Well, again, tonight in our series on origins in the book of Genesis, I invite you to turn to chapter 2 in your Bible. We’re looking at the original history of man, the second chapter of Genesis; this is part five in looking at that chapter. And as we have examined the second chapter Genesis, we have come to realize that the most wonderful gift God gave to man in the garden was woman, his perfect partner. Marriage was God’s greatest blessing for man, and it still is; that is why Bible calls it the grace of life. The supreme gift to a human being is the partnership of marriage.
On the day that God created man, in chapter 1, it tells us, verse 26, “God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to our likeness.’” Verse 27, “And God created man is His own image. In the image of God he created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule.’“ And so, God created man and created woman to procreate, to populate the earth, and to rule the earth.
A further, more detailed description of that creation is contained in the second chapter of Genesis. The second chapter tells us about the creation of man. It tells us about the location of man in the garden of Eden. It tells us about the vocation of man, the responsibility he had to, as it were, guard or keep and tend the garden. It also then tells us about the probation of man, that he was to avoid the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, for in the day that he ate of that he would die.
And then it tells us about the relation of man. Starting in verse 18, “God looks at man, says, ‘It’s not good for the man to be alone; I’ll make him a helper suitable for him.’ Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, every bird of the sky, brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called the living creature that was its name. And the man gave names to all the cattle, to the birds of the sky, to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him.”
God parades the whole animal kingdom, as it were, by Adam in rapid-fire on that sixth day of creation. And Adam, in his amazing pre-fall intelligence, is able to recognize the discerning characteristic of those animals; on the basis of that he gives them a name. And the names weren’t the important thing or they would have been recorded in Scripture. We don’t even know what language Adam spoke. So we don’t have the names. What was important was that Adam looks at the whole creation of animals and finds no one suitable for him.
“And so the Lord” – verse 21 – “caused a deep sleep to fall on the man, he slept; He took one of his ribs,” – it says; or literally took his side, both bone and flesh – “and then sewed him up,” – as it were – “closed up the flesh at that place. And out of the side of man the Lord God fashioned a woman, and brought her to the man. And the man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because was taken out of Man.’” And there you have the creation of man.
And then in verse 24 the relation of man to that created partner is described: “For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cling” – or cleave – “to his wife; and they too shall become one flesh.” And therein does God institute marriage. The divine institution of relationship for man: one woman, one man, together for life. And with the purpose then, back to chapter 1, of being fruitful, multiplying, fill the earth, subduing it, and ruling over it.
Obviously man without a wife couldn’t do that. He couldn’t be fruitful, he couldn’t multiply, and alone he couldn’t possibly subdue and rule the earth. So the fulfillment of God’s created purpose for man demanded that he have a partner through which he could procreate. And so, God created man, and then He created woman; and together they were married. This is God’s design: one man, one woman, cleaving, clinging together, becoming one flesh.
Now, when you have a male and a female you have the potential of reproduction, as we all know. That’s true throughout the whole created order. That’s true even in the plant world where there are male and female elements even in plant life that bring about reproduction. That is certainly true in the animal kingdom, and certainly true of human beings. And it poses, just as a footnote, one of the most hopeless dilemmas for the evolutionist, who not only has to have some ape or something developing into a man, but simultaneously some other one developing into a woman, so that that compatibility can become reproductive. Now that dilemma then can be protracted backwards through the whole evolutionary process and one can ask the question: How is that the necessary difference between male and female evolved so that they could get together at every point in the animate created world? That would be a staggering, staggering set of coincidences.
Walter Brown, in his book In the Beginning, says, “If sexual reproduction in plants, animals, and humans is a result of evolutionary sequences, an absolutely unbelievable series of chance events must have occurred at each stage. For example, the amazingly complex, radically different, and yet complimentary reproductive systems of the male and female must have completely and independently evolved at each stage at exactly the same time and the same place, or the one that did evolve would have died out without ever being able to reproduce. And since the lifespan of plants is very brief, the lifespan of animals is relatively brief, the lifespan of man is relatively brief, it had to occur simultaneously. Just a slight incompleteness in that evolving process so that only one of the two comes into existence at a given time means that one goes out of existence, and the organism would become immediately extinct.
“The physical, chemical, emotional systems of the male and female would also need to be compatible, and they would need to evolve simultaneously with compatibility, same place, same time; not one on one part of the earth and the other one on another part and never the twain to meet, both would have died out. The millions of complex products of the male reproductive system, all the way from pollen to sperm and everything in between, must have an infinity for and a mechanical, chemical, electrical compatibility with the eggs of the female reproductive system at every juncture in the created universe, or whatever evolved would be extinct.
