LAWS RESPECTING DIVORCE (vs. 1-4)
If a man put away his wife because she did not any longer please him, and she
became the wife of another man, by whom also she was put away, or from
whom she was severed by his death, the first husband might not remarry her,
for that would be an abomination in the eyes of the Lord, and would bring sin
on the land. This is not a law sanctioning or regulating divorce; that is simply
assumed as what might occur, and what is here regulated is the treatment by
the first husband of a woman who has been divorced a second time.
The first four verses should be read as one continuous sentence, of which the
protasis is in vs. 1-3, and the apodosis in v. 4, thus:
1 “When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that
she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her:”
literally, a thing or matter of nakedness, i.e. some shameful thing, something
disgraceful; Septuagint, ἄσχημον πρᾶγμα - aschaemon pragma – Vulgate,
“aliquam foeditatem.” In the Targum of Onkelos, the expression is explained by
עֲבֵירִת פִתֵגָם; “the transgression of a [Divine] word” (Levi). On this the school of
Hillel among the rabbins put the interpretation that a man might divorce his wife
for any unbecomingness (Mishna, ‘Gittin,’ 9:10), or indeed for any cause,
as the Pharisees in our Lord’s day taught (Matthew 19:2). The school
of Shammai, on the other hand, taught that only for something disgraceful,
such as adultery, could a wife be divorced (Lightfoot, ‘Her. Hebrews et
Talm.,’ on Matthew 5:31, Opp., tom. 2:290). Adultery, however,
cannot be supposed here because that was punishable with death.
“then let him write her a bill of divorcement,” - literally, a writing of excision;
the man and woman having by marriage become one flesh, the divorce of
the woman was a cutting of her off from the one whole - “and give it in her
hand, and send her out of his house. 2 And when she is departed out of his
house, she may go and be another man’s wife. 3 And if the latter husband
hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and
sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to
be his wife; 4 Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her
again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination
before the LORD:” - The woman was held to be defiled by her second marriage,
and thus by implication, the marrying of a woman who had been divorced was
pronounced immoral, as is by our Lord explicitly asserted (Matthew 5:32). The
prohibition of a return of the wife to her first husband, as well as the necessity of
a formal bill of divorcement being given to the woman before she could be sent
away, could not fail to be checks on the license of divorce, as doubtless they
were intended to be -“and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which
the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.” (Notice the
divorcee’s contribution – it causes THE LAND TO SIN – CY – 2012)
5 “When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war,
neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free
at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken.”
A man newly married was to be exempt from going to war, and
was not to have any public burdens imposed on him for a year after his
marriage. Charged with any business; literally, there shall not pass upon
him for any matter; i.e. there shall not be laid on him anything in respect of
any business. This is explained by what follows. Free shall he be for his
house for one year; i.e. no public burden shall be laid on him, that he may
be free to devote himself entirely to his household relations, and be able to
cheer and gladden his wife (compare ch.20:7). By this law God showed how
He approved of holy wedlock (as by the former He showed His hatred of
unjust divorces) when, to encourage the newly married against the cumbrances
which that estate bringeth with it, and to settle their love each to other, He
exempted those men from all wars, cares, and expenses, that they might the
more comfortably provide for their own estate).
Permissive Legislation (vs. 1-5)
No treatment of this passage can be appropriate which does not set it in the light
thrown upon it by Matthew 19:1-12. The heading we have given to this outline indicates
a point on which special stress should be laid whenever an expositor has occasion to
refer to it. In the course of time, men had come to regard this passage in the light of a
command. Hence the wording of the question in Matthew 19:7. But our Lord informs
us that it was simply permissive. Divorce, under the circumstances here named,
was tolerated a while by Moses owing to “the hardness of men’s hearts,”
but that the original Divine arrangement contemplated the indissolubility of
marriage. The entire principle of the Mosaic Law was that of educating the
people out of a semi-degraded state into something higher, Its method of doing this
was by giving the people the best legislation they could bear; tolerating some ill for
a while rather than forcing on the people revolutionary methods. The more gentle
and gracious, though the slower process, was to sow the seed of higher good, and
to let it have time to grow. The following Divine teaching on marriage may well be
brought forward with this passage as a basis:
recognized as very sacred by man.
