[Deuteronomy Chapter 24] Breaking the Stigma of Divorce. In this chapter, many family issues are addressed. Did you know the divorce rate among Evangelical Christians is higher than that of atheists and agnostics? Unfortunately, the church no longer (if it ever did) hold the moral high ground of what it takes to form a successful marriage. Did you know that God Himself circumvented His own law regarding divorce and remarriage? In this chapter, we find extremely controversial yet very helpful insights into these troubling subjects that touch very close to home.
[Deu 24:1-22 KJV] 1 When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give [it] in her hand, and send her out of his house. 2 And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s [wife]. 3 And [if] the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth [it] in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her [to be] his wife; 4 Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that [is] abomination before the LORD: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the LORD thy God giveth thee [for] an inheritance. 5 When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: [but] he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken. 6 No man shall take the nether or the upper millstone to pledge: for he taketh [a man’s] life to pledge. 7 If a man be found stealing any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and maketh merchandise of him, or selleth him; then that thief shall die; and thou shalt put evil away from among you. 8 Take heed in the plague of leprosy, that thou observe diligently, and do according to all that the priests the Levites shall teach you: as I commanded them, [so] ye shall observe to do. 9 Remember what the LORD thy God did unto Miriam by the way, after that ye were come forth out of Egypt. 10 When thou dost lend thy brother any thing, thou shalt not go into his house to fetch his pledge. 11 Thou shalt stand abroad, and the man to whom thou dost lend shall bring out the pledge abroad unto thee. 12 And if the man [be] poor, thou shalt not sleep with his pledge: 13 In any case thou shalt deliver him the pledge again when the sun goeth down, that he may sleep in his own raiment, and bless thee: and it shall be righteousness unto thee before the LORD thy God. 14 Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant [that is] poor and needy, [whether he be] of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that [are] in thy land within thy gates: 15 At his day thou shalt give [him] his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he [is] poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the LORD, and it be sin unto thee. 16 The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin. 17 Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, [nor] of the fatherless; nor take a widow’s raiment to pledge: 18 But thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee thence: therefore I command thee to do this thing. 19 When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands. 20 When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow. 21 When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean [it] afterward: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow. 22 And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt: therefore I command thee to do this thing.
In a previous study, we quoted the Barna Institute research that established that the divorce rate among Christians (specifically Evangelicals) is quite high, in fact, higher than that of atheists and agnostics. Unfortunately, the modern church doesn’t hold the moral high ground when it comes to the issues of marriage and divorce. In this passage, God is not condoning divorce but simply acknowledging its impact upon our lives. One out of two Evangelical Christians has been divorced at least once in their lifetime. The gender ratio of men to women who have been divorce is almost exactly one to one in the Western world, which statistically would suggest that every Christian Evangelical marriage and certainly every family is or will be touched by divorce.
In Mark 10:5, Jesus said that divorce was not the original plan of God but that it was allowed for the hardness of heart. The passage above says that if a divorce takes place and remarriage that the original couple may not remarry again later. The passage plainly says that it is under the law an abomination. Jesus refers to this in Mark 10:11,12 as a form of double abomination. Having said that – what is Jesus clearly driving at in Mark 10? What is the deeper message?
In the book of Jeremiah, God describes Himself as being married to the nation of Israel but that a divorce had taken place and Israel chosen to be married to “many lovers”:
[Jer 3:1 KJV] 1 They say, If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man’s, shall he return unto her again? shall not that land be greatly polluted? but thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the LORD.
This entire passage in its entirety describes God as committing the same social transaction of divorce, remarriage, divorce, and subsequent remarriage again that the law says is an abomination. There is an implied message here that yes, divorce is not God’s first choice, but it does happen, and it is not unpardonable, and if God Himself divorces and remarries against the plain injunction of His own law, we have to conclude that we cannot apply against others or ourselves some ridged standard that God Himself did not hold to.
Divorce was allowed for the hardness of heart. Did hardness of heart end with the Old Testament? The early church really missed it on this point. When a spouse died in the early church days, if the surviving spouse remarried, they were excommunicated as adulterers. In all it’s history, divorced people have lived as pariahs in the church and in view of the church’s failure in this area to dictate a response of humility and not high minded hypocrisy.
