The Scriptures I find relating specifically to marriage, divorce, and remarriage, in order as they occur in the Bible, are as follows:
Genesis 2:18 And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
There has always been, from the very first, a natural sense that Man is incomplete by himself. While Man is spiritually complete as a being, there is something about God’s design in Man that suggests the need for a counterpart.
In the very beginning, God said that it was not good for Man to be alone. God’s creation in Man was not good by itself: by design, something was, “not good.” At that time, this was the only thing about God’s creation that was, “not good.” God has not designed Man to thrive as an isolated creature. Generally, from a design perspective, Man requires another with him in order to be “good,” to be complete, balanced, healthy, and finished. Man has a natural tendency to thrive only in the context of intimacy and mutual interdependency with another — one other. This was so even before the Fall.
God envisioned, designed and created Woman for this purpose of complementing Man, of being this “one-other.” God made Woman especially for Man: “I will make him an help” (“for” is grammatically implied). Her purpose in the temporal realm, by God’s definition, is to be a helper for her husband. This is what she has been designed for and where she generally finds her deepest fulfillment.
God conceives of, describes and defines Woman as “an help meet for him:” or an helper for Man that is properly suited – “meet” – for him. God made Woman as an helper, an appropriate and fitting helper, uniquely suited to meeting the needs of Man, complimenting him in every way, and — in a sense — completing him. God did not create a community to satisfy this need in Man, nor another man: He created one woman – and He created marriage.
While Man and Woman are equal in value and worth, both being created in the image of God and by His own personal Hand, the two have manifestly different roles and positions in marriage. Man is not created for Woman, but Woman is created for Man. It is not Man’s purpose to complete Woman, or to be her helper; it is Woman’s purpose and place to complete Man, and to be an helper for him. These different roles are a matter of authority, accountability, and responsibility — not a measure of value or worth. This is God’s design and God’s purpose, not Man’s own device.
Genesis 2:19-22 And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man .
Most all who read this text find nothing in it relevant to the foundations of marriage. This is quite interesting… given the fact that this is the entire context of the very first marriage, the only marriage officiated in Person by the LORD GOD. This text describes what God does immediately after indicating that the Man’s aloneness is not good. It is as if God is preparing Adam for marriage in this activity. Why would this entire context be completely irrelevant to an understanding of God’s design in marriage? It certainly is not.
The obvious one-flesh principle in verse 23, and the relevant leaving and cleaving found in verse 24, are often presented as the first great principles of marriage. However, there is something profound in the context of the first meeting of Woman and Man that provides an essential perspective in the doctrine of marriage. It is overlooked, perhaps, simply because it is hated. It is the principle of precedence and authority: ” the head of the Woman is the Man.” (1 Cor 11:3)
As soon as God expresses Man’s need for an helper and His intention to fulfill this need (vs 18), the LORD proceeds to create a special instance of each of the beasts and birds to present to Adam for his review. Adam is to evaluate each one to see if it is appropriate, “meet,” to be his helper… for this is the context in which God is working with Adam. Adam is to name each creature and give it identity based on how he perceives its design and function, while accepting or rejecting it as his own suitable helper.
This process of evaluation and identity formation, performed over each member of animal kingdom, is evidently a reflection and an expression of Adam’s authority over the created realm, naming the animals being a natural outflow of his dominion over them. However, during this activity he is evidently primarily thinking in the context of what his own helper should be like, what his helper should look like, musing upon an appropriate design for a suitable helper for himself. He learns much about her by looking at and evaluating God’s design in Creation.
During this time of reflection and discernment Adam is enjoying a time of rich communion with his Maker… alone. He is the only human being… by design. God has not made Man and Woman simultaneously and independently, introducing them to their new world together, positioning them equivalently without distinction in role or authority. God has intended to make Man first and to grant him a wealth of experience before bringing his companion and helper into being.
In fact, God has already positioned Man within Creation as its lord and sovereign apart from the existence of Woman. God has created Man with intimacy, breathing His very own breath into Man to create a living soul. God has already given Man a personal name, Adam, and begun communing with and teaching him. Adam is God’s first son, and the love of a Father for an only son is certainly expressed in a depth and purity that cannot be surpassed in intensity or wholesomeness. During this loving reception and intimate communion, God has taught Adam his immediate purpose, setting him in the garden of Eden to, “dress it and to keep it.” (Gen 2:15) In doing so God has introduced Adam to his new home, the home in which this new helper will eventually live with him… though she is not yet present to see and experience it with him.
Further, God has engaged Adam intellectually, explaining to Adam the nature and purpose of the trees of the garden, revealing to him, “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat.” (vs 16) God has also explicitly described the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil to Adam, and has clearly expressed His requirement that Adam not ever eat of that particular tree: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (vs 17) This is the first commandment… and Adam is alone.
Adam has now perceived and understood the concepts of life and death, good and evil, and is about to partner with God in a wealth of exploration in the animal kingdom as they search together for this “help” God has defined for Adam. However, even at this point in his young life, Adam also knows what a tree is, and must have some context in which to value God’s instruction to eat from trees, and to dress and keep the garden paradise. This development indicates that during this time of communion and discovery, Adam, as ruler of this virgin earth, has also been introduced to the nature and purpose of plants, growth, eating and digestion. He also has a sense of having to maintain and care for things that are subject to chaotic development… he is to cultivate and manage living things that are not intrinsically ordered as they grow.
Adam has thus been introduced to morality and aesthetics and science in a variety of ways, and all of these concepts are likely simply a representative sample of what Adam has already experienced and understood as God has introduced him to his new world.
It is reasonable to presume that Adam has in fact named all of the trees and plants of the garden, just as he will soon name all of the birds and the beasts when God presents them to him. Whatever Adam calls any living thing… it is. Perhaps God has even given Adam a global tour — a bird’s-eye perspective of what he is soon to govern, and has revealed to him much of the general workings of the ecosystem, the water cycle and the cosmos.
In addition, Adam has also understood that God has planted two special trees in the midst of the garden: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil… and the Tree of Life. These creatures are named by God Himself and are not subject to Adam’s dominion, evidently the only beings beyond the authoritative scope of Adam. In the midst of all of this revelation, a loving Father is showing His son that there a spiritual nature in these special trees that is otherworldly; there is an intrinsic concept of some other type of life that is unique from Adam’s present physical life. Adam is physically alive and unthreatened with disease and corruptibility… yet is presented with a tree with fruit to eat that has some type of additional life-giving affect. As the fruit of the other trees are designed to nourish and sustain him, there is also a fruit of another unique metaphysical kind. There is a life that is not merely physical, and a death that is supernatural. Adam is given a sense of another entire world, a spiritual universe beyond the physical universe in which God is also sovereign… it is a world in which some beings are in loving obedient unison with God (“life”) and also beings which are alienated from and at enmity with Him (“death”).
In His absolute Sovereignty in both the physical and metaphysical spheres, God also reveals to Adam that He has the right to command what He creates: an explicit boundary is established for Adam in the very center of the world in which he himself governs… a restriction is placed upon Adam in the midst of his earthy kingdom. The vastness of this entire revelation is indeed remarkable… and Woman is still, only a concept.
Woman has not been created for a reason. God has purposed to begin the human race with Man, not with Woman. He has chosen to stagger their introduction and to grant Man an initial exposure and awareness of the Creation in all of its fullness as an individual, as a sovereign lord in this newly created realm. God will not introduce Woman to this new world, but will bring her to the man. It is Man that will introduce Woman to Creation and teach her all about it, especially their Garden home, their purpose in dressing and keeping it and the nature of the supernatural trees within it. Adam will naturally become his wife’s teacher, mentor, and protector. God is setting the stage for Adam and securing his place of dominance not only in the world… but also within his culture and family.
It is in this context, in an intimate solitary communion between God and Adam… as they observe together the workings and wonder of Creation, the ecosystem, the water cycle, the sun and moon and stars, all of the plants, insects, fish, birds and beasts… even the spiritual realm… that God reveals to Adam His intention to reveal an helper for him. They begin to consider the nature appropriate for such a helper… together.
It is perhaps already obvious to Adam during this process of exploration that each type of mammal has both a male and female counterpart. The male is generally stronger, the female is generally weaker. The male carries the seed and the female carries the eggs, conceives from copulation with the male, carries the offspring during gestation, gives birth, nurses and cares for the young. As Adam contemplates the nature of God’s design and considers God’s intention to reveal a companion for him to help him, he may easily begin to comprehend what his helper will look like, how she will function, and what her role will be.
As they explore together God fashions each type of mammal uniquely, brings each created being to Adam and presents it to him for him to ponder and consider. God is not teaching Adam here, God is allowing Adam to creatively establish identity, working out in a tangible sense Man’s authority, sovereignty and dominion over Creation. As Adam does contemplate each animal pair, one by one, Adam not only grants it identity according to an intelligent grasp of its design and nature, Adam also decides that each creature is unsuitable to be his helper. He is discerning, reasoning, evaluating… in partnership and communion with God. During this entire experience, it should come as no great surprise to Adam that none of the existing creatures match this ideal design of a helper for himself… Adam at some point perceives that God is yet to fashion her.
After exhausting all of the relevant possibilities in the created realm, certainly feeling God’s emphasis of the uniqueness of this coming new creature, Adam waits before his Maker… and one might imagine what provoked and breathless anticipation of His last creative act would seethe in Adam’s new bosom. Adam must know, as God tells Adam that He will take a part of him to fashion her and puts him to sleep, that this one soon coming will be perfect for him. When he sees her he will know where she came from and that his very flesh and bone were employed in her design and creation. God is making her from him and especially for him, and has set the stage for her introduction perfectly… exactly as He would have it to be.
God does make this last creature especially for Adam, actually taking her from Adam and forming her from part of him. As He engages in this last creative act, we have no revelation concerning any communication from God to this helper as she becomes conscious. Even so, it is not unreasonable to presume that vast love and acceptance is communicated to her from God, as she is His first daughter, and that she is aware of His delight in her. Perhaps she also experiences a revelation of why she was made and has an innate sense of her own purpose. In any case, she accompanies her Father in returning to Adam to be presented to him. She is certainly perfect, a work of tender art.
As she comes walking beside her Maker, her Father, she has no name… though she is His daughter, God has not yet given her a name… either as a type of being or as an individual. God has reserved this right for Man, just as He has all of the other animals that He has just brought to him.
This new creature evidently does not introduce herself as they meet, for she does yet not appear to know who or what she is exactly… she apparently has no formal identity apart from the reception and acceptance of Man. She apparently knows very little of the world into which she has been brought. The only thing certain is that God has made her for the purpose of being the helper of Man. Though she is certainly perfect in design, still — as God has just brought all of the animals to Adam to see what he would call them — God brings this special new creature to Adam for his review and subjects her to Man’s discernment and approval.
This dynamic is extremely relevant to the nature of this first marriage. As this beautiful new creature stands before Man and awaits his response, she looks into his eyes and he into hers. As far as we know, she does not speak, but waits for him to speak. She does not initiate, but waits for and anticipates his initiative. She waits before him to be received or rejected, and has no choice in the matter. Whatever he speaks to her and of her in these first words to fall upon her virgin ears will define who she is, how she will relate to him and what her role in life will be.
Genesis 2:23 And Adam said, this is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
It is reasonable to perceive that Man’s initial expression is a joyful exclamation of acceptance; instantaneous and passionate: “This is NOW…!” His God has “outdone Himself” this time! Adam finally sees in this beautiful female being the perfect design he has been anticipating; Adam would naturally be awakened to a thankfully delightful passion in her presence. She is a person, a human being, just like himself, created by God, uniquely reflecting the God-given glory of Man. Adam receives this creature as one with himself, accepting authority over her and naming her, defining her identity just as he has all of the other creatures.
Adam apparently does not address the new creature first: he addresses her Maker. What Adam speaks he speaks to God about this creature as he defines her and receives her. Adam does not reject this creature as unsuitable for himself, as he has all other creatures prior to her, but he accepts her. She is perfectly designed to complete him, extinguishing his earthy loneness — he fully accepts her and receives her from the One that made her for himself.
Uniquely this time, before God, Adam recognizes and defines a creature in relation to himself, differently than he has defined all other created beings. He knows that a part of his very own body is woven into very substance of this creature before him: there is literally a gap in the cage about his heart… a bone that protected his most vital organs is now woven throughout the frame of this new human being standing before him.
Adam is physically more vulnerable than he was before God’s last creative act due to this member being taken from him to form her. However, this helper covers this new vulnerability with a softness and a strength as she stands beside him and warms to his embrace. With her at his side he is much stronger than he was before… but should she betray him he is also much more vulnerable since she is so close to him at his point of weakness.
There is evidently a dynamic woven into this relationship in the physical realm that well pictures God’s design. It is a relationship of mutual trust and interdependency. It is clear that Man sees and acknowledges Woman’s identity as part of his own, and that he intimately identifies her with himself. He pronounces what she is: she is Woman, precious to him above all other.
In this personal identification with himself, Adam receives Woman and acknowledges that she is above all of the other created beings, perfectly suited to work with him and for him in subduing the earth. She has dominion over creation as his representative, which is appropriate to her being his helper: she will act on his behalf and with his authority as she helps him.
This development is perfectly consistent with God’s design, and He affirms both Man and Woman in His commissioning of them. “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” (Gen 1:28) Thus Man and Woman both share in the work of bringing the earth under their control. They walk in mutual authority over the created realm, Woman being positioned as the assistant and helper, Man as the initiator and lord.
Woman apparently has no right to usurp an independent authority parallel to Man in their common purpose, but apparently draws her authority from Man’s. God sees the identity and purpose of Woman so completely defined in this relationship that He calls them together simply… Adam. (Gen 5:22) As God refers to them it is “the man and his wife” rather than “the man and the woman .” (Gen 2:25) Man is evidently in authority over Woman, but she is now second in command, as no other is — they will rule together.
As Adam receives this woman from God, he receives a daughter from a Father: God gives His only daughter to Adam to be his wife. They are not only husband and wife, they are brother and sister. There is an innate sense of trust implied here: Man is to receive this Woman as a gift from a Father, a Father Who loves his daughter and cherishes her deeply. Man is expected to love Woman as her Father does and take care of her; she is not an object or merely a piece of property for Man to dispose of as he pleases. Woman is infinitely precious to her Father and the Father’s offer of her to Man suggests both a vulnerability and a trust that Man is to honor. She moves from the authority and protection of the Father to being under the authority and protection of her husband. Woman does officially become Man’s wife in this transaction (“the man and his wife” Gen 2:25), and he becomes her husband. Thus we have the first marriage.
When Adam does receive Woman, he eventually also gives her a personal name to compliment his own, Eve (Gen 3:20), because she is to become a mother. Adam not only gives this new person at his side identity as a Woman to reflect her design, he also gives her identity as his wife, as a mother, in accordance with her role and function in his home, knowing that she will give birth to their children, nurture and raise them.
The two of them are now not only named after their kind, Man and Woman, but now they are both named uniquely as precious before God, unlike the animals, having unique identity before Him as Adam and Eve. God has identified and defined Man and named him Adam… and Adam has identified and named all else — including Woman, Eve. The two are equal in worth, both being fathered by God, but very different in design, precedence, role, authority, and function. As God’s headship and authority over Adam is expressed in His naming of him, Adam’s headship and authority over Woman is expressed in his naming of her.
Genesis 2:24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.
This is the third great principle taught in the Scripture concerning the nature of the marriage relationship as God designed it to be. A man is to leave his parents and make a home with his wife, cleaving unto her as though she is a part of his own being, an extension of his own flesh and bones. He is to make a formal break with the identity and structure of his parents’ home and make a uniquely new home blended only from his life and the life of his wife, totally distinct from either of their childhood homes. The husband is not to be the only influence in this new home, but this home is to be a natural and unique blending of two souls and hearts into one. As a husband he is no longer an isolated person — single, “alone,” but part of a pair of people who are now one family unit.
The husband is instructed to leave his parents’ home, but no mention is made of the wife doing so. We have here, already, the practical outworking of the headship of the man, even in the manner in which the principle is given. The husband’s position in relation to his parents is addressed and expressed explicitly, emphasizing his role and responsibility; the wife’s position with respect to her parents is not stated explicitly. Her position is understood as her husband’s position is defined. It is understood that he is head of his home, that the wife is not in control of it, and that the husband is to function in this role without the oversight of either of his parents. While the husband may not necessarily leave his parents physically and place geographical distance between the newly defined households, he is to leave them as dependent on their authority for his guidance. He marries and becomes the head of an independent family unit formed from himself and his bride.
In this relationship the husband is to “cleave unto his wife,” to hold tightly and closely to her in his spirit and heart, seeking to establish a deep and permanent oneness with her. He is to regularly initiate closeness in body, mind, heart, soul, and spirit with his wife, and she is to respond to him as they bond together.
A husband and wife should strive together for oneness in heart, mind and spirit, seeking for deep communion together in God, in emotion and will and worship, in the same manner in which they share physical oneness. The effort should be mutual, as the wife is the helper of her husband even in this; this is not the sole effort of Man. Both the husband and wife should see the importance and value of this fundamental experience, and they should each be committed to seeing this oneness and communion extended as far as possible into their lives together. The husband cannot do this on his own, though he must certainly be willing to take regular initiative in it. As his helper, even in this basic foundation in their lives, the wife should also actively initiate and encourage their mutual closeness and unity.
As one flesh the husband and wife are not to see themselves as either above or beneath the other in value, but they are to view themselves as one. Though there are differences in purpose and function, there is mutual interdependency and oneness and equality. This structure is not inherently inconsistent or the result of sin, but ideal… this is perfection. They are one flesh in marriage and are to cleave closely to one another… not contend for independent agendas: this marriage union, by design, will only work well if they are both walking according to God’s pattern.
The husband is to accept the place of the guide and protector of his wife, as the head of his home and marriage, caring for his wife with all the diligence, tenderness, insight and compassion with which he cares for himself. This is the purpose of Man’s authority… it is not given to him for selfish ends, but as a stabilizing and protecting influence in this most fundamental social structure: the family.
The family is to have order and structure: the husband is ultimately responsible for the decisions made within it and must oversee and lead his family. This is a ruling, an ordering, a structuring that brings peace and strength in a world that is subject to chaos and disorder. It is expressed in Man’s very first words of Woman, to Woman, and in his initial relations with Woman. As he subdues the earth and brings beauty, peace and order to it through his dominion, it is essential that this same wholesome affect be seen in his family through his dominion within it.
As an earthly lord, Adam communes with Eve from the moment she is presented to him just as his heavenly Lord has communed with him, evidently discerning that his mate knows nothing of what has transpired before her creation, and realizing that he must do for her as God has done for him. He eventually takes her on a tour of the Garden, teaches her the nature of the garden paradise as well as the names of the plants and the animals, and carefully explains the vital restriction of the forbidden tree. It is uncertain how much time this takes and what all they experience together, but the potential is largely indefinite… this period could possibly have lasted for many years.
Adam has, by God’s design, become his wife’s mentor, teacher and protector… introducing her to her new world because he was there first and gave most all of it identity. He has had vast experiences with his God that she has not known, and he shares his understanding day by day with her as they become one in body, mind and spirit.
The whole arrangement and timing of their creation, as well as the express purpose of her creation, gives order to their marriage relationship. When God returns after the Fall to continue His communion with the newly wed couple, He calls to them by calling to Adam as a man, as the representative head of his home. Adam’s precedence and prerogative and responsibility upon the earth is clear, and predates sin.
God would have us see and accept the precedence of Man in the order of created things. Man’s precedence and position and prerogative in the divine order predates the Law, and even the Fall of Man. There is nothing “cultural” about its applicability today. It applies in society, in government, in the church, and in the home. It is a matter of authority and precedence and function. A feminist is, by definition in my opinion, one who does not understand, accept, obey and value this concept.
While the husband is evidently given a place of leadership and authority in relation with his wife, he is evidently in need of her as well. She is not merely a worker in his household, she is one flesh with him and he is to “cleave” to her. She is not merely a servant, she is a sister… they have a common Father… and in Him they have a covenant together, a mutual loyalty to each other and to a common Maker.
For Man to be alone was “not good.” It was not good for him to be alone physically, emotionally or spiritually. Woman is a helper to Man in all of these areas, not merely in the physics of the marriage relationship and in the household chores. This implies that Man is to listen carefully to Woman, thoughtfully consider her counsel and weigh her discernment earnestly. He is not to dismiss her or degrade her or ignore her simply because she is a woman. She is his wife… and this is wonderful.
In turn, the wife is to accept the place of a servant in her home, seeking to cooperate with and assist her husband in the daily affairs of their life together, being subject to his headship and authority, aware of his needs, his feelings, and his desires, and seeing that these needs are met alongside her own. She is to communicate with her husband honestly and respectfully and insightfully in her efforts to assist him in his work. She is to respond to him obediently and cooperatively as his helper, and represent his interests and seek his health and well-being as they both pursue the work that God has commissioned them as a team to pursue.
In this bond there is an intrinsic mutual trust, an interdependency, a mutual vulnerability. There is no room for selfishness, unilateral domination, fear, bitterness, discontent, enmity, or lust. They must learn to blend their precious differences as they grow together in their oneness. They are different from one another for a beautiful purpose: there is strength in their diversity when they are in unity of purpose and heart. Each should see the other’s perspectives and needs as equivalent to their own, and seek to be aware of these as much they are aware of their own perspectives and needs. This implies regular, honest, open communication between the husband and wife, so that they maintain a deep sense of each other’s well-being and of their healthy mutual interdependency.
This is the revelation of a principle of intimacy and oneness in the marriage relationship. This is how it has been from the beginning… how it is supposed to be even now. It is a picture, as many things are, of the eternals. God prepares for Himself a bride in the descendants of this Man and Woman. Their oneness is just a shadow of the communion He will share with this eternal bride.
Genesis 3:1a Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman …
At some point after this blissful beginning, however, we have the curse of the Fall. There is a subtle enemy at hand that seeks to destroy Man and this incredible unity that he has with Woman, a unity and oneness that grows stronger by the day. He approaches the Woman in order to deceive her and entice her to sin… apparently in the absence of her husband.
We are not told explicitly that the serpent approached Eve in her husband’s absence. In fact, on a cursory reading, one sees farther on in the text that “she gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.” We are not told how Adam was in fact “with her,” but the two lovers could certainly have been together at the time the serpent made his initial move.
It is with very little real appreciation for the entire context, in my opinion, that the common notion may persist that Adam was present and passive during this first sin, that he stood by in dumbfounded curiosity as Satan gently reached for spiritual the throat of his wife.. and took her down. Books are written presuming this as fact (The Silence of Adam).
Personally, I find it wildly absurd to presume that a sinless Adam, having just been given dominion over the whole earth, the undisputed master of every created thing, and entrusted with a new bride … whom he dearly and passionately loved, and whom he had just carefully warned of this particular danger, would have stood silently by as an insidious enemy approached his wife to deceive and destroy her. The only kind of man that would do such a thing — who even could do such a thing as this — is commonly treated by sinners as sickly demented, despicably cowardly and/or unfathomably irresponsible. This passivity is dark insanity … if anything is insane.
In addition, it is also startling to think that anyone would presume an insidious and crafty enemy, given a single chance to present poisonous deception from an innocuous and appealing posture, would do so in the presence of both the king and queen at once … when he could easily find opportunity to divide them first and approach the one with the least authority and experience. A “divide and conquer” strategy is nearly a requirement when one is defending from a weaker position … when one must rely upon deception and subtlety rather than on brute strength. This is evidently the starting position of the evil one, and he is no dunce.
There is, in fact, no warrant from the context whatsoever to believe that such blatant stupidity was characteristic of either Satan or Adam. To presume that such sickness completely permeated a sinless, alert, courageous, profoundly intelligent king… on his honeymoon … is simply absurd. If anything should be presumed, it is that the silence of Adam implies his absence: he would have intervened promptly, wisely and aggressively in this encounter and protected his wife had he been present when Satan approached her. Satan was doubtlessly intelligently aware of this fact and was extremely careful in his initial assault upon them.
This is, I do admit for the feminist who insists, merely my opinion. Even so, I will presume it here with the same freedom others groundlessly take with the contrary. For a detailed analysis of the temptation itself, and how it exposes the capability and craft of the enemy, please see War With The Saints, particularly the section on Eve under Examples, located near the middle the work.
Genesis 3:1b-6a Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
Satan approaches the woman tactically as well as strategically: he comes when she peruses the garden delights alone, apart from her loving husband … through her desire to please her husband. He speaks to her about them, not about her. This is Woman’s strength, and the serpent turns it against her in his deception by approaching her apart from her husband and proposing that she benefit her husband and herself by turning against her God. He promises her, “ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil…”
Evidently, Adam has informed Eve of God’s commandment to abstain from eating the fruit of this tree, and has expressed to her the dangerous consquences. Though she is able to recall the command and appears firm in her resolve to obey, even going beyond the command with a resolve to not even touch the tree, something begins to turn within her bosom at the deceptive suggestions of the serpent. She notices that the tree appears to be “good for food, and that it (is) pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise.” She is musing, considering, contemplating the suggestion of the serpent and drawn into its possibilities. Perhaps she thinks how pleased her husband would be if she were to manage to improve their lives in this way. Her heart, as a helper to her husband, would move in her to please her husband in this. She wants to do something for him, for them, for their union together.
Fatally, not content to be what her Creator has intended her to be, wanting to be more for her husband, for herself, she steps outside the purpose and function of her design. She forgets that she is exactly suited to meet her husband’s needs just as she is, without having the knowledge of good and evil, without them both being “as gods.” She forgets that she also has a Creator to answer to, to live for, to walk with. In her focus on her husband, on her marriage, on their happiness together, she loses sight of her Father, of her real Husband, and turns from Him.
Her first failure is her inability to perceive that the serpent makes his proposition to her, and not to her husband, for a reason. She is not intended to be the leader in her home, to take initiative without his consent in matters that significantly affect their lives together. She should perceive that she needs her husband’s insight and protection and should be moved to seek his leadership and counsel in this thing. Instead, she moves independently of him, separates herself from him, and dies in her spirit. As she dies spiritually in this act of disobedience she immediately becomes alienated from her Creator and from her husband.
Genesis 3:6b …and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
Her husband, as he returns to her, doubtless in helpless horror, suddenly finds his wife – his beautiful dear wife — standing before him in utter alienation from him, unintentionally inviting him into spiritual death in order to be one with her again. Unwittingly, in leaving her God to please her husband, she abruptly becomes his deepest and most perilous temptation: only she could ever endanger Man so, for none other is so close to his heart.
