Category Archives: remarriage

The Only Divorce in the Bible

We have traditionally been taught that the marriage covenant is unbreakable with the exceptions of adultery and abandonment; therefore divorce for any other cause must be characterized as a sin.  So it is instructive to examine the only actual divorce in the Bible.  Found in the Book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament, most people are shocked to learn that it was the Lord God Himself who divorced His bride, Israel.  We read:

“The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: “Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? And I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to Me,’ but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it.  She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce.  Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. “Why do you contend with me?””  Jeremiah 3:6-9 (English Standard Version)

It is a tragic account, where the chosen of God had abandoned their love relationship with God to follow after other lovers.

“Aha!” the legalists might say.  God divorced Israel precisely as a result of her adultery.  Well, yes and no.  If the reader believes that every Israelite had physically committed adultery, then such a claim is wholly unrealistic.  But if the reader can agree that the nation’s faithless heart had turned to idols, materialism, pride and selfish pursuits while neglecting their allegiance to the God who saved, protected and provided for them, then that would be more accurate.  Furthermore, it was Jesus who declared, “You have heard that it said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  Matthew 5:27-28

Our Lord made it clear that adultery is a sin of the heart even if it is never physically acted out.  So it was that in Jeremiah’s day God’s people had emotionally and spiritually turned their back on the One who had delivered and blessed them.  God sent His chosen bride a powerful message by recognizing the lawful dictates established in the Mosaic law to identify the truth about the condition of the relationship and act righteously in accordance with His people’s moral failure.

Let’s expound on this.

It is in Deuteronomy 24 that Moses put forth God’s law when it came to the process associated with the severance of a marriage:

“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…”  Deuteronomy 24:1-2 (English Standard Version)

(There is further direction regarding the lawful process should the woman be released from her subsequent husband, but for our purposes, we will stop there.)

The three elements of biblical divorce include:

1) Legitimate cause:

“…and it happens that she [the man’s wife] finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her…” (emphasis added)

This was understood to reference an offense of a serious and unacceptable nature.  The specifics remain undefined, which underscores that divorce was a matter of personal moral conscience.  (Some Jewish teachers taught – and continue to teach – that divorce was and is acceptable for “any cause at all,” but such a teaching seems in clear defiance of the heart of God for marriage.)

2) The provision of a writ of divorce:

“…and he writes her a certificate of divorce…”  The writ specifically noted that, possessing the writ, a woman was thenceforth deemed “free to any man.”

3) Permanent separation:

“…and sends her out from his house…”  Physical separation finalized the severance.

Upon the completion of these actions, both were free to marry.  In fact, Deuteronomy 24 presumes that the woman will marry again.

But let’s take a minute to absorb the depth of grief of Israel’s Father-God, whose bride had abandoned her first love, her sovereign husband.

“The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, thus says the Lord, “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.  Israel was holy to the Lord, the firstfruits of His harvest.  All who ate of it [Israel] incurred guilt; disaster came upon them, declares the Lord.””  Jeremiah  2:1-2

God blessed and protected His chosen ones.  But even as God poured out the fullness of His blessing on His people, they turned away, believing that they could anticipate His continued blessing even as they wandered off toward immoral, superficial and godless pursuits.

“Thus says the Lord: “What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from Me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?  They did not say, ‘Where is the Lord who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that none passes through, where no man dwells?’ And I brought you into a plentiful land to enjoy its fruits and its good things. But when you came in, you defiled My land and made My heritage an abomination. The priests did not say, ‘Where is the Lord?’ Those who handle the law did not know Me; the shepherds transgressed against Me; the prophets prophesied by Baal and went after things that do not profit.”  Jeremiah 2:5-8

This was not a minor offense, nor a singular one.  The hearts of the people had grievously rejected the covenant God had established between Himself and His people, wherein He had said, “I shall be your God, and you shall be My people.” (Exodus 6:7)

Jesus similarly clarified that it is in the heart that betrayal occurs.  The adulterous heart that brings corruption into the relationship, neglects its partner, and violates its oaths is guilty.  The notion that a partner is assured of continued blessing where there is treachery is a mockery and a lie; for the covenant has been broken.

And while we see God’s grace still extended, repentance was an absolute if the relationship was to be restored.

“Go and proclaim these words toward the north and say, ‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord; ‘I will not look upon you in anger.  For I am gracious,’ declares the Lord; ‘I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against the Lord your God and have scattered your favors to the strangers under every green tree, and you have not obeyed My voice,’ declares the Lord.”  Jeremiah 3:12-13

We see that the Lord offered His grace and forgiveness – if His people would repent and return to Him.

