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Last week, I featured two posts on Billy Graham:

Remembering Billy Graham

More on Billy Graham

My last piece on him relates more to his daughter Ruth, who, in 2012, first opened her heart on Beliefnet. Since then, she writes regularly for the site on her page Safe Place with Ruth Graham.

In 2012, Beliefnet recapped her first column in an article called ‘Billy Graham’s daughter Ruth has been through the fire, says it’s time for honesty’. Anyone who has been through a marital breakup or has been dogged by self doubt will want to read it.

The article also has great Graham family photos from the 1950s, which are definitely worth seeing.

Excerpts and a summary of the article follow, emphases mine.

The article begins by introducing her Safe Place page and assuring readers that she will reply to anyone commenting on her posts. Ruth said that she felt it was time to be open and honest, something she could not always do growing up:

She knows what it’s like to have to put on a false smile. The third of Billy and Ruth Bell Graham’s five kids remembers having to pretend nothing is wrong – even when her world was falling apart. All preachers’ kids endure that, but a famous evangelist’s kid has to be especially careful. Stepping out of line can result in a front page headline in the National Enquirer – and bring shame upon a beloved dad.

Fortunately, for her, she was always a devout Christian:

“I really did have a genuine relationship with the Lord,” she recalls. “I gave my heart to Jesus when I was seven, kneeling beside my bed with my mother. At age 11, I made that commitment public by going forward at the altar call at a church revival held by a friend of my father. Daddy went with me.”

Incidentally, she said that she and her siblings met a lot of famous people who were friends of her parents, but they were only introduced and that was the extent of it.

Ruth was not a rebellious teenager and, at the age of 15, was sent to:

an exclusive boarding school in New York. There, “I came down with mononucleosis and I was miserable.” All alone, it was just her and God. “I just had to claim my faith as my own. At that point, it was no longer Mother or Daddy’s faith, it was mine.”

She followed a conventional middle class route of college followed by marriage. In the 1990s, she faced a greater personal crisis than mononucleousis:

her world fell apart when her husband was unfaithful. After 18 years of marriage, Ruth was devastated. They went through months of counseling before admitting defeat. Then just a few months after the divorce, she remarried “on the rebound” but knew within 24 hours that she’d made a terrible mistake. Her life a shambles, she loaded up everything and sought refuge with her parents.

She was worried about their reaction. However, all was well. Her father Billy stood in the driveway, awaiting her arrival:

He wrapped his arms around me and said, ‘Welcome home.’”

Ruth said that, at the age of 40, she was in a deep spiritual crisis. Although she followed her mother’s example of being active in the church, including teaching Bible studies, Ruth did not feel as if God was ‘taking care’ of her — and her children. One daughter had an eating disorder. Another gave birth out of wedlock in her mid-teens. Her son had to go to rehab for drug abuse.

Gradually, Ruth came to understand that these were severe trials God’s people sometimes have to endure:

He had something to teach me about the difficulties of life: to show me that none of us are exempt, that we all have hardships. We all have things that happen to us that we don’t ask for, but we have to endure.

And it’s OK. It’s all part of God’s plan. I didn’t like having to go through that – none of us do.

But it was very important for me to have that experience – and to grow from it. I’m still growing. The story is not over. But that’s OK, God gives me grace. And God is a covenant-keeping God. He is faithful even when I am not. Now I’m living life. I am just living in the grace of God.

During her crisis years, her father told her she was being too harsh on herself:

I remember one day when I was really beating myself up and taking responsibility for my marriage falling apart – just pouring my heart out. Daddy said, ‘Quit beating yourself up. We all live under God’s grace and we just do the best we can.’

Whenever I go home, there’s always a bouquet of flowers in my room with a handwritten note that reads, ‘Welcome home. Daddy.’

Ruth said she had been focussing too much on meeting other people’s expectations rather than on God’s love:

I have realized that I have an audience of One. As long as He’s happy with me, then that’s OK. You can’t please all those other people anyway. There’s always going to be somebody who doesn’t think you measure up.

At each stage as I went through this, I knew I loved the Lord. There was no question of that. At each stage, He has taken me deeper. And I don’t like the fact that the deep things of God are taught in suffering.

As a result, I know God’s grace in a way that I never would have otherwise. I’m learning to tell myself the truth.

Hence the reason for her Beliefnet columns. She wants to help others open up, too:

I want to share that and also to dialogue with my readers – so they can unburden themselves – making my column a confessional of sorts. And they will find no condemnation from me. I am not into shaming people.

I believe in passing along God’s grace.

Ruth told Beliefnet that it was difficult watching her father battle pain and illness. It was also hard for him to lose his beloved wife Ruth after so many decades. That said, his daughter thought he was less distracted and a gentler person in his twilight years.

After her father’s funeral earlier this month, Ruth wrote a column, ‘Taking Daddy Home’. She described the funeral and interment — and the bitterly cold weather:

It was freezing in the tent! Daddy started in a tent in Los Angeles and Franklin thought it would be appropriate. Fortunately, my older sister brought an extra coat for which I was grateful.

