[Clarification 2021-03-21: In Scripture and in Hebraic thought, marriage begins at the engagement, which is Hebrew is called Erusin. The consummation phase of the marriage (called Nissuin) is also important, but a marriage becomes official with the public engagement.]
Scripture is a story about Yahweh’s marriage. If we had to summarize Scripture, it is the story of how a Man (Yahweh) met a woman (Israel), how He took her to Himself, and how she ran away from Him, and will not be faithful. Because of this, He has to hedge up her path with thorns, to get her to turn around and repent, and come back to Him.
Hoshea (Hosea) 2:5-7
5 “For their mother has played the harlot; She who conceived them has behaved shamefully. For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, My wool and my linen, My oil and my drink.’
6 “Therefore, behold, I will hedge up your way with thorns, and wall her in, So that she cannot find her paths.
7 She will chase her lovers, but not overtake them; Yes, she will seek them, but not find them. Then she will say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for then it was better for me than now.’”
Yahweh’s heart in marriage is to win His bride back to Him, and get her to repent, and return to Him, and love Him, so that together they can live honorably with the best of names. And if you are a husband, that should also be your heart toward your bride.
What makes this study both complex and challenging is that Yahweh uses different definitions of marriage and divorce than most countries use today. In addition to that, not all husbands (or wives) have Yahweh’s heart. Beyond this, right now we are in the dispersion, and the rules are different than when we live in the land. Yet because this is such an important study that impacts almost everyone in Israel, we need to understand how Yahweh wants us to treat marriage and divorce.
Different Definitions: Divorce and Legal Separation
In this study we will see that Yahweh defines divorce much differently than we do in the West (circa 2020 CE). For example, in Jeremiah 3:8, Yahweh said He divorced Ephraim, and put her away—yet in verse 14 He said He is still married to her. It is vital to realize that Yahweh does not believe His divorce ended His marriage to Ephraim. Rather, He gave Ephraim a divorce only as a temporary disciplinary measure intended to correct her. Notice that even though He had divorced Ephraim, He continued to seek her out, to woo her back to Him. This is the heart each husband should have toward his bride.
Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 3:1-14
1 “They say, ‘If a man divorces his wife, and she goes from him and becomes another man’s, may he return to her again?’ Would not that land be greatly polluted? But you have played the harlot with many lovers; yet return to Me,” says Yahweh.
2 “Lift up your eyes to the desolate heights and see: Where have you not lain with men? By the road you have sat for them like an Arabian in the wilderness; and you have polluted the land with your harlotries and your wickedness.
3 Therefore the showers have been withheld, and there has been no latter rain. You have had a harlot’s forehead; You refuse to be ashamed.
4 Will you not from this time cry to Me, ‘My Father, You are the guide of my youth?
5 Will He remain angry forever? Will He keep it to the end?’ Behold, you have spoken and done evil things, as you were able.”
6 Yahweh said also to me in the days of Josiah the king: “Have you seen what backsliding Israel has done? She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there played the harlot.
7 And I said, after she had done all these things, ‘Return to Me.’ But she did not return. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it.
8 Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also.
9 So it came to pass, through her casual harlotry, that she defiled the land and committed adultery with stones and trees.
10 And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah has not turned to Me with her whole heart, but in pretense,” says Yahweh.
11 Then Yahweh said to me, “Backsliding Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah.
12 Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say: ‘Return, backsliding Israel,’ says Yahweh; ‘I will not cause My anger to fall on you. For I am merciful,’ says Yahweh; ‘I will not remain angry forever.
13 Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against Yahweh your Elohim, and have scattered your charms to alien deities under every green tree, and you have not obeyed My voice,’ says Yahweh.
14 “Return, O backsliding children,” says Yahweh; “for I am married to you. I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion.”
The second thing that we need to realize is that since Yahweh would not contradict His own Torah, His request for Ephraim to return cannot conflict with his ruling over divorce in Deuteronomy 24. However, there are several things we need to understand about Deuteronomy 24.
The Torah commandments can be broken down into several different classifications. Yahweh gives us His laws, His statutes, His ordinances, and His judgments. A judgment is when something has gone horribly wrong, and Yahweh is trying to show us how to minimize the damage. That is, it is like making the best out of what might be called a “train-wreck situation.” As we will see, a man is not supposed to divorce his wife. He is only allowed to divorce his wife if his heart is hard (which it should not be). Further, his wife is not supposed to leave him and marry another man. However, even in such a “train wreck situation” there is still a way to bring about the “least-worst” outcome.
Deuteronomy 24 says that if a wife is being sexually unclean (i.e., committing physical adultery), a man may divorce (i.e., legally separate from) his wife by writing her a certificate of divorce, and then sending her out of his house. In Hebrew, this is called a sefer k’ritute, or a book of cutting (i.e., destroying the marriage covenant). However, this is not to suggest that he should send her away forever. Rather, the goal is to place her in a bind, so she will repent and come back to Him. That is why, even though the marriage covenant is destroyed (or cut), she continues to be married to him, unless or until she formally marries someone else.
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 24:1-4
1 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some [matter of sexual] uncleanness in her [עֶרְוַת דָּבָר], and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house,
2 when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife,
3 if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife,
4 then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before Yahweh, and you shall not bring sin on the land which Yahweh your Elohim is giving you as an inheritance.”
Later we will see that the Pharisees (Orthodox) have completely misunderstood this passage as saying that a man can divorce his wife for any reason, and send her away permanently. However, this was not Yahweh’s true intent, and it does not match Yahweh’s pattern.
What Deuteronomy 24:1-4 says is that if a woman is put away and given a certificate of divorce, and she does the wrong thing and remarries, then her new marriage covenant permanently voids out her original covenant, and because of this she can never go back to her original husband. This is a critical distinction.
Ervat: Sexual Uncleanness (i.e., Adultery)
A third thing we need to realize is that Yahweh only allows divorce when a matter of sexual uncleanness is found in the wife (meaning she is committing adultery). In verse 1, the Hebrew for this is ervat davar (עֶרְוַת דָּבָר), which means, “a matter of (sexual) uncleanness.” If we look up the word ervat (עֶרְוַת) in Strong’s Hebrew Concordance, we see that it refers to baring the pudenda (the external genitals).
OT:6172 `ervah (er-vaw’); from OT:6168; nudity, literally (especially the pudenda) or figuratively (disgrace, blemish):
KJV – nakedness, shame, unclean (-ness).
When we look up the reference to OT:6168, we see it refers to a woman making herself bare (i.e., exposing her genitals). In other words, the wife is uncovering her nakedness with someone other than her husband.
OT:6168 `arah (aw-raw’); a primitive root; to be (causatively, make) bare; hence, to empty, pour out, demolish:
KJV – leave destitute, discover, empty, make naked, pour (out), rase, spreadself, uncover.
A critical point that we need to understand is that even though Ephraim was adulterous, she never remarried. Therefore she can return to Yahweh without breaking either the letter or the spirit of Deuteronomy 24 (above), because what Yahweh wants is for His wife to return, and be faithful.
Different Genders, Different Rules
A fourth thing we need to realize is that because Yahweh made men and women different, He made the rules for men and women different.
In Scripture, a woman is not allowed to have more than one husband (or at the very least, no more than one husband at a time). In contrast, while Scripture strongly advocates lifetime monogamy, it does allow men to take more than one wife. In fact, in certain situations Yahweh even commands men to take a wife (as a duty), whether he is already married or not. To see this, consider the commandment of yibbum or Levirate marriage.
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 25:5-6
5 “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband’s brother shall go in to her, take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.
6 And it shall be that the firstborn son which she bears will succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.”
If brothers dwell together and one of the brothers dies, rather than see his brother’s wife turned out, he is supposed to take her as a wife, and take care of her. This has nothing to do with sexuality, and everything to do with duty.
However, the roles cannot be reversed. While a man can hypothetically have more than one wife, a woman cannot have more than one husband (or at least, no more than one husband at a time). In fact, as we will see, in the land of Israel under a Torah government, she cannot remarry at all unless she is first released by her former husband, or any new marriage she enters into is adulterous (because she is still married). To understand why that is, let us talk a little bit about what a covenant is, and also about the role of what is called a ketubah and the bill of divorcement.
Covenants and Ketubot
Marriage is a covenant. A covenant is a special type of contract in which both parties must keep their part of the deal regardless of whether or not the other party does. This is because a covenant is a three-way agreement between both parties, and Elohim. If either party breaks the covenant he is worthy of death because he has broken his promise before Yahweh.
Although covenants are deadly serious, they are also a type of contract, and can be explained by contract law.
In contract law, when two parties agree to a deal, a contract is formed. This is called a meeting of the minds. Then, in addition to the meeting of the minds there must also be what is called an exchange of consideration of some kind. With a meeting of the minds and an exchange of consideration, the contract becomes valid, and legally binding. It is also considered wise to have a written contractual agreement to serve as a witness. However, the contract is held to be a witness of the agreement, and not the agreement itself.
Now let us apply this to covenant marriage. When two believers decide to marry, the agreement to get married serves as the meeting of the minds. When they have sexual relations, that is the exchange of consideration. With these two things alone they are lawfully married, meaning they are married before Yahweh. (To clarify, if they have sexual relations without agreeing to get married, that is simple fornication, and while it is sinful, it does not technically make them married.)
Next is the matter of the public witness. While private business dealings can be kept secret, Yahweh wants His people’s marriages made public, so that everyone knows His people are committed, and are not living in sin. That is also why Yahweh gives us His Torah. Not only does the Torah serve as instructions for anyone who wants to be taken as Yahweh’s bride, but it also serves as a public witness of Yahweh’s betrothal to us.
