Summary: Jesus hates divorce but He loves divorced people. How do I know -- The Bible tells me so
The Bible is a big book. It contains over 31,000 verses and lots of words. Some verses are difficult to understand and some are so clear that we wish they were harder to understand. Peter addresses this subject when he talks about some of Paul’s letters in particular and all scripture in general. He says “ His (Paul’s) letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:16)
So my task is to afflict the comfortable, comfort the afflicted --- That is: preach the Law, preach the Gospel --- with an absence of ignorance or instability -- and without distorting the words of Jesus.
Divorce is a problem in society and in the church. As a Stephen minister, I see firsthand the pain, anger and resentment surrounding those affected by divorce. I meet those who feel that they have committed the “unforgivable sin.” when they have been divorced. Sadly, some Churches reinforce this feeling. Divorce was a problem in the time of Moses (Deut. 24:1-4) . It was an issue with the Pharisees as they threw a trick question to Jesus in Matthew 19 about divorce.
Jesus has dealt with trick questions and tricksters since the beginning and can recognize a curve ball long before it is thrown. The Pharisees were, in their minds, diligently trying to follow the law of Moses in every aspect of their lives. They had a tendency to scrupulously follow some rules with more zeal than others. Jesus called them on this on many occasions. “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but you swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23:24)
On one occasion they criticized Jesus for allowing His disciples to pick some beads of grain and eat them on the Sabbath. (Matthew 12:2) They picked a few to eat --- they weren’t out there with a full crew trying to get a field to market a day early. Yes the Pharisees knew the letter of the law but missed the spirit of the law completely.
With trivial situations having no negative consequences for individuals or society, they would be precise. Anyone can follow a rule that causes him no discomfort. With divorce, however, they were looking for loop holes in the law. There were disputes between The schools of Rabbi Shammai and Rabbi Hillel over the interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1-4.
Let’s read the text:
1 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, 2 and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, 3 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, 4 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. Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.
Shammai held that “Something” indecent meant marital unfaithfulness - the only allowable cause for divorce.
Hillel emphasized the preceding clause “who becomes displeasing to him.”
Allow me to elaborate. This group of scholars who would criticize a hungry person for picking a few beads of grain on the Sabbath -- allowable under Mosaic law other days of the week -- permitted divorce if a wife spoiled the cooking or if the husband found a more beautiful woman.
A woman also had grounds for divorce:
1. The man may develop blemishes!
2. He is by profession a copper-smelter, or a tanner.
3. If he is a gatherer of dog dung.
Had I have known this sooner I would never have cleaned up after the family dog.
The list goes on and on. Additionally there were loop holes for the man to get out of paying the marriage financial settlement to which the wife was entitled. A simple infraction like appearing in the street with her head uncovered would negate the obligation of the payment.
Jesus pointed to God’s original idea for marriage found in Genesis and clearly took the side of Shammai. Marital unfaithfulness is the only acceptable reason for divorce. He clearly saw the motives of Hillel’s school of thought. Remember His words: Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17)
We are not students of Hillel, we are followers of Jesus -- there is no wiggle room -- Divorce is against God’s Law.
Jesus paid the price for our divorces and all of our other sins on the cross at Calvary.