As I’m sure you know by now, we are studying together the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew chapter 5, specifically in connection with an ongoing study of the entire Gospel of Matthew. We thank the Lord for what He has already taught us, and for our lesson tonight we come again in Matthew 5:31 and 32. And the Lord says, “It hath been said, ‘Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement.’ But I say unto you that whosoever shall put away his wife, except for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery, and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.”
Obviously, the theme of our Lord’s words are divorce, remarriage, and adultery. And you know as well as I do that these are major factors in the society in which we live today. In a recent issue of Newsweek magazine that came out on June 11th, 1979, there is an article in the segment called “My Turn” by Suzanne Britt Jordan. And I thought the article was interesting because it was on divorce, and what she said fascinated me. Let me read you some excerpts.
She writes, “My friends, after 18 years of marriage, are getting a civilized divorce. I object. I think people should be upset about so serious a thing as divorce. There is a redeeming quality in the honest screech and howl that I miss in our psychoanalyzed together generation.” She goes on in the article, “My friend says that they are more like friends or brother and sister than husband and wife, and she says the marriage has no spark and no oomph. She’s very much interested in the spark business. Perhaps I was in the kitchen slinging hash when the decree went out that marriages in the twentieth century required pizzazz, romance, thrills.
“Perhaps I’ve got old-fashioned notions about this once venerable but now crumbling institution. But my insides tell me that what everybody else is doing is not necessarily right, and what folks have dumped on marriage in the way of expectations, selfish interests, and kinky kicks needs prompt removal before the marriage fortress is crushed by the barbarians. Marriage is nothing more nor less than a permanent promise between two consenting adults and often but not always under God, to cling to each other until death. It sounds pretty grim, I know, but then we have a perfect model in our children and relatives for how marriage should be viewed.
“I cannot at any time send my children back to some other womb for a fresh start. I’ve got a few cousins and aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews with whom I might like to deny kinship but I can’t, any more than I can change the color of my eyes. My parents are my parents whether I speak to them or not, in the same way the husband and wife are one flesh forever. If I divorce my husband, I am in effect cutting off part of myself. I think we have forgotten the fundamental basis of marriage, a notion that has nothing to do with moonlight and roses and my own personal wishes.
“Marriage is a partnership far more than a perpetual honeymoon, and anybody who stays married can tell you that. It may be made in heaven but it’s lived on earth. And because earth is the way it is, marriage is often irritating, hellacious, unsatisfying, boring, and shaky. I myself as a human being am not always a prize. Some days I wouldn’t have me on a silver platter. But those seekers after the perfect marriage are convinced that the spouse will display perfection. The perfect mate, despite what Cosmopolitan says, does not exist no matter how many of those tests you take.
“We have all sorts of convenient excuses for not staying married these days. In the old days, you’re probably saying, people didn’t live as long, so a spouse could safely assume his partner would kick the bucket in five or ten years, and the one still breathing could have another fling at it. Wrong. People are actually living only a few years longer than they did in the last century if they survive the childhood diseases. The reports of our increased longevity are greatly exaggerated. We are also informed that marriage should be a place where we can grow, find ourselves, and be ourselves.
“Interestingly, we cannot be entirely ourselves even with our best friends. Some decorum, some courtesy, some selflessness are demanded. As for finding myself, I think I already know where I am. I’m grown up, I have responsibilities, I am in the middle of a lifelong marriage, I’m hanging in there, sometimes enduring and sometimes enjoying. My original objection was primarily to the flippancy with which we say goodbye to a mediocre or a poor marriage. We are so selfish. We want our fun and we want it now. We value pleasure above fidelity, loyalty, generosity, and duty.
“My friends might have remained married if they had stopped clutching greedily at pleasure. The spark might have returned if they had gently fanned the fire, and even if the spark never returned, they might nevertheless have lived lovingly and patiently and kindly together. There are worse fates, not the least of which is finding another even less satisfactory second mate,” end quote.
Now, that is a unique view for our age, I would say, and I’m sure you agree with me. She doesn’t purport to be a Christian, she just has some sense of integrity about human relationships. She has a perspective on promises that seems a little foreign to our age. She sees marriage as she sees any other dimension of family life, it’s something that lasts for life. You can’t get rid of your kinship, you can’t get rid of your parents, you can’t get rid of your children, why should you get rid of your spouse?
It is refreshing to find that somebody in our society still holds to the value of a promise, still holds to commitment, still can face life with a perspective on unselfishness, and still sees those kinds of things as desirable virtues in our rotten, decaying society.
Now, I think this lady has some practical insights into the reality of true commitment. But you’ll notice that her basis for it is this sort of a deep-down sense of responsibility to marriage, and although that is a great and admirable basis for wanting marriage to stay together, there is a far greater one than that. The greatest reality substantiating the permanence of marriage is the Word of God. And the Bible goes far beyond what somebody’s gut level feeling might be, no matter how good it is or how true it is.
Suzanne Britt Jordan is right. But in reading the article, she’s right for the wrong reason. She doesn’t go far enough, to say that the reason that marriage is permanent is because God says it’s permanent. And as a creature created in the image of God, she’s tapping back to that original resource when she finds those kinds of feelings. But God is the source of the permanence of marriage. Now, the standard of Scripture upholds the permanence of marriage again and again and again. And I want you to just kind of focus with me for a minute on what God says about marriage that indicates this.
