God of Divorce

picture of a divorce decreeAnd 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…specifically 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.

God is God of divorce just as He is God of marriage. Click To Tweet

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?


[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life ]


40 thoughts on “God of Divorce

  1. As you pointed out before, in your splendid treatise on Malachi 2, God ‘hates’ divorce because it’s the end result of disloyalty.

    Kind of like amputation due to gangrene; the amputation is necessary, and will cause trouble, but it’s not the root cause of the trouble.

    As to knowing people who have gone through Godly divorces, I think I’ll forbear to say anything, because I can’t know all that happened in those marriages. That judgement is best left, I think, to God.

    • “Kind of like amputation due to gangrene; the amputation is necessary, and will cause trouble, but it’s not the root cause of the trouble.”


      And in such a case the amuptation is a very good thing, indeed. Life-saving, in fact.

      It is painful and will not be free of issues, but it is still necessary and good.

      Thank you, Andrew! Always love your battle-field perspective!

  2. One of my best friends is just as you described – faithful and yet being divorced. She is even willing to remain separated and not divorce–waiting on God to bring her unfaithful husband to full repentance. That’s faithfulness! But her husband is not willing to remain married. What can she do but allow the law to take its course and break her covenant–since it is out of her hands? I so appreciate that you highlight this side of a messy marriage, Joe. I will be sharing this post on Twitter as well as with my friend who could use the encouragement!

    • I was once in a similar situation as your friend. Some of the things I learned through that experience:

      1. Being married to someone who does not want to be in the marriage is far, far worse than being divorced. When one’s spouse has zero commitment to the marriage, to the relationship, or to yourself…that’s a recipe for nothing but heartbreak on top of heartbreak.

      2. If a spouse has made up their mind they do not want to be in the marriage (or will not be bound by the marriage vows), the most loving and most godly thing we can do is to release them from their covenant vows by granting a divorce. Satan uses covenant to enslave…God does not…God honors our free will even at our own peril.

      3. So long as the uncommitted spouse is in the marriage they are under obligation to the covenant vows. By refusing to abide by the vows they are continually, willfully sinning against their spouse and against God. By releasing them from the marriage covenant, we also release them from continuing to sin against us.

      I am praying for your friend and for you as you continue to minister to her.

      Thank you, Beth!

      • What happens when false allegations are brought forward so the one partner can go be with another person then tries to use the Bible and other Christians to support her view? Does leaving for the wrong reasons then sleeping with someone else still justify a divorce by the one who is filing based on feelings rather than actual events? this article has some issues and can be taken out of context by either party involved in a divorce. I am sorry while there is some truth to God divorcing Isreal he never divorces the true believer.

        • “…while there is some truth to God divorcing Isreal…”

          That’s a feeble argument, Greg…a way of trying to sound like you are agreeing while you’re actually discounting the truth of the statement.

          Either it is true or it is not true. If we accept the Bible as truth, then it is true.

          God did divorce the northern kingdom of Israel.

          As to the hypothetical situations posed, you are approaching the issue from the wrong perspective.

          It’s not about a complex system of legalistic rules and loopholes used to justify choices based on sinful heart attitudes. It’s about passionately pursuing godliness while seeking the direction of the Holy Spirit, in all circumstances.

          For more on asking the right questions, you might reference this post: http://josephjpote.com/2012/04/asking-the-right-questions/

  3. And if you wouldn’t mind, pray that I get some technical difficulties with my site resolved. I’ve been working on it for hours and would like to get on to reading blog posts like yours. 🙂

  4. Joe, do you think that our conflating marriages and godliness has anything to do with so many wanting to have their weddings performed in a church and officiated by a minister? I remember hearing some couples in premarital counseling say that they wanted to have their wedding in a church so that God would bless that union. It is almost as if the pastor’s faith will magically rub off on them and bless their marriage.

    I wonder how many have thought through that it is not the venue, nor the officiants that make marriage holy, but the hearts and faith of the couple itself?

