A High Standard for Marriage

Matthew 5:31-32  

“ It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: 32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.”  

In order to understand and appreciate the main thought of this passage, some background information must be considered. First, we must consider what the Law of Moses taught concerning divorce. Second, we must understand what the Pharisees and Scribes believed about divorce. Third, we must understand the context surrounding what the Lord taught about this subject.  

Concerning the Law of Moses, attention must be given to Deuteronomy 24:1-4. “When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she finds no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness (Heb. ‘ervah [er-waw]; nudity, disgrace, blemish]) in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. 2 And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife. 3 And if the latter husband hates [sane’ (saw-nay’); to hate (personally): enemy, foe, odious] her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife; 4 Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled [in the eyes of the Law]; for that is abomination before the Lord: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.”  

In this passage Moses made provision for divorce, and the freedom to remarry in Israel (Deut. 24:2). The concession of the Mosaic Law was made in order to control a desperate social situation whereby men were discarding wives with hardly a second thought. The result was shame and suffering for the women and children. With the Mosaic legislation, divorce became limited to certain causes. The undisputed grounds for divorce are noted.  

Undisputed Grounds for Divorce  

Uncleanness (Morally, Physically)                            Deuteronomy 24:1; Matthew 5:32
Failure to provide food                                               Exodus 21:10-11
Failure to provide clothing                                         Exodus 21:10-11
Failure to provide physical affection                          Exodus 21:10-11; Deuteronomy 24:3 
Desertion                                                                    1 Corinthians 7:10-15  

According to the Law of Moses, when a man wanted to initiate a divorce, he had to discover some natural, moral, or physical defect in the wife. Moreover, he had to prove that a special cause existed in the presence of two witnesses. This provision was designed to reduce all the frivolous, superficial, and unjust reasons that were being used to discard a wife.

Then second, Moses commanded that a bill of divorcement be given to the woman as a matter of her protection. The bill of divorce allowed the woman to remarry. “And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife” (Deut. 24:2). The bill of divorce protected the woman from a jealous man disrupting her new life and forcing her back into an unwanted environment after rejection.  

The third step in the Mosaic legislation prohibited the first husband who divorced his wife to marry her again. “Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the Lord: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance” (Deu. 24:4).  

By these measures the significance of marriage would be enhanced, and the original intent of marriage would be promoted.

“Therefore, shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).  

“What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:9).  

This was, and is, the Divine ideal. One-man, one-woman, united forever, until parted by death. There is to be mutual love, honor, and respect in marriage for

the woman was not made from Adam’s head “to rule over him,
nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him,
but out of his side to be equal with him,
under his arm to be protected,
and near his heart to be beloved.” (Matthew Henry).  

It must be kept in mind that nowhere did Moses ever command a man to divorce his wife. Rather, divorce was a Divine concession to human weakness. If the Law was written by the finger of God, and it was (Deut. 9:10); and, if the Law was conveyed from heaven by angels in an orderly way, and it was (Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19) then it might be concluded that divorce, on some level, was, and is, a Divine solution to hurting, and hardened, hearts. Divorce is not the Divine ideal, but it is a divine concession to Fallen humanity, mainly to protect the woman from abuse and slander. 

Despite the fact Moses never encouraged divorce, by the time of Christ, the Pharisees and Scribes were teaching that Moses commanded divorce for “uncleanness” (porneia).   This is where the great controversy began in the Jewish court of judicial review, and in the court of public opinion. The question was endlessly debated, “What constitutes an act of ‘uncleanness?’”   There were two schools of thoughts.

Rabbi Shammai (c. 50 BC – AD 30) argued that uncleanness was restricted to physical immorality. Rabbi Hillel (d. c. AD 10), argued that uncleanness included anything that was offensive or disagreeable to the husband. The Pharisees and the Scribes sided with Rabbi Hillel and the liberal view of the Law, allowing divorce for almost any insignificant matter.  

If a wife became quarrelsome, she could be divorced.
If a woman did not cook a meal properly, she could be divorced.
If the beauty of a woman was marred, or her beauty faded, she could be divorced.
If a man gave his wife a Bill of Divorcement, he had kept the Law. He could even feel righteous. He could say he had a right to be happy, and the Law allowed that pursuit.   

In the first century of our Lord, it did not really matter anymore why a man was divorcing his wife.  To the average Jew, the letter of the Law was more important than the spirit of the Law. The letter of the law was all the Pharisees, the Scribes, and the unhappy, were interested in. Jesus challenged such legalism by teaching afresh the sanctity of marriage. Jesus set a higher standard in marriage.   In the beginning God made marriage a permanent institution. One man is to be with one woman forever, or, until death they do part. For some, even death cannot separate the union.  

“Should you go first and I remain,
One thing I’d have you do;
Walk slowly down that long, lone path,
For soon I’ll follow you.  

I’ll want to know each step you take
That I may walk the same.
For someday, down that lonely road,
You’ll hear me call your name.”  

~Albert K. Rowswell  

The Divine pattern for marital permanency was established in the Garden of Eden when God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.  

For the record, homosexuality is an abomination, a curse to any land, and a perversion of the natural Divine pattern. No amount of twisted logic shall every justify aberrant  behavior in the sight of God. No clever twisting of language can declare that a homosexual relationship is a biblical marriage ordained of God. Christians do not help anyone by accepting the vocabulary of the world.  

During World War II, the Nazis told the Jews they were going to lovely relocation camps. Then the Jews were put on trains to Auschwitz and Dachau. Those who demand babies be sacrificed on the altar of abortion speak about pro-choice. Then they go into a woman’s womb to search out and destroy  life. Never accept the modern worldly definition of marriage.   It was the original intent of God, and still is, that a marriage be binding until death. God hates divorce and for a good reasons.

Divorce is a tearing apart of one flesh.

Anyone who has ever gone through the trauma of divorce knows how painful it can be. The movies today portray casual relationships between consenting adults who use each other for pleasure and then go separate ways. That is the movies. The reality is that emotions, hopes, and dreams become so intertwined as spirit touches spirit that a separation of the two becomes almost impossible. When a separation is forced then the hellish nightmare begins. The world and the devil never tell people how painful the divorce process is, and how much raw feeling is involved. 

There is the feeling of failure.  

The most important thing in the world is a healthy relationship with another human. Divorce is the grade of failure between those two individuals.  

There is the feeling of fear,

especially for the woman. Women who have given up their careers to be a wife and mother will wonder what to do next. They worry about where the money will come from to feed, clothes, and house themselves. If children are involved, and the mother is given primary custody, her many fears are compounded.  

There is the feeling of rejection.  

No one wants to hear they are not wanted, or needed, any longer.   There is the feeling of anger for so much money, time, and energy has been invested in another person, only to discover in the end, it has been for nothing. There is a sense of great loss.   Many others feelings emerge, and are intensified, when a divorce takes place. If someone is wrestling with the decision to divorce or not, let me encourage you to find a Biblical alternative to the Devil’s delight of divorce. That, in summary, is the main message of our Lord concerning divorce. What God has joined together, let no man separate.   For those who have been divorced, know this. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses of all our sin.  

“Calvary covers it all.
My past with its sin and stain;
My guilt and despair Jesus took on Him there,
And Calvary covers it all.”  

~Mrs. Walter G. Taylor  

Because of the new birth, live life in a new and different way, and all shall be well.

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