January 31, 2010

Sermon on the Mount, #10

Divorce, Matthew 5:31, 32.

Our Lord does not deal with abstract thoughts and emotional, fuzzy faith. He is very practical, dealing with actual problems encountered by the fallen nature. He has dealt with anger, and now he deals with lust. The problems are still the same today as he dealt with so many years ago. Lust leads to immorality of all kinds, which leads to destroyed homes and societies.

Marriage in scripture is a voluntary union of a man and a woman in wedlock according to the customs of the land. Even though marriages in scripture were very commonly arranged, mutual consent was first obtained (Isaac and Rebeka). But divorce, or the dissolution of a marriage, did not require mutual consent.

Now the Lord deals with the prevailing thought of his day concerning divorce. In order to better understand the Lord's words concerning divorce here in Matthew, we need to look a little at the historical context of the situation which He is addressing.

Alfred Edersheim tells us that there were two schools of thought on this subject in Christ's day, both based in Deuteronomy 24:1-4.

1 ¶ When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness [filthiness, Geneva] 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 hate 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; 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.

(From The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Erdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich., part two, pg. 333-335)

As the Hebrews paid a stipulated price for the privilege of marrying (the dowery, normally equal to three years income for the man), they seemed to consider divorce the natural result of making a payment of that kind. The payment, in the mind of the time, meant liberty to exercise a very arbitrary power over their wives, and to renounce or divorce them whenever they chose. However, women were not given the same "liberty," which was often injurious to both parties.

There were two prevalent schools of thought in Christ's day. The Jewish doctors of law differed wildly on meaning of "some uncleanness."

One took the expression of v.1, "some uncleanness" as the margin reads, "matter of nakedness (matter of shame)," and applied it only to an actual act of immorality. According to this school of thought, even a wife as wicked as Ahab's wife could not be divorced unless she was unfaithful to her husband in adultery.

In a case like this, the husband is left at the mercy of the wife: she can do as she pleases with no regard for any kind of responsibility to God, to her husband or to her family. She could do as she pleased, short of adultery, and there would be nothing the husband could do about it. He is bound to her as surely as to a ball and chain.

This thinking seems to prevail among many Bible Believing Christians today. I have heard of pastors who insist that a woman and her children must remain in a very abusive situation as long as her husband does not commit adultery.

The logical result is that either the husband or wife must give their spouse free reign to do as he or she pleases, as long as immorality is not involved.

The other school of though was very similar to what we have today in no-fault divorce laws. It took the words "matter of nakedness (matter of shame)" in the widest possible sense.

Here were some grounds for divorce according to the second thinking:

1) a wife spoiled her husband's dinner, or even over-salted his food.

2) the phrase find no favor in his eyes implied it was sufficient grounds for divorce if a man found another woman, even another man's wife, more attractive than his wife.

3) divorce was possible if the wife transgressed the law of Moses or transgressed the traditions of the elders in the slightest, or if she failed to tithe, or failed to set apart the first of the dough, or violated the laws of purification.

4) if she went into public with her head uncovered, spun in public, entered into talk with men, or even spit,

5) if she brawled or spoke disrespectfully of her husband's parents in his presence.

6) if she caused trouble or quarreled, she could be sent away.

7) a bad reputation, or even childlessness for ten years, was considered grounds for divorce.

These were the two extreme schools of thought concerning divorce in Christ's day. One school maintained that adultery alone could justify divorce. The other maintained that the husband was permitted to divorce his wife for any cause, no matter how trivial. Both were contrary to God's law.

We see that divorce was as corrupt in Christ's day as much if not more than it is today. Remember our Lord's words to the woman at the well? John 4:18, For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.

In the few decades before the fall of both the Grecian and the Roman empires, women kept tab of the number of their divorces by the number of rings they wore on their fingers. Lots of rings, lots of divorces.

When I went to Linden, the church had a Christian school. I took the school man, Charles Yager, visiting with me when we visited north of town. We met a man who had been married 5 times. He said he would keep getting married until he found happiness.

There seems to be as many teachings about divorce as there are teachers. But what does God's word say?

We will examine the Old Testament grounds for divorce, and follow that into the New Testament. There seems to be a good number of Old Testament details, so we will not hurry, or it will become quite confusing.

There is an astounding number of divorces each year, and the ratio of saved and unsaved divorces is about the same. In other words, modern Christianity does not hold marriage together any better than does the pagan understanding of marriage. I think the problem today is the corrupt meaning that has been given to love.

Even though the Lord preached a sermon on divorce here on the mount, He was confronted with the issue of divorce again in Matthew 19:3-9. We will deal with Divorce from chapter 19. In both instances, the reference is to the law of Moses as found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4.

Matthew 19:3...

1) to put away his wife for every cause, v. 3. The question in Matthew 19, is not is divorce allowed? Rather, the question is upon what grounds did Moses allow divorce?

2) we see again that the Lord's words in Deuteronomy 24, Matthew 5 and Matthew 19 are directed to the men.

