Matthew 5:31-32 (NIV) “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.”
The Jewish leaders and teachers of the law in Jesus’ day had largely bought into a corrupt teaching that God’s law allowed a man to divorce a woman for practically any reason, anything that he found displeasing about her. This could even include not being pretty enough anymore, or being a bad cook.
Because of their acceptance of this flawed interpretation of God’s law, which Jesus attempted to set right in Matthew 19:1-9), they had no moral authority to confront people like King Herod, who had married his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias, after she was divorced (cf. Matthew 14:3). According to them, Herod had done nothing wrong in this. (Although John the Baptist knew the truth, and fearlessly confronted Herod about this sin, at the cost of his own life!)
But Jesus’ teaching is based on the fact that when God created Adam and Eve and brought them together, they became one flesh, an arrangement that He intended to last until death, and to never be overridden by the rules of man. The only context in which God allowed a man to legitimately divorce his wife was, as Jesus clearly pointed out, if he found that she had been sexually immoral, committing adultery (Deuteronomy 24:1).
If a man divorced his wife for trivial reasons, especially in those days when women had very few options for supporting themselves, she would have to seek out a new husband. In this sense, the man would not only be causing her to commit adultery, since God would not accept the divorce as legitimate, but if he took another wife for himself, he would be seen by God as committing adultery for the same reason. And, of course, the man who married the woman would end up committing adultery as well, marrying a woman who wasn’t legitimately free to be married to him. It was a big old can of worms!
Jesus was trying to teach His followers that when mankind tries to overwrite God’s commands with their own ideas of right and wrong, it has dire consequences. God is not obligated to accept man’s ideas of what is morally acceptable in any area, especially when He has clearly outlined His standards in the Scriptures. And those who violate God’s standards cannot merely argue their own viewpoint and hope to persuade Him. As in every other sin, they must repent, receive forgiveness, and change the philosophy and direction of their lives in that area as well.
Father, we do frequently try to overwrite Your clear commands just as much today as in Jesus’ time. We use the excuse that times have changed, the standards have changed, and if something is allowed by the laws of the land, then it must be acceptable in Your sight, too. But that is completely misguided. You designed marriage to be a lifetime bond, breakable only by the sin of adultery, which comes at a horrible cost to both the man and the woman, as well as their family and friends. Your moral requirements are unchangeable, because they are based in Your character, which is unchangeable, no matter how different the times are. Help us to always keep in step with Your every command, for Your name’s sake. Amen.