Jesus Talks about Divorce
The Pharisees followed Jesus everywhere he went trying to trick him into saying things that they could use against him. They caught up with him as he was traveling east of the
Jordan River with his disciples,
healing and teaching as he went. “Is it
lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?” they asked Jesus.
And Jesus answered: “Haven’t you read that God who created the human family in the beginning made them male and female. So for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh? So then, they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let not humans separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)
The Pharisees questioned back: “Then why did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and put the wife away?” (Matthew 19:7) Every Jewish person knew that God led the Jewish nation to their promised land through Moses. So if Moses gave out certificates of divorce to the husbands who wanted to divorce their wives then God must have allowed Moses to do that. (In the patriarchal societies of the ancient world, husbands could divorce their wives but wives could not divorce their husbands!)
The Pharisees were referring to a law concerning divorce given by Moses and found in Deuteronomy 24:1-2) Here it is: “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some fault in her, he can write her a certificate of divorce, put it in her hand, and send her out of his house. When she has departed from his house, she can go and becomes another man’s wife.” This certificate of divorce for the wife had the effect of nullifying all the husbands’ rights to the dowry (money) she had brought into the marriage. So the certificate is a protection for her.
Does this law given by Moses provide divine sanction for divorce or does it simply recognizes that divorce was practiced among the Israelites? God’s perfect will would be that every marriage would last till death and would be a great love affair! But alas, we humans have been given free will by God! And our forefathers quickly chose to use their free will to sin.
Because people are sinners and not perfect, marriages are not perfect either. Scripture says that God hates divorce. But sometimes divorce is the only way out of an impossible situation. And I don’t believe that God wants to leave his children stuck in impossible situations such as abuse or mental cruelty or abandonment.
Paul was asked if a believer in Jesus should leave or divorce his/her marriage partner if they were not a believer. And this is his answer: “If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. …But if the unbeliever leaves, let him leave, a brother or a sister in Christ is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace.” (1 Corinthians 7:12,13,15)
Paul is telling church members that they can get a divorce if their unbelieving spouse doesn’t want to stay in the marriage and leaves or abandons them. In such cases God has called them to peace, he says. (1 Cor. 7:15) I have known church leaders today who have ordered their church members not to ever divorce under any circumstance! This goes against Jesus’ teaching concerning divorce – and Paul’s also. And according to some church leaders the person who was abandoned in the marriage is still mired in marriage with the person who ran off and remarried, making life for these unfortunate ones even more confusing!. These judgmental churches try to make the person who has been divorced feel like the worst sinner around. Instead of helping these miserable ones, these churches leave a lot of lonely people feeling guilty and stuck forever in limbo.
God allows us to do what we choose and He will not force us to remain in a marriage against our will. It is God’s will that we choose to love our spouses and be faithful in our marriages, but He gives us our own free-will to make our own choices. Love is always to be given freely - a high and beautiful choice each partner must make. And it is impossible to order or force a straying husband or wife to return and love their spouse. The fact that both the husband and the wife in a marriage choose freely to love each other for a lifetime, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer – this choice to love is one of the reasons that the covenant of marriage is so sacred and holy!
God’s perfect will for his children is love and peace. Scripture says that God hates divorce And God hates war and killing too. But sometimes nations are forced by an aggressor into war and killing. God does not call for those nations under attack by aggressors to be passive and not fight to protect themselves and their children. And God does not call for a husband or wife in a marriage that is under attack by unfaithfulness or abandonment to remain in the path of destruction forever with no way back to sanity. In both situations - war and divorce- I believe that God calls us out of the ugliness of divorce and back to love and to peace.
Jesus answered the Pharisees: “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts, but in the beginning God did not make marriage to end up in divorce. And I (Jesus) say to you, that whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery. And whoever marries the divorced wife commits adultery too.” (Matthew 19:8-9)
Jesus also repeated this command concerning divorce in Matthew 5:31-32 when He was preaching the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus seems to be saying that adultery is the only sin that could tear up a marriage. And since marriage is a binding promise before God between the two partners, the marriage wouldn’t have to be broken by adultery if the partner who committed adultery would repent and the other partner would forgive.
Jesus’ disciples were amazed and they murmured back and forth about this. “If this is the case (if it is a sin to divorce your wife unless she is sexually unfaithful) then it is better not to marry.” (Matthew 19:10) Even Jesus’ disciples seemed to think that divorce should be for more reasons than sexual infidelity.
The divorce rate in our society is high. The movies and the media would make you believe that everyone is cheating in their marriages and no one can be happily married for long. People divorce for seemingly any and every reason: and this is wrong. The marriage partner finds another person outside the marriage more attractive than the person they are married to. So they dump their spouse and up grade to the newer more attractive person in their eyes. Thus the marriage partner is treated like an object to be used and then discarded. There is a God who will judge!
Jesus says that divorce is caused by the hardness of hearts or by selfishness. So God would call us to develop soft hearts and unselfish attitudes for our marriage partners. To never treat a beloved husband or wife as an object. And to be faithful in our marriages! To take the promises we made before God to love and serve one another through this life seriously. The instability divorce causes, tears at the fabric of society. But the ones who are hurt the most by divorce are the children left behind in the wreckage.
I have the habit of reading the obituaries in the newspaper. I like to read about how people lived out their lives. And everyday I read about people who have been married for fifty, sixty and even seventy years to a devoted spouse when they died. It just takes two people with soft faithful hearts to make a good marriage work. Over the years we have met hundreds of couples who are dedicated to one another and have wonderful blessed marriages. These couples are everywhere. True romance and grand love affairs are what God has in mind for his children. Let’s enjoy! .