Divorce and Remarriage: The Old Testament
So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them (Genesis 1:27).
And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh (Genesis 2:23-24).
Marriage was ordained to be a one flesh covenant relationship. Adam and Eve were literally “one flesh”. This is because Eve was formed from the physical flesh and bone of Adam’s side. From this time on their descendants were to marry and be joined in one flesh unions. Divorce was not part of God’s original plan. Even after the fall God had no plan for Adam and Eve or their descendants to divorce and remarry. Divorce was an invention of man brought on by the hardness of man’s heart.
It is possible that one flesh also has a predictive sense to it. Those who marry will normally produce offspring. The children they produce are literally one flesh brought forth by two parents. Children are a constant reminder that two became one flesh.
Genesis 2:24 states:
Man was to “leave” (azab/5800) his father and mother.
Man was to “cleave” (dabaq/1692) to his wife.
Man will be “one flesh” (basar/1320) with his wife.
Cleave means to cling, stick to, or be joined together with. Cleave is a covenant term also used to show God’s relationship to His people (cf. Deuteronomy 10:20, 11:22, 13:4, 30:20; Joshua 22:5, 23:8; Ruth 1:14-16). The phrase “one flesh” carries a similar idea to that of being kin or blood relatives.
To refer to someone as being “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23) was to say more than they shared the same bodily heritage. To say that a man and woman become one flesh is to say more than they are united bodily. It expresses the oneness that they share because of God joining them together.
The kinship nature of marriage is also indicated by the formula “bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh” (cf. Genesis 29:14, 37:27; Judges 9:2; 2 Samuel 5:1, 19:12,13; I Chronicles 11:1).
Throughout the Old Testament marriage is called a covenant (berith/1285). Proverbs 2:17 mentions the adulterous wife who forsakes the companion of her youth and in doing so forsakes the covenant that she made before God.
The marriage covenant is more than a bilateral covenant between two people. It includes God as a third party who joins the man and the woman in a covenant commitment. Malachi 2:14 speaks of God being a witness to this covenant between husband and wife. This is why Jesus could legitimately state “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Mark 10:9).
The nature of this one flesh covenant is indissoluble. A husband and wife may sin against one another but nothing except death or the rapture can cause them to cease being husband and wife. This is why marriage is used as a picture of God’s relationship with Israel in the Old Testament. Some claim that since some covenants are conditional and therefore dissoluble then the marriage covenant is also conditional and dissoluble. The issue is not whether some covenants are dissoluble but whether the one flesh marriage covenant is dissoluble. The evidence points to a consummated marriage being an indissoluble covenant. It is for this reason that some who approach the subject of divorce and remarriage deny the covenant nature of marriage or ignore the subject altogether. A common misconception is that marriage is a contract that may be broken similar to any other legal contract.1
This conclusion is often supported by the claim that certain ancient near eastern marriage covenants included contractual stipulations that allowed spouses to divorce and remarry for various reasons. Since some of these covenants resemble modern day marriage contracts then divorce and remarriage is to be allowed under certain circumstances. The main problem with this type of reasoning is that the biblical covenant of marriage is not based upon ancient near eastern cultural practices. It is based upon the one flesh covenant established by God between Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
When God brought Adam and Eve together as husband and wife there were no contractual obligations listed. They were not given a list of stipulations wherein if one party breached the contract the marriage could end in divorce. Contractual marriages did exist in ancient near eastern cultures but these were stipulations invented and established by men. Applying these types of contractual stipulations to the modern application of biblical texts on divorce and remarriage is a type of reverse exegesis. It is invalid to study the actions of man and then claim they are not only condoned by God but form the basis for God’s will concerning the permanence of marriage. This reasoning was invalidated by Jesus Himself. The Pharisees wanted to debate the ancient near eastern divorce and remarriage practices which occurred during the time of Moses. Jesus refused to enter into their debate and took them back to the beginning of creation where God established the two as one flesh (Matthew 19:5).
