Monday, April 2, 2012

The Bible on Divorce & Remarriage - Four

Divorce is a fact of life.

God's design for marriage is a lifetime union of a man and woman in absolute fidelity and covenant loyalty. This design suggests the unity between the persons of the godhead and pictures the relationship of Christ with the Church.

Nevertheless, human beings are sinful and only imperfectly follow God's design even in the best case. Husbands fail their wives, wives fail their husbands and both of them fail God even if they never divorce. In the Old Testament Law, God acknowledges the fact of divorce, gives some regulations for divorce and stipulates some limits on the practice of divorce. In prophecies against the idolatrous practices of Israel and Judah God portrays himself as a husband divorcing his adulterous wives. In Ezra, men who have married pagan wives are ordered to divorce them, and this is portrayed as a good thing - a matter of faithfulness to God.

What does all of this mean to us?

Old Testament Law lays down a principle (e.g., a commandment or a regulation) and then illustrates the limits of the rule by giving exceptional examples. In principle marriage was a lifetime commitment - not just to your spouse, but also to God because of your vow before Him. In principle adultery would be punished by the death penalty. But God allowed a man to give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away (Deut. 24:1). The divorced woman was still part of the community and could remarry in most cases. She was not punished for being divorced.

The examples of exceptions regarding divorce define the boundaries and imply the normal practices inside those boundaries.

A divorced woman could be remarried.
Lev. 21:7 - A priest could not marry a divorced woman. He also could not marry a prostitute or "defiled woman." / This prohibition has to do with the special status of the priest as "holy to his God." / It suggests that the woman might have been divorced because of infidelity to her husband. / But this prohibition also implies that men who were not priests could marry a divorced woman.
Lev. 21:14 - A high priest is also prohibited from marrying a divorced woman. In fact, a high priest could not marry a widow either. He is restricted to marrying a virgin of his own people. / The inclusion of widows into this list is very interesting. Is he suggesting that widows are somehow defiled? / In any case, the implication is that other men could marry women from these categories if they so choose, but a high priest, because of his special role in religious society, could not.
Deut. 24:1-4 - A man who divorces his wife is forbidden from remarrying her after she has been the wife of another man. / Verse two indicates that she freely becomes the wife of another man and implies that this is an expected course of action. / But after that, should she lose her second husband, the first husband cannot marry her again because she is has been defiled. / While it says she has been defiled, it is evidently only with regard to marrying her previous husband again. He forced her into another relationship, now he cannot say that his grounds for divorce were inconsequential now that she has had a marriage relationship with another man.

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