As To Divorce And Remarriage


The following communication is a further question about the reply given in the Dec. 1 issue concerning priestly marriages in Israel: 

“Dear Prof. Hoeksema, 

“I am writing in regard to the answer you gave in theStandard Bearer of Dec. 1 concerning the matter of divorce in Israel. 

“The reader’s last question was, Is it implied that the other Israelites could marry a divorced woman? Your. answer (negative, HCH) is found in the last paragraph. 

“In Deut. 24:1-4 we read Moses’ instructions concerning divorce. How are we to explain this, especially verse 2, which reads, ‘And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife.'” 

“Your Brother in Christ” 


Thank-you for your question. Every time I fear that the Question Box has run out of questions, a new question has come in. This is good. Readers, keep the questions coming, lest the Question Box grow hungry! 

I more or less expected this question when I penned the answer to the question about priestly marriages in the Dec. 1 issue. But at the time I did not want to lengthen and complicate that answer by writing anything about Deut. 24. Besides, I was not asked aboutDeut. 24. I am glad, however, that this question was raised by my correspondent; and I will try to clarify this matter. This passage seems to occasion questions rather often. 

Let us first get the passage before us. For the sake of clarity I will insert the verse numbers as I quote it: “1. When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. 2. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife. 3. And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife; 4. Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the Lord: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.” 

This is, of course, the passage referred to in Matthew 19:7, 8: “They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.” 

In reply to the question, I would point out: 

1) That while this is not very clear in the King James rendering, the ordinance, the specific precept, in this passage does not come until verse 4. 

2) The first three verses describe the situation in which the ordinance of verse 4 is to be applied. 

3) The point is, therefore, that the law does not prescribe and approve divorce and remarriage here, but rather recognizes that these occur and “suffers” men to put away their wives and wives to go and belong to other men. The latter was “because of the hardness of your hearts.” 

The >Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on this passage has, I think, some helpful remarks: 

“. . . In these verses, however, divorce is not established as a right; all that is done is, that in case of a divorce a reunion with the divorced wife is forbidden, if in the meantime she had married another man, even though the second husband had also put her away, or had died. The four verses form a period, in which vers. 1-3 are the clauses of the protasis, which describe the matter treated about; and ver. 4 contains the apodosis, with the law concerning the point in question. If a man married a wife, and he put her away with a letter of divorce, because she did not please him any longer, and the divorced woman married another man, and he either put her away in the same manner or died, the first husband could not take her as his wife again. The putting away (divorce) of a wife with a letter of divorce, which the husband gave to the wife whom he put away, is assumed as a custom founded upon tradition . . . . The custom of giving letters of divorce was probably adopted by the Israelites in Egypt, where the practice of writing had already found its way into all the relations of life. The law that the first husband could not take his divorced wife back again, if she had married another husband in the meantime, even supposing that the second husband was dead, would necessarily put a check upon frivolous divorces. Moses could not entirely abolish the traditional custom, if only ‘because of the hardness of the people’s hearts’ (Matt. xix. 8). The thought, therefore, of the impossibility of reunion with the first husband, after the wife had contracted a second marriage, would put some restraint upon a frivolous rupture of the marriage tie: it would have this effect, that whilst, on the one hand, the man would reflect when inducements to divorce his wife presented themselves, and would recall a rash act if it had been performed, before the wife he had put away had married another husband; on the other hand, the wife would yield more readily to the will of her husband, and seek to avoid furnishing him with an inducement for divorce.” 

In conclusion, my previous answer stands: Scripture does not lend approval to the remarriage of divorced persons—not even in Deuteronomy 24.