Deuteronomy 24 and Divorce


I am trying to understand the context behind some of the Old Testament laws and am wrestling with some verses from Deuteronomy 24 regarding divorce:

“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 indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man’s wife, and if the latter husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife, then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since 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 gives you as an inheritance. “When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken.”
‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭24:1-5‬ ‭NASB‬‬


  1. What does it mean for the man to “Find indecency“ in his wife? Is it simply if the man stops loving the wife that he can leave her?

  2. Why is the woman placed in a position of abomination if she remarried her old husband?

Were these verses really as harsh as they sound or what were the implications?

Thanks in advance.

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@Ajax93 Great question :slight_smile: What we have in Deuteronomy 24 is an instance of OT case law. God is not instituting divorce or describing divorce procedures. Rather, God is simply saying that if a man happens to divorce his wife and she remarries, he cannot take her back again as his wife. Moses was addressing a situation that already existed in the culture in order to avoid uncleanness in the camp; not legislating divorce.

Several possible reasons for this prohibition against remarriage after an intervening marriage are given below (taken from Gordon article). It is not clear exactly what the intent was beyond avoiding sin in the Israelite camp, but these are some possibilities.

  • to discourage divorce
  • to protect the second marriage (second husband could not kill the first and take back his wife, for example)
  • to prevent a form of incest
  • to protect a stigmatized woman (if the first husband sought to mistreat her)
  • to prevent the first husband from taking the wife back just to gain the land / possessions of the second husband

If we read Jesus’ words in Matthew, we see that Moses only permitted divorce to even occur because people had hard hearts. Jesus circumcises our heart and empowers us to live in a new way according to a higher and better law of the Spirit.

Matthew 19:3-9 - Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

Article from Gordon

I do not necessarily agree with this author’s stance on the issue of the divorce entirely, but they do give a good summary of the various views of this passage and explain the background.

It is crucial to note that this passage does not institute or allow for divorce with approval. Deuteronomy 24:1-4 merely treats divorce as a practice already existing and known.5 Grammatically the passage is an example of biblical case law in which certain conditions are stated for which a particular command applies. The protasis in verses 1-3 specifies the conditions that must apply before the command in the apodosis in verse 4 is followed. In other words 24:1-4 describes a simple “if. . . then” situation.

As the land was “defiled” by the sexual abominations of the Canaanites, so there was danger of similar defilement by the remarriage of a divorced woman to her husband in the case of an intervening marriage. The prohibition was designed to prevent the defilement of the land that God was giving His people as an inheritance.

The word “indecency”

This word appears to mean some form of sexual misconduct if I understand this note correctly.

On the meaning of the word indecency:

The Hebrew phrase עֶרְוַת דָּבָר (ʿervat davar) involves a genitive of specification, something characterized by עֶרְוָה (ʿervah). עֶרְוָה means “nakedness,” and by extension means “shame, sexual impropriety, sexual organs, indecency” (NIDOTTE III 528, Jastrow 1114-15).