3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 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’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 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. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” 10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.” (Matthew 19:3-12; ESV)
The Pharisees comes to test Jesus on this question about divorce. They want to know if it is lawful to divorce for any reason. Now, let us begin by asking an obvious, but important question: What law are the Pharisees asking about? They are asking if it is lawful, according to the law of Moses because this is the law they are under. These are Jews asking Jesus, who is also a Jew living under the law of Moses, if according to theÂ law of Moses a person can divorce for any reason. The reason this is a test is because the popular teaching of the day was that it was lawful for divorce for any reason. The question has not changed for us today. Society believes that it is okay to get a divorce for any reason. If Jesus were on the earth today, I believe we would see the same scenario. Let’s ask Jesus if it is lawful to get a divorce for any reason.
In answering the question, Jesus refers the Pharisees back to the beginning of creation. The answer is that God created them male and female and the two become one flesh. We studied this last week. Genesis 2 has the implication that there is not to be divorce. Jesus draws the same conclusion: “So they are not longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” The answer Jesus gives is “no, you cannot divorce for any reason.” There is a deeper implication that must be noted: the marriage law did not change. Jesus is not circumventing the law of Moses but pointing out that the marriage law has been in effect from the beginning and continues to be in effect. Therefore, what God has joined together into one flesh people are not to separate. Let’s make the point again: the law not to divorce for any reason has been in effect from the creation of male and female, remained through the law of Moses, and Jesus teaches that it was still in effect.
This leaves the Pharisees with a natural question: if God’s marriage law has not changed and continues to be in effect, then why did Moses give the certificate of divorce? Or, stated another way, if we are not to divorce for any reason, then why did Moses give us the certificate of divorce legislation?
Jesus says that the only reason Moses had to say anything was because of the hardness of the people’s hearts. The implication seems to suggest that the people were getting rid of their wives anyway, being hard hearted toward the wives. Moses intervenes with a law to make those proceedings formal to protect the wives from the abuse they were enduring. Nothing in Deuteronomy 24 states that those steps were acceptable. But the people were putting away their wives and Moses had to give contingency law to prevent further abuses. But Jesus says “from the beginning it was not so.” What was not so from the beginning? Carefully look at the previous sentences and you will see that divorce was not from the beginning. Because of how the men were treating the wives, Moses permitted divorce but divorce was not part of God’s plan and was not acceptable.
In conclusion, Jesus corrects their misunderstanding of the marriage law. “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery.” There was only one reason allowed for divorce and that was in the case of the spouse engaging in sexual immorality. There is no wiggle room to this law. There is nothing here about how I picked the wrong person, my spouse is not very nice, never home, or any other excuses. The marriage law is quite simple and quite plain. You cannot divorce for any reason. There is only one exception and that is the case where sexual immorality occurs in the marriage relationship.