Each of us had 3 minutes to speak. I asked the Lord to help me and He did. I felt the freedom from the Holy Spirit to talk of my father’s lasting legacy to me. It touched many hearts for which I am grateful. I want to pass on my father’s legacy of grace.

I stayed until he was buried – even though it was so cold – but I didn’t want him to be alone. I went back the next day to see it all finished and landscaped. At long last Mother and Daddy are side by side!

She also had things to take care of at home. Her refrigerator was not working properly and one of her daughters is staying with her. A tree fell on the daughter’s house and they have no heat, so Ruth is hosting her and her family. As such, she says she has had no time to reflect on her father’s death.

Nevertheless:

God has been working wonderful ways and I praise Him that I have seen His hand in a multitude situations that could have been difficult. God just paved the way.

He keeps His promises of Isaiah 40:4-5.

Those verses are as follows:

4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.

5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

May God continue to bless Ruth Graham and her family at this difficult time.

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Bible spine dwtx.orgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 19:10-12

10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

—————————————————————————————–

Today’s verses conclude Jesus’s teachings on divorce.

To recap, the first part of Matthew 19 explains where Jesus is at this time. Last week’s post covered God’s plan for Adam and Eve as well as the covenant of marriage, based on His creation of the couple. He then reiterated that divorce was a permission, given man’s fallen state, and refuted that it was, as the Pharisees taught and practised, a commandment. Divorce is only to be used in case of adultery, He said, thereby reinforcing Old Testament law. By saying this, He humiliated the Pharisees and made them look like the law-breaking adulterers they were.

John MacArthur explains that the Pharisees disappeared afterward, because we are left with Jesus addressing the disciples (emphases mine):

The reasons they disappeared is they had just been made into adulterers because they were standing there having had to face the reality that any divorce for other than adultery causes you to become an adulterer when you remarry[;] the fact is they had done that, perhaps myriad times, represented by the groups that were there and they were nothing but a lot of adulterers and they just fade.  We don’t see them anymore.  But by this time, the disciples are enraptured with this teaching of our Lord.  And the scene moves into a house, in verse 10.  And the Lord sits down with the disciples and I’m sure they followed up on that discussion with a lot of other discussion about marriage.

Jesus’s words perplexed the disciples. They had seen so many divorces in their lifetime that to hear those breakups defiled men and women seemed unthinkable. Therefore, they countered that it would be better never to get married at all than have no recourse to divorce only in the case of adultery (verse 10). A lifetime commitment would be too risky.

They sound like men and women today who operate under one of two scenarios. One says it is better to live together for fear a lifetime commitment could be living hell. The second is to get divorced for any variety of reasons — e.g. incompatibility, irreconcilable differences — once things go pear-shaped.

Perhaps the Jews of Jesus’s time, led by their hierarchy, thought similarly to us. Maybe, like them, the majority of us are looking for great sex and shimmering romance every day of the week. Once married life fails to deliver, we’re outta there.

Some people go on to marry serially. Zsa Zsa Gabor once said the reason she got married so often was that she wanted to consummate relations in a spiritually legal way. In her case, as in many others, once the emotional thrill and initial romance faded, she or her husband wanted to divorce. On a positive note, happy 30th anniversary wishes go to her and her husband Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt. They were married on August 14, 1986. I am very glad this union has been a blessing to them both.

The uncertainty of the future is why marriage scares people. This is why sensible parents advise their children to take their time in choosing a lifetime partner. There are many secularist families in Britain who are proud of their no divorce records which stretch beyond the generations and into the extended family. By contrast, there are notionally Christian families where any number of couples have divorced for trivial reasons; they simply ‘grew apart’ or ‘didn’t like each other anymore’. Hmm.

Before I go on to verses 11 and 12 in today’s reading, may I remind those contemplating marriage to consider that there will be times when sexual performance wanes as quickly as it waxes. Employment and financial insecurity are two main causes. Today’s economy is hardly conducive to non-stop virility and desire. Therefore, couples should be aiming to marry their best friend of the opposite sex.

Of their successful marriage, Zsa Zsa Gabor’s husband said:

It was a friendship, but when you’re with someone over a certain time you fall in love.[8]

On that note, I haven’t seen one of these plaques for years, but when I was growing up, they were in every American curio shop. This is truer than engaged couples realise:

Image result for kissin don't last cookin do

(Photo credit: Pinterest)

A truly loving union is a daily blessing from on high. MacArthur tells us:

Marriage is a sacred thing and it is the greatest gift that God can ever give.  I can only tell you that from my own experience as you can from yours that when you have two people who love Jesus Christ and love each other and live a life together under God’s leading and direction and in the power of the Spirit, it gets so good sometimes you have to pinch yourself to think it’s real and that’s as God intended it

It really does get that good!

