At The Beginning: A Study of Marriage
Would we not expect the one who created the institution of marriage to dictate concerning it? Would God give us the unity of marriage and leave us to wonder how to live in it? God has said quite a bit on the subject of marriage and despite what some might think His will is clearly revealed. Jesus also spoke on this important subject during his time here on earth. One such time was here in our text of Matthew 19:1-13. We should pay careful attention to anything our Lord says on any subject. Let us carefully examine what our Lord says on the subject of marriage. As we should always do, let us stop here and read our text.
1 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. 2 Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. 3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason? 4 Haven't you read, he replied, that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, 5 and said, For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? 6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate. 7 Why then, they asked, did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away? 8 Jesus replied, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery. 10 The disciples said to him, If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry. 11 Jesus replied, Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it. 13 Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them (Matthew 19:1-13).
It is interesting to note where this encounter took place. Jesus was on the other side of the Jordan. This is the territory where Herod Antipas ruled. Remember Herod. Remember his stance on marriage-divorce-remarriage. This is the same Herod who had John the baptizer executed when John accosted Herod over his unlawful union with Herodias. Jesus better watch His step while in Herod's territory.
It was here, the worst possible place on earth to discuss the subject of marriage and divorce, that the Pharisees came to test Jesus on the issue. Did the Pharisees ever ask Jesus a sincere question? They were not at all sincere here. They were attempting to entrap Jesus. Perhaps they were trying to get Jesus in trouble with Herod. Possibly if Jesus came out strong against divorce, Antipas would deal him the same hand he dealt John. The jealous Pharisees may have been asking their question seeking Jesus life. Another possibility is that the Pharisees were trying to get Jesus to contradict the Law of Moses (or their interpretation of the Law). If Jesus would go on record contradicting Moses, He would lose his credibility among the Jews.
Another option has been offered. Some have spent much time trying to convince us that the Pharisees were endeavoring to get Jesus to choose among three schools of thought among the Rabbis of the day. While this makes for intelligent-sounding talk, it seems unfounded and unsupported by the text. The first two options stated seem better possibilities.
Their question, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?" was not sincere; Jesus' answer was. It is worthwhile to note how Jesus answered this question. He did not check to see what popular opinion said. He did not consult the learned scribes of His day. He did not dodge the question. Neither did He answer it in some lengthy, technical sounding discussions requiring pages to record. He gave a simple, direct answer based upon the word of God. He went back to the beginning, the beginning of the marriage relationship. It is notable that the marriage relationship and God's dictates regarding it predate the church, government, and the nation of Israel. God's law (that Jesus notes here) on marriage and divorce was given at the beginning and applies to all, regardless of the government they live under, whether or not they are Israelites, whether or not they are in or out of the church.
"Havn't you read?" Let us go back to read and reflect on Jesus' text, Genesis 2:18-24:
18 The LORD God said, It is not good for the man to be
alone. I will make a helper suitable for him. 19 Now the LORD God had formed out
of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He
brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man
called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all
the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for
Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall
into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and
closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the
rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 23 The man said,
This is now bone of my bones and flesh of
my flesh; she shall be called woman', for she was taken out of man. 24 For this
reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and
they will become one flesh (Genesis 2:18-24).
Let us take some time to make a few remarks about this text. First, let us see that the order of creation is important. It is surely no accident or coincidence that God had Adam view and name the animals before his helper was given to him. Two things surely must have crossed Adams mind during the process of naming the animals of Gods creation. One thing that possibly occurred to Adam was that although these animals would be suitable for many tasks, none of them were truly suitable as a companion for man. Whoever said, "A dog is man's best friend" must have been a single fellow. As helpful and useful as all of God's creation would be to man, none of these animals were socially, intellectually, or sexually compatible to man.
Another thought that might have occurred to Adam was that all of the rest of God's creatures had a suitable counterpart. For every animal there was a mate suited perfectly for it. There was no such mate for man. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep... Now that man was acutely aware of his loneliness, God set about to remedy this temporary want in His creation. Woman was made to be a suitable helper for man, a one completely compatible to and answering to all his needs. What a wonderful illustrative way to show and meet mans needs.
