Abandonment is one of the very difficult topics in Scripture. When one of the spouse abandoned the other, should the other remarry? Or, when one of the spouse wants a divorce but not for sexual immorality, should the other remain unmarried for the rest of her life? We discussed these questions in an earlier post based on teachings of Jesus which does not result in favour of the victim and didn’t go into much detail. I always felt something is missing since I believe it is not God’s intention for the victim to continue in suffering because of spouse’s rebellious actions. In this post we will revisit those difficult questions to understand the heart of God and try to answer them from Scripture.
God’s View on Marriage
Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.Matt 5:31-32
God’s view of marriage and divorce is very clear. It is mentioned by Jesus Christ in the above passage, and we often miss out the historical context in it. Jesus is basically saying, there is no divorce except for sexual immorality and even this exception, is missed out in other gospels. This exception does have significant implication. If anyone divorces for sexual immorality, it means, the spouse who committed sexual immorality must be killed (Lev 20:10) as per the law of Moses. This is exactly what Jesus is saying to the Jewish audience who are well aware of the law. In other words, there is nothing, I mean, absolutely nothing (Mark 10:9) in this world that must separate a married couple except death.
This will certainly work between husband and wife if both are disciples of Christ and truly follow the LORD with all their heart. But things can be difficult if one spouse departed from the faith, or a new disciple whose spouse is against following Christ and want to walk away from marriage.
What is Abandonment?
‘They shall not take a wife [who is] a harlot or a defiled woman, nor shall they take a woman divorced [H1644 גָּרַשׁ garash] from her husband; for [the priest] is holy to his God.Lev 21:7
While abandonment in English does not mean divorce, Scriptures sometimes use it synonymously.
Then the shepherds came and drove them away [H1644 גָּרַשׁ garash]; but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock.Exod 2:17
In the above example, the shepherds drove the daughters of the priest of Midian away from the well, where the same word for ‘divorce’ is used even though the incident has nothing to do with divorce.
They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.Matt 19:7-8
The ‘certificate of divorce’ (or) a written record given to the divorced woman is actually from Moses due to the hardness of people’s hearts and not from God. Hence, ‘a written record’ of abandonment is irrelevant when God is against such things. With these in mind, we will explore some marriage abandonment in Scriptures.
Bondwomen and Concubines
The first abandonment we see in Scripture is about Hagar abandoning Abraham due to the harsh treatment of her mistress, Sarah (Gen 16:6-11). God clearly sees the affliction of Hagar and blesses her with a child and want her to go back to her mistress. Fifteen years later, Abraham abandoned Hagar after listening to his wife, Sarah (Gen 21:9-13). This time, God wants Abraham to listen to Sarah and cast Hagar out.
We see a similar abandonment of Levite’s concubine in Judges 19. These stories may not be ideal for discussion here since they were actually bondwomen or concubines, and the law treats them differently. e.g., Lev 19:20.
Why one flesh?
Yet you say, “For what reason?” Because the LORD has been witness Between you and the wife of your youth, With whom you have dealt treacherously; Yet she is your companion And your wife by covenant. But did He not make [them] one, Having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, And let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. “For the LORD God of Israel says That He hates divorce, For it covers one’s garment with violence,” Says the LORD of hosts. “Therefore take heed to your spirit, That you do not deal treacherously.”Mal 2:14-16
In the book of Malachi, we can read why God made man and woman as one flesh. It is because He seeks godly offspring. God does not want anyone to deal treacherously with their spouse.
But if thou shouldest hate [thy wife] and put her away, saith the Lord God of Israel, then ungodliness shall cover thy thoughts, saith the Lord Almighty: therefore take ye heed to your spirit, and forsake [them] not,Mal 2:16 (LXXE)
He hates divorce because it covers one’s garment with violence (as per Masoretic texts). But, as per Septuagint, He hates divorce because it covers the thoughts with ungodliness.
1. Ahasuerus abandoned Vashti
If it pleases the king, let a royal decree go out from him, and let it be recorded in the laws of the Persians and the Medes, so that it will not be altered, that Vashti shall come no more before King Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she.Esth 1:19
King Ahasuerus abandoned Queen Vashti because of her disobedience to him. Esther was most likely taken forcefully from her home to the palace (Esth 2:3). Taking only the words of Jesus, Ahasuerus divorcing his wife for a reason that is not sexual immorality and marries another commit adultery (Matt 5:32). This means, the relationship between King Ahasuerus and Esther could be considered as adulterous in the sight of God. Yet, we see the work of God using Esther to save her people.
2. Michal’s Forced Multiple Abandonments
But Saul had given Michal his daughter, David’s wife, to Palti the son of Laish, who [was] from Gallim.1 Sam 25:44
First, we see Michal was forced to abandon her husband David by her father Saul to marry Palti.
So David sent messengers to Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, saying, “Give [me] my wife Michal, whom I betrothed to myself for a hundred foreskins of the Philistines.” And Ishbosheth sent and took her from [her] husband, from Paltiel the son of Laish.2 Sam 3:14-15
Later, we again see Michal, being forced to abandon her latter husband Palti to come and live again with David.
