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January/February Issue 2009 - Volume 28 Number 1
Does God Love Divorcees?
“Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the Lord has
been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have
dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant.
But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one?
He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none
deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. ‘For the Lord God of Israel
says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence,’
says the Lord of hosts. ‘Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you do
not deal treacherously.’”
I remember a story that my father used to tell when discussing the
subject of divorce and remarriage. There were a group of preachers talking
about a couple that had divorced and remarried. Some suggested that they
needed to dissolve their current marriage (divorce) and return to the
previous spouses. Some argued that this only compounded the problem because
there were children born to the couple after they remarried. Still others
contended that this was a marriage that God did not recognize and the couple
was living in continual sin, so they must return to their previous spouses.
One old preacher who had been listening to all the discussions
finally spoke up and said that he had a solution.
He advised that what the couple should do is get a gun and kill the
previous spouses; he concluded that while they could not be forgiven for
divorce and remarriage that they could be forgiven for murder!
Divorce is not a laughing matter. We are aware of the heartaches
and problems that divorce causes: bitter and resentful spouses, children who
feel guilty for the situation, extended families who are unwillingly drawn
into the fray and still others who may be abetting the break up. All too
often the cause of divorce begins with abusive spouses who physically and
verbally attack both spouse and children. When we witness the fallout of
divorce, it is no wonder that God hates divorce.
But the question arises, “Does God love divorcees?”
Are divorcees counted among those whom the Apostle Peter said God
does not want to see perish? (2 Peter 3:9) Someone says, “Of course God
loves the divorcee just as he does the murderer, but he also wants him or
her to repent.” It is true that Peter said that God is not willing that
any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But how do you
repent of divorce? It would seem that we repent of divorce the same way we
do of other sins; we do not do the same thing again and again. How does one
repent of murder? It is obvious that the murderer cannot go back and undo
the murder. The murderer can only repent by not committing murder again.
We must also remember that there are many divorcees in the world
who did not choose to be in the situation they are in. Many of them may have
Biblical grounds for remarriage, but some of them may not be the victims of
infidelity. Many of them may have endured years of abuse and may feel
completely unloved and unlovable. We must assure them that God still loves
them and they are still able to approach God.
Here's a sampling of some of the most recently available statistics
on marriage and divorce in the United States of America:
(Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, National Center for Health
These statistics remind us that marriage is an institution in our land that needs the healing balm of God’s love and the guiding hand of God’s word. One thing that would bless our nation would be a return to God’s plan for marriage and the home. To see marriage vows honored and homes committed to God would be a cause for rejoicing. We should proclaim God’s standard for marriage, and we should also tenderly remind those who have been devastated by divorce that God loves them. God hates divorce but God still loves the divorcee.
Plan for Marriage
plan for marriage is for a man and a woman to leave their parents and cleave
to each other. He joins them together in a permanent one-flesh relationship.
However, because mankind (beginning with Adam and Eve) disobeyed God, what
was perfect and good became polluted and tragic. Death entered the world as
God had promised. Guilt, shame, and heartbreak plagued humankind from that
people ignored God through the ages, the ideal marriage became a distant
memory. Polygamy arose. Mixed marriages threatened to pull God's people away
from Him. Divorce was as easy to get as the husband telling his wife,
"I divorce you!" Marriage breakups and family splits were rampant.
God's heart must have ached to see this happen! However, God showed His
compassion and mercy by permitting divorce for a time to avoid further
misery among His hard-hearted people. He forgave this sin and rebellion in
Christ's sacrifice on the cross. He desired reconciliation with His people.
He asked for faithful obedience. But there were limits to His patience. That
is why, much as God hated divorce (as in the stories of Malachi and Ezra),
He did not approve of any marriage or divorce that led His people away from
Him into idolatry. The ultimate disaster was for God's people to completely
know God's marriage ideal and how His people rejected His plan through
divorce and other misconduct. But how did God deal with King David, who
committed adultery with another man's wife, had the man killed, and then
took the man's wife as his own? There is probably no better example of God's
graciousness toward disobedience than that of David and Bathsheba. Here we
see a striking portrait of how a repentant heart transcends violation
of the law in God's eyes.
and Bathsheba: God's Mercy in a Bad Situation
we learn in 2 Samuel 11, David, king of Israel, took a leave of absence from
his armies at war in the field and returned to his Jerusalem palace for rest
and relaxation. As he looked out his window one day, his eyes fell upon
Bathsheba, the beautiful wife of Uriah, a member of David's army. As she
bathed, David lusted for her. This led him to commit adultery with her.
