Marriage Matters

13 “If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then hates her 14 and accuses her of misconduct and brings a bad name upon her, saying, ‘I took this woman, and when I came near her, I did not find in her evidence of virginity,’ 15 then the father of the young woman and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of her virginity to the elders of the city in the gate. 16 And the father of the young woman shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man to marry, and he hates her; 17 and behold, he has accused her of misconduct, saying, “I did not find in your daughter evidence of virginity.” And yet this is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the cloak before the elders of the city. 18 Then the elders of that city shall take the man and whip him, 19 and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name upon a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife. He may not divorce her all his days. 20 But if the thing is true, that evidence of virginity was not found in the young woman, 21 then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel by whoring in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.– Deuteronomy 22:13-21 ESV

We once again find ourselves in difficult and, this time, delicate territory. In this section, Moses is going to address the God-ordained institution of marriage. As we have already seen, God places a high value on all human relationships, but the one between a husband and wife carry special significance to God. All the way back in the book of
Genesis, we have the record of God’s creation of the first man and woman.

Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib, and he brought her to the man.

“At last!” the man exclaimed.

“This one is bone from my bone,
    and flesh from my flesh!
She will be called ‘woman,’
    because she was taken from ‘man.’”

This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. – Genesis 2:22-24 NLT

From the very beginning, God considered the union between a man and a woman to be much more than a physical or biological transaction involving sexual intercourse. And Jesus Himself provides us with important clarification on God’s view regarding marriage. When asked by the Pharisees if a man could divorce his wife for any reason, Jesus replied:

“Haven’t you read the Scriptures?…They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’” And he said, “‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.” – Matthew 19:4-5 NLT

The marriage union was to be a permanent one. Jesus and His heavenly Father both saw the relationship between a husband and his wife as a mystical comingling of two into one. And the act of intercourse was a part of this union between the two, as each gave to the other the gift of their own body for the purpose of procreation, but also pleasure. That is why Paul warned the Corinthian believers about the danger of sex outside of the marriage context.

And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, “The two are united into one.” – 1 Corinthians 6:16 NLT

Sex outside of marriage creates an insoluble bond between the two parties. Their physical union was intended to be the consummation of their spiritual union. And God saw their sexual intimacy as a joining together of two souls.

And Paul went on to explain how a husband and wife should view their sexual relationship. The ubiquitous presence of sexual immorality was a constant threat to the sanctity of the marriage bed, so Paul warned that the husband and wife were to view their bodies as belonging to each another, not to themselves. They had no right to share themselves with anyone else.

…because there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband.

The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife. – 1 Corinthians 7:2-4 NLT

Which brings us back to these rather strange rules regarding marriage found in Deuteronomy. In the first case, Moses outlines a situation in which a husband accuses his wife of lying about her virginity. The circumstance seems to involve a newly married couple because the husband states, “I married this woman but when I had sexual relations with her I discovered she was not a virgin!” (Deuteronomy 22:14 NLT).

Basically, the man married the girl, decided he did not really love her, and then spread rumors that she had been sexual promiscuous before he married her. In other words, he was accusing her of adultery, a crime punishable by death. This accusation would not only ruin her reputation, but it would also result in her being stoned to death. And the sense of the passage is that the man was simply looking for a good reason to divorce his wife.

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus had this to say regarding divorce: “But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery” (Matthew 5:32 NLT). It would have been easy for the man to level this accusation against his wife, providing him with a sure-fire excuse to divorce her. But Jesus would later provide further insight into the topic of divorce. At one point, He was asked by the Pharisees, “why did Moses say in the law that a man could give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away?” (Matthew 19:7 NLT).

And Jesus replied to them, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended. And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery—unless his wife has been unfaithful” (Matthew 19:8-9 NLT). God never intended for divorce to be an option. But the provision was provided for in the case of unfaithfulness.

So, the scenario in Deuteronomy involves a man charging his wife of unfaithfulness based on his claim that she had not been a virgin. But Moses provides a strange but culturally acceptable means by which the woman could prove her innocence. It was a common practice in that day for the parents of the bride to place a special cloth on the couple’s bed the night the marriage was to be consummated. The purpose behind the cloth is simple, albeit a bit graphic. The cloth was collected by the parents after the wedding night and kept as proof of the woman’s virginity, the blood found on it providing evidence of her virginity.