By this time in history, divorce and remarriage were practiced by the Israelites. This was not God’s design for marriage it was a traditional custom invented by man. God intervened and prohibited the practice of a second remarriage back to one’s original spouse.
The Jews allowed the man, not the woman, the right to initiate divorce for “some uncleanness” (ervat/6172; dabar/1697). Literally this means a “naked” or “indecent” thing. By the time of Christ the Jews had misinterpreted this phrase to mean everything from adultery to burning a meal. “Some Indecency” does not refer to adultery. The penalty for this was death. It also would not refer to those who had sexual relations during the betrothal period. This was also punished by stoning (Deuteronomy 22:20-24). Some believe that “some indecency” may refer to a physical deformity in the woman. Others believe that it may refer to her inability to bear children. The precise meaning of the term is no longer clear.
Some believe that Deuteronomy 24:1-4 established or gave approval for divorce and remarriage. A careful exegesis of the text does not produce this conclusion.
When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, When she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife, if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, 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, then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for this is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).
The text states that divorce was happening because a man found some indecency in his wife. It says she went and became another man’s wife. The text does not say God approved of this. It is possible that this was happening numerous times to the same woman (Deuteronomy 24:3).
There is only one piece of legislation in this passage it is contained in verse 4. The first three verses form the protasis which specifies the conditions that must apply for the implementation of the legislation. Verse 4 contains the apodosis which expresses the consequence of the legislation.
At this point in history the Law did not regulate the first, second, or subsequent divorces. It only regulated remarriage in one case; the remarriage of a woman back to her original husband.
Keil and Delitzsch write:
In these verses, however, divorce is not established as a right; all that is done is, that in case of a divorce a reunion with the divorced wife is forbidden, if in the meantime she had married another man, even though the second husband had also put her away, or had died.2
This law was given to protect the rights of the woman. If a man could divorce his wife and then take her back this would encourage frivolous divorces and open the door for covert adultery. The law concerning divorce would prevent her from being used in this way.
This law may also have been given to protect the rights and dowry of the woman. The text mentions the common cultural practices of that day. In Deuteronomy 24:1, the first wife had failed in her marital duties (done something “indecent”) which caused the husband to divorce her. Because of this the husband would have been allowed to retain her dowry and any material assets she may have acquired during the marriage. She was sent out with nothing but her apparel. This led to the practice of women placing coins in their headgear and wearing large amounts of jewelry. This would give them some financial resources if they were divorced.
In Deuteronomy 24:3, the second divorce, the woman’s conduct is not questioned. The text states that the man “turns against” or “hates” her. He then divorces her and sends her from his house. Under the custom of that day the woman was entitled to the return of her dowry, was allowed to retain her material assets, and could potentially be compensated financially as part of the divorce settlement. In the case of the husband’s death she could receive a portion of her husband’s estate.
The first husband is prohibited from remarrying her because he would benefit from unjust financial gain. The first husband had put away his wife because of “some indecency”. He had divorced her, retained all of her material assets, and sent her away with nothing but her apparel. She went out, remarried, and acquired other material assets. The first husband could now claim that she was not indecent and be financially rewarded by remarrying her and once again taking control of her material assets. This would be a form of stealing.3
In modern legal terms this is estoppel. Estoppel prevents a person from asserting a fact or a claim that is inconsistent with a position he previously took. As applied to Deuteronomy 24 the first husband claimed that he found “some indecency” (ervat dabar) in her. This is why he divorced her. Now he seeks to remarry her and would of necessity need to claim that he finds no “indecency” in her. These are contradictory claims both used to his benefit. He benefited in the original divorce her by claiming she was “indecent”. Now he seeks to benefit again by claiming she is not “indecent”.