Bathsheba soon discovered she was pregnant.
escape the inevitable public embarrassment of this situation, David tried to
cover his tracks. He arranged to have Uriah come home from the wars, hoping
that Uriah would sleep with his wife and think that her child was his rather
than David's. Uriah did come home, but he refused to sleep with Bathsheba in
deference to fellow warriors denied the pleasures of home.
in his first plan, David quickly devised another. He sent Uriah back to the
wars with orders to go to the front lines, which meant certain death. The
plan worked and Uriah died in the fighting.
a period of mourning, David did not forget about the lovely Bathsheba. In 2
Samuel 11:27 we learn, "David had her brought to his house, and she
became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased
the Lord." God knew what was in David's heart. He was aware of the
entire story of violence in killing Uriah. David had committed adultery,
followed by murder. These sins resulted in his taking Uriah's wife as his
own. He violated the sixth, seventh, and tenth Commandments (Ex. 20:13-14,
17). The penalty was death. But how did God handle David's accountability
for these sins?
2 Samuel 12 we read how God sent the prophet Nathan to David to let him know
that his sin had not escaped God's notice. When David realized the full
weight of his sin, he fell into great remorse and repented. Psalm 51 is an
account of David's reaction to his sin.
David repented of his sin and was forgiven by God, there were consequences.
Since David used violence in having Uriah killed, violence would plague his
own house (2 Sam. 12:10-11). Also, David's wives would be given to his
neighbors to lie with them in broad daylight (2 Sam. 12:11). Finally, the
son conceived by his adulterous union with Bathsheba would die (2 Sam.
12:14). But God, knowing David's heart and that he truly repented,
graciously spared his life.
about Bathsheba? She was taken into David's home as his wife. God did not
require David to put her away because, legally, Uriah's death freed
Bathsheba from her marriage covenant to her deceased husband. From a
practical standpoint, she could have been destitute without a husband to
provide for her. Would it have been better if God had required David to
abandon Bathsheba after taking her as his wife? For whatever the reason (or
reasons), God did not ask David to end this relationship. In fact, Solomon
was later born from their marriage (Matt. 1:16).
story understandably troubles many people. Consider, for example, the
logical extension of Bathsheba being free to remarry after Uriah's death.
Who caused Uriah to die? David did not stop at adultery -- he had Uriah
killed! Does this mean that a spouse caught in adultery should kill his or
her partner's mate so the murderer is free to remarry? Certainly not! God
poured out His mercy on David's repentant heart -- not on merit, but as an
act of His marvelous grace.
may ask whether it was for David and Bathsheba alone to profit, in essence,
from their own sin by continuing their relationship after committing such
crimes. We may wonder whether God showed favoritism by sparing David and
Bathsheba from death for their actions, when others in the same situation
might not have escaped penalty. God did allow David and Bathsheba to
continue their relationship while escaping capital punishment. But have we
not also benefitted from Christ's sacrificial death on the cross for our
sins and escaped our own death penalty? To deny this would empty the cross
of its power. Even so, no one should sin so that grace would abound -- and
the Bible speaks against this strongly.
did God spare David and Bathsheba from the full consequences of their sin?
No one can know for sure. Perhaps God spared David from the death penalty
because He knew David truly had repented from his heart, as David expressed
in Psalm 51. The essence of God's mercy and grace is to withhold sanctions
in instances when our sinful deeds deserve punishment. In His wisdom, God
determined it best that David and Bathsheba continue their relationship. We
must not second guess His judgments. Instead we rejoice that God, as Creator
and sovereign Lord, showed grace to His servant David. His grace transcended
the punishments for violations of the law of Moses.
same mercies extend to us today. Like David, adulterers today escape a
physical death penalty. But let's not take the case of David and Bathsheba
beyond its legitimate bounds. This sort of conduct by others will not always
bring the same result. God knows more about this situation than we do. We
should not tempt Him by sinning in the same fashion.
Heartbreak of Hosea: God Knows How Divorce Feels
know about God's plan for marriage and how He hates divorce. We have seen
His graciousness in dealing with those who violate His commands. But does He
really know the pain of parties to a broken marriage? Does He truly
understand our sorrows? Does He empathize with those facing divorce at all?
God's sorrow and heartache over a broken marriage and adultery is seen in
the tragic story of Hosea. Some describe it as the greatest love story of
the Bible, second only to the gospel accounts. God shares our pain. He knows
our grief as we cope with our own divorces
virtue of a covenant of faithfulness made with the nations of Israel and
Judah, the Lord viewed His relationship with His people as a marriage.
Faithfulness in worshiping God alone and obeying His commandments were part
of this covenant.
kept His covenant. He loved His people deeply, as a husband loves a wife.