nature’s ties is INDISSOLUBLE.
civil legislation may suffer the legal cessation of the marriage bond, yet it
can in no case be severed, save by death, without heinous sin on one
side or on both.
exigencies of military service are unduly to interfere (v. 5).
perfection only when it is entered on and spent in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The law was but a παιδαγωγὸς εἰς χριστόν – paidagogos eis Christon –
schoolmaster in Christ (Galatians 3:24; I Corinthians 7:39).
Divorce (vs. 1-5)
The Hebrew Law, “for the hardness of men’s hearts,” found it was necessary to
“suffer” many things not approved of absolutely (Matthew 19:8). Divorce was one
of these. It was permitted on grounds of strong personal dislike (v. 3). The Law was
inapplicable to adultery, that being judged a capital offense. While permitting
divorce, Moses obviously aims at restricting it, and shows, by his modes of
expression, how alien this rupture of the marriage bond is to the original
institution of marriage. We may learn:
GUARDED. Divorce, even where most justified, is a great evil. It is the
rupture of a tie intended by the Creator to be INDISSOLUBLE!
Adultery warrants it, but it must be deemed not the least part of the evil
that so unhappy a cause for the dissolution of marriage should exist. THE
INJURIOUS TO “PUBLIC MORALITY!” Facilities for divorce,
(let us say “no fault divorce – CY – 20112) such as some advocate, leads
to serious mischief. Besides being wrong in principle, they create inconstancy,
lead to domestic unhappiness, inflict hardship on children, prevent efforts
being made to mend matters by forbearance and. compliance. Frequent
divorces blunt the sense of the sacredness of the marriage union, and so
lead to LICENTIOUSNESS! “At the time when divorces were most frequent
among the Romans marriages were most rare; and Augustus was obliged,
by penal laws, to force men of fashion into the married state” (Hume).
Moses restrains divorce thus far that he requires it to take place:
Ř By means of a legal document.
Ř For reason given.
Ř He debars the man divorcing from remarrying the woman divorced if,
in the interval, she has been married to another. The Christian law
recognizes no legitimate ground of divorce save adultery (Matthew 5:32).
SENSE OF THE INHERENT SACREDNESS OF THE MARRIAGE
RELATION. This is suggested by the terms employed in v. 4. A husband
is prohibited from remarrying his divorced wife if in the interval she has
been the wife of another, and the ground given for the prohibition is that
“she is defiled.” But why “defiled?” The expression could not have been
used had the first marriage been regarded as perfectly nullified by the legal
divorce. The statement that a divorced woman, remarrying, is “defiled,”
implies that deep view of the marriage relation given in Genesis (2:24),
and reiterated by Christ (Matthew 19:3-10). And it will be found, in
practice, that light views of the sacredness of the marriage relation
invariably work in the direction of increasing facilities for divorce.
Various Prohibitions (vs. 6-22)
6 “No man shall take the nether or the upper millstone to pledge:” - rather,
the hand mill and the upper millstone (literally, the rider) shall not be taken
(literally, one shall not take) in pledge. Neither the mill itself nor the upper millstone,
the removal of which would render the mill useless, was to be taken. The upper
millstone is still called the rider by the Arabs (Hebrew reehebh, Arabic rekkab) –
“for he taketh a man’s life to pledge.” - or for (thereby) life itself is pledged; if a
man were deprived of that by which food for the sustaining of life could be
prepared, his life itself would be imperiled (compare Job. 22:6; Proverbs 22:27;
7 “If a man be found stealing any of his brethren of the children of
Israel, and maketh merchandise of him, or selleth him; then that
thief shall die; and thou shalt put evil away from among you.”
