Purim: The Hidden Hand of Hashem

OneNightWiththeKingThe book of Esther is certainly an odd duck. Alone of all the books of the Tanakh (OT), it does not contain any direct mention of Hashem, not even to state that its principles prayed for their deliverance. Martin Luther was certainly vexed by the book, writing in Table Talk, 

I am so great an enemy to the second book of the Maccabees, and to Esther, that I wish they had not come to us at all, for they have too many heathen unnaturalities. The Jews much more esteemed the book of Esther than any of the prophets; though they were forbidden to read it before they had attained the age of thirty, by reason of the mystic matters it contains.

Luther was quite correct about the esteem Jews have for Esther. While there are five books called Megillot (scrolls) in Judaism, when you say the Megillah, everyone knows you’re talking about Esther. It is considered a commandment to read it in its entirety on Purim, the Feast of Lots. Even so, the same discomfort Martin Luther felt has carried over into Judaism from time-to-time: Esther alone of the books of the Tanakh was not found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, and many editions of the book have added visions and prayers to try to make it fit better with the rest of the canon.

All of which are wholly unnecessary. It turns out that the Divine Name is indeed found in Esther–it’s just hidden in acrostics so that only those reading the original Hebrew text can find it.

The first place where we find Hashem is in Esther 1:20, “When the king’s edict which he will make is heard throughout all his kingdom, great as it is, then all women will give honor to their husbands, great and small.” The underlined phrase in Hebrew is Hyi V‘khal-Hanashim Yitnu, which spells Hashem out backwards, using the first letter of each word. That Hashem is written backwards indicates that even now, Hashem is acting to turn back the plans of men.

The second place that Hashem is written in acrostics is Esther 5:4, “Esther said, ‘If it pleases the king, may the king and Haman come this day to the banquet that I have prepared for him.” In Hebrew, the underlined phrase is, Yavo Hamelekh V‘haman Hayom. This time Hashem’s name is written in the first letter of each word going forwards to show that Hashem was with Esther in her request.

The third is just a few verses later, 5:13, where Haman complains, “Yet all of this does not satisfy me every time I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.”  The Hebrew is, zeH einenU s’veH lY, Hashem spelled in the last letter going backwards, showing that the Holy One is completely against Haman and is turning back all of his plans. Even the suggestion to build a tree to hang Mordecai on is ultimately brought about by Hashem to be the instrument of Haman’s destruction.

The final time is in Esther 7:7, “The king arose in his anger from drinking wine and went into the palace garden; but Haman stayed to beg for his life from Queen Esther, for he saw that harm had been determined against him by the king.” The Hebrew is kY ra’aH kY-khaltaH, with Hashem written forwards with the last letter, showing that God himself was actively judging Haman.

MegillahFour acrostics, written once each in the four ways that they could be written: First letter backwards, first letter forwards, last letter backwards, and last letter forwards. This was done very deliberately by the author so that we would know that it wasn’t happenstance.

What’s the point? There were doubtless political and practical reasons to conceal God’s name, such as not wanting it to be widely read and misused by the Persians who would doubtless read Esther. But there is a midrash here for us as well: Even when Heaven is silent, and we do not see the hand of God, he is still there, taking action to protect us even before we know we need it, as when he removed Vashti so that Esther would be in position to intercede for the Jewish people.

That’s a great comfort to anyone on those days when the heavens seem like bronze.

Shalom

500th Post: On Milestones and Markers

I’ve been doing a bit of clean-up on this blog, mostly trying to get the articles sorted into neat, easy-to-use categories and hunting down orphaned ideas to follow up on. In the process, I happened to glance at the post counter: 499 posts.

That makes this one #500.

500th

Now I’ll grant that there are plenty of blogs out there with post counts in the thousands–and that I could be celebrating #1000 now if I didn’t keep taking time off. You can blame my kids for that one. But 500 is a pretty nifty milestone to pass all the same.

As those who have been keeping up with me on this blog, Facebook, or actually knowing me are aware, it’s been a tumultuous few months for me. Frankly, it’s been an emotionally and spiritually trying time as well.

I’ve taken some Godly advice to step back from ministry until I and my family have had a chance to rest and recuperate, which is why I’ve not said anything more about Reforging the Menorah since some of the initial announcements. I’ll be doing a bit of work on the background stuff that goes into such an endeavor (and you’ll see some of that design work appearing on the website as we go).

