Watch yourselves, so that you won’t lose what you have worked for, but will receive your full reward. Everyone who goes ahead and does not remain true to what the Maschiach has taught does not know G0d. Those who remain true to his teaching have both the Father and the Son. 2 Yochanan (John) 1:8-9
There is a great deal of confusion following the dissolution or separation of a marriage. Some say both mean the end of marriage and go about their life, including remarriage. Some pray to G0d for restoration of their marriage. To fully understand the discussion one must understand that there are two types of marriages; marriage among unbelievers and believer’s marriage, but this discussion is not about the categories of marriage.
The discussion which follows is about believer’s marriage and includes only unbelieving marriage in the sense of a new believer who confesses faith in Yeshua haMaschich (Yochanan 3:16) while their spouse does not.
Standing for Marriage
Among those who pray for restoration are two groups; one is general and rather broad, and the other is legalistic and pedantic. The first group comprises believers and the scriptures they rely upon to grow in their faith despite their circumstances. The second group is comprised of the radical, or fundamentalist standers whose definition of marriage is legalistic. This group would proscribe remarriage to anyone but the first person one married; even to demanding one commits the sin of divorce after remarriage to return to the first spouse, a blatant sin in violation of scripture (G0d’s will) which they redefine ignore [Devarim (Deut.) 24:4)].
1 Kehillah in Corinth (Corinthians) 7:15 says (in plain language) that a believer is not bound when an unbeliever departs. The word translated enslaved or bound is the Greek word for slave (δοῦλος, a slave with no rights). The believer is not a slave to the marriage and is allowed remarriage following divorce. Stern’s commentary on this verse similarly states “if the unbelieving spouse separates himself, the believing spouse can get a divorce and remarry.” Further, Yeshua speaking to the P’rushim (Mattityahu 19: 8, 9) allowed for divorce in the event of adultery (even between two believers), meaning a second marriage for the innocent spouse is recognized.
To say that someone cannot remarry under those circumstances amounted to what scripture forbids, “They forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” 1 Timothy 4:3.
This discussion of marriage and divorce subsumes the concept of what is marriage and what is divorce. It is obvious that Rav Shaul (Paul) shifts the focus of 1 Corinthians at verse 15 and begins talking about marriages that are unequally yoked. The believer is not bound as a slave to the marriage. The believer has rights the unbeliever does not and is not enslaved to an unbeliever who sins in divorce (to) them. The corollary to not being bound is to be free. Yet, radical “standers” say if one’s spouse remarries we are to pray that the marriage falls apart and they remarry us. WHAT? But doesn’t D’Varim (Deuteronomy) 24:1-4 and Yirme’yahu (Jeremiah) 3 say this is forbidden? Yes, it does. They are acting as if the word of G0d changes with the pedantic moral code.
Rav Shaul wrote that he had no command from the L0rd about virgins; therefore if Mattityahu 19 is about betrothal (as some have alleged), then scripture contradicts scripture. Why contradict? Rav Shaul writes that he has no command from the L0rd regarding virgins, and one would expect in the context of Israeli culture of the day a betrothed couple would both be virgins. If then Yeshua has taught that “except for adultery” He refers to a married couple. And if a woman puts her husband aside (using unilateral or no-fault divorce) she is at fault.
There are some who teach that what G0d hates is the setting aside of a lawful spouse. Historically what this refers to is when a man would set his wife on the street and take another wife. Without a legal document called a ‘get’ she would be forbidden to marry. So the setting aside that G0d hates more than divorce is divorcing her and refusing to give her documents to prove her status. Without the ‘get’ a divorced woman could not marry another man and would be forced to beg, or prostitute herself, or to marry a man who did not care it was adultery to marry her. With the ‘get’ she could remarry legally. How do we know that a divorced woman was out from under the authority of her once husband?
A covenant in context of a marriage is far more inclusive and restrictive than a contract for services. A covenant is a vow to do a thing and not turn away from or retreat. And in marriage the covenant stands only to be broken upon the death of one partner. To vow a thing, especially in a covenant means to bind oneself to fulfilling the covenant until death. The vows in a covenant bind the partners, but in the event of divorce, where the one causing the divorce remarries, the vow is broken, the covenant is broken. G0d detests covenant breakers. No wonder then that Yehua’s talmidim (disciples) said “If that is how things are between husband and wife, it would be better not to marry!”
Bamidbar (Numbers) 30:3-13, which deals with vows and who may make them, who may break them, and when those vows shall stand, clearly states that a divorced woman’s vows shall stand. If she leaves her husband in divorce her ‘husband’ may not revoke her vows because she is not under his headship any longer – he is no longer her husband. So if a prodigal spouse remarries the law and G0d recognizes that (though Hashem has hated the divorce) a new covenant has replaced the old. Therefore according to D’Varim 24:1-4 and Yirme’yahu 3, a woman remarried even she is subsequently divorced or widowed, may NOT return to her former husband.
The radical standers say when the prodigal remarries the one unlawfully divorced (believer) must remain single and pray that their spouse divorces their second husband/wife to remarry them. This is false. Even when they are both believers and the prodigal believer remarries in sin against G-d, the believer is free. Now if the prodigal knows this is sin and repents should they divorce their former adulterous partner? No, they are bound and should work on the marriage they are in.
Why Not Return
The Bible says that the marriage bed is pure, so how can this marriage bed be impure? It is not for they have entered into a new covenant. But, and this is important, the second marriage BEGAN in adultery, but does not continue to be adultery. Why? Rav Shaul wrote that the L0rd’s command to married believers is ‘do not divorce.’ Therefore, for a believer to divorce their spouse when commanded not to divorce their spouse is to break faith.