Now, we’ve talked about some things last time, but let me call your attention for a moment to Ephesians 5:22 - Ephesians 5:22 - and here we find the apostle Paul giving us God’s view of marriage and he says, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church, and he is the savior of the body.” Now, immediately we face the fact that marriage is a picture of Christ and His church. That’s obvious from verse 23 - and 22. Further, verse 24, “Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.”
Verse 25, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church.” And then he talks about that a little while and when you come down finally to verse 32, you have the sum of it, “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” In other words, marriage becomes a symbol defining for us in visible terms the relationship between Christ and His church. Now I ask you very simply: Is the relationship between Christ and His church permanent? Yes. Then it is demonstrably significant that marriage be permanent if in fact it is to reveal the truth about Christ and His church.
Verse 31 says, “This is the reason that a man should leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife, and they two should be one flesh.” And the reason it should be that way and the reason it should sustain its relationship in that way is because it is an emblem of Christ and His church. Husbands are to be as faithful as Christ is to His church, wives are to be as faithful as Christ is to the church and the church is to Christ. That is the imagery of Ephesians. And what this does, beloved - I want you to see this - is it lifts marriage out of purely the human dimension into the divine perspective.
Marriage is a symbol of the relation between Christ and His church. Marriage is not an end in itself. Now listen to this one: Marriage was not designed primarily for your happiness, it was not designed primarily for my happiness, marriage was designed primarily to be an illustration on a human level of a divine relationship. And when you lose that sense of priority in marriage and you make marriage a mundane thing that belongs only in the carnal world of the expression of personal preference, you have denuded marriage of its divine priority.
We can’t expect the world to understand this, but for God’s sake, we can expect the church to understand it. And when in one week I find four couples who claim to be Christians divorcing, then I begin to question whether Christianity has really understood its calling. And somebody even with a secular viewpoint like the writer I quoted tonight seems to have a higher standard than some of us.
In 2 Corinthians chapter 11, we would also find a passage that would lend support to this perspective. In 2 Corinthians chapter 11 and verse 1 and 2, we read, “Would to God you could bear with me a little in my folly and indeed bear with me.” In other words, “Give me the benefit of the doubt in the way I communicate with you, try to understand how deeply I feel.” Why? “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy” –why? – “for I have espoused you to one husband that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” This is again that same beautiful imagery, that a believer is united to Christ in a kind of a marriage perspective.
We find further as you read in Revelation 19, as you read again in Revelation chapter 21, the church is seen as a bride, and the city where the church dwells is seen as a bride city, and joined together with the bridegroom, Jesus Christ. And so the lovely imagery of the New Testament points up the fact that marriage is a symbol. It is a symbol. And that’s why Hebrews 13:4 says, “Marriage is honorable in all.” Why? Because its greatest honor is that it proclaims to the world that symbol of the union between Christ and His own blessed church. And as permanent and as full of love and as absolutely binding and as wonderfully unique as is Christ’s relationship to His church, so is to be your marriage and mine.
That’s why when you go right back to the very beginning, and God designed marriage in Genesis 2:23 and 24, He designed that marriage be two people becoming one for life. Even then it was to be the emblem of God’s relationship to man. That’s why in Matthew chapter 19 when they said to Him, “Well, why did Moses give us a bill of divorcement?” He replied by saying, “From the beginning it was not so.” “For what God hath joined together, let not man divorce.” And so we saw last time that this is God’s perspective. And that’s why when you come to Malachi 2:16, as we did in our last study, you hear God say, “I hate divorce.” “I hate divorce.”
I don’t care for what reason, divorce always violates that imagery God has designed for marriage as well as violating the marriage itself. Now, the Old Testament, then, lays down a standard and it never changes. Let me add this: Divorce - now get this - divorce is never God’s way to resolve a conflict. Never. That’s why God never commands divorce, and God never really condones divorce in the Bible. God knows it’ll happen, and God tries to regulate its consequences, but He never commands it because it’s never the solution.
Now, to illustrate that to you, I want you to look with me tonight to the book of Hosea, and I want us to see this marvelous prophecy. Hosea is the first of what is known as the minor prophets. Not minor because they have an unimportant message but minor simply in the sense that they’re shorter. And in fact not all of them are that much shorter since Zechariah is at least as long as Daniel. But they came under the category the minor prophets - their message is major. But Hosea is the one that I want you to look at because Hosea presents to us, I think, scripturally, the most clear view of how God sees marriage, the most clear view at least in the Old Testament, and it becomes the basis of what we are to understand as we go further in comprehending the New Testament.
Now, remember this: Marriage was never designed by God to establish or promote human happiness. Now listen to me. Human happiness - now get this - is found in a right relationship with whom? With God. And when that is right, you will be rightly related to anybody, and any marriage could work. Get that? Marriage is not the key to human happiness, God is the key to human happiness. If you’re right with God, then you can make a relationship work. Both partners, obviously, have to cooperate. But marriage was designed to illustrate God’s relationship with His church, God’s relationship in the Old Testament with His people, Israel. It is a living illustration of how a person is joined together in an unbreakable union with the living God, and it’s marvelously presented in the book of Hosea.
