Divorce: What Saith The Scripture?

1 09 2011

“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.” Malachi 2:16

     It is common to hear the term, “God hates divorce” and this verse is usually the proof text quoted to back up that saying. Is that saying accurate? Well the problem is that proof texting always leads to error. We cannot isolate one verse from it’s chapter, topic, and the rest of the Bible. We must study each verse in the context in which it is stated, and each topic such as divorce should always be looked at not through the microscope of one verse but the teaching of the entire Scriptures on the subject. We must start by first looking at what marriage is.

     Marriage is a God ordained institution(Genesis 2:24) and is given as a gift for man(Genesis 2:20). The marriage bond is given as a type or picture of the relationship between God and His people(Ephesians 5:22-33). Marriage is intended to be for life and should not be taken lightly nor broken up lightly. Does God hate all divorce? Well we need to look at all we can on the matter to see what the Scripture says.

     What does the law say about divorce? In Deuteronomy 24:1-4 we see the law concerning divorce. Verse 1 starts off, “When a man hath taken a wife, and married her…” This shows we are not talking about an engaged couple whom is often called husband and wife in Scripture. This is talking about someone alrready married. It goes on, “and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.” He can divorce her if she has found no favor in his eyes but it gets even more specific. The word “because” shows the only kind of disfavor, it says if she finds no favor in his eyes BECAUSE of some uncleanness. Verse 2-4 say that she may go to be another man’s wife but may not return to her first husband.

     Has God ever allowed divorce? Yes He has. In Ezra 10:10-19 we see Ezra the prophet of God ending the marriages of the Israelites who had married heathen women. We see nothing negative being said about it, and we see no indication he was wrong for doing such a thing. This does not mean God endorses Christians to divorce heathen wives, all this shows is that God allowed this to happen and did not condemn Ezra’s actions which is odd if what Ezra did was something God hated.

     What does Jesus say about divorce? Well Jesus speaks on the subject in Matthew 19:3-12. In verse 3 the Pharisees asked Him, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” Even though the law stated that a man could only divorce his wife for some uncleanness, the rabbi’s had over time perverted the meaning of the law and defined anything and everything as “uncleanness.” If your wife didn’t tend your every whim you could say she lost favor in your eyes and was unclean to you. So divorce was being done as a regualr thing.

     Jesus answers them by telling them why God made marriage and quoting Genesis, “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”(Vs. 4-6) The Pharisees asked why Moses commanded to divorce if God did not intend that. Jesus responded that divorce was not in God’s original plan and it wasn’t. Man has been marred by the fall and many things that go on are not in step with God’s original intentions. For instance God allowed men to have multiple wives and we even see where God gave His people multiple wives(2 Samuel 12:8) Polygamy was not part of God’s original creation order but due to the fall it became a necessary way of life just as divorce had become one.

     He then goes on to clarify what Moses meant by saying you could divorce your wife if she lost favor in your eyes because of some uncleanness, “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.”(Vs. 9) The only uncleanness that makes divorce lawful is fornication, the Greek term used was “pornea” which is where we get our modern term of pornography. A man cannot simply divorce his wife because she has made him angry or because he is tired of her. The only cause is sexual immorality. Even in this case I think every attempt should be made by both spouses to reconcile and divorce should be a last option.

     Some say “well, yes He allows it in certain cases but He still hates it” that is very inconsistant. The fact that God allows divorce in some cases must mean we cannot throw a blanket statement such as “God hates divorce” out there. Paul when speaking on the subject of marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 says that it’s better not to marry at all, unless you cannot contain your passions(Vs. 8-9). He says that a man should not put away his wife(Vs. 11) and if  a wife departs from her husband she must remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband(Vs. 10-11) Of course he does not mention fornication so we must assume he is speaking of just leaving for no reason. He then goes on to say, “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.”  What he is saying is that if someone gets saved after marriage(because it is sin to marry a non-believer) and their spouse is still lost then they should stay with them and pray their testimony reaches their spouse(Vs. 12-13) He also says that if the unbelieving spouse leaves then the christian spouse is not “under bondage” which would be the marriage bond. So adultery or abandonment by an unsaved spouce are the only causes for divorce in Scripture.

     What is the meaning of the statement in Malachi? Let’s put the staement in question into context. In Malachi 2, verses 1-10 God is reprimanding Isreal for breaking and profaning His covenant with them. In verse 11 it says, “for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the LORD which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god.” The the historical context is that these men had married heathen women who worshipped other gods.

     Where these single men who had sinned in this manner? No, let’s read on, “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 is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.”(Vs. 14) So these were married men who had broken their marriage vows, divorced their wives and married heathen women. From the phrase “wife of thy youth” I might also understand that they were older men who put away the wife of their youth to marry younger heathen women. This is not stated and is only a guess. The Lord then goes on to say, “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.”(Vs. 15-16)

     So the context is that these married men had broken their marriage vows, divorced their wives to marry heathen women. God tells them that He hates the divorce, not all divorce but the divorce of those in question. Does God hate divorce? Yes, wrong divorce, not divorce in the bounds He has set. Does God hate sex? Yes, outside of the bounds He has set. Is divorce sin? Yes, outside the bounds He has set. Is sex a sin? Yes, outside the bounds He has set. Lawful divorce is just as right as lawful sex. Unlawful divorce is just as sinful and wrong as unlawful sex. In Proverbs Solomon gives a list of things God hates, not an exhaustive list but divorce does not even make the top 7.

     Can we conclude that God hates all divorce? No, not without ignoring the Scriptures. He hates wrong divorce. Is all divorce sin? No, only wrong divorce. I find it funny that Jesus allows divorce yet His followers claim all divorce is sinful. Are they then concluding Jesus is ok with sin under certain circumstances? Absolutely not! It’s true divorce was not in the original intentions of God but neither was death, polygamy, slavery, religion, pain in childbirth, work or many other things that we have due to the fall.  God hates divorce for the wrong reason and this puts Malachi, Jesus, and Moses, and Paul in perfect harmony.

     Divorce even in right circumstances is not a desirable thing and it should only be done after much deliberation, many attempts at reconciliation, and with a pain in the heart. Rates are staggering, In 1920, there was 1 divorce for every 7 marriages. That is 14%. In 1940, there was 1 divorce for every 6 marriages. That is 17%. In 1960, there was 1 divorce for every 4 marriages. That is 25%. In 1972, there was 1 divorce for every 3 marriages. That is 33%. In 1977, there was 1 divorce for every 2 marriages. That is 50%. Of course, the divorce rate has stayed around 50% since the 70’s, but has recently exceeded that. 

          It is a shame to see such high rates but the answer to this is not to be reactionary and declare all divorce as sin and say God hates all divorce. We see a divorce rate in the church almost as high as in the world and the reason being that most professing christinas are not really saved in the first place. We must not judge by our reactions but by Scripture. In all circumstances and on every topic we must say, “what saith the Scripture.”

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