Will the Husband Take Back the Two Treacherous Sisters?
The law of divorce in Torah in Deu_24:1-4 refers to divorce in which a reunion with a divorced wife is forbidden, only if she had remarried another man who had also put her away, or had died. The Torah does not forbid the reunion of the spouses, if the wife had not married another man and if they would desire to become a family again.
This is the plain reading of the law of divorce in Torah.
The Law of divorce in Torah
When a man takes a wife and shall marry her, then it shall be, if she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found an issue of nakedness, and he shall write her a letter of divorce, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house and go and be another man’s, and the latter husband shall hate her and write her a letter of divorce, and put it in her hand, and send her out of his house, or when the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife, then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled, for that would be an abomination before Yehovah. And you shall not cause the land to sin, which Yehovah your Elohim is giving you as an inheritance. (Deu 24:1-4)
We should make it perfectly clear here, that the law of divorce in Torah does not establish the right of the husband to divorce his wife at his will, as some may have taken it, but on the contrary, it establishes a strict procedure of obtaining divorce at certain conditions.
The law of divorce in Torah also establishes a protection of a wife against the frivolous will of a husband for a divorce by compelling him to issue a letter of divorce and only then he can send her out. In order to understand the role of “the letter of divorce” we need to understand the ancient culture and environment.
Unlike today the ancient did not have any social security system established by a king to protect his subjects. The wellbeing of a person, man or woman, was based entirely on the foundation of family: if one had a family (the larger the family, the better) he or she could have “the social security” to survive; back then the number of children played a crucial role in terms of available workforce, etc. Also, when the parents became old enough not to do their usual business, the new generation stepped in to provide for their wellbeing. That was their “social security.”
In such a society, if for some reasons a divorce was inevitable, the husband was obligated to issue a letter of divorce for the protection of the wife, so that she could remarry and survive through the hardship. So, if a man married a wife, and he put her away with a letter of divorce, she could start a new life in a new family.
If the husband had not given her such a letter, she could not remarry another man, because she would be considered an adulteress. The letter of divorce gave her the surety that she was a wife of another man and not an adulteress. And this is the plain understanding of the law of divorce in Torah.
Therefore, the law restrained the husband to divorce his wife at his will just because he had found something in her that made her less attractive to him (an issue of nakedness). Without such a law the divorce would leave the wife entirely at the will of her husband: if she finds no favor in his eyes (i.e., does not please him sexually anymore), because he has found an issue of nakedness. The meaning of this expression as a ground of divorce is controversial enough even according to the free moral standards today.
So, why does the Torah allow divorce under the condition of giving a letter of divorce? It allows it only “because of the hardness of the people’s hearts” Yeshua said,
Because of the hardness of your hearts, Mosheh allowed you to put away your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. (Mat 19:8)
The second marriage of a woman who had been divorced is designated as a defilement of the woman because of the fact that another man has had a sexual intercourse with her which renders her morally unclean in desecration of the sexual communion in the marriage. Thus, the second marriage of a divorced woman (except for the issue of whoring) is considered by the Torah adultery concerning the sanctity of marriage (Mat_5:32 and Mat_19:9).
But why would a second marriage be adultery to YHVH? Because the reason for the divorce is groundless unless as in the case of whoring.
In other words, only in the case of infidelity a divorce is permitted, because what YHVH has brought together, no one is to divide. Putting away a divorced woman by her husband for no reason is a moral defilement, because it pushes the wife to marry another man and lowers her dignity, thus the woman would appear too much like property exchanged between men. This is how high YHVH sees the wife in marriage. Therefore, such defilement of wife is an abomination before YHVH.
And Yeshua said to his disciples (Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, by George Howard, Mercer University Press, 1995, p.21:
And I say to you that everyone who leaves his wife and divorces her is to give her a certificate of divorce. But concerning adultery, he is the one who commits adultery and he who takes her commits adultery. (Mat. 5:32)
And if the wife is defiled in such a low way, i.e. traded in between men as a sexual object, the land of Israel is also defiled by the matter of whoring, as we further read in Deu 24:4.
Do not defile yourselves with all these (the forbidden sexual intercourses), for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am driving out before you. And the land was defiled, therefore I visited it for its perversity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. (Lev 18:24-25)
The abomination in Deu 24:4 is not the divorce itself, but the act of the first husband, who had put away his wife simply because he did not like something in her anymore, and he takes her back from the other man, because he has found something in her.
Thus divorcing her is considered an act of betrayal, but taking her back would be an abomination to YHVH, because she has been already sexually defiled for her first husband. He can take her back only, if she has not been other man’s.
By giving the law of divorce in Torah, is YHVH concerned about the purity of the union between a man and a woman only, or there is something more, something deeper, to it than that?
The Covenant at Sinai as a marriage between YHVH and His people
Let us return to the Covenant at Sinai, as we should notice that the Hebrew wedding ceremony today is based upon the pattern of this Covenant, the marriage of YHVH with His Bride.
The proposal and engagement (The Covenant was proposed) (Exo_19:5-6).
The people accepted the invitation to enter the covenant (Exo_19:8).
Stipulations of the Covenant. The Wedding.
The stage for the ceremony was set as the Bride was to be ready on the third day (Exo_19:9-17).
YHVH entered the chuppah of thick cloud (Exo_19:18-25).
The ketubah (the Wedding Contract) was read aloud for the Bride to hear (Exo_20:2-17).
The Bride, Israel, made Mosheh a legal representative (Exo_20:18-21).
The terms of the agreement were set before the Bride (Exo 21-23).