Let’s begin at the beginning, chapter 1, verse 1. Obviously, we can’t go through the whole thing, fourteen chapters, but some of it I want you to see. “The word of the Lord that came unto Hosea, the son of Beeri, the days of Uzzuah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, in the days of Jeroboam, the son of Joash, king of Israel.” Just a historical setting. Now, here’s the situation. There came a time when the Lord appeared to one of His servants, Hosea, and God’s design was that Hosea would become a prophet. Only the prophecy that Hosea was going to give wouldn’t just be verbal, it was verbal but it would be more than verbal, it would be exemplary or in other words, his life would become a pageant.
This is not uncommon. We know that this is the case in some of the other prophets as well. We know it from Jeremiah for sure, who made living pageants to illustrate the Word of God. Hosea is to become a dramatization. He is going to enact in his life a great drama to illustrate great spiritual truth. Now, here’s what Hosea was to do. Hosea was to marry a woman, a woman by the name of Gomer, and having married her, discover that she had become a prostitute or a harlot.
And in spite of that, he was to be faithful to his vow, no matter what the pain, no matter what the unfaithfulness, no matter what the excruciating agony, no matter what the price, he was to be faithful to his harlot, prostitute, debauched, vile wife, no matter what she did. Why? Because this was a pageant to demonstrate how faithful God would be to His wayward wife, Israel. And it sets for us the standard of relationship in a marriage as it is the image for God’s relationship to His people.
Verse 2, “The beginning of the Word of the Lord by Hosea. And the Lord said to Hosea, ‘Go, take unto thee a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land hath committed great harlotry, departing from the Lord.’” In other words, God had espoused Himself to Israel as a husband. God had taken Israel to be His wife. That was a permanent relationship. And by the way, in the future, God will yet restore that wayward wife, will He not? And draw Israel back with the cords of love, restore and save, as Romans 11 says, and bring Israel to the kingdom that He promised in the beginning.
But at this time, Hosea was to dramatize the fact that Israel had become adulterous, Israel had become a harlot, and Israel was having intercourse on a spiritual level with false gods. And so God said, “Hosea, I want a dramatization of this, I want a pageant to portray it, and I’m going to use you.” He was to live this drama, he was to play the part of the loving, faithful, forgiving God, and his wife would be the harlot.
Now, I do not believe for a moment that God forced her into her harlotries to be an illustration. I believe God worked in His sovereignty with her own will. But the heart of the story is that dear Hosea was to be faithful and forgiving, no matter what she did. In fact, as we go into the story, we find out that when she went into harlotry, he actually paid her bills because he felt so bound by the vow he had made when he married her. He followed her around, paying her bills.
Verse 3, “He went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, who conceived and bore him a son. And the Lord said unto him, ‘Call his name Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel.’” Jezreel means scattered, call his name scattered because that’s what I’m going to do to Israel. Verse 6, “And she conceived again, and bore a daughter. And God said unto him, ‘Call her name Lo-ruhamah’” - that means not pitied - “‘for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, I will utterly take them away.’” Verse 8, “Now when she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived, and bore a son. Then said God, ‘Call his name Lo-ammi for you are not my people, and I will not be your God.’” Now, you get the picture. Jezreel means scattered, Lo-ruhamah means not pitied, and Lo-ammi means not my people. Turn your back on that harlot. Turn your back on those children of harlotry.
But gratefully, the story doesn’t end here. If this were you and I we might say, “You know, I’ve got a harlot for a wife, I’ve got children” - I’m not sure that the second two were the children of Hosea at all - “and God says to reject these things. I’ve got every right to get rid of that woman, that vile prostitute, that woman of illegitimacy. Certainly I have a right to banish her from my life.” But that’s not how the story ends. Chapter 2, verse 4 says, “And I will not have mercy on her children for they are the children of harlotry.”
Leads me to believe that Hosea had every right to just chuck the whole pile of them. Turn them loose. And in a sense, if this is an illustration, it looks like God is saying goodbye to Israel, and there are some today who conclude that. There are some who say, “Well, God just turned Israel off, that’s the end, they’re done.” That’s one theological perspective. But is that how the story ends? Let’s back up to verse 2 of chapter 2 and find out.
Verse 2 of chapter 2, “Contend with your mother, contend, for she’s not my wife, neither am I her husband. Let her, therefore, put away her harlotries out of her sight, and her adulteries from between her breasts, lest I strip her naked, and set her as in the day that she was born, and make her like a wilderness, and set her like a dry land, and slay her with thirst.” That’s pretty strong stuff. “You better tell that woman to shape up or she’s a goner.” In a sense, this is God’s perspective toward Israel.
Verse 5, “For their mother hath played the harlot. She that conceived them hath done shamefully for she said, ‘I will go after my lovers that give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.’” In other words, she was a prostitute for hire. This was no infatuation with some nice guy at the office, you know? This was a business. “Therefore, behold” - verse 6 - “I will hedge up thy way with thorns, and make a wall, that she shall not find her paths.” In other words, Hosea says, “I’m going to go after her.” “And she shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them; and she shall seek them, but she shall not find them.”