Those who I have sought for advice have encouraged me to continue writing, so I’ll be focused on getting the book Reforging the Menorah completed and shopping it around to publishers. Since this blog is basically where I publish the first draft of my thoughts, you’ll be seeing the book in pieces as I go.

So, a slightly early Happy Purim to everyone, shalom, and God bless!

Response to Peter Goodgame – Part 7: Is Israel Divorced?

DivorceIn part 3 of his series, Peter does some excellent summarizing of the marriage relationship between the Messiah and his bride, the Ekklesia, and rightly notes that long before the Ekklesia, Israel was offered the same ketubah, the same marriage contract:

Messianic Bible scholar Arnold Fruchtenbaum explains that the Church as the Bride of Christ goes through four stages that are typical of the traditional Jewish wedding system: In the first stage the father of the groom pays the bride-price. This corresponds to how we have been purchased by the precious blood of Christ and right now the Church exists in this preliminary phase before the actual wedding. The second stage is the fetching of the Bride, which corresponds to the “catching up” of the Church into heaven before the Day of the Lord. The third stage is the private marriage ceremony, whereas the fourth is the public marriage feast mentioned in Revelation 19:9 and Isaiah 25:6 that occurs on earth at the beginning of the Millennium.  The final state of the Church living eternally with her husband as the fully married “wife of the Lamb” is shown within the descriptions of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:9.

As strange as it may sound, the fact is that the Church is not God’s first commitment to a marriage! Yes, the Old Covenant was described using the marriage metaphor as well, and Israel was actually referred to as the wife of Jehovah.  But then things went wrong, as we read in Jeremiah 31:31-34.  From this passage we see that the reason a New Covenant was needed is because the Old Covenant was broken as a result of Israel’s adultery: “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD.”

Again, we completely agree with Peter’s foundational work, but we disagree on the implications that he draws out of it:

Is Israel’s Redemption Even Possible?

This question is posed by Jeremiah when he points out that according to the Law of Moses (Deut. 24:1-4) if a woman leaves a man and then gives herself to another she cannot then return to her first husband because she has become defiled:

“If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man’s wife, will he return to her? Would not that land be greatly polluted? You have played the whore with many lovers; and would you return to me?” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 3:1, ESV)

Jeremiah’s point is that Israel has given herself to not just one, but a multitude of other men and has violated her marriage with the Lord so badly that she is past the point of being able to return to the Lord.  As the Law states, once divorced, if a woman then attaches herself to another man, she cannot then later return to her first husband. . .

Yes, the Old Covenant, as a marriage covenant, was broken by Israel (see Jeremiah 31:31-34), and then she covenanted herself to the gods of the other nations, making it legally impossible for Israel to return to the Lord, at least by the means of the Old Covenant.  The only way that she could ever re-marry after repenting for her sins would be for her first husband to die, which would then release her from her first marriage covenant!

Peter is mostly right here. That is indeed exactly why taking part in Messiah’s death and being born again as a new creation is so pivotal–not only for Jews, but for Gentiles whose ancestors made covenants with demons in the form of pagan gods (1Co. 10:20, Deu. 32:17). However, Peter is wrong on one critical point, and that is to assume that Israel is irrevocably divorced.

fa357_get-documentAs we saw in the previous two posts, the Torah is very specific that the get, the writ of divorcement, must come from the husband, and Paul upholds that this remains true under the New Covenant. The woman can attempt to drive her husband away, but he has the final authority on whether to send her away, releasing her to find a new husband. So the obvious question is, did Hashem ever send Israel away? And if he did, did she remarry?

Peter quotes Jeremiah 3:1 as evidence that God divorced Israel. Yes, in part. However, when we read a few verses down, a different picture emerges:

“And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel (the northern kingdom), I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her sister Judah (the southern kingdom) did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also. . . Go and proclaim these words towards the north and say, ‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the LORD; ‘I will not look upon you in anger. For I am gracious,’ declares the LORD.” (vv. 8, 12)

Notice that while Hashem divorced the northern kingdom, he is still willing to take them back. The reason he can make this offer is that the charge against Israel and Judah both is not that they have married another husband, but that they have played the harlot with the nations and the gods of the nations. Since they had not “remarried,” there was still a possibility of reconciliation.

