What Does It Mean to Divorce “Because of the Hardness of Your Heart”?

A Daily Little Lesson

Read the transcript of this video below.

Jesus said that Moses permitted the Jewish men to divorce their wives because of the hardness of their hearts, so what did He mean by that?

Picture of man signing divorce paper with wife

Hi, welcome to today’s Little Lesson. This will be I think our fourth one discussing marriage and divorce as we’re working our way through Jesus’ sixth, “You have heard, but I say to you,” statements. I saved this one for last because it is the one where interpreters are most apt to claim that Jesus was changing the standards found in the law of Moses. I’m taking a different course, as you know if you’ve watched already, that Jesus was reiterating standards that were already there, and that what was true when Jesus spoke these words on the Sermon on the Mount was true during the law of Moses.

Any thinking person would realize that it’s not okay to divorce your wife for any cause at all, but that in cases where there’s unrepentant adultery committed, well, that would obviously be a legitimate reason to divorce your wife. If you have a legitimate reason to divorce your wife, then naturally, you have a legitimate reason to remarry, et cetera, et cetera.

Anyway, we’re working our way now. We jumped ahead to Matthew chapter 19 where Jesus said, “Because of the hardness of your heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives.” I’d like to paraphrase that. Let’s take the blame off of Moses here because it’s just a reference to the law of Moses. In the law of Moses, inspired by God, remember, the 10 commandments were written by the finger of God in stone, God allowed you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts.

Now, I said on our previous Little Lesson, I guarantee you Jesus did not mean by that, God permitted you to divorce your wife for any cause at all because of the hardness of your heart. It’s because He didn’t allow them to divorce their wives for any cause at all. In fact, there really is no list in the Old Testament that says, “Here are legitimate reasons for you to divorce your wife,” but obviously divorce was allowed under the old covenant.

I’d like to make the claim that God, who gave every Jewish man a conscience, expected them live by their own conscience. Even though that the Pharisees taught in Jesus’ day that you could divorce your wife if you found a woman who was more attractive to you, that your conscience would say that’s not correct and that it’d have to be a major offense, one of which your wife does not repent for you to divorce her, right? Right. Come on.

God expects you to be merciful, so even if your wife commits adultery, if you confront her and she begs for your forgiveness, well, you’re obligated to forgive her because God’s forgiven you of a few things, I’ll bet, and so you have to forgive her. Give her another chance, okay?

God demonstrated that with Israel, how patient he was with them as they went after idols. God’s setting the right example for centuries before his people in Israel, so they know what to do. Be patient with your spouse. Give them another chance. You don’t divorce for any reason at all, but God did allow you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts.

I don’t know exactly what is meant by that, but I have my idea that God allowed them to divorce their wives because of the hardness of their heart for immorality, even if their wives were unrepentant, even if their wives were repentant. Correct me on that, because a husband with a soft heart would have mercy on his repentant wife, but that’s just my theory. You can’t prove it or disprove it from the Old Testament.

Now, I’ve been making reference to a verse in the Old Testament that describes in Pharisees we’re very much aware of. Their whole question to Jesus about divorcing your wife for any cause at all was based on this passage in Deuteronomy chapter 24. We’ve got to read four verses. I hope you’ll bear with me. It’ll take almost the rest of our time to go through these and to point out a couple things that are very pertinent to our discussion.

Deuteronomy chapter four, verse number one. “When a man takes a wife and he marries her and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found an indecency in her.” Now, that’s the vague term. He finds an indecency in her. Doesn’t stipulate what that indecency is. “And he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from her house,” so in other words, she has been divorced now. Doesn’t say whether the man was justified or not. It just says that he did it, and he found a justifiable reason, at least in his own mind. Doesn’t say whether God said he was right or not. Doesn’t say that. Just talking about, “Here’s the situation and I’m going to make a law about the situation.” Here’s a divorced woman. For some reason, we don’t know why, the husband divorced her, and he gave her a certificate, so she can prove, “I’m divorced.”

Now, why is that important? Because if she remarries, her former husband cannot accuse her of committing adultery because she has his signature on a certificate of divorce. It protects her, so obviously God under the old covenant allowed remarriage because he’s merciful and gracious and he’s not blaming the wife because her husband divorced her. It’s not her fault. Maybe it is her fault. I don’t know. He found some indecency. We don’t know what the indecency was.

She leaves his house and goes and becomes another man’s wife, so God doesn’t say whether that was right or wrong, but she did it. She marries, so she is married to another man. Contrary to what some people say, she’s married for life to the first guy, so she’s really still married to her original husband because marriage is for life. You get one chance at this. Well, guess God didn’t know that under the old covenant.

“If the ladder husband turns against her,” poor lady here, “And writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house.” Okay, so now she’s twice divorced and she’s got two certificates that show that she’s twice divorced, “Or if the ladder husband dies who took her to be his wife.” Two scenarios, either twice divorced or once divorced and once widowed.

Now, here’s the law. Here’s what she’s forbidden to do. “Then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife since she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. Shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord, your God gives you on earth.” There’s only one person she’s forbidden to remarry. The twice divorced person is not allowed to remarry her first husband, which implies it’s okay for her to remarry anybody else under the law of Moses.

I know people say, “Well, that’s changed on the new covenant. Jesus raised the standard.” Of course. We read Paul in First Corinthians 7, Christians who are married should not be getting divorced. They’re new creations in Christ. They don’t get a divorce. If they do separate, they should remain separate or be reconciled, Paul said. There’s no excuse for new creations in Christ Jesus. What about all the stuff that happened before you were Christian? Well, some of this applies to that, okay?

We’re out of time once again for today. Thanks for bearing with me as we look at a very complicated subject upon which a lot of people disagree. God bless you.