Analysis of Malachi 2:13-16

13 Another thing you do: You flood the LORD’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. 14 You ask, “Why?” It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.

15 Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.

16 “I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the LORD Almighty.
So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.

Analysis

The first thing we should note about this passage is God’s attitude toward divorce.  He hates it.  It’s hard to state it any more clearly or bluntly.  However God does not say that He hates divorced people.  God looks upon divorce just as He looks upon other sins.

The Israelites’ relationship with God has been affected because of their divorces.  This is the same as any other sin.  Sin separates us from God.  It is the reason we need to have our sins washed away by the blood of Jesus Christ.  Without it, we have no hope of heaven because sin cannot enter into God’s presence.

Our daily sins affect our relationship with God though too.  Even after we are Christians we must daily ask for the forgiveness of our sins.  Jesus taught us this in the Lord’s prayer.  We don’t have to become “re-saved” we must seek the repair the relationship that we damaged.  It is no different than repairing a relationship with a friend that we wronged.  We must say we’re sorry to begin the healing process.

The Israelites’ sin that God points out is their divorce.  What God points out as the problem is that a divorce is the breaking of a covenant.  When two people are married, regardless of the vows made and whether it is in a church or not, they make a commitment to one another that is intended to last a lifetime.

Breaking a vow is the same as lying.  It is like looking God in the face and lying to Him.  God takes marriage vows seriously and so should we.  The breaking of marriage vows should not be taken lightly.  Like all sins, it will affect our relationship with God.

Other passages on divorce

Matthew 19:1-12

1 Corinthians 7:10-11, 39

Is Infidelity Grounds for Divorce?

Matthew 19:9

“I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

It appears that Jesus gives Biblical grounds for divorce in the event of marital unfaithfulness by a spouse.  Jesus was clarifying the law of Moses which allowed for divorce.  This was allowed as a concession because the people’s hearts were hard but Jesus makes it clear that they should not remarry.

What is marital unfaithfulness?  The Greek word is porneia.  It is where we get the English word pornography.  It appears 24 times in the New Testament.  In the King James version it is translated as fornication every time.  Other English translations in some way or other imply that it is sexual immorality that is taking place.  So marital unfaithfulness should best be understood as a sexual act outside of marriage.

Jesus never gives an explanation on why divorce is allowed in the event of marital unfaithfulness.  The simplest solution is that a person who has been unfaithful has already broken their marriage vow and therefore if their spouse divorces them they are not the one guilty of breaking the marriage vow.

Another explanation, although not without problems, concerns the penalty for those caught in adultery.  Leviticus 20:10 states “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.”  If an adulterer is put to death then there is no problem divorcing or remarrying because a person is free to remarry after their spouse has died.

The first problem with this is a logical one.  If an adulterer is put to death, there would be no need to go through with a divorce unless it was symbolic.

The bigger problem is that this law was not practiced evenly if it all.  King David was not only an adulterer but a murderer and did not face death.  God actually instructed Hosea to marry a prostitute of all people.  And Jesus prevents the Pharisees from upholding the law in John 8 when they catch a woman in adultery.  Instead of judging her for her sin, He simply instructs her to go and sin no more.

Marital unfaithfulness may be grounds for divorce and it is certainly a sign of much deeper problems within a marriage.  This does not mean that the marriage can’t be salvaged however.  It is cause for a divorce but God still desires peace and harmony.  He also desires a repentant heart.  A person who has been unfaithful in their marriage deserves another chance if they are truly repentant.  King David committed awful sins but he was still considered a man after God’s own heart.

The truly difficult part of divorce and marital unfaithfulness is that we can never be certain of a person’s heart.  Only God knows a person’s heart for certain.  For a marriage to withstand a partner being unfaithful, it takes a tremendous amount of faith in a person’s ability to change and also in God to help that person and the marriage.

What if I was Divorced Before I Became a Christian?

There are many people who become Christians after they were divorced.  Obviously some have also been remarried before they became Christians as well.

God forgives all sins and this includes any involving divorce and remarriage.  A person is a new creation when they become a Christian.  Ezekiel 36:26 says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

As Christians we are called to repent of past sins and not repeat them.  This doesn’t mean that a person who is remarried and is guilty of adultery because of it should leave their current spouse.  But it does mean that a divorced person should remain single if they have not remarried.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:17-24:

17 Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. 18 Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. 20 Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. 21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.

There are numerous reasons for divorce.  In the article “Should I Get Remarried?” the times when remarriage is appropriate is discussed.  There are very few times that it is clear from scripture that remarriage is acceptable.  This applies to a person who was divorced before they became a Christian as well.

Even though the sins of the past are forgiven and a Christian is a new creation, there are still consequences of past actions.  This is no different from a prisoner who becomes a Christian.  Their crimes have been forgiven but they must still serve the sentence they have been handed.