Jesus responded to the disciples’ caution by saying not everyone is called to a life of celibacy (verse 11). Staying single is fine for some, but the majority will not be able to cope long term. MacArthur analyses Jesus’s response this way:

He says, that’s a nice idea.  That’s a nice sentiment.  You’ll just stay single, that way you won’t get into something you can’t get out of.  You’ll just say single, but he says, look, not everybody can handle that.  Not everybody can handle singleness, except those two whom it is given.  May I suggest to you that singleness is a gift of sorts, it’s given to a person.  That’s what Jesus said.  Unless you can handle singleness, singleness isn’t going to be the best thing for you.  You might say, in don’t want to get married, because I don’t want to make a commitment and all you are going to do is be left with a rollercoaster of emotions and find yourself being tempted in and out of all kinds of illicit thoughts, if not acts the rest of your life.

Jesus went on to discuss eunuchs (verse 12). He said there are eunuchs from birth, referring to congenital malformation of sexual organs. Then there are manmade eunuchs, referring to castration at the hands of another. Finally, there are eunuchs who do so for godly reasons. MacArthur says He meant becoming asexual and turning off desire, not actually castrating oneself. St Paul was asexual but he did not advocate that state for his converts for the aforementioned reasons that it would eventually lead to tortured emotions and/or fornication.

Jesus concluded by saying ‘let him who is able to receive this receive it’. MacArthur says He referred to heeding His teachings on divorce and celibacy. Ultimately:

marriage is the norm and I want you to hear that and receive it. 

And:

… if you can receive it, you better receive it.  In other words, if you have the life of God in your soul and you find yourself loving the Lord Jesus Christ and if you find yourself under the authority of the Word of God, then you better receive this teaching and the teaching is, you are married for life or you are single for the glory of God or for some other physical reason, not just so you can just play around.

In closing, Matthew Henry has the following pearls of wisdom about marriage and mankind’s flawed appetites:

Note, 1. Corrupt nature is impatient of restraint, and would fain break Christ’s bonds in sunder, and have a liberty for its own lusts. 2. It is a foolish, peevish thing for men to abandon the comforts of this life, because of the crosses that are commonly woven in with them, as if we must needs go out of the world, because we have not every thing to our mind in the world or must enter into no useful calling or condition, because it is made our duty to abide in it. No, whatever our condition is, we must bring our minds to it, be thankful for its comforts, submissive to its crosses, and, as God has done, set the one over against the other, and make the best of that which is, Ecclesiastes 7:14. If the yoke of marriage may not be thrown off at pleasure, it does not follow that therefore we must not come under it but therefore, when we do come under it, we must resolve to comport with it, by love, and meekness, and patience, which will make divorce the most unnecessary undesirable thing that can be.

Also, for those who are not interested in marriage :

they who have the gift of continence, and are not under any necessity of marrying, do best if they continue single (1 Corinthians 7:1) for they that are unmarried have opportunity, if they have but a heart, to care more for the things of the Lord, how they may please the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:32-34), being less encumbered with the cares of this life, and having a greater vacancy of thought and time to mind better things. The increase of grace is better than the increase of the family, and fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ is to be preferred before any other fellowship.

For both groups of people:

Note, That condition is best for us, and to be chosen and stuck to accordingly, which is best for our souls, and tends most to the preparing of us for, and the preserving of us to, the kingdom of heaven.

For those wondering if they will find the right partner, be patient and pray on it. Sometimes God wants our edges a bit smoother or in a different locale before He provides us with one.

I know many people who got married for the first time in their 30s and 50s. They are all very happy, contented couples.

Interestingly, either the husband or the wife from each often says s/he would not have been ‘ready’ for their spouse had they met them decades earlier. How true!

Next time: Matthew 19:13-15

Bible read me 2The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 19:7-9

They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”[a]

—————————————————————————————————–

This week’s verses continue our Lord’s discussion on divorce with the Pharisees.

There is much to unpack here.

To recap, the first part of Matthew 19 explains where Jesus is at this time. Last week’s post covered God’s plan for Adam and Eve as well as the covenant of marriage, based on His creation of the couple.

This week’s verses are the middle of Jesus’s teaching on divorce. The Pharisees were known to divorce their wives for any reason, no matter how trivial. I wrote about this at length in 2014 when discussing Luke 16:18. Therefore, it is interesting that they interpret Moses’s position on divorce as a ‘command’ (verse 7), when our Lord clearly saw it as something which is ‘allowed’ (verse 8).

The passage the Pharisees were referring to was Deuteronomy 24:1-4:

Laws Concerning Divorce

24 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then 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 of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter man hates 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 man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.

In short, John MacArthur says that ‘indecency’ (verse 1) refers to something just short of adultery. Contrary to what the Pharisees believed, it had nothing to do with burnt dinners, sloppy housekeeping or disagreements with the mother-in-law. Under Mosaic Law, adulterers were to be stoned to death, although there were many who never received that sentence. MacArthur surmises that there were too many adulterers at the time; therefore, handing out death sentences would have been rank hypocrisy. It would certainly have thinned the population, if true.

In any event, a woman’s former husband cannot remarry her if he’s divorced her (verse 4). That is the real takeaway message here — and the one command!