“The many intricate processes occurring at the molecular level, for example, inside the fertilized egg would have to work with almost fantastic, indescribable, unimaginable precision, processes that science today can only describe in a very general sense. And the environment of the fertilized egg from conception through adulthood and until it also reproduced with another sexually capable adult would have to be tightly and totally controlled. Things that are utterly impossible in an evolutionary scenario.
“This remarkable string of accidents, random accidents, would have had to spread through millions of species starting with the most primitive species, so they could reproduce those things which would mutate; and then whatever mutated would evolve male and female, so it could reproduce more mutations; and then whatever mutated out of that would have to develop and evolve male and female components, which were perfectly compatible, so that they could get together and produce more mutations; and the whole thing becomes absolutely unbelievable. This is a series of complimentary events that cannot be explained by random evolutionary processes, but can only be explained by an intelligent designer and creator.”
Kathleen McAuliffe, writing an article “Why We Have Sex” in Omni, said, “Sex is something of an embarrassment to evolutionary biologists. Textbooks understandably skirt the issue, keeping it a closely guarded secret. I would say so. It’s inexplicable by an evolutionary model.”
Philip Kitcher, writing an MIT Press, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wrote a book called Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism, written in 1982. He says, “So why is there sex? We do not have a compelling answer to the question. Despite some ingenious suggestions by orthodox Darwinians, notably G. C. Williams in 1975, John Maynard Smith in 1978, there is no convincing Darwinian history for the emergence of sexual reproduction. However, evolutionary theorists believe that the problem will be solved without abandoning the main Darwinian insights, just as early nineteenth century astronomers believed that the problem of the motion of Uranus could be overcome without major modification of Newton’s celestial mechanics.” End quote. Give me a break. You’re talking about one planet as compared to the entire animate creation. There is no answer. They don’t even want to talk about it. They won’t talk about it.
“From an evolutionary point of view, the sex differentiation is impossible to understand,” writes another evolutionist, “as well the structural sexual differences between the systematic categories, which are sometime immense. We know that intersexes within a species must be sterile. How is it then possible to imagine bridges between two amazingly different structural types?” And I can quote that for the rest of the evening: they just have no answer.
There is only answer: God created sex at the animal level, at the plant level, at the human level; and when God created it in the human world He created it to be within a relationship called marriage. God created sex, and marriage was to be the environment in which that sexual compatibility was exercised, and the only environment. There is to be no sexual conduct between a man and a woman outside a husband-wife relationship. That’s a very clear instruction in the Word of God: one man, one woman, for life. That is the context of sexual conduct for the purpose of being fruitful and multiplying, and other purposes that we talked about last time.
Now, God doesn’t really care what plants get pollinated by what other plants. God doesn’t really care what bugs cohabitate with other bugs. God doesn’t care what frogs get together with other frogs. In fact, God doesn’t care if a frog has a few lady frogs, it’s really not an issue to Him. God doesn’t care how many mares a stallion inseminates, God doesn’t really care about that. But He does care what people do, and He’s made it very clear that He cares what people do. And God has designed monogamous marriage, not what is contemporary serial marriage, as it’s often called. Monogamous marriage.
And marriage in God’s design is for one man and one woman to come together in a relationship for the purpose of reproduction and for the purpose of fulfillment. And because monogamous marriage is God’s design, then God hates whatever violates that; and that’s why God hates sexual sin, that all through the Old Testament, we make that very clear, as we read the Old Testament. All through the New Testament, God pronounces judgment on sexual sin. And sexual sin is any sex outside a marriage relationship.
And God also hates, not only what violates the marriage morally, but what violates the marriage covenantally; and you need to think in those two terms. What violates a marriage morally and what violates a marriage covenantally God hates, and that’s why Malachi 2, verse 16 says God hates divorce. God hates fornication, homosexuality, bestiality, incest, et cetera, adultery, and God also hates divorce. There are sins, which destroy the morality of a marriage, and there are sins which destroy the covenant of the marriage. And we who are Christians should also care about that. We ought to be the model people in living out the divine design for marriage.
Now, divorce has been around a long time. You find divorce in the Pentateuch; and we’re talking about the first five books of the Bible, the first five books written by Moses. You can go all the way back to Moses and you will find divorce. It is mentioned a number of places in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible written by Moses, often called the law. So we know divorce has been around a long time. It was introduced, of course, by the fall, which occurs in the third chapter of Genesis. And divorce is and always, since the fall, has been a reality, and it has always been a devastating reality.
And since the fall there have been other sins. There have been the sins of fornication and rape and incest and adultery – the things we talked about last time – the sin of polygamy, having more than one wife, which is always viewed in the Bible as a sin. And though it’s not condemned at every point in which it exists, at every point in which it exists in the Bible, there is a clear understanding of the terrible and tragic outcome and consequence of that kind of sinful behavior.
