***This is the second article in a series. They are written to build upon one another. If you have not read the first article, please read it here and then come back to this one***
I dare say that there is not a person who will read this writing who has not felt the pain of divorce in one way or another. Perhaps you have gone through a divorce, or your parents, or a close friend. Divorce’s sting tends to affect us all. Which sometimes makes discussing these issues difficult. However, personal experiences and the emotions that go along with them are not the only things that make these topics difficult.
The fact that we sometimes tend to use the Bible as a resource book, (when we have a question, we search a keyword and read a few verses looking for the answer) can impact/distort our understanding of the narrative of scripture. Before we jump right to “what does the Bible say about my situation?” We need to walk through the story of scripture together on the topic, so that we feel the weight of the fall. Before we jump to a discussion of the words of Jesus or Paul in the NT, we must see what the world developed into, leading up to their discussions.
We covered in our first article, what God’s design was for marriage. One man was joined to one woman, and they were to “hold fast” to each other (Gen 2:24). Something terrible happened in the very next chapter of the Bible. Sin entered the world.
The world was no longer pure. The earth was now going to be hard to work. Pain and death were now a normal part of life on this planet. Where there used to be peace, now there was strife. Along with all the other corruption, marriage was also under attack.
Polygamy was a common sight in the Old Testament. We don’t make it very far (Gen 4) before we read of Lamech (a descendant of Cain) who had two wives. You are no doubt aware of the fact that many of our Bible heroes had multiple wives.
Perhaps the most infamous was King Solomon. 1 Kings 11:3 states that He had 700 wives and 300 concubines! Most other men we read about were not anywhere close to that, as this is certainly an extreme example. One thing is clear, people were a long ways away from the “one flesh” relationship that God designed in Genesis 2.
Not only do we see polygamy as fairly commonplace in our reading of the OT, but we also see that unfaithfulness to one’s spouse was rampant as well. Not only was sexual unfaithfulness not tolerated by God, it was condemned in the strongest possible way. Consider the writing in the law…
Deuteronomy 22:22 ESV
22 “If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.
Scripture refers to sexual unfaithfulness to a spouse as “evil”. Unfortunately, so many within our world today have experienced this evil firsthand. Under the old law, notice what the punishment would be for someone who was caught in this sin… death. The mere fact that there was a law concerning this punishment lets us know that this was a problem that had already been taking place.
Not only do we see countless examples of polygamy, (even by men after God’s own heart), and unfaithfulness in the Old Testament, but we also see divorce. Perhaps one of the most well known OT texts concerning divorce is found in Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy 24:1–4 (ESV)
1 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, 2and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, 3 and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.
Let’s spend a few moments examining this text together.
“When a man” – Lets us know that Moses is not commanding divorce. Moses is simply describing a situation that was already happening in culture. Moses was not commanding divorce for any reason, rather he was giving some restrictions to a practice that was already taking place.
“Some indecency”– Countless volumes have been written concerning what exactly is meant by “some indecency”. Some assert that what Moses was speaking about was sexual unfaithfulness. This thinking is brought on by the meaning of the Hebrew word עֶרְוָה ʿěr·wā(h),and it’s association with nakedness. Others believe that Moses was not likely referring to sexual unfaithfulness because in Deut 22:22 of the same book, Moses wrote that those who are sexually unfaithful should be put to death. This phrase is a little ambiguous and has caused great difficulty not only in our minds as we attempt to study it, but as we will see when we get into the NT, it caused a great deal of debate amongst the Jewish leaders. We will delve into this more in future articles, but for now, let’s stay focused on what Moses was saying.
“another man’s wife”– Regardless of what was meant by “some indecency”, what is clear is that in this scenario that Moses was describing, this woman who had the certificate of divorce (which freed and protected her from her first husband) is now another man’s wife. Moses, then continues the scenario to get to his point.
“Then her former husband” – In this woman’s new marriage it ends tragically. Either by divorce or death. The reason for the end of this marriage is not important, because that isn’t the point Moses was making. The point that Moses was making is that if a man divorces his wife, and then she goes and marries someone else, and then that marriage ends for one reason or another, the first husband cannot get her back.
Why was Moses writing this? Moses was not writing a command to divorce. Moses was not writing reasons for marriages to end. Rather, Moses was making it plain that if a man divorced his wife and she became another man’s wife and then that second marriage ended either by divorce or by death the first husband could not take her back.
Not only do we read of polygamy, sexual unfaithfulness, and divorce in the OT, but we also read about abuse. The same Moses who wrote Deuteronomy 24:1-4 also wrote Exodus 21.
Exodus 21:7-11 details a common practice of the day. Women were often sold as slaves, and sometimes those slaves became wives or concubines. This text describes something that was common practice. A man would buy a slave woman, and this woman would become the wife of his son. Sometimes then, the son would find a new wife. Perhaps one that he found to be more attractive, or more pleasing in one way or another. Now, not only does he have two wives, but he would begin to neglect and mistreat his first wife. By diminishing her food, clothing, and “marital rights” , (V.10). This practice was apparently commonplace enough that it warranted a law being written to prevent men abusing their wives by neglecting them when they found someone else. God protects these slave/wives by saying that if their husband diminished their food, clothing, or marital rights they could go out for nothing, meaning they would not need payment for their freedom from being a slave-wife. They would be free from their husband.
What we have seen so far is that God had a beautiful design for one man and one woman to become one flesh, and to hold fast to each other for life. Then, sin entered the world. Like everything else that was pure and holy, we see the stains of sin on the marriages of the Bible. We see polygamy, unfaithfulness, divorce, and abuse. God never wanted it to be this way.
There may be someone who is reading this in pain. Your pain. Real pain. I want you to know that you are not alone. God Himself knows the sting of divorce (Jeremiah 3:8-10). As we continue our study of this topic, it is my prayer that you will find direction and healing for your soul.