Moreover, while Hashem divorced the northern kingdom (which ultimately resulted in them being assimilated by the Assyrians and interbred with others to become the Samaritans), he never mentions a divorce of Judah. This does not mean that all of the tribes except for Judah were rejected, for members of all of the tribes lived in the territory of Judah (2Ch. 11:16, cf. Luke 2:36, Romans 11:1). Indeed, he could not divorce Judah without breaking his promises to the House of David (2Sa. 7:12-16). This is why all of the tribes bear the name of Y’hudah / Jew to this day.

Why then does it seem like the Jewish people have been rejected? Because of the Curse of the Law. The Eternal One knew that Israel would break their covenant with him, so in the third “Covenant of Law” which comprises the entirety of the book of Deuteronomy (the slightly misnamed “Second Law”), he included provisions for Israel’s punishment–but in being carried out those punishments would actually serve to prove that the Jewish people were still in covenant with their God. After all, if Israel was released from the covenant (divorced), the covenant could no long effect them for good or ill.

These punishments specified two distinct exiles from the Land, the first to one nation (Babylon) and the second scattering the Jewish people among all nations.

Among those nations you shall find no rest, and there were be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there the LORD will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul. So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you will be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of life. (Deu. 28:65-66)

The above passage perfectly describes the condition of the Jewish people for the last two thousand years. If indeed Judah was divorced, then the Jews would have been either left alone to find a place for themselves or else wholly assimilated long ago.

The Covenant of Law did not end with the curse, but with a clause that requires Hashem to bring about Israel’s restoration.

It shall happen, when all these things have come on you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you shall call them to mind among all the nations, where the LORD your God has driven you, and shall return to the LORD your God, and shall obey his voice according to all that I command you this day, you and your children, with all your heart, and with all your soul; that then the LORD your God will turn your captivity, and have compassion on you, and will return and gather you from all the peoples, where the LORD your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of the heavens, from there will the LORD your God gather you, and from there he will bring you back: and the LORD your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and he will do you good, and multiply you above your fathers. (Deu. 30:1-5)

We are seeing the regathering of Israel in our own day–again proving that for all of her sins, Hashem did not divorce his bride. Rather, like Hosea with wayward Gomer (Hos. 1-3), he allowed his wife to go astray and to suffer all of the consequences of her adultery, even being sold into slavery, before buying her back. But just like Hosea, he never divorced his wife, nor did she remarry.

Nevertheless, Israel and Judah did indeed break the covenant, though Hashem for his part was a good husband to them (Jer. 31:31-34). But this was not a surprise, and the Holy One promised long ago to not only punish Israel, but to restore her. This promise came not only through Jeremiah, but through the mouth of Moses as well:

The LORD your God will circumcise your heart, and the heart of your seed, to love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, that you may live. The LORD your God will put all these curses on your enemies, and on those who hate you, who persecuted you. You shall return and obey the voice of the LORD, and do all his commandments which I command you this day. (Deu. 30:6-8)

This circumcision of the heart is precisely what Jeremiah predicted would come with the New Covenant: Not merely a covenant cut in the flesh, but one cut in the Spirit. Jeremiah and Moses are in perfect agreement that all Israel and all Judah would one day be brought into the New Covenant.

So to sum up:

  1. The Old Covenant is still in effect for Israel, which is why Israel has labored under the curse for over two thousand years and why Israel has been brought back into the Land: Both of these are promised under the Old Covenant.
  2. The Old Covenant specifically promises that after the period of punishment known as the Curse of the Law, the Eternal One would bring Israel back into the Land and then circumcise their hearts by writing the Torah on them.
  3. Therefore, even if there was a divorce (and the Curse would seem to prove otherwise, showing that the covenant has remained in effect), it has always been Hashem’s intention to take back his wayward wife, as he illustrated through the life of the prophet Hosea.

So yes, Israel’s redemption is indeed possible–more than that, it is required by the Scriptures. It is true that Israel needs to enter into the New Covenant that was opened up through the blood of Yeshua. However, as we have shown throughout this series, none of Yeshua’s early followers considered the New Covenant to negate the keeping of the Torah: “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law” (Rom. 3:31).

The issue for Messianics is not that we are trying to stay in the Old Covenant, but that we recognize that the Torah’s commandments are active in the New Covenant. Even the sacrificial commandments were not annulled by the New Covenant, but were relocated to the true, heavenly Tabernacle after the earthly copy was destroyed. How much less were the non-sacrificial commandments annulled? And how much less were blessings like the Sabbath taken away?