But divorce also can be seen in the Old Testament, and wherever it is seen is always in a negative light. There is always some reason to see it as an aberration of God’s original intention. And, of course, in our society today there’s an increasing number of divorces. Although the increase in divorces may be slowing down, because, frankly, people are just not bothering to get married in the first place. So on the one hand, you have the sins that violate the morality of marriage; on the other hand, you have the sins that violate the covenant of marriage. And there are people who would rather not make the covenant, because then it’s too binding, and it has all kinds of strings. So they will just sin together.
Now our culture does have, has had increasing numbers of divorces. But let me tell you something, not nearly as many as we have been made to believe by the liberals. There is a very, very careful strategy out there. There is a strategy by the liberals to convince us that certain things are normal which are not normal. You know, the Masters and Johnson test about the homosexual population told us that one out of every ten people you meet is a homosexual. That is not true, and that never was true. But it was a way to normalize that kind of behavior.
And we are told today that fifty percent of marriages break up, that half of marriages are doomed to divorce; and that is a figure cited very often in articles. And some people even say – there was some kind of a study done recently – that the divorce rate is highest in the Bible Belt of the United States, that the Bible Belt folks have a divorce rate that’s half, again, as bad as the national average, which is half of all people who get married get divorced. And then you can half again if you live in the Bible Belt, which would make it about seventy-five percent of Southern fundamentalists end up in divorce. Well, the fact, as pollster Lou Harris, says, “The idea that half of American marriages are doomed is one of the most specious pieces of statistical nonsense ever perpetuated in modern times.” End quote. It’s just a flat lie.
And all of this kind of began when the Census Bureau one year, some years ago, reported that there were 2.4 million marriages in a given time period and 1.2 million divorces; and somebody did the math and said if there were 2.4 million marriages and 1.2 million divorces in the same period of time, half the people getting married are getting divorced. “The problem with that,” says Lou Harris, “is that it doesn’t calculate the 54 million marriages already in existence. So the figure would be actually be 56.4 million marriages in which 1.2 million end in divorce.” That is a huge difference.
You say, “Why do you care?” I care because I want you to know that even unconverted people understand the value of marriage. About one out of eight marriages will end in divorce. Even non-Christians understand that. And the fact that there are maybe more divorces in the Southern part, in what is called the Bible Belt, people say it may be related to the poverty that is there in certain large population areas of the South. That may be the major contributor to that. But you certainly can’t blame it on the Bible.
Now, I also know – and this is a very general fact – but I also know that more people in that part of the country eat barbeque than anywhere else, so maybe it’s the barbeque that causes… That’s one of those ridiculous kind of conclusions that spinmeisters put on to discredit Christianity, blaming Christianity for – they’re trying to blame Christianity for the rise of the divorce rate.
According to Robin Meyers, a self-described liberal clergyman from Oklahoma, “Evangelicals have,” quote, “fairytale conceptions of marriage and are unable to deal with the inevitable problems. They have that whole dogma of this is right, this is wrong and nothing in between,” he says. “They don’t have the mental dexterity to make the adjustment to a less than perfect marriage.” End quote. Consequently, he says, that the high rate of divorce is directly attributable to Christian people, called evangelicals, conception of marriage. You can’t prove that anymore than you can prove people get divorced because they eat barbeque; there’s no necessary correlation.
Stewart Beasley, President of the Oklahoma Psychological Association, blames the divorce rate on the Southern Baptists, their viewpoint that the husband is the spiritual head of the family. He says this puts women continually in moral crisis, and wrecks marriages. Another reason, says this Beasley, this psychologist, another reason for the high divorce rate is the Christian teaching that there is to be no sex before marriage. He says when you teach people that there should be no sex before marriage, this puts on a tremendous amount of pressure. So young people want to have sex, so they get married too soon, before they’re mature. And so, you rush into a marriage; and the younger you are when you rush into a marriage, the less likely you are able to be able deal with the issues of that marriage, and so you get a divorce.
So what causes divorces in America is the belief in the Bible, is a belief in abstinence before marriage, and is the belief that the husband is the head of the wife. That’s what they say. So the outcome of all of that is to say that conservative Christianity causes divorce. That is a logic fallacy. That is a post hoc, ergo propter hoc, some technical logician would call it.
More controlled studies, which try to narrow down the influencing factor, show that conservative Christianity does, in fact, contribute to strong marriages; and there are plenty of studies to show that. As for the charge that sexual morality contributes to high divorce rates, the studies prove the opposite. Women who had sex before marriage have a seventy-one percent higher divorce rate than those who married as virgins, seventy-one percent higher. As for those living together, those who cohabit before they get married are fifty percent more likely to divorce than those who do not. And by the way, those statistics, with documentation, can be found in Chuck Colson’s book, How Now Shall We Live?
