Ancient Near Eastern marriages looked more like a business.  That seems so foreign to modern Americans with our billion dollar movie business that averages a new love story script every week.  Marriage for Bible people were more about the bottom line of supporting and raising a family.  Men were expected to marry, produce and support children to further the blood line.  Women had a part in that process of course.  But for the woman, producing a male child was of keen importance because the male heir would become her caretaker if her husband died.  There were no working, independent, single females.  The job of a woman was to keep house, make and raise babies and live under her husband’s rule.  That may not be such a bad deal, considering the times, IF you had a generous, fair husband.

 Unfortunately in the ancient world, women and children were often seen as property of the male.  Just as property rights go in those days, men could do with their property as they pleased.  Knowing many kind and generous men, myself, I am sure that there were men who were very pleasant and truly loved their families.  But abuse did abound. 

 The divorce certificate given by Moses addresses one of those abuses.  Prior to this decree, a man could abandon his wife and children with no repercussions.  They could literally disappear!  Abandoned women had very few choices.  They could return home if their parents were alive, or they could rely upon grown sons (if they had any).  Prostitution was an option.  To make matters worse, the culture of the day dictated that a husband could return at any time and reclaim his wife.  Therefore, remarriage was not an option.  What is a single mom to do?

 (Please note that when abandonment happened, the concern is not about finding true love.  It’s about survival.)

 In Deuteronomy 24:1, a husband may give his wife a certificate of divorce, so saith Moses.  This meant she could remarry, supporting herself and her children.  This applied to abandoned women and rejected women.  Not only did it reveal God’s care for the woman but Moses’ divorce decree also protected the future husband.  Without fear that the original husband may take back his wife and children, the second husband could now invest by training the children and incorporating the wife into his life and livelihood.  Remember, marriage is a business.

 In the New Testament, Jesus comments on this divorce decree when questioned by the Pharisees.  He says that Moses permitted the practice due to “hardheartedness” (Matthew 19:8).  The Pharisees knew that the only place this word is used in the Old Testament was in Jeremiah 4:3-4.  In this text, God warns Judah that he divorced Israel due to her spiritual adultery (worshiping foreign gods).  God will do the same for Judah if Judah will not repent (meaning be true to God and disassociate from other religions).  Hardheartedness refers to an unwillingness to repent for the sake of faithfulness.  Therefore, Jesus’ point of view is that divorce is necessary because a partner (or both!) may refuse to practice fidelity.   

Today, marital abandonment can happen to both parties.

 These passages speak to God’s expectations for marriage.  But what strikes me most is God’s compassion for the weaker party; the abandoned and/or rejected woman and children.  I am also struck by Jesus upholding the need for a fair divorce along with a comment about repentance (which is necessary in every relationship at some point). 

 While most marriages today are not a business, we do have two partners sharing a life, hopefully moving in the same direction together.   Moses’ divorce degree is a cautionary statement that Christian marriages be void of abandonment.  It is Jesus that underlines the importance of repentance, turning away from martial abandonment and seeking to fulfill the wedding vows taken.  These two guidelines give heft to fidelity and encourage a home of peace. 

Here’s a thought:  what about abandonment beyond a physical exit from the home?  Does this apply to financial abandonment, emotional abandonment, sexual abandonment?  What about refusing to parent the children that come along?  Think about it, the next couple of blog entries will touch on that.  Until then, any thoughts out there?—from one pondering prophet to another