a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary
Select a resource above

Laws concerning Marriage and Divorce


Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house 2and goes off to become another man’s wife. 3Then suppose the second man dislikes her, writes her a bill of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house (or the second man who married her dies); 4her first husband, who sent her away, is not permitted to take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that would be abhorrent to the L ord, and you shall not bring guilt on the land that the L ord your God is giving you as a possession.

Miscellaneous Laws

5 When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be charged with any related duty. He shall be free at home one year, to be happy with the wife whom he has married.

6 No one shall take a mill or an upper millstone in pledge, for that would be taking a life in pledge.

7 If someone is caught kidnaping another Israelite, enslaving or selling the Israelite, then that kidnaper shall die. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

8 Guard against an outbreak of a leprous skin disease by being very careful; you shall carefully observe whatever the levitical priests instruct you, just as I have commanded them. 9Remember what the L ord your God did to Miriam on your journey out of Egypt.

10 When you make your neighbor a loan of any kind, you shall not go into the house to take the pledge. 11You shall wait outside, while the person to whom you are making the loan brings the pledge out to you. 12If the person is poor, you shall not sleep in the garment given you as the pledge. 13You shall give the pledge back by sunset, so that your neighbor may sleep in the cloak and bless you; and it will be to your credit before the L ord your God.

14 You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns. 15You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to the L ord against you, and you would incur guilt.

16 Parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their parents; only for their own crimes may persons be put to death.

17 You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge. 18Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the L ord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.

19 When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the L ord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. 20When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.

21 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. 22Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this.

Although what relates to divorce was granted in indulgence to the Jews, yet Christ pronounces that it was never in accordance with the Law, because it is directly repugnant to the first institution of God, from whence a perpetual and inviolable rule is to be sought. It is proverbially said that the laws of nature are indissoluble; and God has declared once for all, that the bond of union between husband and wife is closer than that of parent and child; wherefore, if a son cannot shake off the paternal yoke, no cause can permit the dissolution of the connection which a man has with his wife. Hence it appears how great was the perverseness of that nation, which could not be restrained from dissolving a most sacred and inviolable tie. Meanwhile the Jews improperly concluded from their impunity that that was lawful, which God did not punish because of the hardness of their hearts; whereas they ought rather to have considered, agreeably to the answer of Christ, that man is not at liberty to separate those whom God hath joined together. (Matthew 19:6.) Still, God chose to make a provision for women who were cruelly oppressed, and for whom it was better that they should at once be set free, than that they should groan beneath a cruel tyranny during their whole lives. Thus, in Malachi, divorce is preferred to polygamy, since it would be a more tolerable condition to be divorced than to bear with a harlot and a rival. (Malachi 2:14.) And undoubtedly the bill or scroll of divorce, whilst it cleared the woman from all disgrace, cast some reproach on the husband; for he who confesses that he puts away his wife, because she does not please him, brings himself under the accusation both of moroseness and inconstancy. For what gross levity and disgraceful inconstancy it shows, that a husband should be so offended with some imperfection or disease in his wife, as to east away from him half of himself! We see, then, that husbands were indirectly condemned by the writing of divorce, since they thus committed an injury against their wives who were chaste, and in other respects what they should be. On these grounds, God in Isaiah, in order that He might take away from the Jews all subject of complaint, bids them produce the bill of divorce, if He had given any to their mother, (Isaiah 1:1;) as much as to say, that His cause for rejecting them was just, because they had treacherously revolted to ungodliness.

Some interpreters do not read these three verses continuously, but suppose the sense to be complete at the end of the first, wherein the husband testifies that he divorces his wife for no offense, but because her beauty does not satisfy his lust. If, however, we give more close attention, we shall see that it is only one provision of the Law, viz., that when a man has divorced his wife, it is not lawful for him to marry her again if she have married another. The reason of the law is, that, by prostituting his wife, he would be, as far as in him lay, acting like a procurer. In this view, it is said that she was defiled, because he had contaminated her body, for the liberty which he gave her could not abolish the first institution of God, but rather, as Christ teaches, gave cause for adultery. (Matthew 5:31, and 19:9.) Thus, the Israelites were reminded that, although they divorced their wives with impunity, still this license was by no means excused before God.