Verse 4 gives the only regulations of the text. The woman who was divorced and remarried was forever prohibited from returning to her original husband, even if her second husband died. Two reasons are given for this restriction. First, she had been “defiled” (tame/2930). This word can be translated as “cultically unclean” or “to pollute oneself”. It is the same word used throughout the Old Testament regarding a person who has sexual relations that are prohibited. These included rape (Genesis 34:5); incest (Leviticus 18:5-18); adultery (Leviticus 18:20); homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22); and bestiality (Leviticus 18:23). The evidence points to it being remarriage that defiled the woman and made her unclean. Second, the practice of returning to one’s original husband, after divorce and remarriage, is an abomination to God and brings sin upon the land.
The language (defiled) suggests adultery (see Lev. 18:20). The sense is that the woman’s remarriage after the first divorce is similar to adultery in that the woman cohabits with another man. However, if the woman were then to remarry her first husband, after divorcing the second, the analogy with adultery would become even more complete; the woman lives first with one man, then another, and finally returns to the first. Thus the intent of the legislation seems to be to apply certain restrictions on the already existing practice of divorce. If divorce became too easy, then it could be abused and it would become a “legal” form of committing adultery. The legislation thus restricts what may have been a loophole in the older custom. The purpose of the restriction is to keep free from sin the land which God would soon be giving to his people as an inheritance.4
Deuteronomy 24:1-4 did not establish divorce. It did not give Divine approval for divorce or remarriage. The only command or regulation given, was the prohibition of the divorced and remarried woman from ever returning to a conjugal relationship with her original husband.
The civil legislation of Moses did not deal directly with the traditional customs of polygamy, concubinage, or divorce. This does not mean God approved of them. The civil legislation was based on moral law, yet it was a practical regulation for the people. It did not deal with all possible matters, nor did it absolutely prohibit all social evils, because, as Jesus said, “their hearts were hard”.
Modern defenders of the right to divorce and remarriage seek to engage others in debate over the meaning of “some indecency” in this passage. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day they seek to find legal loopholes to justify divorce and remarriage. The Lord Jesus Christ did not enter into a debate over the meaning of “some indecency”. Instead, He took them back to God’s original divine plan for marriage at the beginning of creation. Christians should base their view of divorce and remarriage on the Genesis account and the words of Jesus in the Gospels.
Many of the Reformers resorted to the use of interpretive legal fiction to allow Christians to divorce and remarry. Since the Mosaic Law sanctioned the death penalty against an adulterous spouse, the New Testament Christian could now see their adulterous spouse as figuratively dead. They were then free to divorce and remarry. I do not know of any modern writers who currently hold this view. Instead they have taken another route to allow divorce and remarriage. They claim God divorced Israel, therefore the believer is also free to divorce their adulterous spouse and remarry. At the outset it needs to be stressed that the doctrine of divorce and remarriage is to be grounded in exegesis of relevant New Testament passages. Nevertheless, since this argument is used by current writers, we will look at what the Old Testament has to say about God’s covenant relationship with Israel.
Did God completely forsake Israel so that she had no future hope of restoration? God disciplined Israel for disobedience, but did He put her away and take another nation to be His wife? For modern expositors to claim God’s relationship with Israel allows Christians to divorce and remarry, these questions must be answered in the affirmative.
The beginning point for the Jewish nation took place with the call of Abraham. Before this time in history there were no chosen people. Individuals trusted in the living God but Yahweh had not yet called any particular nation. In Genesis 12 God called Abraham and promised to make him a great nation. God made three unconditional promises to Abraham. 1. He promised him land. 2. He promised him a seed. 3. He promised to make him a blessing.
Now the Lord said to Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3).
Is this covenant conditional or unconditional? Genesis 17:7, 13, 19; 1 Chronicles 16:16-17; and Psalm 105:9-10 all claim this covenant is eternal. It is based on the sovereign choice and promise of God. If a covenant is eternal, then it can not be conditional.
O.T. Allis writes this about the covenant:
It is true that, in the express terms of the covenant with Abraham, obedience is not stated as a condition.5
If the covenant was unconditional at its inception, it remains such through out history. Galatians 3:15 states that the Abrahamic covenant cannot be altered.
Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto (Galatians 3:15).
