Whenever the subject of divorce comes up, Christians quote the scripture that ‘God hates divorce’. But do we understand what God really meant? After a great deal of study I would have to say that no we don’t.
I believe that today many in the church can’t even get the basic principles about divorce and remarriage right. In fact what God says is completely different and completely contradictory to what most church denominations teach.
So lets get back to basics to see how man’s misogynistic bias has kept men and women in bondage to this day.
Putting Away versus Legal Divorce in Judaism
First we must understand a very important principle before we can continue. Divorce and putting away are two completely different actions in the bible.
- Divorce is when the husband for some reason finds his wife unsatisfactory, writes her a bill of divorce, places it in her hand and then sends her away.
There is one exception to this rule and that is when there is proof of fornication (Deut 22 applies) as the law did not allow divorce for fornication. Fornication breaks the covenant automatically. There is no need for a written bill of divorce as the law stated that adulterers were to be stoned, though the Romans did not allow the Jews to execute capital punishment. But we’ll cover the fornication exception when we head into the New Testament on the next blog post.
When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man’s wife, ~ Deuteronomy 24:1-2
The law did not define what the lawful causes by which divorce is permitted were in the eyes of God. It just says “because he has found some indecency in her” and where the law of God is silent we must then rely on the leading of the Holy Spirit.
- Would a man need a certificate of divorce in order to be remarried?
No, because a man was allowed to have more than one wife (Deut 21:15), but a woman could not have more than one husband (Deut 22:22) under the old covenant law.
Even though Deuteronomy just states ‘because he has found some indecency in her’ we can glean from the law on concubines in Exodus to see what the very minimum acceptable conditions were in that culture.
Love, Food, Shelter, Clothing, No Abuse Conditions
In Exodus 21 there were requirements set out that a man had to adhere to with his concubine / slave. (Jacob had the majority of his children from his concubines.)
Therefore if a master did not provide love to his concubine then the covenant was broken. That’s conjugal rights as the security of the concubine depended upon her children. She received no inheritance from her master except from what he was required to give to his children by her. If he died before she did she could not count upon his extended family to care for her in her old age, as she’d no longer be useful as a concubine. So her only hope was in her children.
If he reduced her food, clothing or shelter the marriage covenant was also broken as she could become weak and ill. Or if he hit her she was entitled to her freedom and leave his household. In old testament times they believed that if these were ‘the gold standards’ for a master /concubines relationship, then they couldn’t be any lower for a full marriage between a husband and wife!
- Putting away on the other hand was when the husband simply sends the wife away without a bill of divorce or in other words without written proof of their divorce just in case he decides to change his mind in the future. This was because Deuteronomy 24:3-4 did not allow a man to remarry his former wife if she had married someone else and her subsequent marriage ended also in divorce. To remarry that same woman again for a second time would be an abomination.
- As a result of simply putting away, without a bill of divorce, it left the woman unable to remarry another man in the Jewish culture.
- A woman could not be divorced without being put away, but she could be put away without being divorced.
The Dowry and Bride Price
When a woman married, her father paid ‘a bride price’ to her husband. Then she left her own family, gave up her name and now everything she depended on came from her husband. He was the source of her new identity and heritage as he was the source of her future family and descendants.
She brought a dowry with her, which her husband was never legally entitled to. He was expected to invest it and if the wife died before her husband, it would be distributed among her children. If the couple divorced the husband was supposed to give back the dowry and the bride price, as they were her only forms of financial security, while any children from the marriage stayed with their father.
Being put away without a legal divorce made it impossible for the woman to remarry in the Jewish culture. It left the woman in limbo and in a dire situation. She became an agunah – a “chained woman”, who couldn’t remarry because she was still technically married to a man she no longer lived with. However, the husband was able to marry another woman or even live with a single woman and have children from her (these children were considered legitimate under Jewish law) – i.e polygamy. If the woman was simply put away without a bill of divorce, the man was under no obligation to give back the dowry and bride price, which was a woman’s only financial security in those days.
Putting away avoided financial loss to the husband!
Putting Away Was Contrary To The Teaching Of Moses
- How did divorces happen during the New Testament era?