Israel entered the Covenant and the Covenant was accepted (Exo_24:3).
Mosheh as a bride representative wrote the terms in a book and sealed it with blood (Exo_24:4-6).
The Book of the Covenant was read publicly; the Bride affirmed the covenant and pledged obedience to the Husband (Exo_24:7).
Mosheh sprinkled the Bride with blood: The Covenant was ratified (Exo_24:5-8).
Mosheh went up to YHVH to get the Ratified Covenant (Exo_24:12-13): tablets of stone, the laws, and the commandments.
Mosheh received further instructions for the Wedding how to build the Ark of the Covenant (Exo 25), the Set-apart Dwelling Place where YHVH would dwell with His Bride (Exo 26-27), and established the priesthood which would observe the terms of the everlasting Marriage (Exo 28-30). (Exo_25:1 to Exo_31:11).
The Sabbath Day was given as a sign of the marriage (The Covenant) (Exo_31:13-18).
The Bride’s first infidelity:
The marriage Covenant was broken when the Bride whored with the golden calf (Exo_32:1-25).
Mosheh as the bride’s representative interceded for Israel (Exo_32:30-32).
YHVH punished the Bride for her infidelity (Exo_32:33-35).
The Marriage Covenant was renewed:
YHVH reaffirmed the Covenant (Exo_33:1-23).
YHVH renewed the Covenant (Exo_34:1-26).
YHVH gave the new set of the Covenant for the Bride to have (Exo_34:27-28).
Mosheh revealed to the Bride all that YHVH had spoken (Exo_34:29-33).
Preparation for the Wedding ceremony:
The Dwelling Place for the Groom was built (Exo_35:1 to Exo_39:43).
A cloud covered the Dwelling Place with which the union was consummated (Exo_40:17-34).
From that moment on no longer is YHVH simply the Sovereign One or the Creator of the universe; He is specifically identified now as the Elohim of Israel fulfilling Exo_6:7. This title clearly shows the nature of the Covenant that has been entered into. YHVH has bound Himself to the His Bride, Israel.
By now we should have seen strong similarities with our story, however, the difference is that the wife was found in whoring, with which we come to another law in the Torah (Numbers 5): that of the jealous husband who suspected infidelity in his wife.
But if you have turned aside under your husband’s authority, and if you have defiled yourself and some man other than your husband has lain with you – then the priest shall make the woman swear with the oath of the curse, and he shall say to the woman – Yehovah make you a curse and an oath among your people … (Num 5:20-22)
What the law of divorce in Torah teaches us today
What does the law in Deu 24:1-4 teach us today? Is YHVH concerned about the purity of the union between a man and a woman only, or there is something more to it than that? Let us keep on reading in the Prophets.
Have you seen what backsliding Israel has done? She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there committed whoring. And after she had done all these, I said ‘Return to Me.’ But she did not return. And her treacherous sister Yehudah saw it. And I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a letter of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Yehudah did not fear, but went and committed whoring, too. And it came to be, through her frivolous whoring, that she defiled the land and committed adultery with stones and wood. And yet for all this her treacherous sister Yehudah has not turned to Me with all her heart, but falsely, declares Yehovah. (Jer 3:6-10)
Yehudah had before her eyes the lot which Israel had brought on herself by her apostasy from the marriage covenant with YHVH. Viewing idolatry [of stones and wood] as spiritual whoring, YHVH refers to His Bride by representing the two kingdoms [of the north and of the south] as two treacherous sisters, calling the House of Israel, the backsliding, and the House of Yehuda, the faithless.
According to the law of divorce in Torah, He gave the letter of divorce to Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and sent her out of His House with the free choice they were given, whether they would remarry another or stay unmarried and thus having preserved herself for her first Husband.
But He did not give such a letter to her sister Yehudah although she had committed more sins and found to be more adulterous, that is more idolatrous, than her sister Israel.
According to the law of divorce in Torah, YHVH the Husband sent Israel away, but kept Yehudah close to Himself despite her adultery.
And thus says YHVH to Yehudah,
Where is the letter of your mother’s divorce, whom I have put away? Or which of My creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Look, you were sold for your crookedness, and your mother was put away for your transgressions. (Isa 50:1)
It was not YHVH who had broken off the marital relation between Him and His Bride, whom had been betrothed to Himself. And since she had no letter of divorce to show to another lord, He had not put her away to another power (creditors), since there is no such power but Him alone.
Yehudah’s present condition was indeed that of being sold and put away. Despite it was she herself that had broken off the relation in which she stood to her Husband, He kept her for Himself with no letter of divorce to leave.
But, would her sister Israel, who was sent away with a letter of divorce, harken to the call of her Husband ‘Return to Me’ and would she return to Him? If she stays unmarried she still has the chance to return to YHVH, but if she remarries another one by bowing down to other gods, there will be no way back to her Husband.
As a husband who has put his wife away is not allowed to take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled with another man, for that would be an abomination before Yehovah, so YHVH would not accept [the House of] Israel back, if she has defiled herself with other gods.
[The house of] Yehudah, who has been kept close to YHVH despite her unfaithfulness, has the real chance to repent and say to YHVH, ‘My Husband.’
And it shall be, in that day, declares Yehovah, that you call Me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer call Me ‘My Ba‛al.’ And I shall remove the names of the Ba‛als from her mouth, and they shall no more be remembered by their name. … And I shall take you as a bride unto Me forever, and take you as a bride unto Me in righteousness, and in justice, and loving-kindness and in compassion. And I shall take you as a bride unto Me in faithfulness, and you shall know Yehovah. (Hos 2:16-20)
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.