“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, ESV)
We live in a culture where the marriage vow is like many of our other vows in that it is frequently broken. The Jews, even at the time of Jesus, had taken the Word of God and modified it to suit their own desires. Here Jesus speaks to this issue as He also does later in Matthew chapter 19 (see also Mark 10:2-12, Luke 16:18), where he said,
“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 19:3–9, ESV)
What the Jews had done was to twist a legal protection for turned out wives established by Moses, and turn it into a directive approved by God. What Moses said was, “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor 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….” (Deuteronomy 24:1ff, ESV) Jesus, in Matthew 19, points to the reason behind this instruction of Moses—the hardness of man’s heart in response to his displeasure over some shameful act on the part of his wife. But even in this Moses did not command, endorse, or even suggest divorce. He said if you are going to turn her out give her a certificate of divorce in order that she might be free to continue with her life. And Jesus in pointing to Moses’ instruction brought it current to the Pharisees who had raised the question. He said that it was because of “your” hardness and not “their” hardness of heart that Moses said what he said.
God never intended divorce nor does He encourage divorce. God’s plan remains that one man and one woman come together in marriage and that they be one. Jesus went on to say that this oneness is not to be separated with very strong words—“What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Sure death happens, and according to Scripture the remaining spouse is then free to remarry. Abandonment by non-believers happens and even in this Scripture seems to say that the believing spouse is then free (1 Corinthians 7). For the believer, however, God’s instruction is that they are not to separate. There does appear to be one exception, and that is in the case of “sexual immorality,” which if we were to go back to the Old Testament as cited in the previous blog it would mean having sexual intercourse with someone (man or animal) other than your spouse. But even in this God does not command divorce, but opens the door for it. And in this we must wonder if somehow this door relates back to the persistent hardness of the other spouse’ heart and a refusal to turn and be restored?
Our God is an incredible God and He can bring healing to the most hurt heart and life to the most struggling of relationships. What He expects of us is to have soft hearts and to trust Him to sustain us and direct us as we walk before Him in the extreme messiness of life.
Our God, who created us to live in a relationship with Himself, also created us to have relationships with others. The most intimate and most enduring of those relationships that we as humans can have with one another is the marriage relationship, and God’s intent is that we would be fully committed to the other person in that relationship just as we are to Him. While God will never sin or violate His promises, He knows that we do and in that He has given us the example of His Son who endured great suffering and even death so that we might have life and a restored relationship with God. The question for us in our relationships, and especially for those of us who are married is, are we going to love others just as God in Christ has loved us?
And if you are one who has suffered already a divorce for any reason, God knows every detail of your life and He loves you. He forgives your sins and He can heal your broken heart. He will never break His vow.