Summary: As humans we naturally try to do what is in our own best self interest. This doesn't always coincide with the character of God. Such is the case with divorce. Jesus shocks His men and the Pharisees with a refreshing look at relationships. As we look at th
In one of the rides at Disneyland, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, there is a holding room that resembles an archeological dig deep under a Southeast Asian jungle. A covered well sits in the center of the room with a rope extending down into the well. A sign clearly says “do not pull rope.” What do you think the first thing some people do when they read the sign? Of course, they pull the rope. If you do it, a voice down below complains and if you pull it twice the sound of falling equipment or artifacts comes up from the ground. To me it is just a humorous example of human nature to always be attracted to things we are told we shouldn’t do. A corollary to that predilection is to get as close to the line without going over it—or to find the exception to a policy and try to make it the rule.
Such was the environment in which Jesus finds Himself in Mark 10. He comes up against an increasingly sly and cunning enemy: the Pharisees, who are hell-bent on trying to thwart what they perceive was a threat to their power. The Pharisees were incredibly self-rationalizing of their behavior, and felt that everything they did was exactly what God would do. Jesus points out in this case that relying on our own senses and desires will pull us away from God’s character, not towards it.
The topic at hand is divorce and is understandably controversial for Christians. We often struggle between seeing what God says about divorce and what we see in the world around us. Which is right? Is there a middle ground that is not lukewarm? I have bad news for you – I’m not going to be able to answer that fully. Life in this age is a struggle to understand God and what He wants for us in a fallen world. But as we move through this, I hope we can see that a key to balancing God’s character with our realities is the condition of our heart.
Jesus left Capernaum and returned to the region of Perea, where John the Baptist had ministered. As usual the crowds came and Jesus taught them. Also usual the religious leaders sought to trap Jesus. John had been arrested and beheaded for his stance on Herod’s illegal marriage, so in this setting the Pharisees see an opportunity.
We have to realize that the Pharisees were not seeking information or clarification from Jesus. They wanted him to either support or denounce divorce. They figured they had Him whichever way He chose. In fact, they may have been hoping that Jesus’ answer would either bring Him under their control, or cause Him to suffer the same fate as John!
3 – 4
In His response, Jesus first asks them to cite the Mosaic Law. They did, quoting Deuteronomy 24:1-4. In that law, a man could divorce his wife if he found “something improper” (or “indecent” KJV); he could write her a “divorce certificate.” No court was needed for this. But several problems had arisen that probably form the basis for the question.
1.What does “improper” mean? One camp said it meant absolutely anything. So if a man found another woman more attractive, he could simply divorce his wife and claim that she was “improper” for him. Another camp believed that divorce could only come when there was marital infidelity.
2.When a woman married in that culture, her father would provide a sizeable dowry for her which was to remain with her for her entire life. If a man divorced her, she took the money with her—unless she was unfaithful. So apparently men simply interpreted the law so that they could divorce for whatever reason, call her “improper”, and keep the money.
It’s interesting that Jesus asked “what did Moses command” whereas the Pharisees said it was what Moses “permitted.” Moses did not command divorce, but permitted it knowing the weakness of the flesh, and as we talk about divorce we need to recognize that it is not God’s best for us. Men and women were meant to get and stay married. But God knows we live in fleshly bodies and in a fallen world, so He allows divorce while protecting the innocent as much as possible. A woman was very vulnerable when living alone. This law created requirements for the man to fulfill before he could divorce her wife, he could not simply throw her out, and consequences for that action, he would lose a great deal of money.
5 – 9
Jesus acknowledged that divorce came about because of the weakness of the flesh and was never God’s intention. He quotes Genesis 2, which predates and is a higher law than Deuteronomy 24. Divorce is never good, but sometimes it is necessary in cases of abuse or to protect the children, or if a spouse simply decides they are going to follow the flesh no matter what! We should always in all things strive for God’s intent and His best. But divorce was better than open adultery!