The order of the creation is therefore important. Likewise, the method of creation recorded here is also significant. Why didn't God make woman from the dust of the earth as He had man? Why wasn't she simply spoke into existence? Why was she made from the side of man? Surely it was to teach us a lesson about the relationship between man and woman between husband and wife. Have you heard in a sermon or wedding ceremony that the reason the woman was taken from the side of man was so they could walk side by side as equal? She was not taken from his head, so she is not to walk over him. She was not taken from his feet, so she is not to be walked on. Well, that's cute, but I don't think that is the point at all. Their is significance to the method of creation, but that doesn't seem to be it.
That's like saying the wedding band is round to symbolize the never-ending circle of love the new couple is to have for each other. The real reason the ring is round is because that's the shape of our fingers. If our fingers were square, the ring would be, too. Then we would have to come up with another saying.
What then is the significance of the method of creation? Why was woman made from the side of man? What began as one flesh through a miracle of God became two to show us that two will become one flesh in marriage.
Can you fathom Adam sending away Eve, divorcing her? In so doing he would be sending away his own flesh. It would be inconceivable for Adam to send his own flesh away. What an distinctive way to show the permanence of marriage! Jesus said, and the two will become one flesh. This was true, literally in the first couple. This first couple illustrates for all future couples the ridiculousness of putting away ones mate, for in so doing one is sending away his/her own flesh.
Lastly, their is high significance in the result of Gods creation. What did God make for Adam? Another man? NO! Several women? NO! God made one woman for man. Gods ideal is one man for one woman for life. Gods creation authorizes this. It does not authorize homosexuality or polygamy.
The text then states...For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. This is a conclusion applying to all mankind, not to just Adam and Eve. In fact, it wasn't talking about Adam and Eve at all. You see, Adam and Eve had no fleshly parents to leave. We are to leave father and mother and be united and thus become one flesh. It should then be unthinkable to send away a part of ourselves. As husband and wife, we are one.
Now back to Matthew 19. Notice Jesus conclusion: For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate. Since we are one flesh, and thus by the decree of God, we have NO right to separate and become two again. Jesus answer to the Pharisees question (Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason.) is No, it is unthinkable. Jesus says divorce is wrong.
The Pharisees then retort, Why then did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away? They make their appeal from the law of Moses. Jesus made His appeal from the creation account. He then shows that the beginning is the basis for His law. We could discuss and debate at length the meaning of Deuteronomy 24. Did the Pharisees interpret it correctly? Were they misusing this text? The question really is, For us, does it matter? Jesus makes clear that it didn't apply at the beginning and doesn't apply now.
Jesus then clearly states Gods present law on marriage: I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery. Let this verse be heard and preached throughout this country. Our disgraceful national divorce rate indicates that this verse is not being preached, or at least practiced very much today.
Marriage is for life. Divorce is wrong. Remarriage is adultery. No redefining of terms, no liberal softening will change Gods law. There is one exception, namely marital unfaithfulness. Let us focus on the law and not the exception. By focusing on the exception we become guilty of doing the same thing as the Pharisees. We are not saying to eliminate the exception, only to not make the exception the law. The law is, Do not divorce.
Not until we start preaching and practicing Gods law on marriage can we ever hope to slow the present horrible plague of divorce. Gods law is simple and easy to understand. It is the sinful situations of men and the learned musings about Gods law that makes for difficulty.
Gods law can also be considered harsh and restrictive. The apostles recognized this...It is better not to marry. Jesus said that is good for some, but not all can remain unmarried. The apostles and Jesus understood that the law He had stated was somewhat difficult not difficult to understand, but difficult to live by. It meant that one was restricted to one mate for life, except in the event of fornication.
That is Gods law. It is simple. It is restrictive. It applies to all.
By Ken Chapman
From Expository Files 1.12; December, 1994