- The Case of Divorce, Remarriage, Divorce and Returning to the First Husband Deuteronomy 24:1-4
Deuteronomy 24 since it is often used as the definitive case regarding divorce. Ironically, it is in the section regarding theft, and it is about a very particular circumstance:
A man takes a wife and marries her.
She finds no favor in his eyes
Because he found some “indecency” in her- lit. “the nakedness of a thing”
He writes her a git- the git is not something that demands her divorce but proves the divorce has been settled and that she can remarry. This is a protection for her. If she remarries the first husband cannot accuse her of adultery.
This first half of the case is the part was debated in Jesus’ day by the followers of Hillel and Shammai. They were trying to figure out what is this “nakedness of a thing?” If Hillel and Shammai cannot figure it out, neither can we. Shammai said it was referring to sexual immorality- but this would be grounds for execution, not divorce. Hillel said it was over everything- even if she burned supper. And so both sides made this text about what where grounds for divorce. Let’s see what this text is about and how Jesus then responds to their question.
A Walk Through the Text
V2 The woman remarries
V3 The next husband does not favor her and sends her away.
Or he dies
It is in her right to remarry
V4 But it is her first husband who marries her
The command says that she cannot do this- why?
The text says:
She has been defiled
This is an abomination before the LORD
You shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance
Some people have said this means:
The eternal bond broken in the first marriage cannot be restored
Because another slept with her she is unclean to the first
Because the bond remained she was like the first husband’s sister
But the indecency was in the eyes of the first husband before they divorced. The text is saying: if you marry someone and you get to really know them, don’t just send them off! Nor should you make some arbitrary excuse to get rid of them. Behind this impulse might be some further motivation.
- You may be breaking down their dignity
- Or you may be using them for ill-gotten gain
- Or worse, you may be conspiring together to drain the resources from another household.
Let us look at how these scenarios would work out:
- The woman is despised by her first husband. When he takes her back, he can be held over her head not as love but as pity. He now can misuse her and excuse it, by saying, “no one else would have you”. This is not covenant marriage. The command of the LORD insures this does not occur.
- The man might remarry her to bring in what is the settlement from her middle marriage, or inheritance or to repay with a larger dowry this time.
- Or the women and the first (and third) husband could both be in on it. The couple could have arranged a scheme where an arbitrary reason for divorce and a planned remarriage results in damage settlements that drains the house of the second husband. The woman then returns to the first husband with the goods and resources of the second husband and they are back together and wealthier.
The text is saying- “If you said she was bad for you in the first place, you have no business remarrying her. If there is an intervening marriage, it maybe your motives were financial.
God has given each family an inheritance in the land. You should respect the inheritance rights of others. If you call her an abomination as a trick, beware. When God says you are an abomination (husband), it is for real!
So in Matthew 19 when the Pharisees ask Jesus, who is right, Hillel or Shammai? Jesus tells them they are asking the wrong question. They are asking, “what is the smallest reason someone can have for legitimate divorce”. Jesus tells them, no. The question is, “How valuable to God, how sacred, and how eternal is the covenant of marriage?”
Jesus on Deuteronomy 24
Jesus shows them that marriage is a covenant joining of one man and one woman that results in an in-dissolvable unity. He cites Genesis in doing this. In the Genesis narrative, the man leaves the covenant protection of his family and creates a new family, but her covenant ties are not cut so that there is an additional protection to the rights of the woman. Once this union is formed, God will never see or declare it as broken for any reason except the ultimate covenant unfaithfulness.
In the argument over the reasons a couple can divorce they had lost the central reality that marriage is a God ordained union between a man and a woman that forms a unique and unbreakable bond. It is all too easy for a couple or someone within the couple to start to focus on what is hurtful in their relationship and never ask “what is the nature and purpose of the relationship itself.” Our self-centered worldview continues to do this, but it as logical as throwing our shoes away because we have a stone in one of them. It could be a small stone,, or a very large one, it could case great pain, but it is not the fault of the shoes, it is the problem of the stone. Only when we get rid of the shoes do we realize they good they did us in a world full of stones, and we discard what is most valuable to get rid of what is someone uncomfortable, only to do far greater damage.
If we begin with Jesus foundation that God’s great concern is marriage and that as Malachi reports, He is heartbroken over divorce, then the regulations concerning marriage and divorce should tell us primarily something about the nature of marriage.