I Take You

| Matthew 19:3-12

Lesson Focus: This lesson is about understanding that God’s intention for marriage is lifetime commitment and our need for the security such a commitment fosters.

When 1 + 1 = 1: Genesis 2:23-25.

[23]  Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." [24]  Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. [25]  And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.  [ESV]

In verse 23 the man speaks for the first time, for God alone has spoken up to this point. Adam’s comments draws attention to the importance of this creative event. The exclamation reflects what the narration has sought to show: the unique compatibility of the man and the woman. Adam responds by a shout (This at last) affirming that he and the woman, indeed, are made up of the same stuff. Adam’s response centers on the sameness that he and the woman share as opposed to the creatures. The creation of the first couple leads naturally to their relationship expressed through marriage since it is the couple’s charge to procreate and subdue the earth [1:28]. Therefore describes the consequence of God’s charge for the human family to propagate and rule. Marriage and family are the divine ideal for carrying out the mandate. As a model for marriage this passage involves three factors: a leaving, a uniting, and a public declaration. Marriage is depicted as a covenant relationship shared by man and woman. Leave and hold fast are terms commonly used in the context of covenant, indicating covenant breach or fidelity. The significance of the word leave is that marriage involves a new pledge to a spouse in which former commitments to family are superseded. Marriage requires a new priority by the marital partners where obligations to one’s spouse supplant a person’s loyalties to parents. Also marriage involves the two united in commitment, forming a new entity or relationship. The two people, although freed from their parents, are not isolated or independent; they become dependent and responsible toward one another. One flesh echoes the language of verse 23, which speaks of the woman’s source in the man. Here it depicts the consequence of their bonding, which results in one new person. Our human sexuality expresses both our individuality as gender and our oneness with another person through physical union. The sexual union of the couple is, however, only symbolic of the new kinship that the couple has entered. The sexual act by itself does not exhaust marriage; marriage entails far more. The cleaving or holding fast also describes the intimate relationship between the husband and wife that goes beyond the sexual act which is meant to be an expression of this intimate relationship.Finally, this leaving and uniting involves a public declaration in the sight of God. Marriage is not a private matter. It involves a declaration of intention and a redefining of obligations and relationships in a familial and social setting. Verse 25 explains that nakedness was not always a shameful condition for the human family. It also serves as a transitional verse to chapter 3 with the effects of the fall into sin concerning nakedness, guilt and shame.

Covenant Connection: Malachi 2:13-15.

[13]  And this second thing you do. You cover the LORD’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand.

[14]  But you say, "Why does he not?" Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. [15]  Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.  [ESV]

[13]  Verse 13 makes two points: first, the Israelites are practicing pagan-style worship, and second, God rejects it. Pagans assumed that the gods could be influenced by loud displays of emotion, intended to demonstrate the earnestness of the worshiper’s appeal. Since the laity could not actually approach the altar it was presumably the priests, acting on their behalf, who did the actual weeping at the altar itself. The use of tears with weeping and groaning focuses attention on the action of the priests. It is not weeping per se that is wrong. Mourning for sin was desirable. But weeping/tears/groaning as a style of worship was improper in its motive, an attempt to move the gods to compassion. Such worship is rejected by the true God. Why should God honor such pagan, manipulative worship? He will not regard or accept with favor the people’s gifts. The pagan gods were thought to accept offerings as long as they were accompanied by fervor, even if given by evil people. Personal morality was irrelevant in pagan worship. But not Yahweh. There was nothing the Israelites could do by way of intensity of worship that would cover over the fact that they were violating the ancient divine covenant against religious intermarriage, and thus the first commandment. They could not get Yahweh’s blessing through worship while yet sinning.

[14-15]  Verse 14 begins the attack on divorce. The mention of witness in this verse is a description of a standard aspect of covenant making and enforcing. Covenants always had witnesses. Pagan covenants named various gods and goddesses as witnesses. Orthodox Israelite covenants had God as their witness, either implicitly or explicitly. The job of the witness was actually that of enforcer or guarantor. Thus a covenant witness is not the same as a court witness who simply gives testimony in a trial. A covenant witness was the third party who could and did make sure that the direct parties to the covenant kept its terms. A man’s first wife, the one his parents arranged for him in his childhood, was his wife for life under God’s law. Although marriage to other wives were allowed at this time, the second wife must not be treated to the disadvantage of the first wife. The marriage covenant, properly understood, was nothing more than a subcovenant within the broad scope of the Mosaic covenant. To violate it was to violate one of the many stipulations that make up the entire covenant and thus to incur any of the curses that Yahweh, the witness enforcer of that covenant, would choose to unleash. To break the marriage covenant was to be faithless to your first wife. The importance of this term must not be understated. A wife was a companion in the sense of a friend or partner. Malachi is using the language of equality here, as the Bible so often does with marriage even though it was written in a culture that decidedly regarded women as inferior to men. Malachi uses the terms companion and wife by covenant as essentially synonymous terms. His audience was being challenged, indeed warned and threatened, to realize that they had not the slightest right to divorce their covenant partner. In the marriage covenant they were only equals, not superiors. Under this covenant that a faithful God would enforce, their divorce decrees were pure unfaithfulness. This divorce that they were practicing was just as much unfaithfulness as if they were committing adultery. Thus the command of verse 15: let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.

