Genesis: The Book of God’s Kingdom – 08 (“The Ordinance of Marriage – 02”)
We are currently busy with the second creation ordinance of God that has affected the total life of man, and that is the ordinance of marriage. In the ordering of creation, God himself indicated ~ “…it is not good that man should be alone” (Gen.2:18).
The creational origin of the marriage relationship has far reaching implications. By tracing this ordinance to the sovereign creative act of God Himself, Scripture removes all doubt with respect to the sanctity of marriage. The Lord-Creator ordained marriage from the time of man’s creation.
Although marriage is one of the most important institutions, because it forms part of the creation ordinances, we find that married couples violate this ordinance by means of divorce, from almost the very beginning of days – even before the Law of Moses was given to the Israelites. In our days there are almost as many divorces as there are marriages.
The latest marriage and divorce data released by Statistics South Africa shows the divorce rate up by almost five percent since 2012:
- Current rates in South Africa are steadily climbing, with stats SA data showing that in 2014 there were 24,689 divorces, up from the 23,885 in 2013.
- 53% of marriages are solemnised at the Department of Home Affairs, of which, 75,6% end up in divorce.
- The most common age of divorce is 42 for men and 38 for women, with most of the divorces taking place between 5 and 9 years of marriage.
- Wives (51,7%) more than husbands (34,4%) are most likely to initiate a divorce.
- The number of registered customary marriages in South Africa in 2003 were 17,283 and in 2015, 3,467. Which points to the fact that the definition of marriage is dramatically changing and that more and more people are just living together.
- Couples from the white population group dominated the number of the divorces from 2003 to 2007; thereafter, black African couples had the highest number of divorces up until 2015. In 2003, 40,0% of the divorces were from the white population group whereas 24,3% came from the black African population group. By 2015, 42,9% of the divorces were from the black African population group and 26,1% from the white population group.
- For every two couples that get married today, there is a couple somewhere getting a divorce. While this doesn’t quite imply the often quoted 50% divorce rate, it does amount to the expectation that about 41% of all first marriages will fail. That is a tragedy.
(https://businesstech.co.za/news/lifestyle/161011/here-is-what-you-need-to-know-about-marriage-and-divorce-in-south-africa/) and (http://www.divorcelaws.co.za/divorce-statistics.html).
In the USA the divorce percentage is not much different from ours. Already over 50 of all marriages in the USA ends up in divorce and this epidemic of divorce has caused serious problems in our society and even in the Lord’s Church.
Today I want to present a very basic outline of what God has to say on the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage:
- The Pharisees and Jesus
- Exceptions to the Rule
If you ask the question, how does God view divorce, there is a short answer. The answer is given by God Himself in Mal.2:16, where He says ~ “For the Lord God of Israel says That He hates divorce” (NKJV) – He hates divorce! Why did God say this? Israel was in exile in Babylon for 70 years, but in 536 BC they returned to Israel and within 20 years, they rebuilt Jerusalem and the temple which was destroyed by the Babylonians before the Israelites were taken away in exile. Sacrifices were re-instituted, but in about 100 years after they have returned from exile, their religion became an external, dead ritual and they have defected from God (Afrikaans: “die rug gekeer op God”). Malachi told them that they became hard-hearted towards God and then he defines their sins in very specific terms and calls for repentance.
Nehemiah identify the same sins and specify them in Neh.13:23-29 ~ “In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but only the language of each people. And I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair. And I made them take an oath in the name of God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin. Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?” And one of the sons of Jehoiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was the son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite. Therefore, I chased him from me. Remember them, O my God, because they have desecrated the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites.”
The Israelites committed a double sin – they divorced their Israelite wives and they married Gentiles or heathens. These sins were serious – really serious, especially if we keep in mind that these divorcees still came to the temple to offer sacrifices to the living God ~ “May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the Lord of hosts! And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favour from your hand. But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So, guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So, guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless” (Mal.2:12-16).