The immunity here given has for its object the awakening of that mutual love which may preserve the conjugal fidelity of husband and wife; for there is danger lest, if a husband departs from his wife immediately after marriage, the bride, before she has become thoroughly accustomed to him, should be too prone to fall in love with some one else. A similar danger affects the husband; for in war, and other expeditions, many things occur which tempt men to sin. God, therefore, would have the love of husband and wife fostered by their association for a whole year, that thus mutual confidence may be established between them, and they may afterwards continually beware of all incontinency.

But that God should permit a bride to enjoy herself with her husband, affords no trifling proof of His indulgence. Assuredly, it cannot be but that the lust of the flesh must affect the connection of husband and wife with some amount of sin; yet God not only pardons it, but covers it with the veil of holy matrimony, lest that which is sinful in itself should be so imputed; nay, He spontaneously allows them to enjoy themselves. With this injunction corresponds what Paul says,

“Let the husband render unto his wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer.” (1 Corinthians 7:3, 5.)

Deuteronomy 24:6 No man shall take the nether. God now enforces another principle of equity in relation to loans, (not to be too strict 107107     Added from Fr. ) in requiring pledges, whereby the poor are often exceedingly distressed. In the first place, He prohibits the taking of anything in pledge which is necessary to the poor for the support of existence; for by the words which I have translated meta and catillus, i e., the upper and nether millstone, He designates by synecdoche all other instruments, which workmen cannot do without in earning their daily bread. As if any one should forcibly deprive a husbandman of his plough, or his spade, or harrow, or other tools, or should empty a shoemaker’s, or potter’s, or other person’s shop, who could not exercise his trade when deprived of its implements; and this is sufficiently clear from the context, where it is said, “He taketh a man’s life to pledge,” together with his millstones. He, then, is as cruel, whosoever takes in pledge what supports a poor man’s life, as if he should take away bread from a starving man, and thus his life itself, which, as it is sustained by labor, so, when its means of subsistence are cut off, is, as it were, itself destroyed.

The same punishment is here deservedly denounced against man-stealers as against murderers; for, so wretched was the condition of slaves, that liberty was more than half of life; and hence to deprive a man of such a great blessing, was almost to destroy him. Besides, it is not man-stealing only which is here condemned, but the accompanying evils of cruelty and fraud, i.e., if he, who had stolen a man, had likewise sold him. Now, such a sale could hardly be made among the people themselves, without the crime being immediately detected; and nothing could be more hateful than that God’s children should be alienated from the Church, and delivered over to heathen nations.

8. Take heed in the plague of leprosy. I am aware how greatly interpreters differ from each other and how variously they twist whatever Moses has written about Leprosy. Some are too eagerly devoted to allegories; some think that God, as a prudent Legislator, merely gave a commandment of a sanitary, nature, in order that a contagious disease should not, spread among the people. This notion, however, is very. poor, and almost unmeaning; and is briefly. refuted by Moses himself, both where he recounts the history of Miriam’s leprosy, and also where he assigns the cause why lepers should be put out of the camp, viz that they might not defile the camp in which God dwelt, whilst he ranks them with those that have an issue, and that they are defiled by the dead. Wherefore, I have thought it well, previous to attempting the full elucidation of the matter, to adduce two passages, by way of preface, from whence the design of God may more fully appear. When, in this passage from Deuteronomy, He commands the people to “take heed” and “observe diligently” the plague of leprosy, there can be no question but that He thus ratifies what He had before set forth at greater length in Leviticus. And, first of all, He refers the judgment of the matter to the priests, that what they pronounce should be firm and unalterable; and secondly, He would have the priests, lest they should pronounce rashly, and according to their own wishes, to follow simply what He prescribed to them, so that they may only be the ministers, or heralds; whilst, as to the sovereign authority, He alone should be the Judge. He confirms the law which He imposes by a special example; because He had cast out Miriam, the sister of Moses, for a time, lest her uncleanness during her leprosy should defile the camp. For the view which some take, that He exhorts the people lest, through sin, they should bring upon themselves the same evil as Miriam, is not to the purpose. But that which I have stated makes excellent sense, viz., that God’s command, whereby He prohibited Miriam from entering the camp, was to have the force and weight of a perpetual law; because He thus ordained what He would always have done.