They say, ‘If a man divorces his wife, And she goes from him And becomes another man’s, May he return to her again?’ Would not that land be greatly polluted?Jer 3:1a
The above verse of Jeremiah is actually echoing Deut 24:4. In summary, a divorced woman cannot go to her former husband. In Michal’s case, David never abandoned or divorced her and the second marriage was forced upon her by her father while still married to David. Neither Scriptures, nor God accused David for taking Michal back. Hence, as long as there was no abandonment or divorce but rather some forced separation, even had to be another man’s wife, it seems acceptable to God to be joined together once again.
3. Israelites Abandoned Pagan Wives
Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have transgressed and have taken pagan wives, adding to the guilt of Israel. Now therefore, make confession to the LORD God of your fathers, and do His will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land, and from the pagan wives.” … And they gave their promise that they would put away their wives; and [being] guilty, [they presented] a ram of the flock as their trespass offering.Ezra 10:10-11,19
During the days of Ezra, Israelites abandoned their pagan wives. It is important to note that these reforms where strictly Ezra’s interpretation of the law. While the law forbids to marry pagan woman, it didn’t give instructions to divorce them. We can see pagan wives like Rahab and Ruth marrying Israelite woman who wholeheartedly accepted the God of Israel. But, Ezra’s reforms, are not based on such choices. There is no indication in the book of Ezra that God approved their actions.
4. Herod and Philip’s wife
For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; for he had married her. Because John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”Mark 6:17-18
Herodias abandoned her husband Philip to marry Herod, his brother. This is an unclean thing as per the law (Lev 20:21). John accused Herod for this sin for which he was killed by Herod.
The difficult question on Abandonment
If a husband abandoned her wife (or a wife abandoned her husband) to marry another (or no knowledge of what happened) after abandonment without properly divorcing (or divorcing for reasons other than sexual immorality), should the abandoned spouse remain unmarried?
As we saw earlier, Jesus Christ very clearly mentioned that the only permanent separation that can happen between a husband and a wife is through death. There is simply no other way. This is expected from all followers of Christ.
What happens if one spouse departs from faith?
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.Matt 19:29
In the above passage, Jesus very clearly mentions that one can leave his wife for the sake of His name. It is also mentioned in Mark 10:29-30 and Luke 18:29-30 which clearly mentions leaving wife for the sake of His name, gospel’s sake and for the kingdom of heaven. Further, one cannot love their spouse more than Christ (Luke 14:26). Hence, Jesus Christ is not against abandonment (or divorcing) if one spouse departs from faith in Him.
What happens to new disciple’s past marriage to unbeliever?
‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” In the house His disciples also asked Him again about the same [matter.] So He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”Mark 10:7-12
What we often miss out in the above passage is that, Jesus wasn’t speaking about pagan marriages or marriage between a Jewish person and a pagan who does not follow the LORD. We need to ask ourselves, did God join His disciple with an unbeliever, so they can have children who are against Him? The answer is no. This echoes the previous section that true Christians can abandon their spouse (i.e., marriage) for His sake. In other words, if one spouse becomes a disciple of Jesus and the other is not against, there is no need for abandonment. However, if the other spouse is against Christ and rebellious, the marriage can be abandoned for His sake.
If Christ isn’t against leaving the spouse for His sake, the next question is, can remarriage happen after abandonment? What about abandonment within Christ’s disciples?
Abandonment within disciples?
But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.Matt 5:32
If both husband and wife are disciples of Jesus, there is always hope of reconciliation since He is the glue that holds their marriage together.
However, if one spouse divorces or abandon the other and remarry someone else, then he or she commits adultery against the abandoned spouse. Can the abandoned spouse remarry? Or, remain unmarried till death?
Since Jesus considers the spouse who abandoned the other as committing adultery, and He does allow divorce for sexual immorality, the abandoned spouse can indeed divorce and remarry.
Remarriage after abandonment
If some left a spouse for the sake of Christ (or for the sake of the gospel or for the sake of the kingdom of heaven), can he or she remarry?
“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” His disciples said to Him, “If such is the case of the man with [his] wife, it is better not to marry.” But He said to them, “All cannot accept this saying, but only [those] to whom it has been given: “For there are eunuchs who were born thus from [their] mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept [it,] let him accept [it.”]Matt 19:9-12
When Jesus mentions God’s view on marriage, how He is against divorce and how it leads to adultery, His disciples comment that t is better not to marry. Why did they say that? The most possible reason could be due to high divorce rates, and the divorced gets remarried again. This does not mean the disciples are suggesting a life like the Samaritan woman by not marrying but living with men who are not her husbands.
Jesus however gave a very clear reason for not getting married. That is, only for eunuchs, that is, those who cannot reproduce or have offspring. This again repeats the same view in the book of Malachi, that is, God wants to rise godly offspring. If Jesus isn’t against abandoning a spouse for His sake and want to raise children for God, we can only infer that He is not against remarriage after abandonment.
Jesus Christ very clearly mentioned that the only permanent separation that can happen between a husband and a wife is through death. This view, is based on the fact that God joined them, i.e., both are His children. Jesus Christ is also not against abandoning the spouse if he or she departs from faith in Him. The only exception for not marrying is unable to reproduce or raise godly children. While not directly, but we can infer that Jesus is not against remarriage after abandonment.