What the Bible Says About Divorce, II

Divorce in the Old Testament

What does the Bible say about divorce, in the Old Testament? The only OT passage to define and quantify the “rules” for divorce is Deut. 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.

God allowed divorce and established perameters for it. Mark 10:5 says God allowed divorce because of the hardness of their hearts – we’ll get into that in more depth later. But first, I just want to dig into this passage to see what God said about divorce.

Basically, the reasons for a man getting divorced were open-ended. If his wife displeased him, he could divorce her. However, it doesn’t seem likely that men were not abandoning their wives before this time.

The biggest thing this accomplished, I think, is found in the second half of verse one. If his wife displeased him, the husband could not just abandon his wife. He had to give her a bill of divorcement and send her out of his house. He could not keep her and use her as a slave. He could not abandon her without protection or provision. He had to give her a bill of divorcement.

Prior to God establishing guidelines for divorce, women who were being mistreated had no recourse. In a culture where women were chattel, a woman who did not have the protection and provision of a man was free game. She would be taken and used by whomever wanted her. She had no way to feed, clothe or house herself other than to sell herself.

Once the husband had divorced his wife, she was free to remarry (verse 2). There was no negative implications toward her, no charges of adultery. She was free to remarry. This was for her protection. Divorce was allowed to protect the victims.

The only limitation given in God’s original rules for divorce was that the husband and wife married first could not remarry each other if either of them married someone else. According to this passage, this – remarriage of two people who had subsequently married others – was an abomination to God; not divorce and not remarriage.

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10 Responses

  1. I love the stance you have taken here. Your interpretation goes very closely alongside mine. I work for http://www.firstwivesworld.com, it is an online community for women navigating through the various stages of divorce and life thereafter. Therefore I spend a lot of time researching and reading up on the subject. The majority of the religious websites I visit on the topic of divorce say that divorce is forbidden, that it is written in the Bible that it is an “abomination.” It is all about the interpretation of what is said, we can never know exactly what is meant in those words because we were not there when they were written but we can infer. I more willing to believe that God wants us to be happy and live our lives as best as we can, which is why we were given free will in the first place. Therefore I am willing to bet that if someone finds themself in a marriage that no longer works and cannot be sustained, it is ok to find a new path in life.
    Just my two cents
    Ann Marie

  2. well i have been seperated from my husband for 4 years. i have to say i totally disagree. Yes God allowed divorce – only in the sense that he will not cross our free will- re the hardness of your hearts. i have struggled with my flesh time and time again, each time god says no do not divorce this man. god hates and i repeats hates divorce- we are to forgive- we are to take up our cross, we are to love not our lives.is not the gospel about forgiveness and love?if we have found true forgiveness through christ, them we couldnt possibly find it in ourselves to divorce.this is not a gospel of if it feels good do it- we are to dye to self and honour gods word!!! Not twist the scriptures to tickle itching ears.

    • Why do Christians say that the Bible does not allow divorce? Or that it is forbidden? They say this for one reason and all else that follows is based on this; they deny the scriptural authority of the Tanakh. They believe that G-d has superceded the first 3/4’s of the Bible.

      This is false.

      Yeshua said he did not come to replace the law but to fulfill it. What law was he talking about? Why the law that existed when he was speaking. Since the Christian Bible did not exist then, Yeshua was talking about the law of his Father, the tanakh.

      Properly read the apostolic writings DO NOT contradict the Tanakh.

      • I agree with you, Ramon. And I would suggest to Petra Stone (who hasn’t been here in a year) that if she has been separated for 4 years, then in the eyes of God she is already divorced. If you look at the Bible, marriage and divorce happen in the HEART, not in the courts. Finalizing the paperwork with the gov’t would just be a formality for her at this point.

  3. I agree completely with the stance taken on divorce in the Old Testament. The Word says “God hates divorce”, not “thou shalt not divorce”. In response to Petra Stone, I honestly feel that if a man wants a divorce and a woman will not divorce, she is walking in disobedience. Remember, in the hierarchy of family, the man receives the vision for HIS household. This provision of divorce is as much there for the woman as it is for the man. Divorce protects you as a woman from being abandoned as was sited above, and now you are free to re-marry. Turn the tables for a second. Suppose he was abusive? You can forgive him for his offenses, but you don’t have to stay married. Remember, all the Word says is that “she find no favor in his eyes”. That could mean a whole host of things.