Israelite families should have a written marriage contract called a ketubah. (The plural of ketubah is ketubot.) The ketubah should spell out any details of the marriage clearly. For example, even though monogamy is the ideal, and even though the law in most democratic countries prohibits polygyny (often called polygamy), the bride should make sure that the ketubah specifies that the marriage will be monogamous, if that is something she wants. (She should not assume it.) The ketubah is traditionally artistically done, but it should be displayed prominently in your home, so that any visitors can see that you are lawfully married.
Covering, Headship, and Bills of Divorcement
Now that we have talked about covenants and ketubot, we should talk about covering, headship, and bills of divorcement.
In Scripture, men provide covering, while women (and also children) receive covering. When children are born, they come under the covering of their father. That is also why a suitor should ask his intended bride’s father for permission to marry his daughter. Technically he is asking his bride’s father to transfer his daughter’s lawful covering to him. Then it remains with him.
The fact that the daughter’s lawful headship transfers from her father to her husband is also why a woman is not supposed to remarry without a bill of divorcement. Once the father transfers his daughter’s headship to her husband, her headship remains with him unless or until he writes her a sefer k’ritute (book of cutting, i.e., a bill of divorcement). As we will see later, Yeshua says he is only allowed to do this in cases of active adultery. We will also see that the only exceptions to this rule are when the husband engages in extreme abuse (such as physical violence). But if there is no violence, a woman is not allowed to remarry unless her husband first writes her a sefer k’ritute (for adultery).
We see a prime violation of this principle in the story of Herodias, who divorced her husband Phillip in order to marry King Herod. Josephus tells us that she took it upon herself to “confound the laws of our country” by initiating the divorce herself.
Herodias took upon her to confound the laws of our country, and divorced herself from her husband while he was alive, and was married to Herod Antipas.
[Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18.5.4, Whiston translation]
The full story is that King Herod had a half-brother named Philip, who’s wife’s name was Herodias. Herod lusted for Herodias, and he talked her into leaving Philip and marrying him. Their marriage was adulterous from the start because Philip had not released her, and women do not have the authority in Scripture to initiate divorce themselves. The narrative is thick, but Josephus talks about their marriage in Antiquities of the Jews, 18:5:1.
About this time Aretas (the king of Arabia Petres) and Herod (the Great) had a quarrel on the account following: Herod the tetrarch had, married the daughter of Aretas, and had lived with her a great while; but when he was once at Rome, he lodged with Herod (i.e., Philip), who was his (half) brother indeed, but not by the same mother; for this Herod (i.e., Philip) was the son of the high priest Sireoh’s daughter. However, he fell in love with Herodias, this last Herod’s (i.e., Philip’s) wife, who was the daughter of Aristobulus their brother, and the sister of Agrippa the Great. This man (Herod the Great) ventured to talk to her about a marriage between them; which address, when she admitted, an agreement was made for her to change her habitation, and come to him as soon as he should return from Rome….
[Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18:5:1, Whiston Translation]
This is undoubtedly why Yochanan HaMatbil (John the Baptist) said it was not lawful for Herod to have her.
Mattityahu (Matthew) 14:3-4
3 For Herod had laid hold of Yochanan and bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife.
4 Because Yochanan had said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.”
Romans 7:2-3 speaks to this same principle. Shaul tells us that a woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives, and is not released until he dies. Verse 3 tells us that if she marries another man while her husband is alive she will be called an adulteress.
Romim (Romans) 7:2-3
2 For the woman who has a husband is bound by the Torah to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the Torah of her husband.
3 So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that Torah, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.
Shaul is summarizing the Torah here. In Deuteronomy 24, Yahweh tells us that a woman whose husband has given her a bill of divorce hypothetically can remarry (but it is best if she does not). However, if her husband does not give her a bill of divorce, she may not remarry at all. This is also why it would have been adulterous for Pharaoh to marry Avram’s wife Sarai (Sarah).
B’reisheet (Genesis) 12:17-19
17 But Yahweh plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Avram’s
18 And Pharaoh called Avram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife?
19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’? I might have taken her as my wife. Now therefore, here is your wife; take her and go your way.”
When King Shaul was trying to kill David, he wrongly and unlawfully gave David’s wife Michal to Paltiel, the son of Laish.
Shemuel Aleph (1 Samuel) 25:44
44 But Shaul had given Michal his daughter, David’s wife, to Palti the son of Laish, who was from Gallim.
However, while Paltiel and Michal probably had marital relations, their marriage was never valid. This was partly because Michal had not been adulterous before the remarriage, but primarily because Shaul had wrongly given her to Paltiel. When Shaul transferred Michal’s headship to David, it lawfully rested with him from then on. And because David never wrote Michal a certificate of divorce, he was right in demanding his wife back.
Shemuel Bet (2 Samuel) 3:14-15
14 So David sent messengers to Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, saying, “Give me my wife Michal, whom I betrothed to myself for a hundred foreskins of the Philistines.”
