“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
We continue our consideration of whether Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount was a “new” teaching. Were concepts like turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and love your neighbor uniquely Christian concepts that were foreign to the Law of Moses? No.
Let’s look into this further.
In the Old Testament, can we look into the heart of God and learn what He expects in a marriage?
In this case in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is speaking of a provision in the Law of Moses that permitted a man to divorce his wife. Take time to look at Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Notice the “if’s” in this passage. If a man divorced a woman and she went out and married again, then that woman could not return to her original husband. God was putting limits on people continually marrying and divorcing in order to keep from defiling the land in which they lived.
Thankfully, we have Jesus’ additional commentary on Deuteronomy 24. In Matthew 19 and Mark 10 we see Jesus in a controversy with the Jewish leadership about marriage. They confronted and tested Him on the topic of marriage, and they used Deuteronomy 24 as the grounds for the argument. They were clearly having a controversy among themselves, and they wanted to bring Jesus into the middle of the fight.
Can a man divorce his wife for any reason?
Did Moses “command” a man to divorce his wife?
What Jesus does is expertly and surgically cut through to the heart of the issue, revealing the hardness of heart and hypocrisy of the people. He takes them to the beginning of the “Law” in Genesis 2 to show God’s heart and original design for marriage. We don’t start in the New Testament to learn what pleases God in marriage,we start in the Garden of Eden with the first marriage.
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 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. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
The heart of God is plain in the Old Testament, “Don’t divorce.” Marriage is a covenant with God, and by divorcing and committing adultery we defile that holy covenant.
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.”
So you will be delivered from the forbidden woman, from the adulteress with her smooth words, who forsakes the companion of her youth and forgets the covenant of her God; for her house sinks down to death, and her paths to the departed; none who go to her come back, nor do they regain the paths of life.
This is the way of an adulteress: she eats and wipes her mouth and says, “I have done no wrong.”
You can see from these Scriptures, God (Jesus) expected the Jew to honor marriage. The Law did in this case give provision for divorce, but God’s heart and expectation for marriage has always been the same. Marriage is a lifelong covenant, don’t divorce. If the Jewish man would have searched the Scriptures for God’s heart on marriage, he would have found it. If he was looking for a loophole to exit marriage, then his heart is revealed and he got exactly what he was looking for. Jesus was not introducing a new standard of conduct that He did not always expect from His people.