Divorcing for anything other than adultery defiles the woman. Therefore, the ex-husband may not remarry her on those grounds. This is why verse 4 speaks of not bringing sin upon the land that the Lord has given in inheritance.

No Old Testament passages on divorce command it. In fact, in some instances it was strictly forbidden. Where a man has sexual congress with a virgin to whom he is not married (Deuteronomy 22:18-19, emphases mine):

18 Then the elders of that city shall take the man and whip[b] him, 19 and they shall fine him a hundred shekels[c] of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name upon a virgin[d] of Israel. And she shall be his wife. He may not divorce her all his days.

Later on, it says the same in verses 28 and 29:

28 “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.

We read in Leviticus 21:7 of priestly marriage:

They shall not marry a prostitute or a woman who has been defiled, neither shall they marry a woman divorced from her husband, for the priest is holy to his God.

And, again, in verse 14:

A widow, or a divorced woman, or a woman who has been defiled, or a prostitute, these he shall not marry. But he shall take as his wife a virgin[b] of his own people,

Going back to Deuteronomy 24, MacArthur sums it up this way:

Deuteronomy 24 does not command divorce.  It commands that you not remarry an illegitimately divorced person.  It’s a very strong word, my friend.  You don’t want to marry an illegitimately divorced person because you’re marrying someone who is defiled

This is because God intended for the holy covenant of marriage among His people:

Now, you see, God is protecting marriage.  And He’s saying this: you can’t just divorce your wife for anything you want, or you’re going to turn her into an adulteress, whoever marries her into an adulterer, yourself and who you marry into one, so just know that, and that ought to help you when you think about getting rid of your wife.  Because you’re just going to become an adulterer, and whoever you marry is going to fall into that category, and so is everybody else.  And you see, God is, in a sense, trying to insulate that one man, one woman, monogamous, lifelong relationship by making the alternative one of disaster.  And so, this text does not command divorce; it commands that you do not remarry an illegitimately divorced person.

Some may ask if the Bible explains how Moses decided, with God’s help, to allow divorce as a realistic way of dealing with the Israelites’ ‘hardness of heart’ (verse 8). There is no such verse:

Frankly, dear friends, we don’t know where in the Old Testament Moses actually permitted it because it doesn’t say that, but we do know that it must have been permitted for a legitimate basis or it wouldn’t have been discussed for illegitimate basis in Deuteronomy 24.  But the Old Testament does not give us a text where it says I permit you to get a divorce on the basis of this.  So, we have to sort of draw that out.  And I think there’s a reason for that.  I think God avoided saying it.  It is a permission, but it’s sort of way behind the scenes, it’s not overtly stated lest people hurry to that passage to justify themselves

God is also merciful and does not want to see innocent parties penalised by forbidding them to remarry:

… when there was an irreconcilable problem, in other words, you’ve got a partner in a marriage who is in an adulterous relationship and will not sever it and will not sever it, and there’s no way to bring it back, there’s no way to restore it.  God may be gracious to that adulterous person, but where that hard heart is not softened, God permitted divorce for the innocent party to be free to remarry.  I believe where you have an unrepentant, irreconcilable adultery, you have a hard heartAnd you are pursuing your adultery in a hard-hearted way, then Moses allowed, not condoned, not commended, and not commanded, but allowed divorce, when God was gracious and didn’t bring death.  That’s all we can understand about it, otherwise nothing makes sense. 

We cannot give any more latitude than the Word of God does.  It was a concession on account of sin to make life more bearable for one sinned against

In the case of death, the marriage covenant comes to an end. As such, the widowed party can remarry:

In other words, let’s say in the Old Testament your husband commits adultery, he’s dead.  He has no chance to repent.  If he’s unredeemed, he’s in hell forever.  Are you free to remarry?  Sure, because death breaks the marriage

There were, however, times when divorce was allowed. Ezra 10 describes what happened when men of Israel married pagan women then repented. They came up with the idea to divorce them: they were not of their culture which was known to be adulterous. They were defiled women in the first place. Ezra gave the men his permission to divorce.

MacArthur says:

They had temple prostitutes, both male and female.  And when they went to worship, for example, the people who worshiped Baal would go in and actually engage in sex orgies.  And I believe the reason that the reason there can be legitimate grounds for divorce here, is because their spouses were pagan adulterers and idolaters, okay?  And on that basis, God is permitting them to shed those wives, or husbands, who are engaged in that incessant, unceasing worship of false gods connected not only with idolatry, but with adultery.  And so, you see implied here then that they were to be divorced because of the spiritual intermarriage with idols, and the physical union they were having with the prostitutes who carried on the idolatrous worship.  Now this is a hint, then, at the fact that there is legitimate divorce where there is adultery involved, a very important text. 

Isaiah 50 is interesting as it records God’s asking Israel for her divorce certificate for adultery — sinfulness via idolatry. That ‘certificate’ does not exist. Only God can make that decision. And, because He is loving and merciful, He did not divorce Himself from Israel.