    • Yes, that sort of thinking definitely ties into the overall Divorce Mythology that is so prevalent in modern church culture. Popular church culture seems to buy into some level of unbiblical mysticism when it comes to the topic of marriage and divorce.

      Thanks for pointing that out, Wendell!

  5. I am divorced. it wasn’t my choice. But I know that I stuck with God — rather, he stuck with me. And now, five years out, I’m thriving in love, in life, and in faith. Despite the divorce, not because of it. it wasnt God’s first choice for my life, but he’s still the Lord. It’s like the death of Bathsheba’s child, conceived in sin. After the mourning, god still had a work to do in David. If you are newly divorced, it’s not over. As Joe says here, God is still God — even in divorce. Trust him

    • David,

      I’ve come to see the divorce as very much a part of God’s plan for my life…just as much as His plan for the nation of Israel, as foretold to Abraham, included 400 years of slavery in Egypt before His redeeming and delivering them in the Great Exodus and leading them to the Promised Land.

      It certainly was not MY plan…and I did everything I could to prevent the marriage ending in divorce.

      Yet, I would not trade anything for what I learned through that experience. I learned more of God’s faithfulness, God’s heart of grace and redemption, and God’s sovereignty than I ever knew there was to learn.

      Blessings to you, my friend!

    • “One thing I have come to understand is life is not in marriage, life is in Christ.”

      Oh, I love how you have phrased this, Betty!

      Yes, life is in Christ, not in marriage.

      Too often, we hear sermons preached in such a manner as to indicate that it is thru marriage and traditional families that we are saved and that to be divorced is to virtually guarantee destruction of both spouses and children.

      But it is not in marriage that we place our faith…it is in Christ, alone!

      Thank you for expressing this so succinctly!

  6. An eternal covenant with God is clearly much higher than a temporal marriage covenant.

    So True. Since my divorce, I feel so much more in covenant with God. The marriage covenant never did feel permanent even while it was only for this life. It was a matter of time. I thought that he would leave since he was always unhappy or angry about something, instead he pushed me until I felt God saying, “it’s time”.

    I have known too many who have gone through Godly divorce. My best friend is legally separated and says she did that for her own protection. She doesn’t want to wind up in a similar situation again, but has no desire for reconciliation and says that will not happen.

    • Yes, an excellent example of a godly divorce!

      Like you, I know many examples. Most believers I know who have divorced provide examples of godly divorce…though they, themselves, often do not realize it.

      I suspect that most readers know examples of godly divorce…though most have failed to recognize it as such.

      Thank you, so much, Brenda!

  7. Okay, you’ve done it again, Joe. You bring out nuances of scripture that I failed to notice before. How did I miss this, that God “divorced” faithless Israel? I knew the concept of course, but not the word. It just goes to show me how tainted we’ve made the word. Thanks for sharing, brother. Always good stuff here.

    • I always love your comments, Lisa! That “aha” moment of shared revelation warms my heart and makes me smile. 🙂

      Yes…we have so tainted the word ‘divorce’…so assumed it to be ungodly…that we tend to completely overlook the godly applications…including God’s own personal applications.

      Interestingly, the Hebrew scripture uses two verbs for divorce, ‘shalach’ (put away) and ‘garash’ (drive out). Both are used in numerous places and are often translated as something other than ‘divorce.’ In fact, ‘shalach’ is translated as ‘sent away’ in this very same verse, Jeremiah 3:8. When used in reference to God’s actions, the English translators never translate either of these two verbs as the word ‘divorce.’

      There is only one Hebrew noun for divorce, ‘kĕriythuwth’, which can only be translated as ‘divorce.’ This word occurs only four times in the Old Testament, and in two of those four instances (Jeremiah 3:8 and Isaiah 50:1) it is in reference to God divorcing the kingdom of Israel.

      It is almost as though God, speaking through His prophets, chose that specific word just to make sure it could not be mistranslated…to make sure He clearly conveyed His use of the word ‘divorce’ to describe His own behavior in regard to the northern kingdom of Israel.

      Thank you, my friend!

  8. Joe … thank you. I would love to get this in the hands of every pastor, every counselor, every unfaithful, abusive spouse who twists Scripture to make divorce the unpardonable sin.

