PROTECTING WOMEN (and vulnerable kiddos)
This is part 4 in a blog series about Divorce and Remarriage for those who care what God thinks. And before you stop reading... I bet you'll be surprised!
The Bible teaches us about divorce and remarriage, and it's important to understand the background of these teachings before diving into Deuteronomy 24. In the previous blog posts, we explored elements of the Old Testament related to divorce and remarriage, and this knowledge will help us to better understand the passages I want to share in this post.
If you missed one of the previous posts you can jump right to them here:
In this week's blog post, I want to dig into a few key Old Testament passages that are commonly cited when people claim to be "telling you what the Bible says" about divorce and remarriage. Unfortunately, there are lots of Christians that speak as if they 100% know "what God thinks" about divorce and remarriage, but rarely understand the context or intent of the Scriptures they quote. Because of that, I want to take a look at them and share some insights to help you get a better grasp on what God had in mind by requiring a certificate of divorce and allowing remarriage.
First up is Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and its significance in regard to the treatment of women in the ancient world. As you may know, the ancient world was not always kind to women. In many cultures surrounding the Israelites, men were allowed to abuse women, especially their wives. However, God was concerned with protecting women and ensuring that they were not mistreated. This is demonstrated in the protective statutes in the Old Testament, including the one in Deuteronomy 24:1-4.
Deuteronomy 24:1-4 was written to protect divorced women in Israel and provide them with the right of remarriage. It acknowledges that divorce was a cultural practice at the time and provides clear legal authorization for a divorced woman to remarry. The only prohibition in this text is against the first husband taking the divorced woman back in the event of her divorce from her second husband or if her second husband were to die.
This text is not about defining the conditions for divorce and remarriage. Its main focus is to prohibit the remarriage of the original couple after a divorce and remarriage. Some people have argued that divorced persons are still considered married in the eyes of God, but this is not true. Divorced persons are divorced in the eyes of God, and what God has separated, no man should claim to be joined.
In light of this text, it is wrong to urge remarried persons to divorce their current partners and return to a prior spouse. Divorce is not a corrective measure for divorce, and those whom God has joined together, let no one separate. It may shock you to know that many pastors and church leaders have told remarried people that they are living in sin and committing adultery in their new marriage. They then advise these people to divorce their current spouse and go back and remarry their first spouse. What if their first spouse is also remarried? Then they are to be divorced as well. It's no wonder people have been hurt so badly by the church when this advice is far too common.
A REAL WORLD STORY: JAMES & MARIE
James was raised in a strict religious background and received his ministry training from an unaccredited "school of preaching." He married Marie soon after he received his diploma. After serving as a minister in three churches and starting a family with three children, James and Marie became well-known in their religious circle. James was a popular speaker at annual Bible lectures and was sought after for summer revivals. He was also a writer for religious journals, defending his faith against all challenges.
However, James' life took a dramatic turn when he resigned from his preaching position and confessed to a "serious moral failure." This failure turned out to be a series of affairs with women from the church he had served. Despite Marie's attempts to work things out with James, she eventually filed for divorce after learning about his infidelity. Marie and the three children moved to be near her parents and start a new life without James, who disappeared from his former church, hometown, and family.
Years later, James reappeared in the northwest, working for a hardware company. With his outgoing personality, he quickly rose through the ranks and became a management candidate. However, he eventually left this job and returned to the ministry, claiming that he had confessed his wrongdoing to God and the church and had been forgiven. He argued that since his ex-wife, Marie, had remarried without scriptural grounds, and was now committing adultery, he was free to resume his calling to preach the gospel. The leaders of the new church he joined found his argument to be convincing, and he was soon preaching and publishing a religious journal.
Deuteronomy 24:1-4 in the Old Testament is all about protecting women and giving them the respect they deserve as human beings. In the ancient near east, women were often viewed as property instead of individuals with rights and status. This text was revolutionary for its time and place as it was one of the few affirmations of women's rights and advancements in their personhood.