15 And Ishbosheth sent and took her from her husband, from Paltiel the son of Laish.
Yahweh considers marriage to be a lifelong three-way covenant. Unless her husband dies, Yahweh ideally wants women to marry once, and to stay married for life.
The Fine Line of Remarriage
For those few who are called to it, the ideal is celibacy. However, for the vast majority of people, the ideal is lifelong committed monogamy. Yet because most of us have been taught the wrong things, many of us have less-than-ideal situations. What do we do then?
Shaul tells us that a man who finds himself “loosed from” his wife should ideally not remarry, but refocus himself completely on Yahweh. However, Shaul says if he does remarry, he has not sinned—and that a virgin or a widow who marries has not sinned. That is because marriage is a noble institution if we use it to serve Yahweh in the Spirit.
Qorintim Aleph (1 Corinthians) 7:27-31
27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife.
28 But even if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Nevertheless such will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you.
29 But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none,
30 those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess,
31 and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away.
Shaul also tells us that unless she is giving herself to Yahweh in celibacy, widows who are of childbearing age should remarry and bear children unto Yahweh.
TimaTheus Aleph (1 Timothy) 5:14
14 Therefore I desire that the younger widows marry, bear children, manage the house, give no opportunity to the adversary to speak reproachfully.
However, in contrast, those who are put away for sexual immorality may not remarry, unless her husband writes her a certificate of divorce. And even if he writes her a certificate of divorce, she is technically still married to him, and should repent and go back to him.
However, if he does write her a certificate of divorce and she remarries, her remarriage permanently severs her marriage to her first husband. That is when she can no longer go back to him (as in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, above).
Only Sexual Immorality Justifies Divorcement
Knowing all this, how can we understand Yeshua’s dictum that adultery is the only cause for divorcement, and that it is adultery for a man to marry a woman who has been put away for sexual immorality?
Mattityahu (Matthew) 5:31-32
31 “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’
32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.”
Yahweh does not favor divorce. He favors lifelong marriage. However, His heart is also for righteousness and justice, and therefore there must be rules, and codes of honor.
In Scripture, because women need a covering, they do not have a strong legal status. It is therefore imperative that the men establish a strong climate of care for every man’s daughters. The unspoken principle is that every man is not only his brother’s keeper, but also his brother’s daughter’s keeper. Every Israelites’ daughter should be taken care of, and loved. This code of honor among the brethren is never spoken, but it assumed in Scripture. Yet this also calls for discipline and honor on the part of the women.
If a woman adulterates away from her husband, then he may write her a certificate of divorce. This effectively says that she is not respecting him, and therefore he can no longer take responsibility for her or her actions. The purpose of this writ of divorce is generally to put such an adulteress in a very hard place socially and legally, so that she will repent, and obey her vows to her husband. However, if another man comes along and marries her, he takes her out of this hard place of discipline, so she does not need to repent. That is why a man who marries a woman who is lawfully divorced is guilty of adultery: he is aiding and abetting her adultery.
Similarly, if a man puts his wife away unlawfully (i.e., for a cause other than sexual immorality) and she marries someone else, technically she has committed adultery, in that she broke their marital covenant. However, the fault accrues to him, because he is the one who put her in that situation.
The Tannaim: Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel
Yeshua lived in the Second Temple period, in what is known as the tannaitic era. The tannaitic era lasted from 10 CE to 220 CE. During this time there was a division of the leadership into two camps. One was called Beit Hillel (the house of Hillel) and the other was called Beit Shammai (the house of Shammai).
Beit Shammai taught that marriage is sacred, and that divorce is only justified when there is a very serious breach of the marital covenant (such as adultery or violence). In contrast, Beit Hillel taught that a man can divorce his wife for any reason, including spoiling his food, speaking critically of his mother, or displeasing him in any way. Rabbi Akiva even went so far as to say that a man could divorce his wife even if he found someone else more attractive.
MISHNAH. BETH SHAMMAI SAY: A MAN SHOULD NOT DIVORCE HIS WIFE UNLESS HE HAS FOUND HER GUILTY OF SOME UNSEEMLY CONDUCT, AS IT SAYS, BECAUSE HE HATH FOUND SOME UNSEEMLY THING  IN HER. BETH HILLEL, HOWEVER, SAY [THAT HE MAY DIVORCE HER] EVEN IF SHE HAS MERELY SPOILT HIS FOOD, SINCE IT SAYS, BECAUSE HE HATH FOUND SOME UNSEEMLY THING IN HER. R. AKIBA SAYS, [HE MAY DIVORCE HER] EVEN IF HE FINDS ANOTHER WOMAN MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN SHE IS, AS IT SAYS, IT COMETH TO PASS, IF SHE FIND NO FAVOUR IN HIS EYES.
[Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Gittin 90a, Soncino]
Orthodox Judaism eventually adopted Beit Hillel’s point of view, that a man may divorce his wife for any reason. This ethic also eventually found its way into the Christian world, and is common today.