Well, you see, we’re being sold lies, lies about the divorce rate, lies about the Christian influence on divorce, as the society wants to blame us for whatever problems exist, when the fact of the matter is that’s not the case. I said to John Hughes the other day, Vice President for Academics at The Master’s College, I said, “John, do you do any surveys with the graduates of The Master’s College?” And he said, “Yes, we do a lot of surveys: post-graduate surveys, outcome-based kind of things. We want to find out what our education produced, how well they’re doing out there in the society. We want to get feedback so that we can assess the quality of education.”
I said, “Do we survey any of our students with regard to divorce?” And he said, “Yes, we sent out a survey, and we had a number of respondents to the survey.” And I said, “Of those respondents who answered the survey that we sent all of our alumni, how many indicated they’d been divorced?” He said, “None.” I said, “Well, I know of a few divorces that have occurred.” He said, “That’s true, and no doubt there are a few. But of all of those who answered the survey, none said they had been divorced since graduating from the college.”
I’m not saying that people don’t. There are people at Grace Church that get divorced. We deal with that all the time within the kingdom of God. But I am telling you it’s not the same among God’s people as it is in the world. And it’s not even the same in the world, as the world would lead you to believe, to make people comfortable in divorcing. Humanity recognizes the value of a lasting relationship, the value of a family and children – and we went into all of that.
So that leads us – I’m always into long introductions – but that leads us to ask the question: Is it ever acceptable to God to get a divorce? We have to say this: it is never acceptable to God to commit fornication, right? There are no exception clauses there. It doesn’t say, “Thou shalt not commit fornication unless you really like each other.” “Thou shalt not commit fornication unless you’re definitely planning to get married,” it doesn’t say. There are no caveats; there are no exceptions. It doesn’t say, “Thou shalt not commit adultery unless your wife is really bad and she’s making life miserable, and you need a little love and affection.” Doesn’t say that. Doesn’t say that. There are no exceptions on the moral side. So the question is: Are there exceptions on the covenantal side? How are we to understand divorce?
Well, the best way to understand God’s view of divorce is to hear from Him, and we are going to do that. Turn to Matthew 19, Matthew 19. And in the verses that start in verse 3 and run down to verse 12, we have very, very interesting dialogue between the Pharisees and Jesus in which Jesus quotes Genesis 2 – actually quotes Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, and we’ll see that as we go along. We’ve been trying to get to this text and kind of work through it; and we’ll do a little of that tonight, although we won’t get all the way through it. It’s such an important text.
But let’s look at verse 3 to start: “Some of the Pharisees came to Jesus. They came testing Him, and they said, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?’” Now the popular answer to the question was, “Yes, it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all.”
Now, there was a very clear understanding that marriage was a covenant. It was covenant before God and before men; it was a legally-binding covenant like any other kind of covenant. And the question that they ask is, “Can a man uncovenant? Can he dissolve the covenant? Can he break the covenant with his wife for any cause at all, any reason he wants?” And the popular was, “Yes, he can.”
That’s what the people believed; that was the reigning viewpoint of the day. And men were divorcing their wives for all kinds of things, as I mentioned last time: for burning their breakfast; for speaking to other men in a public place; for spinning around, one historian says, and showing their ankles; for loosening their hair in front of another man; for finding fault with their mother-in-law; and for even preferring someone else. A man could divorce his wife if he found somebody he liked better.
Now, the Pharisees knew Jesus wouldn’t accept this view. I mean, they knew down in their hearts that God didn’t accept this view either. But it was a much more convenient view for them. And they knew Jesus would reject it; and they thought that if they could get Jesus to publicly reject it, He would immediately make Himself unpopular. They were trying to discredit Him. But they were trying to do more than discredit Him, they were actually trying to destroy Him.
Back in verse 1 it says that He had just departed for Galilee and He came into a region of Judea beyond the Jordan. Well, the name of the area is Perea, P-e-r-e-a, Perea – we talked about that in connection with Luke 3. And the ruler in Perea was our friend Herod Antipas, Herod Antipas. Now, Herod Antipas was a wicked, wicked man. He was the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea. So they’ve got Jesus in Herod Antipas’ area, and they say, “Is it okay to divorce your wife for any cause?” And their hope is that Jesus will make Himself unpopular with the people, and even more so, that He will put Himself at odds with Herod Antipas.
Now, Herod Antipas committed adultery, committed incest, and then engaged in an illegitimate marriage to his brother’s wife – a very, very ugly, ugly situation, and that whole story unfolds in the fourteenth chapter of Matthew. I have tapes on that story from Matthew 14, or it’s in the commentary I wrote on Matthew; you can read the story for yourself. And, of course, he was living in this wretched, incestuous, adulterous, illegitimate relationship with his brother’s wife; and John the Baptist confronted him about it, and he chopped John’s head off. That’s how John was executed.
