The Mosaic Covenant had permitted divorce:
· Deuteronomy 24:1 (ESV) When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house.
Understandably, there had been a lot of disagreement among the rabbis regarding the phrase “some indecency in her.” Did it mean that divorce should be sanctioned for any reason? This was exactly the question they brought to Jesus, who answered:
· Matthew 19:4-6 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Did Jesus’ answer mean that there were absolutely no grounds for divorce? However, afterwards, He did mention an exception:
· Matthew 19:9 (ESV) And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
Earlier, Jesus had articulated this same exception:
· Matthew 5:32 (ESV) But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Some commentators suggest that “sexual immorality” also pertains to sexual sins other than adultery. Paul adds an additional exception:
· 1 Corinthians 7:15 (ESV) But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.
It would seem that, in these cases, the divorced party is now free to remarry. These exceptions represent the understanding that, if the marriage contract has been violated in these ways, the violated party is free from any obligations to it. Why? Because covenants are not always absolutely binding! Paul illustrated this:
· Romans 7:2-4 (ESV) For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law [covenant] of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.
Does adultery (and perhaps other forms of sexual unfaithfulness) free the violated party from his/her covenantal obligations to the marriage? Death of the spouse certainly frees the surviving party from these obligations. I tend to think that if the marriage has been violated through sexual unfaithfulness or abandonment (by the unbeliever), it means that the husband has already dissolved the marriage covenant and there remains no obligation on the part of the spouse. It seems to be like any contract. If the buyer refuses to pay for the product, the provider is not under any obligation to send it. How else are we to understand the above-mentioned “exception clauses!”