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.