Sunday, March 10, 2024

Really, Jesus? You Don't Know My Wife!

Divorce, even in Jesus' day, was a difficult subject.

Marriage was all along God's plan for His human children. His divine directive is unity and the fruit of that unity. 

On the fifth day of creation, He orders that the life He has created--the birds of the air and the creatures of the sea, to be fruitful and multiply: "God blessed them and said, 'Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.'” (Gen. 1:22)

We associate that directive with human beings, but He wanted all things to reproduce. He wanted the earth to be filled with His creatures and their fruitfulness is a generational re-creating of His design.  God delights in beauty and abundance. 

God could have created one panda, one flamingo and one butterfly.  But that would have been for His enjoyment alone.  But that's not the God we serve.  He wanted a sky full of stars, oceans filled with wonderful creatures and the land hosting a variety of animals we would delight in. Perhaps we were created last, so God could enjoy all that He had made with us. Have you ever witnessed a sunset, and thought, "Oh, my mom would love this!"  Or watched a puppy playing in the yard, and you ran and grabbed your daughter to come to window and watch?  We want to share the beauty that we see, and the joy we experience--God is no different. 

Then God creates a helper for Adam--the one in Hebrew is ezer.  It means, "one who helps."  Very straightforward, huh?  Help with what?  Being a steward over creation.  A partner. Someone to share life with: the work, the joy, the tasks and the bounty.  Eve came from Adam's rib--she was crafted from a part of him--and she was his partner in everything he did. 

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Gen. 1:26) [emphasis mine]. 

Notice, God, from the very beginning, saw how important relationships were for Adam, and who better to fulfill that role that someone whose very body carries a part of him? God wanted a "they" to shepherd creation, not a "he" imbued with all the power and responsibility, lording over a "she." 

"So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them." (Gen. 1:27)

God didn't create Eve as an afterthought--she was an integral aspect of God's creation.  All the other creatures were told to multiply--a singular Adam, alone, was not God's intention. 

Once Adam and Eve are standing before God, He says, "'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Gen. 1:28)

Before the Fall, relationship was the core of creation: God with us, Adam with Eve, the animals with each other and a sense that permeated all of creation:  We are all interconnected. 

The Fall shattered that.  Adam and Eve's relationship now possessed shame and they were unsure how to relate to God and to one another.  God demands of Adam what happened, and Adam says, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” (Gen. 3:12.  Eve lost her name.  It was subsumed under Adam's pride and fear and he was willing to distance himself from his choice by blaming God and Eve for his failure.

So, Adam and Eve, exiled from the Garden, had to sustain and maintain a relationship marred and made murky because of sin.

So, too, do we. 

Jesus states, "It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery." (Matt. 5: 31-32)

Jesus is recounting Deuteronomy 24:1-4:  "If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man,  and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance."

The Kingdom of God is not a simple repeating of Mosaic Law...Jesus is taking the foundation and adds to it by emphasizing relationships Yes, technically, a man has the right to divorce his wife, but the Kingdom is not built on rights, but relationships.  Jesus is fulfilling, not abolishing the Law.  He says, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Matt. 15:52)

Jesus is bringing new treasure to the old. 

God uses marriage and well as parenthood as a metaphor for Him and His people.  Here is a partial list:

  • "For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called." (Is. 54:5)
  • "For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. For the Lord has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you." (Is. 54:5-7)
  • "Not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord." (Jer. 31:32)
  • "And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy." (Hosea 2:19)
God used marriage as a way to explain His love for His people, and then His utter devastation when His people committed spiritual adultery by worshiping other gods.  

Broken relationships were and are never a part of God's intention or design.

In fact, Jesus uses adultery as the only legitimate reason for divorce.  Later Jesus will reiterate this when the Pharisees ask, 

"'Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?' He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh"? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.' They said to him, 'Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?' He said to them, 'Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.'" (Matt. 19:3-9)

How do we deal with this today?  If we view our relationships' purpose is to make us happy, then we would have sided with Hillel's interpretation of  Mosaic Law.  There were two schools of rabbinical thought in Jesus' day.  Shammai emphasized unfaithfulness as the core issue in Moses' teaching in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, and Hillel saw the phrase "displeasing to him" as the legitimate basis for divorce.  Jesus clearly sides with Shammai; but He reminds His listeners of God's original design. [1]

Happiness is important but it not to be the sole pursuit of God's children. Today, and I am sure in Jesus' day, there were circumstances where divorce was very understandable: Violence to the woman or the children (or both) and abuse of any kind.  Violence and abuse shatter what marriage is about.  Then the divorce, while absolutely essential, destroys the unity of what God wants for us, and grieves Him, not because He is angry with us but He sees just how much sin has destroyed His children's relationships. 

Jesus knew there were many unhappy people sitting on that hillside, thinking that if Jesus only knew their wife or the husband, He'd be handing out those certificates of divorce. 

But Jesus wanted His listeners to understand that God sees us as His bride and could have, by all rights, divorced humanity a long time ago. 

But God is in the business of restoration.  He will use whatever tools He can to redirect us back to wholeness. He wants the abused wife to be whole, as well as the abuser.  Both are His children. Safety for His children is essential; restoration is God's desire but reconciliation for many may not be possible nor desirable. 

Jesus is reminding us in this mountainside sermon that God desires to be intimately involved with us, but not hovering over us like the Pharisees, ready to punish us at the slightest infraction of the Law. 

He wants to be in a deep and meaningful relationship with us, and we with each other. 

Jesus will empower us to make this possible, by giving us the Holy Spirit, to dwell in us and multiply His fruit in our lives in abundance. 

[1]  Kenneth Barker, The NIV Study Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishers, 1985), p. 1469 

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