In v. 5 we read that a newly married soldier was not allowed to go to war. In the juxtaposition of marriage responsibility and societal obligation and outside pursuits, marriage is emphasized here as the higher priority. Men often put a higher expectation on the wife to submit (Eph. 5:21,22) than they do upon the biblical injunction of laying down their lives for the spouses as Christ laid down His life for the church. Consider the following verse:
[Gen 2:24 KJV] 24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
Notice the expectation to “leave and cleave” is upon the HUSBAND and not the wife. This should give us pause – to reflect on the heavier responsibility given to the MAN in the marriage to set the tone and lead by example in the area of sacrificial love and service to his wife. Eph. 5:25 says that a man should give his life for his spouse, following the example of Jesus giving His life for the church. A man is to set his wife apart as the recipient of being “washed with the water of the word” (Eph. 5:26). Jesus washes us with the water of the word that He might “present us to Himself” as a spotless bride without imperfection (Eph. 5:27). In other words, the imperfect of the character of your wife is the measurement of your ministry portion and responsibility, not the pretext or justification of the scope of your criticism and hatred of your spouse. We must learn this as men and women must begin to pray into this with their husbands who don’t get this. We both must begin to teach our sons how to walk in this servant based approach of humility toward our wives. Unfortunately, with the prevailing attitude among men in our society, we find husbands completely disincentivized to walk in this example of Christ’s love for our wives. The result is the heartbreak of rampant divorce and broken marriages in the church that could otherwise be the shining example of unconditional love between partners.
6 No man shall take the nether or the upper millstone to pledge: for he taketh [a man’s] life to pledge.
In Luke 17:2, Jesus connected the imagery of a millstone with the issue of offense. The person who provokes an offense is hanging a millstone around his neck. This verse, however, tells us NOT TO INDEBT such a person lest you take their very life for your pledge. There are going to be people who offend you. The suggestion of this verse as a metaphor is yes, you are going to be offended but do not use the occasion of the offense to manipulate some form of social debt against the person who offends you with the insistence of “you owe me; therefore you must do what I say…”
In v. 7, the law deals with human trafficking at worst and taking unfair advantage of others at the least. This was a literal problem in those days of slavery, and (human trafficking) exists today. This verse, however, does have an application closer to home for the average believer. How many of us take advantage of others or make merchandise of others for our own selfish interests? This happens when we make a demand upon someone without a reciprocating and sacrificial response of love and taking responsibility toward the very person that you would have otherwise misused. This is a very pernicious problem in marriage, in how we treat our children and our parents and in church relationships as well.
In vs. 8-9 there are laws relating to leprosy. Look at this mention of leprosy in context with the other scriptures and the mention of Miriam. Miriam contracted leprosy because she reviled Moses and tried to use his position and influence as a means to advance her own authority. The implied warning here is that making merchandise of others brings retribution and judgment down upon ourselves in exactly the opposite vein. Lepers were outcasts. They lived lonely, devastating lives. Are we social lepers because we have sought to live lives justifying our oppression of others, making merchandise, and using others without being servant leaders walking in sacrificial love?
In vs. 10-13, there is a warning about abusing others in our lives who cannot defend themselves. God told Abraham He would bless those that blessed him and curse those that curse him. God will execrate from your life those that even trifle with you. What if the person who is working against you is another believer (another inheritor of the blessing of Abraham)? Even though you are an inheritor of the favor and blessing of Abraham – if you choose to become an oppressor of others, you are disinheriting yourself and UNNECESSARILY alienating yourself from the favor and blessing of God that would otherwise overshadow your life. We should audit our relationships and, if these conditions exist, make the adjustments because the cost is simply too great.
In vs. 16 through the end of the chapter, we see that in family relationships, there are times that a family member will justify the suffering of other members of the family because of the familial connection. In other words, so as to say, “yes, I am difficult to live with – but you are my family member; therefore it is God’s will for you to suffer (sometimes adding “if you consider yourself a Christian”). God does not hold family members hostage to the overbearing, unrepentant, and reprobate condition of the hearts of other family members. You are not obligated to suffer in silence. Many family members carry this type of suffering as though it was God’s will and their cross to bear. This makes them often, in their eyes, a pitiable self-justified victim that only immerses them in religious pride. The deeper tragedy is that while they lick their wounds, the offending family member, spouse, etc., pays for it with their eternal soul.
We need to learn to be confronters and to say “that will be enough of that” even when the cost is great. If you won’t do it for yourself to it for the sake of your backslidden and rebellious family member whose life and eternity may be forfeit because they refuse to be confronted. Jesus said He didn’t come to bring peace among families but a sword. The sword is that of the word of God. In so doing, we make it possible for our wayward family members to find repentance and recover their proper relationship with God.