Divorce – Ending a Marriage
Questions about divorce have been around since the time of Moses. Even religious experts in God’s law didn’t fully understand the marriage covenant when they asked Jesus “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” (1) Marriage is so important to God that He compares the marriage covenant to His covenant with the Church. (2) Therefore, God is very specific regarding the terms of that covenant agreement.
Duration of God’s Marriage Covenant
Marriage is a permanent agreement
Moses decision to permit divorce was a civil decision. Since the people’s hearts were hardened to God’s law, Moses permitted divorce as a means to protect wives from greater hardship from their husbands, and thus acted as a civil judge. However, Jesus makes it clear that divorce was never God’s design for marriage. (3)
He reminds them that from the beginning God designed marriage as a permanent covenant relationship, and “what God has joined together, let man not separate.” Since marriage is God’s covenant, man does not decide the terms of the marriage covenant – God does, and God is very specific about those terms. (4)
“Till death do us part”
God tells us the duration of the marriage relationship is “till death do us part”. The Apostle Paul says “A married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage Rom 7:2. In the marriage covenant, if a spouse dies, the marriage covenant also dies. The spouse is then free to enter into a new marriage covenant with another person. (5)
This permanent term should not be viewed as a negative thing but a positive thing. God’s covenants give both security and promised blessings. God demonstrates this by comparing the marriage relationship to His relationship with His people.
God’s first salvation covenant with us was through the Law, which was full of rules and restrictions. When Christ died, He freed us from that covenant. Now we are free to be in a new covenant relationship with God, which is full of grace and freedom. (6) Just like Jesus said ‘no man can separate” the marriage covenant; Jesus also said, no one can separate us from his salvation covenant, and that’s a very positive thing. “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:28
Marriage is one of the most intimate human relationships you will have. You want that intimacy to be protected and secure so you can enjoy all the blessings that God intended for the marriage relationship. (7)
When Is Divorce Permitted?
The Bible tells us that adultery is the only scriptural reason that God gives for permitting divorce. Jesus said, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery” – Mat 19:9 . God views adultery as a treacherous act of betrayal. When adultery occurs, God says they have “broken faith,” and the offended spouse is no longer bound by that marriage covenant and free to remarry. (8)
However, even in the case of adultery, God still desires a couple to remain married. He says “I hate divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence,”. (9) Not only is divorce breaking a vow with God which has forbidden,(10) but God also knows the pain divorce causes when couples and families are torn apart. (11).
When adultery occurs, God prefers forgiveness and restoration over divorce. He demonstrates the importance of this by using His own relationship with unfaithful Israel and their pursuit of other gods. God had the right to issue them a “certificate of divorce,” but because He valued their relationship so much He forgave them and took them back. (12).
The Apostle Paul also teaches the permanence of the marriage relationship by telling us, “if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him”. In fact he said by doing so, the unbeliever might even become saved. However, if the unbeliever chooses to divorce them, then they are not bound by that marriage and free to remarry. (13)
Marriage is not for everyone and nowhere are we commanded to marry. If you choose to get married, you are choosing to enter into a covenant with God and vowing to be faithful to that covenant. This decision therefore should not be taken lightly. God says “it’s better to not make a vow then to make a vow and not keep it.” Eccl 5:5.
God clearly defines marriage as a permanent covenant agreement that cannot be terminated except in the case of adultery. Even then, God prefers reconciliation over divorce.
The marriage covenant’s permanence should be viewed as a positive thing as it brings security to the gracious gift God designed to bring joy to our lives. He who finds a wife finds a good thing, And obtains favor from the LORD. Prov 18:22. Honoring and upholding the marriage vows not only brings blessing into our own lives, but it also brings honor and glory to God.
(1) Mat 19:7; De 24:1-4
(2) Eph 5:25-32
(3) Matt 19:8; ; Ezek 20:24-25; Zec 7:12; Psalm 95:8-10; Romans 1:28;
(4) Mat 19:3-9; Gensis 2:24
(5) Colossians 2:14;Rom 7:1-2; 1 Cor 7:39
(6) Galatians 5:1-14; Romans 7:4; “2 Cor 11:2.
(7) See: What is the Purpose of Marriage
(8) Mal 2:14;
(9) Mal 2:16
(10) Eccl 5:5
(11) Mal 2:16
(12) Jer 3:8; Jer 3:20; Jer 3:14;
(13) 1 Cor 7:13-16
*Divorces that are biblically based are for the purpose of allowing for remarriage, MacArthur explained. “The whole reason for divorce is so that the person is not shamed. It is a vindication of the innocent person for the very purpose of remarriage.” Article on Christian Post.