He threatened it later, only after 700 years of continual hardness of heart and worse behaviour from Judah, as chronicled in Jeremiah 3. Even then, God called his adulterous (sinful) people to repentance!

Returning to Matthew 19, this is what Matthew Henry has to say about the ‘hardness of heart’ that Jesus — and Moses — referred to:

their being hardened against their relations they were generally violent and outrageous, which way soever they took, both in their appetites and in their passions and therefore if they had not been allowed to put away their wives, when they had conceived a dislike of them, they would have used them cruelly, would have beaten and abused them, and perhaps have murdered them. Note, There is not a greater piece of hard-heartedness in the world, than for a man to be harsh and severe with his own wife. The Jews, it seems, were infamous for this, and therefore were allowed to put them away better divorce them than do worse, than that the altar of the Lord should be covered with tears, Malachi 2:13. A little compliance, to humour a madman, or a man in a frenzy, may prevent a greater mischief. Positive laws may be dispensed with for the preservation of the law of nature, for God will have mercy and not sacrifice but then those are hard-hearted wretches, who have made it necessary and none can wish to have the liberty of divorce, without virtually owning the hardness of their hearts. Observe, He saith, It is for the hardness of your hearts, not only theirs who lived then, but all their seed. Note, God not only sees, but foresees, the hardness of men’s hearts he suited both the ordinances and providences of the Old Testament to the temper of that people, both in terror.

Henry adds an excellent concise explanation of the difference between the messages of the Old and New Testaments:

The law of Moses considered the hardness of men’s hearts, but the gospel of Christ cures it and his grace takes away the heart of stone, and gives a heart of flesh. By the law was the knowledge of sin, but by the gospel was the conquest of it.

That’s a marvellous way to explain the Bible. So many unchurched and unbelievers press the importance of Mosaic Law, when, in fact, Christ lifts that burden from us and brings us to life — in every sense of the word.

Ultimately, Jesus repeats what has been written throughout the Old Testament (verse 9). He knew the Pharisees were divorcing their wives wrongly, thereby defiling them. This is MacArthur’s take:

He silenced the Pharisees.  In fact, He made them appear as adulterers.  So, when they came to Him, they really walked into a buzz saw.  They were trying to discredit Him and before the conversation is half over.  They’re standing there, a whole stack of adulterers in public gaze.

Next week’s post concludes Jesus’s teaching on divorce.

Parallel passages for today’s verses are Matthew 5:31-32, Mark 10:10-12 and Luke 16:18.

Next time: Matthew 19:10-12

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 19:3-6

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

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Last week’s entry discussed the first two verses of Matthew 19, which introduce Jesus’s teachings on divorce.

He was now in Judea, beyond the Jordan, in a region called Perea.

As last week’s post explained, the crowds continued to gather around Him. Among them were the usual groupings of the Jewish hierarchy.

The Pharisees approached Jesus with a question on the legality of divorce for any cause (verse 3). This question was designed to trap and discredit Him.

There was also another angle. The Pharisees were known to divorce their wives for any reason, no matter how trivial. I wrote about this at length in 2014 when discussing Luke 16:18.

Briefly, two schools of Jewish thought existed on the matter. Rabbi Shammai said that divorce was strictly forbidden. Rabbi Hillel said that any trivial reason provided grounds for divorce. Not surprisingly, Hillel’s argumentation was the more popular with the Pharisees.

There is also a third aspect regarding not only the institution of marriage but also the location of this confrontation. John MacArthur says that John the Baptist was held prisoner in Perea, at or near Herod Antipas’s summer home in Machaerus. John the Baptist had warned Herod Antipas about his adulterous relationship with Herodias, who grew very angry with his pronouncements. Her daughter was the one who requested the beheading of this last great prophet of the Bible.

Instead of debating the Pharisees on schools of rabbinical thought, Jesus answered by going straight to the creation story (verses 4 – 6). He cited Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24:

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

He asked if they had never read those verses before. They, of course, would have done. Therefore, it was time for Him to remind them of their meaning and import. As Matthew Henry’s commentary states (emphases mine):

Note, It will be of great use to us often to think of our creation, how and by whom, what and for what, we were created. He made them male and female, one female for one male so that Adam could not divorce his wife, and take another, for there was no other to take. It likewise intimated an inseparable union between them Eve was a rib out of Adam’s side, so that he could not put her away, but he must put away a piece of himself, and contradict the manifest indications of her creation.

Subsequent formal marriage ceremony rites symbolise the reuniting of man with woman into one, indissoluble body. This makes the bonds of marriage the strongest of family relationships:

a man must leave his parents, to cleave to his wife. See here the power of a divine institution, that the result of it is a union stronger than that which results from the highest obligations of nature.

it is in a manner equivalent to that between one member and another in the natural body. As this is a reason why husbands should love their wives, so it is a reason why they should not put away their wives, for no man ever yet hated his own flesh, or cut it off, but nourishes and cherishes it, and does all he can to preserve it. They two shall be one, therefore there must be but one wife, for God made but one Eve for one Adam, Malachi 2:15.

