"For I hate putting away, saith Jehovah, the God of Israel. . ."--Malachi 2:16 (ASV)
DIVORCE. The legal dissolution of a marital union and severance of the marriage bond between the husband and wife. The original terms for divorce have literal meanings of send away (Deu 22:19), release or loose off (Mt 1:19), drive out; cast out (Lev 22:13), and cut off (Deu 24:1-3, where the literal expression a certificate of divorce means a book of cutting off.)
When that first couple were married in Eden so long ago (Gen 2:18-24), God did not make any provisions for divorce as Jesus explains in Mat 19:3-8 (and if you think about it, aren't we glad he didn't?). Then came the serpent, and sin, and death, the Flood, Nimrod, and all the other stuff. Life became complicated. Yet, Jehovah had already set a standard for marriage (complement to each other, one flesh), and he had made it thoroughly obvious there were standards of conduct he expected humankind to follow on pain of consequence (that first couple did get kicked out of Eden for eating the fruit).
Between Genesis 1:1 and Leviticus 21:14, as far as we can tell, the official practice of divorce somehow sprang into being, and the Mosaic Law had provisions to regulate this practice within the community of God's people. But the ancient Israelites failed to uphold the Law in a faithful manner as pointed by Malachi and later by Jesus in Mat 19:3-8. Many Christians today therefore take the meaning of Mat 19:3-8 to be Jehovah never really approved of divorce; that it was a creation of Moses and will therefore adhere to a strict belief that divorce from a spouse is impossible in the eyes of God. But, is that what the Scriptures really tell us?
As mentioned in Malachi 2:16, Jehovah really does hate a divorce. However, that is not all that Malachi has to say on the subject:
And this again ye do: ye cover the altar of Jehovah with tears, with weeping, and with sighing, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, neither receiveth it with good will at your hand.
Yet ye say, Wherefore?
Because Jehovah hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously, though she is thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.
And did he not make one, although he had the residue of the Spirit?
And wherefore one? He sought a godly seed.
Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For I hate putting away, saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, and him that covereth his garment with violence, saith Jehovah of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.
--Malachi 2:13-16 (ASV)Effectively, Jehovah was putting the Israelites on warning: Stop trifling with divorce. Jehovah was calling the Israelites out on their treacherous practice of basically divorcing on any grounds (refer again to Mat 19:3-8) in order to acquire another wife (usually younger, pagan wives) over their first one (wife of his youth). Through Malachi, God debunks their excuses about Abraham's dealings with Hagar (And did he not make one, although. . .) with the plain reference to the Christ (a godly seed). Interestingly for us, Abraham's case demonstrates many points:
- Divorce (sending away) is obviously not forbidden by Jehovah. Note, however:
- The choice to dismiss Hagar was not Abraham's; it was Sarah's (both times). Abraham found it distasteful.
- When strife arose, Abraham did not dismiss the wife of his youth over the obviously much younger Hagar.
- One could look at Abraham's attitude to show that not just a first wife (Sarah), but that neither a secondary, nor even a slave wife (Hagar) should be "dismissed" on any but the most serious of grounds (Hagar was finally dismissed only at Jehovah's insistence because the Seed would spring through Sarah/Isaac, not Hagar/Ishmael).
Moreover Jehovah said unto me in the days of Josiah the king, Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? she is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot.
And I said after she had done all these things, She will return unto me; but she returned not: and her treacherous sister Judah saw it.
And I saw, when, for this very cause that backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a bill of divorcement, yet treacherous Judah her sister feared not; but she also went and played the harlot.
--Jeremiah 3:6-8 (ASV)I find it quite interesting that the wording goes as far as mentioning a bill of divorcement. This is very explicit towards Jehovah's meaning and leaves no doubt that, hateful or not, Jehovah does approve of divorce at times. Not to be lost in this by any means, however, is the severity of circumstance under which Jehovah finally decides on divorce:
"Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? she is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot."So, this is not even the first time she had gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot. God has a very definite view of the marriage bond in mind, which can be seen throughout the Old Testament and can be inferred by his dealings with Ancient Israel. Careful review of the Scriptures reveal how Jehovah reacted to the Israelites' provocations, how he wanted to exterminate them all in the time of Moses, sent plagues among them, let them suffer humiliating defeats in battle, eliminates entire bloodlines, forced them into "prostitution" with the nations around them, sent them repeatedly into slavery, even exile, and other punishments. But he always left the door open to them, waiting for them to have a change of heart.
The only time Jehovah actually mentions divorce, the sending away, the we're through message we see in Malachi, is because of adultery:
"for this very cause that backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a bill of divorcement."We know this is figurative adultery (well, not entirely at that either), but in effect it is the breaking of a spiritual marriage covenant by spiritually becoming one flesh with other religions that constituted the adultery. Reinforcing this idea from the Old Testament, Jesus Christ himself not once, but twice, tells us basically the same principle applies to people:
"But I tell you not to divorce your wife unless she has committed some terrible sexual sin. If you divorce her, you will cause her to be unfaithful, just as any man who marries her is guilty of taking another man’s wife."
--Matthew 5:32 (CEV)
"I say that if your wife has not committed some terrible sexual sin, you must not divorce her to marry someone else. If you do, you are unfaithful.”
--Matthew 19:9 (CEV)Jesus makes it clear what constitutes grounds for divorce with the intent of remarrying: Violation of the one-flesh bond with a spouse. So we can safely say that burning your toast in the morning, not taking out the trash or not receiving the marriage due in a while don't quite meet up to Jehovah's standards for divorcing and seeking another spouse.
There are going to be such cases such as abuse, abandonment, and others in which a legal separation, and perhaps even divorce may have to take place. But remarriage would probably have to wait until either the other spouse died or got remarried or engaged in sexual activities with someone else. And the Scriptures do cover some other special situations (such as mentioned in 1 Corinthians and Ezra) that might also permit remarriage.
So divorce is definitely possible in the Scriptures, and does have Jehovah's approval when properly handled. But it is a deadly serious thing for a Christian to trifle with, and should be only a last resort when things like abuse are not involved. Pastors, elders and other mature members of your congregation should be kept informed of your situation to provide you with solid spiritual and moral support.
I speak from painful experience. Divorce is not an easy matter and will affect you and your family for years to come. But if there does come a time or circumstance that warrants it, Jehovah, our Heavenly Father has your back.
My prayers to you all.
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