What God Has To Say About Divorce
February 15, 1998
Valentine’s Day was yesterday. That’s the time set aside when we are supposed to celebrate our love for each other, but especially for spouses to celebrate the unique God-given nature of their love for each other. Whoever invented Valentine’s Day must have known that it takes effort to keep that love relationship alive and on track. It is not that we don’t want our marital love to be alive and vibrant, but that so much routine and familiarity sets in that we can begin to lose it before we know it is gone. We need to renew the special recognition of our marriage partner who is one with us in in body and in spirit. We need to wrap a few more cords of love around those frayed heartstrings and realize that when we love our spouse, we love ourselves.
Joan and I were at the Great Lakes Naval Base on Monday and I bought her a rose at the base exchange store. It is the fullest, most beautiful, fragrant, deep colored red rose I have ever seen. It absolutely stood out from all the rest. I knew this rose was for her. It has been full of life all week. And on her card yesterday morning I wrote of her likeness to that rose. She said she read it 5 or 6 times. Men, your helpmates need to hear they are worth everything it might cost you. They need to see Jesus in you. I think that he surely loves us like that. It amazes me. It needs to amaze your spouse too.
But sometimes things go wrong. There is sin in all of us that sometimes seems to get the upper hand. How many married couples here have ever been tempted to speak or think of the “D” word? I’m sure most, if not all. If you stayed together, what held you together? Was it the love of God, the power of God, the command of God? But we are weak, we fail, we just plain mess up. What God intended to be beautiful gets ugly. We get in the way of his plan. We get selfish and cry, “What about me?” The grass starts to look greener elsewhere. But there is a fence to cross and it is full of barbed wire. It is the barbed wire of divorce, and once you are tangled in it, you never heal all the way. It lashes out at everyone around you and those who are the closest get hurt the most. God help the children! What about them? Abortion before birth is a tragedy. Abortion as a growing child is a monstrosity.
We have heard many statistics about the divorce epidemic in our country. Some say there have been gains. Others say we are losing ground. I don’t think we need to belabor the statistics. But there does seem to be little support to keep marriages intact these days. In fact, divorce has become such a problem that it increasingly plays into the reluctance of couples to even take the step of marriage these days. We all know it is a bad scene. And I think we all know that God doesn’t like it. Some families have become so mixed up it becomes mind boggling to sort out who belongs to who or who begat what. The cultural press can confuse our theology. But lest we fall into the trap of so many who end up divorced, even in the church of all places, let us be reminded of what God’s Word says on the subject, even if it may be to help someone else in their time of need. Certainly there has been confusion all along or God wouldn’t have written anything about it. Divorce then, as now, is a fact of sin and of life in a sinful world.
If you have been hurt by divorce, been a child of divorce, or are considering it, this may be a painful topic for you. But even though God’s Word may hurt, it is ultimately intended to heal. Men and women may fail but Christ will not. You see, Christ is the perfect lover of our souls who will never leave us nor forsake us. If we are his by faith, he has made a new covenant with us that he will never break.
Jer. 31:31 "The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the LORD.
33 "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
In fact, he promises to reveal more and more of himself to us.
1Cor. 13:12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
And he does this even though he knows all about us because he loves us.
Eph. 1:3 ¶ Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love
5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will--
6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace
8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.
But now let us take a look at a somewhat chronological model of what God has to say about marriage and divorce.
1. What God had to say through Himself by way of creation.
Since God created everything in perfection, we need to take a look at the original model of the marriage relationship just to remind ourselves of the potential.
Gen. 2:18 ¶ The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."
19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.
20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.
21 ¶ So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh.
22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23 The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman, 'for she was taken out of man."
24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
25 The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
God made Adam wait for his helpmate. He saw all the other animals and named them. There was none for him. This educated him. By the time Eve dawned on him, he knew what it was all about. He wanted what he saw, and he saw what God gave him. If you had never seen a woman, do you think you’d know what it was when you saw it? I think so. And Adam knew she was special delivery. What a picture of the “one flesh” principle of marriage. God “cloned” Eve right out of Adam’s side. She could really say, “God made me for you.” And he could really say, “God made you for me.” She was his bones and his flesh. If Adam were to care for himself, surely he would care for his wife. The first marriage was a union formed by God when He brought Eve to Adam. He split Adam in two in order to make him one. When Adam looked at Eve, he saw a refinement of his own life. When Eve looked at Adam, she saw the strength of hers.