In the Jewish culture a woman could not divorce her husband. However a Jewish wife could claim the right to a divorce before a Pharisaical court provided that a very strong reason existed i.e for not fulfilling the terms of Exodus 21: 10-11. (refers to the laws about concubines above.) But only the husband was allowed to write the actual bill of divorcement. If he refused to write it out he was fined a set amount for every day he refused.
Greco Roman men and women could simply legally divorce their spouses verbally by making a statement ‘I divorce you’ 3 times and they didn’t need to have a written document.
- What was the difference between the Law of Moses and the traditions of the Pharisees?
The Jewish rabbis all agreed with Exodus 21:10-11 that divorce was permitted for physical, emotional or sexual neglect. The problem was that Jewish men were putting away their wives without writing them a bill of divorce and without any consideration to their welfare. These men believed they had the right to do this and were able to marry other women without committing adultery. Jesus disagreed with the Pharisees in Matthew 19, and insisted that they write the wife a legal bill, proof of the divorce in accordance with the law in Deuteronomy 24.
One example of wives being put away and separated from their own children against the Law of Moses can be found in Micah, where he condemns men who were casting out their wives unjustly.
The women of my people (ishshah /wives – Strongs H802) have you cast out from their pleasant houses; from their children have you taken away my glory for ever.~ Micah 2:9
Mistranslated from the Hebrew
In the book of Malachi it is written that God hates the practice of ‘putting away’, the hebrew word shalach. It’s not the actual word for legal divorce, which is the hebrew word keriythuwth. The translators mistranslated the word replacing the word putting away with divorce.
What God actually hates was the practice of putting away/shalach which left a woman destitute if she could not go back to her parents home. She’d have to fend for herself out on the streets without her dowry to fall back on as she would have no food, clothing or shelter. She could be forced into prostitution, or into indentured servitude in order to survive in that tough misogynistic culture.
Plus she was not able to legally remarry again for she and her first husband were actually legally still married. But if she did live with another man just to survive, this could result in her and her new partner being stoned to death for adultery. She had no legal rights when put away, while a written bill of divorce gave her legal rights to her dowry. She could depart, have enough money to live on, be free to marry another man and start her life over again.
And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife. ~ Deut 24:2
In other words, when a divorce takes place they are no longer husband and wife. The woman does not commit adultery when she remarries or else you have God supporting and endorsing adultery. Because it’s God who is actually giving permission for her to marry again in Deut 24:2!
Even God is a Divorcee
Even God put away the House of Israel and gave her a bill of divorce according to the Law of Moses in Deut 24:1-4, whereas the House of Judah became a widow.
So says Yahweh, “Where is your mother’s bill of divorce (keriythuwth H3748), whom I have put away (shalach H7971)? Or to which of My creditors have I sold you? Behold, you were sold for your iniquities, and your mother is put away (shalach H7971) for your sins. ~ Isaiah 50:1
They say, If a man put away (shalach H7971) and she goes from him and will be for another man, will he return to her again? Would not that land be greatly defiled? But you play the harlot with many lovers; yet come back to Me, says Yahweh. ~ Jeremiah 3:1
Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away (shalach H7971) and given her a certificate of divorce (keriythuwth H3748); yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also. ~ Jeremiah 3:8
For she is not my wife, and I am not her husband; ~ Hosea 2:2
God Himself initiated a divorce from The House of Israel and is divorced. Therefore if divorce is a sin, then you have an impossible theological problem to solve!
What Does God Hate?
For Yahweh God of Israel says That He hates the putting away (shalach H7971), For it covers one’s garment with violence,” Says Yahweh of hosts. “Therefore take heed to your spirit, That you do not deal treacherously. ~ Malachi 2:16
- If God hates divorce, why does God divorce His people, The House of Israel?
- Why does God permit divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1-4? God never permits something that He hates.
- There are are two situations in Deuteronomy 22:13-30 where God forbids His people to divorce – He removed the right to divorce. Therefore that means that the right to divorce had always been there.
- So in conclusion, does scripture say that God hates divorce or does scripture actually say that God hates putting away?
Next time we’ll be looking at how the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus.
Further useful resources:
- Put Away But Not Divorced (A Jewish woman who was put away but not divorced was in a very sad situation. Jesus sought to correct rather than exacerbate the problem. Once you click on the link, just scroll down the page to read in full.)