Often when we talk about a biblical view of divorce, we quote Malachi: “God hates divorce” (2:16). And it’s true. He does. But does that mean God hates the actions of anyone who initiates a legal divorce?
God himself said he divorced Israel (Isa. 50:1; Jer. 3, and possibly Hosea). And of course God is God, so he can do whatever he pleases. Nevertheless, many wonder…if God hates divorce, did he hate his own actions? To answer this question, we need to look at the context of Malachi’s statement.
God’s words, “I hate divorce,” follow an accusation against husbands who chose to do violence to their covenant marriages by divorcing godly wives, leaving them for idol-worshiping younger women. After these unfaithful husbands linked up with pagan women, the men cried out to God because he refused to hear them.
This situation in Malachi’s day differs from God’s use of metaphor to show how he felt about the disobedience of his people. In the latter case, God divorced Israel to bring the nation to repentance. It was a love-motivated move with the desire for reconciliation at its core. What a contrast to what the men in Malachi’s day were doing!
Reconciling God’s hatred of divorce with his own actions does leave some questions unresolved. But we can make two essential observations:
• The cause: God divorced only in the case of repeated, unrepentant sin. What destroyed the relationship was not the divorce per se. The divorce merely called the marriage covenant what it already was: severed.
• The reason: God divorced in response to hardness of heart in hopes that his drastic action would bring ultimate restoration for the offending party.
The fact that God divorced Israel leaves room for the option that divorce may be a last resort in addressing the hardness of a spouse’s heart. This would explain why in the New Testament we find Paul telling a believer to avoid resisting the departure of an unbeliever and to choose peace rather than fighting. He grounds this option in our calling: “For God has called us to peace” (1 Cor. 7:15).
What is your view of divorce? Does it align with Scripture—that it’s best use is love in response to hardness of heart? Whether or not you are married, what is your view of marriage? Do you see it as our culture (even the Christian subculture) often does, as existing only for romance, affection, and self-fulfillment? Or do you view it as a covenant before God, designed to picture Christ and the church (Eph. 5:22–33), and an image of oneness? If we view marriage as being like an interconnected head and body rather than as a business partnership or a romantic flame, it is easier for us to see the ruining of such a relationship as an act of violence—a beheading. God is far more concerned about his glory, about faithfulness, about developing godliness than he is about fulfilling our desires for passion, romance, and fulfillment. And he is also concerned that the rebellious turn back to him.
In Malachi’s day (about 430 B.C.), men had more social power than women. But today, especially in the west, women have much more control. Consequently, the sort of behavior that Malachi addresses is less sex-specific among God’s people now than it was in his time. We see professing Christian men and women engaging in relationships of serial monogamy, leaving Christ-following spouses to remarry "something better," having no concern for their testimonies.
If married, do you honor your covenant before God? Whether married or free, do you respect that a married person to whom you may be attracted is someone else’s spouse by law—the law of the land and the law of God? Do you treat marriage with violence or honor? And if you are being treated with violence by a hard-hearted spouse, do you have the courage—by faith—to show some tough love so that he might repent?
Adapted from Chai with Malachi (AMG), the latest in the Coffee Cup Bible Study series.