The subject of marriage definitions and divisions is no new topic for discussion. Throughout the pages of Scripture and history, individuals and groups have pushed hard on the guardrails established by God in Genesis 2, you know, the passage that speaks of one man, one woman, leaving, cleaving and becoming – the same passage that is quoted in several contexts by other Biblical authors.
In Mark 10:1-12 Jesus moves into the southern region of the nation occupied by His own people. This was a season of increased popularity and simultaneous opposition. His ministry drew a multitude – “Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.” Repeatedly Christ was challenging His hearers with new and renewed truth on a variety of topics pertaining to the kingdom of God. Matthew speaks of the “authority” by which He spoke. (Matt. 7:28-29).
Since ‘scrutiny’ was the modus operandi of the Pharisees, who feared losing their position and influence within the nation, some of them came and pressed Jesus with a question. Marriage standards, divorce – let’s line up with Moses who penned the Pentateuch and see how Jesus measures up, they thought.
“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” they asked. They were legal experts. They knew Moses, or at least thought they did. Did Jesus know the standards? Weren’t there 613 commands the LORD God had given His people? Let’s disrupt His teaching with some turmoil.
Whenever questioners show up and speak up, the speaker has a decision to make. How serious is this inquirer? Is this coming from a sincere heart or from one who seeks strife? What are the real issues at stake? What is the core concept to centre upon?
Jesus answered a question with a question – a great strategy which He used on many occasions. Here he replied, “What did Moses command you?”
Standard of Moses? Old Testament law? What an easy question! The response was almost self-evident!
“Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is clear, isn’t it?
“If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house…. That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.”
Marriage is typical. Divorce is possible. Yet the whole issue may involve sin. Remember the ‘eyes of the LORD’ are observing the marriages of the nation. This is one serious matter that required careful understanding and obedience then and now.
Jesus, the Great Physician, now serves as a spiritual cardiologist. The issue Moses was addressing, the permission he embedded in the law, reflected an issue of the heart.
1) Hard hearts make for hard decisions. 2) Permission for separation may be granted but does not reflect God’s ideal. The same Moses who wrote Deuteronomy 24 also penned Genesis 2. Take another look at God’s definition before you permit division. Isn’t this what Mark is recording in Mark 10:5-9?
The Pharisees seem to abandon their ‘hot topic’ of pursuit. The answer Jesus gave appears to have set them back on their heels. It left them speechless. Marriage is a joining together by God that men must not separate.
This sounds so ‘absolute,’ doesn’t it in a day and age when trial marriages, living together, marriage standards are all being redefined, even by those who profess to know Christ? Sure, we may stand at the front of a sanctuary and speak vows, but keeping those vows? Having waded into some messy marriages, I’ve heard a number of ‘excuses’ for sinful behaviour. “I know the Bible says ________ …” What is the next word that comes out of the mouth? “BUT”. It’s as if God’s standards are optional, like a checklist for ordering food. “I’ll take two of those, but none of these.”
Hard heart issues are at stake! God’s word is clear but is often not used as the reference guide God intended us to consult. We start with us, our needs, our wants, and ask God to give us what we want. Why not start with God? Why even the prayer Jesus taught us to pray begins with the request, “Hallowed be Thy name!”
In the first setting when Jesus spoke these words, His close followers had further questions, as I’m sure many who read these words also have. “In the house again,” in the privacy of a closed-door meeting the disciples asked for clarification. Does not God promise “those who seek will find?” Does He not promise “wisdom” to those who ask for it in faith? Let’s start with God. Let’s seek God. Let’s urge those inside broken relationships to turn to God as they grapple with the definition and potential division of the covenant.
Honestly, Jesus is not teaching something new. He is pressing home God’s original design on a group of people who have lost their way. He longs to do this today as well. For further study read Malachi 2:10-16 some of the closing sentences of the Old Testament. But be prepared! You may find the words of the prophet to sting more than just a little!