DIVORCE is an EXCEPTION - not a RULE - for MARRIAGE
May 16 Bible Reading: Ezra Chapters 7-10
"So all the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered at Jerusalem within three days. It was the ninth month, on the twentieth of the month; and all the people sat in the open square of the house of God, trembling because of this matter and because of heavy rain. Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, 'You have transgressed and have taken pagan wives, adding to the guilt of Israel. Now therefore, make confession to the Lord God of your fathers, and do His will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land, and from the pagan wives.'" (Ezra 10:9-11)
The incident described in the above passage happened in December, the time for the early rains in Israel. With only three days to respond to the command, all the men of Judah and Benjamin hurried to Jerusalem from the surrounding cities. This year the weather was cold, and when they came to Jerusalem, it was also raining heavily. However, adverse weather did not deter them for they were confronted with a grave transgression that they had committed before God.
Ezra the priest spoke to the large gathering assembled in the open square of the temple under heavy rain and declared that their illicit marriages were sinful before God. For this reason, they must confess it to God as well as dissolve their marriages with heathen women immediately and permanently. In other words, Ezra commanded the assembled men to be divorced from their foreign-born spouses without any delay (10:11). We should be clear that this specific command was an exception to rule in Scripture that married couples should not divorce. In this case, divorce was permitted apparently because the heathen wives could lead the Israelites away from God just like in case of King Solomon in his old age (1 Kings 11:1-2).
In fact, God’s Word gives only some exceptions where divorce is permissible, and one of these exceptions is when Moses permitted a man to write a “certificate of divorce” and sever relationship with his wife (Deut. 24:1). This certificate was supposed to be written only after a man found “uncleanness” in his wife (compare Jer. 3:1). Our Lord Jesus gives the actual reason for a man to divorce his wife was because of the hardness of the hearts of the Israelites, and due to the fact that it was a part of the Egyptian culture where they and their ancestors had lived for about 430 years (Mark 10:4).
In this regard, Jesus had made God’s opinion about marriage very clear through these words: "But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate" (Mark 10:6-9). So, divorce is an exception, and not a rule with regards to marriage.
There are two basic biblical principles with regards to marriage: (a) Marriage is a holy institution established by God (Gen. 1:27; 2:24), and a marriage bond is sacred before God. God wants us to be holy rather than happy through our marriages, (b) Marriage is based on trust and faithfulness. God considers marriage as a sacred bond where a man and woman honor that union with exclusive, lasting commitment (Matt. 19:6). This sacred bond breaks down due to sexual infidelity as well as emotional unfaithfulness.
So, God ‘hates divorce’ (Mal. 2:16) because He hates unfaithfulness, the main cause of divorce. However, God permits divorce it as a concession to the fallen nature of humanity (Matt. 19:8). There are only two reasons in the Bible why divorce is permissible: adultery in married couples (Matt. 5:32; 19:9) and the desertion of a Christian by an unbelieving spouse (1 Cor. 7:12–16). Today, divorces are permitted in certain extreme cases like persistent physical or emotional abuse by one of the married couple over the other.
We should be clear that divorce is an acknowledgment that sin wreaks havoc in the lives of God’s people. Even so, there is a place for compassion for the divorced. As much as God hates unfaithfulness and divorce, He shows compassion for divorced people, and is ready to forgive and to restore any who have come short of His expectations when they seek His pardon. Let’s also remember that marriage involves a higher commitment and should be preserved even through obstacles, with help from people and from God who wants marriages to succeed.