THE PROHIBITION OF REMARRIAGE IN SPECIFIC SITUATIONS PROTECTS THE DIGNITY OF THE FORMERLY REJECTED WIFE
Gerald Gerbrandt: The passage takes the practice of divorce for granted and is attempting to regulate a particular variation of it. Divorce was a reality, in Israel and elsewhere. How common it was is unclear, but enough passages in the Old Testament refer to it that we must conclude it was not uncommon. The Old Testament does not provide general procedures for divorce. . . Our passage can be divided into two parts: verses 1–3 describe the particular situation, and verse 4 gives the regulation.
Duane Christensen: Perhaps, once again, we are dealing with a law intended primarily as a teaching device on the deterrence of divorce in the first place.
Michael Grisanti: The way a person views the structure of the passage can influence his or her interpretation. In OT legal material (as it occurs in ancient Near Eastern law codes), the legislation is commonly arranged in an “if . . . then” format (called “case law” or “casuistic law”). This kind of law often has three parts: protasis (description of condition[s]), apodosis (the actual legislation), and a motive clause (explaining the fundamental rationale for the law). Some early English translations located the protasis or conditional circumstance in the first half of v.1, with the apodosis or the potential result in 24:1b–4 (cf. KJV, ASV). In this case, the provision of a bill of divorce played an integral role in the legislation proper. Most modern English translations regard 24:1–3 as the protasis, with the legislation proper found in 24:4 (cf. ESV, NASB, NET, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV). In this instance, the required conduct focuses on the husband’s non-permission to remarry his ex-wife after she has been married to another man (the scenario depicted in vv.1–3).
In other words, the divorce is not the focus of the law but the circumstance in which God gives his requirement through Moses. This law deals with a specific case and does not provide a general rule governing all possible instances of divorce and remarriage. These verses do not establish divorce either as a right or as a requirement; they do not encourage Israelite husbands to put away their wives because of “uncleanness” but merely recognize that contemporary practice. This passage focuses on one issue: A woman who was divorced because of “uncleanness” and married to a second man may not return to her first husband after divorce from or the death of her second husband. Moses is regulating a current practice in Israel—a practice Yahweh regards as “detestable” and one that all Israelites must avoid, lest they bring sin upon the land God has graciously given to them as an inheritance. In other words, Moses is not in any sense saying that in the scenario addressed, divorce is required, legitimated, sanctioned, or even encouraged (Murray, Divorce, 14).
In fact, the legislation hinders the husband from divorcing his wife rashly, since a divorce will likely occasion her ritual defilement, which will, in turn, make it religiously illegal to take her back (cf. the preceding warning against making vows to God rashly; 23:21–23).
J. Carl Laney: The problem facing Moses was that the absence of any divorce regulations actually encourage rampant divorce. Men were divorcing their wives for a “weekend fling” and then taking them back again when the dirty laundry had piled up and the house needed cleaning! It was in light this situation that Moses delivered God’s legislation recorded in Deuteronomy 24:1-4.
Jack Deere: The purpose of this law seems to be to prevent frivolous divorce, and to present divorce itself in a disparaging light. Jesus’ interpretation of this passage indicated that divorce (like polygamy) went against the divine ideal for marriage.
I. (:1-3) DESCRIPTION OF THE CONDITIONS PROMPTING THE LEGISLATION (PROTASIS)
A. (:1a) Divorce Situation Due to Discovering Some Indecency In the Wife
“When a man takes a wife and marries her,
and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes
because he has found some indecency in her,”
Michael Grisanti: Although several writers suggest that “something indecent” refers to adultery, the Pentateuch presents several reasons why that interpretation is unlikely. The most important of these reasons is that the Mosaic law prescribed death for both adulterous partners (Lev 20:10; Dt 22:22; cf. J. Murray, Divorce [Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1961], 10–11, where he offers five other reasons for the Pentateuch’s ruling out adultery). If this expression does not refer to adultery, what does it signify?
David Whitcomb: As we can see in this case, the man is not pleased with his wife because of some indecency. What is that? Conservative Rabbis interpreted indecency as fornication or adultery. Liberal Rabbis applied the word to everything from the wife burning the husband’s meal to the wife caught talking to another man in public. The Hebrew word literally means “the nakedness of a thing.” If it only meant adultery, the wife in this case was supposed to be stoned and conflict became a mute issue. Either this law assumed stoning was not going to be enforced or indecency means something else.