Numbers 5

Numbers 5:1-3

1. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,

1. Et loquutus est Jehova ad Mosen, dicendo:

2. Command the children of Israel, that they put out of the camp every leper, and every one that hath an issue, and whosoever is defiled by the dead:

2. Praecipe filiis Israel ut ejiciant e castris omnem leprosum, omnem seminifluum, et omnem immundum super anima.

3. Both male and female shall ye put out, without the camp shall ye put them; that they defile not their camps, in the midst whereof I dwell.

3. Tam masculum quam faeminam ejicietis: extra castra ejicietis eos, ne contaminent castra sua, quia ego habito in medio eorum.


2. Command the children of Israel. This passage clearly shews that God, in desiring the lepers to be put out of the camp, was not acting as a physician by any means, and merely consulting the health of the people: but that by this external rite and ceremony He exercised them in the pursuit of purity; for, by joining with the lepers those who had an issue, 22     SeminifiuosLat. and who were defiled by the dead, He instructs the people simply to keep away from all uncleanness. The reason, which follows, confirms this, — “that they defile not their camps, in the midst whereof He dwells.” It is just as if He had said, that all the habitations of His elect people were parts of His sanctuary, which it was a shame to defile with any pollution. For we know what license men give themselves in corrupting 33     Brouiller et abastardlirFr. the service of God, by mixing, as the proverb says, sacred things with profane. Thus we see that the very worst of men boast themselves to be anything but the least zealous of His worshipers, and spare not to lift up polluted hands, although God so sternly repudiates them. It was, then, profitable that the ancient people should be reminded by this visible proof, that all those who are defiled cannot duly serve God, but that they rather pollute. with their filthiness what is otherwise holy, and thus grossly abuse religious exercises; and again, that they ought not tobe tolerated in the holy congregation, lest their infection should spread to others. Let us now briefly examine Leviticus 13

10. When thou dost lend thy brother anything He provides against another iniquity in reclaiming a pledge, viz., that the creditor should ransack the house and furniture of his brother, in order to pick out the pledge at his pleasure. For, if this option were given to the avaricious rich, they would be satisfied with no moderation, but would seize upon all that was best, as if making an assault on the very entrails of the poor: in a word, they would ransack men’s houses, or at any rate, whilst they contemptuously refused this or that, they would fill the wretched with rebuke and shame. God, therefore, will have no pledge reclaimed, except what the debtor of his own accord, and at his own convenience, shall bring out of his house, lie even proceeds further, that the creditor shall not take back any pledge which he knows to be necessary for the poor: for example, if he should pledge the bed on which he sleeps, or his counterpane, or cloak, or mantle. For it is not just that lie should be stripped, so as to suffer from cold, or to be deprived of other aids, the use of which he could not forego without loss or inconvenience. A promise, therefore, is added, that this act of humanity will be pleasing to God, when the poor shall sleep in the garment which is restored to him. He speaks even more distinctly, and says: The poor will bless thee, and it shall be accounted to thee for righteousness. For God indicates that He hears the prayers of the poor and needy, lest the rich man should think the bounty thrown away which lie confers upon a lowly individual. We must, indeed, be more than iron-hearted, unless we are disposed to such liberality as this, when we understand that, although the poor have not the means of repaying us in this world, still they have the power of recompensing us before God, i e., by obtaining grace for us through their prayers. An implied threat is also conveyed, that if the poor man should sleep inconveniently, or catch cold through our fault, God. will hear his groans, so that our cruelty will not be unpunished. But if the poor man, upon whom we have had compassion, should be ungrateful, yet, even though he is silent, our kindness will cry out to God; whilst, on the other hand, our tyrannical harshness will suffice to provoke God’s vengeance, although he who has been treated unkindly should patiently swallow his wrong. To be unto righteousness 108108     “It shall be righteousness unto thee,” A V., and rightly, as it would appear, for, as Piscator (in Poole’s Syn.) remarks, “ante צצץ deficit praepositio.” is equivalent to being approved by God, or being an acceptable act; for since the keeping of the Law is true righteousness, this praise is extended to particular acts of obedience. Although it must be observed that this righteousness fails and vanishes, unless we universally fulfill whatever God enjoins. It is, indeed, a part of righteousness to restore a poor man’s pledge; but if a mall be only beneficent in this respect., whilst in other matters he robs his brethren; or if, whilst free from avarice, he exercises violence, is given to lust or gluttony, the particular righteousness, although pleasing in itself to God, will not come into account. In fact, we must hold fast the axiom, that no work is accounted righteous before God, unless il, proceeds from a man of purity and integrity; whereas there is none such to be found. Consequently, no works are imputed unto righteousness, except because God deigns to bestow His gratuitous favor on believers. In itself, indeed, it would be true, that whatever act of obedience to God we perform, it is accounted for righteousness, i e., if the whole course of our life corresponded to it, whereas no work proceeds from us which is not corrupted by some defect. Thus, we must fly to God’s mercy, in order that, being reconciled to us, He may also accept our work.