    I appreciate the truths here. And praise God for His mercy, His grace …

    • Thank YOU, Linda!

      I appreciate you and your input…as well as your encouragement.

      Yes, praise God!

      Oh…and feel free to text, e-mail, fb-message, or tweet this to as many of those pastors and counselors as you care to… 😉

      Blessings to you, my friend!

  9. Excellent post! Actually, it’s the kind of post that would have benefited me 6 years ago when my abusive ex of 20 years walked out with what I now realize was a grand scheme to turn everything around on me. He tried hard to convince our church that I only wanted a divorce and had kicked him out and that he wanted nothing more than reconciliation although he had always refused counseling or even acknowledge of his abusive ways. He told lies about me which some people believed and which I still hear to this day, and he tried to convince our sons what a bad person I was.

    The day he left our house was the day I began to restore my relationship with God. To this day, I believe God orchestrated my ex leaving so as to win me back to Himself. From that day forward I sought the Lord and fought my way through all the misguided advice thrown at me, such as how God hates divorce. Don’t you love that one?!

    Thank you for making clear that although divorce is not ideal, it is NOT unGodly nor a sin. In many cases it is simply the result of a destructive/abusive person within a marriage who refuses to acknowledge and take responsibility for their behavior.
    Amy recently posted…Finding courage for the hard times…My Profile

    • “To this day, I believe God orchestrated my ex leaving so as to win me back to Himself.”

      Amy, I feel the same way about the ending of my previous marriage. It was God’s redemptive grace extended to me. God caused her heart to be hardened in such a way that I could clearly see the situation…and for her to ask for a divorce. I see it as very similar to how God redeemed Israel from Egypt, causing Pharoah’s heart to be hardened, until, under compulsion of God’s plagues, Pharoah drove out (divorced) Israel from Egypt.

      Thank you, Amy, for your encouragement and for the beautiful posts on your blog shining the light of God’s truth for His children who are trapped in abusive marriages.

    • Amy you continue to give words of encouragement and wisdom. Even though you wrote this a couple years ago it speaks volumes.

      • Thank you, Michelle, you have no idea how much this means to me. So glad that God brought us into each other’s lives, so sorry though it was due to such difficult circumstances for you. <3

  10. how would you answer people that agreed with your point but then said that Israeli’s abuse of their covenant equates formication. Ie. The one reason Jesus seemed to allow for divorce in the gospels.

    • First, I would say that those same people are likely approaching the whole topic from the wrong perspective, and as a result are finding ‘answers’ in Jesus’ words to questions that were not asked. They are reading more into the words of Christ than what He said…then treating their misinterpretation (or extrapolation) as though it were gospel truth.

      For more on Jesus’ words in Matthew 19, you may like to read this post: http://josephjpote.com/2012/04/asking-the-right-questions/

      Secondly, I would agree with them that Israel’s violation of covenant vows was equivalent to adultery. In fact, in this very same verse (Jeremiah 3:8), God refers to Israel’s violations of covenant vows as ‘adulteries.’

      I would then explain that anytime covenant vows are intentionally and egregiously violated it is equivalent to adultery. We can see this in the many biblical references to adultery that have nothing to do with physical sexual acts.

      For example, in James 4:4, the apostle is rebuking the church for quarrelling and fighting among each other, due to heart attitudes of lust and envy. Yet, he calls them adulterers…because they were violating the terms of their covenant with Christ, which compels us to love one another.

      Thanks for asking such a thought-provoking question, Shar!

    • Yes, very good point, David!

      This is an excellent example of godly divorce…or at least godly intent to divorce. Scripture indicates Joseph’s plans to quietly divorce were reflective of his being a righteous man.

      Thank you for pointing that out!

  11. Wow, Joe, lots of good conversation here. I like how many of your commenters (yourself included) reflect on having gone through a difficult time, but learning and growing and, ultimately, finding God faithful. That, ultimately, is what the biblical story is about – God’s faithfulness that remains with us despite great cost. Thanks for linking up 🙂

    • “That, ultimately, is what the biblical story is about – God’s faithfulness that remains with us despite great cost.”

