Don't you hate it when your words are taken out of context? A person who takes your words out of context can firmly believe those words, though you know you didn't mean what they think you did. Getting them to give up believing in what they think you said, in favor of believing what you actually said, can be difficult.
When it comes to the Word of God, the words and culture which are taken out of context can be especially damaging. A person will fight you tooth and nail for what they believe to be the true and accurate Word of God, when in reality what was meant in scripture isn't what they believe. They took God out of context. Beliefs founded upon God's Word taken out of context often form strongholds not easily overcome by history and context.
To save ourselves that trouble on the subject of marriage and divorce, let us set the context of Jewish history and Old Testament Mosaic law the boy Jesus would have known and discussed when He was in the temple talking to the elders at age 12. Let's talk within the context of the schools of religious thought of His day when He started His ministry about age 30. Let's first understand what a 1st century Jew in Jerusalem would have known and believed.
God gives the Israeli divorce law, about 1300BC
Remember that God created marriage when the Lord God (Christ) brought Eve to Adam in the garden, thus making Him the center of their marriage. That they lived all their lives together reveals original intent: Marriage is intended to be until death.
But recognizing anything He creates or gives to man can be misused, damaged, or destroyed, and knowing fallen man, God also provided a way of escape in the event someone failed love. That each person might start anew if the original intent of their marriage was irretrievably lost, He gave Moses the law of divorce.
Deuteronomy 24:1-4, around 1300BC
"When a man has taken a wife and married her, and it comes to pass that that she find no favor in his eyes, because he has found some uncleanness in her; then let him give her a bill of divorce and put it in her hand and send her out of his house. And when she is gone out of his house she may go and become another man's wife. And if the 2nd husband hates her and gives her a bill of divorce, or if he dies, the first husband cannot take her again to be his wife, for she has been another man's wife, it would be an abomination and cause the land to sin which the Lord God gave you as an inheritance."
Tom, Joe, and Betty...
That's it. That's all God gave Israel as a divorce law. Notice the divorced people are both free to remarry without guilt before God or man. This is how it was taught and practiced up to and including the time of Jesus. The one condition is that once married and divorced, they may remarry but cannot return to their first spouse.
Why? Because let us say you have Tom and Joe, and Betty is married first to Tom, then he divorces her, so she marries Joe. If God didn't forbid it, it would be possible for Betty to say, "I had it better with Tom than with Joe, so I'm going to have an affair with Tom and break up his new marriage to return to him."
To do that defeats the purpose of the law of divorce. Marriage was intended to be until death unless the marriage was beyond repair, which is why God provided the way out, the divorce law. To allow Israel to treat marriage so lightly, in effect swapping spouses at will according to one's lust, would introduce lust and adultery into society. So God said once divorced, you can't return to a former spouse. You may marry again, but not with a former spouse.
(God doesn't define what 'found some uncleanness in her' means, and that was the focus of debate from Moses down through history to the time of Jesus. We know the reason much of the law was vague was so that people would have to walk with God in order to know how He wanted His law applied to a given situation. But man being man, by the time of Jesus the Pharisees had added over 800 of their own laws to try to define every course of action for any possible situation. And it was those additional laws that Jesus continually taught against.)
Flash forward about four hundred years, about 900BC...
When Solomon died around 930BC his successor, Rehoboam, said he would make the taxes on the people much greater than Solomon. As a result 10 tribes broke away from Judah, Benjamin, the Levites and a remnant of other tribes who loved the Lord around Jerusalem, and moved north to Samaria. (Read of this in the whole of I Kings 12)
There, they established their own king, Jeroboam, their own priesthood of the lowest men of society, as a spite in the face of God and rejection of Him and His ways. Simply put: They didn't want to go to Jerusalem to worship the Lord. When Israel split with them, Judah became its own nation which included Benjamin and the Levites who continued to serve as priests in the temple in Jerusalem, and a remnant from the other tribes who were faithful to the Lord. But in the general sense we say there were 10 tribes that broke away from Judah and Benjamin.
This is why when you read the Old Testament you'll see references to the 'king of Israel' and the 'king of Judah'. They co-existed for about 200 years in an uneasy relationship; Judah having mostly good kings like Jehoshaphat and Josiah, and Israel having mostly ungodly kings like Ahab. God sent many prophets to Israel including Elijah, to try to bring them back to Him.