And so, the Pharisees are feeling, “Not only could we get Jesus to discredit Himself with the populous – because He’s going to take a hard line on divorce, and that going to embarrass all kinds of people and put Him at odds with them, because they’ve already engaged in these divorces – but we can get Him to come out with a strong anti-divorce perspective. Maybe we can get Him to say some things about the kind of relationship in which Herod is currently engaged, and Herod will do to Him what he did to John.” So that really was the agenda.
They did this a lot; that’s why it says in verse 3 they were testing Him. They never asked a question because they really wanted to know, they asked a question in order that they might put Jesus in a corner from which they hoped He couldn’t extricate Himself, the end of which would be to discredit, and ultimately to get Him killed.
In verse 4 He gives them an answer. “Is it a lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?” Jesus, in effect, says, “You don’t have to deal with Me on that, read what God said. Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning, made them male and female? Don’t you remember Genesis 1:27, ‘God made man and He made woman, and that was it, and said,’ – verse 5, and here He’s quoting Genesis 2:24 – ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” And then Jesus briefly interprets it: “Consequently they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”
Boy, the answer is just brilliant, because now their argument is not with Jesus. Who’s it with? It’s with God. It’s with their own Scriptures to which they give great attention and claim to be so expert.
So, God made man, He made woman, for the purpose of a singular, intimate union: one man, one woman, clinging together, becoming one flesh – that is the indivisible number. There weren’t any provisions for polygamy. There weren’t any provisions for homosexuality. There weren’t any provisions for fornication. There was just the two, and that was God design. There was not provision for divorce. God didn’t make, as I said last time, any spare people. Adam and Eve were created for each other and nobody else. Their union was complete. It was unbreakable; it was indivisible; it was for life. And every marriage is to follow that pattern; that is the relation God has designed for man.
And so, the argument that Jesus gives is very clear. In the case of Adam of Eve, divorce was not only not advisable, it was not only not wrong, it was not possible. There wasn’t anybody else around. There wasn’t anybody else. Everybody came from them. Nobody for them to marry other than the one God gave them. They had no option. Marriage then is God’s creative ideal; and the way God designed it, according to verse 5: “A man leaves father and mother,” – of course, Adam and Eve didn’t have that problem, but in further defining marriage, leaves father and mother – “cleaves to his wife, becomes one flesh.”
Just to mention the word “cleave,” it’s kind of an old word. When we think of “cleave” you might think of a meat clever that chops something in half, so maybe I need to clarify that. It’s the opposite of cutting something in half. To cleave meant the idea of glue. It was the idea of being stuck to something, so totally stuck together that there was no way to pull it apart.
It also carried the idea of – and some lexicons would give this idea – pursuing hard after. What you had here is a coming together in which there was a mutual pursuit toward the other one, the two pressing harder and harder and harder, as it were, against each other, a pursuing love: two people, for life, pursuing hard after each other, to remain glued together in mind and will and spirit and emotion and purpose.
The Jewish word – I often say in this in weddings here – the Jewish word for “marriage” is kiddushin. Kiddushin means “sanctification” or “consecration,” means “set apart.” It was used to describe something that was devoted to God, something dedicated to God as His exclusive personal possession. Anything that would be totally given to God, totally surrendered to God was kiddushin.
And it was a great word for marriage, because it was a total commitment of a person to another person. It was the consecration to the partner that made that exclusive of all other relationships. It was analogous to a sacrifice offered to God. Marriage then, by definition in Genesis and by affirmation by Jesus, is an indissoluble union.
Yet, we have at the fall the entrance of sin into the world; and while we’re still in the Pentateuch, as I said earlier, we start to see divorce; it’s there. God’s original intention never changes. You go to the last book of the Old Testament – Malachi, chapter 2, verse 16 – “God says, ‘I hate divorce.’” God didn’t intend divorce in Genesis, and He hated it in the last book of the Old Testament; nothing really changed. In fact, it would probably of value to look at that Malachi 2, just a couple of other verses there, kind of give you some insight.
In Malachi 2 we can pick it up at verse 13. This is another thing that you do. He is indicting the hypocrisy of the people, the people of Israel, and he says, “This is another thing you do.” There are a lot of sins that Malachi brings out. But he says, “You cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and groaning, because He no longer regards the offerings or accepts it with favor from your hand. You come to the altar, you bring your offering, you go through the sanctimonious worship, and you come before the altar, and you cry and you groan, and you do all of this, and the Lord doesn’t accept your offering. And you say, ‘Well, what reason? – verse 14 – ‘Why won’t God accept the offering?’” And he says, “Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. You have violated the covenant that you made with your wife, and God will not accept your offering.