Note that God did not make more than one male and one female. His plan and His purpose in doing this should remind us of the fundamentals of couples and their loving bond.

John MacArthur points out what God did and did not do:

He did not make provision for polygamy.  He did not make provision for divorce by making any spare people

When he made them, he made them a male and a female, and that was it.  Not a male and two females, not four folks who could work it out the best way.  Very basic.  So, in the case of Adam and Eve, divorce was not only wrong, it was inadvisable.  Not only that, it was impossible.  It was absolutely impossible.  There were no alternatives.  There was nowhere to go, no one else to talk to, nothing.  That’s the way God meant it.  If it isn’t you two, it isn’t anything.  This is God’s intended creation, a non-optional, indissoluble union …

And just because spares came along as time went on didn’t change God’s original intention, you understand?  It didn’t change it at all.  And God never intended two people to be married and be poking around seeing if they like somebody better.  That is not an alternative that God ever intended, and that’s obvious by virtue of his creation. 

MacArthur explains the word ‘cleave’:

It means basically “to have a bond that can’t be broken.”  It’s a word that’s used really for glue.  It means “to be stuck”  …  It’s a happy stuck and not a sad stuck.  That’s the idea here.  But you’re stuck.  You are cleaving, the idea of glue.  In fact, there’s a translation … where it even uses the word “glue” in Genesis 2 to refer to this.  “A man should be glued to his wife.” 

There also is inherent in the word another thought that takes it into the heart a little more, and it’s sometimes used to speak of pursuing hard after something.  And so you have the idea then of two people who are stuck together, and are so because they pursue hard after each other.  So you have two hearts diligently and utterly committed to pursuing one another in love … Glued in mind, glued in will, glued in spirit, glued in emotion

Malachi 2:16 is relevant in this context, likening divorce to attacking oneself physically:

For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her,[a] says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers[b] his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

Henry considers that verse and the Greek word used in the ancient text of Matthew 19:6:

From hence he infers, What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. Note, (1.) Husband and wife are of God’s joining together synezeuxenhe hath yoked them together, so the word is, and it is very significant. God himself instituted the relation between husband and wife in the state of innocence. Marriage and the sabbath are the most ancient of divine ordinances. Though marriage be not peculiar to the church, but common to the world, yet, being stamped with a divine institution, and here ratified by our Lord Jesus, it ought to be managed after a godly sort, and sanctified by the word of God, and prayer. A conscientious regard to God in this ordinance would have a good influence upon the duty, and consequently upon the comfort, of the relation. (2.) Husband and wife, being joined together by the ordinance of God, are not to be put asunder by any ordinance of man. Let not man put them asunder not the husband himself, nor any one for him not the magistrate, God never gave him authority to do it. The God of Israel hath said, that he hateth putting away, Malachi 2:16. It is a general rule that man must not go about to put asunder what God hath joined together.

Next week’s entry will explore why divorce came into being during Moses’s time.

For now, perhaps these verses and this type of explanation should be made more a part of courses undertaken in preparation for marriage. We normally think of the marriage ceremony in church as defining the indissoluble character of such a union.

The greater headline to take away is that the ceremony is secondary in importance to the symbolic fusion of husband and wife in the same way that Adam and Eve were bonded together as two people, the rib once again ‘united’ with the rest into one ‘body’, functioning as one entity together in love.

That pertains to secular wedding ceremonies, too, whether those couples believe it or not.

This is why it is so important we make a careful, deliberate decision before undertaking the commitment and consequences of the marital contract.

Next time: Matthew 19:7-9

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (Divorce and Remarriage, Parts 1, 2 and 3).

Matthew 5:31-32

Divorce

31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

——————————————————————

Matthew 5, 6 and 7 recount Jesus’s entire Sermon on the Mount. We often stop at the Beatitudes, but the three chapters have difficult verses, many of which we ignore in our own notionally Christian lives.

Our Lord’s objective was to pierce the self-righteousness of the Jewish leadership and impress upon those who heard Him preach that the ordinary Jews were not to imitate the hierarchy’s example. They invented a number of get-out clauses for their own sinful convenience.

Last week’s post looked at Matthew 5:25-26, verses which urge us to come to an arrangement with those who accuse us of wrongdoing. Where we can mend the relationship, Jesus urges us to do so rather than risk a judgement by a court — or an eternal one by Him on the Last Day. We are to resist anger, grudges and bitterness.

Today’s passage is preceded by His condemnation of lust and adultery:

Lust

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

The message is not so much to remove our right eye or hand — traditionally considered by the Jews to be the most powerful body parts — but to pray for the divine grace and Spirit-inspired fortitude to avoid temptation.

Today’s two verses are found elsewhere in the New Testament. I wrote about Mark 10:10-12 in 2012 and Luke 16:18 in 2014. Both of those posts discuss the rampant divorce, particularly among the Jewish leaders, which had been escalating throughout the Old Testament era to Jesus’s day.

