The messiness of human relationships…4

people ask… “so what does the bible actually say about divorce?”

my cynical side wants to ask them back… “so why do you really want to know?  will it actually change what you believe about divorce?”   better yet…  “will you change how you feel or act,  if god’s word clearly points out that you are wrong?”

be careful what you ask.   …and i’ll save the cynicism for another time.

most of what we know from the bible about divorce is a lot like what we know about marriage:  a lot is assumed or inferred.   although the idyllic relationship between a husband and wife…a life-long,  monogamous covenant to each other…was expressed in the garden and idealized in the writings and traditions of the jews , it was anything but perfection in reality.

along with laws in the torah that permitted some out-of-the-ideal marriage boundaries,  we also see divorce as a normal part of jewish life…so normal that it needed regulation,  in order for it not to be abused.   here’s pretty much one of the two the big teachings on divorce in the old testament:

If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house,  and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man,  and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies,  then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD.   Deuteronomy 24:1-4

this is the passage that speaks of a written certificate of divorce.   it was apparently the model of exacting a divorce under the law of moses.   it is written as if it is simply the assumed way of handling a divorce.   this is how orthodox jews handle divorce to this day.

the “tricky” part of the divorce plan,  though,  is found in the words “…something indecent in her”.   even back then,  the words were confusing and often hotly debated.   could indecent mean:  a bad cook?  lousy in bed?  talks too much?  doesn’t look attractive anymore?  isn’t as attentive to me?   to the pharisees,  it could mean any of those…and a thousand more!

and because it was man’s world,  the man could do just about anything he wanted.   including have multiple wives.   (deuteronomy 22:13-29 list six scenarios where sin had corrupted the sanctity of the marriage relationship…and rules for divorce,  or no divorce,  are given.  pretty interesting.)

the other big teaching on divorce in the old testament is found in the writings of the prophet malachi.   in proclaiming the unfaithfulness of israel’s relationship to god,  the prophet compares israel to a young married couple:

Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.   “I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel… So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.   Malachi 2:15-16

so there you have it.   god knows divorce is going to happen.  he even provided a way for it to be done.   and he hates it.

next up:  divorce in the new testament.


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