Deuteronomy 24 – The Law of Divorce and Other Various Laws
A. Divorce, remarriage and marriage.
1. (1) The law of divorce in ancient Israel.
When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house,
a. A certificate of divorce: According to these laws, divorce was allowed in Israel, but carefully regulated. Under God’s law, the marriage contract cannot be simply dissolved as soon as one partner wants out; there must be cause for a certificate of divorce.
i. Even with cause, divorce was never to be seen as a preferred or easy option. The Hebrew word translated divorce has as its root the idea of “a hewing off, a cutting apart” – it is the amputation of that which is one flesh.
ii. “(Christians) all regard divorce as something like cutting up a living body, as a kind of surgical operation. Some think that the operation is so violent that it cannot be done at all; others admit that it is a desperate remedy in extreme cases. They are all agreed that it is more like having your legs cut off than it is like dissolving a business partnership or even deserting a regiment.” (C.S. Lewis)
b. He writes her a certificate of divorce: God commands here that any divorce be sealed with a certificate of divorce. In other words, it was not enough for a man to just declare “we’re divorced” to his wife. The divorce had to be recognized legally just as the marriage had been, so a certificate of divorce – a legal document – must be issued, and properly served (puts it in her hand).
c. She finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her: This describes the grounds of divorce and indicates that a certificate of divorce could not be written for just any reason. It had to be founded on these two important clauses.
i. There has to be some uncleanness in her. Some later Rabbis defined uncleanness as anything in the wife which might displease the husband. At the time of Jesus, some Rabbis taught that if a wife burned her husband’s breakfast, he could divorce her.
ii. But Jesus carefully and properly defined what uncleanness is in Deuteronomy 24:1. He said, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery (Matthew 19:9). Jesus rightly understood that uncleanness refers to sexual immorality, a broad term referring to sexual sin, which includes, but is not restricted to, sexual intercourse with someone who is not your spouse. The Hebrew word translated uncleanness in itself implies the meaning of sexual immorality; it is literally, “nakedness of a thing.”
iii. So, if a husband finds some uncleanness in her, he has the right to give his wife a certificate of divorce. But he is not obligated to do so. It must also be that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her. In other words, it must be that the husband is so troubled at his wife’s sexual immorality that he simply cannot look upon her with favor in his eyes any more. The lack of favor in his eyes must be because of her uncleanness.
iv. This helps us understand what Jesus said in Matthew 19:8: Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. If a woman did not have a hard heart, she would never commit sexual immorality against her husband, and there would be no need for divorce. If a husband did not have any hardness in his heart, he could forgive and still look upon his wife with favor in his eyes, even though she was guilty of sexual immorality. But because God knows there is hardness in our hearts – both in the offending and offended parties – He grants permission for divorce.
v. In the days of Jesus, Rabbis taught that it was the duty of a godly man to divorce his wife if she displeased him. Both Moses and Jesus make it clear that God permits divorce in certain circumstances, but never commands it.
vi. Yet, if someone has Biblical grounds of divorce (which, according to 1 Corinthians 7:15, includes abandonment by an unbelieving spouse), they certainly do have permission to divorce, and God does not “hold it against them,” unless of course, He has specifically told them to not divorce and they are disobeying His specific word to their lives.
d. He writes her a certificate of divorce: Most people think that in ancient Israel, only husbands had the right to divorce their wives, and wives did not have the right of divorce. But what is said here may be intended to be applied to both husband and wife. Jesus, in Mark 10:12 says and if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, clearly saying that in His day, a wife had the right to divorce.
2. (2-4) The law of remarriage in ancient Israel.
When she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife, if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife, then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.
a. Her former husband who divorced her must not take her back: This is a strong law, saying that if a divorced woman marries again, she could not return to her first husband, should her second marriage end through divorce or death. To break this law was an abomination before the Lord.
b. An abomination before the Lord: It seems that it might be a good thing for the first husband and wife to get back together. But this command is made because God wanted both marriage and divorce to be seen as serious, permanent things. One couldn’t be married or divorced casually; it had to be carefully thought out because it was permanent.
i. This law would also strengthen the second marriage; it would discourage a spouse from thinking they might as well just leave their second marriage and go back to their first partner.
3. (5) The law honoring marriage.
When a man has taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war or be charged with any business; he shall be free at home one year, and bring happiness to his wife whom he has taken.
a. He shall be free at home one year: This was God’s way of honoring and blessing the marriage covenant. He allowed men who were newly married to be exempt from military or other state service for one year.
b. Bring happiness to his wife: This is an important job for every husband. Even as before the Lord, we find our lives by losing them (Matthew 10:39), so a husband will find the most happiness if he will bring happiness to his wife.
i. As the role of the husband in Ephesians 5 is described, we see that God emphasizes the essential oneness between husband and wife. The husband cannot make his wife happy without also bringing happiness into his own life. Conversely, he cannot bring misery into the life of his spouse without also bringing misery into his own life.
ii. A happy wife is the foundation for a happy home; a bitter or contentious wife makes for a miserable home. A continual dripping on a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike (Proverbs 27:15). Better to dwell in a corner of a housetop, than in a house shared with a contentious woman. (Proverbs 21:9). Better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and angry woman (Proverbs 21:19).