In Genesis 15:17 God passed through the cut animals to confirm what He had previously promised. The fact that God alone passed through the sacrifice, emphasizes that the promise was unilateral and therefore unconditional.
Later in Genesis 17:9-14 God gave Abraham the rite of circumcision as an outward visible sign of the covenant. This rite was a personal act that related each male to the covenant but had nothing to do with the unconditional nature of it. Women could not be circumcised, yet became partakers of the covenant. One uncircumcised man could not annul the covenant for the rest of the nation any more than one unbeliever can void the grace of God for everyone else.
The covenant was reiterated and confirmed to Isaac and Jacob after disobedience on the part of each. Certain blessings may be attached to unconditional covenants which may require some response from each individual in order to receive personal benefit but the integrity of an unconditional covenant remains intact whether an individual remains loyal or not. There may be delays, postponements, and chastisements but an eternal unconditional covenant cannot be broken. If a covenant is unconditional at its inception, it remains so through out history. Since God chose Abraham’s seed to always be a nation before Him, He will never permanently put Israel away and marry another nation.
Out of the Abrahamic covenant came three more covenants: Palestinian (land), Davidic (seed), and New (blessing) Covenants.
The Palestinian covenant is found in Deuteronomy 30:1-10. It was given in fulfillment of the land promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Ezekiel 16:60 calls it an eternal covenant because it is an amplification of the unconditional Abrahamic covenant. It was given because God knew the people would break the law. This was a reminder that God would never completely forsake the nation of Israel. The Mosaic covenant is given in Exodus 19 and Deuteronomy 28. It was conditional and based on the people’s obedience. If the people obeyed, they would be blessed. If the people disobeyed, they would be cursed. Most conservative scholars place the date of Abraham around 2100 B.C. Moses received the Law around 1440 B.C. In the 600-700 years between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants there were many opportunities for God to cut off the seed of Abraham for their sinful behavior. Nevertheless, the unconditional promise of God stood firm. God chose Israel in an unmerited act of gracious favor. Obedience to the Mosaic covenant did not decide who the people of God would be. It did not decide whether they would retain their status as a chosen nation. These were decided centuries before through the sovereign choice of God. Obedience to the law decided if Israel would be cursed or blessed.
The Mosaic covenant anticipated the disobedience and subsequent dispersions of Israel under the Assyrians (722 B.C.), Babylonians (586 B.C.), and Romans (A.D. 70). The Palestinian covenant assured Israel that when these calamities were over, they would repent and God would restore the people. Israel would once again possess the land. This is a frequent theme of the prophets (Jeremiah 30:3; Joel 3:1). This will ultimately be fulfilled at the second advent of Messiah, before the beginning of the millennial kingdom. The unconditional Abrahamic and Palestinian covenants are in no way abrogated by the temporal and conditional Mosaic covenant.
The Davidic covenant is the seed part of the Abrahamic covenant (2 Samuel 7:12-16). It was made while the Mosaic Law was in effect. God promised three things to David. First, David would have a son. Second, David’s lineage would be established forever. Third, David’s throne and earthly political kingdom would be established over Israel forever. God promised similar things to Solomon. God promised Solomon he would build the temple. He also promised that the throne would remain forever. He did not promise Solomon that his seed would always be on the throne. This is important because Solomon’s line was cut off because of disobedience. 1 Kings 9:6-7 makes it clear that God would cut off Solomon or his sons if they turned away from God. David’s line would continue as God promised.
In accordance with the Word of God, Jesus the Messiah did come from the line of David. The final fulfillment of this covenant will be a future literal reign of Christ on the throne of David in Jerusalem (cf. Revelation 20:6). God seems to have anticipated the arguments, that disobedience abrogates unconditional covenants. Disobedience brought punishment to Solomon and his sons. Disobedience brought death to David’s first son through Bathsheba. Disobedience brought the sword of the Angel of the Lord on the people for David’s census. Disobedience has currently interrupted the reign of David’s seed on the throne. Disobedience does not nullify God’s covenant with His people. An important thing to realize is that God made his covenant with David before David committed adultery with Bathsheba. If adultery or any other sin could break God’s covenant, then why wasn’t this accomplished by David’s sin? The answer is simple. Sin does not, and can not, nullify an unconditional covenant created by God.
