While I’ve received many ‘thank you’ emails concerning last Friday’s ‘Thoughts’ concerning tzedakah and Jesus’ comments on divorce, there were also many people asking specific information unique to their situation or unique to what they’ve been taught.
So I thought it would be good to go into deeper context which should cover most questions for those who have them, and provide a deeper understanding for all. Here again is the Jewish divorce law:
“When a man marries a wife, and it comes to pass she has no more favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, let him write her a bill of divorce and give it to her and send her out of the house. And when she has left the house she may go and become another man’s wife. But if the second husband hates her, let him give her a bill of divorce and send her out, or if the second husband die (she may become another man’s wife). But her first husband may not take her again as his wife for she has since been another man’s wife…” Deuteronomy 24:1-4
No one knew what exactly the phrase ‘some uncleanness in her’ meant, and by the time of Malachi the priests were not walking with the Lord and doing many abomonimable things ranging from offering for sacrifice the weak, sick, and too old to be productive animals, the worst of the grain and so forth, and refusing to tithe and give offerings.
They also took a very liberal view of ‘uncleanness’ and used it to marry and divorce at will. It is in Malachi 2:14-16 the Lord rebukes the priests for dealing ‘treacherously’ with the ‘wives of your youth’ and He states He hates divorce.
Unfortunately some have taken that one statement that He hates divorce to mean a doctrinal statement against all divorce, which doesn’t even stand up to logic since He was the one who gave the Law to Moses at the start. When you add in the fact that God is divorced, stating He gave Israel the bill of divorcement in Jeremiah 3:8 among other places, AND that Jesus would later state why God gave divorce due to the hardness of men’s hearts as a way of escape for the innocent spouse, it all makes sense.
He does hate divorce – as the priests in Malachi were using it, marrying and divorcing at will.
When we come to Jesus’ day there were 2 men who He probably knew; respected Rabbi’s, one named Shammai and the other Hillel. The debate in Jesus’ day had only intensified in the 400 years since Malachi was used of the Lord to rebuke the corrupt priests of his day.
Shammai taught that the wording of the law of divorce, ‘some uncleanness in her’ of Deuteronomy 24, was a reference to 2 chapters earlier in the law of marrying a virgin. Deuteronomy 22:13-18 states that if a man takes a wife and ‘goes in unto her’ and finds he hates her, because on their wedding night he discovered she was not a virgin as she had claimed, he could divorce her or even have her stoned to death if he wished to press charges.
Incidentally, when Mary confessed to Joseph she was with child, he considered this very law, but scripture says ‘he was a good man’ and only sought a quiet divorce. Had he wished, he could have pressed charges and had Mary executed.
But in Deuteronomy 22, if the woman was indeed a virgin she could bring out the bed sheets from their wedding night, still covered in blood and body fluids, to prove her hymen was broken that night and she indeed a virgin. The custom was that she would keep these sheets, called ‘the tokens of her virginity’ all her life, for even if 30 years later in marriage, if the husband slandered her or made accusations about their early life together, she had the means to defend her honor.
And so Shammai taught that Deuteronomy’s ‘uncleanness’ in the divorce law was a reference to two chapters earlier, and if a man divorced his wife except for fornication (sex with another man) before the wedding, it would be an unjust divorce, causing her to commit adultery as a classification of her next marriage, and the husband who unjustly divorced her and remarried, would be in an adulterous marriage – one founded upon unjust and morally illegal grounds.
Rabbit Hillel however, who died in the year 30AD, prevailed however, and taught if the wife cooked a bad meal that rose to the level of ‘uncleanness’ of Deuteronomy 24, and a husband could therefore divorce her and remarry at will – Rabbi Akiva even said if the husband found another woman more beautiful than his wife, her declining beauty rose to the level of ‘some uncleanness’ as well, and he could divorce her just because he wanted a prettier wife.
THAT was the argument Jesus was brought into. Therefore when Jesus said in Matthew 5:31-32 what He said, He was talking about Hillel and Akiva’s law, which was the law of the day:
“It has been said, ‘Whoever wants to divorce his wife, let him simply give her a bill of divorce and send her away.’ But I say to you (referring back to Shammai and Deuteronomy 24’s original intent) That whoever divorces his wife except for fornication, causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries her commits adultery.”
He is talking about the original intent God meant in Deuteronomy 24, confirming Rabbi Shammai’s teaching that it reference chapter 22, just a few verses earlier, talking about a woman who claimed to be a virgin but was found to have already had sex with someone else before her wedding. In that case, Jesus said the divorce would be legal, but if for any other reason, the category of relationship would be adultery as it would have been an unjust divorce.
Because Hillel’s law was THE law of the land, the priests and leaders did not like that – and when pressed for the reason God gave the law of divorce in the first place if His intent was for husband and wife to be together all their lives, Jesus said it was due to the hardness of men’s hearts.
And that included, even in Jesus’ day, fornication, abuse, neglect, abandonment – as per last Friday’s Weekly Thoughts on the subject.
Now time for my opinion – Because Christians and indeed most pastors, don’t know the context of Jesus’s statements, even though they were all taught in Bible school that the first rule of interpretation of the Bible is to understand who it was spoken/written to, and how they understood it, and that any further understanding in our day must agree with and build upon their understanding – they’re guilty of trapping in condemnation God’s people when God Himself has provided divorce as a way of escape out of a broken covenant – broken by hard hearts resulting in fornication (sex outside of marriage), abuse, neglect, or abandonment.
There is a lot of bad teaching out there. I’ve been asked on a couple of occasions to agree in prayer with a heart-broken ex-wife of some man, that he would come back to her even though he is now remarried. In a couple of situations the divorce occurred some 10 years earlier and the husband remarried and had 2 kids of his own with his 2nd wife, but the wife who came for prayer wanted me to pray God would break up his 2nd marriage to bring him back to her.
Each time they had been taught ‘God hates divorce’ and that a covenant though broken by 1 party, was still in effect and could be prayed for to be made a whole covenant again. I’ve had the sad duty to inform these women that the only part of the covenant that remains between her and her ex husband, is their children, and in that element of their covenant of marriage, they still must cooperate as they were born of that covenant, though now broken.
But God won’t break up marriage #2 to get hubby back with wife #1. The good news from Deuteronomy 24, let us not lose sight of that, is that it provides for her (or him) to marry a 2nd and even a 3rd time – again, divorce used with the intent God gave it, is to allow the innocent spouse to escape from a broken covenant and rebuild their lives.
I hope this addendum helps answer questions – blessings!
www.cwowi.org and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org