Saturday, November 28, 2009

Divorce, remarriage, and remarriage (Part 1) Dt 24:1-4

"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 indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man's wife, and if the latter husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance. (Deuteronomy 24:1-4)
This passage, contrary to its first appearance, is not a teaching on divorce. It is not about when divorce is permitted or how divorce is to be handled. Rather, this passage is a prepositional phrase, "If A and B then C", or in this case, "not C". This scripture simply states God's law forbidding a couple to remarry after they have been divorced and remarried to someone else in the interim. However, given that, there are some insights into divorce and remarriage we can glean from this passage.

First, in this passage God does not condone divorce but simply presents it as a reality. Divorce is and was a practice that persisted for ages in Israel and the surrounding nations. God was not instituting something new but rather acknowledging an existing practice among the people. While God never intended marriages to end in divorce, He did, however, permit it in some situations as a remedy for the wickedness of mans' heart.

This passage cites two separate divorces, each with their own reason. In the first case, the wife falls out of favor with her husband because he found some "indecency" in her. This Hebrew word is very interesting. It literally means nudity and refers to the exposure of one's pudenda. This is the same word used when Noah's son saw him laying naked on his bed. "Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were turned away, so that they did not see their father's nakedness." (Genesis 9:22-23) It is unlikely that this verse is referring to an actual act of sexual immorality or lewdness. If so, then other aspects of the law would have required the woman to be stoned not divorced. While it is unclear exactly what may have been meant by this term, it does give a vivid picture of the break down of the relationship between the man and the woman. The deterioration of their marriage goes far beyond the inconveniences and annoyances that are from time to time incident in almost every marriage. In the marriage cited there is a radical change in the way one partner sees the other. What love and affection that may have once existed between the man and his wife has evaporated and been replaced by despising, loathing, and contempt of the other person and for who they are and/or have become.

In the second case, it is simply recorded that the second husband "hates" his wife. This Hebrew word literally means to become and enemy or a foe. Sometimes, due to constant and repeated fighting and bickering, a couple's relationship can be reduced from one of love to one of hate. In this case, the problems that exist between the couples are more than irritations, misunderstandings, and frustrations, they have actually become enemies. Instead of serving and preferring each other, they are engaged in a persistent lifestyle of attacking and tearing down one another.

In cases like these, God permits divorce as a remedy to evil that that has made itself present in their marriage. Jesus said,
"They said to Him, 'Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?' He said to them, 'Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.'" (Matthew 19:7-9)
Divorce is the remedy for the hardness of mans' heart. It is an acknowledgment that men are sinners and, at their unregenerate core, mankind is basically evil and sinful. In these cases, given the unrepentant and wicked nature of the heart of men, divorce is preferable to a life of constant waring. This is why Paul says,
"But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace." (1 Corinthians 7:12-13, 15)
God is a god of peace and sometimes divorce with peace is better than a marriage with acrimony. For this reason, God permits divorce, though it was never His original intention of design.

More to come... David Robison

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  1. The Bible certainly has provisions for divorce but it seems sometimes that we have taken it too far. Maybe we could put the brakes on our high divorce rate if our society placed more value on the sacrament of marriage and on working it out rather than opting for a divorce. I tend to focus on Jesus concluding statement, "from the beginning, it has not been this way."

  2. I agree. As a society we have made divorce easy and acceptable. Instead of encuraging people to work together to work out their problems, we encourage them to end their marriage and move on. If, as a society, we placed more value on marriage and helped and supported those strugleing in their marriage, then we might see a decrease in the divorce rate.

  3. I assure you that nothing is easy about divorce. It hasn’t been made easy. It has however, given way to those in relationships where abuse and infidelity are intolerable. Men and women can now walk away from those things without the church condemning the one walking away. I’m thankful for that.

  4. I agree. To say that divorce has become "easy" in our society does not mean that divorce is "easy"! And you are also correct that, at times, the church has stigmatized those who have been hurt through divorce, even when it was of no fault of their own. Divorce occurs for many reasons and, as Christians, it should be our goal not to judge but rather to show forth the love of God to those who are suffering the painful affects of divorce.

    Thanks for reading and commenting. David