Biblical Principle #281: Israelite Forbidden from Remarrying Woman He Divorced

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The Law of Moses forbid an Israelite from remarrying an ex-wife, whom he had previously divorced, once she had remarried.


GOD told Moses:

1 “But if someone takes a wife and he lives with her, and it happens that she does not find favor before him because he found in her a shameful thing, then he shall write her a document of divorce, and he shall give it into her hands, and he shall dismiss her from his house. 2 And if upon departing she becomes another man’s, 3 and the last man hates her, he also shall write her a document of divorce, and he shall give it into her hands, and he shall dismiss her from his house; and if the last man who took her for himself as a wife dies, 4 the former man who dismissed her shall not be able to turn back and take her for himself as a wife after she has been defiled, for it is an abomination before the Lord your God, and you shall not defile the land that the Lord your God is giving to you as a portion.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4 LES2

While this text is admittedly tricky to confidently completely understand, this much is clear:

  • An Israelite who divorced his wife was to give her a certificate of divorce.
  • The Law of Moses did not forbid the ex-wife from marrying another Israelite man.
  • Because marriage either terminates in divorce or death, and the first husband was forbidden from remarrying his ex-wife following her second marriage even after her second husband’s death, we can safely conclude that the first husband was forbidden from remarrying his ex-wife once she had been married to another man.
  • Once the ex-wife married her second husband, her union to her second husband caused her to be defiled in GOD’s eyes.

What Caused the Ex-Wife’s Defilement?

What is less obvious here is what exactly created the ex-wife’s defiled condition.

Was it the woman’s first divorce? Was it her sexual union with her second husband? Or was it the termination of her second marriage?

Since these Principles build upon one another, I generally avoid looking ahead to New Testament or new covenant teachings at this point, practicing the Primary Audience Principle. However, this will be an exception.

Jesus provided the answer we seek to the question of what caused the wife’s defilement:

31 “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 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.

Matthew 5:31-32 NKJV

“Why adultery, Jesus?”

Because the marriage union is joined together by GOD. And:

6 … Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Matthew 19:6b NIV

To divorce means to separate or divide. When a man marries his wife (to be clear, I’m referring to the first marriage for both spouses), GOD creates the union of that couple.

This means that, in GOD’s eyes, He sees that husband and wife as one.

The only legitimate termination of this union that is recognized by GOD is death of one of the spouses. Period.

The marriage vow is a contract made between the husband, the wife, and GOD, to maintain the purity of the union by devoting all sexual intimacy towards their spouse and nobody else. (The marriage union is obviously much broader than sexuality, but we’re focused on what caused the ex-wife’s defilement here.)

The husband’s and/or wife’s decision to divorce (to separate from) their (first) spouse introduces geographic distance to the union, but does not sever the one-ness GOD created, no matter how far apart they travel and how long they remain separated.

In GOD’s eyes, their union remains intact (despite mankind’s view that the union has been terminated).

So, at this point, simply put, the perspective of the (original) marriage differs between GOD and man:

  • Man sees the husband and wife as no longer joined together, divorced, and just as single (eligible to marry) as they were before their (first) marriage.
  • GOD sees the husband and wife as still married, still one, despite their choice to “pretend” they’re now eligible for marriage.

For this reason, when the now-ex-wife (in man’s eyes) sought a new husband in a second marriage, GOD sees their (second marriage) sexual one-ness as a breech of contract of the first marriage, which He never terminated, because the first husband was still alive.

Thus, the (first) husband’s decision to divorce (send away) his wife, “caused” her to commit adultery (from GOD’s perspective—the only viewpoint that ultimately matters).

With the (first) marriage contract now breeched by one of the parties (the wife, in this example), GOD’s (spiritual) truths for adultery enter the picture. Suddenly, the (first) husband became “eligible” to separate from his (first) wife because the union had been …



… yep, defiled.

But Who’s at Fault Here?

This seems like an unfair “loophole” for Israelite men to exploit just to get rid of their wife who had, for whatever reason, fallen out of favor.

Sadly, it did get exploited. But that wasn’t because of what the Law had said.

The condition of the (first) husband divorcing his wife, according to Deuteronomy 24:1, was that the wife had done something shameful or unbecoming.

The problem is: Shameful and unbecoming does not equal adulterous.

Jesus would tell the first century Jews (see Matthew 19:7-8) that Moses permitted this “certificate of divorce” scenario because the Israelites’ hearts were hard, but that this concept was not GOD’s design for marriage from the start.

Like so many things in marriage (and life!), in hindsight there was probably often shared guilt and responsibility for the first divorce.

Assuming the husband lived by the Law in executing the divorce, the wife had done some shameful deed or pattern of behavior. If so, her actions would have brought this divorce upon her, at least in part.

But where is the display of the forgiveness and mercy shown in GOD’s character on the part of the Israelite husband’s part in the divorce? Since the wife had not been unfaithful, her actions were not worthy of divorce according to GOD’s marriage union design.

By sending the wife away, as Jesus later taught, the husband was effectively causing the woman to commit adultery because the probability of the desire for a new husband and marriage was all but certain.

In this way, the husband was guilty for causing his (ex-)wife’s defilement following their divorce. And GOD could not tolerate the pollution of His people’s territory by permitting this reunification of a defiled woman that was caused by the man wanting to now reunite with her.

Thus this law.

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One response to “Biblical Principle #281: Israelite Forbidden from Remarrying Woman He Divorced”

  1. George Tillmon Avatar
    George Tillmon

    At least, the man can be accused and punished also.

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