Peter’s arguments have a lot of merit, and he clearly shows the necessity of the New Covenant, but when we get down to the specifics, he has been unable to show where either Yeshua or Paul or any other apostle taught that the Torah was abolished or ceased to practice it themselves.

I’ll finish this series with a reminder: Peter Goodgame and I have spoken and written to each other before, and while we disagree on this and other issues, we are brothers in the Lord. While I have joked a bit at his expense, it has been the way I would joke with both a friend and a brother, and I hope he takes it that way. Peter has done some top-notch work in comparative mythology in The Second Coming of the Antichrist, and has raised some good arguments for both pre-tribers and pre-wrathers in Red Moon Rising. While we don’t see eye-to-eye, I have the greatest love and respect for him, and commend his work to my readers for their edification.

Shalom

Response to Peter Goodgame – Part 6.5: The New Testament on Divorce

Wedding_ChupahThis post isn’t really in direct response to Peter Goodgame’s articles, but it’s one I’ve been wanting to write for a while, and Peter’s article on Yeshua’s teaching on marriage and divorce seemed like a good jumping-off point.

There is an unfortunate tendency among some commentators to separate Paul’s teaching on marriage and divorce in 1 Corinthians 7 from Yeshua’s in Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:3-12. However, there is every reason to believe that Paul was commenting on and expanding on Yeshua’s own teaching. In 1 Corinthians 7:10, Paul makes a point of stating that what he was conveying was the Lord’s own command, followed by the statement in v. 12, “But to the rest I say–not the Lord–that . . .” That pretty much states that Paul’s teaching up to that point was indeed from the Lord Yeshua. Moreover, as we look carefully at vv. 1-11, we see that they are all parallel to Yeshua’s own teaching on the subject:

Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. . . Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. (1Co. 7:1, 7, cf. 8) “. . . and there are also eunichs who have made themselves eunichs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Mat. 19:12)
But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. . . However each man has his own gift . . . (1Co. 7:2, 7, cf. 9) “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. . . He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.” (Mat. 9:11, 12)
The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. (1Co. 7:3-4) “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has brought together, let no man separate.” (Mat. 19:6)
But to the married I give instructions—not I, but the Lord—that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband) . . . (1Co. 7:10-11) “Because of the hardness of your heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives . . .” (Mat. 19:8—but Deu. 24:1 does not permit a wife to divorce her husband)

“. . . everyone who divorces his wife, except for reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery.” (Mat. 5:32)

. . . and the husband should not divorce his wife. (1Co. 7:11) “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Mat. 19:9)

Now note the difference between wives and husbands: The woman should not leave (chooristhenai) her husband, while the husband should not divorce (aphienai) his wife. While many commentators conflate the two, Paul is rabbinicly trained and giving an official legal ruling–he would not be careless in his verbage. Moreover, he states that a woman who leaves her husband must either be reconciled to him or remain unmarried, but has no such instructions for the husband. Why? Because as we saw in the last post, the Torah does not allow a woman to initiate a divorce. While Mark’s paraphrase of Yeshua’s teaching for a Roman audience includes the possibility of a woman divorcing her husband (10:12), that Gospel account had not been written yet when Paul penned 1 Corinthians, so he was working from an early tradition of Yeshua’s words, most likely passed down in Aramaic.

fa357_get-documentPaul therefore recognizes that a woman in Greco-Roman society could divorce her husband, but doesn’t recognize the validity of such divorces within the community of believers, since such divorces were not allowed by the Torah or by Yeshua’s own interpretation of the Torah. Therefore, the woman could leave her husband, but could not be released from him to marry another unless he provided the document of divorcement.

Starting in verse 12, Paul is forced to extrapolate from Yeshua’s teachings to deal with a topic that hadn’t come up in Judea or Galilee: What if one spouse came to faith before the other? Should they remain married? This wasn’t a trivial question: The whole procedure of baptism and the concept of being “born again” came from the conversion ceremony that changed a Gentile into a Jew. When a Gentile converted and went into the mikveh (immersion pool), he was considered to have died, and in his place a new Jew was born (Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 48b, 62a). All contracts with the former Gentile were considered annulled by his death–including marriage contracts (a point Paul builds on in Romans 7). Unless the husband and wife converted together, they were not only considered divorced, they were considered separated by death!