Lifelong Commitment: Matt. 19:3-12.

[3]  And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?" [4]  He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, [5]  and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? [6]  So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate."

[7]  They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?" [8]  He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. [9]  And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." [10]  The disciples said to him, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry." [11]  But he said to them, "Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given.

[12]  For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it." [ESV]

[3]  Some Pharisees came to Jesus testing Him by asking a question that they hoped He would not be able to answer satisfactorily. It was a question about divorce to which widely different answers were given, and at the very least the Pharisees might expect that whatever position Jesus took up He would antagonize those who held strongly to other positions. It was accepted throughout Judaism that a man had the right to divorce his wife, though a woman had no such right to divorce her husband. The Pharisees’ question was not whether a man had the right to divorce his wife, but rather what grounds justified him in proceeding to divorce her. They ask whether it is lawful for him to divorce her for any cause. The question revolved around the meaning of he has found some indecency in her from Deuteronomy 24:1. The strict school of Shammai understood the passage to refer to adultery; they saw that as the only ground that justified divorce. But the more lenient school of Hillel interpreted the words more widely; they held that the words about indecency were fulfilled, for example, if a wife did no more than spoil her husband’s dinner. With such a variety of opinions the subject of divorce was a veritable minefield; thus the Pharisees may well have thought that it did not matter greatly which way Jesus answered. He would offend many people whatever He said.

[4-6]  Jesus declined to go along with the accepted rabbinic methods of understanding the question by refusing to agree with either side of the argument. But by appealing to the creation He was making use of a rabbinic method of disputation, namely, “the more original, the weightier.” This meant that what happened as early as the creation narrative was weightier than what Moses said considerably later. In doing this Jesus did not do away with the Mosaic regulation but only said that the regulation must be interpreted in the light of the more original statement. Jesus then referred His questioners to the creation account of the relationship between Adam and Eve. God created one woman, not several, to be the man’s companion and helper. This indicates God’s design for a lifelong commitment between the two. Jesus adds to His quotation of Genesis 1:27 the verse in Genesis 2:24 that speaks of a man leaving his parents and cleaving or holding fast to his wife. The verbs point to strong and decisive action. When a man marries, he is entering into a new and very intimate relationship that takes precedence over all previous ties. The creation ordinance put the marriage tie above all other relationships, even family relationships. Jesus cites Scripture, then, to bring out the truth that marriage is more than a casual arrangement for the convenience of the two parties. In verse 6, Jesus underlines the closeness of the unity. The married couple are no longer what they were, two isolated and separate individuals; they are now bound in the closest and most intimate of human relationships and are in fact one flesh. The followers of Hillel and Shammai were all losing sight of this central truth. Marriage is not to be understood as a casual union, subject to the whims and desires of the male. It is a close and binding union, the closest of unions known on this earth. It must accordingly be treated with respect and even reverence. Jesus draws an inference from this. Because marriage is what it is, because God has created the union, let not man separate those whom God has joined. Jesus was rejecting both sides of the rabbinic argument and was calling on His hearers to take seriously the Scripture that they professed to respect. If they did this they would realize that marriage was a much more binding relationship than they were making it. The typical attitude of the people of His day had reduced a God-given unity to a casual union, dissolvable at the whim of the male. This was not what Scripture meant when it spoke of what God did at the creation.