“But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. You can’t be a true believer and do that. And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. You know, you were there making sure your wife was there, and you were there making sure she fulfilled her covenant when you wanted a child, when you wanted an offspring, when you wanted an heir you were there. And now that that’s passed, you’re ready to deal treacherously. You’ve got your son, you’ve got your heir, you’ve got your progeny, as it were, you’ve got your future. And so, now you think you can deal treacherously against the wife of your youth.” – in verse 16 – ‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord the God of Israel,” – and look at how He describes it – “and him who covers his garment with wrong,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘him who covers his garment with wrong.’” Actually the margin says “with violence.”
What He’s saying is when you divorce you have a sin-splattered garment with the blood of the wife you violated. So there’s no question about how God feels about divorce. And when the Pharisees in the New Testament asked Jesus if it’s okay to divorce for any cause at all, He says, “No, this is not God’s plan. You know what Scripture says from the very beginning.”
Even in cases in Old Testament of the most intense conflict and the most severe sin, the divine ideal is unchanged. And you always think of the story of Hosea. Remember Hosea the prophet? God wanted Hosea to sort of be a living object lesson. Hosea married a woman named Gomer. Now, anybody who’d marry a woman named Gomer is asking for a certain degree of trouble, I would think.
But he married a woman named Gomer; and Gomer turned out to be a prostitute, a harlot of the rankest kind. And if you read the story of Hosea you’ll read about the harlots. She had children, and the children were not Hosea’s children. In fact, one of them was named “Not My Child.” “Please meet Not My Child.” That was part of the curse that she had children named to indicate that they were illegitimate children. She was a harlot.
Eventually her harlotry kind of folded her into the slave market. And the story is a really fantastic drama. And she is now a slave, literally being sold as chattel to be used by a man any way he would desire to use her. And Hosea goes into the marketplace, sees her being offered on the block and buys her, and takes her back and treats her like a virgin, even though she had done what she had done.
This is certainly, certainly the kind of compassion, the kind of forgiveness of the worst kind of iniquity that should be offered to a penitent within a marriage no matter how serious the sin was. And it’s very much, by the way, like the bridegroom Christ treats the bride the church, isn’t it? He would like to have a chaste virgin bride. He would like to have one without blemish and without spot and blameless. But the fact is He has to a very forgiving husband, because the church is sinful.
Marriage then is God’s design, it’s God’s best, it’s the grace of life. It’s what God has given man as the relationship of all relationships. And it does call for forgiving love, and it does call for restoring grace. And that’s what Jesus basically is saying in His answer.
And so, “They respond, ‘Okay, if that’s God’s original design,’ – verse 7 – “they said to Him, ‘Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate and divorce her?’” Moses is God’s spokesman. Moses is the author of the five books of the law, the Pentateuch. Moses is the man of God, the leader of Israel. They’re referring to Scripture here. So they said to Him, “All right, if that’s the way it is, then why did Moses command to give her a certificate and divorce her?”
Now, you have to realize these Pharisees were not at all attracted by the divine ideal, they were only attracted by the exceptions that accommodated their sin. And so, they rejected the ideal, and they want to pursue the exception – you have to understand that. They weren’t interested in God’s ideal, they were interested in the accommodation to their sin that could be found in the exception. And so, now they, first of all, were trying to pit Jesus against the populous. Then they were trying to pit Jesus against Herod Antipas. And now they’re trying to set Jesus against Moses. This is another ploy, because Moses is revered, of course.
“So why did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and divorce her?” Well, that is a loaded question, let me tell you. That is a loaded question, I’ll tell you why. Moses never commanded that. Moses never commanded anybody to give a divorce certificate to anyone. Moses never commanded anyone to get a divorce. God, when writing through Moses in the passage they’re referring to, placed no command there.
The passage they’re referring to is a fascinating passage. They’re quoting from Deuteronomy 24. I think we just have time to go back to that passage tonight. Let’s go back to Deuteronomy 24, one of the really interesting prescriptions in the Mosaic Law, it had to do with the matter of divorce. Deuteronomy chapter 24, that’s the last of the five books Moses.
Now, they had taken this passage, which doesn’t command divorce, it doesn’t command a certificate of divorce. They had taken this passage; they needed a verse. You know how people do that? “I know what I want to do, I just need a verse to support it,” right? Like the preacher who preached against women having their hair on the top of their head. And his text was, “Topknot come down,” from Matthew where it says, “Let those on the housetop not come down.” So, you know, I mean everybody’s looking for some little piece, a proof text.