But God pronounces His severe judgments against a stiff-necked people who refused to receive His petitions, a people who thwarted the blessings God longed to bestow upon them but could not because of their hardness of heart.

So is every broken relationship doomed?  Of course not.  Every relationship can be healed but only if both parties are willing, not just one.  Furthermore, healing can only come if the offenses are confessed, repentance is genuine and trust is restored.  Those determinations must be made by the ones in the relationship and respected when one or the other fails to provide more than lip-service.

It is also important to note that, using the literal translations of these terms in Scripture, the word “divorce” as a noun does not exist, so there is no such thing as “getting a divorce” nor does the word “divorced” occur as an adjective, such as “a divorced man or woman.”  Neither is there any reference to remarriage or a remarried individual.  Biblically, in terms of marital status, an individual of marriage-worthy age could only be unmarried, married, free to marry or “put away,” which describes the woman who had been sent away without a writ, keeping her legally bound to her husband.  In the Jewish culture, a put-away woman is known as “agunah,” which means “anchored” or “chained woman.”

What is meant by “put away?”  In biblical times, men had grown accustomed to sending away their wives either without cause and/or without a writ – in direct violation of the precepts of the Mosaic law.  Without a writ, a “put-away” woman was usually deprived of the return of her dowry in addition to mandatory financial support for a predetermined period of time, obligations which would have been specified in the “ketubah,” the marriage contract.

For this reason, the interpretation of Malachi 2 wherein the prophet presumably asserts that God hates divorce is patently incorrect.  The prophet actually says that God hates the act of “putting away” a spouse for it was a self-serving act and a cruel offense against wives who were left abandoned and materially unprotected, whereas their husbands were taking other wives in their place and committing polygamy in the process.  The Scripture never says that God hates divorce.

But what of the covenant?  Is such a covenant unbreakable?  The truth is that no covenant is unbreakable.  Throughout the Bible, covenants are made, kept and  broken.  It takes all parties of the covenant to keep it, and only one to break it.  Here we see that the nations of Israel and Judah were responsible for breaking their covenant with God.

“They have turned back to the iniquities of their ancestors who refused to hear My words, and they have gone after other gods to serve them; the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken My covenant which I made with their fathers.”  Jeremiah 11:10

Divorce in the New Testament

Similarly it is the act of “putting away” that Jesus condemned, for the put-away woman and the man who married a put-away woman both committed adultery, for she was still another man’s wife.  When you see the word “divorce” in the New Testament, replace the word with the term “put away” or find a literal translation to see a profoundly different truth.

For example, in Matthew 19, we read, “Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?”” (New American Standard – emphasis added)

The literal translation reads, “And the Pharisees came near to him, tempting him, and saying to him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?’”(Young’s Literal Translation)

Suddenly, the meaning is distinctly altered.  It must be presumed that long-ago Bible interpreters did not know how to best translate “putting away,” and the closest English understanding correlated the term to the act of divorce; however, as you can see, the act and outcomes were not at all the same.

If God does not sin (and He cannot), then He purposefully took a righteous stand and sent a powerful message when He severed the bond with His wayward bride.  So it must similarly be recognized that those in ungodly marriages may have legitimate cause to end their marriages when the covenant is broken by one party or the other or both.  This does not make divorce a trivial act at all, but rather a sober matter of conscience before God.  Yet even He acknowledges that the dissolution of a marriage may represent an appropriate, biblical response to a willfully broken covenant.

For more insights on this subject, please consider my book, “God Is My Witness:  Making a Case for Biblical Divorce.”

Copyright 2017, All Rights Reserved

 

 

Avoiding Dating Disasters

dating (1)After escaping my abusive marriage, it was quite some time before I could begin to see men with any measure of objectivity, for during the craziness that came with divorcing my abuser, I arrived at the convenient conclusion that all men were scum.  My new mantra was clear and simple, and it felt good to finally embrace what felt like truth.

Having two sons, though, I knew they need not be destined for such a fate, and after more than two years of intense counseling, there finally came a moment when the high stone wall of disillusionment began to weaken, giving way to the remotest possibility of genuine relationship, when a flicker of hope began to warm my wounded, distrusting heart.

But reentering the dating world is not an easy thing after coming out of a relationship based on the lowest common denominators.  I was admittedly terrified at the possibility of making another life-altering mistake that would affect not only me but my children.  I didn’t ever want to play the fool once again or spend even one more night crying myself to sleep.