But by the eighth century before Christ, the Israelites had fallen into
idolatry. In God's eyes, this was adultery. The prophet Hosea's mission was
to expose the breach of the covenant and warn of the consequences.
a visual aid to His people of His suffering with their unfaithfulness, God
commanded Hosea to marry an adulterous woman. Hosea did so in taking Gomer
as his wife. Three children were born. The first child was a son named
Jezreel, meaning "The Lord sows or scatters." The next child was a
daughter named Lo-Ruhamah, meaning "Not loved or pitied." The last
child was another son named Lo-Ammi, meaning "Not my people." Each
of these names expressed the Lord's feelings toward Israel's unfaithfulness.
He could tolerate her adulteries through idolatry no longer. Hosea felt His
metaphoric fashion, Gomer left Hosea for a life as a prostitute. In Hosea 2,
Gomer's children pled for her to give up her adulteries. They begged her to
return to her husband before she suffered the full consequences of her sin,
but Gomer was oblivious to her husband's provision. She foolishly believed
that her lovers would provide her with a better life. But she was cut off
from her lovers (Hos. 2:7). When Gomer was alone on the slave auction block
and unwanted by others, Hosea purchased her as his own (Hos. 3).
unwavering love for Gomer in the face of such unfaithfulness is an example
of God's love for His people, even as they reveled in idolatry. Just like
Gomer, Israel left the Lord to pursue pagan gods of the Midianites and
Moabites. At the time of the Exodus, Israel loved God and followed Him
through the wilderness. But her faithfulness waned. There were times of
complaint and rebellion against God. She forgot about God's miraculous
deliverance of her from Egyptian bondage, the manna from heaven, and many
other blessings. Her priests, leaders, and prophets ignored God. Like one
abandoning a spring of living water for broken pottery jugs, Israel had
forsaken God and replaced Him with false idols in an act of spiritual
prostitution. Like a wayward wife, Israel separated from the Lord and gave
herself to many other lovers. She had abandoned her marriage to the Lord to
marry another -- the idols of the nations.
God pursued His spiritual wife. He used "tough love" to cut off
many of the blessings Israel enjoyed. This was necessary because she thought
these blessings were the result of idolatrous worship. The Lord hoped that
Israel would realize that her other lovers were false and empty objects of
worship, and that she would then appreciate who her real Provider was.
in expressing God's own pain, described the nation of Israel as a dying man,
a flaming fire, a half-baked cake, a silly dove, a deceitful bow, a
pleasureless vessel, and a forgetful servant. Even so, God yearned for her
to return for healing and redemption. She arrogantly refused. God cried out
for Israel to return to Him as her spiritual husband; but Israel, hardened
by sin, rejected God's final gracious appeal. She stood guilty and
God's forbearance ended. He gave the Northern Kingdom of Israel a
certificate of divorce, as Jeremiah 3:6-10 describes. As a consequence,
pagans (Assyria) destroyed her cities in 722 B.C. In the years that
followed, the Southern Kingdom -- Judah -- was even worse than the Northern
Kingdom had been. She refused to learn from Israel's loss and continued in
idolatry while merely appearing to return to the Lord. So the Babylonians
captured Judah in the sixth century B.C. Nevertheless, God showed a
continuing love for His people. He fulfilled His promise of ultimate
restoration in the most personal way. His only Son, Jesus, came to seek
their return to Him.
God knows our pain in seeing a marriage partner leave for other lovers. He
knows our heartbreak and grief. Some say the book of Hosea is a story of God
crying. Yet He models for us an unfailing love despite the unfaithfulness of
His spiritual wife, Israel. Only after bearing with adulteries for years on
end did God finally divorce His people, much as He hated divorce. His strong
statements against divorce in Malachi were more than disappointment. God had
personal empathy and compassion for those faithful wives cast aside by
husbands chasing after younger pagan women.
Does God Really Feel About Divorce?
view of marriage, divorce, and remarriage in the Old Testament is clear. A
man and a woman desiring to marry are to leave their parents to cleave to
each other, joined by God into a one-flesh relationship. This is not a
temporary matter -- it lasts as long as humankind exists in the flesh. The
law of Moses did not change this, and Jesus reinforced its truth for
a marriage leads one or both partners to forsake God, in the past He has
allowed that relationship to end. Malachi condemned mixed marriages, as did
Ezra and Shecaniah -- even if it affected children born of those marriages
-- because it is worse to preserve a marriage at the expense of forsaking
God. On the other hand, if a marriage is initially wrong and one or both
partners seek God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength, it would
be worse for that marriage to end. More than anything else, this may be why
God allowed David to keep Bathsheba. God's grace sweetly oils the abrasions
caused when sin rubs against sin and there is no loving way out of a
for Personal Reflection
Joseph Warren Kniskern is an attorney in Raleigh, North Carolina
with more than 32 years of experience, who has been cited in Who's
Who in American Law. This article has been edited and excerpted with
permission from When the Vow Breaks: A Survival and Recovery Guide for
Christians Facing Divorce (B&H Publishing Group, revised edition
copyright @ 2008).