What he had previously prescribed respecting the poor, lie afterwards applies to widows alone, yet so as to recommend all poor persons to us under their name; and this we gather both from the beginning of the verse (17,) in which lie instructs them to deal fairly and justly with strangers and orphans, and also from the reason which is added, viz., that they should reflect that they were bondmen in the land of Egypt; for their condition there did not suffer them proudly to insult the miserable; and it is natural that he should be the more affected with the ills of others who has experienced the same. Since, then, this reason is a general one, it is evident also that the precept is general, that we should be humane towards all that are in want.

14. Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant. This precept is akin to the foregoing. Moses pronounces that he who has hired a poor person for wages oppresses him unless he gives him immediate recompense for his labor; since the two admonitions, “thou shalt; not; oppress,” and “thou shalt give him his hire,” are to be read in connection with each other. Hence it follows, that if a hireling suffers from want because we do not pay him what he has earned, we are by our very delay alone convicted of unrighteousness. The reason is now more clearly expressed, viz., because he sustains his life by his daily labors. 101101     The expression on which C. founds this statement is translated by himself “ea (i.e., mercede) sustentat animam suam;” in our A. V., “setteth his heart upon it;“ margin, “Heb., lifteth his soul unto it.” Dathe has, “eam anhelat;” Ainsworth, “and unto it he lifteth up his soul,” and his note is, “that is, hopeth for and desireth it for the maintenance of his life. So the Greek here translateth, he hath hope; and in. Jeremiah 22:27, and 44:14, the lifting up of the soul signifieth a desire; and the soul is often put for the life. Hereupon the Hebrews say, Whosoever with-holdeth the hireling’s wage, is as if he took away his soul (or life) from him” etc. Although, however, this provision only refers to the poor, lest they should suffer hunger from the negligence or pride of the rich, still humanity in general is enforced, lest, whilst the poor labor for our profit, we should arrogantly abuse them as if they were our slaves, or should be too illiberal and stingy towards them, since nothing can be more disgraceful than that, when they are in our service, they should not at least have enough to live upon frugally. Finally, Moses admonishes us that this tyranny on the part of the rich shall not be unpunished, if they do not supply their workmen with the means of subsistence, even although no account shall be rendered of it before the tribunals of men. Hence we infer that this law is not political, but altogether spiritual, and binding on our consciences before the judgment-seat of God; for although the poor man may not sue us at law, Moses teaches us that it is sufficient for him to appeal to the faithfulness of God. Wherefore, although the earthly judge may absolve us a hundred times over, let us not therefore think that we have escaped; since God will always require of us from heaven, whatever may have been unjustly excused us on earth. The question, however, here arises, whether, if he who has been oppressed should not cry out, the criminality will cease in consequence of his silence; for the words of Moses seem to imply this, when he says, that the rich will be guilty, if the poor cry unto God and make complaint of their wrongs. The reply’ is easy, that Moses had no other intention than to over-. throw the vain confidence of the despisers, whereby they arc, stimulated to greater audacity in sin, and are hardened in iniquity. He says, therefore, that although, as far as men are concerned, they may allow us to pillage and rob, still a more awful judgment is to be dreaded; for God hears the complaints of the poor, who find no protector or avenger on earth. And surely, the more patiently he who is despoiled shall bear his wrong, the more ready will God be to undertake his cause; nor is there any louder cry to Him than patient endurance. If, however, any should object that the cry here spoken of is at variance with Christ’s command, that we should pray for our enemies, we answer at once, that God does not always approve of the prayers which He nevertheless answers. The imprecation of Jotham, the son of Gideon, took effect upon the Shechemites, (Judges 9:20,) although it was plainly the offspring of immoderate anger. Besides, it sometimes happens that the miserable, although they endure their injuries with pious meekness, still cease not to lay their sorrows and their groans in the bosom of God. Nor is this a slight consolation for the poor, that if no one on earth relieves them because their condition is low and abject, still God will hereafter take cognizance of their cause.

