Matthew 19:1-6 (NIV) When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
Many of the teachers of the law, including the Pharisees and many prominent rabbis of Jesus’ day and before, taught that when Moses wrote that a man should give a certificate of divorce to his wife if she “becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her” (Deuteronomy 24:1), that it allowed for basically “no fault” divorce. (It’s interesting that this passage that this Scripture is a part of is not actually about procedures for divorcing a wife, but about forbidding remarriage to the same wife after she has married and been divorced by someone else.) These leaders taught that that a wife could become displeasing by simply burning dinner, or that “something indecent” could simply be that she was no longer as pretty as she once was. Of course these “rules” for divorce worked only in one direction; only husbands could file for divorce.
The Pharisees wanted to see if Jesus agreed with this liberal interpretation of the law, but quickly found out that He did not. And for very good reason. Rather than looking at what the Scriptures said about divorce, Jesus took them all the way back to what they said about marriage, specifically the origin and nature of marriage.
First, Jesus noted that at the beginning when God made mankind, He created them male and female. (Note that neither Jesus nor God believe in evolution!) Genesis 2:20b-25 are the key Scriptures here, and show first how God created the woman from a piece of the man taken from his side (traditionally a rib, together with the surrounding flesh). They then tell how God created marriage, bringing the woman to the man, who instantly recognized in her “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” God then put in the hearts of this man and this woman a desire to reunite what had originally been one flesh into a new, one-flesh union: marriage.
Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24 to support His rejection of divorce. Marriage is not two people joining into a contract. It is a man and a woman becoming one flesh in a relationship with God Himself. Therefore, they are no longer two individuals, but a one-flesh union. And what God has joined together into that kind of intimate union should not be separated by man.
Divorce was never part of God’s plan for humanity. In fact, as He said through Malachi, He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). This breaking up of what God put together is detestable to Him, and actually keeps people’s prayers from being effective and their offering accepted (See Malachi 2:13-15, the context of verse 16 above.).
Father, we treat marriage so casually, so cavalierly today, because we as a society have lost track of what it was made to be when You first created it, or we have been told that those parts of Scripture are just fairy tales. But everything You say about marriage (and divorce) in the Bible stems from this very real history, including Paul’s exhortations to husbands in Ephesians 5:25-31. I am grateful that, like everything that we do that is not in line with Your word, we can find forgiveness for disobedience in this area too, if we will simply ask. Help us, Lord, to always align our lives with the Scriptures, like Jesus, instead of trying to find loopholes in them, like the Pharisees. Amen.