Influencers West, Thoughts from Gary Stubblefield’s Message June 17, 2016

What about Divorce and Reconciliation?

Divorce in the Bible

Trick Question for Jesus on Divorce. In Matthew 19. When Jesus had departed from Galilee the Pharisees came unto him testing him saying, “is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”  Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”  “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”  Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.  I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

All married men have marital problems.  From time to time because we’re all fallen human beings we will have disagreements.  Divorce is always a sad occasion.  In times past some churches considered divorce an “unpardonable sin.”  However, there is a measure of healing that comes from the love and mercy of God.

Long before Moses wrote the 5 books of the Pentateuch, there was the “Code of Hammurabi,” the law code of ancient Mesopotamia.  This code said that a man could divorce his wife at any time and for any reason.   If after the man left, the woman developed a farm that prospered, the man could return later and claim the wife’s property.  The first of two Old Testament  passages about the subject of marriage and divorce resolves this injustice.  According to Deuteronomy 24:1-4:  When a wife takes a man and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, he writes a certificate of divorce and sends her out of his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.

This passage raises the question, “What does indecency mean?”  What is the grounds for divorce?  This is the subject of the second Old Testament scripture about divorce.  Exodus 21:8-11 says “If a woman does not please her master who has paid for her and selected her as a wife for himself, he must let her be redeemed… If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights.  If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.”  The man has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her.  This passage implies that the marriage vow includes marriage terms of fidelity, affection and provision.  If any of these terms is broken, the injured party can leave and does not annul the right to remarry.  According to this passage, there are three grounds for divorce:  abandonment which is breaking the vow to provide, abuse, or breaking the vow to love, and infidelity, which is breaking the vow to be committed one to the other.

In Jesus’ day there were two forms of Rabbinical doctrine, about the meaning of the word “indecency.”  The group that followed Rabbi Hillel said indecency consists of sexual immorality and any other cause whatsoever.  The followers of Rabbi Shammai said that indecency meant adultery and only sexual unfaithfulness was grounds for divorce.  The Hillel group was composed only of men.  From this man-centered viewpoint, even if the wife burned the toast or dressed inappropriately, either offense could be grounds for divorce.  The drawback of Hillel’s teaching was that the certificate of divorce had an explicit condition.  If the wife could prove that her husband had committed adultery he would have to pay her a support tax.

The story of the angel’s encounter with Mary results in Joseph considering a certificate of divorce.  The angel Gabriel said,  “Hail Mary blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”  Mary said to Joseph during their betrothal, “I have good news and bad news, I’m pregnant but I’m still a virgin.  I have never been with a man.  I was impregnated by the Holy Spirit.”  Joseph upon hearing this news said to himself “I’ll put her away privately and obtain a certificate of divorcement so I won’t be obligated to pay her the support tax.”

The two opposing viewpoints regarding the meaning of “indecency” as grounds for divorce triggered the Pharisee’s question to Jesus, “How do you interpret the meaning of indecency in Exodus 21?”  Jesus quoted from Genesis about God’s design that marriage is meant to be a permanent commitment.  Jesus said, “if you divorce for any reason other than your spouse’s unfaithfulness and marry another, you’re committing adultery.”

In Roman times, Herod the king who was married fell in love with Herodias, his brother’s wife.  John the Baptist was politically incorrect when he pointed out the error of Herod’s taking his brother’s wife.  Jesus likewise was politically incorrect when he answered the Pharisee’s question,  “I’m a Shammai guy:  Sexual infidelity is the meaning of “indecency” in Exodus 21.”  However, Jesus came not to abolish the law but to fulfill the law.  What then, is today’s grounds for divorce?  If a wife is abused by her husband, isn’t the wise and reasonable course of action to get out of danger?  At that point the husband has broken the commitment to love his wife.  The Roman laws about marriage and divorce in the early church were in chaos like they are today.  In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul taught the believers that “when in Rome, do NOT do as the Romans do.  Paul’s exhortation to Christians is to model the nature of Jesus Christ himself.  Willful desertion was already a condition for a certificate of divorcement in Exodus 21.  Jesus and Paul both knew the law about abuse, abandonment, and sexual immorality as marriage conditions in the Old Testament.

When there is a defiant attitude against reconciliation, the relationship will be permanently broken.  One divorce recorded in the Word of God touches all of us.  This is about the covenant that God made with his bride, the nation of Israel.  That bride was commanded to be faithful to God.  However, the nation of Israel committed adultery and turned their back on a loving God.  Jeremiah chapter 3 recounts the sad story about God’s writ of divorce against Israel because of all of her adulteries.  However God always makes a way of redemption and reconciliation.  God’s divorce workshop was the Cross of Calvary.  Hosea 2:19-20 is the prophecy about the future reconciliation or the Lord with Israel:  I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion, I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD.

As Christians, we have all divorced our hearts from our Lord.  In this respect we are all adulterers.  However, God keeps reconciling us back to himself.  For if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and forgive us from all unrighteousness.  To reconcile with God we must meet our Lord at the foot of the cross.  Ephesians 5 says, “husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.”  To reconcile with our wives, we must likewise meet each other at the foot of the cross. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.  For he who knew no sin was made the perfect sin sacrifice on our behalf that we may be made the righteousness of God in him.

May God richly bless you!

Your brother in Christ,