Mark: 10:2-16: The Disaster of Divorce, the Blessedness of Being a Bride

“Did God say?” So, the serpent slunk into Eve’s ear. Isn’t this the original seed of uncertainty and distrust Satan plants in us before he contradicts something God says? Today, the Evil One still succeeds in further seducing us, continuing the ruination of losing God’s image. Should we find ourselves surprised when others doubt and disbelieve God’s Word about family, matrimony, or children? These all suffer Satan’s ridicule since all three involve our Creator’s desire and design to bless us.

Don’t assume marriage or family are social constructs we somehow dreamed up. In today’s Old Testament reading, we discover Adam didn’t institute or first consider marriage. No, God did. Now, since we belong to our Father’s household, we may not redefine God’s terms as we choose.

In the beginning, God created Eve to be Adam’s counterpart, someone to complete him, so he would not be alone. Formed from Adam’s side, God brought her to him, and Adam welcomed her as a gift from God. “For this reason, a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become a united flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

Why our Father also delights in giving more gifts when two unite into one, often blessing them with the gift of children. Isn’t this part of His will and pattern? The Lord gives one to the other, female and male, husband and wife, becoming the nucleus of a new family. Your heavenly Father intends children to be a blessing, not a burden. Are children not “a heritage from the Lord”? Yes! “The fruits of the womb” (Psalm 127:3).

Though read a few chapters in the Bible, and you’ll soon discover these God-established institutions for our benefit and blessing under attack. Not only will you find unfaithfulness, concubines, and polygamy. Oh, you’ll uncover family conflicts, murder, and bloodshed. The devastation inflicted on us by Satan’s unrelenting assault on God’s magnificent gifts litters the pages of Holy Writ.

So, nothing is strange when some Pharisees approach Jesus, seeking to snare Him. The community situation is likewise a minefield, which may contribute to their eagerness to trap Jesus. Around Galilee, Herod Antipas earlier took his brother’s wife as his own, despite warnings from John the Baptizer about this not being permissible (Mark 6:18). Well, this causes Herod to apprehend John and later behead him. Now Jesus travels in the same territory, contending with local Pharisees who commandeer this subject to undermine Him.

So, they fling forth their challenge, “Does our Law allow a man to divorce his wife?” Don’t miss what they ask. For their question focuses on what a man may do, not a woman. Of course, God doesn’t want divorce. So, why did He permit this? Heed Jesus’ words, “Because of your hardness of heart.” With so many refusing to repent, they ruin their marriages, striving to gain what they crave and pronounce the final word. At times, God recognized marital dissolution to be a better option, though never ideal.

Perhaps we can better understand by this comparison, like defending your family from a killer. In your struggle against a murderer, you wind up killing him. Is this taking of life terrible? Yes, for when God formed us, He created none of us to die. Still, our plunge into sin brought death into this world, and now situations arise when someone must choose between two destructive alternatives. Here, stopping a criminal from killing your family is less harmful than allowing him to slaughter your entire household.

Well, God also recognizes some marriages are so horrendous, He allows divorce in such cases. With the economic model existing back in ancient Israel, God’s Law required specific actions from a husband. These included supplying food, clothing, and a woman’s marital rights, which meant being treated and cherished as a family member. Now, if the husband didn’t provide, “she shall go out for nothing,” which permits her to divorce with no legal repercussions. All this is in Exodus 21.

In the Old Covenant, a husband may divorce if he detects indecency in his wife (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). With Jewish rabbis being what they are, they debated this. Are you startled they reached different conclusions about what “some indecency” signified?

In Jesus’ day, two traditions rose above the others over those words, “ervah davar” in Hebrew. The School of Hillel taught they dealt with two separate grounds for divorce: some “indecency” or “a matter.” No surprise, “a matter” soon meant almost anything, meaning a man may leave his wife for whatever he supposed, real or contrived.

Another school, started by Rabbi Shammai, stressed the two words meant “a matter of indecency.” Why? The Hebrew word order is “indecency of a matter,” and “matter” is singular, not plural. So, he taught “matter” only applied to one thing—“adultery.”

These Pharisees spring their question on Jesus, expecting to force Him to choose sides. Will He support Hillel or Shammai? Irrespective of how He answers, He’ll anger someone. Oh, and if Jesus condemns Herod for marrying the woman married to his brother, Jesus will be in deep trouble. Either way, our Lord will make enemies.

Can Jesus maneuver out of this no-win scenario? So, He takes them back to creation.

From creation, God made them male and female. “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So, they are no longer two but one. Therefore, what God joins, let no man separate. [Mark 10:6-9]

Ask a Law question, and you will receive the Lawman’s answer. Above all other teachers, Jesus gazed into Pharisaical hearts, who sought to trick and trap Him. The way to break a hard, works-righteous heart is to take the Law, intensify its intent until something becomes undoable. So, Jesus outdoes both Shammai and Hillel, offering no school or tradition any room to wriggle away from God’s unrelenting requirements.

Why is Christ so strict on divorce? First, the Pharisees understood their status with God based on what they did. From their traditions, they interpreted divine Law as something doable. So, to bask in God’s approval, what must you do? Unlike what they assumed, more than you can—all done to God’s perfection, not our standards or specifications. The Law needs to ransack these notions of being good enough on our own until all ideas of God delighting in our sin-tainted deeds die their death.

Why else is Jesus so uncompromising about divorce? An attitude of being unfaithful is contrary to His character. The Scripture tells us, “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). The Lord can’t and won’t back off His promises. Firm and unmovable, they remain—and this standard Jesus keeps because we can’t.

Though a hardened nature still lurks within us, this isn’t so with Jesus, God incarnate, who is tender of heart. The Creator caused Adam to slumber, removing a rib from his side to make the woman. Later, at His crucifixion, Jesus also slept a “deep sleep,” death itself. After the heaven-sent Son hung dead on the cross, a soldier pierced Him with a spear between His ribs, and blood and water gushed forth (John 19:34).

From the side of Jesus emerged a new woman—His precious and sacred Bride, baptized with water and nourished by His blood. Taken from Christ, she bears the name “Christian,” flesh of His flesh, bone of His bones, the body with Christ as the head. By these, the Holy Spirit creates the Bride of Christ, the Church, and brings her to the Bridegroom.

Until we realize “Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4), we can never delight in true Gospel freedom. Only when freed from the Law’s disapproval is someone free to follow its spirit and intent. Of course, not to divorce because of our petty rationalizations, but to cherish another, including your husband or wife.

Without Christian liberty, we cannot love God and others without some resentment lingering inside us. Not until we believe “no condemnation exists for those in Christ Jesus” will we be unbounded (Romans 8:1). Not as an excuse to abandon your spouse, but for forgiveness for our failings and weakness, including divorce.

Your Jesus is faithful to you, for His heart is never stony or cold. So, He still devotes Himself to you despite your unfaithfulness to Him. To Jesus, such separation makes no sense because His transcendent love is unwilling to let you go or lose you, no matter what.

Your Lord’s eternal affection for you doesn’t give up, accept giving up on you, and will brook no barrier between you and Him. Long ago, God designed marriage and household to reflect His love. Yes, both family and marriage should exemplify the image of God’s enduring commitment to you.

Still, in our hardened hearts, we presume we recognize our situation better than God. Does any hope exist for someone stuck in this condition? Yes, for if anything in this sad world can encourage us and bring us a future from the mess we made, Jesus can. Only His heart, open for us, mirrors the Father’s. Only Jesus reveals God’s unfailing love, patience, and loving-kindness toward us, which are never-failing.

So, come and savor Christ anew. At your Bridegroom’s Table, He pours into you more forgiveness than your sin, including divorce, and more life than death’s stranglehold has on you. Forgiven and renewed, He sends you forth. Now, you can mirror the divine love of your Bridegroom, for Jesus holds you fast and is one with you forever. Amen.