In Matthew 19:3-9, “Some Pharisees came to him [Jesus] to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” 4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female [Gen. 1:27],’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ [Gen. 2:24]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” 7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” 8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” NIV
God’s original plan for men and women was being united as one flesh in a marriage relationship. This is not something God planned for men to do with men or women to do with women. In fact, forbidden forms of sexual immorality are described in Leviticus 18.
Once a man and woman were married, God’s plan was for them to stay married for life. In this day and time, this seems like impossible for most people. Most people decide to divorce for a plethora of reasons. I’m well aware that there are times when it is necessary to divorce someone and/or when divorce is beyond the control of a spouse. Some people come to know the Lord as their Savior when they’ve already divorced their spouse and married a new one. If that’s the case with you, don’t worry, I’m not going to condemn you. Take heart, hopefully, this will turn out to be an interesting post for you.
Many wonder what God expects them to do in such situations. We’ll consider that in a few minutes but first I want to show you some things you may or may not already know.
You may have heard Malachi 2:16 says: “I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment [lebush],” says the Lord Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.” NIV
When my children complain that they hate something, I sometimes say, “I do too but it still needs to be done!” Consider this: The Hebrew word lebush used for garment in Malachi 2:16 is also a euphemism for wife. Since that’s the case, I think this verse is saying that even though God hates divorce, He also hates the physical abuse of women. God expects a man to control his anger, treat his wife well, and not commit adultery. This is the center of a chiastic structure (Malachi 2:15b-16)! As such, this verse is very important; however, we must not forget that the bookends of the chiasm remind us not to break faith with our spouse. At the same time, the chiasm seems to indicate that abusing the wife of your youth is equivalent to breaking faith with your spouse. It would also seem that if you do not keep the rest of your marriage vows, you are also breaking faith with your spouse.
Deuteronomy 24:1-4 says: “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, 2 and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, 3 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, 4 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.” NIV
This is most likely the passage from Torah Jesus used to answer the questions posed by the Pharisees and his disciples concerning divorce. Jesus answered them by saying that if someone divorces one person and marries another person, they are committing adultery unless the reason for divorce was marital unfaithfulness. The reason goes even further: it would be a detestable abomination in the eyes of the Lord and bring sin upon the land.
Even though God hates divorce, He knows it is sometimes necessary even for cases other than adultery–especially if your life is in physical danger. Please understand that I’m not advocating divorce for frivolous things. What we need to remember is that the primary issue that one needs to be concerned with after divorce is remarriage because it is allowed only for those whose spouse committed adultery.
I think it is very important for Christian married couples to stay together if at all possible but when it’s not, they should take comfort in knowing something else:
- Isaiah 50:1 says, “This is what the Lord says: “Where is your mother’s certificate of divorce with which I sent her away? Or to which of my creditors did I sell you? Because of your sins you were sold; because of your transgressions your mother was sent away.” NIV
- Jeremiah 3:8-10 says, “I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery. 9 Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood.” NIV
These two passages of Scripture reveal a fact that is often overlooked or only considered to be an expression instead of an actual divorce. We must remember that God married His people at Mount Sinai in the book of Exodus and that the Torah which was given to them includes their wedding vows. Since this is the case, God really did divorce the Northern Kingdom also known as Israel or Ephraim.
Because Israel [Ephraim] committed adultery, God divorced her (Jeremiah 3:1-3). He only separated from Judah by exiling her to Babylon despite the fact she followed in her sister’s ways. Based on Deuteronomy 24:1-4, God should not be able to remarry Ephraim. That is yet another reason it was necessary for God to make a New Covenant with His people and for Jesus to die on the cross. Not only was Jesus death the bride price for the New Covenant but His death released Israel from the original marriage covenant and freed Israel to marry or accept the terms of the New Covenant with Jesus. In other words, Israel was freed from the original marriage covenant as a result of Jesus’ death and able to choose to be free from slavery to sin and become slaves of righteousness.
This is why Paul said in Romans 7:1-6: “Do you not know, brothers — for I am speaking to men who know the law — that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives? 2 For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. 3 So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man. 4 So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. 5 For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. 6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” NIV
This is an important concept for us to grasp because it is an important component of several patterns seen throughout the Bible.
Now let’s get back to the physical realm of marriage.
If your spouse committed adultery:
- You are free to divorce and marry someone else that has never been married.
- You are free to divorce and marry someone else that has never committed adultery but whose spouse has committed adultery.
- You are free to remarry after your spouse dies.
- You must forgive your spouse and you can remain with your spouse if you choose to do so.
If you divorced your spouse for a reason other than adultery, don’t remarry until after your spouse dies (according to God’s timing). If you’ve already remarried, stay in the marriage you are in.
If you divorced your spouse for a reason other than adultery and neither one of you remarried or were sexually active with anyone else during your time of separation or divorce, you can stay as you are or remarry each other.