He’s going to get right into her life and make it hard for her. He’s going to get right in there so she can’t accomplish what she wants to. “Then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband, for then was it better with me than now.” “I’m going to do everything I can to make it so tough on her that she’ll have to come back.” “For she didn’t know that I gave her the grain, and the wine, and the oil, and multiplied her silver and gold, which they prepared for Baal.” You know what he was doing? He was actually following this woman around in her harlotry, paying her bills. He was actually the one paying her, he was funding this, in a sense, to keep his link with her.
Amazing, amazing. “And now” - verse 10 - “I’ll uncover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and none shall deliver her out of my hand. I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons, her Sabbaths, her solemn feasts. I will destroy her vines, her fig trees, of which she said, ‘These are my rewards that my lovers have given me.’ And I will make them a forest, and the beasts of the field shall eat them.” And as you read through this - we don’t have time to go to the details, but as you read through it you see this ambivalence all the time. “I’m going to make it so hard and so miserable that she’ll turn from it, but I have a responsibility, I’m going to keep staying alongside and making sure her needs are met.”
So here, in a sense, is a husband who is chastening and judging all the while and supporting, so that she stays alive. And you see exactly this in God’s relation to Israel. God, on the one hand, is judging and chastening and dealing with Israel; on the other hand, God is the very life of the nation, right? You look at Israel today, and God is chastening the land of Israel, yet at the same time, God is the sustenance of that people. And so Hosea works with this ambivalence. A wife who is a prostitute and a harlot, and he wants so much for her to be judged and he wants so much for her to be condemned in this so she’ll return, and yet he goes along because of the vow that he has to her as a husband and he makes sure her needs are met. It’s incredible commitment.
Look down in chapter 2 at verse 22. God is going to restore Israel, and that’s the picture here. “And the earth shall hear the grain, and the wine, and the oil; and they shall hear Jezreel. And I will sow her unto me in the earth; and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them who were not my people, ‘Thou art my people,’ and they shall say, ‘Thou art my God.’” Oh, it’s great. God’s going to - God’s going to reach out and take them back. Jezreel, instead of scattered, is applied to sowing a field, and it means God sows.
Lo-ruhamah is changed to Ruhamah, which means pity. Lo-ammi is changed to Ammi, which means my people, and the one who was not my people becomes my people, the one who was not pitied is pitied, the one who was scattered is sown and shall grow. Why? Why does God do this? Why does God promise restoration to Israel? The answer’s very simple: Because God made a promise and God is a God who keeps His word, right? And if God made such a vow to Israel, then God will fulfill it. The point is God’s unchanging love for Israel is based on the permanent promise He made, which is based upon His character.
And so even though Israel became a harlot, God said, “I’ll bring her back.” Even though she bore children of harlotry, God said, “I’ll change their names.” And so it was that Hosea was to live the illustration of an adulterous wife to be brought back, to be brought back to a place of blessing.
Now, beloved, I think this is an apt picture. Since marriage is a symbol of God’s relationship to His people - and obviously so in Hosea - it is an apt symbol of how you deal with a wayward partner. In our society, one false move and you’re out. Just like it was among the Pharisees and the scribes. Is that the way God treated Israel? Do you know that God yet awaits the day when He’ll regather Israel into His arms? Is that the way Jesus dealt with the church? Have you ever failed Jesus Christ? Has He ever turned you away? Have you ever committed spiritual adultery against the One who is your bridegroom? Has He ever turned you away? Never.
Don’t you see? This is the point. This is how a Christian marriage partner is to respond. No matter what the sin, no matter what the problem, the instant reaction should be forgiveness. Here is Hosea, traipsing along behind this harlot, paying her bills. You say, “Oh, Hosea’s nuts.” I’m sure the people in his town thought he was nuts. “What kind of a guy is this? I’ve seen love, but this is stupid.” But Hosea is saying to us what God is saying, “This is how I love you, this is my heart for Israel.” And this surely is what Christ is saying, “This is my love for the church. You may run away from me, you can - you can run away from me, but you’ll never run out of my love and you’ll never run out of my relationship, and I’ll even pay your bills along the way while I’m chastening you.”
On the one hand, isn’t it amazing how in the Christian life when we sin, God sustains us on the one hand and chastens us on the other? He covers our sin on the one hand and punishes it for us on the other. So Hosea kept on loving Gomer, and he loved her and he loved her and he loved her. And finally, she sank to the pit. I mean she was so debauched that she wound up for sale on the block in the slave market. And that’s where we find her in chapter 3. “Then said the Lord unto me, ‘Go yet, love a woman beloved of her friend, yet an adulteress’” - and he is her friend, by the way, Hosea - “‘according to the love of the Lord toward the children of Israel, who look to other gods, and love cakes of raisins.” Involved in pagan activities.
“You go love her,” He says, “just like I’ve loved Israel in the midst of her harlotry.” So you know what he did? Hosea went out to the slave block and there he saw Gomer for sale, his wife, the mother of his three children. The one who had played the harlot and broken his heart again and again, the one whom he loved and followed through all of her harlotries and even payed her bills, and now she stands there for sale. Now, we know something about the slave markets in those days. Almost half the population was in slavery of one kind, and scarcely a day would ever go by when there wasn’t an auction of slaves in the city. They were sold openly in the marketplace along with all the other commodities.