Beit Hillel vs. Beit Yeshua
Earlier we saw that King Herod induced Herodias to leave her husband Philip. In Matthew 19 (below), the Pharisees came to Yeshua and tested Him, asking Him if it was alright to put one’s wife away “for just any reason.” It seems likely that they wanted to see if they could get Yeshua to condemn King Herod’s marriage, so that King Herod would imprison or kill Him (along with Yochanan HaMatbil, aka John the Baptist).
Mattityahu (Matthew) 19:3-9
3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”
4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’
5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?
6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what Elohim has joined together, let not man separate.”
7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moshe command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?”
8 He said to them, “Moshe, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.
9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”
[Note: To be clear, it is not that Yeshua “took sides with” Beit Shammai in the matter of divorce and adultery. Rather, Beit Shammai agreed with Scripture in this particular case.]
Yahweh’s Love Reflected in Hoshea’s Ministry
Yahweh told Hoshea (Hosea) to take a harlot for a wife (symbolic of Ephraim), so His people could see the kind of love and dedication He has toward us, even though we are unfaithful to Him.
Hoshea (Hosea) 1:2
2 When Yahweh began to speak by Hoshea, Yahweh said to Hoshea: “Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and [have] children of harlotry, For the land has committed great harlotry By departing from Yahweh.”
Even when Hoshea’s wife Gomer sold herself into sex slavery, Hoshea sought her out, and paid the price to redeem her. All of this was to show the kind of loyal love and faithfulness that Yahweh and Yeshua have toward us. This is the spirit all Israelite husbands should have.
Hoshea (Hosea) 3:1-5
1 Then Yahweh said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by a lover and is committing adultery, just like the love of Yahweh for the children of Israel, who look to other gods and love the raisin cakes of the pagans.”
2 So I bought her for myself for fifteen shekels of silver, and one and one-half homers of barley.
3 And I said to her, “You shall stay with me many days; you shall not play the harlot, nor shall you have a man — so, too, will I be toward you.”
4 For the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, without ephod or teraphim.
5 Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek Yahweh their Elohim and David their king. They shall fear Yahweh and His goodness in the latter days.”
Later we will see that while Yahweh did give Ephraim a certificate of divorce, His heart was not to be done with Ephraim. Rather, His heart was to put her in a bind so that she would repent and turn back to Him. Yahweh’s example is that a man is to pursue his wife, and try to win her back, even if she continues in transgression. We are not to “stand on our rights,” give her a certificate of divorce, and be done. Rather, we are supposed to humbly accept the situation that Yahweh gives us, and pray for our wives forever. This is a Scriptural principle, or what is called in Scripture, a precept.
Judgments and the Law of First Mention
In addition to Yahweh’s precepts, the Torah also gives us His laws, His statutes, His ordinances, His decrees, and His judgments. While Yahweh’s laws, statutes, ordinances and decrees are for normal situations, His judgments tell us what to do when things have gone horribly wrong. That is, when we cannot apply the basic statutes, ordinances, laws, and decrees as they were intended, the solution is for a judge (and in this case, Yahweh) to step in and make a special determination as to how to make the best of a bad situation. This is the case in Deuteronomy 24. The wife has been put away for a matter of sexual uncleanness. The husband has put her away, but instead of repenting and returning to him, she has remarried.
Beit Hillel takes Yahweh’s judgment and wrongly assumes that it provides a basis for sending wives away for any reason. What they need to realize is that Yahweh and Yeshua love compassion, mercy, and kindness.
Hoshea (Hosea) 6:6
6 “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of Elohim more than burnt offerings.”
Mattityahu (Matthew) 9:13
13 “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
To apply Deuteronomy 24 correctly, first a judge must realize that Yahweh’s heart is not to stone anyone, or to break families apart. His heart is first and foremost to establish and strengthen families in Him and His Son. Second, a judge must understand that Deuteronomy 24 is given as a more compassionate alternative to death by stoning, as the penalty is given in Leviticus 20:10.
Vayiqra (Leviticus) 20:10
10 “The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death.”
Because we all sin, we all need Yahweh’s mercy. This is why Yahweh gave us Deuteronomy 24, is so we would have a means of correcting an adulterous wife without having to resort to stoning. This is why Yeshua’s surrogate father Yosef (Joseph) is called righteous (or just) when he decided to put Miriam away secretly (rather than have her stoned) after he learned she was already pregnant.
Mattityahu (Matthew) 1:19
19 Then Yosef her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.
In this case, Yosef could have lawfully put Miriam away forever, because they had not yet consummated the marriage, and therefore the marriage was not yet legally binding. It would have been lawful for Yosef to back out of the deal on the basis that things were not as they had seemed, except that Elohim intervened.
Mattityahu (Matthew) 1:20-21
20 But while he thought about these things, behold, a messenger of Yahweh appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Yosef, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Miriam your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Set-apart Spirit.
21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Yeshua, for He will save His people from their sins.”