Paul’s response is to say that if the unbelieving spouse was content to stay with the believer, the believer should not be the one to initiate a divorce, since they may very well bring about the salvation of their family by their continuing influence (1Co. 7:12-16). However, “if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace” (v. 15). This means that the abandoned believer was not bound to remain unmarried.

This is entirely consistent with Mark 10:12, which as we saw in the previous post, clearly puts the sin on the initiator of the divorce. The one divorced without wanting it has no sin, unless they committed some sin of immodesty (pornea doesn’t necessarily mean adultery).

Some will argue that I’m being too lenient here, so let’s do a bit more analysis of Paul’s writing on the subject. Paul describes three distinct categories of unmarried women: Unmarried (agamos), widows (chera), and virgins (parthenos). We know these are three separate categories because he counts unmarried and widows as two separate categories in 1 Corinthians 7:8, and unmarried and virgins as two separate categories in v. 34. Obviously, widows and virgins are separate categories. Therefore, “unmarried” refers to a woman who isn’t married, isn’t a widow, and isn’t a virgin–which pretty much leaves us divorcees. Moreover, Paul uses the term of a woman who leaves her husband in v. 11, so that cements that he means the term to refer to women who were unmarried due to separation from their husbands.

So what does Paul say about such women, provided that they were divorced by their (presumably unbelieving) husbands? “But I say to the unmarried . . . that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry, for it is better for them to marry than to burn. . . [And] if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace” (vv. 8-9, 15).

So then, to initiate a divorce for anything less than some kind of sexual impropriety or other betrayal of the marriage covenant (and I will happily include abuse in that category), leaving your spouse in order to marry another–whether another person in particular or just another in general (“I fell out of love. I need to find my true soul-mate.”)–is a sin on par with adultery. Why? Because you covet someone other than your own spouse, which is adultery of the heart (Mat. 5:28). Indeed, since it goes against the direct command of the Lord, I would argue that such a person is acting like an unbeliever, whatever confessions of faith they may claim.

However, if someone is divorced against their will in such a situation, they have not sinned, and while it is good if they choose not to remarry, they are not bound to do so, or to wait forever in the vain hopes that their ex-spouse will return. In fact, since Scripture explicitly forbids remarrying your former spouse if they have been married to another in the meantime (Deu. 24:2-4), no one is required to continue to hope for reconciliation once their spouse has been remarried!

Over the years, I’ve met many–men and women both–who have been the victims of a “no-fault” divorce, and who have been told that they should give up any thoughts of marrying another, that they should wait around–for decades, if necessary–for their ex-spouse to come to their senses and return to them. This goes against everything the Bible says about marriage and divorce. God did indeed give laws on divorce “because your hearts were hard,” but he gave them to protect the divorcee, to enable them to move on and rebuild their lives if they were abandoned by their husbands. For Yeshua to have taken away that protection would have been a horribly hateful thing to do to women in a time when they were almost completely dependent on their husbands or other male family members for support. How would that be “Loving your neighbor as yourself”?

Again, thank you to Peter Goodgame for raising this issue, which gave me the opportunity and impetus to finish working out the theological issues and to put them into print. I’ll return to address his points again in the next post.

Shalom

Response to Peter Goodgame – Part 6: The Sanctity of Marriage

Wedding_Chupah

Truth be told, I’m extremely grateful to Peter for the next subject, because it’s one I’ve been meaning to tackle for some time: What exactly is the New Testament teaching on divorce? As Peter himself notes, divorce

is a very complicated issue and many Bible scholars (including myself) have often come to wrong conclusions when dealing with this issue. It would seem that Jesus here forbids divorce for any reason other than adultery on the part of the wife. But what about when the man commits adultery? Or what about marriage vows broken by neglect or abuse? What seems to be the case, as Bible scholar David Instone-Brewer points out, is that Jesus was commenting here on the recent widespread adoption of the “Any Cause” divorce clause within Isreal. [sic]

That’s actually quite correct, as is Peter’s observation that “Any Cause divorce” was a teaching of the school of Rabbi Hillel. Indeed, the debate on divorce is the only time, to my knowledge, that Yeshua sides with the school of Rabbi Shimmei over that of Hillel, though Yeshua takes a different track to get there.

Let’s first explain the nature of the debate.

When a man takes a wife, and marries her, then it shall be, if she find no favor in his eyes, because he has found some unseemly thing in her, that he shall write her a bill of divorce, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.