So the Lord says to Hosea, “Go down to the slave market and buy your own wife.” The scene must have been something like this: Hosea walks into the market, and standing on the block is a woman, stark naked, her clothes ripped apart so that she could be personally examined by anybody who wanted to buy her. A woman debauched by multitudinous harlotries. It’s his wife, whom he loves, and the mother of his children. If ever a man has a right to divorce, he does. He could buy her and stone her is what he could do. He could claim the Old Testament law. But there is the woman of his heart.
Not only is her veil removed, which would have been enough of an embarrassment, but she’s exposed. And the bidding begins for this woman, and he bids along with everybody else for his own wife. Finally, in verse 2 he says, “So I bought her for myself for fifteen pieces of silver and a homer of barley and a half of homer of barley.” Now, that would have been a lot - a lot - a tremendous amount. You could just hear the auctioneer raising the ante, and finally somebody may have said, “Fifteen pieces of silver and a homer of barley. And Hosea said, “Fifteen pieces of silver and a homer and a half of barley,” to which the auctioneer may have replied, “Do I hear another bid? Sold.”
What happened? Verse 3, “And I said unto her, ‘Thou shalt abide with me many days; thou shalt not play the harlot, and thou shalt not be for another man’” - I love this - “‘and so will I also be for thee.” Now wait a minute, Hosea, nobody can forgive like that. The guy is saying, “I’m yours from here on.” You say, “Ugh, Hosea, you are a glutton for punishment.” But you see, there’s more here than just a man and a woman. You see, there’s God and Israel here. And that’s what I’m trying to get you to see with marriage. You have no more right, based on your promise, to chuck your partner than God has to turn you loose when you offend Him. Did you hear that?
This is the magnificence of marriage that we see in this tremendous, tremendous book. And the amazing thing about it is that it doesn’t appear that Hosea says, “I’m going to stick it out. After all, I’m a prophet, it’s my career.” I don’t get that perspective. He loved her. “Love a woman,” He says, “like I love a people.” And he says to her, “You’ll stay with me many days, filling out our lives, you’ll not play the harlot, and you’ll not be for another man.”
You know what it’s kind of like? What if you - what if you were living in 1 Corinthians, and you know the individual in 1 Corinthians who commits fornication with his father’s wife? And they say, “Turn him over to Satan that he may learn not to blaspheme.” Ladies, if that were your husband, after he’d committed his debaucheries and learned not to blaspheme, would you take him back? That’s just Hosea in reverse, for some wife.
But that’s the magnitude of the meaning of marriage. God keeps His covenant. Christ keeps His covenant. How about you in your marriage? If you ever have a thought of divorce, you’ve missed the whole point of marriage. He could have killed her and everybody would have exonerated him. He certainly could have divorced her. Well, for heaven’s sakes, he didn’t have to pay fifteen pieces of silver to buy her back. But he was an illustration of God and man, and so he did. This is a tremendously significant thing.
God makes no promises that he breaks. Christ makes no promises that he breaks. And we are to make no promises that we break. And that, beloved, is why God hates divorce. Because divorce breaks a promise in and of itself, and then it breaks the marvelous illustration of marriage pointing toward God and His people.
I want to close our thoughts in Hosea by drawing you to the fourteenth chapter - sometime we’ll have to study the whole book, it’s - absolutely phenomenal book - and let’s see how God reacts. Chapter 13, verse 14, I want to read and then we’ll look at 14. Chapter 13, verse 14, here is what God is going to do ultimately with wayward Israel, “I will ransom them from the power of sheol; I will redeem them from death. 0 death, I will be thy plagues; 0 sheol, I will be thy destruction.” In other words, God says, “I’m going to shatter her false lovers, I’m going to shatter those things that bind her, and I’m going to free Israel to be mine.”
In chapter 14, verse 4, “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely.” You know what that means? That God is able to take you back and love you as if it never - what? - happened. As if it never happened. Now, when you can love your spouse like that, and they can treat you like Gomer treated Hosea, and you can love that spouse as if it never happened, then you understand the magnitude of marriage. That’s its breadth. “For mine anger is turned away.” Verse 7, “They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive like the grain and grow like the vine; the scent of it shall be like the wine of Lebanon.”
Listen, God loved Israel so much, Hosea loved Gomer so much, Christ loves the church so much that they are faithful to the end, loving us when we’re unlovable, loving us when we’re unloving, loving us when we’re unlovely, and this is God’s standard, this is God’s pattern. And this is precisely why God says, “I hate divorce.” Now, the Jews of Jesus’ day didn’t see it that way. They missed the point of Hosea. They missed the point of Genesis. They had the perspective all messed up. And so in Matthew 5:31, Jesus confronts them, and you can look at it for just a moment.
We really, to understand it, have to go all to these other places. But remember this now. In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus is confronting the hypocritical religion of the Pharisees and the scribes and the people who followed their teaching. They believed that they were righteous enough to enter the Kingdom because they kept certain laws, but the Lord is showing them that the laws they kept were inadequate. For example, they didn’t kill, chapter 5, verse 21 Jesus says, “Yeah, but you hate in your hearts.” And they didn’t commit adultery, but Jesus says, “Yeah, you don’t commit adultery but you lust after people in your hearts.”
