“It was said, ‘WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
– Matthew 5:31-32 (Jesus speaking; our 8th segment of the Sermon on the Mount)
This is now the third time in a row Jesus has used this formula – “You have heard…but I say…” – to show how His teaching is not a rejection of the Old Testament but rather a fulfillment of it. In the prior two instances, He quoted from the Ten Commandments, which are found in Exodus 20 and repeated in Deuteronomy 5; this time the all caps phrase comes from Deuteronomy 24.
Divorce was a tricky moral subject in the first century, just as it still is today. Since the Old Testament had prescribed a certificate to be issued when a divorce occurred, the Pharisees thought they could catch Jesus contradicting Moses.
Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, and said, ‘FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED 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 no man separate.” They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND her AWAY?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
– Matthew 19:3-9
By invoking the passage about Adam and Eve, Jesus shows that the “certificate of divorce” was God’s way of regulating divorce, not promoting it. Similarly, the Bible regulated slavery without promoting it. The hardness of men’s hearts limits the good that can be expected of them, but Jesus Christ heals hardened hearts.
(Remember that prayer is more about listening than talking. Use the words below to start yourself, but then allow time to reflect more on the Scripture above before you say the “Amen.” During that time of quiet reflection, let God shape your thoughts and wait for a sense of peace to come. That’s your signal to say “Amen” and go forth to the day.)
Lord, I recognize that divorce is a departure from Your will. Let me always support permanence in marriage – whether my own or someone else’s…(this is where you remain quiet to let Him work in your thoughts)… Amen.
(All scriptures, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the NASB.)