We cannot change the actions of our past.  God has forgiven them and they are behind us.  But they are still a part of our history for better or worse.  We are responsible for our current actions however.  No matter what we may have done in the past, it is the decisions that we make today that matter most now.

This is why Paul tells the Corinthians to remain in the current situation.  All of 1 Corinthians 7 is about marriage which is why we know that Paul is addressing marriage in the passage above.  It is because the past is past that we should remain in our current situation.  We can’t change it no matter how much we may like to.  We are responsible for our actions now which is why we must make the best choices we can and to live for Christ.

A person who was divorced before they became a Christian has consequences of their past actions just as everyone who becomes a Christian must deal with consequences of their past actions.  A Christian must strive to not repeat sins of the past and instead strive to live their life according to the Word of God.

What Does God Say About Divorce?

The word divorce only appears 33 times in the entire Bible but few topics are as controversial in the church.  The Bible discusses divorce in clear terms in the Old Testament, in the teachings of Jesus, and by the Apostle Paul.  Despite thorough instruction on divorce in the Bible, there are still some questions that people have.

Far more than a lack of knowledge concerning divorce is the problem of the emotional side of divorce.  Marriage is the closest personal relationship with family coming second.  Anytime divorce is discussed it raises intense personal feelings on the topic because it affects the two deepest personal relationships in life.  For this reason we will stick strictly to what the Bible says on the topic.

There are three main passages in the Bible that address the subject of divorce.  Malachi 2 addresses how divorce had affected the Israelite’s relationship with God.  Throughout the gospels Jesus addresses divorce and remarriage.  We’ll examine Matthew 19 as it contains all of Jesus’ teaching on the subject.

Finally Paul speaks on the subject of marriage in 1 Corinthians 7.  This is the most thorough examination of the rules of marriage in the Bible and ironically comes from a bachelor.  Nevertheless, Paul is writing with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and his words should be considered as coming from God.

All three passages are looked at in more depth on the following pages.

Malachi 2:13-16

Matthew 19:1-12

1 Corinthians 7:10-11, 39

Should I Get Marriage Counseling?

The short answer is that counseling can’t hurt even if a spouse will not go along.  Ideally both people will be willing to sit down and to discuss the problems of marriage.

There is a stigma about counseling to some people as it implies a weakness that a person cannot solve their own problems.  However, it is like a Christian who must acknowledge they can’t make it on their own and trust God to help them.  It takes more strength to admit that a marriage needs help than it does to ignore the problems and continue on in frustration.

Communication is a key to any good relationship and having an objective third party listen to each side’s frustrations can help a couple work through their problems.  Counseling can be avoided if a couple is open and honest about their feelings and if they discuss them regularly.  Many times however one person is more willing to talk than the other and that is when a third party is needed to draw out the feelings of both sides.

Many pastors have have some but limited training in counseling.  It is good to sit down with a pastor to discuss problems that are occurring.  These conversations should be kept completely confidential by the pastor.

Because pastor’s have limited time and limited training it is not uncommon to be referred to a professional marriage counselor.  This doesn’t mean that a couple’s problems are so great that they can only be handled by a professional.  It simply means that the pastor takes the marriage seriously and wants all of the needs addressed even if they are outside of his realm of expertise.

While marriage counselors abound, Christians should seek a Christian counselor.  There is often a lot of psychological advice given by other counselors that is not backed up by the Bible.  A good Christian counselor should stick to the Bible first a foremost and should strive for peace and harmony within a marriage.

Analysis of 1 Corinthians 7:10-11

10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.

39 A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.

Analysis

Paul speaks on marriage in 1 Corinthians 7.  He offers advice for single people, married people, divorced people, and widows.  In these verses he is simply repeating the teaching of Jesus concerning divorce.

A person should not seek a divorce.  If they do get divorced, they are to remain unmarried or else return to their spouse.

Marriage is a lifetime commitment.  However when a spouse passes away, that commitment is broken and a person is free to remarry.  Remarrying after a spouse’s death is not a break of the marriage covenant.

Other passages concerning divorce

Malachi 2:13-16

Matthew 19:1-12

What Qualities Should I Look for in a Wife?

Proverbs 31:10-31 lists the qualities that a man should look for in a wife.  These qualities are ideals and the perfect wife or husband doesn’t really exist.  Nevertheless these are qualities all Christian women should strive for and men should desire in a wife.

“A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.”

This is the beginning of the passage in Proverbs and it relays the difficulty in finding the right spouse.  A person of noble character is one who seeks what God wants for their life and shuns evil.

A wife of noble character takes care of her family.  She is a hard worker who is not afraid of doing the dirty work.  But she also doesn’t pick up the slack for her husband.  He works hard to support the family as well.

She is able to give out thoughtful advice to her children.  Her children recognize her wisdom and do not despise it when she corrects them.

She may be a beautiful woman but she does not trust in her beauty because she realizes that it will fade with time.  Instead she puts her trust in the Lord.

