Most Bible readers easily put together these Bible verse and come up with the following equation:  commandment # 7 “thou shall not commit adultery” + Jesus’ words on adultery in Matthew 19 = Divorce is OK, if adultery has occurred.  This draws a hard question from the scriptures when we are confronted with martial cruelty.  Why is violence not an acceptable reason for divorce?  What about neglect or abuse of innocent children?  Does God want the victim of abuse or neglect to repeatedly suffer?

Just as abuse occurs now, so it did then.  In Exodus 21:10-11 we find additional grounds for divorce beyond adultery.  These grounds speak clearly to abuse and neglect as it was understood in the Old Testament culture.  At first glance, the reader may assume this text too foreign for modern application. After all, these verses address the situation of a slave girl that married her master and now the master is taking a second wife.  Surely, that situation does not apply today…or at least, I hope it doesn’t apply today!  But notice the detail given by the law that assures the first wife, the slave wife is treated fairly.  Her husband could not deny her food, clothing or conjugal love.  If he neglected these and she proved it in court, she would be freed from the marriage bond.  A legal divorce would have resulted and she could remarry.

This gives an insight into the skeleton of Jewish marriage vows.  They revolved around each party doing their part in feeding and clothing one another.  Each had specific duties as culturally assigned to gender that dealt with food and clothing.  For example, women would cook and sew; men would provide food and cloth.  Also, the vows speak to sexual needs and exclusively in sexual partnership. (We forget that sex is a gift from God, don’t we?)  Abuse and neglect are atrocious forms of neglecting material support and abandoning physical affection.  The text addresses abuse and neglect by pointing to the standard (food, clothing, and sex).  Anything less than that standard would be grounds for an Old Testament divorce.

The argument for martial peace can be furthered by the silence of the Bible.   Martial violence or neglect is simply never condoned, excused or encouraged by the scriptures. 

Our Muslim friends are not so fortunate.  The Qur’an describes Mohammad as a non-violent man.  But a controversial Qur’an text suggests that husband keep his wife in line by admonishment first, then sexual refusal.  If none of those things work, a light beating is encouraged.  A female translator is fighting an uphill battle to have the translation toned down.

Finally, The God of the Bible is portrayed as a divorcee in the sermons of the latter prophets.  God’s bride, Israel has been unfaithful.  Never does God want to do her harm.  God pleads for repentance because God knows that without God’s blessing the nation will only suffer. (see my “God the reluctant Divorcee” post)

Ye Old Testament Divorce” is needed when legitimate grounds are proven in court to be true.  Those grounds are a violation of the marriage agreement concerning food, clothing, sexual desires and fidelity. These are the four reasons for divorce in the Old Testament. In a culture of prearranged marriages with the purpose of producing children to be contributors to the Jewish faith, this makes sense.  But do those same standards speak to our culture today? 


The TLC Show “19 kids and counting” is a video documentary of a chapter in the life of the Duggar Family.  They have 19 kids, maybe more now, I lose count.  I caught an episode when my daughter (who was 3 at the time) could not sleep.  In that 3am episode, Jim Bob and Michelle’s eldest son was getting married.  The wedding vows sounded common until I caught a line about never using birth control and allowing God to determine the size of their family.  I cringed.  I know the pain of losing a child.  But Old Testament-wise, is it sound?  It certainly does not deal with food, clothing or sex.

What about my childhood neighbors?  They had been friends for years when each other’s spouses died.  Financially, they were pinched and solved their problem by getting married, sharing a household and the associated expenses.  Joan and Harry created no façade!  Everyone knew their situation and how they fixed it!  They were happy together; generous people that even took in and raised an abandoned granddaughter.  Their marriage did not reflect the “sex” part of the Old Testament standard.  Does that mean their marriage was a sham?

In our culture, marriage comes in all shapes and sizes.  Unlike the Old Testament, the goal is not always to create a family.  This culture clash is just the beginning of many misunderstandings about Christian marriage and divorce.

What do you think?  Should modern marriage vows follow a strict adherence to the ancient Jewish model?  After all that is “Biblical”. 

Modern marriage vows contain language that speaks to fidelity through thick and thin.  For example:  to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part” is a common phrase.  This invokes a challenge that befits our modern lifestyle but it is drastically different than Old Testament expectations.  Any pondering prophets out there want to weigh in?

–one pondering prophet that’s out for now–