So how are they going to find a verse that’s going to authorize them to divorce anybody they want to divorce? Well, they went to Deuteronomy 24, and they twisted Deuteronomy 24 to accommodate themselves. Look at what it says: “When a man takes a wife, marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes” – doesn’t like her anymore – “because he’s found some indecency her. And writes her a certificate of divorce and puts in her hand and sends her out from his house. And she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man’s wife,” – which is inevitable – “and if the latter husband turns against 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 husband dies, who took her to be his wife,” – the second husband – “then her former husband” – the first guy – “who sent her away originally is not allowed to take her again to be his wife since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance.”
Let me ask you a simple question: Do you see a command anywhere in there? There’s no command there. In fact, God doesn’t even speak there. All it says is when a man takes a wife, marries her and it happens she finds no favor in his eyes because he’s found some indecency in her, he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, send her out of the house. There’s no command to do it. There’s no prescription for doing it.
And the Rabbis needed a command for divorce. It would be very helpful if they could find one. And they especially liked this one because it didn’t require adultery, it was just indecency. Let me tell you something; that is a very hard word to interpret, and that is even convenient for the rabbis. So now they turn it into a command, that if a man finds some indecency in his wife so that she doesn’t find favor in his eyes anymore, he can write her a certificate of divorce and he can put it in her hand. That’s so that she has documentation that this has been a legal thing so he can’t be accused of not taking care of his wife. And also frees her now from that bond to be married to somebody else. He can do that now, and here’s a command for him. He can say, “Well, I’m only doing what Moses commanded to do. If you find indecency in her and she loses favors in your eyes, Moses said to write a bill of divorce and put it in her hand and send her out of there.” They needed this.
This passage recognizes divorce. It recognizes remarriage. And it regulates remarriage, although it doesn’t really say anything about whether it’s right or wrong to divorce. It doesn’t say anything about the morality of divorce; we already know how God feels about divorce. But it does regulate some elements of remarriage. What happens is you send this woman away, she marries someone else, he sends her out or he dies, she can’t come back and marry you again. That’s all that passage says. There’s no command here at all. God is simply acknowledging the existence of divorce, not approving divorce, not condoning it, certainly not commanding it.
Now, I know you’re wondering what it does mean, so let me see if I can help you a little bit. It is a prescription within the Mosaic law so that there wasn’t just a constant flux among people in divorce and remarriage. And God said once you leave that original marriage, you can’t just go off, have another marriage and decide you’re coming back. There’s some assumption also that this is not just not acceptable, but this is abominable to the Lord, as indicated in verse 4.
Now, let me see if I can explain this to you. The divorce in the first place, look at verse 1, happened because he didn’t like her anymore, because he found some indecency in her. Now what is that? Well, a literal translation of the Hebrew is “the nakedness of a thing, the nakedness of a thing.” Some believe, Alfred Edersheim’s Sketches of Jewish Social Life said this, that, “It refers to habitual indecent exposure.” What in the world? Why would somebody do that? Well, let me tell you why.
Go back to Deuteronomy 23 for a moment, one chapter – 22, I’m sorry. Back to 22:22, “If a man if found lying with a married woman, both of them shall” – what, what? “die.” So what happened to a woman who committed adultery under Mosaic law? What? Executed. So this can’t be that, right? It can’t be that. If he found her having committed adultery, according to the law, to be consistent the law would say she must die. So whatever this is, it’s something short of adultery, which required death. That’s also in Leviticus chapter 20 and verse 10.
By the way, if you look into Deuteronomy 22:22 to 24, you’ll see that death was required when even an engaged person committed adultery before the marriage was consummated. So whatever this indecency is it’s not something that requires death. And that little translation “the nakedness of a thing,” “indecent exposure” probably suggests that what would happen was women knew the price of adultery, so they stopped short of that. But they engaged themselves in some kind of nakedness, some kind of indecency short of adultery, which would cause them to be executed. And when a husband found his wife, as it were, living on the edge, getting as close to the death sentence as possible, and could not tolerate that, because it was shameless, indecent, habitual indulgence in sinful acts that stopped short of adultery, he would send her away. There’s no command to do that, but that’s apparently what would cause that to be done.
By the way, just as a comparison to that; that same phrase, you see the phrase “some indecency in her, some indecency in her”? That same phrase is back in chapter 23, verse 13, and it’s a pretty frank verse: “You shall have a spade among your tools. It shall be when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and turn to cover up your excrement. Since the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp to deliver you and defeat your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy; and He must not see anything indecent.” There’s the exact same phrase.
Now there, it’s very clear what it means. It’s something shameful, something base, something vile; any kind of improper, shameful, indecent, shaming, embarrassing conduct; and the husband says, “I can’t deal with this woman.” And so, he sends her away.