And then in chapter 5:31, He says, “You make sure when you divorce your wife that you get the legal paperwork done, but I’m telling you, you shouldn’t even divorce your wife. That’s the point. In other words, He is ripping off of them the cloak of self-righteousness. He is stripping them bare of their system of religion by which they convinced themselves they were clothed in the robes of the Kingdom. Now, they tolerated divorce for any reason. I mean the culture around them, the Greeks and the Romans were divorcing, you know, all the time and they just got in the swing of things, and they were putting away their wives and husbands and so forth. Jesus confronts that.
Now, we have to focus on three things to understand this passage. Number one, and this will sum up what we said last time, tonight, and next time. Number one, we have to understand the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees. Number two, we have to understand the teaching of the Old Testament, and number three, the teaching of the New Testament. And by the end of next week, next Sunday night, we’ll have summed that all up.
Now, remember the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees? Look at verse 31. We went into this last time. “It has been said.” What does that mean? Is that an Old Testament quote? No, no. That is their rabbinic tradition. That is what they have been taught. “You have heard it said this way by them of old, this is what you believe, this is your system.” “Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement.” The word “put away” simply means divorce. “Whoever divorces his wife, give her a writing of divorcement.” In other words, whoever divorces his wife has no standard.
Whoever divorces his wife for whatever, if you want to divorce her, divorce her, you know? And we talked last time about the two different schools of the rabbis who had differing views, and the one that was dominant in Jesus’ time was that you could divorce your wife for anything, didn’t matter what it was, burn the bagels, too much salt on the dinner, didn’t like her mother-in-law or she went around without a veil, or you found a prettier girl, or anything you want, just divorce her, and their view was when you do it, be sure you do the paperwork, that’s all. That was their view. “Make sure you write her a bill of divorcement.”
And, you see, they were just trying to touch base with the legal requirement that they thought they understood in Deuteronomy chapter 24. You could get a divorce for any reason you wanted. Now, we’ve got that going on today. Sure. People say - I hear this all the time, “Well, the Lord - the Lord really has given me peace about divorcing my wife.” The Lord didn’t give you peace about divorcing your wife. That’s absolutely ludicrous. That’s the same thing they were saying.
I received the following letter from a lady in our church this week. “My husband walked out in February and called two weeks later to tell me he wanted a divorce and that God had given him perfect peace about it and it was surely God’s will. He tried to convince me God allowed divorce because the feeling of love was gone and thereby we were no longer compatible. Our ex-pastor told him that if he wasn’t in love with me and saw no hope for our marriage that he ought to get a divorce, and the Christian marriage counselor told him the very same thing.” That isn’t what the Bible says; that’s what the scribes and Pharisees believed. Get a divorce, just make sure you do the paperwork.
That was consistent with their legalistic approach. And, by the way, in the Moslem countries today, in some places, all you have to do is say, “I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you,” three times and you’ve divorced your wife. That’s right. And so Jesus wants to show them this isn’t what the Bible teaches at all.
And so tonight I want you to look for just the brief time we have left - and we won’t spend a whole lot of time on it because we’re going to let you go - at the true teaching of Moses. How did they get so messed up? Now, we saw the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees; secondly, the teaching of Moses. What did Moses teach?
Go back to Deuteronomy 24. I want you to see four verses, the only place in the Old Testament that they went to as a source for the subject of divorce. Let’s look at it, Deuteronomy 24:1. Now, I want to read it in the King James version because it points up the problems that the King James has and then we’ll try to show you how we can straighten it out. By the way, the Jews interpreted it this way, too. “When a man’s taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he found some uncleanness in her; then let him write her a bill of divorcement, give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.
“And when she’s departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife. And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand and send her out of the house; or if the latter husband die, who took her to be his wife, her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after 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.”
Now, that’s the text, and the problem is: What does it mean? Very crucial to understand it. It has been misinterpreted by Jews, it has been misinterpreted by Christians, and everybody’s been confused as a result of it. Now, remember this. From the beginning, God hates what? Divorce. So you’re not going to find a section in the Bible where God says, “Now, if you find something wrong with your wife, write her a bill of divorce.” I mean that would be totally inconsistent with what God says elsewhere. That would not match up with Malachi 2, it would not match up with the book of Hosea, it would not match up with Genesis 2:23 and 24, would not match up with Matthew 19, it would not match up with Mark chapter 10. So we’ve got to look at it from another angle.
Now, God hates divorce is the bottom line. What, then, is Moses doing with this bill of divorcement here? And why did our Lord mention that Moses gave a bill of divorcement in Matthew 19? Let me hasten to say this. The bill of divorcement or the writing of divorcement - I want you to get this - was not designed by God, okay? It was not designed by God. We don’t find that anywhere in the Bible. God did not invent it, God did not prescribe it, God did not command it. Jesus only recognized that it existed. That’s different.
And to just point that out to you, listen to this, Matthew 19:7, just listen. Here come the scribes and Pharisees. Listen to what they say. “Why did Moses” - now listen to this. “Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement and divorce her?” Now wait a minute. Why did Moses command? Here was Jesus’ reply, “He said unto them, ‘Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce, but from the beginning it was not so.’” In other words, it’s not a command, it was simply a permission based on your sinfulness. Big difference, right? Nowhere does God command somebody to get a divorce.