[7-9]  Jesus’ answer was not what his interrogators were looking for so they came up with a further question. What Jesus had said looked suspiciously like a prohibition of all divorce, and that suited none of them. So they pose a question reminding Jesus that divorce was due to what Moses, the great lawgiver, said: Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?  Actually they went beyond Scripture, for Moses did not command divorce. He pointed to current custom and did something to regulate it [see Deut. 24:1-4]. But this is a long way from commanding. The Pharisees assume that the dissolution of marriage was part of the will of God in instituting the married state. This Jesus denies. The certificate of divorce was the document the Jews currently used; its content was regarded as important. It must include the provision that the woman is now free to marry. Provided it was properly drawn up, witnessed, and served in the due legal manner, that was all that was required. Jesus corrects them in verse 8. Moses did no more than allow divorce due to the hardness of heart. In Moses’ day divorce evidently did need regulation. It would seem that prior to the regulation in Deuteronomy women were in a more than difficult position. It was possible for a husband to reject his wife and put her out of his house. But if she tried to contract marriage with another man then her first husband could claim that she was still his wife. Legally there was nothing she could do about it. When Moses took note of the ills that could be done toward women and provided for divorce, he was giving the repudiated wives a little measure of protection. Until the husband gave the wife a certificate of divorce she was still his wife, and he still owed her the duty that any husband owed his wife. When he had given the certificate, she was no longer his wife and he had no claim on her. Her position might still be difficult, but at least she was freed from any arbitrary reclaiming of her by her former husband. Permission for divorce, then, was a concession made because of men’s hard hearts. It was not part of the original provision of marriage. This was no concession to any human weakness, but God’s provision whereby a man and a woman should live together and produce a family. From the beginning marriage was a holy estate into which a man and a woman would normally be called. Nobody should enter this holy estate with the reservation that if difficulties arose there was abundant provision for divorce. This was simply a desperate provision where hearts were hard, not a regular part of the matrimonial scene. Over against the Mosaic provision for divorce because of hard hearts Jesus sets His own verdict. For a husband to divorce his wife and marry another woman means that he commits adultery; his second marriage violates the creation ordinance and thus is no marriage. Jesus leaves His hearers in no doubt but that marriage is meant to be for life and that contemporary Jewish discussions about when a divorce is properly carried out and when it is invalid are wide of the mark. Such discussions proceed from a view that marriage is a human device that may easily be set aside. But when we realize that it is God’s will for people, marriage must be seen in another light. Jesus does allow for an exception: except for sexual immorality. This repeats the position He took up in the Sermon on the Mount [Matt. 5:31-32]. Sexual immorality strictly means sexual relations between unmarried people. But the term was used more widely than that and came to signify irregular sexual unions of all kinds. In this passage it will signify adultery because it refers to the actions of married people. When a married person engages in this immoral activity, Jesus says, then hardness of heart has come into the picture again and, the marriage having been irreparably destroyed, divorce is permissible.

[10-12]  The disciples comment rather humorously that in the light of Jesus’ radical challenge to conventional thinking about marriage it would be better not to marry at all than to be saddled with a marriage from which you cannot escape. The interpretation of Jesus’ response to the disciples depends on how this saying is understood. If Jesus is referring back to His own radical teaching which has provoked the disciples’ comment, the saying may refer back to either of the key pronouncements in verse 6 or verse 9. If this is the case, then Jesus is conceding that not everyone is able to maintain God’s high standard for the permanence of marriage. But it is more likely that this saying refers to the comment which the disciples have just made. In that case Jesus is here taking quite seriously what was probably intended by them as an ironical comment: celibacy is a real option, but it is not for everyone. To speak of a gift of celibacy is to assume that marriage is the norm, but that God has given to some people the ability, perhaps even the inclination, to stand apart from that norm. The opening for in verse 12 indicates that this extraordinary saying is understood as explaining how the divine gift of celibacy referred to in verse 11 is conveyed. It uses the model of the eunuch to describe those who do not marry and have children. In the case of the literal eunuch this is a matter of necessity. But most subsequent interpretation has understood the made themselves eunuchs here not as a literal prescription but as a metaphor for making the choice to remain unmarried for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What are the three factors of marriage expressed in Genesis 2:23-25? Describe the importance of each factor for a successful marriage.

2.         Why was God upset with the Israelites in Malachi 2:13-15? What was the particular sin of the people that caused God to reject their attempts at worship? Why does marriage with an unbeliever displease God?

3.         Why does Jesus use the creation ordinance found in Genesis 1 and 2 for the basis of his argument instead of the passage in Deuteronomy? What does Jesus say Moses was doing in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 when Moses allowed divorce?

4.         Explain the biblical view of marriage and divorce from these three passages.


Genesis 1-11:26, Kenneth Mathews, NAC, Broadman.

Malachi, Douglas Stuart, Baker.

The Gospel According to Matthew, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.