From the beginning, God made a covenant with Israel, the precursor of Christ’s with His Bride, the Church. Nothing could break the Old Covenant, despite God’s punishments of His people; in the end, after repentance, He forgave them and showed them mercy. In the Christian era, despite false teaching and apostasy, nothing shall ultimately come between Christ and the Church.

The covenant started with the creation and union of Adam and Eve. John MacArthur explains how this works in a context of couples, which they then marred with Original Sin, the tensions of which exist today (emphases mine):

Now prior to the fall marriage was pure bliss, the man was the head, the woman was the help meet. The man’s headship was a loving, caring provision of understanding. The woman’s being a help meet was a loving, caring submissiveness to the one who was given as her leader. It was beautiful, her heart was totally devoted to him, his heart was totally devoted to her, and according to Genesis 1:27 and 28, they ruled together, they ruled together. But that ended …

… literally what happened was in the fall man was elevated to rule in the house, to rule in the home. He’d had a soft kind of dominance before, held had a loving, caring approach before but now he is set in a place of ruling with authority. [‘Mashal’] is a different word than the word for rule in Genesis 1:28, completely different word, completely different concept. A new dimension of his rule has come about. The woman then is made immediately subordinate to the man.

People say, oh there’s too much male chauvinism in the world, and they’re exactly right and this is why. Because of the curse and because woman led in the sin God set man over her to control her, to subdue her as it were, to be her head. And frankly without Jesus Christ it can be very abusive, I agree, sinful man has been chauvinistic, I’m the first one to agree, only in Christ, only in the Spirit can a right kind of headship be restored and that’s the meaning of Ephesians chapter 5. Only in Christ, apart from that there will be oppressiveness. On the other hand, man is installed in this case as a ruler and woman, it says, her desire shall be to her husband.

In Moses’s time, adultery began to become a problem. In fact, so much so that he allowed a bill of divorce, which in the Jewish religion is called a get. Deuteronomy 24:1-4:

Laws Concerning Divorce

24 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then 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 of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter man hates 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 man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.

From this, we understand three things: divorce is permitted because of a wife’s  ‘indecency’, remarriage can lead to another divorce and excessive adultery would have led to defiling the land God gave to His chosen people.

Although stoning was allowed and took place in cases of adultery, as time passed, it was done less and less.

A certificate of divorce became the norm. Note that it had to be written out. This was to eliminate impulsive decisions taken in anger. A husband couldn’t tell his wife he was divorcing her, he actually had to be able to write such a statement. Most men could not write in that era and, for this reason, divorces were relatively rare.

On the other hand, the Jewish leaders, being educated, were able to add new meanings to the word ‘indecency’. From an original context of adultery, it came to encompass anything which displeased the husband: his wife’s looks, her ability to cook, her family and so on. Although the leaders presented themselves as following every aspect of the law, they created various means of twisting it to fit their own appetites. By the time our Lord began His ministry, divorces among the Jewish elite were frequent.

Therefore, although Jesus acknowledged that divorce is allowed (verse 25), He said that improper divorce is akin to adultery (verse 26). It may be driven by lust for another, fornication. Ultimately, remarriage often involves marrying a woman to whom a man has no right.

Matthew Henry explains:

He reduced the ordinance of marriage to its primitive institution: They two shall be one flesh, not to be easily separated, and therefore divorce is not to be allowed, except in case of adultery, which breaks the marriage covenant but he that puts away his wife upon any other pretence, causeth her to commit adultery, and him also that shall marry her when she is thus divorced. Note, Those who lead others into temptation to sin, or leave them in it, or expose them to it, make themselves guilty of their sin, and will be accountable for it. This is one way of being partaker with adulterers Psalm 50:18.

Thinking about divorce today, our reasons for undertaking it are similar to the Jewish hierarchy’s, especially the notion of ‘irreconcilable differences’.

MacArthur sums it up this way:

the point that the Lord is making is just know when you go in you’re going in on the right terms with a commitment to stay there. Because divorce proliferates adultery.

Jesus elaborates on this in Matthew 19, which we will look at in due course, as it is also not in the Lectionary. It seems its compilers and editors did not wish to offend our delicate sensibilities. Matthew 19:3-9:

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”[a]

The message for us is to take marriage seriously. It would be a mistake to marry for sexual attraction alone, although that seems to be an overriding reason for many couples. We need to look at long-term compatibility and pragmatism: cooking, housekeeping, cleanliness, managing money, child-rearing, restraining impulses (anger), avoiding addiction (gambling, drink, drugs) and so on.

The Catholic Church has a lengthy pre-marital course lasting several weeks. This used to be called Pre-Cana and now goes under another name. I knew a couple who attended it in the 1980s. They were shocked at how ill-matched and ill-prepared some of the other couples in their class were. It was not unusual for couples to argue during the courses. Some engagements were broken as issues regarding children, money and gambling came to light. 

I am not sure how strict certain Catholic parishes are on these pre-marital classes now. I know of a couple who were able to claim an excused absence for several of them. After a few years of marriage, they recently divorced. The husband ran off with another woman.

This is only one example of many proving our Lord’s point about divorce.