The word translated “because” is kiy, which does usually indicate a cause-and-effect relationship, but because of the construction of the sentence, it is grammatically possible to separate the two clauses: “. . . if she finds no favor in his eyes, [or] because he has found some unseemly thing in her . . .” Moreover, the term “unseemly thing” (‘ervat devar) can also be rendered “blemish in a thing/manner,” indicating that actual adultery or even immodesty was not necessary. Therefore, the debate came down to fine exegesis of a somewhat ambiguous Hebrew phrase (see Mishneh Gittin 9:10).

Yeshua’s genius was in ignoring the exegetical debate entirely and going back to the original institution of marriage “in the beginning” with Adam and Eve, where it is clear that marriage was meant to be for life.

Talmud_setSo far, so good. Peter’s argument is that by restoring the original intent of marriage, the New Covenant shows its superiority over the Torah. Yes and no. Again, one of the two schools of the Pharisees had come to the same conclusion from the Torah itself, and Yeshua’s own response was established from the Torah, so obviously this must be a matter taught by the Torah. Moreover, even the school of Hillel did not encourage divorce for anything other than immorality: “R. Eliezer said, ‘When a man divorces the wife of his youth, the very altar sheds tears'” (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 22a, quoting Mal. 2:13-14). And while Jewish law today still technically allows divorce for any reason, and having been divorced carries no particular stigma, Orthodox Jews still have only about a 10% divorce rate.

Bottom line: Yeshua is correcting a misunderstanding of the Torah, not teaching a new law superior to it?

But what about his statement that Moses allowed divorce only because of the hardness of their hearts? Again, context is key: The disciples had asked, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” (Mat. 19:7). Their question came in the context of a culture that believed that divorcing an immoral wife was a commandment rather than an option (see BT Eruvin 41b and Yevamot 63b). Yeshua’s response is, “Because of the hardness of your heart [the human propensity to sin that breaks down relationships], Moses permitted you to divorce your wives” (v. 8). In other words, divorce was always a concession, not a command.

fa357_get-documentThe Bible is full of second-best solutions: Sacrifice to cover sin, restitution in the case of theft, indentured servitude in the case of a person who botched their finances, war when it was the only avenue to peace, judges to mediate between two parties who weren’t willing to work it out on their own, excommunicating the sinner from the body, etc. While the Bible presents an ideal of how we should behave, it recognizes that people do not always do what they should, and therefore contains “second best” solutions to allow us to put things right. A man divorcing his wife was never the way God wanted us to handle marital problems, but if he did, he had to give her a written, legal document that would protect her from a later charge of adultery when she remarried.

Did Yeshua take away that ability to be remarried after a divorce? “It was also said, ‘Whoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorce,’ but I tell you that whoever puts away his wife, except for the cause of sexual immorality, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries her when she is put away commits adultery” (Mat. 5:31-32). That seems horribly unfair to a woman who was divorced by her husband through no fault of her own, and indeed some Jewish scholars use this verse to point to a weakness in Yeshua’s teachings.

However, the matter is easily cleared up when we compare Matthew to Mark’s version: “Whoever divorces his wife, and marries another, commits adultery against her. If a woman herself divorces her husband, and marries another, she commits adultery” (10:11-12). Why the difference? Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience, who understood from the Torah that a divorce required the husband to provide the get, or divorce document. A woman could not produce a document to divorce from her husband. Mark, on the other hand, is writing to a Roman audience, in which wives could indeed legally divorce their husbands.

While a Jewish woman cannot divorce her husband, she can make his life miserable enough to force a divorce, and in certain cases can petition a Jewish court to bring pressure to bear on the husband to release her. Therefore, Yeshua’s teaching is not that an abandoned woman can never remarry, but that the sin is with the person who wanted the divorce. The victim of a faultless divorce–or worse yet, an abusive relationship–is never forbidden from remarrying. (I’ll deal with Paul’s writings on that subject in the next post.)

This is particularly true if the divorce was for the purpose of marrying another. Jewish law actually forbids marrying someone that you have previously committed adultery with, a point that becomes important in understanding the affair between David and Bathsheba. But it also forbids divorcing someone for the purpose of marrying someone else in particular, because in that instance the adultery has already taken place in the heart (Shulchan Aruch 145:20)!

How did the rabbis come to these conclusions, unless they were already there in the Torah for the discerning eye to see? The answer should be obvious.

Shalom