Old Testament Law & Marriage



Part Four- Old Testament Law & Marriage


We continue our study of God’s view of divorce and remarriage by taking the same approach our Lord took in Matt. 19:3-12. When first ask what God considered grounds for divorce, Jesus took those who questioned Him back to the original design given by God in Genesis 1 and 2. Jesus pointed out that divorce and remarriage was not the intention of God as He originally designed marriage. Jesus put it quite clear when He stated, “So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt 19:6). In essence God is the one who joins a couple in marital union and God alone is the One Who has the authority to dissolve that union.

At this juncture let us take a moment and cover an important point. What we are seeking to answer is what grounds does God give for a married individual to divorce their mate and be free to marry someone else? This was the question on the mind of the Pharisees and this is the question that is on the mind of many modern day Christians. 

God does make provision for the couple to separate if it becomes necessary such as to provide protection for one of the mates or their children. Due to some state laws divorce is the procedure necessary to accomplish this task. Paul in 1 Cor. 7:10-11 declares that this was Jesus view on the matter when He taught His disciples. However, in such cases, though God permits a separation of the couple He does not give them the freedom to remarry. As long as their mate is alive they are to remain unmarried because in God’s eyes, even though they no longer live together, the union based in the vows they made is still in effect. Remember, they vowed before God to remain true to one another only until death separates them and God expects that vow to be kept. We will touch further on the implications of this in greater detail later on in our study.

It is clear from the response of the Pharisees that they fully understood that Jesus taught that God gave no grounds whereby a couple’s marriage can be dissolved (divorce), freeing them to marry someone else. This can be seen in their response to Jesus’ answer. 

Matt 19:7, “They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?"

In other words, if there are no grounds for divorce and remarriage why did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce? They are pointing out to Jesus that God did give through Moses a bill of divorcement do how can He say that there are no grounds?

Before we can understand this objection we need to take a look at marriage from the time of the fall to the time of Christ. What we will discover is that marriage becomes quickly perverted from its original design causing God to lay down laws governing marriage under the Mosaic Law. Let us take the rest of this week’s study to review the laws governing marriage to lay the background necessary to understand the bill of divorcement given by Moses. We will take on this divorce clause in next week’s study.

In the Old Testament, God lays down laws regarding the following perversions of God’s original design

1) Polygamy: The practice of marrying more than one wife is a perversion first recorded just six generations after Adam and Eve in Genesis 4:19. It was practiced by the patriarchs of the Jewish race (Abraham, Jacob) and was commonly practiced during OT times including the Jewish kings who often had a harem (1 Kings 11:3). Though this was a perversion of God’s design yet God gives no direct commandments prohibiting it. However, we do find that God does under the Mosaic law give guidelines to restrict some of the abuses of this practice (Ex. 21:7-11; Deut. 21:15-17; Lev. 18:18). It is interesting to note that several of these regulations are a condemnation of the polygamous practice of Jacob. 

Some have argued that God is not opposed to polygamy since He did not directly prohibit its practice and it is still valid for the Church age. However a closer look at the Scriptures paints a different picture. Let us note the following.

a. God had clearly stated that marriage was to be monogamous as recorded by Moses in the book of Genesis. So well know was the account of Genesis 1 and 2 that no God fearing individual should have ever even considered this perversion of marriage.

b. God does not deal with all sins in the same manner. It would appear that some sins God clearly prohibits with direct commands and harsh consequences. Other sins he indirectly condemns by recording the disastrous results these sins inflicted upon the lives of those who practiced them. It would seem that polygamy falls in the later category. The reason God choose to deal with it this way is at best speculation.

Whatever God’s reason for not directly condemning polygamy, God clearly shows that it was a perversion of what He intended and inflicted disastrous consequences. In other words, all polygamists paid a heavy price for their sin. This so clear by looking at the record given in the Bible. Let me give a few examples.

i. Abraham: he married Hagar and had Ishmael through her. This caused great conflict in the family and twice he had to send Hagar and Ishmael out to die.

ii. Jacob: married sisters and then their hand maidens. This resulted in 12 sons, most of who lived very ungodly lives. Likewise, from the beginning there was a great competition between the two sisters. He gave his inheritance to Joseph (coat of many colors) and the other brothers out of jealousy, sought to kill Joseph but instead sold him to slavery. Jacob was told that Joseph had been killed causing him untold grief.