A repetition against man-stealing, a repetition, with expansion, of the law in
8 “Take heed in the plague of leprosy, that thou observe diligently, and do
according to all that the priests the Levites shall teach you: as I commanded
them, so ye shall observe to do. 9 Remember what the LORD thy God did
unto Miriam by the way, after that ye were come
forth out of
The law concerning the leprosy is in Leviticus 13 and 14. By this law the priests
are directed how to proceed with those afflicted with leprosy; and here the people
are counseled by Moses to follow the directions of the priests in this case, however
painful it might be for them to submit to the restrictions that would be thereby
imposed upon them, remembering what the Lord did to Miriam the sister of Moses,
how even she was separated from the camp by the express command of God until
she was healed (Numbers 12:14). The formula b] rm,V;hi means, “Take heed to
yourself in respect of” (compare II Samuel 20:10; Jeremiah 17:21), rather than
“Beware of,” or “Be on your guard against.”
Leprosy Symbolic (vs. 8-9)
God has intended the material world to be a schoolhouse, and every event
a vehicle of moral instruction. The sick-chamber may become an audience room,
where lessons of heavenly wisdom are conveyed by the Spirit of truth. Leprosy
was singled out by God to be a visible picture of sin; so that“out of the eater
there might come forth meat” (Judges 14:14). Out of seeming evil, good
can be distilled.
the infliction than was seen by the bodily eye. It was mysterious in its
origin, and irresistible in its progress. It gradually spread and covered
the whole man. It touched and injured every faculty. The intention was
salutary, viz. to lead the sufferer’s thoughts to the discovery of a deeper
malady, and to awaken desire for a more enduring cure. The outward is an
index of the inward. LEPROSY IS A TYPE AND PICTURE OF SIN!
seek the offices of an ordinary physician (much like cancer in the 21st century –
CY – 2012). Earthly remedy was and still is unknown. The sufferer was
required to visit the priest. Direct application to God was to be made.
Meanwhile, the leper was to be completely isolated. He might not consort
with his fellows. Hereby he might learn the DISASTROUS EFFECTS OF
SIN in DISINTEGRATING SOCIETY; and hereby he might in solitude
mourn over sin, and SEEK ITS CURE! The only possibility of the
removal of leprosy was in religious obedience. Every part of the
prescription was FURNISHED BY GOD and was to be applied by God’s
ministers. COMPLETE SUBMISSION was a condition of cure.
TYPE. This type was furnished by Miriam. Her specific sin was known; it
was insubordination to authority. Her chastisement was sudden. It came
direct from God in the form of leprosy. The injured man became her
intercessor. God graciously responded to the intercession of Moses.
Temporary separation and strict seclusion were the method of cure. Golden
lessons lie here. Every leper may confidently follow this indication of God’s
will. If He healed Miriam, CAN HE NOT ALSO HEAL ME!!!!!!!!!!!
OBLIGATIONS. As a healed man will cheerfully recompense the physician
for his pains, so God required the restored leper to express his gratitude in
the form of animal sacrifice. His gratitude could not be expressed in empty
words. He was not permitted to bring that “which cost him nothing.”
In the slaughter of the devoted victim, the grateful man would confess that he
himself had deserved to die, and that God had permitted a substitute. If the
man were fully penitent, the sight of the dying substitute would vividly
impress his heart with a sense of God’s mercy. In every arrangement which
God made, the good of man was sought. The method will often seem
strange to our dim vision, but respecting the beneficent end there can be no
10 “When thou dost lend thy brother any thing, thou shalt not go into
his house to fetch his pledge. 11 Thou shalt stand abroad, and the man to
whom thou dost lend shall bring out the pledge abroad unto thee.
12 And if the man be poor, thou shalt not sleep with his pledge:
13 In any case thou shalt deliver him the pledge again when the sun
goeth down, that he may sleep in his own raiment, and bless thee:
and it shall be righteousness unto thee before the LORD thy God.”
