Hi, Jordan! My question is: Would God ever lead anyone to divorce? I would unequivocally have said no before but there’s that problem in Ezra 9 and 10 that confounds me. My stance has always been that I dont think God would ever lead anyone TO a divorce but He will lead you THROUGH a divorce. I wholly believe a spouse can lead you to a divorce… but God? !? And then I read Ezra 9 and 10.
Good question. Let me look into that a bit further as it is a good question and I get the nuance of what you’re asking re God leading and God permitting divorce.
P.S. Apologies for the delay in getting back to you, have had to rush back to Perth from Brisbane due to the COVID-19 situation and we were driving home from the east coast of Australia with little to no reception along the way.
Yes, it seemed that the priests who married foreign (not Hebrew, and a different religion) wives (which they werent supposed to do, of course) were told (by God via Ezra) to divorce them. Maybe Im not understanding what I am reading.
Hi Shari. I believe you’re partially right - Shekaniah responds to Ezra’s prayer about Israel’s intermarriage to these foreign women by saying (paraphrase) “we will make a covenant before our God and send away [divorce] these women and their children [presumably even their own children]”. This is a staggering response to give up one’s family basically when they’ve come to the realisation how seriously they’ve sinned against God by “not keeping themselves separate from the neighboring peoples” (Ezra 9:1). Notice this is Shekaniah’s response, not necessarily God’s instruction even though it may be the right response given what they’ve been commanded. This command is not new to Israel - after their redemption from slavery in Egypt and before entering the land God had promised to them God instructed His people to “not intermarry” with these foreign nations (Deut 7:1-3). Their failure to obey this led to their special role as God’s separate chosen people being compromised (Deut 7:6).
This leads to an important question that need addressing for our application today as the church - namely is this descriptive narrative of what God’s people (Israel) did then prescriptive for God’s people (the church) now? To put it simply, no. To make sense of this we need to do some biblical theology (making sense of the whole of scripture in light of the gospel and the revelation of Jesus).
Jesus tells us in his famous 'sermon on the mount ’ (Matthew 5-7) in 5:17 that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. He fulfills the law by keeping the moral law perfectly, by bearing the penalty of the law prescribed on our behalf when he died on the cross, by spelling out the intention and spirit of the law (Matt.5: 17-48) and by fulfilling the ceremonial and ritual law (Hebrews, Matt 27:51). All that to say the commands of the OT to national Israel are not therefore all binding on Christian today; although many are upheld by Jesus and the apostles. We do not find our righteousness in keeping any laws but through faith in Christ (Rom 3:22). However, the instruction to not being “unequally yoked” or bound together (married) with unbelievers is still upheld in the New Testament (1 Cor 7:39; 2 Cor 6:14-15).
So does that mean then the example from Ezra would apply to the church (Christians) today as an *instruction for them to divorce a non-christian? No, for the reason that Paul makes it clear in 1 Cor 7:10-16 and the example of God’s covenant faithfulness in Hosea. Paul’s instruction to Christians who find themselves married to non-christians is to stay-married if the non-believing partner is willing to stay married (1 Cor 7:13). However if the non-believers wants to leave the marriage then the believer is not bound in this circumstance.
That does not mean there are never legitimate grounds for divorce. Historically the church fathers believed that divorce was permissible (not necessarily instructed though) in the case of adultery or desertion (see Matthew 5:32, 19:9; 1 Cor 7:15). Although I don’t think the scriptures go so far as to instruct believers to get divorced, although it may be permitted and even wise in some circumstances. The stories I’ve heard as a pastor have been jaw-dropping, although I have also witnessed God’s grace bring about radical transformation and hope in marriages that had previously been very destructive.
That was a long reply - hopefully something in there was helpful in you thinking this matter through, I trust, with prayer and a good church family to discuss these important topics with.
Thank you, Jordan! I agree with you and appreciate your lengthy response. In Ezra 10:3 (NIV) it says “Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE COUNSEL OF MY LORD and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law.” (emphasis mine-- and lord is not really capitalized so I assume he is talking to Ezra) I thought this meant that Ezra counseled him to do this. But even if Ezra did, then maybe it did not come from God? Just want a little more clarity there if possible. Thanks for your consideration!
Yes, I believe you’re right he is talking about Ezra’s counsel (implied application of Ezra’s prayer although not explicitly instructed by Ezra), not the LORD’s directly in the “thus says the LORD” sense.
Granting that the practice of polygamy was still occurring then it adds another dimension to a man sending his wife away, as he likely had more wives. Notice it didn’t work in the reverse with genders, we only see men sending their wives away not vise-versa, which adds another interesting dimension and again makes it difficult to draw doctrinal/ethical lessons from the narrative.
A lesson I learned studying theology is that we have to be careful taking a descriptive narrative as a prescriptive for us reading today - especially in the case of Israel and OT narrative.
Bless you my friend. Very encouraged by your careful and considered engagement with the scriptures!