“When he sends her out,” – notice this – “she leaves his house,” – verse 2 – “she goes and becomes another man’s wife.” She consummates a new union. But, look, in all honesty, she really never had a right to do that, did she, because she never had legitimate grounds to break the first union. He shouldn’t have sent her away.
You see, there really was no real provision for divorce. Adultery brought what? Death. Death. And what he should have done was to deal with her indecencies, to work to restore her. But the fact that he sent her away caused her to enter into a relationship that was defiling. You remember what Jesus says, He says, “If a woman goes and marries someone except for the cause of fornication,” – sexual sin – “she is caused to commit” – what? – “adultery.” So the second marriage is adulterous. She is become now an adulteress by marrying without legitimate grounds for marriage.
And so, if that second husband divorces her or he dies, the first one can’t take her back, because she is now defiled by that second illegitimate marriage. He literally, by sending her out, caused that defilement when she remarried. Now she didn’t have to remarry, she participates in the defilement. But because she is defiled, because it was never God’s design that that first union would be broken except by death, and so she has become defiled. And should she be freed from that marriage because of death or divorce, he cannot take her back.
Now the fact is Deuteronomy 24 doesn’t authorize anything. It doesn’t command anything. All it says is there’s no remarriage for somebody who should never have been divorced to start with. If you get a divorce, even for something indecent, even for somebody walking on the thin edge, another marriage constitutes an adulterous relationship which defiles a person to the degree that you could never take them back; that would be an abomination to the Lord. And again, what that does is reinforce the commitment of God to the matter of the marriage. “You never should have sent her away in the first place. Maybe you should have been a Hosea to her.”
See, this is hard for people to understand. The Old Testament doesn’t record any authorization for divorce on any grounds. You can’t find it there. People are surprised to hear that. You can’t. You can through the Old Testament and you will not find anything that says, “If a person does this, you can divorce them,” because anybody who violated a marriage by adultery was to be what? Executed. So you will not find any authorized, specific grounds for divorce in the Old Testament. And again, that reinforces God’s will for marriage. There is no written Old Testament text that prescribes a just cause for divorce.
You say, “Well, then why do we allow it today?” Because of one thing – and this is what I’ll talk about next time – God is no longer exacting the death penalty. Okay? That’s a big change. Now God is no longer exacting the death penalty. Consequently, there will be an allowance for divorce. Look at the text just for one brief moment and then I’ll stop, in Matthew 19. And I’ll give you a hint at what we’re going to look at next time we get back to this.
Verse 8: “Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. It was a concession to your hard hearts.’” I guess in some ways it was the lesser of evils. So many people in Israel committing adultery, He could’ve wiped out the whole people. It was a concession to their wickedness.
But it was never God’s plan. And God’s plan at first was to destroy the adulterer or the adulteress. But hardness of heart was so widespread, by the time of Deuteronomy there is a merciful expression of God in which divorce is allowed rather than execution. But that was never God’s plan at the first. Why did God stop exacting the death penalty? That’s a good question; I’ll answer that next time.
If we don’t have any grounds specifically given for divorce in the Old Testament, do we have any implications, do we have any illustrations that could lead us to understand what the true grounds are? Answer, yes, there’s no explicit command to get a divorce, there’s no specific reasons for a divorce, but there are a couple of very graphic illustrations in which God Himself – listen to this – God Himself authorizes divorce. And by those illustrations we can conclude that there is in the Old Testament an allowance for divorce on one ground, and that’s the ground of adultery, which once brought death. No longer the death penalty being in place, God still allows for that divorce on the basis of adultery, and spares the life of the guilty without penalizing the innocent, allowing them to remarry; and we’ll look at that next time. That is a fascinating, fascinating study.
Well, as always we hoped to get further, but this is where we are. Well, let’s join in prayer.
Father, what a great day we’ve shared in the study of the Word. And we’ve gone all the way from the coming of John the Baptist this morning back, back, back to Moses, and then back again to Jesus dialoguing with the Pharisees. And we always see such wondrous consistency on the pages of Scripture. And we pray, Lord, that tonight we might come back to the place where we understand that You have designed marriage, and that You made it the best that life can bring in terms of relationships. And would You remind us, Lord, that is Your ideal that we should pursue and not the exception. It is the best that we should pursue and not the worst. And that we shouldn’t be looking for loopholes, but we should pursuing hard after each other, cleaving to each other, that we might enjoy the fullness and the joy of what You’ve designed and prepared for us in marriage.
And keep us faithful, give us exemplary homes, protect our family, our church family, and Your family across the world from the tragedy of divorce. And may there be many, many young people coming up within the churches who are going to building strong Christian marriages to give testimony to Your power, to make the best of all relationships all that it should be in life, that we might be a testimony to others to that. And we pray for Your glory, in Christ’s name. Amen.
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