Daniel Block: Opinions on the meaning of this phrase range from “anything at all,” to adultery, to a physical defect. Literally, ʿerwat dābār means “nakedness of a thing.” The proximity of this statement to Deut. 23:14, the only other place where this phrase occurs, invites the reader to link these two texts. In the earlier passage ʿerwat dābār refers to unburied human excrement, which defiles the Israelite military camp. Obviously defecation is not an immoral act. Since ʿerwâ usually involves the genitals (Ex. 20:26; cf. 28:42), and since this is the woman’s problem, the expression is best interpreted as some menstrual irregularity (cf. Mark 5:25–34). The result is a constant state of impurity, curtailing many normal marital activities (cf. Lev. 12:2–8) and rendering her incapable of bearing children. The husband may have learned of her condition after he married her and sought to consummate the marriage. But instead of responding with compassion, he divorced her.
B. (:1b) Divorce Procedure
“and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand
and sends her out from his house,”
Utley: This was a legal document of separation. It may have involved giving back the dowry. This later required an involved legal procedure which hopefully gave time for the partners to reconcile, but here it seems to be written by the husband or his representative (i.e., a Levite).
C. (:2) Remarriage of the Divorced Woman to Another Man
“and she leaves his house
and goes and becomes another man’s wife,”
D. (:3) Dissolution of the Second Marriage
1. Via Divorce Proceedings Initiated by the Second Husband
“and if the latter husband turns against her
and writes her a certificate of divorce
and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house,”
Daniel Block: The certificate was vital for the woman, especially if the document relinquished the husband’s rights to her and her dowry and authorized her to return to her family of origin or to marry another man. From the man’s perspective, the record of the returned dowry would prevent the woman’s family from making further claims against him.
2. Via Death of the Second Husband
“or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife,”
Daniel Block: As in most cultures, the death of a spouse frees a person to remarry. Since widows were economically vulnerable unless a woman was independently wealthy, it would have been in her best interest to remarry, especially if she did not have grown sons.
Gerald Gerbrandt: That the divorce itself is not the issue is evident from the phrase put in parentheses in the NRSV: or the second man who married her dies. The key element here is that she has been married a second time, now no longer is married, and is quite properly free.
II. (:4a) THE ACTUAL LEGISLATION (APODOSIS)
“then her former husband who sent her away
is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled;”
Daniel Block: As in Deuteronomy 21:14, the issue is the degradation of the woman. The man has already degraded her, first by refusing to be gracious to a needy spouse ritually defiled through no fault of her own, and second, by publicizing her personal issue through the divorce proceedings. The preposition “after” suggests the defilement derives not from remarriage to her former husband but from previous events. Even if he regrets having divorced her earlier, she must be protected from further degradation by the man who had forfeited his right to her.
Peter Craigie: Now comes the specific legislation: under all these circumstances, the first man may not remarry his former wife. After she has been defiled—the language (defiled) suggests adultery (see Lev. 18:20). The sense is that the woman’s remarriage after the first divorce is similar to adultery in that the woman cohabits with another man. However, if the woman were then to remarry her first husband, after divorcing the second, the analogy with adultery would become even more complete; the woman lives first with one man, then another, and finally returns to the first. Thus the intent of the legislation seems to be to apply certain restrictions on the already existing practice of divorce.
Mark Dunagan: Carefully observe that the woman is said to be presently defiled even if her second marriage had ended (the husband died). This seems to suggest that there was indeed something wrong with the initial divorce and subsequent remarriage.
III. (:4B) THE MOTIVE CLAUSE (RATIONALE FOR THE LEGISLATION)
“for that is an abomination before the LORD,
and you shall not bring sin on the land
which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance.”
Eugene Merrill: Why the remarriage of the original partners was thus described while the divorcée’s marriage to a second husband was not is not clear. Most likely it is because the original divorce was not for adultery (otherwise the death penalty would apply) whereas remarriage after an intervening marriage and divorce would be construed as adultery because of the woman’s moving from one man to the next and
back again. She had thus become an adulteress, and for this reason it was she (and not the act) who was referred to as detestable (tô bâ hîw, v. 4).
Van Parunak: Now the reasoning behind the law of reconciliation is clear. A husband may take back his divorced wife if she has not remarried, for the divorce is only a man-made institution and does not change their union in God’s eyes. However, once she marries someone else, she commits adultery against her first husband. Now he is responsible to prosecute her sin. If he accepts her back, he effectively pardons the sin. Yet he has no authority to pardon her, for it is God’s law, not his, that demands satisfaction. By refusing to satisfy that law, he leaves the land polluted with adultery.