      Yes…yes it is!

      God’s remaining faithful through all the sorrows and trials of this life…and His using every tragedy to draw us into closer relationship with Himself. God’s sovereign will being worked out in the imperfect daily decisions of those whom He has predestined to be heirs of His grace.

      Thank you, Kelly!
      joe recently posted…God of DivorceMy Profile

  12. Pingback: Very few thoughts for today, so instead a few links… | Life Inspired Thoughts

  13. Joe, thanks for this treatment on marriage and divorce. God is a God of divorce, just as He is the God of all things broken…and the Redeemer of those things as well. I’m grateful that divorce is not the unforgivable sin that it once was (especially since I am divorced from an abusive husband)! Divorce breaks God’s heart just as much as any sin, but certainly not more so. And it breaks His heart because of the dissolution of families and the pain involved for all. So good to have you join the Testimony Tuesday community this week. Thanks so much!
    Holly Barrett recently posted…Testimony Tuesday: Heather St. ClairMy Profile

    • Thank you, Holly…both for hosting the Testimony Tuesday link-up on your blog, and for visiting and commenting, here.

      I am sorry you had to endure an abusive marriage and profoundly thankful that you have escaped that marriage.

      I too was formerly in an abusive marriage. Both the marriage and the divorce were painful and difficult, but God was faithful through it all. And I learned so much of His grace and redemption, through that experience!

      One note on your comment…I don’t see divorce as sin.

      As a child I was taught that divorce is sin, and for many years that was my perspective. However, I now see it quite differently. In cases of abusive marriage, I see divorce as God’s redeeming His precious child from covenant ties to an abuser.

      More on that topic here: http://josephjpote.com/2012/09/divorce-is-sin-says-who-2/

      Thank you, Holly!
      joe recently posted…God of DivorceMy Profile

      • Joe,
        Sorry I wasn’t clear! I was taught the same as you growing up and that probably kept me in my situation longer than it should have! I also no longer see divorce as a sin. There is usually sin involved that leads to divorce, but the actual action of obtaining a divorce is not sin, in my opinion and experience.

        Thanks for your kind words. Being a survivor of DV is at once humbling and empowering. My kids were 5 and 7 when we got out. I was scared and lonely. But God always provided, always loved, always protected. I will be forever grateful for the redemption He worked in my life!!

        Glad to have a fellow redemption messenger!! 🙂
        Holly Barrett recently posted…Testimony Tuesday: Heather St. ClairMy Profile

  14. I would be hard pressed to say I am abused, but what to say of a husband who does not see having a relationship with his wife as a priority? Things are such that I just end up a tag-along. As often as I have tried to communicate to him that we simply have an arrangement, and not a marriage… he is oblivious to what I mean. It’s been 30 years and everything just continues to be and go as he wishes. There was a long long time when I didn’t even realize how unhealthy our relationship was, but as I’ve grown and learned… we do not have a oneness that makes a marriage what it should be. We’ve had at least 20 years of on and off counseling and been shown in great detail how to relate, but there never is any progress. He’s too busy working and hobbying. What do you call a relationship that’s not a two-way street? Can you suggest anything I can read on the subject? Is this a desertion of sorts?

    • That is a hard place to be, Elizabeth!

      Have you read the book “Boundaries in Marriage”? You might find it helpful. Based on what you’ve written, it sounds like your husband is unlikely to change, but it may help you come to a healthier place.

      It may also be good to consider pursuing your own interests apart from your husband. Perhaps get involved in a ministry you feel God is calling you to, pursue a degree, etc.

      Pursuing our own God-given interests is a healthy thing apart from what may be going on in a relationship…and it helps restore a sense of balance…a remembering who we are so to speak.

      And, it can help us develop a more objective view of the difficult relationship.

      Praying for you, this morning, that God will give you supernatural wisdom and a peace that passes all understanding, as you walk this path.

      Blessings to you!
      joe recently posted…Submit?My Profile

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