I presumed, as many of us 40-ish folks do, that all the good ones are taken.  I also realized that the odds were slim that any God-fearing man in his right mind would spend more than ten minutes in the presence of a shell-shocked, forty-something woman with four equally emotionally damaged children.

Looking back, it certainly does seem miraculous that I survived the Christian dating minefield (which is an appropriate description) and eventually met the love of my life and married him a little over nine years ago.  Based on my second-time-around experience, I would like to offer abuse survivors contemplating re-entering the dating world some basic suggestions.  They have been cobbled together from my understanding of our enabling tendencies bolstered by the lessons I learned through the dating process.

There is no scientific basis for what I share, and this commentary is intended almost exclusively for women, as I believe that a woman’s profoundly unique inclinations to operate as nurturers and helpmates also tend to make us prime abuser-bait. So as you consider re-entering this realm, these are a few things I would urge you to remember.

  • Remember:  You need time to heal.  You may never heal completely, but you need to be sufficiently healthy and emotionally strong enough to recognize unsafe or unhealthy men and walk away from them without blinking.  There is no specific timeline for testing those waters; however, if you are dangerously fragile and are torn between jumping in or waiting a while longer, please wait.  Time for healing and a balanced measure of wholeness are important pursuits and should not be rushed. Furthermore, loneliness is a poor motivation and could leave you vulnerable.  You need to be okay by yourself before you can be okay with someone else.  
  • Remember the needs of your children. Make sure your home base is well-covered and that your children feel secure and are able to handle any additional time you are away from them.  Consider whether they are okay with the idea of you dating.  Keep their needs first in this process even if that means waiting.

With children in mind, I personally recommend meeting new people at a neutral, public location rather than your home, at least until you feel like the relationship may have some long-term potential, so that men are not going in and out of your children’s lives.  You don’t want them to get the impression that relationships are inherently temporary, nor do you want them to grow too attached to someone who may or may not remain in their lives.

  • Remember: You have already been through hell. If you don’t want to walk that road again, avoid the kind of man who will be more than happy to take you there.  Even if you know what kind of relationship you want, you may be attracted to something else, something familiar – and unsafe.  This is not a call to paranoia, but rather to caution, a reminder to be willing to see legitimate issues, as we – as recovering abuse victims – have been trained to rationalize away those waving red and yellow flags.
  • Remember: Be patient.  This is not a race, and you are not looking for any man’s attention, you are waiting for the right man’s attention.  Whether you choose to wait for an acquaintance to ask you out to lunch or you decide to join a dating website, try not to panic, push or rush things, and listen, listen, listen to your instincts.  Don’t feel any obligation to “make it work.”  If that is your attitude, you are likely headed down a very familiar and unhealthy path.
  • Remember:  You want a protector not a project.  Any man with whom you decide to spend some time should be emotionally and spiritually balanced and healthy.  He should be a gentleman, not a show-boater, someone who sees you and hears what you have to say. He should be someone who would clearly look out for your needs rather than merely seeking to meet his own.
  • Remember: Set your standards high and hold to them.  Just because a guy notices you does not necessarily make him worthy of your attention.  You are under no obligation whatsoever to “give a guy a chance.”  If there is something in his manner or attitude that makes you uncomfortable, don’t waste your time or his.  You’re better off saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

If you hear a familiar voice whispering, “Maybe this is as good as it gets,” then know you are being tempted to settle for far less than you want, need and deserve.

One guy with whom I had met for coffee called one afternoon to invite me to go swing dancing with him that evening.  I told him I didn’t particularly enjoy swing dancing and would rather not.  He curtly responded, “A confident woman is comfortable in any situation.”  I told him that was nice, but that I still wasn’t going swing dancing with him.  His attempt to shame me into going out with him told me everything I needed to know.  End of story.

  • Remember:  Go Slow.  If a guy you barely know invites you to dinner, arrives at the door with a dozen long-stemmed roses and a box of chocolates and takes you an uptown French restaurant on a first date, he may well be expecting more than a good-night kiss at the end of the evening.  He may be assuming that, after a nice evening, you owe him.  So make it clear from the get-go that you can’t be bought, and you want to take it slow.  After all you have done to reclaim your life and your value, don’t be foolish enough to give it away.

It’s a good idea to meet for coffee, take a walk, go miniature golfing, hit a movie and generally keep it casual while you’re getting to know someone.  Spend time in a variety of situations to see how he responds to them – and to you.  One guy I dated was attentive when we were out together, but when we showed up to a party with his friends, he suddenly treated me like I was invisible, as though he was ashamed of me.  That was the real him.