    No one says that you don’t forgive because you divorce. It’s quite the contrary. You forgive each other for entering into a marriage that apparently one of you was not ready for.

    Forgive him and let him go Petra.

  4. I am also doing a study on divorce and I must say there is tremendous ignorance of the Word on this matter. People are taking one or two scriptures out of context and painting all divorce with a broad brush. Well, I have walked with the Lord for over thirty years, but early on in my walk I married someone the Lord had not wanted me to marry. I made sure he recited the sinner’s prayer because I didn’t want to marry an unbeliever, but in retrospect, I don’t know if he was ever really saved. There was extreme mental and emotional abuse, drinking, drugs, and porn, but because I knew God hated divorce, I just kept praying. Finally, the Lord said to me one day during prayer, “He’s not going to change; what are you going to do?” A year and a half later, I filed for divorce. I had to wait to make sure it was really God who was leading me, because there was no adultery that I was aware of and there is no way I would do anything I knew was out of God’s will. After the divorce however, my former spouse revealed that he had been unfaithful many times during our marriage, something he had never revealed in our 3 separate attempts (not three visits) at marital counseling. I had felt guilty about the divorce up to then even though I knew it was God’s will for me, because of the Church’s judgmental attitudes. But then I understood that God knew about the infidelity and my ex’s unrepentant heart and was calling me out of the marriage. This is just the abbreviated version, but the bottom line is, study the Word on this matter yourself and don’t just take the word of the person in the pulpit who might be prejudiced and isn’t studying himself. Divorce is God’s merciful provision in a fallen world, and believers must be led by God alone in a decision to divorce or to remain in a marriage. He knows what’s right for you. Petra you need to get past that “God hates divorce” rut you are in. Of course God hates divorce; I hate divorce too. The best safeguard against divorce is to marry within the will of God, which I did not and clearly neither did you. I was married for 25 years and thought I was marrying for life. But you cannot make someone love or respect you or treat you right. Stay only if you are sure it is God telling you to, and probably the only reason he would do that is because somewhere down the line your husband will change and accept Christ. If so, God will give you the grace to endure; if not, “there is no grace for a false burden,” something God told me years ago. My ex has not change; he’s still the same person he was when I left him four years ago.

  5. Freebird,

    I understand completely when you say you had to wait until you were sure it was God’s voice! I waited and waited and waited and asked for confirmation after confirmation. God was so gracious with me, and patiently reinforced every time I asked. Still, I was accused of listening to my flesh and told I cannot make such a decision (knowing God’s voice) without confirmation from church leadership. LOL!

    Even in that moment, while I felt the automatic reaction of shame, I thought – “but I know that voice. I’ve been listening to it and following it for years. I KNOW that voice.” It wasn’t until a couple weeks later that I learned they would NEVER have approved my divorce since there was no known adultery. I love my pastors still, but they also know this is a place where we will have to lovingly agree to disagree.

    Fear of man (idolatry!) kept me in that marriage far too long – I had to step out blindly in faith on what I KNEW God had told me, and confirmed to me many times.

    As you can see from the comments I have gotten, I still face opposition. But that’s OK. It doesn’t upset me – because I’m accountable to only one – God. That’s the only opinion that matters to me. He’s the one I will stand before and be accountable – not any human on this earth.

    You are also right about taking the word of people. This is a very personal journey. I came to realize that there are very few pastors who have truly gone to God with this issue for His instruction. Most believe what they believe because it is what they were taught, by men who were taught the same by others – back almost 2000 years. That’s a pretty strong pedigree – and it’s not one I’m likely to make a huge dent in!

    I don’t see that heart in Paul – I believe we would hear something else entirely if we sat down and had a chat with him. But, in looking at church history, by the second generation the church had already begun to slip into rule-based religion. My personal hypothesis is that once the apostles who had personally known Jesus were gone, people started living on second-hand relationship. It all goes south from there.

    And now I’ve gone completely off track on a personal theory. lol!

    I also loved your comment “there is no grace for a false burden” — something else God taught me! You are right on.