God divorces Israel: 722BC
Israel was continually unfaithful to the Lord, choosing to worship Baal and other gods. Finally, God had no choice but to leave them to face the consequences of their actions, and spiritually divorced them. Being left without His covering, Israel (the 10 northern tribes) was conquered by the Assyrians in 722BC, roughly 200 years after the death of Solomon and their rebellious break away from Judah and the Lord. Those 10 tribes of Israel are called the "Lost tribes of Israel".
This is covered in II Kings 17, including how Assyria moved many foreigners into Samaria so that over time the remaining Jewish population intermarried with the Gentile immigrants. These 'half-breed' Jews who worshipped a corrupted version of the God of Israel, became the hated Samaritans in the gospels. You will recall in John 4 it was a Samaritan woman Jesus asked for water, and told her in v22: "You don't know what you worship, but we know what we worship, for salvation comes from the Jews." Their history was common knowledge to them both.
God divorced Israel you say? Jeremiah in about 600BC
Jeremiah lived after the destruction of Israel, but just before and during the time Judah was destroyed for her unfaithfulness. The Lord is talking to Jeremiah about unfaithful Israel and how Judah is following in her footsteps. Jeremiah 3:1-8 records this history and the Lord's case against Israel's adultery and (spiritual) fornication with Baal:
"They say if a man divorces his wife and she becomes another man's wife, shall she return to him again? Won't the land be greatly polluted? You have played the harlot with many lovers, yet return to Me says the Lord....(v8)...and when I saw all the cases where backsliding Israel has committed adultery, I divorced her and gave her a bill of divorce. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it and wasn't afraid, and played the harlot also..."
This event of God divorcing Israel leading to their destruction in 722BC was the topic of the book of Hosea, who lived in that time. The Lord tells Hosea to take a prostitute as his wife, and there is some debate about whether this was an allegory or factual. But we do know that in 2:2 the Lord quotes the Israeli divorce decree (to Israel) required to be stated before the elders of a city, along with the written bill of divorce: "...you are not (no longer) my wife, neither am I (any longer) your husband..."
In 2:8 of Hosea you can feel the Lord's pain at Israel's betrayal and His pain of divorcing her, for He says in v8: "For she did not know that it was I who provided her grain and wine and oil, and prospered her with gold and silver, for which she gave credit to Baal."
In verses 14-23 the Lord speaks of a future day, "I will allure (woo) her and bring her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her...and in that day she will call me Ishi (husband, a term of endearment) and no more Baali (master)."
He goes on to say in v19-20: "In that day I will betroth you to myself forever. I will betroth you to myself in righteousness, and justice, and also in loving kindnesses and mercy. And even in faithfulness, for you will know faithfulness to Me for you will know the Lord." (The word 'Lord' here is 'Yahweh', or YHWH, who we know as Jesus, which is the Greek transliteration of Yahweh, or Joshua, or more strictly speaking, YHWH). So the Lord, Christ, is telling Israel there will come a day when they will know Him - Christ Jesus.
Fast forward 300 years: God hates the misuse of His divorce law, about 400BC
By the time of Malachi in roughly 400BC the corrupt priests were using the vagueness of the divorce law to marry and divorce at will to such an extent God said 'I hate divorce'. That wasn't a doctrinal statement, for it was He who gave the law of divorce to begin with. So He doesn't hate His own law, He hates divorce as they used it.
He hates the misuse of His law of divorce, for the fact He gave the law of divorce means there are times divorce is His provision for an innocent spouse.
The priests of Malachi's time also offered in sacrifice only the worst of the animals, the worst of the grain, and didn't enforce the giving ordinances, which are largely designed to make sure no one suffered any lack in Israel. Many pastors have quoted Malachi 3 before receiving an offering, perhaps not realizing of the 6 tithes given over 7 years (no tithing in the 7th year) 4 of them went back to the people or never went to the priests at all. Most were returned to the giver of the tithe after the priests took out enough for the sacrifice and their own living.
And so we've laid the groundwork of history and Jewish culture to set the stage for the life of Jesus in the first century. Jesus never contradicted any of the Mosaic law, though He did contradict many of the 800 laws of the Pharisees which were added to the law. It was after all Christ who spoke to Moses from the burning bush - Jesus claims to be the One who spoke to Moses in John 8:56-59 when He identifies Himself as the "I AM".
So anything you think Jesus said about marriage and divorce must be placed within the context that He is the author of the Mosaic law and as the Son of Man, well educated in its meaning and original intent. And we will look at what Jesus said which was based on the Deuteronomy 24:1-4 divorce law next week. Until then, blessings!
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