The text mentions a man who wants to divorce his wife for any reason. This was meant to protect her from being exploited by an unfair man. In those days, women were often abused and exploited by male-dominated cultures. These cultures also had religions that often led to orgies in the name of religion.
Women could be married, divorced, and then reclaimed if they happened to inherit money, build an economic base, or secure property, including children from a subsequent husband. Deuteronomy 24 sought to give women in the community of Israel a status that would prevent such degradation and cruelty.
The law of the divorce certificate in Deuteronomy 24 marked a major difference between the Pentateuch and other ancient near eastern laws. It provided a proper way to end a broken marriage and set women free to remarry without fear of future claims from their former husbands. The regulation required a legitimate reason for divorce, which would have to be brought before a public official and documented with a legal document. The man was also required to return all or part of the dowry to the wife. Although originally seen as the husband's right to divorce, the rabbis eventually allowed women to sue for divorce under certain conditions.
Ezra, a man of priestly background, led a group of Jews back from exile in Babylon in 458 BC. He was concerned about the spiritual state of the people in their homeland and encouraged them to take the Torah seriously. He was dismayed to find out that many in Judah, including leaders, had married women from other cultures, which was against the law of Moses in Deuteronomy 7:1-5 and 23:3-6.
The purpose of the prohibition was not racial, but spiritual.
Israel was meant to have exclusive devotion to the God they covenanted with at Sinai. Ezra was concerned about marriages with women who still worshiped their idol deities and who could lead their husbands and children away from God.
Ezra, the Torah scholar, and teacher among the returned, exiles, saw a crisis before the nation. The world superpower of the time was the Persian empire, and it was aggressively promoting the merging of diverse religious beliefs and systems into a grand syncretistic arrangement. The goal was very similar to that of some today who would prefer to see Christianity abandon its exclusive devotion to Jesus, as the one alone, who can provide access to God by virtue of his role as The way, The truth, and The life.
Ezra called instead for the revival of following the one true God, and challenge the people to separate themselves from idolatry and all its trappings. He prayed before the people and lamented to God “shall we break your commandments again, and intermarry with people who practice these abominations?“ In a revival of fervor for the lord, the people confessed their faithlessness in this matter, and their leaders pledged to put away both their pagan wives and the children they had fathered by them over a three-month period. The mixed marriages were systematically dissolved with a total of 113 recorded in the text in the book of Ezra. Interestingly, a man named Shekinah told Ezra to lead the people to “send away all these wives and their children“ in an orderly fashion and he was particularly adamant about one matter in particular, “and let it be done according to the law“ some scholars raise the question as to whether Shekinah may have had Deuteronomy chapter 24:1-4 in mind. If so, were the pagan religious practices of a man’s foreign wife reckoned as “something objectionable about her” that justified divorcing her?
Next up is the case study of Hosea and his divorce from Gomer in the Old Testament. This story has a lot to teach us about God's relationship with Israel and how it can help us understand the rest of the Bible.
One of the most important lessons from the book of Hosea is not to use the Bible as a legal tool to solve problems related to divorce and remarriage.
Hosea was a prophet in Israel who spoke out for about 50 years, urging his people to turn back to the Lord. Despite his efforts, Israel did not listen and eventually fell to the Assyrians.
Along with Amos, Hosea was one of the first "writing prophets" of Israel. He is also unique in that he was the only writing prophet from the northern kingdom. This makes his story and message even more relevant for us today.
A REAL WORLD STORY: SOPHIE & JAKE
Sophie and Jake married right after college graduation. Sophie was not unattractive, but she was shy and had limited dating experience, which made her feel insecure. Jake, on the other hand, lacked social skills and met Sophie in a high-level math class. Although their romance was not the stuff of fairy tales, they didn't date anyone else for the last two years of college. Their 17-year marriage was steady, but not very exciting. Both of them worked, with the exception of the three months that Sophie took off when their daughter was born. Jake wanted a son to carry on his family name, and his response to friends from their church and the birth of their daughter was "maybe I'll get my boy next time." They would not have any more children.