    — Danni

  6. Dannimoss,

    When I finally acce[ted that it was God’s will for me to divorce, I told God that I would wait on him for everything, even the timing of the filing of the papers. One morning I woke up and he told me what to do and when. During the entire process I waited on God and was amazed at how he worked things out. I have written a book that includes all of this. One day, if it is God’s will, I will have it published.

    P.S. I looked at the date on your blog and realized today would have been my 29th wedding anniversary! But I thank God everyday for my deliverance and my peace.

  7. Hello, everyone. The interesting thing is, that I am here because I received the words “Petra Stone” and it led me here… whether or not this is what I’m supposed to know- I was in a similar situation with my ex…

    In a nutshell: I got saved, he didn’t. We were together off an on nearly 30 years. I forgave him everything you could think of including molesting my own daughter. We were all sinners and all sin is created equal.

    He was also very abusive in every way.

    I tortured myself for years about how I was just not “good” enough, and would always go back and keep trying.

    I moved out with my daughters, and went on social assistance. He pushed for me to initiate divorce proceedings since I would not have to pay for it.

    Some felt I should not have agreed, and I never wanted to, but he insisted- even though we were still “reconciling” several times a week, though living separate. Needless to say, these were confusing times for me… I felt that in the eyes of God we were still married no matter what.

    Two years after the divorce was final, we moved back in together without remarrying.

    Five years later, I left for good when he pointed a machete in my 15- year old daughter’s face.

    We continued to see each other once in awhile, but three years ago he began living with someone else whom he will marry to get papers to stay in the country- which is what I did for him.

    Basically what did it for me is the day he said, “Look- I like myself the way I am, and I’m never going to change, so if that’s what you’re waiting for, don’t. waste your time.”

    Well that cleared it right up, wish he’d said so a lot earlier.

    Because I was living in an abusive situation, I never got the concept of “submission”… it always seemed to infer subjection to brutality, and I would NOT go there… although in reality, I was “submitting” every day… but there were other times, when I was clearly being stubborn and my only way of “getting back” was to ignore the unreasonably high standards that he set for himself in the home.

    He expected that I should also work, plus take care of all the housework and everything to do with the kids and find energy to spare to help him with his business at night.

    He repeatedly stated I could easily be replaced. I felt more like an employee than a wife.

    After supper and the kids were in bed I’d take off and go night driving just to unwind mentally. In reality I shouldn’t have had to do things like that, but I felt I would lose my mind otherwise.

    Well all that to say, that when Ms. Perfect came along, she suffered the first year with him being treated like a slave. Now she’s the queen, and controls him like nothing. So, now I get it. There is great power in humility. My mistake was trying to fight back.

    But the important thing to remember is this: We are NOT required to stay in an abusive relationship! “But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled…”

    I am 50 now, and have no desire to remarry whatsoever. I never thought I would ever get to that place, but God has given me that complete peace about it and He truly is more than enough.

    A very wise friend of mine once told me during my first major separation, (at a time when neither of us could bear the thought of being single until our ex’s died) that when you depart, one of two things will happen. Either he will change, (not likely) OR he will take somebody else, in which case you are FREE to remarry in the Lord.

    The idea is that when this happens, you become the injured party as long as you have not had anyone else. So, when it says remain unmarried, your unsaved spouse will not likely remain celibate, and hence you are not under bondage. The Word provides for that.

    Of course, all that aside, there are those who feel remarriage is out of the question under any circumstances except death of the spouse. But even so, look at Nabal and Abigail. God loves us, and if He sees that our spouse will never repent, don’t you think He will provide a way for us.

    The idea is we must wait on Him and trust that He will make a way and make all things beautiful in its time.

  8. The variety of views in these comments is pretty typical of the range of views out there. I feel especially sad for people who have remained in relationship to abusers for many years because they think that divorce is forbidden in their circumstances. I make the case in my book ‘Not Under Bondage’ that God does not hate divorce per se, and that is a mistranslation of the Hebrew. At least 18 Hebrew scholars and two recent Bible translations (the ESV and the Holman Christian Standard Version) agree that Malachi is talking about the divocing husband as the one who expresses the hatred. It’s not God expressing the hatred.
    Please, everyone, before you get more het up about this divorce topic, I suggest you look at my book and make yourselves open to the possibility that your ideas may be recalibrated.
    The Bible is very merciful to abuse victims. And very just. And gives clear guidance that sets victims free from guilt and condemnation on this issue.

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