iii. Gideon (Judges 8:30-31; 9:5): Gideon had many wives and seventy sons but still choose to have a concubine (a secondary wife) in another city through who he fathered a son. This son, after his death, killed all the other 70 sons of Gideon.

iv. Samuel (1 Sam.1): his mother endured a great amount of ill treatment from the other wife which not only made her life miserable but also that of their husband

v. David: married several wives and had many children. The oldest son raped his half-sister and her brother in turned killed him for doing it. This embittered this son who later seeks to steal the throne from David and to kill him. David also kill’s Uriah in order to marry his wife and pays a horrible price for doing it.

vi. Solomon: married 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). The Scriptures declare that these wives turned his heart away from God unto the worship of idols.

Clearly God showed through the lives of polygamists that He was not in favor of their polygamy nor did He bless it. It caused for the most part nothing but grief and heartache to those who entered this relationship. In the NT this is clearly corrected as the marriage relationship is always monogamous (1 Cor. 7; Eph. 5:22-31) and it is a monogamous relationship that is a requirement of the leadership of the church (1 Tim. 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6).

2) Rape: A man who rapes a woman who is betrothed must be put to death penalty (Deut. 22:25-27) however if the woman is not betrothed, he will be required to marry her and never under any circumstances divorce her (Deut. 22:28-29).

3) Adultery: having sexual relations with someone else’s mate – the death penalty is commanded (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22-24; Ex. 20:14) It should be noted here that this law covered everyone from the time of the betrothal or espousal through the consummation – if one had sexual relations with someone other than whom they were betrothed they were to receive the death penalty (Deut. 22:23-24)

4) Incest: this is having sexual relations with those who are close family members such as father, mother, stepmother, stepfather, brother, sister, sister-in-law or brother-in-law, aunt or uncle. Some forms of incest do not become a sin until the time of Moses. Up to this point often brothers married sisters. However, God now made it a sin with all close relatives because of the break down in the human race increased the chance of genetic defects. – the death penalty is commanded in such cases (Lev. 18:6-18, 29; 20:11, 12, 14, 17, 19-21: Deut. 21:20, 22-23).

5) Homosexuality: having sexual relations with individuals of the same sex – the death penalty is commanded (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:26-27)

6) Bestiality: having sexual relations with animals – the death penalty is commanded (Ex. 22:19; Lev. 20:15-16; Deut. 27:21)

7) Prostitution: selling oneself for sexual relations – It is considered a great wickedness (Lev. 19:29); 24,000 Israelites were killed for practicing it (Deut. 25:1-9) There is no specific law given requiring the death penalty of a prostitute however if she had relations with anyone who was either betrothed or married it was the sin of adultery and the law required death. Likewise prostitution was associated with the worship of foreign gods. Such would require the death penalty.

8) Pre-marital sex: having sexual relations and possibly living together – there are two options given by the God: either the man pays the “bride price” and marries her or if her father is against the marriage the man will pay the bride price and he will be set free to marry another (Ex. 22:16-17).

It is clear then that God hates all that perverts His original design for marriage. This has been seen in the harsh consequences God demands of those who practice them. This is true even when He does not directly forbid a practice such as polygamy. 

Something else should be noted here. Almost all of the perversions of marriage as given in the Mosaic law require the death penalty. With the exception of polygamy and pre-marital sex, the penalty for committing the sin negates the need for a divorce. For example if a husband cheats on his wife, the law demanded he be put to death. The wife is then free to remarry. If a wife is involved in lesbian relationship, the law demands she is to be put to death. The husband is then free to remarry.

If the violation of the marriage vows through sexual immorality results in the sinner being put to death, then what grounds would be sufficient in God’s eyes to warrant the dissolution of the union through divorce? What sin or issue would be severe enough that God would be willing to call the relationship ended and yet not so severe that it would demand the death penalty? This is what we plan to explore next time.

One last thought. We must remember that the Mosaic Law has been replaced in this present age of grace. No longer does God call for the death penalty for the homosexual, adulterer, or the prostitute. This does not mean that God has changed His mind about the severity of these sins. He hasn’t. God however has changed the way He deals with these sins and we need to reflect that when dealing with those guilty of such sins.