A straightforward commandment against divorce does not exist in the holy word of God. Even a clear condemnation of divorce would be useful for the fight to prohibit any divorce actions, but that too is not found in God’s word. In the entire Old Testament not a word against divorce is spoken until the final book. In the short book of Malachi many point to the words so poorly translated in modern versions of the Greek text, “’For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel’” as all the proof they need that every divorce is an act of sin. Even those who clearly know better use this passage and give hearty approval to others to use this passage to say something it clearly does not say. Why would men of God act so wickedly about a passage of God’s word? It is done because those who passionately obstruct every path to divorce have very weak biblical grounds for their position, so they must distort biblical passages to justify it. Though it is true that God’s word clearly condemns those who use divorce to deal treacherously with their spouse it is a man-made doctrine that restricts divorce entirely.
What does the short book of Malachi actually say regarding marriage and divorce? As always the beginning point is to understand the book’s purpose or “big point”. Malachi is directed, almost entirely, at the priests who have clearly fallen into a state of unbelief—they no longer fear God. Malachi 1:6 quotes God as saying, “O priests who despise My name.” Think about that statement for a moment. The very men who were granted the task of speaking to God on Judah’s behalf hated the very name of God. This is unthinkable…it is horrible.
Then Malachi lists several sinful behaviors that the priests routinely engaged in that demonstrated their hatred of God or even their disbelief altogether. Parenthetically, God compares the priests of Malachi’s day with Levi of whom God says, “…he revered Me and stood in awe of My name…but as for you, you have turned aside from the way…you have corrupted the covenant of Levi” (2:5-8). God, through Malachi, continues pointing out some of the many ways in which the priests have become entirely godless.
Then using the synecdoche “Judah”, to continue referring to the priests, Malachi adds a transgression of great importance for our discussion to the list of transgressions against God’s law. These wicked priests were “entering into forbidden marriages with godless woman”. “Judah has dealt treacherously, and an 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” (2:11). In this passage, and ubiquitously throughout Scripture, unequally yoked marriages are viewed as acts of treachery against our covenant to be God’s people.
The next transgression listed against the priests of Malachi’s day is that they “have dealt treacherously” with their godly wives whom they married when they were young—and presumably at least trying to live faithfully in their covenant with God. How were they dealing treacherously with their Judean wives? From the previous verses we saw that they were taking for themselves additional, godless wives who no doubt appealed more to their lust. Secondly, as if that were not bad enough, they began “putting out” their Judean wives. The text does not actually use the word for divorce, so we do not know if these Judean wives were being given a certificate of divorce or not (most believe they were not). Either way as the acts of dissolution of the marriage covenant were a result of treacherous behavior on the part of the priests these acts angered the Lord God because they were wicked treatment of the women—failure to love your fellow man. Thus we have the infamous quote of God saying, “I hate divorce” (2:16).
The better English translation comes from the American Standard Version because the New American Standard Bible broke its own rules and interpreted the text instead of merely translating it. The infamous verse actually says, “For I hate putting away, says Jehovah, the God of Israel, and him that covers his garment with violence, says Jehovah of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that you deal not treacherously” (2:16 ASV).
It is the acts of treachery that God hates so very much as should men of God in every age. With respect to marriage, there were two treacherous acts these godless priests were committing against God. The first was entering into unequally yoked marriages with women who were not part of the family of God or said differently “the daughter of a foreign god”. The second was to deal treacherously with their Judean wives of whom the passage says, “…you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant” (2:14). The priest’s wives were faithful in their companionship, which is to say that they had not put out their husbands, they remained faithful in their marriage covenant, which is to say that they remained pure by not sexually joining themselves to anyone other than their husbands nor were they making themselves unavailable to their husbands in the marriage bed.
In the 21st century the faithful wives of these treacherous priests would be treated with the same disdain as their godless husbands because they would have the same “D” for divorce hanging over them for the remainder of their lives. Although they were living up to their end of their marital covenant they still experienced a divorce because their spouse ended up being a traitor to God and a covenant breaker to them. But those who prohibit divorce in every instance label the innocent victims of treacherous spouses as equally treacherous themselves because they have a d-i-v-o-r-c-e on their record.
I have no delusions, I realize that the permanence view people would decry my argument as slanderous to their actual position, but they are wrong to defend themselves. The outcome of their position paints every divorced person equally guilty and shameful, regardless of their guilt or innocence. They believe that every man who has suffered a divorce cannot serve as a pastor regardless of his guilt or innocence in the matter. This current state of affairs should and must be set right.