Divorce & Remarriage II: OT Reflections

Chapters 2-3 of Instone-Brewer’s Divorce & Remarriage in the Church reviews OT reflections on divorce and remarriage. In the first few pages of chapter 2, the author skips much review of Eden and goes right for the problem in marriages after the Fall. Adam and Eve discover, “the difference between good an devil, and at the heart of this discovery was the desire to do what they wanted.” (p. 24) God’s original design of “leaving and cleaving” provides the remedy to our tendency toward individualism and is meant to help us through the hard times.

But what happens when the ideal of leaving and cleaving doesn’t work? What happens to the wife? The Husband? Is there any relief? Instone-Brewer (I-B) then reminds readers that failing marriages is not merely a modern problem. He briefly summarizes the ancient near eastern laws prior to Moses. In short, women have no power, no say. A husband can abandon her and the kids, leave her with nothing (since she can’t own property) and then return and take her back whether she wants to or not.

Enter Moses. I-B says that Law given by Moses brings some things to rights. First, everyone was treated with equal respect and not given different punishments based on importance or personal wealth. Second,

The most impressive differences between the laws of Israel and those of other ancient Near Eastern nations were in the laws of remarriage. In other countries it was difficult for an abandoned woman to get remarried, but in Israel this unfairness was corrected by giving her the right to receive a divorce certificate from her husband….It confirmed that her husband had divorced her and meant that it was safe for another man to marry her… (pp. 28-29)

I-B backs up his contention that she could remarry by speaking of archaeological finds of very early Jewish divorce certificates that contain language, “you are now free to marry any man you wish.”

Lest anyone think the OT supports divorce, I-B attempts to distinguish between what is acceptable and a legal recognition of what has happened. Though divorce is always a sign of something wrong, I-B contends that God provides a means to force a divorcing man to give her a certificate to allow her to remarry.

This chapter is a little campy in places but makes a good point that the divorce certificate allowance was to protect wives from even more damage–to limit the effects of sin. Jesus seems to support this argument in Matt 19:18 when he states that Moses gave them this law because their hearts were hard (i.e., had no concern for their wives and children). Notice that women are not even considered able to divorce their husbands. There are a number of other OT passages that I-B has yet to deal with that I expect will show up in the next chapter. 

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