Before he is able to recover from the stunning turn of events, she calls to him in her soft smoothness and speaks to him (“thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife” Gen 3:17), enticing him to eat. She wants to please him and to be happy with him forever, and longs for him to join her in this indulgence. She is undoubtedly strengthened in her purpose by the fact that she has not died physically … it is just as the serpent has said, yet is blind to the spiritual death which Adam perceives within her. Perhaps she pleads with her husband and reasons with him as he hesitates to join her. The man must either choose to be alone again, and let his beautiful new bride go to her ruin alone, or he will abandon both God and himself to join her in death.
Adam knows full well what Eve has done, and what has happened to her (“Adam was not deceived” 1 Tim 2:14). Instead of calling out to his Creator, and waiting on Him for wisdom and discernment in this tragedy, he listens to his wife until he cannot resist. He longs for what completes and satisfies him most deeply: his precious wife. In this desperate situation, Adam fails to recognize that he has an enemy that is too strong for him on his own, and that this enemy has approached him through his wife for a reason: his enemy perceived her to be a strategic weakness. Like his wife before him, rather than running to his Lord for help, he acts independently of his Head, taking matters into his own hands. Man deliberately chooses to die with Woman, turning from his Creator to be one again with the creature of his side and heart.
Genesis 3:7-8 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?
Soon we find the two lovers united together against their LORD, agreeing to clothe themselves and seek refuge from the penetrating gaze of their Creator, hiding breathlessly amongst the trees of the garden as He calls to the husband in the cool of the evening. God calls to Adam, as if He recognizes that something is amiss and does not yet know… as if this garden walk in the cool of the day has been their regular custom for some time and is now interrupted and unexpected. Though God knows exactly what has happened He calls to them as if He does not, wooing them to expose themselves and come to Him in repentance and confession, for help… even now that they have deeply wronged Him. In His love He reaches out to them in their need, but all they feel toward Him now is fear, disdain, and anger. The love they had for Him is extinct: as they stoop beneath the green leafy boughs of the garden, for one brief moment together they lurk in deep unified hatred of their God; Man — refusing to answer the divine call, Woman — standing beside him and encouraging him to resist. Both of them are now dead to Him.
Genesis 3:10-13 And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.
Their carnal unity is soon broken… they are dead to each other, yet blind to even this. In His mercy, God finally approaches them directly and plainly confronts the husband about his sin, prompting him for a repentant confession. Man has sinned deliberately in order to please his wife, to please himself, to have what naturally completes him. He has sinned consciously, apart from deception, with a full awareness of what he was doing. Yet, as God begins to deal with him, he quickly turns on his wife and blames her for his sin.
Adam finds hardness and treachery within… he and his wife are no longer unified, they themselves are deeply divided. Instead of admitting and taking responsibility for his sin, he is hiding it and covering it up. (Job 31:3) Rather than maintaining a protective posture over his wife and remaining loyal to her he turns on her, exposes her, alienates himself from her, and accuses her to her Father and Maker… as the one entirely responsible for this profound and senseless tragedy. Adam is both angry and afraid… God’s “thou shalt surely die” was spoken directly to him and still rings loudly in his bosom… he is not altogether ignorant of its eternal implication. Yet naked with his leafy covering in the presence of discerning, indignant omnipotence… Hatred and Selfishness have no friends. In truth, the terror of eternal damnation do not find a place within him to bring him to his knees and beg for mercy.
God acknowledges this accusation and turns to the wife to confront her. She in turn, betrayed by her husband and as evil as he, follows his example in covering her own sin and quickly diverts the blame towards the serpent. God deals with the serpent, and then returns to deal with the woman.
Genesis 3:16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
The curse placed upon the woman for her sin begins with a corruption of her feelings. She… the great feeler in the freshly born universe — her gift is turned into a curse. She will be sorrowful in the consequences of sin among her loved ones, and irrationally sorrowful and discontent as a consequence of her own sin. The penetrating joy that she has known from completing her husband and being his helper is now broken and destroyed. Her greatest joy, that of seeing their mated oneness enfleshed in beautiful children, will now become her greatest sorrow. She is gutted of her ability to truly complete her husband because of this; it is a sorrow that will tend to sap what little strength her husband has instead of completing him: the strength of her design now becomes her ruin.
Now she will be sorrowful, profoundly and intensely sorrowful; she will bear children in pain and grief and sorrow — and much more frequently than before. Eve’s conception is greatly multiplied so that she will become pregnant much more often and deliver children in great discomfort and pain. This will serve to further distance her from her husband and both fear and resent his desire for physical intimacy.
In this sorrow, Adam will not be able to please Eve nor she him. Instead of completing and helping Adam as she ought, she will be focused on her own unhappiness. Seeking to alleviate her sorrow, she will begin manipulating him and trying to control him; he will lash back and in his rule he will tend to harshly dominate her.
Instead of beauty in their diversity now there is contention, discord, strife. Eve’s desire is to Adam, she wants to please him, her desire is to him, longing for his attention and affection. She longs to be close to him… to please him, to hear that he loves her and admires her and wants her… but the trust between them has been deeply violated and broken. He no longer trusts her, he does not understand her and he resents the loss of their paradise walk together. Covering his own sin, he blames her for their struggle; she has betrayed their oneness in trying to please him. She turned from God to do so and she has failed profoundly — and he forgets that he has betrayed his God in seeking her as well. He is now afraid and angry, threatened… he feels the need to control her, to manage her, to rule over her in an unhealthy way, reflecting his distrust and resentment of her, further alienating her and demeaning her. He will rule over her, and in his own selfishness he will often be less that gentle and reasonable about it.
As her head, Adam ruled over Eve in principle even before the fall… something further is implied… an indication of the tendency of the husband to resort to force in controlling his wife, violating the spirit of their one flesh union and betraying the trust of the covenant marriage God has ordained between them.
It seems implied in the text that this once proper benign headship of the husband will, twisted by depravity, now often result in unwarranted and wicked physical domination, a brutalizing “rule” if you will, as well as other forms of manipulative control. In describing her pending relationship with her husband, God frames the same texture of words with the woman that He will soon use to describe the pending, fatal, physical conflict between her sons: “ Unto thee (Cain) shall be his (Abel’s) desire, and thou (Cain) shalt rule over him (Abel).” (Genesis 4:7) What does this mean?
God uses the same expression to define Adam’s relationship with Eve as He does to describe the fatal conflict between Cain and Abel. In this latter case, these same words convey the fervent interaction between the hearts of these brothers during a fatal incident. Cain would gain mastery over Abel by striking the first blows. Abel, unable to recover himself in the struggle, would apparently be reduced to pleading for his life at his brother’s hand (“Unto thee (Cain) shall be his (Abel’s) desire“). Cain would not listen to his brother’s pleas for mercy, and Cain would continue to attack his brother until he was dead (“and thou (Cain) shalt rule over him (Abel)”). These are the very same words that God chooses to describe the relationship between Adam and Eve. It would not be inconsistent with the text if Adam eventually killed Eve in a similar way.
Fundamentally, we have some small hint that this marriage that Man and Woman have sacrificed all for — even turning from the eternal Godhead for — will become their greatest pain.
Genesis 3:17-19 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
The husband’s curse is upon his means of sustenance, upon his freedom from working for his food. As he has taken food that is not rightfully his to eat, so now he has forfeited his freedom to eat leisurely of all that grows for him to eat. As Man has listened to the enticement of his wife, deliberately turning from his Creator in order to please the creature, he will be frustrated with his wife and sorrowful along with her for the rest of his days.
God did not originally intend for Man to have to focus his energy and strength on providing sustenance for himself and his family: God had provided this freely that they might enjoy Himself and each other without strain, struggle or worry. Further, unlike the lower forms of life, physical intimacy was designed to bring Man and Woman regular pleasure and delight without the constant stress of pregnancy. But now that their hearts are hardened toward Him, and toward one another, such leisure and pleasure would only destroy them both. Man looses the privilege to eat at his leisure, to freely commune with his wife and children amidst the beauty of the garden paradise, to eat his daily fill of fruit with them at will. Now he shall not be able to please his wife — just providing food for his family to eat will consume most of his strength and time.
God turns the ground cold and hard against Man… she will not now freely yield up food for him and his wife to eat. In the sorrow of his frustration and loss the rest of Adam’s life will be spent working the earth in the struggle to eat, instead of cultivating the garden and eating freely of the fruit in it. Now the two of them must have clothing, now they must have shelter. Now Man must till and sow and weed and nourish and harvest and store and guard, fighting the elements, and his fellow creatures. Woman must cook and clean and sew and mend and tend to wounds and sickness and pain and disease. They need tools, they need medicine, they need understanding now — just to stay alive; they need to try and fail and try and fail – learning what they can from trial and error — just to survive.
They will tire from the dirty struggle of working to raise a family; they will grow lonely and cold toward one another in their sorrow. Man will not humble himself and repent of his sin, seeking to give up his stubborn enmity towards his Creator. He will continue to resent his wife for her temptation of him and blame her for their ills. She will nag and whine and complain about his provision for her and the uncertainty of their tomorrow. She will rob him of what little strength he has at the end of his day through her relentlessly irrational sorrow. He will become alienated and distant from her in his selfishness, blaming her for all their woes, becoming worn, impatient, resentful, bitter, violent.
In following after godliness, without her husband’s direction, Woman found depravity. In turning from His God to keep his wife, Man lost them both. Their sorrow will be deep and lasting — in all likelihood, eternal. We have no evidence that either of them ever did repent. Do not expect to find either of them in the heavenly kingdom.
It is truly good that they struggle now. Left to thrive in their hatred for God together, without struggling against the elements and one another, it would fare even worse for them and their descendents. In the hardness of their hearts and in the difficulty of their mere existence, some rare few among their descendants will return to the Lord. Thus the heavenly Husband’s own eternal bride will be drawn painfully out of their darkness… into His marvelous light.
We have before us an ominous hint of what follows in this intimacy between two sinners, this intimacy and oneness revealed in the first principle of marriage. What shall happen to these two as they wallow in their sorrow together… in intimacy? each leeching the strength of the other with nothing to give in return? having only their enmity for God and their struggle to survive in common now? They need each other deeply, but want to please only themselves; they cannot be happy together or apart. Their home will be a delicate and unsteady balance of distrust, selfishness, and carnal desire. It may stand with time; it may very well not. It is yet a picture; God Himself prepares to struggle with His own earthly bride.
While there are many references to marriages in the following chapters of the Bible, and examples of both healthy and unhealthy ones, we wait until the giving of the law for a second direct instruction in the principles of the home.
Exodus 21:1-6 Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them. If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself. And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free; then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; an his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him for ever.
After the giving of the Ten Commandments, this is the very first precept given in the Law. As such, it is very noteworthy in setting the tone and texture of the life of God as He has revealed Himself to His people. It introduces the life of God to a wife He has chosen for Himself: the nation of Israel.
In a straightforward expression of His will for His bride, this first principle of the law deals with the most intimate institutions of humanity: marriage, family, and slavery. It deals directly with the issue of slavery, and indirectly with the institutions of marriage and family when in the context of slavery. Marriage and slavery might appear to be quite similar… woven together here — spoken of and entwined together… as with one breath.
This text indicates that the institution of slavery has an equal sanctity/weight in determining the integrity of a family as marriage does. Whichever structure is in place first chronologically is respected before the other. The slave can only take his wife with him out of slavery if he was married outside of slavery. Marriage within the context of slavery does not constitute a higher rule of ownership of a husband for a wife than the ownership implied in slavery of a master for a female servant. If the marriage occurs within the context of slavery the institution of slavery is respected at the expense of the marriage structure. The male slave wishing to have his freedom from the bonds of slavery must leave everything obtained within it in the possession of his master; including his own wife and children if he married while a slave.
This is a striking truth, given the nature of the marital bond expressed so richly in the Garden mists. What has become of this oneness between husband and wife? this unity of marriage?
The second principle given in the law is an extension of the first, and bluntly confirms this hinted entwining of marriage and slavery in a blatant sense; this next principle is the first of God’s laws focused directly on the institution of marriage.
Exodus 21:7-9 And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do. If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her unto himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her. And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters.
To our great surprise, marriage has indeed become a matter, more or less, of slavery. God’s economy respects the practice of a wife being bought and sold as a servant — as a slave. In this practice a man buys a woman from her father and marries her, owning her as a servant; she is called his maidservant and her husband is called her master. She works for him, but is not required to do the same type of backbreaking work required of the male servants in the house. If the wife – the maidservant — does not act in a way that is pleasing to her husband – her master — and her husband-master does not want this maidservant-wife any longer, the master is to let someone else from Israel, preferably perhaps her father, redeem her… or buy this woman back from him; the husband-master is not allowed to sell his maidservant-wife to another nation if he finds that he does not like her.
This is simply… breathlessly astonishing! The marriage bond… the creating of one flesh from two, the cleaving, the helping, the beauty, the oneness… it is fouled beyond recognition in the mire of sin. What was a union of two eternal lovers now appears to be an unsteady contract between two sinners, broken in both depth and duration. What we taste in the Garden appears to be altogether lost, or it is indeed quite rare.
Besides the plain fact that marriage has potentially deteriorated into something relationally much different than initially designed, this text indicates that this relational difference has affected the permanency of the marriage relationship in a practical sense, and that this degeneracy is recognized, permitted, and received by God. While in no sense directly indicating God’s approval or pleasure, this text clearly indicates that God permits the dissolution of a marriage for reasons of permanent displeasure on the part of the husband. Given that this seems drastic, that He would permit such a thing in light of His initial intent of marriage, it is also significantly striking… and instructive to note… what the LORD does not permit in this marital context.
As it was in the Garden even before the Fall, God’s Law defines a structure and an order within the marital relationship. A wife is her husband’s servant and answers to his authority; he decides what type of work she will do for him in their task of subduing the earth. In this, the husband is instructed to delegate work for her to do that considers her frame as the physically weaker vessel; he is not to command work of her that normally would be suited only for men, such as rigorous field labor.
While God respects the husband’s ownership of his wife and acknowledges his right to command her, God does not allow the husband to rule over his wife in an unreasonably harsh manner. God recognizes the potential of depravity of Man’s rule, as He mentioned in the Garden: “he shall rule over thee.” God now places some clear boundaries and guidelines upon a husband’s rule for the protection of the woman. The husband is still lord in his home and may order his wife’s affairs, but he is clearly restricted in the type of work that he may require of her.
However, while the husband is limited in the type of work that he may require of his wife, he is not vulnerable to her persistent willful disobedience of him in what he does command of her; ultimately, he is not vulnerable to her at all in this should she persistently undermine him, fight against him, and refuse to obey him… a disposition that violates the spirit of her design and her marriage covenant with him. While God restricts the type of work that the husband may command of his wife, He does not insist that the husband remain with his wife throughout his life. If she does not please him, he may divorce her, put her away, and sell her to someone else.
In each case, be it the sin in either the husband or the wife, God is acknowledging the potential of depravity and responding accordingly with lawful protection of both spouses. He places bounds on the husband’s rule and also permits the proper dissolution of a marriage should the husband be unable to function with his wife within these bounds. In doing so God leaves the final decision entirely in the hands of the head of the marriage relationship: the husband.
While the husband is permitted to put away his wife, and to sell her to whom he likes, he is restricted only in this: the husband is not permitted to sell his wife to someone outside the nation. The sanctity of the marriage relationship, which appears quite profoundly in Genesis, does not imply any requirement that a man retain a wife that has come into his lasting disfavor, and is seen to be of less importance than the retaining of a Jewish woman within the nation of Israel, or even giving a woman improperly strenuous work to do. While God is allowing divorce, He has given specific instructions to protect the well being of the woman and to retain her within the Jewish culture.
In this provision that the woman is to remain in Israel, it seems that the protection of the spiritual health of the woman is being considered somewhat; she is to be assured of some opportunity to continue in a godly climate within the nation. Such a climate was not generally expected to exist outside the nation when the Law was given. This protective principle, limited as it is, is to be respected as more important than the integrity of the marriage itself. While the dissolution of the marriage is permitted at the resolute discretion of the husband, the forcing of the woman into an ungodly culture is not permitted.
We also see that the husband is given liberty to divorce his wife and to remain in control of her so long as they are still married and he is not severely neglecting her. He is to decide when and if their divorce should take place, and even who her next husband will be, unless he chooses to sell her to someone as a simple servant or to let her father buy her back from him. The woman is not free to make this choice or to pursue her own desire, but remains under her husband’s authority at all times.
Should a wife leave her husband on her own and become involved with another man without being properly divorced from her husband, as we shall see, she will be guilty of adultery and subject to the death penalty. The knowledge that the husband has such a power over his wife provides strong incentive for a wife to try to please her master and to yield to his control of her without giving herself to manipulating and defying him. By implication, it also sobers the husband if he ever thinks to sell his wife; if he eventually changes his mind she will be out of his control — she will be under the permanent authority of another.
God gives instructions to the husband in all these things concerning marriage, without requiring him to respect the permanence of the marriage unity throughout his life. However, the text clearly indicates that pursuit of divorce indicates that the husband has failed in some profound way… he “had dealt deceitfully” with his wife. This is a clear indication that the husband is ultimately reponsible to discern whether a woman is a suitable wife before accepting her as his bride… in the same sense that Adam was given a free choice of Eve. He is not compelled to take one woman or another and is gravely responsible to pursue a proper choice and to remain committed to his choice.
Further detail in the text indicates that if the man buying a woman does so for the purpose of giving her to his son for a wife, she is to be treated like a daughter in his family. This apparently implies that if the son and his young wife do not get along very well, such that the daughter-in-law falls into the permanent displeasure of the son, the young woman is to be dealt with as any other of the father’s daughters would be, and may be sold to someone else to be a wife/daughter in some other family within the nation. The same principles above appear to apply to this situation as well.
Exodus 21:10-11 If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish. And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.
As if to emphasize the practical fact that the marriage relationship has deteriorated unspeakably from its original intent, we find God permitting much more than just the breaking of a marriage. It is shown plainly that if a married man decides to marry an additional woman, so that he will have more than one wife, he is permitted to do so provided he does not neglect his first wife the proper food, clothing, and sexual privileges appropriate in the normal duty of a marriage. That God would allow a man to have multiple wives, so long as he does not abusively neglect any of them, speaks loudly to God’s recognition and acceptance of the decay of the marriage relationship in the context of the Fall. Again, let us carefully note what God does not permit.
While a man is permitted to marry many women, he is not permitted to severely neglect any of them. This requirement for the maintenance of proper provision for a wife in marriage is given, in the shadow of polygamy, to protect the woman from the temptation that naturally comes when a woman is being deeply defrauded, which might compel her to commit adultery herself, and therefore be destroyed for her own unfaithfulness to her husband. If the husband is not able/willing to provide adequate food, clothing, and sexual relations for a wife, in at least some minimal manner, he is to let her go out free — the marriage relationship is legally and permanently disolved and she is to be allowed to leave – she is set free, without the husband being recompensed his initial expense of his purchase of her.
A woman being given freedom does not appear to imply that she is to remain single; she is “free” to remarry if she chooses to do so. The fact that the husband could sell his wife to another man within the nation proves her freedom to remarry after a divorce initiated by her husband, but this also implies that this freedom would also be appropriate if she were set free from her husband due to his neglect of her. There are no plain restrictions placed on her decision to re-marry, and the fact is apparent from the current text that she could become another man’s wife if her husband divorced her. It is therefore apparently not considered adultery for a properly divorced woman to remarry.
Once being made subject to cruelty and/or neglect at the hands of abusive authority in her life, a woman is apparently set free to determine her own course. While she may certainly remain single and responsible for her own welfare, she need not remain so. She may choose to place herself under the authority of another man, she may choose to return to her father’s house, and she may prefer to remain alone or part of an extended community. She obtains complete jurisdiction in determining her own welfare, something a common woman would not have. A free woman may wait patiently and cautiously for a man to earn her confidence in him that he will be a good and gentle husband to her.
To summarize, polygamy is thus clearly permitted and accommodated into a culture defined and ordered by God Himself. However, this is not permitted at the expense of the basic dignity of the wife. If a woman is being degraded and/or neglected in a significant manner in any of the three areas described, she is permitted to leave her husband and has the freedom to remarry someone else. This indicates that the divorce and remarriage of a woman into an appropriately caring home is to be permitted rather than the open degradation or neglect of a woman in the home when another woman is intimately involved in her husband’s life.
The spirit of this principle implies that it is naturally extended to cover such cases even in a monogamous relationship, and this can be shown to be consistent with other provisions for the protection of the woman. It may be argued successfully that a woman severly neglected in the context of monogamy is protected by the same standard and is to be similarly set free from severe abuse or neglect. Again, in this context, freedom for the woman to remarry is implied in her going out free. She is no longer under the authority of her husband and can submit herself to another man if that is her pleasure.
This provision will certainly not be available as a license for a woman to be treacherously unfaithful to her husband at a whim, neither will it apply in cases where the husband is merely deeply insensitive to his wife and is less than liberal with her in providing her desires for whatever reason. The husband is in control of his behavior in this setting, and losing his wife under this condition is something that he can directly control if he so chooses. This provision will only be relevant in extreme cases where the husband is mercilessly and deliberately refusing to provide the basic necessities of life and health for his wife, or where a husband is being ridiculously neglectful, not in cases of family hardship or prolonged sickness, times of war and famine, etc.
It is also not evidently clear in this context how such cases of neglect are properly recognized, and how they are to be determined. Does the wife have the liberty to determine what is appropriate provision? Does she establish the limits that her husband is to attain? Is this a cultural standard to be determined by the appropriate families involved? Is it a legal standard to be overseen by proper authorities in the government and community at large? The text does not clearly indicate anything other than that the woman is to go out free.
As this state of “freedom” is a legal standing that is recognized in the general culture, and knowing that such freedom is not something grasped at but a state that is given to a servant in appropriate contexts, it would appear that a cultural or judicial determination is to be made by others familiar with the husband’s neglect and that this standard is not arbitrarily set by the wife. This standard must be such that it can be plainly administered and such that it provides simple guidelines for the husband to follow that are within normal reason and propriety. Otherwise, the dynamics would be difficult or impossible to administer in a reasonable manner. The principle apparently applies only in cases of extreme neglect that could naturally be condemned unanimously and wholesomely by a righteous community.
This implies that the husband remains in control of the permanence of the relationship at all times, so long as he has a reasonable heart towards his wife. He understands what the requirements are for properly caring for his wife and they are well within his grasp should he choose to fulfill them. Under these conditions, only when the husband’s heart becomes deeply hardened toward his wife will an outside authority break the marriage. Once his heart is hardened towards her, he is not allowed to abuse her; others may step in and judge appropriately, delivering the wife of her vulnerability towards her husband should he become violently abusive or cruelly neglectful of her.
While it is apparent in this text that the man is permitted to put his wife away if she does not please him, it is not apparent from this passage that God permits a woman to initiate a divorce from her husband so long as he is pleased for her to stay with him and will provide for her basic needs. She may only be granted the divorce if she is being severely neglected in food, raiment, or marital privileges. In this manner, the law binds the wife to her husband so long as he lives, even if he is unfaithful in his call to be one with her by marrying another woman. Only if the husband initiates the divorce, or severely neglects his wife, is a woman permitted to leave her husband and remarry. The law does not bind the husband in this manner; the husband is free to initiate the divorce of his wife if his wife does not please him and he wishes to permanently end their relationship. He is also free to marry more than one woman, and therefore is not required to remain sexually faithful to his wife as a condition of her faithfulness to him. The woman is not free in this sense, as will be seen: when she is sexually unfaithful to her husband she is destroyed.
This text, when looked at in its entirety, obviously rises in sharp discord with the loving intimacy upon which marriage is founded. Something dreadful has happened in between the giving of the first principles of marriage: it is, of course, the Fall.
The Fall has made the most beautiful of human relationships a potentially deadly bondage. The text speaks of slavery and marriage as entwined equivalents it seems. The woman is seen as a servant to a lord, a slave to a master. The husband is truly ruling over his wife, as God has said, and the husband is protected against the degrading of his wife’s manipulations through the freedom he has to divorce her.
The wife is vulnerable to her husband and her desire is to him, just as God has said. She has lost her right to the security of a permanently loving relationship, and is not in control of the duration of her marriage to her husband. She may be reduced to continually be watching herself so as to please her husband as best she can if she wishes to remain in the marriage.
The husband, in his dominion in the home, in his own weakness, is tempted to remain aloof from the companion of his side, marring her ability to complete him and help him as he longs for her to. He is even prone to taking more than one wife, and splitting the smallness of what little heart he has inside among several love-starved, unhappy women. Such a man as would take more than one wife has likely lost all sense of the original purpose of the marriage bond, and now, in his sorrow, may often find his only fulfillment in the physics of the marriage bed.
This is not how it was meant to be from the beginning. God is dealing with fallen people, and His Law reflects this. The passage does not encourage a flippant attitude toward the dignity of marriage, but neither does it place the sanctity of marriage above the health of the people within it. We may summarize the concept as our Lord did the sabbath: Marriage was made for Man, and not Man for marriage.
Perhaps you are aghast at this simple commentary, flowing freely from walking directly through the Word of God from the beginning. Perhaps you feel as if it seeps from a stony heart that is completely out of touch with the God of the New Testament, and that I have more of an internal agenda in this than you can tolerate.
And what, my friend, is your agenda? Have I twisted or ignored any Scripture up to this point? Granted, I have not dealt with the New Testament – that will come soon enough. What I have done is to discard the trappings of our materialistic, humanistic… feministic culture, and have taken the Word of God at face value as best I can. The result is quite surprising, even to myself. I request that you bear with me as I continue, and meditate upon these texts for yourself. I trust that these thoughts are not merely my own, and that they will bear righteous fruit in our hearts.
Lest it be said that this second principle, permitting a man to divorce his wife under quite general conditions, placing him in utter control of his marriage, and making provision for the protection of a woman only under what we would now consider to be quite severe abuse, is of the Old Covenant and that it is not appropriate for use in the instruction of New Testament Christians in discerning good from evil, and right from wrong, in this matter of marriage and divorce — please note that the New Testament encourages us to draw from the Old Testament Scriptures the principles of the Christian life, stating clearly that they are written for our learning in the ways and mind of God: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” (Rom 15:4) “All Scripture,” even that of the Old Testament (actually, especially the Old Testament: the Old Testament is the primary reference here since the New Testament was not yet available or even understood as a distinct entity at the time this text was written), “is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Tim 3:16) While the laws of God are not binding upon us for the securing of our salvation, the mind of God is clearly revealed in all of the written Word, and all of it is to be respected as coming from His Heart and Mind for our instruction in righteousness.
