A Foundation

Let us begin with a foundational truth with which we can all agree. Most fundamentally, Scripture affirms that God is very much against divorce in general. During a time when some Israelite men were divorcing their wives, He declared through His prophet Malachi:

I hate divorce…and him who covers his garment with wrong….So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously (Mal. 2:16).

This should not surprise anyone who knows something about the loving and just character of God, or anyone who knows something about how divorce damages husbands, wives and children. We would have to question the moral character of anyone who was in favor of divorce in a general way. God is love (see 1 John 4:8), and thus He hates divorce.

Some Pharisees once asked Jesus a question regarding the lawfulness of divorce “for any cause.” His response reveals His fundamental disapproval of divorce. In fact, divorce was never His intention for anyone:

And some Pharisees came to Him, testing Him, and saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?” And He answered and said, “Have you not read, that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh’? Consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt. 19:3-6).

Historically, we know that there were two schools of thought among Jewish religious leaders in Jesus’ day. We’ll explore those two schools of thought in more detail later, but suffice it for now to say that one was conservative and one was liberal. The conservatives believed that a man was only permitted to divorce his wife for very serious moral reasons. The liberals believed that a man could divorce his wife for just about any reason, including even finding a more attractive woman. These contradicting convictions were the very basis of the Pharisees’ question to Jesus.

Jesus appealed to verses of Scripture from the earliest pages of Genesis that show how God’s original plan was to join men and women together permanently , not temporarily. Moses declared that God made the two sexes with marriage in mind, and that marriage is such a significant relationship that it becomes the primary relationship. Once it is established, it ranks higher than one’s relationship with his or her parents. Men leave their parents to cleave to their wives.

Moreover, the sexual union between man and wife points to their God-ordained oneness. Obviously, such a relationship, one that results in offspring, was not meant by God to be temporary, but meant to be permanent. I suspect that the tone of Jesus’ response to the Pharisees indicated His grave disappointment that such a question was even being asked. God certainly did not intend that men would divorce their wives “for any cause.”

Of course, God did not intend that anyone sin in any way, but all of us have. Mercifully, God made provision to rescue us from our slavery to sin. Moreover, He has some things to say to us after we have done what He did not want us to do. Likewise, God never intended for anyone to divorce, but divorce was inevitable among humans not submitted to God. God was not surprised at the first divorce or the millions of subsequent divorces. And so He not only declares His hatred of divorce, but He also has some things to say to people after they’ve been divorced.