“Is it lawful to divorce … for any cause”
Our reading in Matthew’s Gospel tells us how the Pharisees came up to Jesus “and tested him by asking,
‘Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”
The religious groups were at odds between themselves in their efforts to impose as broad as possible “interpretation” of Moses’ Laws, some trying to justify an interpretation of the Law that allowed divorces “for any cause”.
Jesus astonished them by not referring to the Mosaic Law at all – he went back to the original foundation principle that they were completely ignoring. He said
“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said,
‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let not man separate” (19:3-6).
This is why we include wording in our marriage ceremonies that the couple have been
‘joined together in the sight of God’.
This was a phrase Peter and John used in responding to the criticism about their healing of a man in the Temple after Jesus ascended to heaven. They answered their critics and their efforts to silence them by saying,
“Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19).
And ourselves? We “cannot but speak” of what we have read and understood!
Jesus had shocked these legally minded men who were trying to bend the law to suit their own purposes. Of course this happens today – and lawyers get rich arguing cases in court. Jesus is immediately challenged, they ask,
“Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and send her away?” (Matthew 19:7).
Well, Moses did not command this – but, said Jesus,
“Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (verse 8).
Then he added,
“And I say unto you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (verse 9).
Now, under the law, adultery should be punished by stoning to death, as they said themselves on the occasion they brought a woman to him “caught in the act of adultery” (John 8:4,5) so the husband would, in that case, be free to marry again.
The lesson for us is that when we set out to live according to the spirit of Christ, these should not be issues for us at all. It is evident that those who look for a marriage partner should seek one with the same high principles as themselves. But as the principles all around us get lower and lower, if they exist at all, the need to read and know godly principles every day, with time for earnest prayer becomes of ever greater importance in our lives.