The father of the bride could bring this cloth before the authorities to clear his daughter’s name and spare her from death. If the evidence was accepted, the husband was denied his request for divorce and required to pay a hefty fine to her parents. Not only that, he was obligated to remain permanently married to his wife. One of the things that is obvious in all of this is the young girl’s lack of input in all of this. She seems to have no say in any of it. Even the fine was paid to her parents, not to her. The only benefits she received was the clearing of her name and her release from the death sentence. She was still obligated to remain married to a man whom the text clearly states hated her.

But if the man’s charge against her proved to be true and no evidence was found of her virginity, she was to be stoned to death for the crime of adultery. Moses describes her actions as “an outrageous thing in Israel” and accuses her of “whoring in her father’s house” (Deuteronomy 22:21 ESV). Prior to her marriage, she would have been living at home with her parents. And while under her father’s roof and protection, she would have committed an act of sexual immorality. This was unacceptable behavior under the Mosaic Law and punishable by death.

But what is the point behind all of this? As we have seen before, God had rules that governed virtually every aspect of life within the Israelite community. He cared deeply about their relationships and wanted all that they did to reflect their status as His chosen people. And because marriage was a God-ordained insitutution, He created rules to govern the conduct between a husband and a wife. Virginity was given a high priority by God because of the concept of union. Purity was and still is essential to God. Honesty and integrity are non-negotiable attributes that God demands of His people. This entire scenario involves different aspects of falsehood and deception. Either the husband falsely accusing his wife of adultery or the wife attempting to hide the fact that she was not what she claimed to be when he married her. None of this was God’s way. Marriage was too important. The marriage bed was too precious. The union between a husband and wife was too holy.

But the saddest part of this entire passage is the very fact that Moses even had to address this issue at all. It reveals the underlying nature of mankind’s sin problem. God had set apart the people of Israel as His own, but He was constantly having to put restrictions on their behavior to keep them from following their sinful inclinations.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Day 92 – Matthew 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12

Jesus Said It, Not Me.

Matthew 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12

He told them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery.” – Mark 10:11-12 NLT

I’ll be honest. This is not my favorite topic. But if you’re going to read through the Gospels and have committed to blog your thoughts on a daily basis, it was inevitable that I would have to deal with this passage. It comes straight from the lips of Jesus Himself, and so we have to deal with it – like it or not. Jesus was making His way down from the region of Galilee in the north and heading toward Judea. He ended up in the region known as Perea, just east of the Jordan. Jesus’ earthly ministry is quickly coming to an end as He begins to focus His attention on Jerusalem and the coming Passover celebration, when He would be betrayed, tried, and crucified. During these final days, His enemies, the religious leaders would ramp up their efforts to expose Him as a fraud. A steady stream of Pharisees, Saduccees, and other leaders would make their way to Jesus, equipped with questions designed to trap Him and reveal that He was just a common peasant, not the Messiah.

On this occasion, they asked Him a controversial question – even for their day. It involved divorce. “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for just any reason?” they asked. There were two schools of thought at the time. One group held a more liberal view that said divorce was permissible for any reason whatsoever, at least from the male perspective. The other group were the traditionalists who held that divorce was only allowed when the other spouse had been unfaithful. As usual, these men wanted Jesus to choose a side, in order that He might alienate a portion of the crowds that were following Him. But in His typical style, Jesus does not answer their question directly. Instead of talking about divorce, He addresses the issue of marriage, because that is the real heart of the matter. People were not taking marriage seriously. They did not view it with the same intensity and holiness that God did. Instead, they treated their commitments and covenants lightly and flippantly. Divorce had become a quick and easy way to nullify a God-sanctioned covenant, with little or no regret or remorse. Women were treated like property. If a man tired of his wife, he could simply divorce her. He could hand her a piece of paper and send her packing. No stigma involved. No guilt necessary. But Jesus reminds them that marriage was God’s idea, not man’s. It was a God-ordained institution that was based on a concept of unity and oneness. “This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together” (Matthew 19:5-6 NLT). Ah, there’s the key phrase: “what God has joined together.” From Jesus’ point of view, marriage was a work of God. God made man as male and female, and He intended for them to be joined together as a single unit. Those two individuals were to become a single unit comprised of two united souls. And NO ONE was to split them apart for any reason. That was God’s original intention.