She was a personal gift from God, and “for this reason” the man would cherish this gift apart from all others. Can you imagine society in the Garden without sin where all people would be naked without shame? There would be no sexual sin, and no thought for any other than your mate would ever enter your mind. Each one would have eyes only for the one unique gift of God given to each one. God’s plan was monogamy in flesh and in spirit.
But because God made mankind morally neutral, that is yet without sin but able to make free choices to sin, things began to unravel because mankind made those choices.
2. What God had to say through Moses by way of correction.
So God set up some rules about what He expected.
Ex 20:14 "You shall not commit adultery.
Le 18:20 "'Do not have sexual relations with your neighbor's wife and defile yourself with her.
Le 20:10 ¶ "'If a man commits adultery with another man's wife-- with the wife of his neighbor-- both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.
Le 21:7 "'They must not marry women defiled by prostitution or divorced from their husbands, because priests are holy to their God.
Le 21:14 He must not marry a widow, a divorced woman, or a woman defiled by prostitution, but only a virgin from his own people,
De 5:18 "You shall not commit adultery.
De 22:22 If a man is found sleeping with another man's wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.
De 22:23 If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her,
De 22:24 you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death-- the girl because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man's wife. You must purge the evil from among you.
De 22:28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered,
De 22:29 he shall pay the girl's father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.
De 24:1 ¶ If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house,
De 24:2 and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man,
De 24:3 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,
De 24:4 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.
In God’s Law, divorce for marital unfaithfulness was never a problem. The penalty was death which took care of any divorce proceedings. Also note here that being pledged to be married is the same as being married. In the Jewish culture, divorce may be more applicable to the period of betrothal than to after the marriage is consumated. All these things tell us that God expects purity. And where God seems to give His permissive will regarding divorce, it is still for the cause of purity. God also says that this type of sin defiles the land because it defiles the people who live on it. God doesn’t want mixed up families and he set down rules to set the record straight.
3. What God had to say through the prophets by way of condemnation.
God cares so much about the purity of our families because it pictures the family relationship He desires with us. God not only corrected us by setting down the Law (so we could not say we didn’t know what He expected of us), but he also sent the prophets to condemn whenever the Law became generally ignored. The prophets attempted to stir reason and emotion to get people to follow the ways of God.
Jer 3:1 ¶ "If a man divorces his wife and she leaves him and marries another man, should he return to her again? Would not the land be completely defiled? But you have lived as a prostitute with many lovers-- would you now return to me?" declares the LORD.
Jer 3:6 ¶ During the reign of King Josiah, the LORD said to me, "Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there.
Jer 3:7 I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it.
Jer 3:8 I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery.
Jer 3:9 Because Israel's immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood.
Jer 3:14 "Return, faithless people," declares the LORD, "for I am your husband. I will choose you-- one from a town and two from a clan-- and bring you to Zion.
Mal 2:14 You ask, "Why?" It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.
Mal 2:15 Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.
Mal 2:16 "I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel, "and I hate a man's covering himself with violence as well as with his garment," says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.
It can be said here that God divorced the northern kingdom of Israel because of irreconcilable adultery, and because of that adultery she was stoned to death by the Assyrian captivity. The warning is to the southern kingdom of Judah for the same (but not quite as entrenched) unfaithfulness, but God offers reconciliation. God allows His mercy to supercede even His own Law. This is the purpose of God throughout Scripture, not to destroy but to restore. This He did with Judah when He brought her back from the Babylonian captivity. It was a disciplinary separation, a “wake up” call if you will. God hates divorce just like He hates sin. He would much rather that we be faithful. We see the great lengths he went to in Hosea to picture for Israel how He would take her back in spite of adultery if she would repent.
4. What God had to say through Jesus by way of clarification.
We can truly see the heart of God in the ministry of Jesus. The people of the day questioned him and tested him about this issue of divorce, perhaps trying to cross him up with the same issue that got John Baptist imprisoned. But instead of answering on the basis of Law, Jesus answered on the basis of creation, a higher law, the highest moral value. His effect was to clarify God’s intent for us in marriage not by legality but by spirituality. It was to be permanent. And even if you believe Jesus taught that divorce for adultery was permissible (and it may not be the correct interpretation - the only place we see the exception clause is in Matthew who wrote to the Jews), he made it clear that divorce causes and promotes adultery. He taught that with the possible exception of divorce for adultery, any divorced person who remarries becomes an adulterer, and any man who marries a divorced woman is an adulterer taking another man’s wife (a woman marrying a divorced man is not mentioned for accountability - probably because of the principle of male headship). The reason marrying a divorced person is adultery is because God doesn’t recognize the divorce. The relationship is more important than the individual. Love in marriage boils down to a decision.