If one had to take a pledge from another, he was not to go into the house of the
latter and take what he thought fit; he must stand without, and allow the debtor to
bring to him what he saw meet to offer. He might stand outside and summon the
debtor to produce his pledge, but he was not insolently to enter the house and lay
hands on any part of the owner’s property. To stand outside and call is still a
common mode of seeking access to a person in his own house or apartment among
the Arabs, and is regarded as the only respectful mode. There would be thus a
mitigation of the severity of the exaction, the tendency of which would be
to preserve good feeling between the parties. If the debtor was needy, and
being such could give in pledge only some necessary article, such as his
upper garment in which he slept at night, the pledge was to be returned ere
nightfall, that the man might sleep in his own raiment, and have a grateful
feeling towards his creditor. In many parts of the East, with the Arabs
notably, it is customary for the poor to sleep in their outer garment.
“During the day the poor while at work can and do dispense with this
outside raiment, but at night it is greatly needed, even in summer. This
furnishes a good reason why this sort of pledge should be restored before
night” (Thomson, ‘Land and the Book,’ 1:192, 500). The earlier legislation
(Exodus 22:25-26) is evidently assumed here as well known by the people.
It shall be righteousness unto thee (see on ch.6:25).
14 “Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy,
whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy
land within thy gates: 15 At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither
shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it:
lest he cry against thee unto the LORD, and it be sin unto thee.”
The wage of the laborer was to be punctually paid, whether he were an Israelite
or a foreigner (compare Leviticus 19:13; the law here is repeated here, with a
special reference to the distress which the withholding of the hire from a poor man
even for a day might occasion).
Omitted Duty Ripens into Curse (vs. 14-15)
Thoughtlessness is a flimsy excuse for neglected duty. It is a sin to be thoughtless.
(I recommend – Isaiah 1 – Spurgeon Sermon – To the Thoughtless – this web
site – CY – 2012). One talent is buried in the earth. In proportion to the mischief
produced is the punishment thereof.
Ř The rich is debtor to the poor. (Notice that this is in reference to
individuals, not the collective government of which Moses speaks –
CY – 2012) Obligation between the several ranks of society is equal.
The rich rely for many services upon the poor. The king depends
upon the cook. The laborer gives his strength, the employer
contributes his money. There is as much obligation on the one
side as on the other.
Ř At a fixed point of time the obligation is matured. Henceforth the
neglect of the obligation becomes sin. My obligations today differ
from those of yesterday. The element of time plays an important part.
Ř Obligations are implied as well as expressed. Custom is unwritten law.
Riches carry with them no warrant for arrogance. Riches have cursed
The man if they have made him churlish.
cannot follow the effects of thoughtlessness into all their intricate
ramifications and to their utmost issues. What would be regarded as a
trivial disappointment on the part of one man may be an agony of pain to
another. Wages expected and deferred may mean to a needy laborer
pinching hunger, not only to himself, but to feeble wife and to helpless
babes. A gloomy and sleepless night may follow. Bitter and angry feelings
may be engendered. Faith in human integrity may be lost. Self-restraint may
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail!
UPON THE CULPRIT. It is not safe to treat any human being with
contempt, especially the poor. God is the avowed Champion of such. The
command, “Honor all men” (I Peter 2:17), is as binding as “Thou shalt
not steal” (Exodus 20:15). The cry of the injured man in his distress is sure
to pierce the skies. The ear of God is specially attent to His children’s suffering
cry (Psalm 34:15), even as a mother catches the plaintive wail of her firstborn
infant. Swiftly God attaches Himself to the side of the oppressed, and takes
upon Himself the burden. The injustice done to the man becomes an insult
done to God. The deed alters in its character, intensifies in its immorality, and
becomes heinous sin. Vials of wrath are preparing for the head of the unthinking
transgressor. It will be as the sin of blasphemy or of murder unto them.