Isn’t it interesting that this false resentment-reasoning, of thinking that these principles are “Old Testament” and no longer relevant to us, does not surface in the establishing of the principle of intimacy and oneness in Genesis? Were you taken aback that I would begin in Genesis? and not in Matthew… or for that matter, in Acts? Not until you saw something that you did not like… and for some reason I expect few folks will like all that is being written here.
It is common for us to cherish Scripture in any place where it suits our pleasure, and yet to throw it out as inapplicable when we do not like it, saying that it is “Old Testament,” or “cultural,” or a “poor translation.” These quips are not exhaustive, but are perhaps the three most common ways in which the Word of God is handled deceitfully today. Fear not, we will be in the New Testament eventually, and should find no discord there with any truth here. In the Greek and in the Hebrew, we find the same.
Those who will discard this teaching as irrelevant since it is Old Testament cast out the same principles from the New Testament with some other convenience. Yet, it is often the Scripture that we do not like that we need the most. We cannot grow in grace as we ought with such an attitude toward the Word of God. It is only when we face our differences with His Word and change our hearts to conform to it that we are strengthened by Him as we should be.
What this passage appears to teach is that the Fall has largely broken the ability of natural Man and Woman to live together in harmony. The damage is such that God openly permits the breaking of the marriage bond, even among the people of His choosing in holiness. The basic physical, emotional and spiritual welfare of human beings is to be respected above the inherent sanctity of marriage. Divorce is openly permitted where neither violation of the ownership of slavery, forcing a woman to do manly work, placing her into an ungodly culture, nor her endurance of severe neglect from her husband is permitted. A man is not required to remain subject to the ugly disposition of a woman that deeply displeases him, but he is allowed to put such a woman away from him without becoming subject to reproof or fear of loneliness, sexual deprivation and unhealthy solitude. A man is permitted to take another wife and live in peace with her without shame, fear, or guilt – he is even permitted to take several women if that is his desire, divorced or not.
While these provisions may tend toward alienation in the home, contradicting the essence of its original design, in the context of the Fall these liberties place a very real check on the tendency of each spouse to abuse the other: a check on the manipulative, rebellious, ill-tempered woman — protecting her husband and children from her relentless contentions; and providing for the sovereign protection of a godly woman married to a man whom no reasonable person can please — allowing such a husband to put away his godly wife so that she will not have to endure his permanent selfish displeasure for life, and allowing for appropriate sanctions against abusively neglectful husbands, which permit severely neglected women to leave in freedom from such harsh and unreasonable bondage. This next text extends our understanding of this principle.
Exodus 21:20-21 And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.
This text continues to demonstrate the respect in God’s economy for the headship of a man in his home, defining how he is to be dealt with when he abuses his authority. God indicates that a man may at times use physical force, striking male and female servants, so long as in doing so the servant is not killed directly as a result of the brutality.
At first, this principle might also be applied to a man’s treatment of his wife. The wife belongs to her husband as his property, his possession, and one might draw from this text that the husband has freedom to strike his wife physically, as this act would go unpunished by God’s civil law.
First, the husband is certainly not being encouraged to use physical force here, as lack of open punishment of the husband for doing so obviously does not necessarily make this behavior proper. However, the use of physical punishment is apparently not formally condemned as recourse in domestic situations.
What the text does clearly imply is that a husband does not have the right to take the life of another in his household. If in the use of physical force the husband takes the life of another, he will also be put to death. The right to kill appears to belong solely to duly recognized governments. The reference to the servant being the “money” of the husband implies that this is a resource the husband has at his disposal, and is used as justification for the freedom to use force. If in the use of non-fatal force the husband is not able to satisfy himself in the management of a servant, the natural thing would be for him sell the servant to another.
It is true that the use of such physical correction and chastisement has been formally banned in all of western culture, rejected both legally and socially, but this is a relatively new phenomenon and appears to be based upon a human-rights-oriented world view. Two or more centuries ago it was accepted and quite common, and there is nothing in the Word of God to forbid a careful use of it (… “A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool’s back.” Pr 26:3… “The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil, so do stripes the inward parts of the belly.” Pr 20:30)
While tyrannical and unreasonable authorities can obviously abuse such means, righteous men can also apparently use these means properly in the context of slavery. To pursue this further here would be an inappropriate digression. For our current purposes it is, however, plainly noted: even if a husband is abusive by modern standards, respect for the husband’s reign in his home is evident from the text. The husband is not to be openly and explicitly punished by law, so long as the abuse is not directly fatal to his wife.
However, we must look a bit deeper here to discern what is appropriate behavior for a husband. It does appear that a husband has a legal right to use force … but is this necessarily appropriate and godly behavior? The text does not indicate this … in any sense. Permissibility does not necessarily imply godliness. It is instructive to note that there is not a single instance or hint anywhere in the Word of God that suggests a husband should use force of any type in his marital relationship … none whatsoever.
If one considers the original intent of the marriage relationship: it is a covenant between two equals. This is seen in the “one-flesh” principle given immediately in the context of the first marriage. A husband and wife are one flesh, not merely servant and master.
Further, a common Father has assigned the role of Woman to her and no formal authority has been given to Man to correct her or discipline her as a husband. There is an appearance of mutual vulnerability here, wherein each spouse must look to the Father to intervene when there is discord and strife rather than taking matters into their own hands. While this is apparently more obvious in the case of the wife, it is evidently also the condition of the husband: though he is a master he has no formal authority to enforce his will within his marriage if he wishes to retain it in tact. In dissolving it he becomes deceitful and treacherous… this is not a light thing.
Exodus 21:26-27 And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake. And if he smite out this manservant’s tooth, or his maidservant’s tooth, he shall let him go free for his tooth’s sake.
Here we have an additional instruction and direction to enhance the application of the above principle. The husband beating his wife in such a manner as to maim her in some way, as by blinding one of her eyes, or by knocking out one of her teeth, gives her the right to obtain freedom from him and remarry. In letting the wife go free the husband is not allowed to charge any money for his ex-wife as she leaves, or to restrict where she goes, or with whom she goes; she is to be set entirely free of the control of her abusive husband.
It would seem reasonable that judges would naturally extend this principle to any permanent damage inflicted on the wife by her husband. To maim a person is well beyond the scope of the husband’s authority in the home, and remains part of the authority of the government in enforcing justice. If it is a foot that is crushed, a hand that is maimed, permanent disfigurement of the face, etc., this type of abuse can generally only happen if the husband is severely physically abusing his wife purposefully or carelessly. In either case, purposefully or carelessly, the abuse gives the wife freedom from her husband, and an implied freedom to remarry.
While occasional outbursts of controlled temper may result in a man being abusive with his spouse in his frustration with her at times, a husband who is beating his wife indiscriminately will eventually do her some permanent damage. This type of severe physical abuse, measured by the permanence of the damage, is not tolerated either in marriage or in slavery; the wife suffering such extreme indignity is permitted to depart from her husband in righteousness. This abuse is to be of such a nature that it is not dependent on the wife’s testimony only, or something that she herself defines. There must be evidence of the abuse in the maiming of the wife, a clear indication of the severity of the abuse that God determines is appropriate for the breaking of the marriage bond. This is consistent with the expectation set in cases of neglect: proper authorities of the husband are brought to examine the nature of the abuse and the determination is made lawfully.
It is valid to use the broad principles given to provide a comparative standard for use in divorce. God seldom lists all possible conditions that are relevant in such a decision, but gives representative examples. For instance, we have now seen that if a man does not provide the basic necessities of life for his wife that she is to go out free, and that if he maims an eye or tooth he ends his authority in her life. Suppose then that he maims her foot, does she go out free? Her foot is not mentioned.
Clearly, God has not listed each and every condition that is relevant in this context. Any man that gives himself to abusing his wife emotionally, mentally, physically… this is plainly contrary to the basic instruction of God. If the husband’s treatment is comparable to the neglect of basic physical necessities or worse, God’s standard applies to release the woman from this horrible condition. The husband does not have the right to torture or molest the dignity of his wife in any arbitrary or malicious manner. If this is his manner of life, the wife should depart and protect her sanity and physical well-being.
The wife, though a servant, is equal in value and worth to the husband and she must be treated as such and her human dignity respected, regardless of the disposition of her character. If she is that intolerable to her husband that he finds himself beating her in an uncontrolled fashion… he is not bound by the law to put up with her, and should divorce her rather than physically endangering her.
As we noted earlier, it is appropriate here to plainly state that, though moderate physical chastening of a wife by her husband is tolerated under the Law, it is not necessarily a godly and proper thing to do. The one-flesh principle seen in Genesis implies a fundamental difference between the marraige relationship and slavery. No master is “one-flesh” with a servant… or even with his children in the sense God has defined it. This principle implies that it is actually inappropriate (though technically legal) for a husband to use any kind of force in controlling his wife. This insight, though perhaps obvious to us today, is based on a deep appreciation of the nature of the marriage bond and is more fully developed in comments on relevant texts appearing later in God’s revelation.
In any case, this provision for divorce in the Law serves to protect both the woman and the man from the hardness of one another’s hearts. A woman must think twice before defying her husband’s authority, before verbally mauling him for crossing her way. A woman remains open to physical chastisement from a husband who is wishing to forcibly control his wife, though she is protected from being viciously and indiscriminately beaten by her husband. Abuse of the husband by the wife is naturally not mentioned since the husband’s freedom to divorce his wife has been established upon much more general grounds.
In these last two passages, the principle of the protection of the basic health and well-being of both the man and the woman in a fallen marriage is becoming apparent, and this principle is more basic and fundamental to the economy of God than the sanctity of the marriage bond itself. The liberty to depart a husband and be free of him is thus given to a woman by proper authority over her husband on the grounds of severe neglect or mistreatment, but not on grounds of the husband’s unfaithfulness to the marriage unity or on grounds of the wife’s general comfort or emotional desires in the matter. The husband, as an authority in his home, may choose to end his marriage as it suits him, and appears to be in control of its state at all times.
Leviticus 18:6-18 None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness: I am the LORD … The nakedness of thy sister, the daughter of thy father, or the daughter of thy mother, whether she be born at home, or born abroad, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover … Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time .
General instructions of the LORD concerning marriage also include that a man is not to marry anyone that is of near kinship to him, or to approach them to uncover their nakedness. All of the relationships covered in this definition of near kin are listed individually and carefully in the full text, which has not (obviously) been listed here in its entirety.
One condition highlighted above involves a man marrying a woman who is his sister or step sister. This was the case of Abraham and Sarah, as Abraham confessed, “And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.” (Genesis 20:12) While such a relationship seems inherent in the condition of Adam and Eve, as the intermarrying of their children seems to be demanded of the context of the Creation story, and may also be naturally admitted among the early descendants of Noah after the flood, eventually such a bond was not permitted. This prevents a weakening of the genetic structure of the children of a marriage as the gene pool in humanity continues to weaken over time, providing for more diversity in the genetic structure of the community and nation. This also provided for healthy relationships between brother’s and sisters, and generally protected young women from vulnerability to males in the home.
One other particular forbidden relationship, noted for our particular purposes here, involves a man marrying two sisters. A man is not allowed to take a wife and then also to take her sister as a wife as well. This is what Jacob did when he married Leah and then Rachel. This is an unreasonable vexation for a woman to endure, to compete with her own sister for the attention and love of her husband. One can see the distress that this caused in Leah, the first wife of Jacob, and Jacob’s home appeared to be quite miserable because of it. The natural sorrow inherent in the rusty communion between two sinners is intolerably aggravated by this condition. While polygamy is allowed, incest is not, nor the vexation of a woman by her husband marrying her sister. We see again permissiveness in the eye of God in what He tolerates in the context of marriage. There is a certain degree of leniency being demonstrated, but there are specific and rigid limits to it. God is not just tolerating polygamy, divorce and remarriage because it was common in an ancient culture; He is defining His Mind and Heart for us in His Law in righteousness.
Leviticus 19:20-22 And whosoever lieth carnally with a woman, that is a bondmaid, betrothed to an husband, and not at all redeemed, nor freedom given her; she shall be scourged; they shall not be put to death, because she was not free. And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, even a ram for a trespass offering. And the priest shall make an atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering before the LORD for his sin which he hath done: and the sin which he hath done shall be forgiven him.
If a man approaches a bondwoman, a woman subject to a more rigorous form of slavery than an Israeli woman, who is engaged to be married but who has not yet been taken by her husband in marriage, when this woman has not been divorced from her betrothed husband during the engagement and formally bought back (“redeemed“) by her former master, or when this woman has neither been set free by her betrothed husband nor set free by other proper authorities, and this man approaching the bondwoman has intimate relations with her, the bondwoman is to be scourged but not killed and the man is to give an offering for his cleansing. The conditions are carefully stated such that the bondwoman is technically married in this case, which would imply that both of the individuals have committed adultery. The reason given that both the woman and the man are spared the death penalty is because the woman is not free. This implies that if the woman is free then both the man and the free woman are to be killed.
Apparently, a free woman is not under the dominant rigorous servile authority of a master the way that a bondservant is, and is therefore considered responsible for her actions in a way that a female bondslave is not. Jewish women are not allowed to serve as bondmaids (Leviticus 25:44); these types of bondservants may only be taken from the heathen nations about Israel. They may be taken for the purpose of serving either Jewish men or women, and are treated more severely than servants purchased from within the nation. Hagar, Abram’s wife, was one such woman, who was Sarah’s servant before marrying Abram. Sarah eventually dealt very harshly with her, even after she became Abram’s wife, causing Hagar to flee, yet God instructed Hagaar to return to her master and to submit to her hand. (Gen 16:6-9) Jacob also had such servants in his home, one for each of his wives, and he eventually married both of these bondservants at the request of his wives.
Anyone found lying with a betrothed free woman when the woman is neither redeemed out of the betrothal by her former master nor properly freed from the betrothal by responsible authorities, will be guilty with her of adultery and both sinners will therefore be killed. It seems that a betrothed bondmaid, being one who is under the rigorous authority of her master, might be too fearful to resist the man who is approaching her, having had her dignity and strength marred by the severity of her bondage since she is accustomed to being a “low class” slave, and therefore she and the approaching man are both punished less severely (though the woman drastically more so). Perhaps the absence of the deterring effect of the woman’s resistance is itself considered in the actual guilt of the man himself, and his punishment lessened as well. In this case the man is to deal with his sin by a trespass offering, and thereby be forgiven.
Incidentally, and this is the main reason that this text has been included as relevant to divorce and remarriage, we have here additional conclusive evidence that a woman could not take freedom from proper male authority in her life to herself at her own discretion: the text speaks of “freedom given her.” The fact that this properly defines how a woman became free, in the act of her being given this freedom by a proper authority, may be seen in the apparent contradiction in this text if the inverse of such a primary hypothesis were false. The truth in its original form, which is the primary hypothesis, is: “If a woman has been given freedom, then she is free.” The inverse of this is: “If a woman has not been given freedom, then she is not free.” If this inverse is true, then being “given freedom” and being “free” are logically equivalent: they are one and the same and may be used interchangeably. If the inverse is not logically equivalent to the primary hypothesis, such that some women who have not been given freedom are free (e.g. those that took this freedom instead of being given it), then we have a contradiction in this text.
It is assumed in the text itself that the woman is not free because she has not been given freedom: “because she was not free.” This is another way of stating the inverse: “If a woman has not been given freedom, then she is not free.” The two ideas are used interchangeably, implying the truth of the inverse of the original hypothesis. This establishes the equivalence of the ideas. This completes the argument that a woman is not allowed to define her husband’s requirements to provide for her, and that she is not permitted to determine the severity of the abuse or neglect that she receives in her home. In any case where a woman obtains such freedom, this freedom must be granted by a proper authority in her life, and this condition makes her responsible for her actions in a full and complete sense. Apart from being granted freedom by an authority at least equivalent to her husband’s authority, she is bound to her husband until death parts them.
Leviticus 20:10 The man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
In relation to the previous text, which indicates that adultery committed with a betrothed bondmaid was not punishable by death, this text reveals that in the general case of adultery between responsible persons the death sentence is applied. Obviously, adultery with another man’s wife is not merely grounds for divorce… the man and the woman guilty of this thing are to be killed, making divorce irrelevant.
This text also gives additional information concerning any freedom of women to marry more than one man. While it is apparent that a married woman who is involved with another man is considered to be in an adulterous state, a married man who is involved with another woman is not considered to be in adultery per se. It is interesting to observe that the text does not read, “and the woman that committeth adultery with another woman’s husband…” This would be an interesting predicament for two women married to the same man. The grounds of adultery can be established only in the context of violating a marriage; intimate relations between a husband and wife are not adultery. When a woman is single, and a man is married, and the two are drawn to one another, the two can become married conveniently prior to their intimacy, certainly avoiding the accusation of adultery. This was provided for in the fact that a man was permitted to have more than one wife, and this is not seen to be a violation of marriage in an adulterous sense.
However, if a woman could be married to two men simultaneously, that freedom would render the principle given in this text ineffective and meaningless, for the two lusters would just agree to marry prior to their involvement and circumvent the law by appealing to the fact of their recent marriage regardless of the initial married state of the woman. There is no way to enforce this principle unless it be such that an unfaithful married woman can be defined by a unique husband who has been violated by her involvement with another man. Men are free to marry many women, but not the wives of other men. Polygamous freedom cannot be available to women without annulling the Law: all women and all men could simply agree to marry each other, and then, by definition, there would be no such thing as adultery.
There is yet more truth in this text that is quite subtle and precious to observe. The fact that “adultery with another man’s wife” is defined here, and stated carefully twice as the grounds for the death penalty in the text, implies that there may be a type of adultery that does not formally involve a married woman. This is an interesting point to note, and pertains clearly to God’s ultimate definition of adultery. It is certainly possible that a man might desire to have another man’s wife and make attempts to get at her without formally defiling her marriage. If he manipulated the situation properly, he might be able to manage some condition to influence this woman’s husband to put her away, and so obtain this woman for himself. This would be adultery in spirit, but not punishable by law here. Only overt manifestations of the adulterous spirit, where an existing marriage is literally defiled by the lust, are punishable by law.
Further, if it be a sin for a man to defile another man’s marriage, what is to be said about a man that defiles his own marriage? Certainly, it is clearly adultery for a man to lightly divorce his wife and put her away. In doing so he defiles his own marriage, defiles his wife, and commits adultery against her. This is just as sinful as defiling another man’s marriage. So we have the admonition of Jesus Christ, ” What God hath joined together let no man put asunder.” Any man that is not earnestly seeking to develop oneness and unity in the marriage bond, cleaving unto his wife and being a faithful lover, leader, and friend to her, is violating his marriage in spirit and commits adultery against his wife.
The text implies that only verifiable forms of adultery are punished by God’s civil law, and that God defines adultery itself more generally, as a spirit of defiling any marriage, including an intent to defile it, and not merely the actual defiling of it. He references this definition in His dealings in the New Testament with those who were expert in violating the spirit of the law without violating its letter.
Leviticus 20:11-14, 21 And the man that lieth with his father’s wife hath uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them… And if a man take a wife and her mother, it is wickedness: they shall be burnt with fire, both he and they; that there be no wickedness among you…
Various penalties are given in these laws governing incest and sexual relations with near kin. These types of transgressions are not tolerated at all. This reference is given to show what God does not tolerate in marriages, lest anyone should say that the LORD permits divorce and remarriage only when it is part of the surrounding culture. The practices listed here were common in the cultures round about the Israelites, but were not allowed in her midst at all. God tolerates nothing simply because it is culturally acceptable, and it seems that God tolerates very little if anything that we would consider to be naturally immoral or unhealthy. God does openly tolerate polygamy, divorce and remarriage, indicating that it is not, in and of itself, unhealthy or immoral in the context of the Fall.
Leviticus 21:7, 13-14 (The priests) shall not take a wife that is a whore, or profane; neither shall they take a woman put away from her husband: for he is holy unto his God… (The high priest) shall take a wife in her virginity. A widow, or a divorced woman, or profane, or an harlot, these shall he not take: but he shall take a virgin of his own people to wife.
Special instruction is given to the priests, the sons of Aaron, concerning marriage. They are restricted in whom they may marry, to only virgins of the people of Aaron. This is related to the ceremonial cleanliness required of the priests, as observed by the additional fact that anyone having a blemish on him, or who is blind, etc., may not ever serve as a priest (see verses 16-24). Neither may a man actively function in the office of a priest if he has been exposed to any type of ceremonial uncleanness and is not purified from it. While this text does not indicate that marrying a divorced woman is improper in general, any more than it is improper for a man to marry a widow, such as David marrying Abigail or Boaz marrying Ruth, it does indicate that a ceremonial distinction existed between marrying a virgin from the people of Aaron and marrying a divorced woman, marrying a widow or marrying any woman at all outside of the tribe of Aaron; this limitation is recognized for priests as part of the ceremonial law. Some would use this text to imply that this is God’s real will in marriage, that one should never marry a divorced woman. The fact that priests were specifically forbidden to do this, and not men in general, does not imply that this freedom was unavailable to men who were not of the Aaronic priesthood, or that it is always contrary to the perfect will of God.
Deuteronomy 7:3-4 Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they serve other gods: so will the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly.
Here, God instructs His people to not intermarry with the heathen nations about them. The power of women in their home is evident here, being sufficient at times to turn their husbands away from following the Lord. However, though this is true, it is also apparent that a godly woman is not generally expected to turn an ungodly husband to the Lord, hence neither type of marriage is permitted. As it has happened with Adam and Eve, so it will continue to happen in homes if God permits men to marry wives who do not serve Him, or women to marry ungodly men. In either case the godly influence of the righteous spouse is severely diminished in the home and the character and strength of the family is broken. This becomes the basis for Paul’s command for believers to marry only believers, and freedom for believers to remarry a believer when an unbelieving spouse departs from the marriage.
While the emphasis of the text would indicate that the primary direction of the home will generally be determined by the man, it indicates that a woman can bring great damage into her home in spite of her husband’s godliness, and that likewise she can bring great blessing in spite of his foolishness and unfaithfulness. While it is not expected that Jewish girls sent out into heathen cultures would tend to strengthen them significantly, the permitting of ungodly women into the righteous culture of the nation would significantly endanger it. This is inherent in the fact that human beings are naturally bent to moral decay, and godly women are needed in the home to prevent its utter decay when a man is irresponsible and ungodly. While it is obviously best for both the husband and wife to continue in uprightness, wives are responsible before God to be upright apart from their husband’s nature, and the same is true of husbands. This tends to balance and stem the natural moral decay within a culture. While the husband is the head of the wife, he does not determine the strength and integrity of his home alone. The wife plays a crucial role in her home and effects a real quality upon it in her own right: she is not the unwitting pawn of her husband’s nature.
Deuteronomy 13:6-11 If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou has not known, thou, nor thy fathers; namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: but thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.
Here, if a wife entices her husband to stop following the Lord, and encourages him to serve any other god, he is to publicly expose her spiritual adultery, and actively initiate her destruction personally, encouraging others to join him in removing her from the land. This places the nature and integrity of the spiritual life above that of the temporal, and it shows that the basic spiritual health of the believer supersedes the marital bonds.
Interestingly, if a man’s father or mother is the source of the enticement, apparently he is to respect them as having been in authority over him as a child, and do nothing against them; only if the luring comes to a man from one parallel to or underneath him in authority is he to act to purge them. This appears to imply that the woman may not do as instructed here toward her husband if he entices her to turn from the LORD and commit idolatry with him. While this will certainly end the marital relationship if the wife is guilty, since she will die, it is not evident that this will be ground for ending the relationship if the husband is guilty. This principle of passivity and silence in the wife is to be observed even in the case of blatant religious perversion in the face of clearly established spiritual teaching, as is expected in Israeli culture. It naturally extends to less serious errors such as might be present in the churches today.
There is apparently an issue here involving respect for authority that governs how false teaching is to be handled, though, admittedly, this issue is implied. The principle indicates that the wife is to respect the teaching of her husband in silence, and not to rebuke him openly when she feels he is wrong. She is certainly permitted to ask questions of him privately if she perceives an inconsistency in his teaching, and allowed to take a position of not understanding him until she agrees with him in her heart. While she is not required to follow false teaching in her heart and be blindly lead by her husband in her walk with the LORD, neither is she permitted to rebuke her husband or confront him directly either in public or in private.
This principle appears to be the basis for such statements such as 1 Corinthians 14:34, that women are to “keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak, but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home, for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” The “law” referred to here by the Lord in Corinthians does not exist plainly anywhere in the Old Testament: such a law cannot be found explicitly in any Biblical passage. Yet the Lord apparently instructs New Testament Christians based on principles merely derived from the Law. This principle is one of these imbedded truths, surfacing from deeper contemplation in the Law and its implications. While the truth of compliant silence in women is not formally found in the law, it is properly and boldly inferred from this text and similar ones, and is to be used now as a pattern of God’s life in a woman’s heart.
Deuteronomy 21:10-14 When thou goest forth to war against thine enemies, and the LORD thy God hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast taken them captive, and seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and has a desire unto her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife; then thou shalt bring her home to thine house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails; and she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband and she shall be thy wife; and it shall be, if thou have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money, thou shalt not make merchandise of her, because thou has humbled her.
As soon as the principles of not intermarrying with the heathen cultures about them are given to the Jews, and the urgency impressed on them of not having anyone in the nation openly enticing anyone to follow another god, the very next principle given to the Jews concerning marriage involves how to handle the case of a man who wants to take a wife from a heathen nation! It would seem that this is openly inconsistent, but on further thought, the case at hand does not indicate a violation of the previous instruction, but is quite different.
This woman, taken into captivity after the destruction of her homeland, has no more home to be nurtured by, no family to go back to, no consistent cultural backing from her old friends to strengthen her heathen disposition in her new home. Her family is dead, as all males and non-virgin women were to be destroyed by the victorious Israelites. A virgin could be taken captive as a slave or as a wife into the Jewish culture. If taken as a wife, such a woman was to mourn for her family for a full month, putting them entirely behind her, before entering into her new life as a wife in Israel. This is quite different from the intermarrying mentioned earlier.
