What the Bible Says About Divorce, I

God Hates Divorce

God hates divorce. That’s what the Bible says, right? Actually, it is not what the Bible says. Surprised? Most people are. This is one example where what the Bible says about divorce has been skewed by tradition. Let’s look at what the Bible says.

The statement that God hates divorce is taken from Mal. 2:16. Interestingly, not all translations use the word divorce in this verse. The original language uses the Hebrew word shalach. And nowhere else in the Bible is that word translated “divorce.” The words used in the Old Testament for divorce are garash and kariythuwth.  Garash is used seven times while kariythuwth is used four times.  Both are always used to identify legal divorce; the legal termination of a marriage. If God meant divorce in this verse, He would have used the word garash or kariythuwth, not shalach.

The word translated divorce in some English translations in Mal. 2:16 is correctly translated “put away, send away, cast out, cast away, or push away.” Shalach is used 790 times in the Old Testament and is used generically almost all the time, in a context having nothing to do with marriage. For instance, shalach was used when God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden, when Noah sent a dove out of the ark, when angels were sent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, when Abraham sent Hagar away, etc.

So, let’s take another look at Mal. 2 where God says He hates “divorce” and find out what He means. Mal. 2:13-16:

And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand.
Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast 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.

God says here, while the men are in “church” crying out to God with tears because He is not responding, He will not receive anything from them because of the way they are treating their wives. These men are completely oblivious to their error.

There are some interesting things to notice in this passage. First, these people are not legally divorced. God speaks of how these men are treating the wives they currently have, not women they have divorced. Within this context is the statement that has been erroneously translated “God hates divorce.” What God says is He hates “putting away.”

According to this passage, what God hates is “putting away, pushing away” within marriage. He calls this treachery. This word “treachery” is the Hebrew word bagad and means “to cover (with a garment); figuratively, to act covertly; by implication, to pillage:–deal deceitfully (treacherously, unfaithfully), offend, transgress” according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance.

Notice something else God does not say. He doesn’t say anything here about sexual adultery. He’s not talking about extramarital sex. He’s talking about systematic internal rejection of the spouse; pushing the spouse away. At its most basic, God is talking about violating the oneness relationship that is supposed to characterize human marriage.

There is a reason why this matters. Human marriage is a picture of the relationship between God and His people. It is fundamentally rooted and based in oneness. Oneness is the very essence of the relationship. When oneness is violated in a human marriage it is an assault on the picture of relationship with God. All assaults on oneness in marriage are equal because they all violate this principle. Sexual adultery is just one violation of oneness.

And using the word assault is not an overstatement. This passage says this treachery is violence. When someone (man or woman) persistently violates the oneness of their marital relationship through any form of rejection, they are also assaulting their own spirit and cutting off their own relationship with God.

This is what God hates – violation of marital oneness. It is not about a legal document that publically acknowledges what has already happened in the relationship. God is always looking at the heart of the matter. It is the heart God is addressing here, not legal dissolution of marriage.