With those basics in play, I’d like to offer some “dos” and “don’ts” worth considering. In no particular order, I recommend that you avoid dating a guy who…

  • Is married (even if he says he is getting a divorce);
  • Needs rescuing;
  • Makes you uncomfortable;
  • Makes you feel unimportant;
  • Is inconsistent (hot one day and cold the next);
  • Is boastful;
  • Is heavy on flattery;
  • Can’t keep his hands off you;
  • Doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer;
  • Can’t seem to hold down a job;
  • Can’t manage his finances;
  • Plays an enabling role in his family;
  • Has jerky friends – or no friends;
  • Has an impossible dream;
  • Has an impossible ego;
  • Has a hot temper;
  • Has an addiction;
  • Has a foul mouth;
  • Verbally “bashes” his former wife or girlfriends;
  • Is eyeballing other women when he’s with you;
  • Is disrespectful or flirtatious toward hostesses, servers and cashiers;
  • Is chronically late;
  • Is obsessed with you;
  • Doesn’t give you eye contact, listen well or acknowledge you during conversation;
  • Blames someone or something for everything that has ever gone wrong in his life;
  • Doesn’t treat you with respect;
  • Makes you cry.

And, of course:  Don’t date a guy who reveals any abusive tendencies.  If for any reason he becomes demeaning, harsh, accusatory, possessive or manipulative, walk away and don’t look back.

On the other hand, men with a solid history, good friends and a gentlemanly, positive attitude are a safer bet.  Don’t be afraid to spend some time with the guy who…

  • Sees time spent together as an investment in the relationship rather than a necessary evil;
  • Is a good listener;
  • Is a protector of you and others under his charge;
  • Doesn’t need to be the center of attention;
  • Doesn’t freak out about the cost of things or flaunt his wealth;
  • Is respectful to you and everyone else he encounters;
  • Understands the differences between men and women in a good way;
  • Arrives on time to meet you or pick you up or calls to let you know if he’ll be a little late;
  • Enjoys spending time with his family and friends – and yours;
  • Has healthy hobbies, interests and outlets;
  • Is not addicted – to alcohol, drugs, pornography, television or even technology;
  • Can manage his money, his work, and his household;
  • Looks you in the eye and responds sincerely during conversation;
  • Can confess his life stresses without whining about them or blaming everyone else for them;
  • Trusts you;
  • Is confident without being cocky;
  • Returns your phone call in a timely manner;
  • Is conscious of your comfort level in unfamiliar situations;
  • Doesn’t pressure you when he takes you home;
  • Pays your way (or not, if that is more appropriate for the situation);
  • Can maturely and responsibly handle inconveniences or crises;
  • Is interested in you as a person and not just your body; and
  • (As a believer), has a genuine, personal relationship with God, not just a church.
  • Remember: Protect your heart.  Just because a man pursues you does not mean you should let him catch you.  If your heart is screaming ‘no,’ listen.  And if your heart is encouraging you to say ‘yes,’ but something in your head is whispering ‘no’ (or vice versa), remember that you were misled once before.  Take a step back, try to be more objective and seek counsel from those who know him and/or you.  Or just give the relationship more time.  Don’t ignore or attempt to minimize any red or yellow flags. Don’t believe for one minute that you can help, fix or change him.  Just  walk away.
  • Remember: Be open to feedback.  If your friends and/or family are telling you that there is something wrong, listen.  The odds are good the people who love you see something to which your eyes may have been blinded.  If you find yourself defending him to others, there is almost certainly a problem that you are working too hard to overlook.  On the other hand, if people see someone genuine and emotionally healthy, then let it ride.
  • Remember: You don’t want or need a man. You want to share your life with one man – the right man, a man who will see you and prize you and love you for the rest of your life.  Pray for him.  Wait for him.  And if you don’t meet him, maybe it’s because the time isn’t right, or you are just fine all by yourself.  Being on your own is far better than feeling perpetually stressed, unhappy or emotionally neglected, living with someone who doesn’t truly love, enjoy and appreciate you.  And you might want to avoid kissing any frogs until you are pretty dang certain that there is a prince in there. 
  • Remember:  You don’t want to just be with someone you love; you want to be with someone with whom you are in love – someone who is also in love with you. I believe there is a profound difference.  I am not talking about obsession, which is unbalanced and unhealthy and controlling, but a love where there is connection, commonality and chemistry.  Wait for someone you know you want in your life for the rest of your life.

I am so glad I did.  I married my best friend, my confidante, my soul mate and the love of my life.  I wish nothing less for you.

Now it’s your turn.  Please feel free to offer some of your own insights and suggestions.

Copyright 2015, All Rights Reserved