In Jeremiah 31:31-37 God made a new covenant with the nation of Israel. He claimed that they had broken the conditional Mosaic covenant, but His “unconditional love” (chesed/2617) wouldn’t give up on them. The new covenant is an extension of the blessing part of the Abrahamic covenant. It is based on unconditional grace resting on the “I will” of God. The new covenant is everlasting and promises impartation of a renewed mind and heart. It promises Israel that her sins will be forgiven and that God will never forsake them.
Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The Lord of hosts is his name: If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me forever. Thus saith the Lord; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all they have done, saith the Lord (Jeremiah 31:35-37).
God uses the unsearchableness of the universe and the foundations of the earth as proof that He will never completely cast off Israel as His chosen nation. This in spite of the fact that they broke the Mosaic Law.
Some have surmised that since God claims to have divorced Israel, then divorce is allowed for the Christian also. In response to this, it must be reiterated that New Testament doctrine is to be built on New Testament passages that specifically speak on this subject. Doctrine can be rooted in the Old Testament, as Jesus did by quoting from Genesis chapters 1 and 2. It is not to be built on Old Testament metaphors or analogies which use similar terms, but do not speak directly to the subject.
We have shown the permanent relationship God has with Israel. With this foundation laid, we’ll look at some verses which interpreters use to allow Christians to divorce and remarry.
Thus saith the Lord, Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away (Isaiah 50:1).
God called Abraham circa 2100 B.C. The Mosaic covenant had been in effect since 1440 B.C. The book of Isaiah was penned circa 700 B.C. The seed of Abraham had been a chosen people for 1400 years. They had lived under the Mosaic Law for 700 years. They had sinned many times during this period, but they were still God’s chosen people. This passage speaks of God divorcing His people, but it also speaks of Him selling them to creditors. These are figures of speech that are used to show God’s punishment and discipline of His children. There is nothing mentioned in this passage of them ceasing to be the wife of God. The basic theme of chapters 40-66 is comfort and salvation for the nation of Israel. They must undergo discipline for their sin, but God will restore them. The furthest Isaiah 50:1 could be taken is that the adulterous wife could temporarily be put away for her sin, yet she doesn’t cease being a wife. Even this would be stretching New Testament doctrine since husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. Christ disciplines His church, but He never divorces them. Notice this passage also says Israel was sold to creditors. The Jews bought and sold women like chattel. If taken in the same literal manner, then a man could sell his wife to creditors. Isaiah 54:4 speaks of Israel being a widow. Did God actually die? If taken literally, we wouldn’t know if Israel was widowed or divorced. The basic meaning of this passage is that God allowed Israel to be temporarily chastised for her sins. When taken as a whole, the book of Isaiah is filled with other verses that show God’s steadfast and forgiving love to Israel.
Isaiah 54:5-10 has this beautiful passage that sums up God’s relationship to Israel.
For thy maker is thine husband, The Lord of hosts is His name; And thy redeemer the Holy One of Israel; the God of the whole earth shall He be called. For the Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God. For a small moment I have forsaken thee, but with great mercies I will gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment: But with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy redeemer. For this is as the waters of Noah unto me; for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I would not be wroth with thee nor rebuke thee. For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee (Isaiah 54:5-10).
Notice that this passage comes after the passage used by people to allow for divorce and remarriage. God still claimed to be Israel’s husband. His wrath lasts only a moment, but His mercy is forever. The mountains and the hills will pass away before God will break His covenant with Israel.
And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also (Jeremiah 3:8).