The basic issue is remarriage. If you divorce, you remain single, or else reconcile the marriage, except in possible case of adultery. And certainly, divorce is not commanded in case of adultery. Forgiveness for the repentant sinner is the higher moral law. This would stop a lot of divorces. The better option is a disciplinary separation for purpose of later reconciliation rather than a legal separation of divorce. This too is the purpose of church discipline, when necessary.
In God’s eyes, marriage is a covenant like he has made with us. In fact, the marriage vows are not made to the spouse, but to God.
Mt 5:31 "It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.'
Mt 5:32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.
Mt 19:3 ¶ Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?"
Mt 19:4 "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,'
Mt 19:5 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'?
Mt 19:6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
Mt 19:7 "Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?"
Mt 19:8 Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.
Mt 19:9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."
Mr 10:3 "What did Moses command you?" he replied.
Mr 10:4 They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away."
Mr 10:5 "It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied.
Mr 10:6 "But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.'
Mr 10:7 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,
Mr 10:8 and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one.
Mr 10:9 Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
Mr 10:10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this.
Mr 10:11 He answered, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.
Mr 10:12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery."
Lu 16:18 "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
5. What God had to say through the apostles by way of completion.
These issues are greatly expanded upon by the apostle Paul as he applies them to the church. Basically he says the only release from the marriage vow is death, he amplifies the “one flesh” principle while also teaching male headship, however he teaches mutual submission, and he says divorce is not permissible. Even in cases of an unequal yoke between a believer and an unbeliever, he does not permit remarriage even though he permits separation. His bottom line is reconciliation and sanctification.
Ro 7:2 For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage.
Ro 7:3 So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man.
1Co 6:9 ¶ Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders
1Co 6:10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
1Co 6:11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
1Co 6:15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!
1Co 6:16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, "The two will become one flesh."
1Co 6:17 But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.
1Co 7:4 The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.
1Co 7:10 ¶ To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband.
1Co 7:11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.
1Co 7:12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her.
1Co 7:13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.
1Co 7:14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
1Co 7:15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.
1Co 7:16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
1Co 7:27 Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife.
1Co 7:39 ¶ A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.
1Co 11:11 In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.
1Co 11:12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.
Eph 5:22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.
Eph 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.
Eph 5:24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Eph 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
Eph 5:26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,
Eph 5:27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
Eph 5:28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
Eph 5:29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church--
Eph 5:30 for we are members of his body.
Eph 5:31 "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh."
Eph 5:32 This is a profound mystery-- but I am talking about Christ and the church.
Eph 5:33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
The only exception I can see in Scripture for remarriage after a divorce while the spouse is still living is in case that spouse sins by remarrying, which would free the remaining spouse (Dt. 24:1-4). But the divorce itself promoted the adultery of the first spouse who remarries. There are many reasons to believe that divorce itself is adultery unless it is for cause of adultery.
How seriously do we take our marriage vows? Is it truly for better or for worse until death do us part? That seems to work fine until the reality of sin hits home and we realize we married another sinner just like us. God seemed to allow divorce because of that reality, but it just compounds sin upon sin. The law was never meant to erase sin, just expose it. Christ dealt with sin by overcoming it. Christ came as the way of restoration to God and therefore to each other as he brings clarification of God’s original design. That design is through the forgiveness of sin which sets believers free to obey the intent beyond the letter of the law by a new covenant where that law is written on our hearts. It is a law of love. Christ erases sin and heals marriages. If you or anyone you know is struggling with this today, I pray that hearts will soften and love will prevail. Your spiritual life depends on it. Divorce is never good, for it witnesses to a failure of the divine purpose. May God’s divine purpose be completed in you by our Bridegroom from heaven. He will never divorce you. I’m certain that He will mind his own teaching.
If your marriage is in trouble, remember Ez. 37:1-6, and that with God all things are possible.