Jake's mother played a dominant role in his life. Jake, Sophie, along with their daughter, would eat dinner at her house every Monday night, which Sophie didn't enjoy. Jake's mom advised Jake not to marry Sophie and belittled her in front of their granddaughter.
Jake didn't play golf on Saturdays or go fishing. Instead, He would mow his mother's lawn and spend the mornings with her, but only occasionally attended his daughter's dance and music recitals.
Well into their marriage, Jake accused Sophie of having an affair with her boss, which wasn't true. However, Jake hired a private detective to "get the goods" on them, but no evidence was found and the investigator told Jake that he didn't see anything suspicious. The accusations only escalated, with Jake making an outburst at his mother's home during a Monday night dinner. This led to their daughter fleeing the dinner table in tears. Sophie refused to return to her mother-in-law's house without an apology, but one was never given.
Two years later, Sophie found out that Jake had met secretly with the elders of their church and he accused her of being unfaithful. The elders listened to Jake but didn't follow up with Sophie. The hostility in their home became so intense that Sophie gave Jake an ultimatum: either go to marriage counseling or get a divorce. Jake refused to attend counseling, so Sophie chose to divorce. "I felt like I had to get a divorce or lose my mind," Sophie said. "My daughter and I could never have a moment of peace around him."
After being served with divorce papers, Jake had a second meeting with the elders of his church, who decided to take action and sent Sophie a certified letter, informing her that she would be disfellowshipped by the church if she went through with the divorce.
In the book of Hosea, we find a powerful and moving story of a man's unwavering love and devotion to his wife, despite her repeated acts of infidelity. Hosea, a prophet of God, was tasked with delivering a message to the people of Israel, but his ministry and message were set against the backdrop of a deeply personal and heartbreaking experience.
Hosea married a woman named Gomer, with whom he had three children. However, Gomer's repeated acts of adultery caused Hosea great pain and humiliation. Eventually, he was forced to divorce her, declaring that "she is not my wife and I am not her husband."
Despite this, Hosea never stopped caring for Gomer and eventually, in obedience to a command from God, he took her back as his wife. The Lord told Hosea, "Go love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress, just as the Lord loves the people of Israel, who turn to other gods and love raisin cakes." This story is filled with pathos and compassion, as we see a good man who is betrayed by his wife but still exhibits undying love for her, eventually being reunited with the woman he longed to be with.
The story of Hosea and Gomer is skillfully interwoven with the relationship between God and Israel, who were also guilty of repeated breaches of faith, such as spiritual adultery with the idols and gods of the nations around them. In the book of Hosea, God is on the verge of divorcing Israel for her unfaithfulness, but ultimately does not.
By the time of Jeremiah, however, God is represented as having divorced Israel, as outlined in Deuteronomy 24. The Lord told the southern kingdom, "She saw that for all the adulteries of the faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce."
The Hosea story cautions us against playing one biblical rule against another and highlights the danger of legalism in interpreting the Bible. The laws given about divorce and remarriage in the Old Testament were meant as correctives to the abuses of the time and reflected the eternal purpose of God to act in a redemptive way on behalf of humanity.
The Israelites were challenged to rise above the pagan norms and lifestyles of the people around them and to honor the Lord and their marriages. However, their failure to do so resulted in predictable social decay and personal problems in their own lives and communities.
These examples expose situations where God acted to deal with his people, mercifully in some instances and punitively and others. While divorce was not part of the divine ideal, it was acknowledged as a reality among the people of Israel and was not presumed to revoke one standing as a member of the covenant people of God.
DO you have a story?
We would love to hear your story? Are you divorced or currently going through a divorce? What kind of advice were you given? What did people tell you "The Bible Says"? How is your relationship with God?
You matter and your story is important - please reach out and share it with us. We will never share your story without your permission.