Divorce Was Never Intended to Be Permanent
After the Protestant Reformation, western society has largely forgotten that marriage is a set-apart institution. It has forgotten that when a man takes a wife, he makes a commitment with Elohim to love and care for her under his headship, just as her father would have cared for her. This is also the same as Yahweh-Yeshua loves us.
Ephesim (Ephesians) 5:25-33
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Messiah also loved the assembly and gave Himself for her,
26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word,
27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious assembly, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be set apart and without blemish.
28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.
29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Yahweh does the assembly.
30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.
31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Messiah and the assembly.
33 Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
The western misconception that divorce should be easy and permanent contradicts Yahweh’s example. It also ignores the Law of First Mention, which tells us that the first time something appears in Scripture, it sets the standard by which all other instances are measured: and the first time man and wife were joined together, a one-flesh union was created.
B’reisheet (Genesis) 2:24
24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
The idea of one flesh is that a marriage forms a single living entity which should never be separated, as both parts would either be severely damaged, or die.
The Torah Precept of Honor Among Brethren
The Torah implies responsibility and honor among the brethren. That means that if the men do not implement corporate justice, they are not keeping His Torah.
Because Yahweh gives the power and authority to the men, He also holds them responsible. They are to use their power and authority to ensure that His Torah is implemented within the nation, so that justice prevails. Specifically, they must ensure that each man’s daughter is treated fairly, in the same manner as they would like their own daughters to be treated. In fact, if any man treats another man’s daughter unfairly, he is to be fined and punished (i.e., beaten).
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 22:13-19
13 “If any man takes a wife, and goes in to her, and detests her,
14 and charges her with shameful conduct, and brings a bad name on her, and says, ‘I took this woman, and when I came to her I found she was not a virgin,’
15 then the father and mother of the young woman shall take and bring out the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate.
16 And the young woman’s father shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man as wife, and he detests her.
17 Now he has charged her with shameful conduct, saying, “I found your daughter was not a virgin,” and yet these are the evidences of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city.
18 Then the elders of that city shall take that man and punish [i.e., beat] him;
19 and they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name on a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife; he cannot divorce her all his days.”
In this passage, a hypothetical Israelite man takes a hypothetical Israelite woman as his wife, and later tries to get out of the marriage by saying she was not a virgin (when she was). In technical terms he is trying to claim that the covenant is null and void because the terms and conditions of the contract were not met (i.e., that she was not a virgin). This shows disrespect for Yahweh and His Torah. In the land of Israel under a Torah government, the solution is for the men of the town to take the man out and punish him (which is a polite way of saying that they should beat him until he repents from the heart).
Had the woman truly not been a virgin, if the man’s heart was hard he could either have her stoned, or (preferably) put her away. However, since she was proven to have been a virgin on her wedding night, the brothers have a responsibility to ensure that the offender either lives up to his end of the agreement (and loves her as he loves himself), or they should take him outside the camp, and stone him to death. Those are the only two options, if sin is to be kept outside of the camp.
Corporate Accountability is Part of Torah
The western concept of privacy is different than the one found in Scripture. In Scripture, not everyone needs to know everything about everyone else, but there are sins that affect the society as a whole, and these literally are everyone’s business, because everyone is concerned. A little bit of leaven leavens the whole lump, and so sins must be addressed, and the sinners must either repent, or be put outside the camp.
Galatim (Galatians) 5:9
9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump.
Corporate accountability is part of the Torah. When one man sins, Yahweh holds our whole nation accountable, and we can all be punished. For example, consider the case of Achan, the son of Carmi.
Yehoshua (Joshua) 7:1-5
1 But the children of Israel committed a trespass regarding the accursed things, for Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed things; so the anger of Yahweh burned against the children of Israel.
2 Now Yehoshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Beth Aven, on the east side of Bethel, and spoke to them, saying, “Go up and spy out the country.” So the men went up and spied out Ai.
3 And they returned to Yehoshua and said to him, “Do not let all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not weary all the people there, for the people of Ai are few.”
4 So about three thousand men went up there from the people, but they fled before the men of Ai.
5 And the men of Ai struck down about thirty-six men, for they chased them from before the gate as far as Shebarim, and struck them down on the descent; therefore the hearts of the people melted and became like water.
The purpose of being aware of others’ behavior is not to be malicious, or to gossip, but rather to ensure that sin is put outside the camp. One way or another, the sinner must repent, or be sent away. This is also why Shaul named those who were doing wrong.
TimaTheus Bet (2 Timothy) 4:14-16
14 Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May Yahweh repay him according to his works.
15 You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words.
16 At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.
There is a time and a way to handle matters, and a time and a way not to handle matters. [For more information, see “Lashon Hara: The Evil Tongue” and also “The Matthew Eighteen Process”, both of which are found in Covenant Relationships.]
No Unequal Yokings Inside the Land
Ephraim is now in the dispersion because of the sins of our forefathers. Because of this, we cannot truly walk out the Torah. However, when we return back home to the land and we establish a Torah government, we will once again have Yahweh’s Torah as the supreme law of the land (including the courts, the schools, and the media). Then we will again be able to enforce purity inside the camp.
