And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also. (Jeremiah 3:8)
After Israel’s golden age of the reign of King David and King Solomon, the nation was divided into two kingdoms. The southern kingdom of Judah was composed of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, while the northern kingdom of Israel was composed of the remaining ten tribes.
Over many generations, Israel repeatedly abused their covenant with God, treacherously violating the terms of their covenant…the commandments inscribed on the stone tablets stored inside the Ark of the Covenant. After many years of seeing Israel repeatedly fall into idolatry, worshipping false gods, God finally divorced the kingdom of Israel, allowing her to be conquered and assimilated into other cultures. No longer a distinct people-group, the kingdom of Israel is now referred to by historians as The Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.
Several decades later, Judah was also conquered and led away to captivity in Babylon. Yet, even in captivity, the Jews (a name derived from the word Judah) remained a distinctive people-group. Many Jews returned to the land of Israel after the rise of the Persian Empire. Miraculously, even those who remained scattered across the earth have still largely retained their distinctive race and culture, and many more have returned to the land of Israel since the end of World War II.
In modern church culture, many believers incorrectly speak and act as though marriage is inherently godly while divorce is inherently ungodly…as though all marriages are holy and all divorce is evil. Yet, here God tells us that He, Himself, divorced the kingdom of Israel. Clearly, since God Himself has divorced, divorce cannot be inherently ungodly. And since God never acts outside His perfect will, clearly divorce is God’s perfect will for some situations…specificly for situations involving repeated abuse of covenant vows.
Now, some have debated the applicability of this passage, saying, “But God wasn’t really physically married to Israel, was He? Not like a husband and wife who become one flesh? Isn’t that really more like a metaphor? And God didn’t really divorce Israel, did He? Didn’t He eventually bring Israel back to Himself?”
First, we must recognize that Israel was clearly in blood covenant with God. The covenant ceremony is detailed in the book of Exodus, including the terms of the covenant (the Ten Commandments) carved in stone tablets and placed inside the Ark of the Covenant. And the disbursement of the northern kingdom of Israel is a historical fact…they have not been brought back nor reestablished. Unlike the southern kingdom of Judah, the ten lost tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel no longer exist as a distinct people-group.
An eternal covenant with God is clearly much higher than a temporal marriage covenant. So, it seems a bit silly to act as though God’s covenant with Israel was somehow less significant than a marriage covenant, or that God’s divorce from the kingdom of Israel somehow didn’t count as a ‘real’ divorce.
But…for discussion’s sake…let’s consider the perspective of those who say God’s reference to marriage and divorce in regard to His covenant with Israel is strictly a metaphor. If that is the case, then it is still God’s metaphor…a metaphor that He Himself chose to describe both His covenant relationship with Israel and the dissolution of that covenant. Whether a metaphor or not, God still said, “…I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce…”
Nowhere in scripture do we ever read of God saying that He is an adulterer…or that He is unfaithful…or that He has violated covenant vows. Nowhere does God ever say that He has sinned, or that He has done anything ungodly, wicked, or evil. Not as a metaphor…not as a parable…not as a joke…not anywhere…not once does God ever refer to Himself in a manner that would indicate He is ever anything less than completely holy, righteous and faithful. Never, in any way, does God ever fall short of His own perfect glory!
And, here, God clearly states that He has divorced.
The only conclusion we can reach is that divorce is not inherently ungodly…it is not inherently unfaithful…it is not inherently sinful…it is not inherently wicked nor evil.
Divorce is, at times, godly…holy, righteous and faithful…otherwise God would not have used the word divorce to describe His own behavior.
Not all marriages are godly and not all divorce is evil. Many marriages are very ungodly…characterized by unfaithfulness, treachery and abuse rather than by faithfulness, love and respect. For those trapped in such a marriage, divorce is very likely their most godly course of action…and God’s perfect will for their circumstances.
He is the God of godly marriages, and He is the God of divorce from ungodly marriages. He is the God who redeems and delivers us from Adam’s covenant with the kingdom of darkness, and He is the God who draws us into a new covenant with Himself.
Do you know someone who has walked through godly divorce?