With this, the Old Testament history ends, but just one last remark – during the last, two hundred years before the coming of Christ we found two schools of thought about divorce developed in Israel. One school of thought was from Hillel, a Jewish rabbi. This school taught that a man could divorce his wife for any reason. They based their opinion on Deut.24:1 which says ~ “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favour in his eyes…” The other school of reasoning was that of the school of Shammai. Those who held to this line of thought, believed that a man could only divorce his wife for adultery and they based their thinking also on Deut.24:1, but on the part that says ~ “…because he has found some indecency (or uncleanness) in her…” They interpreted this “indecency” as adultery. This is important to keep in mind, when we look at our Scripture reading for today, because the Jews now has established divorce as a noble alternative and accepted behaviour.
So, God’s last message to His people under the old covenant was, “do not divorce, because I hate divorce!”
We can obviously look at more than just one passage in Scripture to read about divorce (e.g. look at Mark 10:1-12; Deut.22-24; Is.50; Jer.3; Mal.2; Matt.5, 19; Mark 10; 1 Cor.7, etc.). The passage that I would like us to look at this morning, on the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage is in Matt.19.
3. SCRIPTURE READING:
Matt.19:1-12 (ESV) ~ “Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. 3And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause? 4He answered, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. 7They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery. 10The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”
4. THE PHARISEES AND JESUS:
We must realise here, that the text says that the Pharisees came to Jesus. “tempting” Him. These questions that the Pharisees asked Jesus was not from a pure motive. They wanted to hear Jesus’ answer, not because they wanted an answer on the question, but they wanted to trap Jesus. The Jewish people, due to the two schools of thought that I’ve already mentioned (Hillel and Shammai) were divided on the question of divorce – as in our day. The majority of the Jewish people were in favour of divorce, because the religious leaders taught that divorce was acceptable. The Pharisees thought that if Jesus condemns divorce, the people would turn against Jesus and Jesus would be alienated from the people, including the religious leaders and even Herod Antipas who was a fornicator and who beheaded John the Baptist because John confronted Herod with his fornication and incest (Afrikaans: “hoerery” en “bloedskande”). Herod might even put Jesus to death as in the case with John and that was exactly what the Pharisees wanted.
There was however a right answer on these Pharisee’s question and the same answer is valid in our day. The Pharisees then asked Jesus ~ “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” (vs.3). Now listen what Jesus answered them in vs.4 ~ “He answered, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
I want you to notice from vs.4 that Jesus answered their question by asking ~ “Have you not read?” The Pharisees asked Him a question about marriage and divorce and Jesus went back to the source of authority on marriage and that of course, is the written Word of God. To us it seems as if it is so obvious that we must refer to the Bible when struggling with questions and especially in this case with questions about marriage and divorce. Many people today seem to track everything except the Bible to make decisions about marriage. They will ask worldly people’s advice, or they will interpret the Word in order to suit them best, or they will just follow their own emotions. They might say, “but this person is a good person.” The fact that a person is a good person, does not make a marriage necessarily good or acceptable. Jesus did not appeal to emotions or the world’s view. No. He answered them straight from the Word of God ~ “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning…?” In the beginning God created man and woman (Gen.2:21-25). Jesus answered the Pharisees therefore, by referring back to the very first marriage ~ “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Sometimes the question arises whether two people are actually married at the conclusion of the wedding ceremony, or is it the sexual union that constitutes marriage? The answer to this question must be, that when the ceremony is finished and the marriage license has been signed, they are married, otherwise you would have a man and a woman spending their first night together on their honeymoon, but are not husband and wife.
Because of the fact that Jesus said to the Pharisees that man and woman are one and what God has joined together no man may separate, the Pharisees thought that, they had Jesus in a corner. In Mark 10:3 Jesus asked the Pharisees what Moses commanded the people about divorce? And they answered Him in Mark 10:4 ~ “They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” This is similar to their question in our Scripture reading – vs.7. Jesus reacted on their remark, by saying in vs.8 of Matt.19 ~ “He said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.'”
Now, many people refer to this verse in order to justify divorce, because they “read into this text,” that Moses gave permission for divorce and therefore they are allowed to divorce too. I must acknowledge that I also, until recently, struggled with this text.