Evidently, one of the sins Christ is confronting as He said, but I say unto you in Matthew 5:31, is that the men were misusing Deuteronomy 24 for their own personal pleasure. They were giving their wives bills of divorce when they no longer pleased their husbands, or the husband saw another woman whom he wanted. (A writing of divorcement -- saying that she had indeed been his wife at one time, but she was no longer his wife.)

Furthermore, under the teachings of the day, it was not the law of God that determined the grounds for sending her away. Rather, the husband was the sole judge as to whether his wife should be put away.

3) The Lord changed nothing of the basic law concerning divorce. In v. 4, he said, Have you not read? He accused these Pharisees of not knowing the Old Testament Scriptures concerning divorce. Accordingly, everything that is taught in the New Testament must be understood in the context of the Old. Did not Christ himself rebuke two of the Apostles for not understanding that everything he taught and did was based in the Law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms? Luke 24:44.

The corruption of the word of God today by godly men is because of ignorance of the Law, Prophets and of the Psalms.

4) V. 3, the reason for the question was to tempt Christ, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? With this question, it seems that these Pharisees were on the "adultery only" side of the argument, and sought to get Christ to side with them against the "no-fault" side.

Vv. 4-6, rather than taking sides, our Lord appealed to the written word of God as He originally intended it to be by quoting Genesis 1:27 & 2:23-25.

V. 7, the Pharisees who were tempting him answered: "Well, if this is true that God commanded the two are now one, then why did Moses command to give a bill of divorcement? This seems to be a contradiction."

V. 8, our Lord answered, "Moses did not command divorce; he tolerated it because of hardness of your heart in sin."

The separation of the unity of marriage had not been provided for originally by God, but because of sin and the hardness of men's hearts, provision was made for separation and divorce.

Divorce is God's answer to the hardness of sin within the marriage union. Divorce was provided by God to protect the innocent God-fearing party in the marriage.

Divorce is given in the context of one spouse trying to serve and please God, while the other is going his or her own way in rebellion against God. The rebellion and sin is against God, not against one's spouse.

Deuteronomy 24:1, the uncleanness must be defined by the Law-Word of God, not by any man. Thus, divorce was a provision which God made to protect the godly from the ungodly within the marriage union.

Those who say that only the physical act of adultery permits divorce, would leave an innocent party at the mercy of the ungodly in a marriage.

Divorce was not provided Moses and the Law, which was given to deal with the sin problem.

Moses placed great emphasis upon family law, and spoke primarily to the man. All of society is built around the man's responsibility toward God, whether in his family or in his society. God's law speaks particularly to the man as the head of the family and the head of society. By speaking to the head, every one under that head is covered in the commands given to the man. These divorce laws were given to the man, but they also cover the woman.

The Old Testament gives four permissible types of separation, or divorce, which permitted the innocent party to remarry without guilt.

First, Exodus 21:10, 11:

10 If he take him another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her raiment, and recompense of her virginity. 11 And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free, paying no money.

In this case, a father sold his daughter to a master with the intent that she would be the wife of the master or to his son. If the master did not fulfill his pledge, the girl was freed, and the sale price was not returned.

Paul brought this law forward in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, and in 1 Timothy 5:8:

But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.

Thus, if the husband did not provide for his wife as required by law, she was free to go. Notice here that the woman is the one with the freedom to go. The Pharisees did not refer to this law, but they did to Deuteronomy 24. This law of freedom was not to their advantage.

Second, Deuteronomy 7:1-3:

1 When the Lord thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and shall root out many nations before thee: the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou, 2 And the Lord thy God shall give them before thee, then thou shalt smite them: thou shalt utterly destroy them: thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor have compassion on them, 3 Neither shalt thou make marriages with them, neither give thy daughter unto his son, nor take his daughter unto thy son.

It is given again in Exodus 34:12-16, and brought into the New Testament by Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:14-16 where the word of God prohibits marriage between the saved and unsaved.

In Ezra 10:1-5, the people of God married heathen wives. Ezra demanded that they put away their strange wives. Paul developed this law further in 1 Corinthians 7:10-16. Paul gives those instructions in the context of a couple already married, and then one is converted. There are no allowances made in Scripture for missionary dating nor missionary marriage.

The two are married, and then one is converted. Conversion is not a reason to depart from the unconverted. Rather, the converted is to remain with the unconverted as far as is possible, unless and until the unconverted's rebellion against God gets out of hand.

I have noticed that a converted wife and an unconverted husband works out much better than a converted husband and an unconverted wife.

I have met Christians, particularly women, who marry an unconverted person, and then complain that things are bad. There are no Scriptures that address that situation where one willingly and knowingly went into that unscriptural situation. It is almost like God say, "You made your bed, now lie in it."

However there is mercy in repentance, but that is not our study now.

Also, marriage between near kin was not forbidden until Moses. Then any relations between close kin became sin, Leviticus 18:6-23.

Third type of divorce was and is terribly corrupted. As we saw in Deuteronomy 24:1-6, the tradition of the elders permitted divorce if the husband found no pleasure in his wife. Human nature greatly abuses this ground for divorce.