But the Pharisees brought up a problem passage found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. This involved instructions from Moses to the people of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness. He had seemingly given them the right to divorce their wives by simply handing them a “written notice of divorce.” Moses wrote, “Suppose a man marries a woman but she does not please him. Having discovered something wrong with her, he writes her a letter of divorce, hands it to her, and sends her away from his house” (Deuteronomy 24:1 NLT). If you look closely, Moses is NOT justifying or sanctioning divorce. He is not providing an outlet from marriage by suggesting that all that is required is a piece of paper. And Jesus makes the meaning of this passage clear when He says, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended” (Matthew 19:8 NLT). Moses was dealing with a predominantly pagan people who had spent their entire lives growing up in the confines of Egypt. They had adapted themselves to the Egyptian culture and had adopted their false gods. Much of Moses’ time was spent attempting to get these people to understand the ways of Yahweh, their true God. Men were treating marriage flippantly, divorcing their wives at the drop of a hat, simply because they didn’t please them. They were free to find anything wrong with their wives. It had become ridiculous. The idea of oneness and unity had been forsaken altogether. Moses knew there was no stopping these people, so he tried to get them to understand the gravity of their decision. In the next three verses, he tells them the ramifications for their choosing to divorce their wives. As soon as a man handed his wife her walking papers, she was free to marry another man. If that man tired of her or found fault with her and divorced her, the first husband was not free to take her back. That door was closed to him. The same was true even if her second husband died. Moses wanted them to understand that divorce was final. He uses a very strong term to make his point. He tells them that “the first husband may not marry her again, for she has been defiled” (Deuteronomy 24:4 NLT). The word he uses meant “to become impure or unclean.” Once the decision was made to divorce, there was no going back. This is not a passage that is commending or sanctioning divorce. It is illustrating its devastating repercussions. Moses closes his statement on the subject by saying, “That would be detestable to the Lord. You must not bring guilt upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as a special possession” (Deuteronomy 24:4 NLT).

Back to Jesus. He closes His remarks by saying, “And I tell you this, whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery – unless his wife has been unfaithful” (Matthew 19:9 NLT). Mark adds, “And if a woman divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:12 NLT). These were powerful, shocking words coming from the lips of Jesus. There were people standing in the crowd that day who had been through divorce, including some of the religious leaders, more than likely. It was a common practice because it had become so easy to do. Jesus, like Moses, is trying to remind them of the sanctity and holiness of marriage. It is not something to enter into lightly. Even the disciples get that point, because they respond, “If this is the case, it is better not to marry!” (Matthew 19:10 NLT). In other words, if you can’t divorce your wife for any reason without being guilty of adultery, then why get married at all? You can hear in their statement just how easy divorce had become and just how difficult they viewed marriage to be. The truth is, marriage is difficult. God is bringing together two individuals with two sin natures and asking them to spend the rest of their lives together. He is asking them to love one another unconditionally. He is demanding that they sacrifice their rights for the good of the other – regardless of each others’ fault and failings. In any marriage, there will always be plenty of things not to like about the other person. Husbands and wives tend to irritate, disappoint, anger, and even embarrass one another. Finding fault in one another is not a problem. Remaining faithful and committed to loving one another through it all is a problem. And only God can make it possible. God never said marriage would be easy. He never promised it would be a bed of roses. The miracle of marriage is that God takes two extremely selfish, self-centered, sinful people and molds them into a single unit. He makes two into one. Bad math, but great theology. Only God can do that kind of math.

I know there are those reading this blog who have been through divorce. In no way do I want to heap guilt on you. That is not my intent. God is forgiving and gracious. He allows new beginnings. He is a God of grace, not guilt. But it is important that we all deal with the holiness of marriage. We must recognize that divorce grieves God. It was never His intent. Divorce is a vivid illustration of the hardness of man’s heart and the devastating presence of sin in our lives. Those who have been through divorce and don’t recognize that reality, run the very real risk of repeating their mistake all over again. The real issue here is marriage, not divorce. If you have been divorced and are now remarried to a wonderful individual, will you make that new marriage a godly marriage? Will you view it through His eyes and not the world’s? Will you remain committed to that new spouse regardless of any and all circumstances? Will you forgive regularly, love unconditionally, sacrifice willingly, die to self daily, and commit to one another permanently? Will you agree with Jesus that the two of you are no longer two, but one, and that you will not allow anyone or anything to split apart what God has joined together?

Father, we talk more about divorce than we do about marriage. We don’t understand or appreciate just how precious marriage is to You. We treat it flippantly and frivolously. We enter into marriage lightly, not weighing the commitment it requires. We don’t value the covenant it requires and the holiness it should represent. We forget that You invented it and that You highly regard it. Give us a new view on marriage. Help us to see it through Your eyes and to value it the way You do.  Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org