To emphasise again, Jesus said that when God instituted marriage, He never intended for it to be corrupted the way that man have done. He never intended for man to get tired of their wives and put them away. He never intended for adultery to take place, or fornication to occur, but man have brought about this corruption and it all started in Gen.3 when the fall took place.
So, after Jesus told the Pharisees that God hates divorce, He referred them as theologians, back to Moses in Deuteronomy and it is very important for us to understand what the meaning of Deut.24:1-4 is. Let us read Deut.24:1-4 together ~ “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favour in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, 2 and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, 3 and the latter man hates 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 man dies, who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the LORD. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.”
The Pharisees believed that (as Rabbi Hillel also taught them) they can divorce their wives, if they found any indecency in them. Now, what is “indecency”? Maybe we must first say what “indecency” was not. Indecency did not mean adultery, because women would not freely and easily commit adultery, because the penalty for adultery or the consequence of adultery according to the Law of Moses, was the death penalty. Moses would therefore not use adultery as reason for divorce, because adultery rarely happened. So, Deut.24:1-4 is not a text to be used as an excuse for divorce when the other partner in the marriage commits adultery.
So, what then does the word “indecency” in Deut.24 mean? If we look at the context, we find the very same word in the previous chapter – Deut.23:13-14 ~ “And you shall have a trowel with your tools, and when you sit down outside, you shall dig a hole with it and turn back and cover up your excrement. Because the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you and to give up your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see (here is the same expression) anything indecent among you and turn away from you.” This word “indecency” therefore simply means, something that is socially not acceptable, or shamefulness. Indecency then could mean almost anything – from a woman showing her ankles in public, to screaming at her husband so that the neighbours could hear – anything that the man does not like is therefore enough and legitimate reason for him to divorce his wife – even if he feels she is not beautiful enough!
The question that we must ask ourselves is whether there are any commands in this passage? Did Moses say that a man could divorce his wife? No. Moses said ~ “When a man…,” in other words if you should do it for any reason – potentially. Moses did not say, that after a man marries a woman and after a while he does not like her anymore (for whatever reason), or he finds any indecency in her, he may divorce her and then he must do this or that. Whether it is right or wrong is not the issue right here and right now. What Moses said here is, and I am paraphrasing now, “it is a gross sin to divorce, but you do it anyway and whenever you do it; whenever you give your wife a divorce letter …,” etc. So, Moses is not giving any commands here and he is not giving permission for divorce here. The first command only comes in vss.2-4 ~ “…if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, 3 and the latter man hates 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 man dies, who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife.” The point is that, if you divorce your wife and she marries again and divorces again (or become a widow), you are not allowed to re-marry her again. In other words (I’m paraphrasing again) ~ “God created man and woman as one and no-one may separate them and you also know, according to Mal.2:16, That God hates divorce. You know that, because it is written in Genesis, but as result of the fall (that is no excuse to sin), but due to your own sin, you still divorce and in such a case, when you illegitimately divorce, you must remember, you are not allowed to re-marry your wife if she has remarried again and is single again.”
So what Jesus then referred to here, is that Moses did not give permission for divorce, but he gave a command to not re-marry a woman after he divorced her and she got married again and became single again – no grounds for divorce at all, only a command if the man should invalidly divorce!
We then see that nowhere in the Old Testament there is any permission or grounds for divorce.
5. EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE:
The question then is, is there absolutely no exception or grounds for divorce? Back to Matt.19 again. If we read vs.9, it seems as if there is an exception to the rule – vs.9 ~ “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” What is Jesus saying here? He says that anyone who remarries after divorce [except for fornication – because that is the Greek word been used here – πορνεία (porneia)] is an adulterer.
This is a very interesting, but also a very difficult verse to interpret. We have two issues here to deal with, first the issue of someone committing adultery and second, the issue of re-marriage.
In Evangelical circles we have two, or rather three schools of thought when it comes to interpreting this verse. The one we can call the “hardliners” (e.g. people like John Piper) and the others the “latitudinarians” (e.g. people like John MacArthur). And the third group, those that is even more liberal than the “latitudinarians,” but unfortunately, we don’t have time to look at grounds for divorce and re-marriage today – Lord willing we will be looking at these two topics next week.