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  • Writer's pictureJan Weihl

God's Plan for Marriage (Matthew 19)

I don't know if I have ever shared why I write these devotions.

First, I'm not trying to tell anyone what they should get out of Scripture. Everyone needs to read Scripture for themselves. I am simply sharing what God puts on my heart.

My desire is not that you would agree with my interpretation but that you would study Scripture for yourself and ask God what He wants you to take away from it.

There are days when a particular passage jumps out at me, but I don't want to write a devotion on it. So I just move on. But then God keeps pressing it on my heart and the words of the devotion just keep running through my head to the point that I can think of nothing else until I write it out. So that's why this devotion is coming out in the afternoon rather than in the morning.

The passage that jumped out at me is Matthew 19:3-10.

Jesus is responding to the Pharisees question, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?"

The Pharisees were not asking Jesus for a lesson on divorce. They were scheming and using this question to trap Jesus and get Him to respond in a way that would incriminate Him in front of the crowds. Right before the Pharisees asked this question, verse 2 tell us "great multitudes followed Him." So the Pharisees were not alone with Jesus. They wanted to ask this specific question in front of the multitudes for a reason.

The view of marriage in Jesus' day was that it was a sacred duty. If a man didn't find a woman or marry the woman his parents arranged for him, he was breaking God's command to be fruitful and multiply.

Women at this time, were regarded by many as more of property that could be bought or dismissed at a whim. That's why the question is worded "is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife" and not "or a woman to divorce her husband."

There were two views on divorce based on the law in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 which says:

Deuteronomy 24:1-4 [1] When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens, if she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, that he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her away from his house, [2] and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man's wife, [3] and the latter husband turns against her, writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand, and sends her away from his house, or if the latter husband who took her to be his wife dies, [4] then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.

First, there was Rabbi Hillel, the more lax and popular teacher. He interpreted Deuteronomy 24:1 to mean "any sort of indiscretion" was grounds for a man to hand his wife a certificate of divorce. A man could divorce his wife if she ruined dinner, went around with her hair down, spoke to men in the streets, or spoke disrespectfully of his parents. Really Rabbi Hillel's view would line up with what we commonly see today.

Then there was the other teaching by the more strict and unpopular Rabbi Shammai. He interpreted Deuteronomy 24:1 to mean "a man could only divorce his wife in the case of sexual immorality."

The Pharisees were playing chess and using this question to put Jesus in checkmate. If Jesus agreed with Rabbi Hillel, they would say He was not following the law of Moses. But if Jesus agreed with Rabbi Shammai, He would be unpopular before the multitude who wanted the easy way out.

But rather than agree with either interpretation, Jesus took them back to Scripture and explained what God's Word meant. That's application for me. I need to make sure I always go back to Scripture for myself and ask, "what is God saying to me?"

So, let's look at the passage in question, Matthew 19:3-10 which says:

Matthew 19:3-10 [3] Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” [4] And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, [5] and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? [6] So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” [7] They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” [8] He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. [9] And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” [10] The disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.””

Here's what stands out to me in this passage:

  1. Rather than looking at divorce as an option, Jesus emphasizes that it is not God's design. God's design is that a man and a woman become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). This means according to God's Word, anything outside of one man and one woman becoming one flesh until death do they part, is not God's design.

  2. Divorce is permitted under certain circumstances but is not what God wants.

  3. Divorce is pulling apart "the one flesh" God has joined together.

But what really gets my attention is verse 9:

  • When Jesus says "And I say to you" He is speaking as a rabbi with authority and issuing a new understanding of the Mosaic law on divorce in Deuteronomy 24. What Jesus says doesn't just apply to the Jews. It applies to all followers of Jesus. If we claim to be a Christian, it applies to us.

  • Jesus makes it clear that a man cannot divorce his wife on a whim and go marry someone else. A man can only divorce his wife and marry another in the case of sexual immorality. In that case, the marriage covenant of "a man and woman coming together as one flesh" has been broken.

  • The marriage covenant would also be broken if the man was the one to commit sexual immorality against his wife.

  • But going back to verse 8, this is permitted only because of the "hardness of heart." Even in the case of sexual immorality, God's desire is for there to be repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Then we may wonder, "is sexual immorality the only situation where a person can divorce and remarry without committing adultery?" The apostle Paul added abandonment by an unbelieving spouse as permission to divorce and remarry.

1 Corinthians 7:15 "Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases"

The apostle Paul shows us the law of marriage applies whether it is the husband or the wife who has broken the marriage covenant. Personally for me though, I would want to make sure I am not violating what Jesus said in Matthew 19:9. In other words, I would not be quick to claim 1 Corinthians 7:15 and remarry.

Then we naturally think of other situations such as abuse and addiction and whether or not they are grounds for divorce. According to Scripture, that does not break the marriage covenant and free us to go make a marriage covenant with someone else.

However, there are many circumstances where the right and safe thing to do may be to separate from an abusive spouse and remain celibate to honor the marriage covenant.

I wonder if divorce is one of the most common reasons today that people feel separated from God and like they can't ever be reconciled to Him. Obviously the only one who wins in that situation is Satan. Satan will use anything he can to destroy our relationship with God and God's design for our lives.

But regardless of our circumstances in marriage, divorce, or something else, absolutely every one of us has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Whatever that sin is, Jesus' sacrifice on the cross covered it. Jesus paid the debt for all of our sins, past, present, and future. As we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness through Jesus' sacrifice in our place.

We cannot change our past and God does not want us to be held under bondage because of it. That's why Jesus came and died on the cross to make a way for us to be reconciled to God. He wants us to repent of our sins and move forward, drawing close to Him, and letting Him lead us and guide us on the best path for our lives.

Lord, thank you for nudging me to study this passage in depth and work through it. Thank you for reminding me that whatever sins are in my past, they cannot hold me in bondage when I come before You, confess my sins, repent of them, ask your forgiveness, and move forward seeking to obey You with all my heart. Thank you Lord for making a way through the cross, for me to be restored in relationship with You and giving me an opportunity to share Your great love with those You put before me.

In Jesus' name, amen.

Jan Weihl

Living Word Ministries

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