B. Other various laws.
1. (6) Do not take someone’s livelihood as a pledge.
No man shall take the lower or the upper millstone in pledge, for he takes one’s living in pledge.
a. No man shall take the lower or the upper millstone in pledge: A millstone was something essential to a family’s livelihood, therefore it was forbidden to take it as a guarantee for a loan.
i. This warns Israel against taking advantage of each other in times of great need. We must take care that we never unfairly profit from the poverty or difficulty of others.
b. For he takes one’s living in pledge: Non-essential items could be taken as a pledge. Although interest could not be charged on a loan to an Israelite in need, a pledge could be taken – collateral to guarantee the repayment of the loan. This command forbids the taking of collateral that would take away a man’s ability to provide for his family, and get himself out of debt.
2. (7) The punishment for kidnapping.
If a man is found kidnapping any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and mistreats him or sells him, then that kidnapper shall die; and you shall put away the evil from among you.
a. If a man is found kidnapping any of his brethren of the children of Israel: Kidnapping was usually done in the ancient world not so much for return and ransom, but so that one could sell the one abducted to slavery, just as was done to Joseph by his brothers (Genesis 37:28).
b. That kidnapper shall die: This crime was serious enough before God, so as to command the death penalty.
3. (8-9) The command to act swiftly when leprosy breaks out.
Take heed in an outbreak of leprosy, that you carefully observe and do according to all that the priests, the Levites, shall teach you; just as I commanded them, so you shall be careful to do. Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam on the way when you came out of Egypt.
a. Take heed in an outbreak of leprosy: Leviticus 13 and 14 describe in great detail how God wanted lepers examined and quarantined. Because leprosy was such a dreaded disease, God commands here that they take heed in an outbreak of leprosy, so it would not become a plague throughout Israel.
b. Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam: In Numbers 12, Miriam led her brother Aaron in a rebellion against Moses, and for it, God struck her with leprosy. Though Moses prayed for her to be healed, God let her be a leper for seven days before healing her, and she was shut out of the camp seven days (Numbers 12:14). If someone as prominent as Miriam was quarantined as a leper, it showed that every other leper in Israel should also be quarantined.
4. (10-13) Handling a pledge rightly.
When you lend your brother anything, you shall not go into his house to get his pledge. You shall stand outside, and the man to whom you lend shall bring the pledge out to you. And if the man is poor, you shall not keep his pledge overnight. You shall in any case return the pledge to him again when the sun goes down, that he may sleep in his own garment and bless you; and it shall be righteousness to you before the Lord your God.
a. You shall not go into his house to get his pledge: When a pledge was taken for a loan, it had to be received in a way that kept the poor man’s dignity.
i. God does not condemn the principle of taking a pledge, only commanding that it be received humanely. The idea of taking collateral for a loan is valid, because it encourages personal responsibility in the one receiving the loan.
b. You shall not keep his pledge overnight: Assuming the pledge was something to keep the man warm (such as a garment or a blanket, which would often be the only pledge a poor man could make), the pledge had to be returned so the man could use it to keep warm overnight.
i. “The Jews in several cases did act contrary to this rule, and we find them cuttingly reproved for it by the Prophet Amos, chap. ii. 8.” (Clarke)
5. (14-15) The command to pay your workers.
You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether one of your brethren or one of the aliens who is in your land within your gates. Each day you shall give him his wages, and not let the sun go down on it, for he is poor and has set his heart on it; lest he cry out against you to the Lord, and it be sin to you.
a. You shall not oppress a hired servant: A servant might be oppressed by not being paid, or by brutal or unsafe working conditions. God commanded employers to treat their employees fairly and kindly.
b. Lest he cry out against you to the Lord: The Lord hears the cry of the oppressed. James 5:4 warns the rich man who oppresses his workers: Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Saboath.
6. (16) Each shall bear his own sin.
Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall the children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin.
a. A person shall be put to death for his own sin: God commanded that each individual be responsible for their own sin. A father cannot be blamed and responsible for the sin of their (grown) children, and the children cannot be blamed and responsible for the sin of their parents.
i. It is wrong for a parent to automatically blame themselves for their wayward children; though they may have a part in the problem, it isn’t always the case.
b. For his own sin: There are instances when God commands that a whole family be punished for sin, such as with the family of Achan in Joshua 7:16-26. When God deals with a whole family, it shows that there must have been some conspiracy between family members, for each is responsible for his own sin.
7. (17-18) A command to be compassionate and fair.
You shall not pervert justice due the stranger or the fatherless, nor take a widow’s garment as a pledge. But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this thing.
a. You shall remember: If Israel kept remembering how much God had done for them, it would make them more compassionate and fair in dealing with others. We must always deal with others remembering how much God has blessed and forgiven us.
8. (19-22) Leave behind some of the harvest for the poor.
When you reap your harvest in your field, and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterward; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this thing.
a. It shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow: This was one of God’s welfare programs for Israel, establishing the right of the gleaner. Farmers were instructed to not completely harvest their fields, so that some would be left behind for the hard-working poor to gather for themselves.
b. Therefore I command you to do this thing: This was a wonderful way of helping the poor. It commanded farmers to have a generous heart, and it made the poor to be active and work for their food. It made a way for them to provide for their own needs with dignity.
© 2006 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission