an erroneous view about divorce which was very common at the time. He was paraphrasing Deuteronomy 24:1 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favour in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house.” Moses gave this stipulation because of the hardness of their hearts (Matthew 19:8). There were two Jewish schools of thought regarding this phrase. The first was the house of Shammei who taught that this passage only allowed divorce on the grounds of adultery. The second was the house of Hillel who taught that this passage allowed for divorce to be appropriate if the husband took a dislike to something his wife did or said. It could be for burning the cooking, humiliating him, denying sex, wasting his money or even if he just fancied trading her in for a younger model. Guess which one nearly all of the religious and influential men went for? You guessed it, they were firmly in the Hillel camp.
It is amazing that divorce was okay for any reason, but the rules for the Bill of Divorce were exact and demanding. The divorce document had to have twelve lines – no more and no less. They specified the type of ink that had to be used. They required witnesses for the signing of the document and for its delivery. The wife could not appeal the husband’s decision, and the divorce certificate had to be delivered by two people who were not blind, dumb, or deaf. The divorce document was called a “Bill of Cutting Off” because the wife was literally cut-off from everything.
But their interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1 was wrong. God did not want them to treat their spouses in this manner, it was unjust, unfair and simply cruel. The key phrase in this passage is ‘finds no favour’ this is not about the husband taking a dislike to something the wife does but is really implying that she has committed adultery (it literally means shameful or nakedness of a thing). So now Jesus clarifies that it is about adultery and not about being displeased about ones wife. Jesus granted divorce only when the physical relationship of marriage is violated. A divorce for sexual unfaithfulness is a biblical divorce because it is granted by God with His permission. But divorce for any other reason does not have His permission.
If we take this passage alongside Matthew 19:9 where Jesus develops his teaching on marriage and divorce we see that Jesus is prohibiting divorce for the many trivial reasons that were used so frequently in the first century, leading to widespread injustice, especially for women whose husbands suddenly divorced them.
When He talks about marrying someone else, He implies that the second marriage, though it begins with adultery, is still a marriage. Once a second marriage has occurred, it would be further sin to break it up. The second marriage should not be thought of as continually living in adultery, for the man and woman are now married to each other, not to anyone else.
So in summary, if a divorce occurs for reasons other than sexual activity outside of the marriage, then both the husband and wife commit adultery if they marry someone else. Whoever then marries him/her also commits adultery. Now that is tough, but explains how strongly God views the marriage covenant.