Today’s Scripture reading, Matthew 19 and Mark 10, begin with a question that has troubled many down through the centuries, and continues to be misunderstood in our day: “Is it lawful for a man to put away [divorce] his wife for every cause?” (Matthew 19:3; Mark 10:2)
The issue of divorce was a matter of debate in Jesus’ day, and the Pharisees approached Jesus, hoping to pull Him into the dispute (Matthew 19:1-12). They came, “tempting Him” (19:3), to discredit Christ in the eyes of the public, and diminish His following. In an effort to place Jesus at odds with the Law, and their own liberal interpretation of the Law concerning divorce, the Pharisees asked, “Is it lawful for a man to put away [divorce] his wife for every [any] cause?” (19:3)
There were two schools of thought on the matter of Divorce in Jesus’ day.
One school, known as Hillel, held a liberal interpretation of divorce, and was adhered to by the Pharisees and the majority of 1st century Jews. Hillel, a judge in Israel, taught a man could divorce his wife for any reason. Yet, a woman was not permitted to divorce her husband. A second school, named Shammai after its founder, represented the conservative, unpopular view on divorce. Shammai argued divorce was unlawful, except in the case of adultery.
Divorce became a widespread practice among the Jewish people, and some Pharisees were guilty of multiple divorces (and often for the most absurd reasons). In contrast, those same Pharisees refused to allow a wife to divorce her husband for any cause!
Wisely, rather than take the side of the adherents of Hillel or Shammai, Jesus answered the Pharisees’ question on marriage and divorce, and directed them to the authority of the Scriptures (19:4-6).
Divorce is a Violation of Biblical Principles and Precepts
Divorce violates the Creator’s plan and design for man and woman. Citing the writings of Moses, Jesus asked the Pharisees, “Have ye not read, that He which made them at the beginning made them male and female?” (19:4; Genesis 1:27; 2:24)
Divorce is a violation of God’s design for marriage which is “one flesh” (19:5). A man is commanded to leave his father and mother and “cleave to his wife” (19:5-6a). A man’s bond with his wife is to overshadow all human relationships. Though man and woman come together as two distinct lives, husband and wife are to be “one flesh,” physically, emotionally, and spiritually (19:6).
Divorce violates the sanctity of marriage. God decreed what He “hath joined together, let not man put asunder”(19:6b). It was God’s design, and His command, that what He had “joined (or yoked) together,” no man, court, or judge had the power or authority to “put asunder” (meaning to separate).
The Pharisees disregarded Jesus’ appeal to consider the Scriptures as their authority in the question of divorce. They asked: “Why did Moses then command [charge; order] to give a writing [certificate; bill; paper] of divorcement, and to put her away [dismiss; divorce]?” (19:7) Those hypocritical religious leaders were not interested in God’s standard, design, or plan for marriage. They were looking to justify their sin, and disallow the sanctity of marriage. They suggested Moses as a defense for their distorted interpretation of divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).
Jesus answered their question, rebuking, and exposing their wickedness as a violation of God’s will and design for marriage (19:8). Leaving no room for ambiguity, Jesus spoke plainly: “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (19:9)
Closing thoughts – Divorce was never God’s plan, and the only grounds for divorce is “fornication,” meaning sexual conduct with anyone who is not one’s spouse (19:9a). Jesus’ conclusion came as a shock to His disciples, who suggested, “it is not good to marry” (19:10).
Remembering God’s purpose and design for marriage was companionship, our Creator observed Adam, and said, “it is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). God, therefore, made one woman for one man, and Adam the first man was complete (Genesis 2:22). Adam and Eve were “one flesh,” and their union was designed to be inseparable (Genesis 2:24).
Lesson: Divorce is a rejection of God’s plan and design for mankind, and He is the witness of all covenant vows of marriage (Malachi 2:14b).
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Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith
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