The Bible’s Viewpoint
What Kind of Divorcing Does God Hate?
“THE problems that went along with my divorce were many,” wrote one Christian woman whose husband had been unfaithful. “The adjustment period isn’t an easy time. I had to adjust not only mentally but financially and spiritually as well. I wondered if Jehovah would bless my decision, knowing that the Scriptures say that he hates divorce. This was a constant worry.”
When a marriage ends, the complications do not. A whole new set of problems suddenly arise. The feelings—depression, loneliness, and guilt—that surface out of nowhere. The custody battles to contend with. A son or a daughter crying out for Mommy or Daddy. The financial difficulties that exert pressure. Trying to cope with the desire for the intimacies that only marriage allows.
Then there is God’s view to think about. The Bible says that God ‘hates a divorcing.’ (Malachi 2:16) Do these words mean that God hates all divorcing? Does a Christian, therefore, need to feel guilty for seeking a divorce when a mate has been unfaithful? For the answers, let us look at the circumstances in Malachi’s day that prompted God to say that he hates divorce.
“You Must Not Deal Treacherously”
Malachi prophesied after 443 B.C.E., almost a century after the Jewish exiles returned from Babylon. Deplorable conditions had developed in Judah, especially among the priests. (Malachi 2:7-9) Practices such as lying, adultery, fraud, and oppression were prevalent among the Israelites in general. (Malachi 3:5) These conditions provoked so much skepticism that some concluded: “It is of no value to serve God.”—Malachi 3:14.
The religious and moral decay in Malachi’s day was reflected also in a declining respect for marriage. Many Israelite men were divorcing the wives of their youth, perhaps in order to marry younger pagan women. The altar of Jehovah became covered with the tears of the rejected wives who came to the sanctuary to weep and sigh before God.—Malachi 2:13-15.
How did Jehovah God feel about such divorcing? Through Malachi he warned: “‘You people must guard yourselves respecting your spirit, and with the wife of your youth may no one deal treacherously. For he has hated a divorcing,’ Jehovah the God of Israel has said . . . ‘And you must guard yourselves respecting your spirit, and you must not deal treacherously.’” (Malachi 2:15, 16) According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, the Hebrew word rendered ‘deal treacherously’ means “deal deceitfully, (deal) unfaithfully.” At Psalm 59:5, a participle form of this verb is rendered “traitors.”
Against such a background, we can better understand the words at Malachi 2:16: “He has hated a divorcing.” Jehovah hates the kind of divorcing that involves the frivolous putting away of one mate in order to take another. For example, a man who commits adultery and then divorces his innocent mate against her wishes or pressures her to divorce him so that he can marry someone else would indeed be dealing treacherously with his wife. This deceitful, faithless treatment of an innocent mate is a heinous sin in God’s eyes. A man who takes the best years of a woman’s life and then puts her away, perhaps in favor of a younger woman, is indeed a traitor.*
What, though, about an innocent mate who chooses to divorce a spouse who has committed adultery? Does God hate such divorces too?
God’s Own Example
Can God really know what it feels like to be faced with the decision of whether to divorce an adulterous mate or not? Symbolically speaking, Jehovah considered himself married to the ancient nation of Israel by means of his covenant with them. (Isaiah 54:1, 5, 6; 62:1-6; Jeremiah 31:31, 32) As a husband, Jehovah was ever faithful, never turning his affections to other nations. (Psalm 147:19, 20; Amos 3:1, 2) But what about Israel? What kind of wife did the nation prove to be?
As a whole the nation repeatedly proved unfaithful to the covenant, eventually reaching the state described in the prayer recorded at Daniel 9:5, 6: “We have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled; and there has been a turning aside from your commandments and from your judicial decisions. And we have not listened to your servants the prophets, who have spoken in your name to our kings, our princes and our forefathers and to all the people of the land.” In Jehovah’s eyes, such unfaithfulness was tantamount to a wife’s committing adultery.—Jeremiah 3:1.
After centuries of patience and long-suffering, what did Jehovah do? By taking strong judicial action, casting first the northern tribes then the southern tribes out of their land into exile, Jehovah, in effect, divorced himself from the nation. (Jeremiah 3:8; Daniel 9:11, 12) So in view of his own example, how could Jehovah God hate it when an innocent mate chooses to divorce a spouse who has been unfaithful to the marriage vow?
Marriage is a sacred arrangement in God’s eyes, and those who enter it should not take lightly the vow they have made. (Hebrews 13:4) But if one’s mate is unfaithful to the vow by committing “fornication,” God grants the innocent one the right to decide whether to forgive or to seek a divorce. (Matthew 19:9) That is a difficult decision, one that the innocent mate alone must make. Should the innocent one decide to end the marriage, he or she need not feel guilty for seeking a divorce. Remember that Jehovah hates, not all divorcing, but the kind of divorcing that involves the unscriptural putting away of one mate in order to take another.*
Throughout the Scriptures, Jehovah God speaks of himself as hating attitudes and forms of conduct that are sinful. (Deuteronomy 16:22; Proverbs 6:16-19; 8:13; Isaiah 1:14; 61:8) Viewed in this light, the divorcing referred to at Malachi 2:16 must also be of a type that is sinful in his eyes.
Divorce from an adulterous mate is a personal decision. For a discussion of the various factors that the innocent mate can weigh in deciding whether to obtain a Scriptural divorce, please see the Watchtower issues of August 15, 1993, page 5, and May 15, 1988, pages 4 to 7.
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Historic Costume in Pictures/Dover Publications, Inc., New York