Divorce & Remarriage III: God as divorcee


In chapter 3 of David Instone-Brewer’s, Divorce and Remarriage in the church (IVP), we find that adultery in the OT results in either literal death or death of the marriage. But do other things also end marriage (abuse, neglect, cruelty)?  Why, I-B asks, “wouldn’t God allow divorce in these situations?”

The author argues that God DOES have other grounds for divorce:

Consider Ex 21:10-11. This text suggests to the author that God makes provision for a woman to be free from the marriage if her husband marries a second wife and fails to provide food, clothes and sex for the first. Instone-Brewer makes the important point that this is considered “case law” and not a statute. 

“Case law is a collection of decisions made by judges in actual cases that established a new legal principle. These rulings can be applied to other cases that share something in common with the case that established the principle….[this passage] is case law, so we ignore the details about slavery and polygamy and look for the principles that apply to all marriages that involve neglect. The rabbis found the following principles in this text, and I think they were right. They reasoned that if a slave wife had the right to divorce a husband who neglected to supply food, clothing and conjugal love, then a free wife would certainly also have this right. And they argued that if one of two wives had this right, so did an only wife.” (p. 36) 

So, I-B argues that there are 4 total grounds for divorce in the OT: neglecting food, clothing, sex, AND adultery. He reports that these 4 obligations are found in Jewish vows. He does admit that in the rabbinical literature, men could not be divorced for adultery since they could choose to have a second wife. And her reminds the reader that Jesus ends this “loophole”  by teaching monogamy.

I-B uses this text to remind the reader that only the victim could choose to enact the divorce. And the OT is replete with evidence that God marries Israel and Judah and both break the marriage vows or covenant/contract. God, the victim of this spiritual adultery, chooses to divorce Israel and separate from Judah (later to be reconciled) (Jer 3:8).

Israel did not know anything about God’s wonderful future plans while she was heading for divorce, and she stubbornly continued to break her marriage vows. All the prophets portray God acting in a forgiving and patient manner–he didn’t divorce her immediately and gave her many changes to repent. But Israel, his wife, continued to sin, refusing to honor her vows, and God reluctantly had to divorce her. The marriage was broken and dead, and God merely carried out the legal formalities of divorce that recognized that fact. (p. 41)

Why does God hate divorce? I-B says it is because he has personal experience of the pain of it.

God does not criticize the legal process of divorce or the person who carries it out; otherwise he would criticize himself, because he had to divorce Israel. God hates the breaking of marriage vows that results in divorce. He says that breaking these vows is being “faithless,” because it breaks the marriage covenant or contract. (p. 42)

So I-B concludes by recognizing the OT view of marriage as a contract (agreeing to be faithful and to provide food, clothes, and love) that can be dissolved (not required to dissolve) by the victim if the contract is broken. He will look next to Jesus’ words in the NT

MY THOUGHTS? The OT is very concerned about abandonment of vulnerable and weak individuals (e.g., widows, orphans, aliens). And so the divorce statements in the OT is to men who have the power to abandon. Women did not. But, I-B seems to make a strong case for these issues to brought forward to today. Where it gets messy is who interprets abandonment? Sinners! Sinners who can shape interpretations to their own benefit. I wanted more sex, more clothes, more of you and less of your work. Are these also all grounds for divorce? While I like I-B’s work with the Ezek. passage it seems like it raises many more questions.  

3 Comments

Filed under Biblical Reflection, book reviews, Uncategorized

3 responses to “Divorce & Remarriage III: God as divorcee

  1. Scott Knapp, MS

    The authors sound like their case regarding divorce depends upon how the victim “feels” about how he or she has been treated (i.e., God hates divorce because He’s felt the pain associated with it). It would stand to reason, then, that the purpose of marriage ultimately is to make the partners feel good, and the sin in committing any of the four conditions the authors stipulate would be making the victim experience any of the unpleasantness associated with those conditions. I differ with this position based on what I believe to be the fundamental purpose of marriage: to reflect the character of God and His commitment/relationship to mankind. Divorce, or the commitment of the acts that legitimately justify divorce, is sin in the sense that it mars this illustration and denigrates the very character of the One marriage and fidelity is supposed to honor and model after. I think that while God is in fact a “divorcee”, His pain results as much from the blasphemy of His character and honor by the adulterous person, as from the interpersonal pain caused by adulterous behavior. So long as we establish our values about marriage from the perspective of what it is supposed to do for us, we’ll misunderstand the sin aspect behind divorce and associated behavior. Marriage is an act of worship in every aspect, and fidelity to one’s vows is an act of worship as well…making violation of one’s vows and the resultant provoking of divorce an act of idolatry!

  2. I disagree about the author’s point is that it depends on how they feel. He does say that it is the victim who initiates divorce, not the victimizer. While marriage is not about what we get out of it, we can make an objective determination that the vows have been so broken as to justify or allow divorce. My point was that as long as sinners are trying to make that objective determination, we should expect problems in determining if warrant has been met.

  3. Scott

    I think each of us as Christians are missing not only the aircraft carrier, but the warships which are around it to protect it. In essence, the boat is being missed big time.

    The Bible is very clear… SIN is what separates us from God. SIN does. Sin comes in all forms and fashions and much is to be said about the OT leaders trying to justify their sinlessness against the 10 commandments. Jesus puts this in a perspective by saying… Hey, if you lust in your heart, you have sinned, never mind the act of doing it.

    Why modern society has chosen marriage as the “great woe” of sin avoidance is beyond me. It all honesty, it is not different than any other sin, because it separates us from God. Hence, we need Jesus. Marriage is a hard one because it involves more than just God and you, it involves your spouse and any children involved. It brings up a bunch of issues such as getting re-married and is a domino that just knocks another one down, the chain reaction.

    We may not think twice about many things that we do as sinners, that are indeed sin. Using software or music from a friend or obtained online (stealing), lusting in our heart after another woman (porn or someone we know or whatever) and desiring that really cool car our neighbor has, envy.

    So… WHY in the world do we as Christian find this particular issue such a turning point. It keeps people in horrible marriages years and years when they are unable to do he Lord’s work, because of the chains they are in.

    I hate divorce, I want nothing of it… and I will not justify it. It needs no justification, it needs no exception, it just is sin. Flat and simple.

    That said, I plan on seeking divorce in the near future, after three years of an empty relationship with a mentally ill wife who seeks only herself, who has BPD, Bipolar, and GAD. She doesn’t care for the kids, she doesn’t care for me or the house, she seeks herself… her heart is hardened. Because of this, I have hardened my heart toward her. Now, she blames me for causing her heart to be hardened.

    But, we are not dealing with rational thinking. Clearly, as sinners we make frantic efforts to not need God, and the Bible clearly shows that we need Him… plain and simple. The very fact that this debate even exists, shows man’s true nature, sin.

    God sends people He loves to the wilderness. I love my wife, but I can’t have her treating the kids or myself the way she has been. It is time, I send her to the wilderness. Their, she will find God again and redemption.

    Remember… as Jesus said, He who is without sin, can cast the first stone. As Christians, we have been stoning fellow Christians. We need to keep our stones to ourselves, and seek to help each other get through this horribly sinful world.

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