A woman under this condition would be surrounded by the godly culture and the upright principles of the Jewish nation, and, though she might not internalize these principles herself, it would be quite unlikely that she would, in this condition, significantly affect her husband to turn from the Lord to her ungodly habits and ways. If she openly tries to turn him from the LORD in any manner, she knows that her husband is instructed to have her killed for this. If she continues in her hatred for the LORD, she will have to do so privately, hiding it from her husband. This will cause her to have to suppress her ungodliness, and may eventually lead her to seek the Lord – if nothing else than for pure convenience. In this way, such captivity may have become the means of salvation for many heathen women, and has perhaps become an eternal blessing to many who have been taken in this manner into the nation.
Further instruction is given in divorcing a foreign woman who has had no say at all in her part in the marriage, since she has been forcibly taken in captivity. In this case, the woman has had no input into the matter of her marriage at all, and will be unacceptably humbled by the man who has taken her, should he later decide that he does not want her. While the husband remains free to divorce this woman if he wishes, the conditions are different than for divorcing a woman who is purchased from within the nation.
This implies that it is often the case, when a father is selling his daughter to be a wife, that her opinion in the matter is carefully considered so that she is not inappropriately humbled or discouraged by the marriage arrangement. In this case, however, since the heathen woman has had no say in the matter from the beginning, and has been humbled by it and taken from her native culture and land by force, the husband may not charge anyone for his wife as he puts her away, since he did not pay for her, and she is to be set free to do as she pleases. She is to be permitted to go where she wishes, either with another Israeli man, back to her own land, or to stay as a single woman among the Israeli people.
Deuteronomy 21:15-17 If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated: then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn: but he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that the hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his.
This text is again an instance of a principle given to handle the injustice that can come within a polygamous home. While the divorcing of the hated wife is permitted, the right of the firstborn son is respected regardless of which woman he was conceived by. This is respected for both the welfare of the son and the hated wife; while the integrity of the marriage bond is allowed to be broken and the hated wife may be put away, an injustice toward her firstborn son is not permitted: he may not be denied his inheritance. This is further indication that the LORD is not tolerating divorce lightly, as if the people are bent on it anyway. Giving the inheritance to the son of the hated wife would be contrary to the heart of many polygamous men. God does not tolerate injustice in a home even if it were the strong disposition of the culture to accept it.
It is interesting to note that God apparently instructed Abraham to violate this principle before it was given in the law, in the context of the first divorce recorded in the Scripture: God told Abraham to divorce Hagar.
God had promised a son to Abraham, but as Abraham increased in years and Sarah remained barren, Sarah moved in the flesh against the promise of God and suggested that Abraham marry Hagar, her handmaid, so that Sarah could have children by her. Abraham’s firstborn son was thus Ishmael, born of Hagar, Sarah’s bondmaid. Yet this was done outside of the will of God and marred God’s plan for Abraham. When Sarah gave birth naturally to Isaac some years later, Ishmael stood in line to receive the blessing and the inheritance as the firstborn son of Abraham, instead of Isaac, the son of promise. However, when Sarah observed Ishmael mocking Isaac at the time of Isaac’s weaning, she became furious and demanded that Abraham cast out Hagar and Ishmael both, and dispossess them of their rightful inheritance. This thing was very grievous to Abraham and he went to the Lord about it.
The Lord’s response to Abraham was, “Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.” (Genesis 21:12) God dealt with an improper marriage, a marriage born of the flesh and of convenience, by approving of a divorce, even when this was against the heart of the husband, and deeply grievous to him, because the continuance of the marriage was standing against the plan He had made for Abraham. If divorce were never to be permitted under any circumstances, God would not have said this and gone along with Sarah’s angry advice. Not only did He go along with it, He directed Abraham to do it: God instructed Abraham to divorce Hagar.
This commendation of this divorce on the part of God could also naturally be seen as clearly contrary to the command given above, that the right of the firstborn is not to be sacrificed for the sake of a hated wife, were it not for the fact that Abraham did not hate Hagar. The fact that the incident occurred before the giving of the law perhaps releases Abraham from guilt, but God is eternal and His principles are timeless. It appears that the significant aspect of this is that Abraham did not hate Hagar: the movement of God was contrary to Abraham’s own heart toward Hagar and Ishmael. Had Abraham hated Hagar, this directive would have been counter to God’s Own ethics in dealing with such situations, but it stands as a part of the picture of the eternal truths being painted in the life of Abraham.
While approving of the divorce and separation of Hagar and Ishmael, God assured Abraham that He would personally care for Hagar and Ishmael and bless them richly, and that this divorce would not be a threat to their livelihood or safety. God was taking Personal responsibility for their well being, and dealing mercifully with a servant that had not been faithful to wait patiently on a promise. As God deals with contradictions in the human spirit, in dealing with the brokenness of humanity, He often moves in ways that initially seem counter to His revelation to us, but which are always consistent with His Spirit and Heart.
Deuteronomy 22:13-21 If a man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her, and give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid: then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the damsel’s virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city in the gate: and the damsel’s father shall say unto the elders, I gave my daughter unto this man to wife, and he hateth her; and lo, he hath given occasions of speech against her, saying I found not thy daughter a maid; and yet these are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city. And the elders of that city shall take that man and chastise him; and they shall amerce him in an hundred shekels of silver, and give them unto the father of the damsel, because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days. But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.
This text describes another condition that would prevent a man from divorcing a woman whom he had supposed was a virgin when he bought her from her father and married her. If such a husband tries to bring a false accusation against his wife after their marriage has begun, by a charge concerning her sexual impurity from before the marriage, and the accusation is shown to be false, then the husband is fined and never allowed to divorce this woman. This is a condition that implies that the sexual character of a pure woman is to be honored and protected in her home, and this transcends the husband’s liberty to put her away.
In violating that character in her, and by threatening her life by falsely bringing public shame upon her by a false accusation of sexual impurity, the husband forfeits his privilege to ever divorce his wife. Once she has been shamed and threatened in this way, he is required to endure whatever ill-temperedness or contentiousness that she forces upon him in his home, something he is not required to do if he has not brought such shame upon her, or if he has not tried to destroy her unjustly in this way. Regardless of his desires in the matter he must provide for her and support her for life. While God permits the divorce of a woman who has not been so threatened, He grants permanent safety to the wife from being discarded and alienated from her family and children once she has been unjustly threatened.
The obtaining of such tokens of a woman’s virginity, and the significance of them, implies that the family of the new bride takes great care on the night of an Israeli wedding to publicly capture evidence of their daughter’s virginity. This token would naturally be a cloth placed under the woman during intercourse that would be used to blot the blood coming from the broken hymen when she gives her virginity to her husband. Once the cloth was properly stained, it would be presented immediately to the father of the young bride to be kept by him as a treasure in his home, capturing the purity of his daughter on her wedding day for future reference. After such a ceremony and ritual, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind about whether she is a virgin or not after this experience, and there should be no room whatsoever for future accusations if everything is done properly. However, a woman permitting herself to be taken in marriage without this protective concern and involvement of her parents and family, or who gives up her virginity in a moment of passion outside of formally advertised wedlock, will naturally become vulnerable to accusation later, even false accusations, if her husband ever turns against her for any reason.
If such a charge of marital unfaithfulness cannot be countered with such rich evidence of a woman’s purity by the tokens of her virginity kept in her father’s house, as soon as it is publicly announced that she was impure at the time of her marriage, the woman is immediately killed. The fact that this condition may exist at any time after a wedding implies that the husband who has taken an impure woman, whom he thought was pure at marriage, may be merciful to her if he so chooses, and that his wife remains at his mercy so long as they continue in the marriage. The new husband is not required to make a public example of his bride and have her stoned immediately upon discovering her sin, but may do so at any time he wishes if she comes into his wrath or disfavor at any point during the marriage. No lapse of time is forbidden in this situation: he is not required to announce her unfaithfulness within a certain period of time at all. If he ever chooses to divorce her instead of announcing this sin, the thing will necessarily be forgotten permanently, as there will be no expectation of the woman’s virginity or purity at the beginning of any subsequent marriage. This seems to imply that Joseph, in putting Mary away privately upon discovering her supposed impurity, was being quite merciful to her and was operating within the context of this mercy allowed in the law.
Deuteronomy 22:22 If a man be found lying with a woman married to a husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so thou put away evil from Israel.
This text reinforces the fact that a man lying with a woman married to another man is committing adultery. Both are to be killed. This is not so for an unmarried woman found lying with a married man. Such a case is covered separately. It is clear from this text, when considered carefully, that a woman is not allowed to have more than one husband, she is not allowed to marry the second man and retain the first man as a husband as well. Any impurity engaged in on the part of a married woman is severely dealt with.
Deuteronomy 22:23-27 If a damsel that is a virgin, be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour’s wife; so thou shalt put away evil from among you. But if a man find a betrothed damsel in the field, and the man force her, and lie with her: then the man only that lay with her shall die: but unto the damsel thou shalt do nothing; there is in the damsel no sin worthy of death: for as when a man riseth against his neighbour, and slayeth him, even so is this matter; for he found her in the field, and the betrothed damsel cried, and there was none to save her.
This text considers a situation left untouched by an earlier passage concerning unfaithfulness of a bondmaid. This passage relates the fact that an engaged woman (one who was not a bondwoman, but free or a maidservant) having relations with another man besides her betrothed husband is to be killed, along with her lover, if she participates willingly. She is to cry out against him if he attempts to take her like this, so that others will come and rescue her. Participating voluntarily in extra-marital relations when the woman is either married or engaged is adultery and is not tolerated. Proper divorce and remarriage is not considered inappropriate in the economy of God, and is at the very least openly permitted and tolerated by Him. Adultery with a formally married woman is not tolerated in any circumstance, regardless of the extreme.
Deuteronomy 22:28-29 If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.
This text appears quite plain, that if a man rapes an unmarried woman who is a virgin, he is to give her father an appropriate price for her and buy her as his wife. The father has the liberty, however, to refuse to give her to him, as shown in Exodus 22:15: “If a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife. If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins“. This second text, while not involving rape but pre-marital sex with the consent of the woman, indicates that the father is still responsible for the welfare of his daughter and may choose to keep her in his home and keep her single. While the Exodus text technically applies only in the case of mutual consent, it seems consistent with the spirit of the law to allow the father this intervening privilege in the case of rape.
The father is permitted to judge the health of the man involved and keep his daughter in his home if he thinks it is proper, protecting his daughter from this man who has raped her. In this case, the woman has been properly paid for, and then the marriage formally broken by proper male authority and dealt with for the protection of the woman. She leaves this abusive husband in freedom and remains under the protective authority of her father, being free to remarry as any other properly divorced woman would be. This is a sound protection for the woman to continue on with her life under the guidance of her father for her own safety and well-being. God does not forcibly require such a victim to choose between remaining celibate in her father’s house the rest of her days, or to remain in the hands of the rapist because of this tragedy.
Regardless of the outcome of this, if the woman did not consent to the intimacy, the rapist has no control of the matter from this point on in his life. He is not ever allowed to divorce this woman since he has humiliated her and has taken her against her will into his life. He must make the offer of the dowry to her father and respect the father’s decision in the matter. He has given up his right to control anything in this. Yet, it appears plain that, under legitimate conditions of severe neglect or abuse, as previously described, this woman could eventually leave her husband and be free of him if that is her desire, though her husband has forfeited the typical male liberty in divorce.
It should be considered that if a man and an unmarried woman have sexual relations and are NOT found, the woman is robbed of her virginity — and therefore of the protection of the tokens of her virginity. This makes her permanently vulnerable to being killed by any future husband as a common whore unless she eventually discloses her sin to her father. If her father arranges her marriage without knowing that she is defiled and her husband discovers her impurity, she is likely to be stoned to death at the door of her father’s home (De 22:13-21). This is strong incentive for young women to remain pure and to abide under the protective direction of their fathers until they are properly and formally betrothed and married.
It is also apparent that it makes no difference in this case if the man committing this crime is already married to another woman or not. A married man lying with an unmarried woman is thus dealt with much differently than an unmarried man lying with a married woman. The principles do not apply equally to both genders. This strengthens the implied argument that women are not allowed to have more than one husband.
Deuteronomy 24:1-4 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. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife. 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; 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.
This text reiterates the principles upon which a marriage is to be broken, and adds several additional components not heretofore observed. Divorce is not just permitted in this text, it is commanded under certain circumstances. The Jewish Pharisees properly understood this when asking Jesus about this passage: “Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?” (Matthew 19:7)
When the marriage has reached a state where there is no more favor in the husband’s eyes toward his wife, it is not only permitted, it is required that he divorce her and let her go from him. This is said to happen here when the husband discovers some uncleanness in his wife. The interpretation of this “uncleanness” in his wife, especially by the Pharisees mentioned above, was often quite loose. It might be primarily in reference to physical uncleanness, as in the case of venereal disease, some physical sickness, or perhaps even emotional or spiritual incompatibility. Taken to extremes, it could be interpreted to mean anything at all.
Apparently, if this is the husband’s reason, he is not to sell her to another, or to have any necessary part in determining where she should go in this case. This is quite a bit different from the earlier text in Exodus, allowing the husband to put away his wife in displeasure. The difference appears to hinge upon the fact that this husband has no more concern for the welfare of his wife at all: he hates her. He is not in a good position to manage the transition of this woman into a new home or to determine where she should be placed.
This command protects the woman from the emotional and physical abuse of a husband that does not care for her at all, when she could be regularly subjected to harsh mistreatment for the rest of her life at her husband’s vengeful pleasure. It prevents the lasting abuses that occur due to the hardness of hearts grown cold in a domestic environment. The most prolonged and devastating abuses of women occur in cultures where this commanding principle is not observed.
A second principle gained from this passage is the permanence of divorce and remarriage. While a husband may divorce his wife for some uncleanness, or some deep displeasure or hatred he has toward her, she may never again become his wife if she marries another man. This ensures that men do not engage in “wife-swapping,” or lightly put away the wife of their youth without resolving to make it a permanent and irrevocable thing. Without this principle, it would be technically possible for cultures to invalidate the laws of marriage altogether without literally breaking them. Women and men could just agree to marry and divorce quickly and conveniently whenever they chose to, and continue in a spirit of adultery and wantonness without formally breaking the law of God. This principle prevents this type of legalistic loophole.
Once the woman is remarried, she is permanently out of the reach of her first husband: he has become her “former husband” and is therefore no longer her husband. This formal change in the nature of the marital relationship hinges upon God’s standard being followed in the breakup of the home; the fact that western nations claim authority to grant divorces under arbitrary conditions does not change God’s mind on the subject. It is God that defines and authorizes both marriage and divorce… not civil governments or churches. God recognizes the dissolution of the marriage when the husband dissolves it resolutely or when he chooses to mistreat his wife in a most severe manner… no marriage can be dissolved in His sight under any other circumstances.
As soon as the conditions for either a marriage or a divorce are met before God, at that moment, the marriage is dissolved and neither spouse is married to the other. The man ceases to be a husband to the women and likewise the woman ceases to be his wife… she is no longer married. Therefore, before a husband puts his wife away in this manner he must be absolutely certain that there will be no regrets, and this encourages him to work with his wife to restore their relationship unless he feels that it is utterly and absolutely beyond repair. In this case of complete brokenness, he is not required to force either of them to endure a brutal, damaging relationship. It is proper for him to divorce her under these conditions.
It is interesting to observe at this point that David re-married Michal after she had been taken from him and given to another man by her father, David’s father-in-law and arch enemy, King Saul. In this case, neither spouse had been in favor of the separation and the marriage was broken up by Saul in a step of retaliation against David. He perhaps considered David to be a dead man who could never escape the wrath of an anointed king, treating his daughter as a widow so as to justify her move into a new home as outside the bounds of adultery, even though she still loved David and David had not put her away. In an unusual case such as this, there are no laws to govern David’s preference in the matter. He did marry several other women during his separation from Michal, and Michal was given to another man as a wife in a manner beyond David’s control. David understood that Michal had been given to himself by her father to be a snare unto himself, and may have actually been glad at the deliverance. However, as it was the custom of kings to never let another man take the privilege of ownership of a king’s wife (even if she was not wanted, as in the case of Vashti), David demanded that she be returned to him once he came into power in the kingdom. Apparently this was not a breach of the above principle since he had not formally put her away, or ever hated her.
A similar problem as this snare with David happened between Abraham and Sarah when they lied together about their marital relationship and Sarah was taken into the home of Pharaoh as his wife (Genesis 12… In this case, perhaps we do have a woman with two husbands!). It happened again with Abraham and Sarah and King Abimelech (Genesis 20), and with Isaac and Rebekah and Abimelech. Yet, in each of these cases the sovereign hand of the Lord restored the marriage without any impurity being caused. Again, perhaps it can be said that there was no violation of the above principle since Abraham had not really put Sarah away, nor Isaac Rebekah.
Deuteronomy 25:5 If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband’s brother unto her.
This text is another indication that God regards the general health and balance of the fabric of the human constitution above the integrity of the single marriage bond. If a man living in domestic community with his brothers dies and leaves no children, the nearest of the male kin to this man is obligated to take the widow and raise up children for his kinsman. The woman is not to be turned outside the family in order to find another husband. This holds true even if the nearest kinsman is already married and has children of his own. This would tend to mar the integrity and wholeness of this living kinsman’s home, causing him to receive another woman as a wife in addition to the wife of his youth, but it was nonetheless his proper duty. An instance of this is illustrated in the story of Ruth, where Naomi had a near kinsman that was unwilling to mar his own inheritance. He was apparently already married, or was intending to marry someone else, and wanted to have a proper home with just one wife and his own children. It was appropriate for Boaz to see that this kinsman had the opportunity to accept his duty before he took Ruth as his bride, even though the near kinsman was unwilling to fulfill his duty. This text indicates that polygamy could at times occur as a direct result of God’s command, and not be unhealthy or improper at all.
Deuteronomy 32:21 They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.
God has given plain teaching on divorce and remarriage, and here He begins to hint that this is yet a picture of divine pain. He hints at the coming struggle between Him and His people – His wife — and that there is going to be a failure in this marriage between the two of them. She will turn on him, leaving Him, and provoking Him to angry jealousy by going after other gods in spiritual adultery. He will eventually take another wife — a lowly, foolish, forsaken one — and will provoke His first wife to an angry jealousy over her in the beauty of His second marriage.
Judges 14:16-17 And Samson’s wife wept before him, and said, Thou dost but hate me, and lovest me not: thou hast put forth a riddle unto the children of my people, and has not told it me. And he said unto her, Behold, I have not told it my father nor my mother, and shall I tell it thee? And she wept before him the seven days, while their feast lasted: and it came to pass on the seventh day, that he told her, because she lay sore upon him: and she told the riddle to the children of her people.
Judges 16:16-17 And it came to pass, when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was vexed unto death, that he told her all his heart.
Perhaps part of the context of God’s tolerance of divorce may be found in the intensity of the emotional pain that comes when a spouse is abused in the midst of personal intimacy. There are no examples in the Scripture of a man afflicting his wife either emotionally or physically, but there are several actual examples of women afflicting men and many other general references to this type of abuse. The power of a woman’s tongue to afflict the soul of a man who is close to her is seen here in these two examples in Samson’s life, and lends balance to the freedom that a man has to put away a woman who is consistently afflicting him in this way during a marriage. Nowhere in the Scripture is a man seen to have this power with his tongue, but it appears that it is less than rare among women.
Eve enticed Adam against his full knowledge to depart from the Creator Himself in the Garden; Solomon, in all of his wisdom, was lead astray by the tongues and selfish desires of evil women; Joseph was pressed daily by the tongue of Potiphar’s wife to be unfaithful with her; Samson’s wife pressed him sore for a solid week in an emotional torment that went well beyond all reason; Delilah pressed Samson nearly to death with her smoothly poisoned tongue. These are examples in the Word of the afflicting power of the tongue and they are all found in the lives and hearts of women. There are no such examples of men with this trait in the written Word.
While it is plain that men can be perpetrators of verbal abuse, and that women can be physically violent, it seems that women in general prefer to attack their victims verbally and emotionally while men will prefer to channel their abuse physically. The verbal abuse that many men apparently suffer at the tongues of wicked wives parallels the physical abuse that many women receive from their husbands. I really see no significant differences here; one is physical abuse and the other is emotional and mental abuse. Both are wrong when done in maliciousness and selfishness, but emotional and mental abuse cannot be measured or defined cleanly. What our modern culture has done is to react vehemently to physical abuse, and to take verbal abuse lightly. Perhaps this is because physical abuse is easier to identify and manage. Mental and emotional abuse is much more subtle, though it is as potentially permanent and damaging.
In any event, western culture has stripped men of their preferred means of defense and strife management while leaving the woman’s preference largely untouched. It is apparent to me that most women talk circles around their husbands and cut them to pieces emotionally and mentally with their tongues, and that many wives do this often when their husbands do not conform as they wish, causing their husbands to be afraid of them. This can be sensed quite plainly in our culture in the context of jokes and comments common in our society. Anyone sensitive to this type of thing will become plainly aware of it, in my opinion.
It is not right for a woman to act this way, just as it is not right for a husband to abuse his wife physically. It should not be taken lightly; I think it is being taken much too lightly in our western culture today. I think our culture looks so lightly on this that there is now more fear on the part of men in the western home than on the part of women. This trap stumped me for years in my own home… until I bought a portable tape recorder that would conveniently capture my wife’s abuse of me… She was unwilling for others to learn of her abuse of me. When she realized that this was going to strip her of her primary means of control in our home, she left me immediately, that same day, claiming that it was I who was abusive to her. Interesting…
Perhaps one will think that such digression in this matter of the tongue is inappropriate, that it is well beyond the scope of this current topic. It is included with purpose, and there is more to follow, because it is my personal perception that the abuse of the power of the tongue is the chief problem in marriages, and I think it is the woman who primarily abuses it. I think this basic principle being overlooked in the home is the primary visible cause for divorce.
Verbal abuse naturally springs from the inward cause, which is (of course) selfishness: a lack of love for God and for others. I think that this is a significant part of the motivation for God to leave such unclassified liberty in the authority of the husband to divorce his wife, and why the conditions are significantly different for the woman. Verbal abuse is very difficult to classify and measure, the pain of it is deep, and husbands and children are most often the victims it seems. The Scripture is plain concerning the evil fire of the tongue — that it is set on fire of hell. (James 3:6) God directs both men and women to be quiet as a general rule, much more so than they are. Women, in particular, seem to rebel against this principle in the home and in the church without scruple whatsoever. Very few women that I have come to know personally seem to understand this, appreciate it, or respect it at all. Regardless of whether I am correct in this supposition or not is irrelevant: the differences between the freedoms given to men and women in this matter of divorce stand plainly, explained or unexplained.
1 Samuel 25:25-26 Let not my lord, I pray thee, regard this man of Belial, even Nabal: for as his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him: but I thine handmaid saw not the young men of my lord, whom thou didst send. Now therefore, my lord, as the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, seeing the LORD hath withholden thee from coming to shed blood, and from avenging thyself with thine own hand, now let thine enemies, and they that seek evil to my lord, be as Nabal.
We have here a very unusual story in the Word of God, of a very foolish and wicked man married to a very virtuous and upright woman. The words above were spoken by a virtuous and godly wife, about her husband, to someone ready to kill her husband, her sons, and all of the male servants in their home. Abigail spoke these words to David in the twilight, as David made his way up the hill toward her home to slay every male in her extended family because of Nabal’s rudeness to David and his men. During this same time, Nabal was feasting sumptuously in celebration of the successful return of his flocks… at David’s honest expense.
Abigail had been prompted to do something in this emergency by the very household servants who were endangered by Nabal’s foolishness, who understood the vulnerable strait that they were all in. It was commonly understood in their midst, as these servants conferred with Abigail about the matter, that Nabal was such a fool that no one would be able to speak reasonably to him about his rudeness to David. She knew what must be done.
She hastily prepared an extravagant present of food for David and his men, and rode quickly to meet him before he came to attack their community. She pled with him to spare them the anticipated vengeance upon Nabal’s foolishness, asking David to receive the present at her hand and explaining that she understood David to be a righteous man who was being pressed unjustly by king Saul. She asked the Lord to protect David and his men, and to deal justly with her husband – bringing him into judgment along with all the rest of David’s enemies.
This was obviously totally against her husband’s wishes, yet Abigail fully sided with David in this matter, standing against her husband in his sin. However, she appears to have remained faithful to Nabal as his wife in her spirit in this, as well as to God and His uprightness in her: though she loathed her husband’s cold-hearted foolishness, she remained submissive to him, even in her disobedience to what she knew he wanted in his heart. After she had appeased David and saved the lives of her husband and his men, she returned and told her husband everything that she had done, submitting herself to his hand to do as he pleased to her for her action (!).
This was an extremely brave and upright thing for Abigail to do, in a situation that reveals the extreme differences between her and her husband in their character and disposition. It is plain that she was a woman of rare virtue, married to an infidel of unusual proportions. We see that God, in His sovereign pleasure, at times places two people together in a marriage who are at the two extremes of human nature: one very pleasing to Him, and the other very displeasing to Him. We see in this the fullness to which God would have a woman submit to a man, regardless of his wisdom or character, and how He honors this. This is the only example in the Word of God where a godly woman plainly dealt with an abusive and sinful man, and she was properly submissive to him in all respects. She followed God’s principles carefully and fully under extremely difficult circumstances. God protected Abigail from Nabal’s retaliation, and struck her husband dead. David heard about this a short time afterwards, and sent to take Abigail as his bride. She spent the rest of her days as David’s wife.
Abigail is perhaps the most profoundly righteous woman that we read about in all of the Word of God. There is certainly no record of any other woman called upon to deal with a situation as difficult as this, who evidenced such poise, wisdom, and perfect humility as this dear woman did in her response. If any woman righteously endured an unreasonable man as a husband, Abigail did. If any woman was called of God to disobey her husband’s heart in righteousness, Abigail was. If any servant can be found such as this, to return to a master after having saved his life, to humbly be destroyed by him in his rage against her for having done so, I have not seen it. It is superbly fitting that she was delivered of this fool by the hand of God, and placed at the side of king David as his bride. Amen!
There are certainly other women who have suffered as Abigail did, at the hands of brutal and foolish men… who may read this, being deeply sensitive to having wronged their husbands even while walking with utmost care before the Lord to be godly and helpful wives, and will perhaps be unduly grieved by my emphasis in this topic. I do not intend to beat down the downtrodden and abused, blaming all the evils of the world upon Woman… I only intend to bring the laxity of our modern culture and the ignorance of the church into the light of the Word of God as I discover it.