Jeremiah chapter 3 was written circa 625 B.C. Israel went into captivity for her sin and it was to be a warning and call to repentance for the southern kingdom of Judah. Some have used this verse to prove divorce and remarriage is appropriate under certain circumstances. Israel had not committed literal but spiritual adultery. Jeremiah 3:9 makes it clear that her adultery was with stones and trees, meaning idolatry. If consistency is applied, this kind of interpretation would allow a man to divorce a wife who had committed spiritual apostasy. The point of the entire passage is that Israel was the treacherous one. God was faithful and was beckoning Israel to return. Not a word is mentioned about God remarrying another nation after the divorce. God claims the Mosaic Law does not allow the divorced and remarried woman to return (Jeremiah 3:1) yet God allowed Israel to return in direct violation of Deuteronomy 24:1-4. When rules of normative interpretation are taken away, (as some have conveniently done), Scripture can be made to say whatever one wants it to say. God claims to have married Judah as well as her sister Israel. This would be in violation of Leviticus 18:18. If a Christian can use this verse to divorce his wife and remarry, then it would be just as valid, (using this interpretive method), to allow polygamy. All this proves is that Old Testament metaphors shouldn’t be stretched to teach New Testament doctrine.
Then said God, Call his name Lo-ammi: for ye are not my people, and I will not be your God. Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it will come to pass, that in the place where it is said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God (Hosea 1:9-10).
Plead with your mother, plead: for she is not my wife, neither am I her husband: Let her therefore put away her whoredoms 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 as a wilderness, and set her like a dry land, and slay her with thirst (Hosea 2:2-3).
Hosea’s ministry took place preceding and following Israel’s captivity (722 B.C.). Hosea was a divine messenger to warn Israel that her apostasy would bring the curses of God as promised in Deuteronomy 28:15-68. A cursory reading of Hosea will show that one main theme of the book is to show God’s forgiveness to a sinful people. Rather than giving up on Israel, God used Hosea’s marriage to a harlot to illustrate His steadfast unceasing love. Though God did claim to have divorced Israel, the entire picture must be kept in perspective. Israel had broken the conditional Mosaic covenant yet they still had the unconditional Abrahamic covenant as proof that they would always be the people of God. The fact that God disciplined Israel proves that they still were His chosen people.
Amazingly enough, some expositors use these very Scriptures to try to prove that Christians have a right to divorce and remarry. They completely overlook that Hosea 1:9 is temporal, yet verses 10-11 give the final condition. Namely, in this same place Israel and Judah will be called sons of the living God. Lo-ammi (not my people) is used as an analogy for God’s discipline of Israel. It cannot be stretched to say that God permanently put away Israel. It cannot be used to prove a divorced person ever has a right to remarry. In Hosea 2:2 the word adultery is used as a metaphor for spiritual apostasy. Hosea 2:3 claims God will strip Israel naked and cause her to die of dehydration in the desert. Are Christians to punish adulterous wives in this manner?
The permanence of Israel’s relationship is rooted in the unconditional Abrahamic covenant. Their discipline, captivities, and divorces are rooted in the conditional Mosaic covenant. God uses different metaphors and analogies to show disfavor towards His people. None of these can rightly be stretched to say a man can divorce and remarry. Although God temporarily put Israel away, forgiveness of His people is always on the horizon. God is always seen as the permanent husband of Israel, even during times of punishment. At no time is it ever hinted that God completely forsook His people and married another wife. Hosea does not teach that Christians have the right to divorce and remarry. Rather, it teaches that God is gracious and forgiving to an adulterous people. The Christian should also be gracious and forgiving to an adulterous spouse.
Ezra returned to Jerusalem in 458 B.C. Nehemiah returned in 444 B.C. They both encountered spiritual apathy and low moral standards by the Jews living in Jerusalem. Malachi prophesied between 450-430 B.C. The people had external formal worship and were religious in offering sacrifices. Internally their hearts were not right before the Lord. This was shown in their daily lives. The people were living in sinful rebellion against God’s Law. They were bringing lame, blind, and stolen animals for sacrifice (Malachi 1:6-14). Even the priests and Levites were corrupting justice (Malachi 2:1-9). The people were guilty of sorcery, perjury, and adultery. They were oppressing the poor, widows, aliens, and orphans (Malachi 3:5). They were robbing God of tithes and offerings (Malachi 3:8-12).
