This series is about tzedakah, righteousness in Hebrew, and my statement that a true disciple of Jesus (not just a believer, but a disciple) cannot live a self-focused life, but will undergo a process in which the Lord brings them through self-centeredness to turn outward towards others as they mature in Him.
Church culture teaches righteousness is just vertical, meaning ‘right standing with God’, but in Judaism a person cannot have right standing before God unless they also are in right standing before man.
Jesus made statements concerning adultery, fornication, divorce, and remarriage which can only be understood within the framework of tzedakah and the Jewish law of the day.
Here is the Israeli divorce law, from Deuteronomy 24:1-4:
“When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man’s wife. And if the second husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the second husband dies who took her to be his wife, then her first husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife…(she is allowed to become a third man’s wife).”
That was it – that was the whole Israeli divorce law, and over the centuries debate raged under what conditions a man might divorce his wife.
Jesus is addressing the law of Deuteronomy 24 and the law of the day
The law of Jesus’ day followed what a Rabbi named Hillel taught: That if the wife did something as minor as ruining what she was cooking and served a bad meal, it was grounds for divorce. Others said a man could divorce his wife simply if he found someone more beautiful than her.
Hillel’s law WAS the law in Jesus’ day – any man or woman* could divorce in a ‘no fault’ divorce just because they wanted someone better looking or the wife had cooked a bad meal or any other reason. Jesus’ comments were focused directly against that law as He taught God’s original intent. *Mark 10:12
Therefore to lift what Jesus said outside of Hillel’s law and apply it to marriage and divorce today, is totally misrepresenting what Jesus was addressing here and has led to the bondage of many.
Why did God give divorce?
When Jesus was asked why God issued the divorce law if He intended man/wife to be together for life, He said it was ‘due to the hardness of men’s hearts’*, meaning to be just, the Father had to provide a way of escape for an innocent spouse should their spouse harden his or her heart against them. *Matthew 19:18
A hard heart in marriage was considered to include sex outside of marriage, neglect, abandonment, and physical or mental abuse. For any of those reasons God allows divorce. In every covenant there must be a way of escape if the covenant is broken, and divorce is the way of escape in a marriage for the innocent spouse - but the best case scenario is that a couple is together all their lives.
Modern contracts and covenants
For example: In a business contract there is a always an ‘escape clause’ to protect each person or company. If you default on your mortgage, the way of escape for the bank is to get that house back and you to leave without any civil penalty. If you buy a house that is faulty and the seller knew it, there is provision for you to back out or make them repair it. And on it goes – in every covenant or contract there is a way of escape should one party fail to keep their terms of the covenant. Divorce is the God-provided ‘escape clause’ if spouse fails the covenant by hardening their heart against their spouse.
We have to define ‘adultery’ and ‘fornication’ as Jesus did
“You have heard it said of them of old time, You shall not commit adultery”: But I say to you that whoever looks on another woman to lust after her, has committed adultery with her already in his heart…It has been said, *Whoever wants to divorce his wife, let him give her a bill of divorce. But I say to you, that whoever divorces his wife, except for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries her that is divorced commits adultery.” Matthew 5:28-32
*He is addressing the no-fault, for any reason law of the day. Jesus defined adultery as an affair of the heart, the imagination of a sexual relationship. To understand accurately what He is saying, we must understand it from tzedakah. Tzedakah says a man is not in right standing before God unless He is in right standing with his fellow man, and that horizontal righteousness starts in his marriage. Adultery is one spouse having imaginary sex/affair with another, making them unrighteous in that area. Today that would include porn, some TV, movies, or even articles/pictures in print that stir sexual imagination, and so on. In marriage one’s imaginations should be confined to one’s spouse.
The core reason for divorce?
Jesus said grounds for divorce is fornication, which is the act of sex outside one’s marriage. Not adultery, the imagination, but rather the consummation of the imagination. The reason fornication is grounds for divorce is simple: The act of marriage is the physical consummation of vows of covenant made in the heart. For a married person to have sex with someone other than their spouse means they are consummating another covenant with the person, rendering the first void. Once revealed, it is up to the two to decide if they want to work at repairing their covenant of marriage, or leave it broken, divorce, and move on in life.
And as mentioned above, fornication is recognized as a hardening of one’s heart against their spouse as well as abandonment, neglect, or abuse. All those are the breaking of the covenant. When a person vows words to the effect of loving, honoring, and cherishing the other all their days, and then breaks that by abusing, neglecting, or abandoning them, that too is breaking the covenant, and God’s way of escape is divorce.
Adultery by Jesus’ definition was the imagination and a classification of the nature of the relationship.
Therefore His statement that if a man divorces his wife for (let us say for burnt eggs) and marries another, the classification of that marriage is adulterous – it is not just before God – burnt eggs do not rise to the level of a hard heart against her husband. So to divorce her for burnt eggs is adulterous in nature, unjust against her.
The idea of Jesus classifying an illegal marriage in God’s eyes as adulterous should not be a surprise, for we do it all the time. I’ve had many Christians tell me their marriage was one of lust, but then they were born again and God changed their hearts to be married for love. I’ve seen people enter into ‘rebound’ marriage(s) after a divorce or death of a spouse, to confess later they married due to loneliness. I’ve had men and women tell me they married for money, and only later did they adjust their heart as the Lord changed them to fall in love with their spouse. And a side note – using a reason like the above as an excuse to divorce is not just either, for in Christ all things can become new – but it will take work for them to fall in love the ‘right’ way.
So realize Jesus merely did what we do today – stating if a man/woman divorces for lust in their heart for another or for something minor like burnt eggs, that new marriage/relationship is by classification, adultery.
In summary, Jesus was addressing within tzedakah, the no-fault law of the day which allowed a man or woman to divorce at will. A person’s righteousness vertically with God must also be horizontally first to their spouse. If they carry on an imaginary sexual affair in their mind with someone other than their spouse, they are committing adultery and aren’t tzedakah in that area.
If they consummate that adultery with the physical act of sex with another, they are establishing a new covenant with that person, rendering their marriage covenant void, and because that was an illegal act, by classification that second marriage is adulterous in nature and not tzedakah. That consummation of another covenant by having sex with someone other than their spouse is indication of a hardening of the heart towards their spouse, and along with abuse, neglect, and abandonment, are grounds for divorce, allowing the innocent spouse a new start in life clean before the Lord.
I hope that clears up religious error so many people have been damaged by, and sets Jesus’ words in context and the culture of the day. Next week tzedakah and understanding giving as you never have before.