Other people will recognize the virtues of a wife of noble character.  They will take note of how she loves her husband and cares for her children.  They will not be able to escape the fact that her husband is able to trust her in all of his affairs.

Obviously some of these qualities can’t be observed until a person is actually married but there will still be evidence of them before marriage.  These are the qualities that a man should desire when they are looking for a wife.

What Qualities Should I Look for in a Husband?

A wife has a whole list of qualities that she should strive for as they are listed in Proverbs 31.  A man has only one thing that he must do in order to be a good husband but his job is far more impossible than the one expected of a good wife.

Ephesians 5 gives us instructions on how a marriage should properly work.  Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

The love of Christ is self sacrificial.  It gives up a person’s own will for the good of another.  We may be capable of doing this for short periods of time, occasionally doing what someone else wants, but we aren’t capable of doing it all of the time.

For a husband to love his wife the way Christ loves the church, he must protect her physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  He must protect her even at the expense of his own well being.

The love of Christ gives us a vague notion of being an immense love, but we must remember that Christ died for the church.  A husband should love his wife enough to give up his life for her.  This could be literal but in practice it means that he doesn’t hang out with his friends as much any more.  It could mean that he cuts back on his personal spending in order to afford raising a family.

A woman should look for a husband who is willing to give up his old life in order to start a new one in love with her.  This is the greatest quality that a woman should look for in a husband.

What is the Purpose of Dating?

In “Is Dating Biblical?” we discuss some of the unbiblical reasons that a person may be dating.  Despite the negative reasons that a person may be dating, there is a biblical purpose behind it.

The main purpose of dating is to find a person that we’re compatible with and to marry them.  This may seem too simple but the concept is lost on many people.

In a perfect world where everyone followed the will of God, compatibility wouldn’t be an issue.  Disagreements would be settled civilly and husbands and wives would love each other unconditionally.  It wouldn’t matter if spouses had different opinions because they would seek peace and compromise.

Unfortunately we live in a sinful world and differences in personality mean a lot about compatibility.  Because of this we need to know if the man or woman we’re dating is “the one.”

Dating should be used to get to know a person and to determine if you can spend your lifetime with that person.  If you already know that the answer is no because you disagree on religion or how to raise a family, end the relationship.  Dating a person who is not spouse material will lead down one of two roads.  It either prolongs a relationship that isn’t meant to be and causes a breakup to be more hurtful because of all the time spent together.  Or it will end in marriage because everyone expects it after a long enough period of time and you will overlook the problems that have existed in the relationship all along.  Those problems will become amplified in marriage.

Dating should be fun and relaxed but it has a serious side to it as well.  If you’re serious about finding the right person, ask that God would eliminate the wrong people for you.  The reason for this is simple.  Every person you meet and are interested in is going to have good qualities that you’ll focus on.  In the first weeks or months all you’ll notice is the good qualities and think that this is the perfect person for you.  And so will the next person and the next person.  If you ask God for wisdom, He will show you the qualities that you don’t want in a spouse and you will know a person isn’t for you.  Unfortunately it is much easier to spot those who aren’t meant for you than the one who is.  The sooner you stop dating a person who isn’t meant for you, the sooner you can move on to the right person for you however.

Is Dating Biblical?

In 1997 Joshua Harris released a book titled “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”  The premise was not that dating was bad but that there were better options than the frustrations of dating.

Dating as we know it doesn’t appear in the Bible.  But neither do cars, computers, or televisions.  So to simply say that people didn’t date in the Bible doesn’t make the idea of dating unbiblical.

Dating is a very recent idea compared to the history of man.  It wasn’t until the automobile in the early 1900’s that dating became popular or even really possible.  This allowed people to get away from their parents and get to know a person on a different level than before.

So the question of whether dating was in the Bible doesn’t answer the question of whether dating is in line with biblical principles.  For that we have to ask the question, “Why is a person dating?”  The motives behind dating tell us whether or not dating is biblical.  In the end, dating can be both biblical and unbiblical.  In “What is the purpose of dating?” we will discuss the biblical reason a person should date.  Here we will discuss some unbiblical reasons for dating.

For many people, dating has become equated with sex.  People hang out at bars looking for one night stands and ultimately someone to hook up with for a while.  There is no sense of commitment and a person won’t enter that phase until later when they are ready to “settle down.”  Sex outside of marriage is outside of God’s plan and should be avoided.  If this is the reason for dating, it shouldn’t be considered biblical.

Another reason people date is for a sense of conquest.  For many this is a sexual thing as mentioned above.  However for others it is a sense of pride.  A person derives self worth by their ability to find someone to date.  And the more attractive a date they can find, the better they feel about themselves.  We aren’t to derive our self worth from who we date but from God.  We are created in the image of God and therefore it doesn’t matter if others find us attractive or not.

These reasons aside, there is a good reason for dating that can be backed up with biblical principles.  This is discussed in “What is the purpose of dating?