16 “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall
the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to
death for his own sin.” Among heathen nations it was common for a whole family to
be involved in the penalty incurred by the head of the family, and to be put
to death along with him (compare Esther 9:13-14; Herodotus., 3:118, 119;
and various secular authorities). Such severity of retribution is here prohibited in
the penal code of the Israelites. Though God, in the exercise of His absolute
sovereignty, might visit the sins of the parent upon the children (Exodus 20:5),
earthly judges were not to assume this power. Only the transgressor himself
was to bear the penalty of his sin (compare II Kings 14:6).
17 “Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the
fatherless; nor take a widow’s raiment to pledge: 18 But thou shalt remember
that thou wast a
thence: therefore I command thee to do this thing.” The law against perverting
the right of strangers, widows, and orphans is here repeated from Exodus 22:21-24;
23:9, with the addition that the raiment of the widow was not to be taken in pledge.
To enforce this, the people are reminded that they themselves as a nation had
been in the condition of strangers and bondmen in
Not only was no injustice to be done to the poor, but, out of the abundance of those in
better estate, were they to be helped.
19 “When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a
sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger,
for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the LORD thy God may bless thee
in all the work of thine hands. 20 When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou
shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the
fatherless, and for the widow. 21 When thou gatherest the grapes of thy
vineyard, thou shalt not glean it afterward:” - literally, Thou shalt not glean after
thee, i.e. after thou hast reaped and gathered for thyself. It is still the custom among
the Arabs for the poor to be allowed to gather the berries that may be left on the olive
trees after they have been beaten and the main produce carried off by the owner. All
the injunctions in this section are adapted to preserve relations of brotherliness and
love among the people of the Lord - “it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless,
and for the widow. 22 And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in
Leviticus 19:9-10; 23:22) Over and over, God reminded them that their own
redemption out of
EMPTIED HIS TREASURY OF BLESSINGS ON US! The end should be
that we SHOULD ENRICH OTHERS!
Neighborly Love and Good Will to be Cultivated in Detail (vs. 6-22)
One golden thread runs through all the varied precepts of this chapter. They are most
interesting illustrations, one and all, of the spirit of humanity and of far-reaching wisdom
which pervades the Mosaic Law. The following heading include the gist of the several
injunctions here given, and show also their relation to each other.
poor, is to be kidnapped and sold into foreign slavery (v. 7).
use of which his daily bread depended, for a pledge (v. 6). It is doubtless
to this humane regulation that we owe the ancient common law of this
necessaries of his trade or profession as long as there are other things
on which the depravation can be made.
pledge (vs. 10-11). The exception to this is in the case of leprosy, in
which instance the priest had a right to enter a man’s house to see into the
state of things, i.e. home is to be inviolable save where the public security
demands it otherwise. Hence a special caution is given to avoid anything
which might bring such a plague upon them. The case of Miriam should be
before their eyes (vs. 8-9).
restored to him before sundown (v. 13).
generous treatment (vs. 14-15).
connection with the cities of refuge, is never to be violated, and no one is
to suffer any civil penalty on account of another’s sin. JUSTICE IS
TO OPERATE ALWAYS! (v. 16).
widow. They who are deprived of earthly helpers on whom they might lean
are to find their safeguard in the sentiments of honor and benevolence
which pervade the people (vs. 17-18).
to be specially studied, in the time of harvest, and in the gathering in of the
olive and the grape (vs. 19-22).
BEEN KIND TO THEM! (vs. 18, 22).
justice, mercy, love, and good will to all.
fatherless with a special guard.
The inspiring motive for our showing love to others is THE LOVE OF
GOD TO US! ( Romans 5:14; I John 4:10,19).
"Excerpted text Copyright AGES Library, LLC. All rights reserved.
Materials are reproduced by permission."
This material can be found at:
If this exposition is helpful, please share with others.