And then He went on to say, “What God has joined together, let no man divorce.” God’s design was no divorce, God prohibited divorce, God hated divorce. However, God knew in a cursed world where sin existed and relationships were strained because of the curse itself that divorce would be a reality, and so God simply permitted that when divorce happened, there had to be certain things followed to ensure what would come about as a result. God was trying to regulate the consequence of divorce. Nowhere will you ever find on any page of the Bible God condoning or commanding divorce.
It never has a divine sanction, it’s just that God knows it exists, and Jesus recognizes that it exists. It was basically a sociopolitical feature to give a writing of divorcement to regulate the inevitable results. I mean if - there had to be some legal process because marriage was a legal contract, and so when people were shedding their wives and men were becoming adulterous or women becoming adulterous, when the innocent party was just turned loose, they could make no claim for anything, no one would know what the circumstances were, they would not be able to explain their situation. And so to ease that and to regulate future behavior, there was a writing of divorcement.
What was its purpose? It was a testimonial to the woman of her freedom from the marital obligation to the husband who divorced her. In the bill of divorcement was a statement that the woman was set free by the man so that she wouldn’t be accused of being a harlot, she wouldn’t be accused of having forsaken her home or run off from her husband.
Secondly, the writing of divorcement was evidence for a new husband of her legal freedom to remarry. And by the way, remarriage in every passage that talks about divorce is always assumed, it’s always assumed. It’s assumed in Deuteronomy, it’s assumed in Matthew 5, it’s assumed in Matthew 19, it’s always assumed that when somebody’s divorced they’re going to remarry. And so the bill of divorcement gave a legal freedom to remarry.
Thirdly, it is a protection for a woman’s reputation from slander. Now, that’s really what it was for, to show that she hadn’t forsaken her husband, to show that she was free to remarry as far as her husband was concerned, and to show that she was not to be slandered as some harlot.
Now, as far as God was concerned, such a writing of divorcement was only legitimate in one case and that was a case of adultery, right? But listen, that is not to say that it was necessary. When Hosea had an adulterous wife, did he divorce her? No. When God had an adulterous nation, did He divorce them? No. When Christ has an adulterous believer in His church, does He divorce - no. Nor is it required that that be done in this case, but where there is adultery, Jesus recognizes and God recognizes divorce will happen. It’s never God’s solution, never, because if both people would get right with God, the marriage would be right, too. But it will happen.
And all you have in the Bible in the case of Matthew 5, verse 32, is this Word from Jesus. Listen to it because it explains what we’re going to see in Deuteronomy. “I say to you whoever shall put away his wife” - or divorce his wife - “except for the cause of fornication will then cause her, when she remarries, to commit adultery; and whoever marries her that is divorced commits adultery.” What Jesus is trying to do is to stop adding adultery to the already sinful thing of divorce, do you see? Now, we’ll see this in more detail next time, but the point is adultery was the only just grounds for a writing of divorcement, but they were giving bill of divorcement for everything under the sun.
Now, you’ll remember that as time moved along - adultery was to be punished by death originally, but as time moved on, it was not always followed. Sometimes lives were spared. Sometimes, apparently, divorce would take place instead of a stoning. You know, if a person committed adultery, they were to be stoned, but sometimes divorce would be the result. They were gracious.
And if you think about it, Matthew chapter 1 is a perfect illustration, where you find that Joseph has an option. You don’t need to look at it, we’ll just refer to it. He finds his wife Mary is pregnant, verse 19, he’s a just man, he’s not willing to make her a public example, so he’s minded to divorce her, privately. He could have stoned her by the law but the Romans had taken away the right to kill, so he really couldn’t do that. Could have made her a public spectacle but he didn’t choose to do that, so he did what he could have done in his own mind, he would divorce her, apoluō. It’s the same word used for divorce other places in the New Testament. So he could have divorced her for adultery.
That just gives you a little insight into how the law was at that time. And, by the way, Joseph was a true Old Testament saint. It says in verse 19 he was a righteous man. And a righteous man could divorce an adulterous wife. If Mary in fact had been adulterous and that’s how she got pregnant rather than by the Holy Spirit, he was a righteous man and he could have done what was very legalistic and divorced her. He would’ve had that right. He couldn’t take her life because the Romans had taken away the right of the Jews to execute.
So technically speaking, we must admit that a person could divorce, you could technically divorce. But beyond that, you’ve got to see the grace and the mercy and the forgiveness of God. Sure, technically, if you’ve got an unfaithful wife or an unfaithful, husband you can chuck them, move on. But in so doing, you bring about a divorce, and God always hates divorce because divorce is never the best solution to anything. Never. To love and forgive and draw back is what God has done.
Now, having understood that, let’s go back to Deuteronomy 24. Maybe I wandered a little bit on that, but I wanted to get it in. Let me just wrap it up real quick. Deuteronomy 24. This is tremendous. Now Moses gives us the Old Testament standard - now, I want you to notice this. He gives an illustration here to point up - now watch this - not a command to divorce but the evil of divorce. He’s not trying to provide for it, he’s trying to prevent it.