When we live in the land, we are not to enter into any covenant with those who do not believe correctly, lest Yahweh’s wrath be aroused against us, and He destroys us suddenly. This means that we may not be married to a nonbeliever when we dwell in His land.
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 7:1-4
1 “When Yahweh your Elohim brings you into the land which you go to possess, and has cast out many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than you,
2 and when Yahweh your Elohim delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them.
3 Nor shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son.
4 For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other elohim; so the anger of Yahweh will be aroused against you and destroy you suddenly.”
This is also why, when Judah came back from Babylon, Ezra told the people to send away any wives or children who worshipped foreign gods (and would not convert).
2 And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, spoke up and said to Ezra, “We have trespassed against our Elohim, and have taken pagan wives from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope in Israel in spite of this.
3 Now therefore, let us make a covenant with our Elohim to put away all these wives and those who have been born to them, according to the advice of my master and of those who tremble at the commandment of our Elohim; and let it be done according to the Torah.”
And especially since we look to go back to the land, we should not intentionally become married to unbelievers, because that would be to become unequally yoked, and unequal yokings are prohibited.
Qorintim Bet (2 Corinthians) 6:14-17
14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?
15 And what accord has Messiah with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?
16 And what agreement has the temple of Elohim with idols? For you are the temple of the living Elohim. As Elohim has said: “I will dwell in them
And walk among them.
I will be their Elohim,
And they shall be My people.”
“Come out from among them
And be separate, says Yahweh.”
Unequal Yokings in the Dispersion
Sadly, in the dispersion, unequal yokings happen all the time. It also often happens that two unbelievers get married, and one of them later gets saved. What do we do then? Shaul’s advice is that when we are in the dispersion we should not divorce them, but that we should remain in the calling in which we are called. If an unbelieving spouse chooses to depart, he or she can depart. We do not need to wait for him or her to return, but can remarry (because we are not to be unequally yoked in the first place). However, unless we are moving to the land (after Armageddon) we should not be the ones to leave. Rather, we should seek to witness to our spouse, to help him or her get saved. This is the most loving thing we can do.
Qorintim Aleph (1 Corinthians) 7:10-16
10 Now to the married I command, yet not I but Yahweh: A wife is not to depart from her husband.
11 But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife.
12 But to the rest I, not Yahweh, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her.
13 And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him.
14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are set apart.
15 But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But Elohim has called us to peace.
16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?
The reason the rules for the dispersion are different than the rules for the land is that the requirement to keep the land free from defilement does not come into play. Therefore, at least while we are in the dispersion, the most loving thing we can do is to remain as we are, and try to witness Yeshua’s love.
Qorintim Aleph (1st Corinthians) 7:26-28
26 I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress — that it is good for a man to remain as he is:
27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife.
28 But even if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Nevertheless such will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you.
Exceptions to the Rule
Scripture does not say this, but there are some cases in which there is a compelling reason to allow the wife to legally separate, or divorce her husband. Consider for example that when there is severe physical abuse of a slave, the Torah commands the slave to be set free.
Shemote (Exodus) 21:26-27
26 “If a man strikes the eye of his male or female servant, and destroys it, he shall let him go free for the sake of his eye.
27 And if he knocks out the tooth of his male or female servant, he shall let him go free for the sake of his tooth.”
Since a wife has a much higher legal status than a slave, if a male or female servant should be set free when there is severe physical abuse, then how much more should a wife be set free from a physically abusive relationship?
We also already saw how Leviticus 20:10 commands the death penalty for stoning, and how Yahweh gives us the option to divorce as a more compassionate alternative to stoning. It is illegal to enforce Leviticus 20:10 in most nations, but if Deuteronomy 24 allows the husband to divorce the spouse in cases of sexual uncleanness, then it also stands to reason that the wife should be able to separate from her husband in cases of adultery and sexual uncleanness.
Ideally a wife may also do like Hoshea, forgiving her husband’s adultery or physical abuse, while trying to win him back. Since this was what Yahweh commanded through Hoshea, it only makes sense that it is also the ideal example for women to follow.
The reason Scripture does not tell us how women are supposed to separate from their men is undoubtedly that there should never be a need for it. Yahweh wanted the men of Israel to love their wives, such that there would never be a reason for her to need to separate or seek a divorce. As we said before, the men are supposed to create an environment in which every man’s daughters are protected and cared for.
What all of this shows us is that while legal separation and divorce can be permitted in certain situations, in general, Yahweh does not like divorce. For this reason, if it is possible to reconcile a marriage, it should be done. Divorce should be considered as an absolute last resort. (This is also how Yahweh treated Ephraim.)
Right Rulings: Concubines and Slaves
We know that Yahweh generally does not like slavery among Hebrews.
Yeshayahu (Isaiah) 58:6
6 “Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?”
