Civil Law Designed by God part B
Concerning specific guidelines for marriage, divorce, and remarriage, relatively little is mentioned in Moses’ teachings or the remainder of the Bible, especially considering the importance of the subject. Moses forbids sexual intercourse and thus marriage with a close relative (Leviticus 18:6-17), marrying a woman and her sister (Leviticus 18:18) or a woman and her mother (Leviticus 20:14), and a priest marrying an expelled wife or prostitute (Leviticus 21:7). A daughter in line to inherit property was not allowed to marry outside of her tribe (Numbers 36:8); and if a man took a slave girl as his wife and then married another, he was not to diminish the slave wife’s food, clothing, or conjugal rights. If he decided to divorce her or refused to meet her needs equitably in comparison to his other wives, she was to be given her freedom at no cost (Exodus 21:10 & 11).
Concerning divorce, a man who rapes a virgin must marry her if her father demands/allows it; and that man is never allowed to divorce her (Deuteronomy 22:29). A man may never divorce his wife whom he wrongfully accused of not being a virgin at the time of their marriage (Deuteronomy 22:19); and a man that divorces his wife may not remarry her if she has subsequently married someone else even though she is widowed or divorced by her second husband (Deuteronomy 24:1-4).
Note the clarity and specificity with which Moses dealt with these issues. Moses does not forbid divorce; nor does he establish guidelines for acceptable or non-acceptable reasons for divorce. Apparently, the common practice of the guilty party in a divorce losing the dowry was sufficient and that Moses, as inspired by God, saw no need for further civil legislation.
Moses clearly does not forbid divorce or a divorcée to marry again. In fact, Deuteronomy 24:1-4 makes provision for a divorcée to remarry legally with no fear of social or legal retribution. Even polygamy was not outlawed; and Exodus 21:10 & 11, Leviticus 18:18, and Leviticus 20:14 all assume that polygamy would continue.
Having briefly reviewed the Ancient Near Eastern and Old Testament biblical culture of marriage, divorce, and remarriage, let us examine closely the passage concerning divorce that Jesus is questioned about in the Gospels by the Pharisees, Deut. 24:1-4.
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 uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife, if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife, then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance. (NKJV)
This passage is a prohibition of a man remarrying his ex-wife after she has married another man, regardless of whether her second husband dies or divorces her. One must ask why? Why would Moses write this law? What problem did this law address? These questions cannot be correctly answered without an understanding of ancient Near Eastern cultures. Recall that one of the primary reasons something is mentioned in the Pentateuch is to highlight beliefs and practices where the Israelites were to be different than the surrounding cultures.
In ancient Near Eastern cultures, if a man dismissed or abandoned his wife, he could reclaim her several years later though she had married another man and had children with her second husband (Dr. David Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible. 28-33). Not only was her first husband able to reclaim her, but he could also claim, as his own, any children from her second “marriage.