Now, here’s the illustration, and I want you to see it. A man takes a wife, all right? And he marries her. And it comes to pass that he doesn’t like her anymore because he’s found uncleanness in her. Now, the word “uncleanness” doesn’t mean adultery. Something else. Whatever it is, he’s - and the rabbis fought and scratched over what it meant, something short of it. It basically is used in the Bible of shameful exposure, indecent exposure. The root of the term in the Hebrew is to be naked, to be improper or to be indecent, so something comes along and his wife is indecent or exposed.
The Torah translates it “obnoxious.” So he says, “My wife is obnoxious. I’m going to get rid of her.” Notice, “Then” - it says in the King James - “let him write her a bill of divorcement.” That is not the proper translation. Moses is not commanding that. In the Greek language, we have two words you have to understand. I’ll give you a little Greek lesson. One is called protasis and the other is apodosis. The first is the premises and the - the minor premises, the final is the major conclusion or the major premise.
You might say that you have “if” clauses, conditions which lead to a main conclusion. It goes like, if this, if this, if this, if this, then. That’s the apodosis. The protasis, if, if, if, if, then. Now, a lot of people put both the protasis and apodosis in verse 1. “When a man has taken a wife and if he marries her and if it come to pass she find no favor in his eyes, and if he finds some uncleanness, then let him write her a bill of divorcement.” But that is not in the Hebrew. You don’t find a “then” in the Hebrew until verse 4.
The whole thing reads kind of like this. “If a man takes a wife and if he marries her and if it come to pass she find no favor in his eyes, and if he has found some uncleanness, and if he writes her a bill of divorce, and if he gives it to her hand, and if he sends her out of his house, and if she departs out of his house, and if she goes and marries another person” - you see, it’s all the same conditional clauses. You never get a conclusion until the end, and the conclusion is, when it’s all said and done, she can’t come back and marry her first husband because she’s so defiled.
How did she get defiled? She was divorced for something less than what? Adultery. That’s the whole point. That is the whole point. And that is exactly what Moses is teaching. There is only one legitimate cause for divorce, but even that is only a technicality when compared with Hosea. So what this is simply giving is an illustration. Here is a man, he takes a wife, decides to get rid of his wife, decides to write her a bill of divorcement - by the way, it doesn’t commend or condone or anything the bill of divorcement, just says he’s going to use it.
He puts her out of the house, she goes and marries somebody else, and the latter husband hates her and he gives her a divorce, and he sticks it in her hand, and he sends her out of his house, and he - or else if he dies, she cannot come back and marry her first husband. Why? Because she’s been defiled. How did she get defiled? She got defiled by consummating a new union when she had no grounds to get out of the first one. And you can’t marry someone who’s defiled.
Now, what Moses is trying to say is: Don’t marry somebody defiled by adultery. He’s not advocating divorce. And what he says is that there’s only one basic grounds for divorce and that is adultery, and if a man turns a woman loose for anything less than that, any other kind of uncleanness in his own eyes, he will make an adulterous situation, he will defile the woman, and he can never take her back because she is a defiled person. That’s what he’s saying. The Hebrew literally means she is disqualified. Now, that is precisely what Moses is teaching, and by the way, that is exactly what Jesus said.
Now when you go back to Matthew chapter 5 - and we’ll close with this - we find precisely what our Lord says to be a re-echoing of what Moses said. “I say unto you whosoever shall put away his wife, except for the cause of fornication” - and we’ll get into a discussion of that specifically - “will cause her to commit adultery,” which, in effect, as Deuteronomy 24 says, will defile her, and whoever marries her will also commit adultery. In other words, if you get a divorce on the wrong reasons, you will add adultery to the sin of divorce.
God never advocates divorce; God allows it in the case of adultery. In any other case, it leads to adultery beyond the sinful divorce. So the Lord and Moses - God Himself - are endeavoring to prevent the further sin of adultery being added when the inevitable remarriage occurs. Well, there you have the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees, you have a reiteration of the teaching of Moses, and next time we’re going to go specifically into the teaching of Jesus and we’re going to bring it right down to the New Testament age so that you can see exactly what applies to you.
Let me summarize. Listen. What have we learned so far? God made man, God made woman to marry and be permanently one. God wanted an absolute commitment of body and soul for life. God hates divorce, not some of it, all of it, it is never His will, but He recognizes that it will be a part of human society because of sin. In certain cases, God will allow divorce as a technicality in the case of - in a case of adultery only, but it is not necessary because a greater way to approach it would be to love as Christ loves the church and as God loved Israel and as Hosea loved Gomer.
The scribes and the Pharisees had perverted this absolute divine standard, and Jesus clarified it, and in so doing pointed to them as sinners for they had defiled and lowered God’s standard.
Suzanne Britt Jordan, who started our sermon, will end it. I think her words sum up my response. “I think people should be upset about so serious a thing as divorce.” Now, there’s more to say, and we’ll pull it all together next week, so you be here. Let’s pray.
Our Father, these are difficult things to hear and to understand for many, and yet the major message is very clear. God, help us to be faithful in our marriages, to fulfill your perfect plan.
Thank you, Father, that you’ve given us in the energy of the Spirit, the strength, the power, the dimensions necessary to fulfill the vows we made to that partner. God, bless the marriages of Grace Church. God, preserve them for your glory in Jesus’ name. Amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.