Fourth type is in Deuteronomy 25:5-10 (Mat 22:24). It is by far the most common type of separation of a husband and wife: the death of a spouse.

Under this point, if one marriage partner is dead, the other is free. No matter how the death occurred, other than one murdering the other, the surviving partner is free to remarry. So also today; if a person's spouse is dead, the living is no longer bound to any kind of marriage vows to that dead person.

Death left the living free to remarry, the next day if one so desired..

Now some boring details that I will avoid.

Under the Old Testament law, there were 19 sins which required death. They included adultery, rape, incest, sodomy, murder, bestiality, witchcraft, kidnaping and many other things. So when the sinning partner was put to death for his sin, the innocent partner was free of the guilty person and free to remarry.


1. all of man's activities are in relationship to God's law. Therefore, any and all divorce is in relationship to God's standard of holiness, not to man's:

1 Peter 1:13 Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: 15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16 Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. 17 And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear:

2. Deuteronomy 24:1-4, assumes that the husband loves the law of the Lord, and is seeking to obey God. Thus, the woman of Deuteronomy 24, who found no favor in her husband's eyes was stubbornly going her own way in violation to her husband's stand in God's holiness.

Because the husband is trying to serve the Lord, and she steadfastly resists and rebells against his desire to serve God, her rebellion is against God and Him alone. All rebellion must be considered in terms of the word of God, not in terms of what pleases another.

Psalms 51:4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

Matthew 19:8, because of the hardness of your heart, divorce is permitted as part of the sinful order of man, just as self-defense war is permitted. Divorce is in relationship to God's standard of holiness, just as godly war can only be waged in relationship to God's standard of holiness. There probably has not been a godly cause for war since the war of Northern Aggression, as the South fought the invaders.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4 does not give the sinful man the right to do as he pleases, especially with his wife. It is not an excuse to justify ungodly desires. Rather, it must be viewed as protection for God's word and as protection for godly individuals within the marriage.

Death in the New Testament.

As we know, the church is not permitted to carry out the death penalty; the power of the sword was given exclusively to the state. Yet the church is required to treat a person as a dead person who continues on in sins which are worthy of death: 1 Corinthians 5:9-11, and 2 Thessalonians 3:14, And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.

The person's hardness in his sin costs him his relationship with the living.


Consider this: the marriage partner who continues in rebellion against God... Does his or her hardness of heart make him "dead" in God's eyes? Just because civil government doesn't put him to death, does this make him any less guilty and no longer under God's death penalty?

It follows then that if the guilty party is hardened in his sin, if he is standing against God and godliness, and if he refuses to turn from his sin, then he, or she, is scripturally dead. This gives the innocent party who is trying to live holy the right before God, just cause for divorce and remarriage.

Again, remember that marriage between the converted and unconverted is forbidden, so this is marriage between two unconverted people, and one gets converted, or marriage between to supposedly converted people, and one turns out to not be what he or she claimed to be.

My own son-in-law claimed to be converted, or I would not have allowed the marriage. It turned out he was unconverted. Jessica stayed with him, and he was converted about 8 years ago while we still lived in Indiana.

In other words, the sodomite is under God's death penalty. It is becoming far too common to hear of a husband leaving his wife for a man. Therefore, the wife has every Biblical right to divorce him and remarry.

Deuteronomy 24:1ff, some uncleanness... Obviously, the uncleanness is in terms of the law of God, not in terms of man's desires.

Deuteronomy 24 also prohibits a divorced woman who married another man from going back to her first husband. It is an abomination before God, and causes the land to sin.

Rather than ware you out with details, I will just give some Old Testament references where God used Deuteronomy 24.

God used Deuteronomy 24:1-4 as his lawful justification for divorcing Judah in Ezekiel 16 and 23

In both Isaiah 50 & Jeremiah 3, the Lord tells us why he divorced Israel. His divorce was according to Deuteronomy 24.

Note that if Jehovah God divorced His Old Testament wife for her sin, then the New Testament wife of our Lord is not immune to chastising and purifying, Hebrews 10:26-31; 12:29.

Thus we see that God's law not only permitted, but assumed that divorce was a means of dealing with those hardened in sin. By refusing to return to her husbands' godly authority, the woman lost his protection and provision, and was given to the vicious world around her.

God's law in this area of divorce is not "one way." The list of sins deserving the death penalty has two sides to it, but the man's list is much longer than the woman's. Furthermore, the woman who must separate from her husband because of his hardness in sin has the Lord as her Husband as she seeks to obey God.

Thus we see that the "uncleanness" of Deuteronomy 24:1 is not restricted to physical adultery; rather, it refers to hardness in sin as compared to God's law; God divorced Israel and Judah because they refused to turn from their sin.

As we consider God's divorcement of Israel and Judah based upon Deut 24, we must also keep in mind the tremendous patience He had toward them. He give them several hundreds of years to turn, but when He saw that they would not, He divorced them.

The above may sound kind of harsh, but before you jump to that conclusion, hear me out on the third part of this message.


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