Here also God manifests how great is His regard for human life, so that blood should not be shed indiscriminately, when he forbids that children should be involved in the punishment of their parents. Nor was this Law by any means supererogatory, because on account of one man’s crime his whole race was often severely dealt with. It is not without cause, therefore, that God interposes for the protection of the innocent, and does not allow the punishment to travel further than where the crime exists. And surely our natural common sense dictates that it is an act of barbarous madness to put children to death out of hatred to their father. If any should object, what we have already seen, that God avenges “unto the third and fourth generation,” the reply is easy, that He is a law unto Himself, and that He does not rush by a blind impulse to the exercise of vengeance, so as to confound the innocent with the reprobate, but that He so visits the iniquity of the fathers upon their children, as to temper extreme severity with the greatest equity. Moreover, He has not so bound Himself by an inflexible rule as not to be free, if it so pleases Him, to depart from the Law; as, for example, He commanded the whole race of Canaan to be rooted out, because the land would not be purged except by the extermination of their defilements; and, since they were all reprobate, the children, no less than their fathers, were doomed to just destruction. Nay, we read that, after Saul’s death, his guilt was expiated by the death of his children, (2 Samuel 21;) still, by this special exception, the Supreme Lawgiver did not abrogate what He had commanded; but would have His own admirable wisdom acquiesced in, which is the fountain from whence all laws proceed.

God here inculcates liberality upon the possessors of land, when their fruits are gathered: for, when His bounty is exercised before our eyes, it invites us to imitate Him; and it is a sign of ingratitude, unkindly and maliciously, to withhold what we derive from His blessing. God does not indeed require that those who have abundance should so profusely give away their produce, as to despoil themselves by enriching others; and, in fact, Paul prescribes this as the measure of our alms, that their relief of the poor should not bring into distress the rich themselves, who kindly distribute. (2 Corinthians 8:13.) God, therefore, permits every one to reap his corn, to gather his vintage, and to enjoy his abundance; provided the rich, content with their own vintage and harvest, do not grudge the poor the gleaning of the grapes and corn. Not that He absolutely assigns to the poor whatever remains, so that they may seize it as their own; but that some small portion may flow gratuitously to them from the munificence of the rich. He mentions indeed by name the orphans, and widows, and strangers, yet undoubtedly He designates all the poor and needy, who have no fields of their own to sow or reap; for it will sometimes occur that orphans are by no means in want, but rather that they have the means of being liberal themselves; nor are widows and strangers always hungry; but I have explained elsewhere why these three classes are mentioned.

VIEWNAME is study