Regarding the marital covenant and the parallel with God’s covenant with His people, the Old Testament has examples of how serious this is. He will reject our praises and worship. Could this be one reason why our churches are emptying? MacArthur cites Malachi 2:

Judah Profaned the Covenant

10 Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? 11 Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12 May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant[e] of the man who does this, who )brings an offering to the Lord of hosts!

13 And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord‘s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union?[f] And what was the one God[g] seeking?[h] Godly offspring. So guard yourselves[i] in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. 16 “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her,[j] says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers[k] his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

The Book of Hosea tells the story of an adulterous marriage with eventual reconciliation. Hosea 1:2-11:

Hosea’s Wife and Children

When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord. So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

And the Lord said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.”

She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the Lord said to him, “Call her name No Mercy,[a] for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.”

When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the Lord said, “Call his name Not My People,[b] for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”[c]

10 [d] Yet (P)the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children[e] of the living God.” 11 And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel.

MacArthur explains:

Hosea is to become a dramatization; he is going to enact in his life a great drama to illustrate great spiritual truth. Now here’s what Hosea was to do, Hosea was to marry a woman, a woman by the name of Gomer, and having married her, discover that she had become a prostitute or a harlot. And in spite of that he was to be faithful to his vow, no matter what the pain, no matter what the unfaithfulness, no matter what the excruciating agony, no matter what the price he was to be faithful to his harlot, prostitute, debauched, vile wife, no matter what she did, why? Because this was a pageant to demonstrate how faithful God would be to His wayward wife, Israel. And it sets for us the standard of relationship in a marriage as it is the image for God’s relationship to His people ...

Now I do not believe for a moment that God forced her into her harlotries to be an illustration. I believe God worked in His sovereignty with her own will. But the heart of the story is that dear Hosea was to be faithful and forgiving no matter what she did. In fact as we go into the story we find out that when she went into harlotry he actually paid her bills, because he felt so bound by the vow he had made when he married her, he followed her around paying her bills.

Ultimately, Gomer failed in her adulterous pursuits, and Hosea persevered in preserving his marriage:

here in a sense is a husband who is chastening and judging all the while and supporting, so that she stays alive.

And you see exactly this in God’s relation to Israel. God on the one hand is judging and chastening and dealing with Israel, on the other hand God is the very life of the nation, right? You look at Israel today, and God is chastening the land of Israel and yet at the same time God is the sustenance of that people. And so Hosea works with this ambivalence, a wife who is a prostitute and a harlot, and he wants so much for her to be judged and he wants so much for her to be condemned in this so she’ll return and yet he, he goes along because of the vow that he has to her as a husband and he makes sure her needs are met. Incredible commitment …

The point is God’s unchanging love for Israel is based on the permanent promise He made which is based upon His character. And so even though Israel became a harlot, God said I’ll bring her back, even though she bore children of harlotry God said I’ll change their names. And so it was that Hosea was to live the illustration of an adulterous wife to be brought back, to be brought back to a place of blessing.

In closing, I wanted to bring to light research MacArthur cited in his sermons. He wrote and preached them in 1978. Even then, the damage divorce brings was becoming crystal clear.

Armand Nicholi, MD, a psychiatrist who is also on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, looked at the effect divorce and parental absence had on families. His research appeared in a 1978 edition of Christianity Today. He warned:

Certain trends prevalent today will incapacitate the family, destroy its integrity and cause its members to suffer such crippling emotional conflicts that they will become an intolerable burden to society. If any one factor influences the character development and emotional stability an individual, it is the quality of the relationship he or she experiences as a child with both parents.

And:

Conversely if people suffering from severe non-organic emotional illness have one experience in common, it is the absence of a parent through death, divorce, etc. A parent’s inaccessibility either physically, emotionally or both can profoundly influence a child’s emotional health.

Moving around was also problematic, and some of this was driven by divorce. Nicholi’s research published in 1978 revealed that:

50% of the U. S. population lived at a different address 5 years ago. Consequently young people have no sense of roots, have no concept of extended friendships.

Nicholi saw the 1970s reality and correctly predicted a stark future:

The trend toward quick and easy divorce, and the ever increasing divorce rate subjects more and more children to physically and emotionally absent parents. The divorce rate has risen 700% in this century, and it continues to rise. There is now one divorce for every 1.8 marriages. Over 1 million children a year are involved in divorce cases, and 13 million children under 18 now have one or both parents missing.

First, the quality of family life will continue to deteriorate, producing a society with a higher incidence of mental illness than ever before. 95% of our hospital beds will be taken up by mentally ill people. This illness will be characterized primarily by a lack of self-control. We can expect the assassination of people in authority to be frequent occurrences. Crimes of violence will increase, even those within the family, the suicide rate will rise. As sexuality becomes more unlimited more separated from family and emotionally commitment the deadening effect will cause more bizarre experimenting and widespread perversion.

We’re seeing and living this out today.

Our Lord is perfect in all things, including His exhortations about marriage and divorce. Why do we continue to ignore Him?

Next time: Matthew 6:7-15

 

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