However, we also know that Israel will again take (non-Hebrew) slaves in the future.
Yeshayahu (Isaiah) 14:2
2 Then people will take them and bring them to their place, and the house of Israel will possess them for servants and maids in the land of Yahweh; they will take them captive whose captives they were, and rule over their oppressors.
Why will Israel take slaves in the future? It may be that after Armageddon, certain people will continue to be a threat, and it will be more compassionate to take them captive than to put them to death. Plus, if they are taken captive, it gives us an opportunity to witness to them, and then let them go free once they convert. (Helping them to convert is certainly more compassionate than having to kill them for security’s sake.)
We discuss concubines and slaves in “Polygyny, Concubines, and Kingship” in Covenant Relationships, but we will discuss the marital aspects here.
To understand why Yahweh’s rulings read the way they do, first we should understand the legal status of slaves and concubines. A slave is someone who does not own his own body. Because of this, he does not have normal legal rights, either to himself, or his offspring. In contrast, a concubine is a type of a wife with less rights than a full legal wife. Because of the marriage she has more legal rights than a regular female slave, but not as many as a full wife.
If a man already had a wife when he became a slave, then his wife was supposed to go out with him when his term of service ended, because his covenant with her existed prior to his coming into slavery. However, if his master gave him a wife after he became a slave, then she and her children were not to go out with him at the end of his service. For one thing, the marriage may not have been entered into on a free will basis (which is a necessary condition of covenanting). For another thing, as a slave he did not have full legal rights to himself, and therefore he was not able to pledge himself in a covenant.
Shemote (Exodus) 21:1-6
1 “Now these are the judgments which you shall set before them:
2 If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing.
3 If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him.
4 If his master has given him a wife, and she has borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself.
5 But if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’
6 then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.
If the man loved his wife and children, he had the option of becoming his master’s slave forever. Other than that, he had to leave his wife and children behind, because as a slave he did not have legal rights to his own body, or his offspring.
Female slaves (maidservants) were treated differently. They did not have the right to go out at the end of six years, as the male slaves did. Probably this is because her father had transferred her covering to her master. The exact meaning of this passage is disputed, but it seems likely that the daughter in question was sold into concubinage (i.e., she became a wife who was also a slave, meaning she did not have full legal rights to her own body).
Shemote (Exodus) 21:7-11
7 “And if a man sells his daughter to be a female slave [i.e., a concubine], she shall not go out [at the end of six years] as the male slaves do.
8 If she does not please her master, who has betrothed her to himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt deceitfully with her.
9 And if he has betrothed her to his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters.
10 If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, and her marriage rights.
11 And if he does not do these three for her, then she shall go out free, without paying money.”
Historically, a poor man might sell his daughter as a concubine to a rich man. Because she was technically a slave, she did not have full legal rights as a wife under the Torah. Because of this, her owner could legally even betroth her to his son. However, she had to be treated like a wife. If she was not treated as a wife should be treated, then she could go free, without having to return the bride price. (And if concubines were to be set free if they were not treated like wives should be treated, then how much more should full legal wives have this protection?)
Hagar is an example of a concubine. She had less than full legal protection under the covenant, and could be sent away for causes other than sexual immorality.
B’reisheet (Genesis) 21:9-12
9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Avraham, scoffing.
10 Therefore she said to Avraham, “Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Yitzhak.”
11 And the matter was very displeasing in Avraham’s sight because of his son.
12 But Elohim said to Avraham, “Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Yitzhak your seed shall be called.”
Yet even though a concubine could be sent away for causes other than sexual immorality, it still had to be a just cause. This was the case with Ishmael and Hagar. If Yitzhak died, Ishmael would inherit everything, and because Ishmael scoffed at Yitzhak, he neither loved nor respected him. Clearly, Ishmael stood to gain by killing Yitzhak (and in fact this foreshadowing was prophetic).
Where Are We Now?
It is shocking to realize how many believers on Yeshua think we are allowed to divorce our wives “for just any reason.”
Mattityahu (Matthew) 19:3
3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”
Yahweh tells us that He hates divorce. It covers His altar with weeping because it creates so many victims. How can anyone with His Spirit not intuitively recognize this fact?
13 And this is the second thing you do: you cover the altar of Yahweh with tears, with weeping and crying; so He does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive it with goodwill from your hands.
14 Yet you say, “For what reason?” Because Yahweh has been witness between you and the wife of your youth (i.e., your first wife), with whom you have dealt treacherously. Yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant.
15 But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks righteous offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth.
16 “For Yahweh Elohim of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence,” says Yahweh of hosts. “Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”
Yahweh is not in the business of divorce. He has put up patiently with Ephraim for well over two thousand years, trying to win her back to Him. Yet many in Ephraim now practice the same kind of easy divorce Yeshua decried in the first century.
Yahweh’s heart in marriage is that we will take the same kind of patience with our spouses that He takes with us, that we might establish His Son’s kingdom in justice and righteousness.