On top of all these sins they were profaning the Lord’s holy institution of marriage. They were weeping and crying out to God to accept their sacrifices and offerings. God was not regarding them because of their corrupt and sinful lifestyles.
Have we not all one father? Hath not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers? Judah hath dealt treacherously; and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the Lord which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god. The Lord will cut off the man that doeth this, the master and the scholar, out of the tabernacles of Jacob, and him that offereth an offering unto the Lord of hosts. And this have ye done again covering the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and with crying out, in so much that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand. Yet ye say, wherefore? Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet she is thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not He make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That He might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that He hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the Lord of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously. Ye have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied Him? When ye say, everyone that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment? (Malachi 2:10-17).
Malachi begins verse 10 by arguing that since God created the Israelites, and He is their Father, they should not deal treacherously by profaning the covenant. He warns them that the man who marries the daughter of a strange god (an idolatrous woman) will be cut off. In verses 10-12 the Jews were said to be profaning the covenant given by God. God had specifically commanded Israel not to intermarry with pagan idolatrous people. God knew these marriages would lead Israel to follow other gods (Exodus 34:14-16; Deuteronomy 7:1-4). Ezra and Nehemiah both dealt with this sin (Ezra 10; Nehemiah 13).
In verses 13-15 Malachi rebukes the people for not only marrying pagan women, but for divorcing their wives in order to do so. The sin of divorce is specifically mentioned as the reason God had no regard for their offerings. Verse 14 says the marriage of one’s youth is a covenant. It calls the divorcing of one’s wife treachery. Verse 15 also calls divorce treachery. Although this verse is difficult to translate, the context speaks of marriage and divorce. God made man and woman for the purpose of bearing godly offspring. Divorce is not conducive to nurturing godly children. The purposes of God were being corrupted by divorce and intermarriage with pagan wives. God warned the Jews not to deal treacherously with the wife of one’s youth.
Verse 16 gives God’s thoughts concerning divorce: He hates it. This is because it covers ones garment with violence. The phrase may be seen as “covering one’s garment with sin”, or “sin covering one’s garment”. The meaning is the same either way: wickedness will adhere to such a man and cannot be removed.
Malachi 2 concludes with the people questioning God. The context leads one to believe that the Jews saw no problem with divorcing their wives and remarrying. It is possible that they were divorcing and remarrying, and then claiming God’s blessing upon such practices. God had already spoken on how He views these acts.
From Genesis to Malachi marriage is viewed as an important aspect of true religion. It has its foundation in the one flesh covenant (Genesis 1:27, 2:23-24). The unconditional Abrahamic covenant shows God’s permanent relationship with the nation of Israel (Genesis 12:3). Marriage is used as a picture of God’s faithfulness to Israel (Proverbs 2:17; Isaiah 54:1-10; Jeremiah 3:8; Hosea 3:1; Malachi 2:14). By the time of Moses, men were divorcing and remarrying for various reasons. The only legislation given by God was that a divorced and remarried woman could never return to her first husband. The woman was defiled. Returning to her original husband was an abomination to God. This would bring sin upon the land (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). God did not approve of, nor establish, divorce. He claims He hates it and likens it to treachery (Malachi 2:15-16). Why did not God prohibit divorce and remarriage in the Mosaic Law? We are not told! He did not forbid polygamy or concubinage either. We do know that the Mosaic Law was temporal and given to regulate the hardness of man’s heart. The Lord Jesus Christ came in the fullness of time and taught all God’s righteous standards.
1 David Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the BibleThe Social and Literary Context, p. 15.
2 C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, The Fifth Book of Moses, p. 416.
3 Raymond Westbrook, “Prohibition of Restoration of Marriage in Deuteronomy 24:1-4,” in Studies in Bible 1986.
4 Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, p. 305
5 O.T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church, p. 33.
Copyright 2008 by Joe Fogle. All rights reserved.