Should such a woman as Abigail read this, it would be my deep pleasure that she be comforted and encouraged to continue on in her obedience to our Lord in her calling as a woman. I pray it be so. Those women reading who have allowed some carelessness in their lives in these matters, I would that God would use these things to make them more tender and circumspect in following the Lord’s pleasure in their hearts.
It might be argued that the proximity of Nabal’s death to this dealing of Abigail with David was an indication of God’s pleasure for David and Abigail to marry, that He wanted David to have Abigail as his bride even though David was already married. Abigail was an extremely upright and virtuous woman, someone suited to be the bride of a king. This appears to be the woman that God intended for David to be one with, even though Michal was David’s first wife and was still alive, and though David took many other wives after this. It is also interesting to note that Abigail did not appear to be grieved at the passing of her husband, and gladly became David’s wife soon after she was widowed. While it seems that Abigail might have been God’s choice of a wife for David, God gave David several wives after this, as apparent from His rebuke of David for his adultery with Bathsheba.
2 Samuel 12:8 And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.
Here we have God’s open tolerance of polygamy, He himself giving David many wives and the freedom to marry them. While not commanding David to marry Saul’s wives, God Himself gave Saul’s wives to David to receive into his bosom, even though David was already married to Abigail. God never rebukes David in any manner for taking all these women as wives, but sternly rebukes David for taking another man’s wife even after having all of these other women at his disposal. Here we see plainly where the lines of the principles of God are drawn. It is the violation of a marriage that God is grieved by, and this is profoundly more grievous to Him than polygamy. If polygamy were wrong, God would not have “given” these women to David. We see David’s own weakness here in his polygamous heart; he did not know how to be one with a woman, even a woman as upright and virtuous as Abigail, and was not content to have only her. This was not a great concern to the LORD, until David crossed the bounds of marriage in his wantonness by taking another man’s wife. This was David’s single weakness, and God allowed it to destroy him for all practical purposes. It wrecked his family, and eventually destroyed his son Solomon as well, who inherited David’s weakness to an extreme. This particular instance of God’s open permission of polygamy was a very unusual situation, to say the least, but it illustrates the practical outworking of the principles of God in the context of sin and the fall.
Ezra 10:3,11 Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law. … Now therefore make confession unto the LORD God of your fathers, and do his pleasure: and separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives.
Here, in another unusual situation, Ezra was dealing with a disproportionately large number of Israeli men who had married women from the heathen culture round about them, incorporating the ungodliness of the foreign culture into their homes and passing it on to their descendants. This was against the plain command of the LORD, given explicitly in the law, and it was considered appropriate for these men to divorce their foreign wives and put them away. This was actually pleasing to the LORD, and it was a sin for the men not to do this. The men involved in this dilemma purposefully made a covenant with the LORD and with one another to carry this out, committing themselves to it fully, deliberately, and uprightly. The principles provided in the law concerning divorce became the instruction for carrying out this cleansing process; the breaking up of these unequal yokes, and it was done according to the righteous principles of God.
This is interesting, and requires much further thought, in light of the instructions given to men wanting to marry a heathen woman taken in captivity, and when considering the freedom of those in the lands about the Israeli people to leave their idolatry and join themselves with the Hebrew nation. The invitation for foreigners to come into the nation was open to men as well as to women, anyone wishing to seek the God of heaven was encouraged to come and be a part of the Jewish people. While we see men such as Uriah the Hittite among the faithful servants of God, it is also true that certain women came from the heathen cultures about the nation of Israel and married into the nation, like Rahab the harlot and Ruth the Moabitess. Both of these women were from the heathen lands about Israel, were received into the culture, married into it, and actually appear in the lineage of Jesus Christ! This was not seen as unhealthy, or as a violation of the Lord’s directive to remain separate from the heathen nations about them. What is so different about this particular situation in Ezra’s time? Why did he demand that these women be put away from their husbands?
What was apparently happening in Ezra’s time is that women had been taken into the Hebrew culture from the surrounding nations that were spiritually closed to the things of the Lord, still married in their hearts to the satanic rituals of their heathen families and cultures, and who were actively subverting the spiritual health of their husbands, families, and nation on a massive scale. These women were not open to leaving their families and culture to seek the God of Israel. On the contrary, these women were pulling their husbands into temptation and weakness as the women struggled to remain in their ungodliness. This would be the natural meaning of “strange wives,” and explain the urgency of the problem as perceived by Ezra. Nehemiah’s urgency, in a similar setting is profound.
Nehemiah 13:25-27 And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel: nevertheless even him did outlandish women cause to sin. Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil, to transgress against our God in marrying strange wives?
It is not merely the fact that these women were of a different culture that made them “strange,” it is that they were “outlandish,” unacceptably intolerant of spiritual life and godliness. It is evident that no man is expected to be able to deal with this type of woman in his home by the plain reference in this text to the wisest of all natural men, Solomon, who was eventually turned away from the Lord by his idolatrous wives. Rather than cater to them in their stubborn ways, or deal with the obvious domestic contentions that would arise if these women were not catered to, both Ezra and Nehemiah commanded the people to leave their wives and let them go back to their sinful cultures, or else choose to stay with their wives and be dispossessed of their godly roots and inheritance in the nation of Israel. They were not to continue to try to live in both realms.
Perhaps all of the women in question here were of this type, outlandish and spiritually adulterous. Perhaps there were a few like Ruth or Rahab that were not strangers to the Lord and His ways, even though they had been born and raised in heathen idolatry. I would think, during this period of national divorce under Ezra’s and Nehemiah’s leadership, that any woman willing to be separated from her natural family and alienated from the “people of the land,” who earnestly wanted to participate in the spiritual life of her husband, would have been encouraged and permitted to remain in her home and to continue as a spiritual Jew. I think it would be unreasonable to expect every single home involving a foreign wife to be broken regardless of the spiritual disposition of the woman.
This approach also seems consistent with the spirit of God’s admonition to Christians today that find themselves married to unbelievers. If the unbelieving spouse is open to the things of the Lord and wants to remain in the home, enjoying the daily company of believers in the spiritual life of the community of the church, and feels and respects the separating of their saved spouse from the ungodliness and worldliness about them, they are welcome to stay in the marriage. Those wanting to leave are allowed to do so peaceably, and the believing spouse is not bound to be faithful to the marriage broken in this way. Thus, in both Old and New testaments, the integrity of the marriage bond gives way to the spiritual health and integrity of the saints of God when there is an irreconcilable conflict between the two and the unbelieving spouse wishes to depart.
The entire book of Esther is in the context of a divorce and a remarriage, and the blessing that this was to the Jewish nation during a time of crisis. This is an example of the carrying out of the principles of divorce and remarriage as they have been observed in the Scriptures.
King Ahasuerus put away his wife and queen, Vashti, because she publicly refused to obey him: the ground was rebellion on the part of his wife that permanently separated her from his favor. His motive does not spring from a lust for another woman, or from some selfishness on his part as a husband, but is an indication of the king’s concern for the domestic health of his nation and his own personal dignity. The divorce of queen Vashti was perceived to be in the best interest of the nation, as she had promoted a spirit of rebellion in the homes of the king’s subjects, encouraging women to despise the authority of their husbands in their homes. Letting this influence go unchecked in the land would bring about too much wrath and contempt, such that the land would be deeply marred if the queen’s rebellion was not dealt with appropriately. Therefore, she was put away from him, not being permitted to approach the king any more, and she was kept in isolation from him. As her governmental authority, he chose neither to kill her, nor to allow her the freedom to remarry.
It is noteworthy that this public disobedience of the queen was perceived as a deep threat to the nation. It indicates that women do not generally need much of a reason to be disrespectful and disobedient to their husbands, and that they can easily be encouraged to rebel against their husbands. While the queen had apparently never disobeyed the king in this manner, her single public act of disobedience was perceived as a devastating blow to the integrity of the entire culture. With thousands of proper examples to stir righteousness in the land, it was perceived that women would look to one poor example to encourage them to do what is naturally in their hearts. The king recognized this and acted quickly to counter it.
Few in the church recognize the devastation caused by rebellion of wives in the Christian home. Such is the plain state of the church today, and of most all who claim to be servants of the Lord in it, that no danger is perceived in the least when women professing Christ resist their husband’s authority in the home. Men are taught that the rebellion of their wives is somehow due to their own insensitivity or carelessness. Women encourage one another frequently to buck their husband’s authority at a whim if he makes any error in judgment at all or is insensitive in the least, and men are taught to meekly receive this and to try their best to please their wives at all costs. Men who, in common public conversation, merely broach the subject of wives needing to be obedient to their husbands are generally immediately disdained, warned and/or mocked. Any man who would give his wife a direct command is seen as harsh, unreasonable, and insensitive, yet women commanding their husbands about the house are quite common and expected. The devastation and destruction of the home is so solidly complete and ingrained in the life and culture of the western church that any attempts to counter this are met with fierce opposition, mockery, backbiting, arguing and contention… primarily from women. Most pulpits dare not touch this subject, though they are quite free to encourage men to love their wives and submit to their wives in profound degree regardless of their wives’ disposition and rebellion.
Consider carefully that the disposition of the queen was not considered by the king in his command for her to appear before him, he need not have first asked her opinion in the matter, found out what kind of mood she happened to be in, or to have merely requested her appearance rather than directly commanding it. There is no hint that the king had no right to command this of his wife, or that he had erred in any manner. His right to command her was seen as equivalent to that of any husband to command his wife, and her violation of his command was seen as directly promoting similar rebellion in the homes of the nation. No excuses were made for her whatsoever. None should be made for women of our day. Rebellion and disobedience of a wife before her husband is inexcusable and devastating: it damages the husband and children deeply, and, as we will shortly see, it leads to blasphemy of God and His Word. The church is completely broken in this matter and the public blasphemy of God and His Word in the nation is at full throttle. The connection between the two is not merely coincidental.
After the divorce of Queen Vashti, God appears to have encouraged and blessed the choice of an Israeli woman, Esther, to be the new queen of this polygamous, heathen king. God apparently placed Esther in the king’s life as his wife for a divine purpose, and she did become his new queen. Esther’s godly uncle, Mordecai, was an upright and holy man, and did not see any problem with this arrangement. In giving his daughter unto the king, and in being glad that she had been chosen as the king’s new wife, knowing that the LORD forbade him to give his daughter in marriage to an idolatrous heathen man, Mordecai apparently felt that the king himself was an upright and godly man, having a spirit consistent with the holiness and godliness appropriately found in the nation of Israel. This can be viewed as an indication that in Mordecai’s estimation, the king had done an upright thing in divorcing Vashti and that the king had a wholesome spiritual disposition.
Mordecai’s joy at the marriage of Esther to the king, and the Lord’s apparent blessing of this, implies that either the king actually was an upright believer, that Esther was not a believer, or that God approved of an unequal yoke in a marriage between a believer and an unbeliever. Esther and Mordecai both appear to have been believers, thus it may well have been that king Ahasuerus was a strong believer in God who personally blended into the purity and uprightness of the Jewish law and culture so that this marriage was not an unequal yoke or a violation of Deuteronomy 7. God placed Esther in this position in the king’s life in order to be a blessing to the king and to the LORD’s own people, which she eventually was.
God apparently placed His blessing on the choice of Esther in the marriage to the king, to the delight of Mordecai and Esther both, and blessed their marriage with lasting health and happiness. There is no hint anywhere in this story that the king or Mordecai or Esther were wrong in their participation in this divorce and remarriage, or that it was a displeasure to God in any way. It was apparently appropriate for the king to divorce his wife Vashti for the reason that he did, and it was apparently the pleasure of God to give the king a virtuous new wife in Esther after his divorce from the rebellious Vashti was accomplished. Mordecai, as an upright and godly man, eventually became the trusted friend and companion of the king, indicating that the king loved both Mordecai and Esther for their uprightness and purity in God. This implies that their hearts were all three of one accord in this blessing of the Lord, which is indicative of the uprightness and purity which was present in the king’s own heart and life. It seems that we have a story of a godly divorce and remarriage, woven into the fabric of Jewish history, as a beautiful pleasure to our Lord. One would almost think that this is a type of God’s own experience.
Proverbs 5:15-23 Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well. Let thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and rivers of waters in the streets. Let them be only thine own, and not strangers’ with thee. Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth. Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love. And why wilt thou, my son, be ravished with a strange woman, and embrace the bosom of a stranger? For the ways of man are before the eyes of the LORD, and he pondereth all his goings. His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins. He shall die without instruction; and in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray.
Proper instruction is given here to a husband about how he is to view his wife. The text plainly indicates that the husband is to have a heart of rejoicing with his wife, enjoying her love for him and returning love to her without reservation or distraction. While there is no text in the Scriptures strictly forbidding a man to take more than one wife, the practice of polygamy is inconsistent with this text and with the basic principles of marriage. A man cannot become one with several women, and minister effectively to them from his heart as he should. His heart will naturally be divided among them, and he will tend to prefer one above the other at times. The husband is instructed to rejoice with a single wife, the one he marries first in his youth, and no other.
He is warned that it is common for men to be wanton in their homes and to look with desire upon other women, but this is seen and shown to be a way of captivity and defeat. It is apparently as difficult for a man to be content and satisfied with a rebellious wife, as it is for a woman to submit cheerfully to a harsh, foolish, unloving man. The fullest potential for the enjoyment and beauty of a marriage is when a man gives himself fully to one single woman, and she in turn submits to him and reverences him as her lover, lord, and head. It is then that she can complete him and satisfy the deepest earthly longings of his heart. It is then that he can nourish and protect her and give her the earthly security that she longs for, and satisfy the deepest earthly longings of her heart.
In the command to draw deep and lasting enjoyment from his wife at all times, it is implied that he has the freedom to do so and that his wife is not in a constant and selfish habit of denying her husband his right to enjoy her, instead of giving herself freely in abandon to him. The command and principle is given here to a man with a good woman in his home who loves him and cares for his well-being.
Perhaps the most difficult thing for a man to endure is the defrauding of a contentious, obstinate, insensitive woman. A woman that is given to provoking her husband and controlling him, slandering him to the children and wasting his time and resources in trying to keep up with her discontent, will not allow a man to do as he is told to do in this passage. It would be unreasonable to expect him to do it. It is apparent in the context that this should not be an obstacle in his way. When it is, and is so for a prolonged period of time, a man with a heart to obey the principles of a marriage will find it impossible to do so with balance and health.
Likewise, it is deeply painful for a woman to submit herself and be vulnerable to man who does not care for her and love her as he ought. A man who would refuse to live in delightful communion with a warm and receptive spouse, who has set her heart in meek obedience to her God in her home to meet the needs of her husband as his helper and servant, is a creature that I do not understand. They do exist, I know, and I grieve for the dear sisters who suffer at their hands.
The story is told of one such godly woman, who cared deeply for her neglectful husband. One late night, when he was out with his friends at drink, and they each in turn spoke sarcastically of how angry their wives were for their obnoxious behavior, the husband boasted to his friends of his wife’s meekness and goodness to him, even claiming that if they all returned to his home at that unlawful hour of the night, that she would rise meekly, greet them pleasantly, and be profoundly gracious unto all of them. They did so, and to their great surprise, found that he was altogether correct. After dining pleasantly at her hand, as the night wore on, one of the men could not help but ask her, in the presence of them all, what moved her to such kindness. She responded earnestly and meekly, “I fear… that this is the only heaven… that my poor husband will ever know. I want to make it as pleasant as I can for him… before he dies… and it is gone.” It is said that her husband was converted shortly thereafter…
Proverbs 12:18 A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones.
While some in our day say that any troubles in a marriage are the husband’s fault, and would blame all divorces on the husband because he is the head of his wife, the Scripture describes two kinds of women who deeply affect the climate and health of a marriage.
A godly woman uplifts her husband and strengthens him, praying for him in his weaknesses and helping him where and when she can. She blends with him, encouraging and promoting him. To him she is a crown, for she makes him feel like a king in her life.
A woman who gives her strength to picking apart her husband, exposing his areas of weakness and sin, and provoking him to anger and foolishness with her constant battery of accusations and manipulations, undermines and defeats her husband from within. She is as a disease in the very marrow of his bones, robbing him of strength and capability until he utterly fails under her hand.
It is stupid foolishness to pretend that these two types of women are really one and the same spirit, just responding to the goodness or badness of the men in their lives. It is empty… some of the counsel we are hearing in this day.
Proverbs 12:18 There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health.
This is confirmation that verbal abuse can be on an equal parallel with any physical buse. Both men and women can cut each other up with their words, just as if they are using the blade of a sword. The only records we have in the Scripture of someone using words with this type of power are ungodly women who are manipulating men vulnerable to them. It has been shown to be nearly lethal. Just as women are not bound by the Word of God to endure the maiming physical abuse of their husbands, the liberty of husbands to put away wives who are given to such intense verbal abuse is consistently appropriate.
Proverbs 14:1 Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.
As a woman in her discontent keeps tearing at the walls of her home until it crumbles in upon her, so a woman who picks apart the mind, soul, and spirit of her husband in indiscriminate complaining and harassing will eventually find herself deeply alienated from her husband, divorced, or a widow.
Proverbs 18:21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.
This is continued reinforcement that the severity of the verbal abuse that some people perpetrate on others matches the most severe physical attacks. Words can mean the difference between life and death in a marriage. Those who love the ability to manipulate others with their words will eventually taste the bitter fruit themselves. For a man to put away his wife when she has given herself to this power in her life, when she has mauled him beyond his tolerance and repair… it should not be of any great surprise, nor resisted.
Proverbs 18:22 Whoso findeth a wife, findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favor of the LORD.
Not all married women are spiritual wives. One who is truly a wife, who in her heart longs to be the companion and helper of a man, who seeks to be this for her husband in her spirit, and who is disposed to this in her natural desires and in her temperament… Ahh! she is a rare and beautiful creature! She is in the sight of her LORD of great price. The heart of her husband can delightfully and safely trust in her. Anyone finding her is truly one who has obtained favor with the LORD.
Proverbs 19:13 A foolish son is the calamity of his father: and the contentions of a wife are a continual dropping.
A woman who has given herself to beating up her husband verbally and emotionally is like water torture to him, relentlessly pounding away at his manhood and self esteem in order to control him and dominate him. In some extreme cases of this, there is nothing a man can do to resist peaceably and effectively. Just as the dripping of the water wears away the rocks of stone, so any man’s heart will eventually weaken and break under the relentless abuse of an intolerable woman.
Proverbs 21:9 It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house.
It is better for the man to be alone than to dwell with a woman who is always quick to take up a fight with him. There will inevitably be days when he is tired and unable to handle her contentions, times when he is careless and insensitive with her. Every man needs a woman that is able to give and take. No one can continue to live in peace with someone who is absolutely intolerant of any imperfection in their spouse and who is constantly ready to accuse and attack whenever they find their partner weak. It is one thing for a godly wife to submit to the verbal force of her husband, even when he is wrong, and quiet herself, humbling herself and obeying him so long as he is not outlandishly commanding her to sin plainly against God. This is her normal, natural duty.
However, it is another thing altogether for a godly man to try to provide for, protect, and lead a family when his wife is given to abusing him relentlessly. He may not, in godly responsibility, sit back and let her lead him, catering to her desires and obeying her as she runs him around and breaks his spirit. He cannot deal with this abuse by being passive, obedient, and meek, as a woman can under similar stress. It is a different matter to be in leadership and to have one be regularly insubordinate in this manner. There are no organizations known to man that freely tolerate this type of rebellion in their infrastructure and function. There is nothing in the Scriptures that forbids a man from putting away such a wife and marrying another. It is not treachery to do so; it is simply healthy and wise.
Proverbs 21:19 It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and angry woman.
Perhaps for emphasis, the preceding thought is repeated again, here in another place with a new slant. There are very few such texts that are repeated in this way, and they are all to be regarded significantly. It really is better for a husband to leave a woman who is given to strife in her home. It is better to dwell alone, as in a wilderness with no company at all, than to deal with the contentions of such a person in intimacy. Yet, even this dwelling alone is not good for the husband in general, for it is not good that a man should be alone. However, living with a contentious woman is worse. When a man feels that his options are to live alone without the gift of celibacy, or to deal with this type of abuse, it can drive him to abusive behavior to try to bring his wife under control and obedience. God does not hate a man putting away such an obnoxious woman, and remarrying another, any more than He hates a woman walking away from a husband that has permanently maimed her or who has starved her nearly to death and remarrying another man: it is not an expression of treachery to do so, it is natural wisdom and self preservation.
Proverbs 25:24 It is better to dwell in the corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman and in a wide house.
A third time? Find it again! anywhere in the Scriptures!! When such repetition is found, it indicates profound truth that must find its way into our minds and hearts. It is plain to anyone who is willing to see it. There are no companion texts describing similarly abusive husbands.
Proverbs 27:15 A continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike. Whosoever hideth her hideth the wind, and the ointment of his right hand, which bewrayeth itself.
A contentious wife is a deep embarrassment to her husband. Regardless of how he tries to cover her up, please her, or work with her, he will be confounded and disappointed by her constant badgering and manipulations. It is better for him to let her go, part from her, and live in peace.
Proverbs 30:21-23 For three things the earth is disquieted, and for four which it cannot bear: For a servant when he reigneth; and a fool when he is filled with meat; for an odious woman when she is married; and an handmaid that is heir to her mistress.
The text speaks plainly. Let no man pretend that he can tame an odious woman in a marriage. Apart from a fantastic intervention and miracle of God, she will undo him. As in a contest with Leviathan, let him remember the battle, and do no more. It is beyond his strength to endure her in uprightness. Let him realistically plan otherwise.
Ecclesiastes 7:26-8 And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her. Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account: which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found.
There is certainly a time when divorce is not a matter of treachery, lust, selfishness, or unfaithfulness, such as when a man has become bound to a woman that fits the above description. It is appropriate for a man to seek to be delivered from such a woman in the pleasure of God, through the freedom provided in divorce. It is an unusual man that will be able to divorce a woman only after truly giving her ample time to repent and live peaceably with him, working with her in patience and humility for a number of years, without being unreasonably harsh toward her in her rebellion towards him, without conforming to her ungodliness, and without breaking and yielding up his manhood to her to do with him as she pleases.
Solomon observes, after examining thousands of marriages, that most every man who becomes involved with such a woman will either put her away too quickly in treachery and selfishness, or be taken, overcome, and eventually destroyed by her. A godly man who is walking with the Lord will be delivered from such a woman as this in uprightness and holiness. A man with this type of uprightness and integrity in God is exceedingly rare, though, and will only be found in one among a thousand. A woman with a comparable heart to this is even more rare, such that no women of this caliber would be expected to surface in random samples of perhaps even tens of thousands of women: Solomon had, in fact… never met a single one.
Jeremiah 3:1 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 has played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the LORD.
God emaphasizes the great wickedness of the remarriage of a properly divorced couple being reunited after an intermediate marriage. This single act would greatly pollute the culture of the nation. God seldom describes wickedness with such intensity: this is a truly terrible sin. But Israel has done worse: like a woman who has been unfaithful to her husband, giving herself to many other men as an harlot, only to find that she is only really satisfied in her first husband. In her longing for him, she wishes to return to him, expecting Him to take her back. This also, apparently, is an abomination to the LORD.
Jeremiah 3:20 Surely as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have ye dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel, saith the LORD.
God continues the comparison of His people to the adulteries and treachery of unfaithfulness in marriage. As a wife departs from her husband treacherously, which is always the case unless she has grounds according to the law, so the Jews have departed from their Lord without proper ground for doing so. This is enlightening; an unrighteous departure from a marriage is considered treachery.
The picture of God’s marriage and divorce is unveiled. The Jewish people are God’s first wife… and they never have gotten along with Him very well. God’s wife has left Him without cause, and she has even divorced Him.
Hosea 2:7 And she shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them: then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now.
The Jewish people, God’s first wife, having divorced their God to find spiritual satisfaction among false gods and following after them, will one day return to God and seek Him.
Hosea 2:23 And I will sow her unto me in the earth; and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God.
While God’s first wife, the Jewish nation, is out looking around for another husband, God will take a wife of the Gentile people and be incredibly merciful to her. This second wife of God will be such that she has never known the love and affection of a husband. It seems that this second woman is a reject of some type, whom no one else has wanted. He becomes a rich blessing to her, the husband of her dreams. The Gentiles will have a time of intimate union with God, and glory deeply in Him as her Husband, while Israel continues in rebellion against Him, being blinded by her own adulteries. When this time is through, and the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled, God will be restored to His first wife: she will return to Him in humility and repentance, He will receive her graciously, and He will forgive her treachery.
Malachi 2:14b-16 The LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou has dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.
Continuing the above thought on treachery in marriage, the Lord here reveals His heart at the lightness with which the Jews have come to view their own marriage covenants, and He reprimands them sternly. His blunt dealing with them is to expose the treachery of their hearts as they deal with their own wives. They have been dealing treacherously against their wives, even God-fearing wives, and counting marriage as a thing to be easily discarded at the expense of their own selfish whims. In doing this they are destroying the substance of the life of their nation, and robbing the institution of marriage of the purpose for which it is given to them.
One of the Lord’s purposes in making a man and woman one in a marriage is to have them rear godly children and promote a godly nation. He purposes that men should give their hearts to becoming one with their wives in trying to dwell with them in godliness and righteousness. He has created Woman to be the companion and helper of Man, but the Jews have taken advantage of this and are dealing with their wives in open contempt, putting them away for paltry offenses and mistakes, having totally forgotten their own place in their homes as the heads and protectors of their loving help meets. God hates this spirit in men of putting away their women and tearing up their homes in order to further their own selfishness ways. The men here are dealing treacherously against their wives, divorcing them without due cause. Having forgotten the spirit of the law, in their selfish blindness they are killing the hearts and souls of themselves and their loved ones with the freedom they perceive in the letter of the law.
Perhaps it would be inferred from this passage that the Lord hates divorce in general, and that He is never in favor of it. This begs the question of why the LORD gave commands concerning how divorce should be carried out and under what conditions. He does this with no other evil that is hateful to Him, but strictly forbids evil in His people. This position that the Lord hates all divorce for any reason whatsoever would appear to be at odds with the revelation that we have seen in the Scriptures concerning the principles of divorce. What the LORD hates he does not tolerate in His people, but rebukes them for it.