Why break faith twice? Why sin against a husband or wife the first time, remarry, and sin again against another spouse? This is especially important in understanding that G0d calls remarriage to a former spouse after an intervening marriage an abomination.
When both husband and wife are believers, the L0rd commands (so writes Rav Shaul), ‘do not divorce.’ If they divorce, remain single or be reconciled. One note of caution: this is a scheme that some evil people engage in; that is to willfully and willingly divorce their spouse. They are playing a waiting game wanting the unjustly divorced spouse to exhaust hope and remarry. Then the guilty spouse cries adultery to justify the divorce and remarriage. This is sin according to Ya’akov (James) 4:17 and will not provide cover for the greater sin. And greater it is for one has now sinned against G0d, against one’s self, and against the aggrieved spouse. To willingly put someone else into that sin, is greater sin. Greater because though they may acknowledge their sin against G0d, (absent a subsequent marriage) refusal to reconcile causes them to have sinned against themselves and against their spouse. And to know what to do and not do it is to sin [Ya’akov (James) 47].
I have heard some men and some women say they had begun to hate the spouse they separated from; to justify their sin. The flaw in this logic is G0d’s will for his children is for them to be known for their love [Yochanan (John) 13:35]. So, to begin to rationalize an emotional antipathy for a lawful spouse leading (to saying they) hate is sin, compounded upon sin. David sinned against a man by sleeping with his wife, then ordered the man into battle to die to cover then justify his sin (she’s a widow). Murder and divorce may not be that different, if it follows that the separated spouse uses fear, then anger, then hatred to justify what G0d condemns; 1 Yochanan 3:15, Vayikra (Leviticus) 19:17 and Mattityahu 5:21. Yet, it is clear that some do so out of a misplaced sense of self preservation, fight or flight, not trusting in Adonai.
The command from the L0rd cited by Rav Shaul is to not divorce. The higher law, the higher purpose in the command is love; G0d’s love for us, and our love for one another. What then does G0d want of us? For us to be like him (1 Yochanan 3:1-3). The ordinal nature of the command is to NOT DIVORCE; a strong negative command reframed as remain together, married. Yet, divorce does occur, even as among disobedient children. And when it does there is a principle which allows the believer to cope in the face of a faithless spouse. Kehillah in Corinth 10:13, which tells us that G0d will make the way of escape in accordance with His will. Thus the way of escape is to pray and hold fast to the L0rd. As G0d forgives you (while you wait and work on his purpose in your life) so too we must forgive and offer G0d’s love to the prodigal.
I understand there may be a circumstance in which a believer was deceived and divorced their spouse who (knowing the truth) waits for them to come to their senses, but I also know that the same circumstances may be that the spouse who caused the divorce is so hard hearted, so stubborn they may never reconcile thus forcing their spouse into a loveless, sexless life. The Bible does not speak to this specifically, but as noted above, it is sin for the one who initiated the divorce. To the innocent spouse left behind, the higher calling is forgiveness. G0dwill provide the way of escape.
What if a wife were a believer and divorced her believing husband and then never remarried? Should the believer wait? The answer is another question; what difference is a life without a spouse (who for stubbornness of heart lives in continuous disobedience) compared to a physical illness which leaves her unable to function as a wife? Coma. Paralysis. So on… One second, one minute after the “I do” the marriage is for life. Having made a vow, one which does not depend on the other party to keep their vow, because it is before and to the L0rd, one must remain faithful no matter the spiritual state of the prodigal. Keep your vows, don’t base keeping of them on external circumstances. This matter of a believing spouse and 1 Corinthians 7:15, where the believing spouse is NOT bound, makes the matter less complex for those for whom an unbelieving spouse departs. Less complex but not less painful to see a spouse depart in sin.
How do we know? The answer is not simple. For one who lives in persistent denial of G-d’s will, for one who lives in the sin of divorce and will not repent, to live in persistent sin as a lifestyle indicates, “…they went out from us because they were not of us, for if they had been of us they would have remained” (1 John 2:19). Though this talks about the spirit of anti-Messiah, what more anti-Messiah behavior can there be but to live in sin and refuse to reconcile or repent?
What G0d Hates
From the verses in Bamidbar (re: vows) and D’varim 24 and Yirme’yahu 3) we get a picture of divorce as something G0d hates, but G0d hates sin and made a way for us to repent and to be restored. If your prodigal spouse is a believer and has not repented, wait. G0dwill deal with her. How great will our reward be in the olam habbah (after life) to serve the L0rd, having given up those things we cannot keep? For the word of the L0rd is clear, remain single or be reconciled. However, if one’s prodigal is an unbeliever, 1 Corinthians 7:15 is clear, one is free if a prodigal causes the divorce. Waiting is not commanded for those who desire to marry again.
Mattityahu 18 gives clear directions when a “believer” sins and will not repent: Though in this case there is reason to doubt their salvation in the first place; would they not have repented if they were truly in Messiah?)
15 If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
The point here is that this is a process for approaching a believing spouse who wants a divorce, initiates a divorce, or has divorced another believer. Finally, there is the matter of the higher calling in Messiah. Forgiveness. He gave all for us and did not repent of the shedding of blood to save us. Should we then also remain faithful, even to an unsaved spouse in hope that they may “come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil,” (2 Timothy 2:26)? I say yes, but there is no scriptural command to wait for an unbelieving spouse. However, the same is not true of two believing spouses, where one is in denial of G0d’s command. One must wait on the L0rd, and that is enough.
Stern, David H. Jewish New Testament Commentary, 1992. Pg. 454
Dr. Ramón de Torres
Edited: June 28, 2020