Deuteronomy 24:1-4 – The Ugly “D” Word and the Back Story Behind the Headlines

Posted: March 29, 2017 in 05-Deuteronomy
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Deuteronomy 24:1-4

Regulations Concerning Divorce

When God called me to the ministry, I come with a handicap. No, other than not being the brightest bulb in the marquee and not a whole lot of experience in public speaking, I do not have any physical handicaps or any emotional ones. However, I do come to full-time ministry with a handicap. I am divorced. Some churches won’t even give me a second glance. No matter how good my qualifications are for any position. I am divorced. In the eyes of many churches, that is a disqualification. Door shut. Resume set on the “throw away” pile.


There was a seen from the movie, A Time to Kill, that seems apropos here. In one scene, the prosecuting attorney completely discredits the defense psychologist by attacking him for his own past. The prosecutor, played by Kevin Spacey, found out that the defense psychologist had been arrested for statutory rape in his younger days. The defense psychologist tried to cover it up on the stand but the prosecutor proved it and he had to admit on the stand. It was a devastating blow at that moment to the defense’s case. The defense attorney, played by Matthew McConaughey, in the next day’s action told the jury that he would have never knowingly put a rapist on the stand as a defense witness. He said it should matter that there was a back story to that arrest. The defense psychologist was 19 years old at the time and the girl was 17 years old. It should matter that the 17 year old girl became the man’s wife six months later. It should matter that they were married for 35 years and that she gave the man three wonderful children as a result of their marriage. Headlines don’t always give us the back story. We see headlines and don’t bother to delve into the details.


Automatically judging someone without a check under the hood seems unwise to me but that’s what happens in many search committees for pastoral or pastoral related positions. I am being held accountable for actions that I took or were forced upon me before I became a Christian. Shouldn’t the measure of who I am be how I carry myself since I became a Christ follower? I am not proud of my past. It is ugly and has warts. I lived a life not characterized by Christian values. I am not saying that I should not have to explain my past but I am saying I should get the opportunity to do so.


My first divorce was squarely before I came to Christ as my Savior. God was never part of the equation in that marriage even though we attended church at her family’s church – more of social club than a church. We were selfishly oriented people seeking to make the other comply with our wishes and we were willing to trash it all because of selfish desires. Although we reconciled after her affair, her drug abuse was my out for that marriage and led to my affair. We were not Christ followers and God was never part of our marriage from the beginning. My second marriage, born while the first one was crumbling, was not much different. It started without God at the center of it and it was not until after the marriage was crumbling under the weight my financial blunders and her affairs that resulted that I came to Christ as my Savior.


God has redeemed me from my past. I have now have a marriage, my third and final one, where God is at the center of it all. We are both Christ followers and it is our expectation that if we ever hit a rough spot that divorce will not, no longer or ever, be an option. We will work through those problems when and if they come. We are committed to the long haul. We know that grace has been given to us by Christ in our salvation and that we will give each other grace in our marriage. In our salvation, we have come to realize that the marriage is bigger than both of us. We should be molding ourselves to the ideal of marriage rather than trying to mold the other person into the perfection that we want. We have been through so much in our previous marriages and realize the mistakes that we have made, ourselves, in our previous marriages, that we do actually grant each other grace in this marriage. Our ministry is the redemptive power of God’s grace. Taking two people who have been married twice before and having their third marriage speak of what God can do when He is the center of it all. It speaks loudly to the fact that God redeems. It speaks loudly that God can use even the most flawed person to be a spokesman for His kingdom.


It is that handicap, that stigma of divorce, without knowing my story and my wife’s story, that I immediately thought of when I read today’s passage, Deuteronomy 24:1-4. How do we reconcile divorce, the reality that it is in our world, with the Christian worldview (based on the biblical evidence)? Let’s read through this passage and come to some conclusion about it after we have read it:


24 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, 2 and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, 3 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, 4 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.


In this passage, we see the only Old Testament law that deals with divorce. The way it is written, with its “if…then” wording, suggests that Israelite society was already accepting of divorce. God is setting for regulations for something that was already a problem. He is not condoning it. He is simply regulating it now that the cat is out of the bag, the horse is out of the barn. This law is intended to restrict a practice that could lead to treating women as a commodity – to be traded like merchandise. Cavalier divorce would rob the Israelite wife not only of her dignity but also of her wealth. By divorcing his wife, an Israelite man would acquire solely the wedding dowry that the wife brought to the marriage. The wedding dowry was the Israelite father’s marriage gift to the daughter. It immediately became the property of her husband upon the consummation of the marriage. Thus, the law protects marriage by imparting a solemn gravity to divorce.


As I have stated many times, the laws of the Old Testament were set as a minimum of behavior expected of God’s people. Jesus told us that He did not come to abolish the law but rather to fulfill it. He came to give life to the law and set us free from its condemnation. He also came to teach us that we must obey the spirit of the law and not just the letter of it. He was saying that if we are believers that we must take the law and take it to the next level. For example, with regard to divorce, Jesus says that the law was created as a minimum of behavior. He says that that divorce is only in the law because of our fallen nature and that it is not an expectation of God. He says that the only reason that we should consider divorce is if there has been sexual immorality, nothing else. If both spouses are believers, then, sexual immorality is off the table and thus divorce is off the table.


Matthew 19:3-9

3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”


4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”


7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”


8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”


Paul reiterates the higher level of expectation for believers that Jesus set before us. Paul expects us to reconcile our marriages even when the get into a hard place. Divorce simply should not be our first reaction. See what Paul says here:


1 Corinthian 7:10-14

10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.


12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. 15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.


The only outs that the Bible thus gives us for divorce is if (1) there has been sexual immorality, (2) attempts to reconcile have failed and the non-believing spouse leaves the marriage. Believers are expected to try to reconcile their marriages even when one spouse is not a believer. If both are believers, forgiveness should be the hallmark of our behavior. If it takes a separation for an extended period of time, then, so be it but the idea for believers is to save their marriages. Sexual immorality is our only out for divorce as believers (when our spouse has committed the crime) but even then should we not exhibit grace instead of pride when it comes to our marriage. And if a so-called believer (either the spouse who has cheated or the spouse who was cheated upon) refuses to work on their marriage after adultery has occurred, then, the fruits of the spirit are not evident.


These are hard words in a world where we throw away spouses like we throw away soft drink bottles. Divorce is as rampant in the church as it is in the general public. It is a fact of life that we must deal with as people enter our doors. However, once we become Christ followers, we must see marriage as something that we don’t take lightly. Marriage is something that we must try to save at all costs. We must give grace and be given grace in marriage. We must think long and hard before we get married as Christ followers. Because as Christ followers, we are to be committed to our marriages for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death parts us. No longer can we change spouses like we change underwear. We must see the good in our spouses and pray that they see the good in us. We must seek to forgive their weaknesses and pray that they forgive ours. We must pray for them daily and hope that they pray for us daily. Help us to be humbly in love with our spouses.


Yes, I am divorced. I have a past before I became a Christ follower. However, I am redeemed. My wife of 7 years is redeemed. Our marriage is a testament of God’s redeeming, reclaiming power. That preaches. That teaches. That shouts from the mountaintop of the redeeming power of the Lord that makes even the foulest clean.


Amen and Amen.

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