What appears to be correct, and a more consistent view of this text with the other texts that we have seen, is that God hates a divorcing spirit, a tendency for men to use the freedom to divorce lightly and selfishly to further their own ungodly desires without considering the welfare of all those involved. It is in the context of treachery that God hates divorce. Certainly, there are times when divorce is not done in the spirit of treachery, when it is pleasing to the Lord and acceptable to Him, as in the case of Ahasuerus and Vashti, or in the unequal and harmful marriages which were broken for good, under the pleasure and guidance of the LORD through Ezra and Nehemiah. Women beaten beyond recognition by abusive men and marred by them, men who are driven near to insanity by the relentlessly penetrating verbal lashings of their wives, men and women that are sexually defrauded by cold, selfish mates… these situations are an altogether different matter. One should not construe the text to say any differently, as though the Lord hates all divorces, for any reason, without exception.
Matthew 5:31-32 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: but I say unto thou, that whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.
In light of what we have seen in the Old Testament this is perhaps a difficult passage to handle properly. It is significant that the New Testament begins in this way, certainly, at the very least, taking down any covering for a loose application of divorce.
To begin, let us remember:
—  God has forbidden His people to commit adultery. (Ex 20:14).
—  God says a properly divorced woman may be another man’s wife. (De 24:2).
—  God cannot contradict what He’s already told His people. (Malachi 3:6).
If it is unholy for a man to marry a properly divorced woman that he had not previously taken as a wife, God would not have permitted this in His Law. If it were wrong at the time of Christ to do so, it would have been wrong in the time of Moses. We must hold to this tightly if we are to handle the text properly.
To begin, we consider the opening remark: Jesus considers those who are well known to have applied the provision given for divorce in the Law in an inappropriate way. These were the Pharisees, as we learn from other passages, such as Matthew 19:3. They were teaching that men had freedom to divorce their wives at a whim and be perfectly consistent with God’s pattern for marriage. Their only concern was that the formal legal requirement for a written decree be satisfied. This context of the Lord’s teaching should be used to guide one’s application of the truths presented.
As we enter the body of the text, we note the plain statement that fornication is grounds for divorce: a man, thinking he has taken a virgin to wife, who finds his wife to be impure when they wed may put her away in uprightness if he so chooses. This was the case of Joseph and Mary when he discovered her supernatural pregnancy: he “being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.” (Matt 1:19) Joseph would have been wise and upright in divorcing Mary had she been unfaithful to him during their betrothal.
Beyond this condition, God is clearly stating that a man may not put his wife away without becoming the occasion of an adulterous situation: someone will become guilty of adultery when the divorced woman remarries. This does at first seem to counter the liberty God has given to husbands to put their wives away. How should one reconcile this?
Simply, though God has formally given men liberty to divorce their wives, He does not intend for them to use it except in cases of fornication, or in situations where the devastation and brokenness induced in the marriage is equivalent to the damage done via fornication. In the phrase, “except it be for fornication,” we have the implied concept of the impossibility of reconciliation.
When God gives guidelines in matters of life, He does not always give them exhaustively, but generally by means of a pattern. For instance, when giving the command, “Thou shalt not covet,” in Exodus 20:17, He did not list all possible things that should not be coveted. God did not list sheep, vineyards, children, or clothing, yet we know that such things are included in the concept of “anything that is thy neighbor’s” by example and inference. When God gives directives, they are most often accompanied by example and narrative to clarify them, give them fullness, and enable our general application of them. When clarification is not needed and God’s intent is easily understood, it is not provided: “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain,” needs no explanation or elaboration. (Exodus 20:7a) Motivation in divorce is not so clearly defined and is accompanied by a myriad of examples, instructions, and elaborations. We must harmonize and integrate them all to have a sound approach and attitude.
Essentially, if there is any particle of hope for a marriage, any faint trace of warmth and unity remaining between a husband and his wife, the husband should remain committed to the marriage and seek with all his heart to love and cherish and live at peace with his wife. In the case of fornication, permanent and irrecoverable damage is done to marital unity. Though such sins can certainly be forgiven and marital harmony restored, God concedes the fact that this may not be the case with all men: some men are framed in such a way that this is unreasonable to demand of them. Sexual sin is not the only possible cause of such devastation, however. If similar conditions arise in the context of a marriage that bring such a permanent and irreconcilable devastation to marital harmony, only then is divorce to be considered. Such was the case with Ahasuerus and Vashti, and with the men who had married strange wives under Ezra and Nehemiah. There are no cases in the Word where a man put a wife away in lightness, all were cases of irretrievable and irreconcilable brokenness.
Further, when a man marries a woman who is merely separated from her husband, this has the same affect as adultery. It permanently mars and defiles the previous marriage. If the previous marriage has not been appropriately ended according to the Law, as in this context in Matthew, there is no court that can decree the dissolution of the marriage before God: He still recognizes this marriage. A man marrying such a woman does indeed commit adultery for he defiles an existing marriage that is still recognized by God. This initial marriage with the first husband will always be recognized by God until the appropriate closure is made; until that time any man who has relations with this woman will continue to commit adultery so long as he does. The only way he can properly respond is to break off his relations with her, even if he has married her. Such a marriage is not recognized as legitimate and should be promptly ended.
If the previous marriage has been appropriately ended, in the context of something equivalent to fornication or adultery, then there is no existing marriage to defile, and the woman’s remarriage is therefore not an adulterous act per se. Yet even the sanctioned remarriage of a properly divorced woman has the same defiling affect as adultery in that it brings permanent legal closure to the previous marriage and should be taken soberly as such a step. If there is any question at all about the legitimacy of the previous / existing marriage, remarriage should be avoided as an adulterous act. This is particularly the case when the woman has initiated the divorce herself; righteous ground for her doing so is quite limited.
If divorce is pursued by a husband in lightness, outside the intent of God’s design in marriage, the irretrievable breaking of the marriage occurring when the divorced woman remarries will lie at the feet of the divorcing husband. Men that discard marriage outside the intent of God’s design are guilty of causing this adultery. In this regard, a man should not receive a divorced woman as a wife unless he is absolutely certain that God has sanctioned the woman’s divorce, that it is in accordance with the spirit and letter of the Law, that she is therefore free to remarry in wholesomeness and that this woman was not the causing agent in the divorce.
The closing statement of Jesus in the above text, that anyone marrying a divorced woman is committing adultery, must also be considered carefully. Given that God has clearly allowed properly divorced women to remarry, and since He has also forbidden adultery, how does one reconcile this?
To interpret the text as a “higher standard” than the “Law of Moses,” as many will surely do, is to claim that the Law is not “holy and just and good.” (Rom 7:12) This is simply not an option: God would never provide anyone with guidance or instruction that is substandard, unhealthy or unholy.
Rather, the context suggests here that the “her that is divorced” is not just any woman who is divorced, but actually a man’s ex wife, one whom he has formally divorced in the past and who has since remarried and been divorced again. Such a woman is no longer eligible to remarry her former husband and Jesus is stating that any reconcilliation of such a relationship is adulterous.
This revelation is certainly consistent with the OT principles, and enhances our understanding of them rather than contradicting them. If a man wishes to be reconciled to such a woman it reveals that he should never have divorced her in the first place, that his initial action in putting her away was adulterous. The OT does not clearly call this type of behavior adultery, but such truth would naturally be derived from meditating on the Law, and truly understanding the principles involved. Here, as in much of Christ’s elaboration on such things, He is doing exactly this: exposing the spirit and intent of His Law in order to help us understand its truly spiritual and holy nature.
Matthew 19:3-9 The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female. And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.
This passage concludes with exactly the same type of context as that of Matthew 5 above. Jesus is addressing the same type of error with the same truth. The comments relevant to Matthew 5 are therefore also relevant here. The initial part of the text is somewhat unique, and gives further insight into the slant and agenda of the Pharisees.
The Pharisees want to justify themselves and what they are promoting, which is a spirit of contempt for women, and a devaluing of the place of women in the home. They teach that it is proper for a man to put away his wife for any trivial matter that strikes him as appropriate. See this in their emphasis, “for every cause.” In doing so, they miss the entire point of the marriage relationship, reducing it to a form of uncertain employment for women.
To correct their error, Jesus goes back to the fundamental principle of marriage, that Man and Woman have become one flesh in the marriage, and that they both should be striving for oneness in heart and mind as well. Once God has joined two people together in a marriage like this, this oneness should not be neglected, laid aside, or destroyed. God recognizes when this oneness has been destroyed in a marriage and makes appropriate provision for the dismantling of the formal relationship in His Law. Marriage should be respected as His creation and not discarded in carnal selfishness. As a general rule, marriages are to remain in tact if it is at all reasonable to do so, even if the marriage is less than completely satisfactory (as most all marriages are). Mutual love of a husband and wife for one another will cause them to work through their differences and difficulties in a spirit of mutual commitment and loyalty. This is the spirit of the Law, and is contrary to what the Pharisees are promoting.
To counter Him, the Pharisees point out that Moses has indeed given a command for husbands to put away their wives, and that the husband is to seal the divorce by giving the wife a writing of divorcement. They reason that if God intends for men to be serious about being one with their wives, He would not have given men the freedom to divorce their wives like this. Since He does give them this liberty, they argue, it must be true that it is not necessary for men to love their wives; they claim that it must be appropriate to use women as mere conveniences.
Jesus does not deny the truth that He has indeed given the command for men to put away their wives in certain cases, but instead He explains His purpose in doing so, and how different His intention is from what the Pharisees were attempting to justify. In this case, the command is given for the welfare and mutual benefit of the woman and the man when the husband’s heart becomes deeply hardened toward his wife. This is given for extreme cases of conflict and brokenness in the context of the Fall, as in the context of fornication and adultery, and is not to be blithely used to violate the purpose of the marriage relationship. In extremely broken circumstances it is required for the man to put his wife away. In the spirit of the Law a husband will be unable to do this lightly if he is honoring the principle of being one flesh with his wife from his heart. Anyone taking the commandment lightly and using the letter of it to achieve the effect of adultery, as the Pharisees were doing, is guilty of breaking the spirit of the Law.
If a man is not deeply committed to trying to live in harmony and peace with his wife, willing to go to great lengths to become one with her in his heart and spirit, he is missing the entire point of the design of God in his marriage and is walking in a spirit of disobedience. To give up on this effort and put one’s wife away, and thereby encourage her to remarry another man, is to be done only after all other possibilities and efforts to become one with her in heart and spirit have been exhausted, after much deliberate thought and consideration, not hastily and in anger, or in a context of trying to obtain another woman. Whenever it is done, it is to be done in purity without reservation or hesitation. This action is considered permanent and irrevocable with the certain expectation that the woman will become committed to another man, blocking all legal access to the restoration of the relationship.
In this text, both Jesus Christ and the Pharisees refer to the Law of God as “Moses.” Some would suggest by this reference that the provision for divorce and remarriage given in the Law was not genuinely from the Lord, or that it is not good. The suggestion is implied that this provision was merely added by Moses himself because of the hardness of the people’s hearts and that Jesus is now saying this law was not really from God, that it was less than holy and proper to apply it.
God clearly and sternly rebukes such additions to its content, “Every word of God is pure… Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee and thou be found a liar.” (Proverbs 30:5-6) It is God Himself that makes this provision for divorce and remarriage, not merely Moses. This is easily seen by going back and reading the Law: in doing so we find that Moses did not fabricate the Law — it is the “Law of the Lord.” (Ps 19:7) In doing so, God is holy and just and good in it: “The law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.” (Romans 7:12) Jesus is not saying that divorce and remarriage is never proper, he is condemning the lightness and treachery and lust that the Pharisees had woven into their practice of it.
Matthew 19:10-12 His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry. But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.
The disciples reacted to the teaching of Jesus Christ in the matter of divorce and remarriage with surprise and consternation. Realizing how difficult it is to become one with their spouses, they felt intimidated by the injunction to be deeply determined in it. They apparently preferred celibacy to this. Jesus agreed with them in their reaction from the standpoint that being single allows some men to focus on serving God without the distractions of matrimony, but He implies that most men are not able to remain single in a healthy manner and cannot receive their saying. Only men who do not have the natural sex drive are able to function outside of marriage with some level of health and balance; all others will be more distracted by their lack of intimacy with a woman than by their struggle to become one with a wife. To such men, the struggle to be one with their wives is appropriate, but not legalistically confining. They should give it their very best in the uprightness and integrity of their hearts. The provision for divorce and remarriage is given for the protection and benefit of the upright in heart should any marriage become intolerable and destructive. The children of God are not expected to live in frustration and loneliness if their first marriage fails for reasons beyond their control, as expressed in the liberty given in the Law.
Mark 6:17-19 For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife: for he had married her. For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife. Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not.
Here is an example of God’s Law as it applies to an illegitimate marriage. King Herod had taken a woman, Herodias, which belonged to another man, his own brother. God relates the facts of the case to us consistently with His Law, referring to Herodias as the wife of Phillip even though she had already divorced her husband and consumated her adulterous marriage with the king.
John the Baptist recognizes that this unholy union is inconsistent with God’s Law and applies this Law as binding upon all people, non-Jews as well as Jews. John insists that this marriage be broken and Herodias restored to her husband, even though Heriodias was the queen, deeply offended by John’s stand and sought to kill him for taking it.
John did not seek to preserve all existing marriages with an understanding that marriage is an unconditional covenant, as evangelicals do. Fundamental evangelical teaching encourages Herod and Herodias to express repentance for committing adultery with each other when they wed, break soul ties with their former spouses and then continue on their merry way. This teaching reduces repentance to a formality that does not result in a change of behavior that is consistent with righteousness, but rather encourages the continuation of an adulterous condition. John, however, knew nothing of this foolishness. Neither does God.
Repentance means to cease from ungodly behavior. If a marital relationship begins in adultery there is no amount of time passing that will change its fundamental nature or cause God to begin to approve of such a relationship. If the marriage is not born in righteousness it cannot live on in righteousness: God does not change His mind about who a woman should be faithful to simply because she makes an adulterous marital promise to be faithful to another man and persists in this ungodliness over time. Any woman who has departed from a marriage unlawfully and remarried should terminate this second marriage and return to her true husband. The presence of children from the second marriage is painfully inconvenient… but truly irrelevant.
Mark 10:2-12 And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him. And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of you heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation God make them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband and be married to another, she committeth adultery.
This same event is recorded again in Mark for our reference. The previous comments are relevant. Additionally we note that a husband may commit adultery against his wife by himself defiling and breaking up his own marriage. This occurs when he puts his wife away for the purpose of obtaining a different woman as a wife. One may not deduce from this that polygamy is adultery, however, since if the husband does not put away his wife but simply marries again, he has not defiled his relationship with his first wife to the same degree. Admittedly, a polygamous man has indeed violated the general spirit and intentions of the marriage relationship, but as we have seen, this is not considered by God to be adultery, and it is not against the general lenience of God, being permitted and at times encouraged by God.
Also, a woman that puts her husband away and remarries commits adultery against him. There are no provisions in the Law allowing a woman to put away her husband. A woman may only be set free by proper authority when she has been severely abused or neglected.
In any case, for the husband or the wife, divorce is not to be used as a license to escape the duty of selfless effort in a marital relationship. Those men who are not giving of themselves to walk in peace and harmony with their wives are ignoring God’s purpose in their marriages. God’s provision of divorce is only intended for those men who continue to fail drastically to see peace in their homes because of ungodly wives — and then only after repeated and prolonged efforts in their homes, or for those women who are severely neglected or abused by their husbands. Anyone using such provision for selfish or lustful ends in breaking up even a minimally functional home, contrary to the spirit and letter of the Law, is walking in a spirit of adultery.
Luke 16:18 The Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him. And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God. The law and the prophets were until John; since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail. Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.
Similar to the above, this is spoken directly to the Pharisees when they are mocking Jesus Christ. They are such that they want to appear just and pure in heart before men when their hearts are covetous and adulterous deep within, yet His teaching is exposing their hypocrisy. Their mastery is in taking the letter of the Law and twisting the application of it until the spirit in which the Law has been given is rendered ineffective. The Pharisees give themselves to ignoring the Scriptures which reveal the broad principles of the life of God, and focus on the mechanics of the Mosaic Law in order to build their hypocritical religion.
As they seek to defend their spirit of covetousness, Jesus reminds them of the spirit of marriage, which is fundamentally incompatible with covetousness, being based on a spirit of love and self-sacrifice. He drives at their selective ceremonial observances of the Law and reminds them that the whole counsel of God is to be taken to heart. It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for any one small particle of the Law to fail, including the principle of one flesh between a husband and wife, as well as the laws concerning divorce and remarriage. He reminds them of the balance that God intends for their own health and well being. Since they have twisted God’s provision for divorce to their own hurt in such devastating ways, God’s intent in the relationship of marriage is used to drive His point home to them .
Acts 13:46 Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.
Here is the acting out and completing of the divorce of the Jews from God, and the beginning of the receiving of the Gentile people as His second wife. It was the Jewish wife that put her holy Husband away, not God which put her away. He would not continue to strive with her and wait on her. He let her go and took a new bride.
The Jews will never be free to marry another god, because the true God, her first Husband, has never put her away… she has left Him without cause. He will be willing to receive her back to Himself when she comes to herself at the end of the age, after she has spent herself in seeking fulfillment elsewhere. Until then, He will be a blessing to a lonely, broken woman who appreciates Him and adores Him as her only true Husband. She is one who joys in the blindness of this first wife, because it freed Him – the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob — to be her eternal Lover.
Romans 7:1-3 Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth: For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.
We have above, all throughout this present work, written plainly, every law which God has given concerning divorce and remarriage. God is speaking in this particular text to those who know these laws very well, and who have considered the spirit and intent of these laws thoroughly many times. It is striking to note that the Law referred to here does not formally exist as a single law. One may freely read the Law as it was given and no such law, binding a woman to her husband until death, will be found explicitly.
This principle, that the woman is bound by the Law to her husband so long as he lives, and that she is free to remarry only when he dies, is never explicitly stated anywhere in the Old Testament. It is inferred from the laws that are given, which we have noted above, and it is properly derived from them. This is how God meant for the Law to be used, and God uses the Law this way here, through Paul. God uses this interpreted principle to illustrate the relationship between the Law and the Spirit in the life of the believer.
The illustration is in the power of the marital law, that the Law does not respect or regard the feelings or emotional needs of the woman in her marital desires. There is no way for the woman to be free of this law unless she can show that her husband has significantly and permanently harmed her in some way through abuse or neglect. With any reasonably upright man, she will never be able to do this regardless how she feels towards him. She will only be delivered from her marriage to him in his death.
God uses this example of the Law to show how the Law binds us to the guilt of our sin nature, requiring death of us before it will let go of our guilt for having broken it. When the Law is legally satisfied by the death of Christ on our behalf, it no longer has a claim to make us feel fearfully guilty for having broken it, and we are free to love and serve God without fear of being rejected by Him as we fail Him along the way. This truth will serve as a review of what we have seen already.
Only under certain instances can a woman come to the place where her husband is no longer her husband. One can plainly note that the Law openly permits a woman to be married to another man if a man who was at one time her husband… her former husband (De 24:4) is still alive. This is when the authority of the husband over the wife has been properly broken under very extenuating circumstances. So long as a man is properly the husband of a woman, she is not free to leave him: his authority must be voluntarily cast aside or be removed by a higher authority.
The Law plainly says that if the husband puts away his wife, she may go and be married to another man. The Law does not say that to marry such a divorced woman is to commit adultery and it does not call her an adulteress for remarrying if she has been properly divorced. In this case the woman no longer has a husband, and therefore cannot be bound to one, and so is free to marry another man without committing adultery.
The parting of a husband and wife is a type of death, a ripping apart of a one-flesh entity as if one or both spouses have died. The severity of the abuse or neglect, or the depth of the displeasure that is present in the relationship should be of this magnitude and reflect the severity of death. In this spirit, the very specific instances that result in the wife being freed of her husband through proper authority for severe abuse or neglect are profoundly severe, indicating the death of the potential of the relationship. So long as the husband wishes for his wife to remain with him and is willing to provide her basic needs in any minimal sense, she may not leave him before he dies. A marriage is never to be broken lightly, merely for the sake of convenience or pleasure. It is a perfect picture of how the moral requirements of God hold us in guilt and fear until there is a death in the relationship that sets us free from them.
Without this authority of the husband being properly annulled according to the Law, for a woman to depart from her husband and remarry is for her to commit adultery. She may not pursue a divorce herself without the godly consent of the community at large, and cannot otherwise present herself to another man as a wife without being an adulteress. The Law binds her to her husband as long as he is alive in this manner; there are no other provisions in the Law for a woman to be free from her husband so long as he is alive. She is only free to remarry if her husband has put her away or has been severely abusive to her.
If a woman does depart from her husband, attempt to create a state of divorce from him and remarry another man while her husband is still alive apart from these conditions, she is properly called an adulteress and treated as such for as long as she continues in this state. God does not recognize a state of divorce apart from His Law regardless what the laws of an ungodly culture will allow; God has not given government or religion authority to define either divorce or marriage, only to acknowledge and enforce these states as He has defined them. Thus, a woman who seeks to divorce her husband and remarry another apart from God’s Law fails to end her marital relationship with her husband and actually remains married in God’s sight to him regardless of her efforts to end her marriage.
Repentance from such an adulterous relationship implies that it is to be immediately terminated, regardless how long the relationship has persisted or whether children have been born from it. The relationship was condemned by God as it was contemplated, as it was consummated, and for its duration: there is no period of transition during which an adulterous relationship becomes legitimate. Under God’s civil law a couple in this state, where the woman does not having a written divorce decree from her husband, lives in a continuous state of adultery and both of them remain subject to the death penalty in God’s economy as long as her husband lives. This provides additional closure to the fact that a woman is not permitted to have more than one husband, as in the provision of polygamy for men, under any circumstance.
Note that the converse is not said to be true, that the Law binds a man to his wife so long as she lives. There is no hint in any of the laws we have observed that this is so. It is not so. A man is not bound to the marriage in the same way that the woman is, but is free to decide to end the marriage and free his wife to marry another if that is his desire. He should only do so if she finds no favor in his eyes at all, and he finds that he has a deep hatred for her. Once he does so, having put her away from him and she does become the property of another man, it is an abomination for him to have her again. A flippant and careless attitude on a husband’s part in this matter is condemned by the direct teachings of Christ as being the spirit of adultery. A husband thinking to put away his wife is to exercise this freedom with the utmost discretion, integrity and purity. He will generally only exercise this when he finds that he is married to a deeply rebellious woman who has given herself to the defiance of God in her life.
Romans 7:4 Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.
This text continues the expression of the fact that God has a new wife in the Gentile bride. The gentile believers are married to God and bring forth beautiful fruit for God from their marriage to Him. This beauty is not evident in the former marriage of God with the Jews.
Romans 9:25 As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved.
God explains the reality behind the picture of His allowance of divorce and remarriage. The Jews have left God such that they are no longer His wife, but they are still beloved of Him and are still His people – He never put them away but He let them leave Him. While she is gone, God has a second wife which has never been loved by anyone else. God finds beauty in her that no one else has ever seen. He takes her to Himself and calls her His own, and loves her deeply.
Romans 10:19 But I say, Did not Israel know: First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you.
Why is God receiving Gentiles now? What is the relationship of these chosen few to Him and to Israel? God extends the historical picture and fulfillment of His own experience in this recollection of His own words to Israel through Moses. Israel had been clearly warned that God would take another bride if they forsook Him. She did not heed this warning and left Him anyway, and are without excuse. God now provokes Israel to jealousy and anger with the beauty of a second marriage to a foolish woman, one that seems unwise for Him to love… the Gentile bride. She is made of the lowliest, the poorest, the most foolish and despised remnants of the world. “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things with are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in His presence.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)
Romans 11:11 I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.
God continues in explanation of the reality behind the picture of His allowance of divorce and remarriage. The Jews have stumbled in their marriage with God in order to provide an opportunity for the Gentiles to enjoy Him. This dear Gentile bride finds something in the God of Israel that the Jews have never seen. This formerly unloved woman is completely satisfied with Him. The Jews however, having never walked with Him or obeyed Him, found no delight in Him and were a continual vexation of His Spirit. They were constantly trying to get out of the marriage, and looking for ways to escape their duty to Him in their relationship with Him. They finally divorced Him to pursue their own stubborn wantonness.
God allows this in order to know a wife among the Gentiles. He, since the pattern of monogamy is the picture of His own committed loyal Heart, is not free receive a second wife until the Jews utterly fall from the marriage by leaving Him and putting Him away. They do so, and free Him, making His Heart available for a second marriage. The Gentiles seek Him, and He has found them: together they are enjoying a delightful marriage relationship. The Gentiles and God both find in each other what they have been longing for. God finds beauty in His second bride that He never saw in Israel, and loves her deeply. In rapturous love she worships Him and obeys Him even in difficulty — in profound ways that far surpass the commitment of the Jews. Their love for one another is deep and strong, and they are profoundly satisfied together. The Jews observe this and are filled with envy and jealousy. They begin to wonder what they have lost, what they have given away. Their attention is finally focused on Him again at the end of the age, and they are somehow reconciled to Him without disturbing the quality of the Gentile experience with Him. This is the reality – and the mystery — of God’s marital life: the two somehow become one. During the outworking of the details in between this divorce and reunion, there is nothing improper about His role, or the role of His Gentile bride. The fault, and the Gentile opportunity, can be laid entirely at the feet of the rebellious Jewish bride.
1 Corinthians 7 Here we have a full-bodied explanation of the duty and principles of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Through Paul, God sets forth robust teaching in accordance with Old Testament principles to guide believers in their practice of the principles of marriage, divorce, and remarriage.
1 Corinthians 7:1 Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: it is good for a man not to touch a woman.
God begins by stating what would seem obvious, that remaining single is a good thing for those who can live that way. There is nothing improper about this. Though Man thrives best in a wholesome marriage, the Fall has made it such that it is somewhat better to remain alone when the gift of celibacy is present.
1 Corinthians 7:2-5 Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.
While it is not improper to be single, most people are not able to live in a healthy way without a spouse. Such people should be married, every such man having his own wife and every such woman having her own husband. The principle is carefully stated for both the benefit of the husband and wife, giving support to the fact that women are vulnerable to temptation when defrauded by their husbands in the same manner that men are vulnerable. God’s provision for divorce when a woman is defrauded sexually in a marriage is given full support here. Both the husband and wife are to consider the other’s needs in the marriage and see that the other is satisfied sexually and emotionally in the oneness of their marriage. Neither is to withhold physical relations or godly affection from the other without the other’s consent, and then only for the expressed purpose of extended fasting and prayer. To limit the physical intimacy of the relationship for any other purpose is to give ground to Satan to tempt the defrauded spouse into fornication and adultery.
This is further confirmation that it is healthy and proper for most people to be in a monogamous relationship, even if properly divorced, as opposed to forcing singleness on those who have been defrauded by an evil spouse. This provision for the remarriage of such properly divorced persons is important to maintain purity in the church and the general health and balance of the saints. Those who are living outside this context without the proper gifts of celibacy are vulnerable to the sin of adultery and fornication. They are not required to do so.
1 Corinthians 7:6-9 But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment. For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I.
God’s instruction here is not in the way of a command, but a type of permission. He is not telling everyone that they have to be married, He is rather saying that it is fine if they do marry. Actually, Paul, whom God spoke through here, would have preferred that more people were like himself, without the natural sex drive and able to live without a spouse in a healthy way. Paul was not constantly plagued by sexual desire and wantonness, and found that being in the presence of attractive women was not an issue with him at all. He was able to control his thoughts and desires and channel them appropriately without the experience of physical intimacy in marriage. He recognizes that this is a gift that not everyone has. For anyone having this gift, it is good for them if they chose to remain single.
1 Corinthians 7:9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.
However, for those without this gift, who feel the desire burning in their breasts to be physically and emotionally close to someone, it is proper for them to marry. Burning is not healthy, and it is not something that is to be overcome through an extended effort of the will. Those without this gift of celibacy find that they “cannot” contain themselves in an upright way outside the context of marriage. It is a matter of spiritual gift, not a matter of the mind or of the will, and trying to live outside of a gift is to ask for trouble. In all the fabric of their being such saints want to be married, for that is how their Lord has designed and gifted them.
1 Corinthians 7:10-11 But unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.
Here Paul repeats the Lord’s command, implied directly from the Old Testament Law, that the wife is not to depart from her husband with an intention to remarry another man, other than what is plainly allowed in the Law. If she happens to depart for reasons which are not allowed in the Law, she is to depart with the intention to remain single. She is not free to remarry unless her husband puts her away or severely abuses her; she must stay with her husband so long as he is pleased to dwell with her decently and give to her the proper duty of a husband in their marriage.
A woman who has initiated a separation from her husband without due cause, having violated his authority herself by carnally taking matters into her own hands outside the provisions for divorce allowed in the Law, is not in a freed condition and is still under moral bondage to her husband according to the Law; she has divorced him and she is willfully defrauding him so long as he is willing to receive her back into his home. This is true even if he has remarried, since it is lawful for him to have more than one wife. As long as her husband is willing to receive her and care for her, she is free to return to him, so such a woman remains alone by her own stubborn choice. Her husband, under these conditions, is not required by any ethical or moral law to remain alone waiting for her, struggling against the natural desire that he has to be married. Certainly, if he is able to do so and wishes to wait patiently for her, he is free to pursue this by the grace of God.
To husbands, God indicates that they are generally not to put away their wives. That this forbids a husband to put away a contentious and rebellious wife at all, as in the case of Ahasuerus and Vashti, is not to be understood here. His teaching is a continuance of the spirit of the principles given in the Scriptures, not an altering of them. Husbands are not to initiate the separation and breakup of their homes, as the Pharisees were doing, but are to seek for the health and balance of God’s blessing in their homes with all diligence in a selfless and Christ-imitating manner. If separation is initiated and maintained by the wife the husband must seek God for wisdom in how to respond, whether to divorce her himself, remarry or remain single and await her repentance.
A man who has departed from his wife, for whatever reason, and has put her away, has released her from her “bondage” to him and to the marriage so that she is free to remarry. Such a woman is free to remarry, or to wait on her husband to receive her back again into his home. She is under no obligation whatsoever to be reconciled with him should he change his mind about leaving her and want to return to her. Once he has put her away, she may remarry or remain single for as long as she likes if that is her pleasure. Should she at any time choose to marry another, she is finally closing the door on her first marriage and submitting to the authority of another man, such that this former marriage bond will never be opened to either one of them again.
1 Corinthians 7:12-14 But to the speak I, not the Lord: if any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
Paul now steps outside of the revelation of the Lord in the Law, and extends the principle of the Law in the spiritual lives of believers. His instruction is nothing that is unexpected, it is just a statement that is not overtly present in the Law. Paul is simply giving instruction that encourages retaining the integrity of the home when an unbeliever is present and is pleased to stay. He is guarding against a spirit of dissolution that might come between unequally yoked spouses due to the vast differences in the marriage over their respective spiritual conditions. Such divorces or separations are not to be initiated by believing spouses. While this is formally outside the context of the Law since the Law does not deal with people on a truly spiritual plane, this principle is entirely consistent with the Law, even with the instructions of Ezra and Nehemiah who encouraged the separation of Israeli families under conditions where the heathen spouse was not pleased to dwell in a home founded on righteousness.
Whether the individuals in each marriage are actually believers in the sense that Abraham or David are eternally saved is an issue that is not dealt with directly in the Law. Hence Paul’s statement that God has not formally addressed this. Paul is speaking to this specific issue now in the Lord, and is merely instructing believers that God is not displeased with unequal marriages of believers and unbelievers simply because they are an unequal yoke in this eternal sense. Paul, and evidently God Himself also, is encouraging each believing spouse to respect the integrity and purity of their marriage and to continue to minister to their unbelieving spouse so long as the unbeliever is pleased to stay in the home.
1 Corinthians 7:15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.
When an unbeliever and a believer are married, the unbeliever’s lack of love for the LORD will inevitably become a problem in the relationship. Their hearts can no longer be truly one in this condition. If the unbeliever is strong in hatred for the Lord and His principles for whatever reason, like the outlandish heathen women of Ezra’s day, they will generally either come to try to control the believing spouse to turn them away from the Lord, or will quit functioning in the relationship and leave their spouse alone, pursuing separation and divorce. If the unbeliever opts for control of the home, and the believer is strong enough to resist the resulting attack and manipulation, there will be continual and basic conflict and tension in the home so long as the unbeliever remains hard to the things of the Lord. The believer is to leave this in the hand of the Lord, trusting God to either turn their unbelieving spouse towards Himself, or to remove them from the home. The believer is not to initiate the separation or divorce based on this type of tension and conflict. Once the unbeliever does depart, the believer is to yield to this and allow it to happen.
Paul’s statement “let him depart” deserves additional focused attention. How is it that one is to “let” another depart? How can one stop this, when someone genuinely wants to leave a home? Can a husband lock his wife up, and physically keep her in the home? Can a desperate wife somehow keep her husband from leaving her? How is it that one is encouraged to “let” an unbelieving spouse depart?
To let someone depart is to accept their leaving, and not remain in stubborn resistance to it either physically, emotionally, or spiritually. The believing spouse is not to maintain long-standing manipulations in physical blockading, emotional manipulations, or spiritual warfare trying to control the unbeliever and force them back into the home. They are to “let” the unbeliever depart. Certainly, God may reveal to a forsaken believer that He wants them to conduct spiritual warfare in the power and direction of the Holy Spirit to secure the conversion and deliverance of a former spouse, but this should only spring from the leading of God in the situation and not be something forced carnally on the situation due to the sanctity of the marriage relationship as an end in and of itself. Accepting the departure of the unbeliever will actually be the norm in these situations, as indicated by God’s command for the believing spouse and the church to accept the departure and let the unbeliever go. The forsaken believer is to be set free from the marriage physically, emotionally and spiritually and is no longer in bondage to it.
Paul’s statement that an abandoned believer is not under bondage to the marriage implies that such a believer is free to remarry after the departure of the unbelieving spouse. When a person is not under “bondage,” they are not “bound.” The woman is “bound by the law” to her husband so long as her husband is alive and has not put her away. If he has put her away, she does not have a husband to be bound to — she is no longer “bound,” she is free to remarry, as apparent from Deuteronomy 24. Likewise, if a husband has earnestly tried to be good to an obstinate and odious woman, and she has left him, he is not “bound” to the marriage to wait for her to return to him once she has left him. To place any believer without an option to be married to anyone when they do not have the gift of celibacy, saying that they are bound to the departed ex-spouse, is to place the forsaken believer back into the danger of fornication and to violate the instruction that every man and woman without this gift should be free to enter a healthy marital relationship.
In this way, all of the principles concerning marriage, separation, divorce, and remarriage are seen to work in harmony, considering the general health and well-being of the persons involved. No person without the gift of celibacy is ever required to live in lonely burning; all of the principles of both the Old and New Covenants are respected in full, and all of the specific instructions given in the Scriptures are accommodated.
1 Corinthians 7:16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? Or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife? But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.
The motive for the injunction to the believing spouse to remain in the marriage during the time of struggle when one spouse is a believer and one is not, is not, as some would expect, the sanctity of the home itself, as an end in and of itself. The motive given is to provide ample opportunity for the unbelieving spouse to turn to the Lord due to the influence of the believing spouse. The welfare of the persons involved is given priority here, not the institution of the marriage for its own sake. This is significant. If the primary reason for staying in the marriage is the integrity of the home, this would have been given here as the primary motivation. It is not.
If the hope of godly efforts fail in the context of the marriage, and the marriage is ended by the departure of the unbeliever from the home, the believer is to receive this as from the hand of the Lord and go on in freedom from the marriage as God’s gift to them and calling for them. While personal comforts are not to be used as an excuse to violate the Law of God, neither is the Law to be extended by anyone beyond its present requirements to cause undue pain and suffering upon those that are truly yielded to Him and willing to obey Him, unjustly defrauding those who are willing to obey Him even to their own hurt.
Genuine believers are willing to suffer for their Lord unreasonably and are vulnerable to the dispositions and pressures of those in the church that are to love and care for them. Yet this care, if from a legalistic and ignorant heart, can bring great damage to the defrauded spouse and be a cause for great pain and discouragement. It is extremely sad and dissappointing that, as a general rule, fundamental evangelical teaching on the sancity of marriage does tend to expose defrauded believers (particularly men) to vast and unwarranted suffering. Anyone purposing to require that properly divorced persons are not free to remarry is to place such divorcees in an unscriptural and unreasonable bondage, idolizing the sanctity of marriage as a supreme end in and of itself. Extreme gentleness and caution must be exercised in these matters, and wisdom from the Lord prayerfully sought. As the LORD said concerning the Sabbath, so one might in the same spirit say here: marriage was made for Man, not Man for marriage.
1 Corinthians 7:25-28 Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord; yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful. I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, say that it is good for a man so to be. Art thou bound unto a wife? Seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.
Paul repeats his understanding that there is no commandment of the Lord that men and women must be single or married. It is not sinful either way, and the marital state of each believer is to be determined based upon the needs and gifts of the individual saint. If a man has been loosed from a wife, through death or divorce, he is free to remarry if he chooses to, though he is not required to do so. A virgin is also free to marry as she pleases.
The specific mention that a woman who is a virgin is free to marry might be used to imply that if a woman is not a virgin she is not free to marry. Paul does not say that a woman who is not a virgin is not free, he is silent here, perhaps as it is understood from other texts that for a woman to be properly set free from a husband is generally greatly restricted by the Lord.
Regardless, even when both parties are believers and are properly able to marry in purity and uprightness, those entering marriage are going to struggle in general, some more than others, regardless of their backgrounds. Marriage between two sinners will not be totally pleasant, and there will certainly be some struggle at times in the relationship. If it is possible to remain single and be healthy and happy, Paul would rather spare us the struggle and he encourages the saints to remain single if they can do so appropriately.
1 Corinthians 7:32-35 But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: but he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.
Paul reinforces this position that being single allows one to focus on the Lord without being distracted as much by the cares and pressures of this life. Being involved in the many activities and responsibilities of a marriage and a family brings the concern for providing for the intimate personal needs of others, who are often not willing to live as simply as a single believer is. A natural worldly care growing among people in this context is appropriate and healthy, and it is the calling of most believers to be involved in this. Paul makes it plain that he is not speaking to discourage saints from being married, or to trap believers or to keep them from any earthly joy by forbidding to marry. He is giving these principles to the church for our profit, to keep us from unnecessary distraction if we do have the gift of celibacy.
1 Corinthians 7:36-38 But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not, let them marry. Nevertheless he that standeth steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well. So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well: but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.
God speaks directly concerning the gift of celibacy, and describes how a man is to approach this. As an aside here, this passage is simply mutilated by many of the modern translations of the Scripture, as anyone may freely observe (without needing to access the original languages). The text must be considered carefully, as it encapsulates the entire spirit of the Law and why it has been given as it has.
Two types of men are described in this passage: one with the gift of celibacy, one without this gift. The first is a man without the gift of celibacy that is unmarried. He will find himself dealing with his sex drive, his “virgin,” in an unhealthy – “uncomely” – way. He finds that “she passes the flower of her age” – a common expression for the emission of fluids from the body (a similar expression in the Law, “her flowers be upon her,” describes a menstruous woman) — and that his entire constitution in the Lord “requires” a marriage for the healthy release and accommodation of his sex drive.
It is important to note the word “require” here. Marriage is not an option for such a man if he is to live in a healthy, stable manner. This need is not subject to the control of his will any more than any other of his physical appetites. Sexual appetite is more difficult than a mere physical appetite for a man to control completely, nay it is impossible for him to ultimately master it. It is much more than a physical appetite; it involves his entire being, effecting him physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. The best that he can find outside of marriage is an “uncomely,” unnatural, unhealthy accommodation of his sex drive. He will not be able to ignore it or lay it aside. The fulfillment of the natural sex drive in the bonds of marriage is a basic need of such a man, more so than eating, drinking, sleeping, etc. Such a man ought not to remain in a state of singleness for long periods of time.
Some men, however, standing steadfastly in their hearts that they would rather not enter marriage, find that they do not have this necessity; in fact, they have “no necessity .” Instead, a man with the gift of celibacy will have power over his own will in this matter. He is able to function in the presence of other women without being drawn to them sexually, not feeling a longing to look at them and enjoy their beauty, not feeling frustrated and empty because he does not have a receptive spouse that he can enjoy in this way when he returns to his home. When a man finds himself with this gift, he is better off remaining single, and focusing his daily energies more entirely on spiritual matters. He is not in sin if he marries, and should not seek to be loosed from his wife simply because he has this gift, but is advised to remain single if he already is or if he becomes single in an appropriate way.
This gives one a holy perspective of the struggle that a man faces when he is married to a rebellious woman who is not warm and submissive to him. Try as he might to win her heart, he finds himself continually frustrated, longing for a woman who will complete him and meet his needs. This basic need drives men to search for a woman who will be one with him, to pursue her and win her heart, and to struggle to become one with her in a marriage. There is little else to drive a man to do this type of thing with all the energy of his being: without the sex drive it is quite apparent that there would be VERY few marriages, and fewer children. The human race would be a sparse and precarious lot, a fragile thing, were it not for this deeply imbedded sex drive in men.
To confront a man having such a sex drive, who happens to marry an odious woman, with either being deeply defrauded and mauled by an intolerable woman for his entire life, or with struggling outside the marriage relationship without the gift of celibacy, is an unreasonable and unscriptural thing to do. God has made no such requirement and reinforces His perspective in the matter here. He has given men the liberty to divorce their wives when they feel that this is their only recourse in maintaining health and well-being in life, and He does not condemn them in doing so.
1 Corinthians 7:39 The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.
The law being referred to here is the Old Testament Law outlined above. God gives instructions to the New Testament Christian woman based on the authority of the Pentateuch, indicating clearly that she is morally bound by this principle as it is revealed in the “Mosaic” Law. This will come as a great surprise to many who misunderstand freedom from the Law in Christ, claiming that the laws of the Old Testament are obsolete and inapplicable, as though they are given by some strange god.
The moral code of the Old Testament is the moral code of God: it will never change or become obsolete. Any principles that can be derived from it involving God’s pleasure for a pattern of life will apply to any and all generations to come, and all of these principles are already written on the hearts of all believers. There are, admittedly, certain aspects of the ceremonial Law which are not relevant to us as Gentile believers, as is plain from reading the New Testament, and there are some parts of the governmental Law which are no longer appropriately enforced in our day. However, the above principle is not one of these. It stands as God’s revelation to the church and applies in the life of every married woman.
This text further emphasizes the fact, by its wording and by its omissions, that the husband is not similarly bound by the Law to his wife as long as she lives, and this fact is significant. There are no Scriptures which indicate that the husband is thus bound by the Law to his wife. If the principle worked both ways, God would not address the woman specifically in the manner that He does here. Commands are typically addressed to the men when applied to both genders, and this is not addressed to men. In particular, if in truth the principle applied to both genders equally, it would be natural to give this principle both ways, as is done concerning marital relations earlier in 1 Corinthians 7. The fact that the woman is addressed particularly should not be overlooked.
1 Corinthians 11:3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.
This is instruction from God on the order in the home, and reveals the purpose of the distinction between the genders. Why is it that the man and woman have different privileges, freedoms and responsibilities in marriage? Why is it generally the man’s prerogative to end the marriage and not the woman’s? Why is a man permitted to have more than one wife, when the woman is not permitted to have more than one husband? Why must the wife be the helper, and not the man? Why is the man in charge of the home? why not the woman? or at least both being equal in the home? All these questions come back to a fundamental principle. God’s design is not based on culture or history or tradition, it is not a temporal device of men spawned to oppress women, and which can now be ignored in our enlightened day.
God’s design in the home is part of a picture: there is an order in the home for a reason. It is an order of authority, an order of power, an order of responsibility, and an order of privilege. Christ is the head of the man. This is an undisputed headship– unalterable, complete, and pervasive. Christ is the head of the husband in every area of his life, and Christ deals with every man as a servant. In discipline, in rebuke, in comfort, in provision, Jesus Christ is the Master, and every man is a servant to Him. The man is not equal to Christ in worth or dignity in and of himself, but has been made one with Christ at His pleasure. This is the reality.
The woman’s head is the man. This is true in the home, in the church, and in the culture. They are equal in value and worth, but not in roles, position, or authority. God has placed the woman under the authority of the man. This is the picture.
1 Corinthians 11:8-9 For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.
The specific purpose of Man and Woman are explained here in relationship to one another. God clearly states that the woman is created from the man and for the man, but the man is not created from the woman or for the woman. While there is no distinction in value or dignity based on this order, there is a definite difference in role, purpose, function, and responsibility. The value and dignity of each is drawn from the fact that both are made by the Hand of God and are made in His image at His pleasure. The roles and order of the man and woman are drawn in the purposes of God and in the details of the Fall. This order is for the picture: as Woman is created for Man and not Man for Woman, Man is created for the Lord, not the Lord for Man.
1 Corinthians 11:11-12 Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.
The mutual interdependence of the man and the woman is also clearly expressed here. This confirms their equality and worth, and is given to prevent an inequitable treatment of the woman by the man. While the man is the head of the woman and in a position of authority over her, he is also born from her and depends on her as an equal. Let the above Scriptures suffice as background for why it is appropriate for the principles of marriage and divorce to be as they are. It is, again, for the picture: as Man is of the Lord, so the Lord became Man through him.
1 Corinthians 14:35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
It is the husband’s duty to teach his wife, to answer her questions about spiritual things, and to provide godly instruction for her. It is the wife’s duty to inquire of her husband concerning spiritual things, not to be seeking instruction and guidance from other men and sidestepping her husband. She is to be receptive to her husband’s teaching, receiving it in all meekness and quietness.
2 Corinthians 11:2 For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.
Here Paul confirms that the Gentile bride of God is His wife, and that He takes her in purity. His former wife is gone from Him, and He is not waiting for her return. He is free to minister to the Gentile bride while the Jewish wife has forsaken Him. He does so, for the welfare of this new bride and for His own glory and pleasure. This is the reality of the life of God, shown in the picture of these principles of divorce and remarriage.
Ephesians 5:22-24 Wives , submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
Here we have the calling of the Lord for the woman, to be subject to her husband for life just as the church is subject to Christ. It is difficult to conceive of a stronger way to put this into words. The woman does not appear to have any prerogative to pursue the divorce of her husband so long as he is even minimally upright with her. She is to remain faithful to him as his helper and servant so long as the Lord gives her breath. She is to seek to please him in her life with him, submitting to him with purpose and earnest sincerity in all things so long as it is not in direct conflict with the commands of God found in the written Word. She is to seek out his will, yielding to his will instead of her own in each day of their life together. She has no right to belittle him, nag him, pressure him, deny him, manipulate him, or defraud him. This is binding even upon women who have stubborn and insensitive spouses, such as Nabal in the case of virtuous Abigail. Though some churches and authors touch briefly upon this subject, it is only understood, at best, in a painfully superficial way. The calling of God for a woman appears to have become almost entirely smothered in the liberal feminism of our day. Most churches, as in the days before the struggle for civil rights in America, follow blindly along with the brokenness of the culture without hesitation or concern.
Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.
The call for husbands to love their wives could not be more plainly stated than this, nor more beautifully. The thought of a husband lightly pursuing a divorce from a woman with this kind of love in his heart for her is simply inconceivable. One would think that there would be nothing at all a wife could do to disrupt this type of love. If she is remotely reasonable, this is certainly the case.
The husband is to love his wife; he is to have and demonstrate affection towards his wife based on admiration and / or benevolence. In loyalty and unselfish concern, the husband is to freely accept his wife and seek her good. Husbands are to love their wives faithfully in the same manner and with the same kind of love that Jesus Christ has demonstrated for His elect, the Church. Jesus Christ gave everything to purchase His bride, and will stop at nothing to protect her and promote His oneness with her. He is as interested in her welfare as He is in His own: she is part of Him.
However, even Jesus Christ will not tolerate adultery, disrespect, and coldness in his bride. He does warn her, “I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love… Repent… or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” (Revelation 2:4-5) Jesus Christ will eventually put away a church that continues in disobedience, disrespect, and coldness toward Him. His love is deep and infinite, but His toleration of sin in His bride has some very solid limits to it and He expresses them clearly. Likewise, when a husband has done all he can for his bride to make their relationship work, he need not feel forced to make her stay by his side. If she chooses to be apart from him, he has the liberty to close the door to her and let the marriage go. He need not depart from His Lord to serve her in order to make her stay, nor remain in a state of frustration and brokenness after her departure.
Ephesians 5:26-7 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
Jesus Christ died for His church to separate her to Himself, to see her purified and brought to maturity and wholesomeness. Jesus Christ will present the Church to Himself; He is preparing her for Himself and will work patiently and persistently with her to make her perfectly suited to Himself as His wife.
Ephesians 5:28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.
In the same manner as Jesus Christ loves the church, a husband should love his wife, taking care of her needs even as he takes care of himself. The same affection and interest that a man shows towards his own welfare, both physical, emotional, and spiritual, he should consistently show toward his wife. Since he and his wife are one flesh, and she is dedicated to promoting his welfare, when he blesses and nourishes his wife he makes her all the more capable of being his helper. Her interests and needs should be just as important to him as his own needs, and he should make as much of an effort to satisfy and bless his wife as he makes for himself.
Ephesians 5:29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:
Every man takes regular care of his own physical needs, and is deeply interested in his own personal welfare, in the same manner as Jesus Christ pursues the welfare of the Church.
Ephesians 5:30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
We are part of the body of Jesus Christ, and that is the reason He cares for us with the same interest that He cares for Himself.
Ephesians 5:31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.
Because of the love of Jesus Christ for the Church, and His purpose to become eternally one with her, a man should separate himself from the authority of his initial family and make a new family with his wife in which they are unified in body, soul, heart, mind, and spirit.
Ephesians 5:32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
The marriage of a man and a woman is an earthly picture of the marriage of God with His people.
Ephesians 5:33a Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself…
Even though his marriage is a picture of eternal things, let every husband treat it as reality and make no difference between his own needs and the needs of his wife. He should always protect her and seek her welfare as his own. When she is distressed, he should try – with the same earnestness he would expend if he himself were distressed – to find a way to help her, and bear patiently with her faults. (1 Peter 4:8)
What should the husband do when his wife is persistently defiant, insolent, rebellious, disrespectful, argumentative, critical, condescending, sarcastic, disobedient, contradictory, neglectful, careless or otherwise irreverent? As we have seen, he is to rebuke her, chasten her as needed, and continue to walk firmly and wisely as the head of the home. He is not to cower in fear of her, or become brutal and vengeful in his response to her. The husband is to maintain an attitude of strength (1 Cor 16:13, Eph 6:10), peaceableness (Matt 5:9, Col 3:15), power, love, and sound mindedness. (2 Tim 1:7)
It would appear, in considering all of the scriptures at hand, that there are no common conditions that would allow a Christian man to initiate the breakup of a marriage and the separation of a home without being in disobedience to the call of his Lord in his disposition and attitude. Except under very unusual circumstances of prolonged and determined rebellion in the wife, if a Christian man is to endure a lawful divorce in the power of the Holy Spirit, it must be with the agony of having to endure such a divorce beyond his personal control at the hand of his spouse, whilst seeking for the spiritual restoration of his spouse and the reconciliation of the marriage until it is completely broken by the unbeliever. This brokenness may come without the wife formally pursuing divorce, being content to abuse her husband, defying and defrauding him the natural comforts of marriage indefinitely whilst enjoying his provision and protection. This is also a state of divorce… and a husband may indeed proceed to pursue a legal action that is consistent with this state if that is his desire. Once the marriage is broken, the call to love and oneness is no longer applicable to the believer: the believer is no longer duty-bound to love their former spouse in any manner above the love that they should have for any other person in general.
Colossians 3:19 Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.
Husbands are to guard against being harshly reproachful, sharp and resentful with their wives. They are to put away cynicism and deep-seated ill will, and promote unity, tenderness, and lovingkindness in their homes.
1 Timothy 3:2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;
Polygamy is again addressed here, as being improper for an official or leader in the New Testament Church. A man with more than one wife generally evidences a lack of understanding of the purposes of marriage (although this need not necessarily be the case). For example, God acknowledged Abraham’s behavior in his home as quite godly: “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.” (Ge 18:19) Even with this honor, indicating Abraham was apparently a very good husband to Sarah for the most part, it appears Abraham missed the essential purpose of his marriage: his taking of a multitude of concubines is inconsistent with God’s design of one flesh in marriage. David also, a man after God’s own heart, married a multitude of women and evidenced a deep lack of understanding of the purpose and function of marriage. It can be seen to be his primary flaw and would have rendered him unfit to be the pastor of a New Testament church, even though he is the greatest king that the nation of Israel ever knew. He passed this weakness on to his son Solomon and this flaw soon became the ruin of the nation.
Men with this disposition to want more than one wife are not in a place where they can be good examples to the husbands under their circle of influence in the church. A man must be able to demonstrate a godly love for his wife in the home, and be open and earnest in being one with her in his heart. If he is not so, either in his demeanor in the home or in the fact that he has multiple wives, it is likely that his home will be in at least some significant disarray, and that his marital troubles will be a keen distraction to him in his ministry to the saints. It is therefore appropriate that a pastor or elder be married to only one woman, and that he have a healthy marriage to her, in order for him to be appropriately suited for the type of public work required in ministry to the flock of God.
The question naturally arises as to whether a man who has been divorced by a wife, or who has himself divorced his wife, and has remarried, is unfit for the office of a bishop. This topic is not addressed specifically anywhere in the Scriptures, unless it is addressed here in this text. It appears that a man who is married to one woman… is married to one woman, regardless of how many women he has been married to before her. Strictly speaking then, divorce and remarriage does not disqualify a man from this work.
However, it is also plain that a man who has been married multiple times might be failing in some major portion of his character and be unfit for the bishop’s office based on this, and this should be carefully considered when such a divorced man is being examined for the office of a bishop. However, anyone living in a church community functioning as God intended would know this man’s character in his home, so this would not generally be an issue. However, such churches are quite few and far between… being completely foreign to what most western believers understand the church to be. Believers at this time did not live in isolation from one another, commuting for miles one day a week to play church together; they lived together in community. They knew one another. Any man failing badly in his marriage, for whatever reason, would be openly known to the church… and quite likely the reason for the failure would be plain to the saints as well, whether in the husband or in the wife or both.
Consider also that if this passage is to be construed by such strict application to imply ineligibility of a divorced and remarried man then one must disqualify widowers which have remarried. Further, one must also exclude those with the gift of celibacy which have never married at all, since the formal requirement is that he be “the husband of one wife.” This also applies to widowers which have not remarried. In any such case, it could be claimed that any man not presently the husband of one wife is ineligible for the bishoprick. Such conclusions are evidently unreasonable.
It appears, then, that the fact that a man has at one time been married to another woman will not matter in this regard; so long as he is currently married to only one woman, this will suffice. Of course, this is the letter – the spirit of this precept will imply that such a candidate for the office of bishop also evidence a faithful heart toward his one wife, loving her solely and entirely, and that he not be prone to a polygamous wantonness in his heart.
Titus 1:6 If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.
This parallels the previous instruction exactly. Certain who are familiar with the Greek words behind the idea of a man being “the husband of one wife“, promote the idea that a man is unfit for the work of the office of a bishop if he has had any desire to be married to more than one woman during his entire lifetime. There is no indication that this is warranted in this text, and such an application appears to be against the rest of the Scriptures. Titus 2:3-5 The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discrete, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.
Let no husband think that he can have a good testimony of the grace of God in his family unless his wife is obedient to him, unless she is meek in the hands of the Lord to walk in holiness in their home. The husband cannot cause this to happen himself, and he is not entirely responsible for his wife’s behavior simply because he is her head. It is necessary that the older women instruct and encourage the younger women to walk appropriately in their homes, and provide godly and consistent examples in their own lives, marriages, and families.
This instruction is invaluable in the health of the church. It takes precious little to discourage most women from walking in quiet godliness in their homes; let no saint of God be caught bringing this type of discouragement into a home or a church. Godly teaching on the place of women in the home ought to be found regularly in the life of the church; and it should be championed by the elder women as role models. Poor examples here spread quickly about the Christian community and permeate the life of the church unless they are dealt with openly, as in the case of Vashti. Such damage is wrought by the disobedience of wives in the home that it tends to public blasphemy of the Word of God and the open shaming of the saints of God in their witness to the world.
At the same time, by way of balance, let not a wife think that she can induce her husband to obedience purely on her own strength either. This walking in godliness in her home, to encourage her husband to seek the Lord and walk with Him even if he is not, should be her prayerful and earnest desire each day and she should be regularly encouraging her sisters in the church in this same virtue.
1 Peter 3:1-6 Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.
Wives of disobedient husbands are given instruction here about how to act in their marriages and homes. They are instructed to be meekly subject to their husbands, even in the face of their husband’s imperfections and errors. While women are not to approve of sin, neither is it their place to instruct their husbands with authority or demand obedience on the part of their husbands. They are to win their husbands to obedience by being obedient themselves, by being chaste, respectful, and obedient in their homes.
Sarah is given as an example of a godly woman submitting to her husband. Recall that Abraham and Sarah were separated twice due to Abraham’s distrust and fear of the heathen, where Sarah was taken from her husband’s side and placed in the equivalent of a harem for the sexual exploitation of a foreign king. Even in this, as wrong as Abraham was in requiring this of her, Sarah was obedient and cooperative with Abraham. While Abraham was clearly wrong in this, it is not apparent that Sarah was wrong to permit him to do this to her, though it must have been extremely difficult for her to go along with it. So long as she was not being forced to sin, she appeared willing to cooperate with him. It was perhaps her deep prayers for God’s mercy in this time of her husband’s indiscretion that preserved her purity and allowed her to be restored to Abraham untouched by her temporary “husbands.”
Even though Sarah is given as an example of godliness, we do not find that she was perfect. She laughed in unbelief at her Lord’s word to Abraham concerning the miraculous conception of their coming son, she lied directly to her Lord about this laughter when Abraham was confronted by the Lord about it. Sarah failed her husband in prompting him to marry Hagar and have children by her, and she afterwards put all of the blame on him for her sin when things went badly, and demanded that Abraham throw Hagar out of the home, along with Hagar’s son Ishmael, apparently violating Deuteronomy 21:15-17 in her own heart. Even so, in spite of her mistakes, she is still shown to be a model of virtue in her attitude towards her husband. It is certain that no woman is perfect, but those who are earnestly seeking to live for the Lord in their homes ought to be striving to live in this manner described by Peter.
A common reaction to the Lord’s call to women in this is one of disgust and rebellion, and it severely impacts the quality and stability of marriage in western cluture. How is it that women are encouraged in our day to not be too good to their men so as not to spoil them? while men are taught to pamper their wives at any cost in order to keep them happy? This is a device of the wicked one. A reasonable man is much more inclined to appreciate and love a wife who is walking in godliness and trying in every way to help and please him than one who flaunts her selfishness and temper to get her way. There is nothing wrong with a woman being meek and quiet and obedient in her home. It is consistent with the principle of love and the fruit of the Holy Spirit: there is no law against it. What grounds do women give for their tantrums other than selfish convenience?
Granted, some husbands will take a godly woman for granted and treat her less than what she deserves; more brutal and unreasonable men may perhaps even beat a good woman and be unfaithful to her without being provoked by her in the least, but this is not a warrant to discredit the duty of the woman to be a holy servant to her husband in her home. She need not try to protect herself by becoming selfish and obstinate; God has made a righteous way of escape for her if her husband becomes intolerably abusive to her.
Should a woman claim that being good to her husband promotes evil in him, the very same accusation could be made of unreasonable women who take good husbands for granted and abuse them similarly, yet this is seldom seen as a valid reason for a man to be less loving with his wife and to treat her harshly so that she will treat him well. A woman need not think that a mentality of holiness promotes evil in her husband and that she must depart from holy living in her home in order to be loved and appreciated. There is no more reason for the woman to think this than there is for a man to conclude that if he really loves his wife and cares for his wife as his own self that she will become intolerable and wicked in the home. As women can testify of horrible men who abuse godly women, there are godly men who can testify similarly of the abuse of horrible women. Let this not be an excuse for anyone to depart from the ways of God and His pattern for living in the home.
1 Peter 3:7 Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.
The husband should take time to study his wife, to know her, to seek to understand her needs. A woman’s needs are quite different from that of a man. The husband should honor his wife’s frame as the weaker vessel, not demanding of her more than she can reasonably bear and treating her with a common deferrence and respect. Both spouses are to always maintain an attitude of humility and thankfulness for the goodness and grace of God in their married life together.
1 Peter 5:5 Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.
The husband and wife are both to maintain an attitude of humility in the home, not being proud or haughty, not arrogant or assertive or vain, each reflecting a state of deference and submission to the welfare of the other.
Revelation 2:4-5 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
The Lord Jesus Christ sends a message to His wife, a local church, the Church of Ephesus. He tells her that He has a problem with her because she has allowed her love for Him to wither. He commands her to repent and to walk with Him as she did at the beginning of their relationship. He threatens her if she will not do so, telling her that He will come to her without warning… and remove her from her position as His wife.
As we conclude this study of the marriage relationship, as we near the end of God’s Word now, we find this incredibly halting text. It arrests and sobers us with an abruptness and clarity that is seldom found elsewhere in God’s Revelation. It serves well as a summary of all that we have discovered, and places all of our findings into a holistic perspective.
The first thing one might discern from this text is that the love relationship of the Lord Jesus Christ with a corporate expression of the Church is a conditional relationship. His love-commitment for the Church is not unconditional. Though the paternal relationship of God with His children as individuals is evidently unconditional, as clearly seen in texts like Romans 8:35-39 (“ Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”), the text before us quite plainly indicates that the “marital” relationship between God and the Church, as expressed in any local community of the saints, is conditional and perhaps even fragile. If it is not maintained with diligence it can end quite abruptly.
This relationship between Jesus Christ and the corporate expression of the Church is a relationship between God and a group of people involving divine intimacy and communion beyond what is commonly experienced between lone believers and the Godhead. As a group of Christians may begin a love relationship with God and enjoy incredible intimacy and blessing as a community in God, so they may grow traditional and lukewarm, callous to the breath of their divine Love and taking Him for granted in their meetings. Their focus moves from the Blesser to the blessing, and they lose their taste for corporate intimacy with their God, presuming they are safe to expect continued blessing from Him without continuing to walk with Him in love as they did at first.
When a loveless heart festers in the Church, God warns the Church, His bride, of her state… and threatens her. He may use various means to do so, and perhaps continue over an extended period of time. If she does not heed His warnings, He eventually departs from her and leaves her to her religious mechanisms, effecting a divorce from His bride and leaving her dry and lifeless.
This is the love of Jesus Christ for His Church: it is intense and it is conditional. It begins with mutual love and the expression of mutual sacrifice, His reaching out to her in love through His atoning work for her members, and her responding in corporate obedience, worship and passion… willing to receive His correction and even to suffer for Him as she lives committed to His pleasure.
As this relationship begins, so it continues. Jesus Christ never fails in His covenant with the Church, to minister to her and to guide her and to give her abundant life in the depth of His passion for her. He also calls her to a high standard in this relationship: God does not tolerate open rebellion, any intentional commitment to sin, or to lukewarm loveless motion. It is when the Church grows unthankful, disobedient and callous that her relationship with her Husband is threatened.
If the threat made by Christ to end this marital relationship with the Church is not at first obvious, one should consider that the candlestick that Jesus will remove represents the Church herself: “ the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.” (Rev 1:20) To threaten to remove a candlestick is to threaten to remove a church. To remove a church is to cause her to cease to exist as a church. To cause a church to cease to exist as a church is to have her disband, or perhaps to have the Lord depart from her permanently and remove the presence of His Spirit from her. If she continues in this state, as a religious organization, she is no longer with her husband and functions as His enemy rather than as His bride and companion. This compares to a husband divorcing his wife and ending his marriage. Both parties continue to exist, but the marital relationship is completely destroyed and is likely replaced with one of enmity and distrust.
Further evidence of the conditional nature of this relationship is evident in the instruction of God in response to offenses and sin in the Church. “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” (Matt 18:15-17) When someone intends to pursue sin and cause offense in the church, he is to be put out of the church. Such sin is not to be tolerated in her midst. Privileges of active membership in the local body of Christ are not granted unconditionally but hinge upon a general disposition of being a peacemaker and obedient to the divine Word. This is to prevent the Church from becoming corrupted by evil influence, polluted with unbelief and rebellion, and thereby threatening her ultimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
It is this conditional corporate God-man communion, not the paternal relationship used to picture the redemptive aspects of individual salvation, that is expressed in the earthly relationship of marriage. The marital relationship contains similarities with this divine relationship, as well as differences.
In marriage, certainly, we must consider two sinners, not just one. Unlike Jesus Christ, husbands may indeed fail in their proper marital responsibilities. Wives in earthly marriages experience sin and failure in their husbands… something the Church never fears in her heavenly Master. Husbands may neglect their wives, and defraud them the comforts and blessings of regular intimacy and communion, even becoming cruel, malicious, and wantonly destructive.
As we have seen, God’s Revelation provides for the protection of the wife under extreme circumstances and gives her solid instruction in her marital responsibility in light of the sinfulness of her husband. What we see here in this text is further elaboration upon the dynamics of the husband’s response to sin in his wife… something in which we have found little explicit instruction up until now.
It is commonly taught that the only condition considered appropriate grounds for a man to seek divorce is adultery. Yet, what of the wife who grows cold and thankless, taking her husband for granted and using him for a life of ease, convenience, and comfort… defrauding him the common intimacy appropriate in marriage and distancing herself from him, disobeying him, defying him and walking with him in haughtiness, dominance, and rebellion… rather than in godly reverence? Does such a woman indeed threaten the permanence of her marriage in the sight of God?
Common encouragements to husbands enduring this wickedness imply such coldness is something they themselves must have promoted in some manner, something they now deserve for not loving their wives enough. Husband’s may certainly foster such coldness at times, but we must remember that wives are sinners too…
Regardless of the source of such coldness, the defrauded husband is told by modern counselors to love his wife unconditionally and permanently, regardless of his wife’s behavior… even though the marriage did not begin in this type of unconditional love. The husband is eventually given the choice of this unpleasant end for as long as his wife remains unrepentant for whatever reason, or to sin against his God by loving his wife less than Jesus Christ loves the Church… and looking elsewhere for a woman who is willing to walk with him in peace and love. Where, when, and how did this notion of un-conditional love enter the picture? We have here in this letter from Jesus Christ to the Church an indication that such instruction is unwarranted.
If we simply take a step back, take our blinders off for a minute, and take a good look at the marriage relationship, we perceive that it begins with conditional love. A man does not marry a woman blindly, without regard to her attractive appearance, her loving disposition, and her godly character. What attracts him to her in the beginning is what he expects her to continue to offer him during the marriage: respect, obedience, passionate intimacy… doing him “good and not evil all the days of her life.” (Pr 31:12) Likewise, a woman is not drawn to a man who is selfish and inconsiderate of her needs, irrationally demanding, one who is callously domineering and physically abusive. What she is drawn to is gentleness, patience, his willingness to care for her and provide for her, and to his delight in being with her and sharing his heart with her. Most any wife expects her husband to continue in this general pattern… at least to some degree. How appropriate is it to expect unconditional love to sustain a relationship that is conceived conditionally?
When either a husband or a wife turns from the pattern of behavior that initially encouraged the marriage they immediately begin to damage its health. As we perceive in the divine reality, of which marriage is simply a picture, there is nothing unconditional about this relationship… either as it begins or as it continues. Evidently, if not cared for consistently, a marriage can end… at the discretion of the husband… quite abruptly, unpleasantly… and appropriately.
All relationships are not conditional: unconditional earthly relationships do in fact exist, but they are not generally formed from choice. The parent-child relationship is one notable unconditional relationship. Once a parent or a child, always a parent or child until death. While the nature of the parent-child relationship may involve an extreme range… it is truly an unconditional relationship… and it often contains an unconditional love… especially from the parent to the child. It is little wonder then that God continually illustrates His ultimate redemptive relationship with mankind in terms of the parent-child relationship, but it is significant that He never does employ this type of analogy in His relationship with the community of the saints, of which marriage is a picture. Perhaps it is without thinking that this type of unconditional love has been supposed in the marital relationship.
Certainly, given God’s general intentions for the marriage relationship expressed clearly throughout His Word, a husband taking marriage lightly and walking away from his wife at the first little inconvenience is absurd. This was apparently the intent of the Pharisees in their challenging of God’s pattern of marriage. It is unquestionably evident from any serious study of God’s Word that both husband and wife are encouraged and commanded to intensely pursue loving intimacy and oneness in their marriage. If they will both follow God’s pattern they will be blessed: God’s commands are not grievous.
However, we live in a sinful world and people tend to walk as selfishly as they are conveniently permitted. Such tendencies decimate marriage and leave sincere spouses struggling in the most intolerable ways, both husbands and wives. While modern evangelical teaching largely ignores the responsibility of the wife, even turning a blind eye to her divorcing convenience, this same mentality goes to the other extreme with the husband, demanding that he tolerate emotional abuse and neglect as a manner of life if his wife is so disposed. However, there are limits to what God calls each spouse to endure, and these limits reflect the frame and design of each gender, as well as their position in God’s created order.
Limits are well-defined for women very early in the Revelation of God, and are reinforced solidly throughout it, serving to protect women from severe neglect and physical abuse on the part of the husband, as well as making their marital responsibilities as wives quite plain. However, the guidelines for men in divorce have been very general, seemingly permissive, with very little explicit elaboration.
Clearly, God has never intended for men to treacherously divorce their wives at a whim, and He commands a husband to love and provide for his wife in a sincere and consistent manner. He does permit a husband to divorce his wife, but condemns treachery and unfaithfulness. In allowing for divorce, He gives very little additional guideline as to when it is appropriate for a man to pursue divorce. How do we consistently interpret these principles and apply them in a marriage?
In the New Testament, God indicates that divorce is to be in the context of a devastation on par with fornication and adultery (Matt 19:9), and gives us an indication of how this devastation manifests in the relationship: “And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:25) Fornication and adultery on the part of a wife cause a deep division in the unity of the marriage. Such sin can be forgiven and overcome, but there are instances when such behaviors cause a man’s home to be irreconcilably divided. Evidently, such devastating division can also spring from other sources, explaining why God’s instruction to men in divorce seems much more permissive and general.
It is here, in this text at the end of the Revelation of God, where we have further elaboration upon the much more general guidelines given to men. In the example of Jesus Christ, we find that if a wife remains indifferent toward and rebelliously neglectful of her duty to her husband while he attempts to walk in intimacy with her, the husband may evaluate this condition and determine if he is willing to live with this abuse of his love and for how long. Prolonged and deliberate sin on the part of a wife divides the relationship just like adultery and fornication do and there is evidently a limit to what a man must tolerate. This is further confirmation of what is sensed from an overview of the entire revelation of God: “Marriage was made for Man, and not Man for marriage.”
Such a decision about how much abuse to tolerate cannot generally be made once and permanently by a husband, by definition, but must of necessity lie along a continuum of experience as he contemplates the nature of his wife and his prospect for a long and rewarding relationship with her. There are good days and there are bad days, and certainly times when either or both of them are simply “out of character.” It is evidently unwise to pursue divorce due to a single instance of domestic conflict; such a decision should be based upon the general potential for health in the marriage.
Such deliberation may continue over a long period of time, being reflected upon with great heaviness and concern in the midst of a broken marriage. Ending a marriage is not pleasant, especially for men in our day, and should be considered permanent when pursued… unless the conditions initiating the divorce change appropriately and the wife has not remarried. Evidently, a day may come when the husband decides that he has “had enough,” perceives that the marriage bond has been completely broken by his wife, and so moves to bring the formal, civil, legal expression of the marriage relationship into line with reality and end the marriage officially. This is exactly what Christ Jesus does with a church that commits herself to disobedience and lukewarmness… and the decision cannot generally be reached in a more predictable and deterministic manner than He Himself has expressed it: “I will come unto thee quickly.”
In view of this, in following the pattern evident in this text, to prevent wanton and spontaneous disregard for the marriage institution, such a move on the part of a husband should at least be precipitated by a clear warning to a rebellious, unloving wife. The warning should clearly communicate to the wife that her behavior is unacceptable and that it has become a very real threat to the permanence of the relationship. A life of defiance, irrational contention, unrepentant disrespect and arrogance, overt haughtiness, and similar sins serve to destroy the essence of the marital relationship, causing irreconcilable division, destroying intimacy and mutual trust just like fornication and adultery… which are merely physical sins that devastate the marriage indirectly whereas these emotional and spiritual sins affect it directly. Such sin is intolerable to the health of any marriage… and therefore to its permanence. A husband who finds himself questioning the health of his marriage bond due to such sin should inform his wife that he is doing so and why.
In the presence of such sin, a call to repentance, accompanied when possible with specific instructions about how to correct the unacceptable behavior, should be communicated by the husband to the wife in a firm and respectful manner with the motive to preserve the relationship and restore it to health and wholeness. This communication should be in private at first, and time given for reflection and repentance. If the wife is incredulous and obstinate, or inappropriately unresponsive, the reproof and warning should be taken public according to the Lord’s general guidelines for dealing with offenses. (Matt 18:16) Any prolonged response from the wife that does not humbly acknowledge the husband’s concern and move her fearfully and reverently into place is likely to end any indecisiveness on the husband’s part concerning the marriage. The husband should be prepared for either type of response with a sober purpose to respond prayerfully and accordingly.
The Scripture is replete with instruction and example in this most intimate and controversial of topics: marriage, divorce and re-marriage. In summary, here are the relevant principles as I understand them from the Scripture:
- Both husbands and wives should do everything within their power to see that their marriage is as healthy as possible: husbands should love their wives, provide for them, and care for them in the same manner and with the same interest that they care for themselves. Wives should love their husbands, reverence them, submit to them, and obey them. Both should seek to minister oneness in their relationship physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.
- A husband may not divorce his wife for the purpose of obtaining another woman as his wife. In doing so he commits adultery against his wife.
- A husband may properly divorce his wife if he feels that he has come to permanently disfavor her for any reason, if he does not find within himself the ability to minimally care for her and love her as a husband should love his wife. This should only be in extreme cases where the wife is severely obstinate or rebellious, or has become impure. In any case, the devastation caused by the wife must be in degree comparable to that caused by fornication and adultery: rendering the marriage relationship entirely irreparable and irretrievably broken. If in this context the husband is seeking the grace of God to love his wife and is unable to find this proper care for her in his heart, then his decision to divorce is appropriate. It should be considered irrevocable and final before he follows through with it. When he does put her away, he is to verify his intent in writing to his wife, expect that his wife will remarry and become permanently alienated from him for life when she does.
- A wife may be set free from her husband’s authority if she is being severely neglected in her husband’s provision of proper food, clothing, and/or marital relations. This should be only in extreme cases where the husband is mercilessly refusing to provide these things for her or is being ridiculously neglectful, not in cases of family hardship, prolonged sickness, times of war, famine, etc.
- A wife may be set free from her husband’s authority if she is being severely physically abused to the point of being maimed, or in some manner equivalent to this degree of wanton malicious torture or abuse.
- There are no other conditions, other than the above two, that allow a woman to be set free from her husband’s authority. Technically, she is not to be the judge of these matters herself, nor is she to divorce her husband on her own authority, but judgment is to be determined by the consensus of lawful authority above her husband, such as equivalent to a pastor or local government. Given that communities do not generally exist today which understand these principles, either civil or spiritual, a woman may certainly find herself with no proper authority to set her free when she is being abused or neglected. In my opinion, she should act in a manner consistent with how such a community would treat her, and take initiative herself when it is needful.
- Once a woman is properly divorced by her husband or set free of the marital bond in accordance with God’s provision, she is free to remarry. She is bound by the law to him for life in all other cases.
- God is enduring the treacherous divorce of Israel, His first wife, yet enjoying a Gentile bride while she is gone.
- A man should only marry a divorced woman who has been legitimately set free from her previous husband’s authority according to the Law. Unless God has actually sanctioned the divorce, anyone taking the separated woman to wife will be committing adultery, and will continue in that state for as long as such a relationship is permitted. Such relationships should be ended immediately and without compromise.
The standards and expectations in this matter of marriage, divorce, and remarriage are manifestly different for women than for men. Explanations concerning the various differences in the roles and freedoms given to men and women in matters of daily life; in matters of the church, community, and country; and particularly in this matter of marriage, divorce and remarriage, can be found in the following principles:
- Man has a higher spiritual rank than woman. “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” 1 Cor 11:3
- Man represents a higher glory than Woman. “For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. 1 Cor 11:7″
- The source of Woman is Man. “For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man.” 1 Cor 11:8
- Woman’s purpose is oriented in Man. “Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.”1 Cor 11:9
- Man was formed first. “Let the woman learn in silence, with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve…” 1 Timothy 2:11-13
- The first sin was committed by Woman. “…And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” 1 Timothy 2:14.
- Part of God’s curse upon Woman for having been the first to sin against Him, and for drawing her husband into sin with her, was that Man would rule over her explicitly as a master: “ He shall rule over thee.” Genesis 3:16
- God designed Woman as the weaker vessel, not intending her to carry the responsibility and burden of leadership and headship: “Giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel.” 1 Peter 3:7
In the Bible there are many marriages recorded in various levels of detail. Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah and Hagar, Lot and his wife, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah and Rachel and his two servant-wives, Moses and Zipporah and the Ethiopian woman, Job and his wife, Ahab and Jezebel, Nabal and Abigail, David and Michal and Bathsheba and Abigail and Ahinoam and…and… , King Ahasuerus and Vashti and Esther, Mary and Joseph, John and Elizabeth, Phillip and Herodias, Aquilla and Priscilla, etc. Of the marriages that we have any real detail about, nearly all were troubled to some extent, some more than others. In addition to the divorces commanded under Ezra and Nehemiah, only two other marriages that we know the particulars of properly ended in divorce: Ahasuerus and Vashti, and Abraham and Hagar, although it is quite possible that Moses and Zipporah were eventually divorced as well. John the Baptist insisted on the divorce of king Herod from Herodias, who was improperly separated from her husband Phillip and married to king Herod. This stand lead to John’s death at the hands of Herodias.
Many things can be learned about the complexities, blessings, and difficulties of marriage by studying the lives of the above men and women, and by meditating on the trials and experiences that they had. There is a continual flow of wealth for us as we seek God’s life for us in this. In both His instructions and commands to us, and in the stories and experiences that He has revealed for us in His Word about how others before us have lived, in nothing do we find our Lord contradicting Himself in what He has condemned and in what He has blessed in all of His written Word. The most profound of these is what He Himself is enduring as a Husband of Israel, and what a great privilege it is to be of the Gentile bride. May He give us grace to accept what He has shown to us in His Word, to seek more revelation and understanding and wisdom from Him, in order that we might both to live by it ourselves and encourage others to know and love His ways.