The Scriptorium

Marriage and Divorce

Jesus explains the Law of Moses. Matthew 19.1-10

Matthew 19: Kingdom Counsel (1)

Pray Psalm 22.23.
You who fear the LORD, praise Him!
All you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him,
And fear Him, all you offspring of Israel!

Sing Psalm 22.23.
(Darwall: Rejoice, the Lord is King)
All you who fear the Lord, now praise His holy Name!
You children of His glorious Word, declare His fame!
We stand in awe of our eternal God, and on His mercy call.

Read and meditate on Matthew 19.1-10.

1. Why did Moses allow people to sue for divorce?

2. What reason did Jesus provide for lawfully seeking a divorce?

From Galilee, Jesus moved to the region east of the Jordan River to continue His ministry. As usual, “great multitudes followed Him.” And, as usual, “He healed them.”

How mean and hard-hearted were these Pharisees! Instead of seeing all the good Jesus was doing, all they could do was try to trip Him up on some detail of legal tradition. Note the form of their question (v. 3): “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” That is, can a man divorce his wife just because he wants to?

Jesus reminded the Pharisees that, from the beginning, God intended marriage as a permanent institution, the foundational institution of all human society and culture. When a man and woman are joined together under God, they need to work hard to make their marriage work. God wants marriages to be strong, resilient, and fruitful. He did not intend that difficulties, shortcomings, irritations, and the like should be grounds for ending a marriage (vv. 4-6).

So the Pharisees throw down their trump card: “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” (v. 7) You can hear them saying to themselves, “Gotcha!”

Jesus calmly explained that God, in giving the Law through Moses, took into consideration the ruinous effects of sin, even as these appeared in a marriage. Hard-hearted people, who will not repent of their sins, must not be allowed to foist their wickedness on a spouse. If a marriage partner, through recalcitrance, is unwilling to repent of sin against the spouse, a divorce can be granted, to free the innocent party from ongoing abuse. In the Old Testament, God repeatedly charged His people with such adultery, even though the form of it was mostly spiritual. While Jesus mentioned only adultery as the proper grounds for divorce, Paul – following Old Testament precedent – considered that adultery can take a variety of forms, including, it seems, the kind of self-love that refuses to submit to the Lord and makes the self in effect the lord of one’s life (1 Cor. 7.10-16). To abandon one’s spouse – whether physically or by adultery or abuse – is to abandon one’s vows to God, and to set oneself up as god. No believer should be expected to continue living with such a person. The Law that binds couples together before God, looses the abused party from the ongoing sinfulness of the unrepentant partner.

The disciples – not surprisingly – leapt to the worst case scenario, and posited a consequence of Jesus’ teaching that is as absurd as it is wrong (v. 10). Jesus was not saying this; indeed, quite the opposite: that people should marry under God and in the Lord, and work hard to make their marriage the blessing God intends.

1. Why are unbelief and the refusal to repent of sin forms of adultery?

2. Why is marriage so important in the divine economy?

3. How can believers encourage one another in helping their marriages to become all that God intends?

Before Jesus made his own statement he made it clear through his opening remarks that what he had to say came from his Father’s commandment. In commanding this he was not in opposition to Moses but fully in agreement with him. Notice how he validates covenant sexuality not from the creation alone but from God’s commandment. For he did not say that God had made only one man and one woman but that God had also commanded that the one man should be joined to the one woman.
John Chrysostom (347-407), The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 62.1

Lord, keep me from all forms of adultery today, and help me to…

Pray Psalm 22.24-28.
Praise the Lord for the great love He has shown us in Jesus. Ask Him for an opportunity to share His love with someone today.

Sing Psalm 22.24-28.
Psalm 22.24-28 (Darwall: Rejoice, the Lord is King)
For He has not despised the anguish of our King,
nor from Him hid His eyes, Who knew such suffering.
Let praise arise from all who love and serve the Ruler of the skies!

The suff’ring King shall eat and praise with us the Lord.
Forever we His praise repeat and trust His Word.
Praise God above, all you who keep His vows and who His mercies love!

All nations shall repent and hasten to the Lord;
All those to whom His truth is sent shall praise His Word.
The Lord is King!  His sovereign rule on high now we His people sing!

T. M. Moore

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All quotations from Church Fathers from
Ancient Christian Commentary Series, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006). All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore