The most recent celebrity divorce was finalized two weeks ago, when Usher ended his marriage to his wife of two years, Tameka Raymond. The nastiest divorce of 2009 has been that of Jon and Kate Gosselin , who are about a month away from finalizing their divorce. Kate keeps all eight children. We all remember the marriage and divorce of Britney Spears and Jason Allen Alexander, which took 55 hours from start to finish.
Clearly, marriage is not valued in Hollywood and divorce is the norm. But surprisingly, the issue of divorce is not a new phenomenon. Moses had to address the issue of divorce among the people of Israel – before they ever actually settled in the Promised Land. Jesus was faced with the issue of divorce in Matthew 19 and Mark 10.
At the time of the writing of Mark 10, there were two schools of religious teaching. The School of Shammai was known for holding to teachings that bind (conservative or strict interpretations of Scripture), while the School of Hillel is known for a religious interpretation that looses (we would call that “liberal”). In respect to the divorce issue, the followers of Shammai believed that the only reason to issue a bill of divorcement was if the marriage vows have already been broken by adultery. In contrast, the House of Hillel argued that divorce was legal for any reason, including annoyance or embarrassment. These two schools of interpretation heavily impact the divorce controversy found in Mark 10.
Mark 10:2-3 “And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” Jesus knew their hearts, recognizing that the question went far beyond the issue of divorce and was really asking whether Jesus had come to uphold the Law or destroy it. In asking what Moses commanded, it is clear in context that Jesus was asking for the instruction found in Genesis 2:24, which He mentions just a few verses later in the passage. But rather than answering with the numerous passages on God’s plan for and blessing on marriage, the Pharisees bring up the one exception clause found in the Old Testament.
Mark 10:4 “They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”” The Pharisees’ answered Jesus question by summarizing Deuteronomy 24:1 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found uncleanness in her, and writes her a bill of divorce” The Hebrew word for uncleanness is ‘erwath dabhar’ and is literally translated “nakedness,” and is used 27 times in the Old Testament, with all 27 times meaning sexual sin. The School of Shammai held to a strict interpretation of this passage, which allowed for divorce only in the case of marital unfaithfulness. The Pharisees did not mention the stipulation of a wife being found unclean, which indicates that they were of the School of Hillel, allowing divorce for any reason. The pagans, those who lived around the Israelites during the time of Deuteronomy, taught that the husband had total rights over his wife; she was his property. He was legally able to kill her for suspicion of adultery or divorce her for no reason at all. When Moses wrote this law on divorce, in Deuteronomy 24, he was not condoning divorce but rather restricting the sinful divorce practices that Israelites borrowed from the pagans. Moses required a formal divorce with a bill of divorcement, rather than merely a verbal statement of rejection, which provided protection for women from the whims of sinful men.
Mark 10:5 “And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.””Jesus does not deny that Moses permitted divorce; rather He reminds them that Moses made one concession because of the sinfulness of the people. Moses’ command was designed to limit abuse that was already occurring, not endorse it. Such abuse was an outward symptom of an inward sin condition, referred to in the Old Testament as hardness of heart. The fact that the Pharisees built their theology on the necessary evil of the Mosaic command is evidence that they had not outgrown the hard-heartedness of their ancestors. No matter what concessions Moses had been forced to grant, it does not negate the sacred design of God that man and woman become one flesh in marriage. Mankind can do nothing to cancel out God’s original design for marriage.
Mark 10:6-8 “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Jesus shocked His disciples by rejecting both sides of the rabbinic debate. Rather than going to the contested text in Deuteronomy, Jesus referred back to the beginning of marriage. Ultimately the answer to this problematic issue does not lie in the legal codes, traditional practices or human solutions but in God’s creative design found in Genesis 1:27 and2:24. His referral to the creation narrative elevates the question to a higher level, incorporating God’s original purpose for marriage in this debate on divorce. Genesis 2:24 commands both husband and wife to mutual fidelity and forbids adultery. Since God created the marriage relationship, He is a conscious partner in every marriage. He is instrumental in the two becoming one flesh. Genesis 2:24 is not addressing Adam and Eve, but is added to provide the reader with insight into the Divine nature of the union between husband and wife. And so marriage is comprised of two human beings and their Creator. Divorce, however, is a human act, and the human does not have the authority to dissolve what has been created by the Divine.
Mark 10:10-12 “And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”” Jesus made it clear to the Pharisees that divorce is the human attempt to dissolve a divinely constituted union. Now He focuses on the aftermath of divorce: remarriage, which He condemns as adultery. The formality of legal divorce leaves the marriage union whole, because the physical bond is still intact. It is the second marriage, and subsequent sexual union, that breaks the union of the first marriage – through an act that God considers adultery. While divorce does not break the marriage tie, adultery does break it. Jesus is quite clear in stating that a man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against his former wife. This was a completely new idea to the Pharisees and to Jews in general. Rabbinic Law discusses the sin of a man committing adultery against another man, by seducing his wife. On the flip side, Rabbinic Law also addresses a wife committing adultery against her husband by having sexual union with another man. But never before was a husband accused of committing adultery against his wife. With this one statement, Jesus elevated the position of the wife to equal dignity as her husband and demanded the same fidelity of the husband as was required of the wife.
The emphasis Jesus places on the creation account of marriage reveals to all that no human can undo what God has done between a couple in marriage. Two become one, each becomes a part of the existence of the other. Such a union cannot be created by humans, but is a Divine institution. No human law can dissolve what God created without sinning. Jesus chooses to emphasis the overarching Scriptural principle of the sanctity of marriage, rather than camping on the one permission loophole. Jesus did not teach that the innocent party must divorce the unfaithfulness one, because the binding commitment of marriage does not depend upon human will or individual behavior, but rather on God’s original design and purpose for marriage, found in Ephesians 5:22-33. Divorce is never God’s choice. God hates divorce, Mal 2:16. God never accommodates or compromises His principles on the matter of divorce, but He does redeem and restore any who seek His forgiveness.
On the Ellen DeGeneres show, actor Will Smith said about marriage, “What I found is divorce just can’t be an option…and I think that’s the problem with L.A. – there are so many options…. just removed the other options.”