But Jesus responded, “He wrote this commandment only as a concession to your hard hearts. Mark 10:5 NLT
Marriage is difficult enough by itself, when a man and a woman come together and choose to spend their lives together. It is romantic and beautiful, but it is difficult. And our culture doesn’t help much. Society craves a good love story, but they feed on scandal and breakup. And it isn’t new. Back in the first century, and earlier, back to Moses and beyond, the tension between partners in a marriage has been at issue, with some making it through life, and others ending in divorce.
With the divorce rate hovering around 50% and among couples that divorce the average length of marriage is seven years, it is clear that honoring marriage remains a challenge in the world today.
So when the Pharisees approached Jesus to try and trap Him into addressing a controversial subject like marriage and divorce, they weren’t particularly interested in His answer as much as they were in dividing the people against Him. They asked, “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife?” Mark 10:2 NLT
Jesus answered them with a question: “What did Moses say in the law about divorce?”
“Well, he permitted it,” they replied. “He said a man can give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away.”
But Jesus responded, “He wrote this commandment only as a concession to your hard hearts. Mark 10:3-5 NLT
The first thing to notice is that Jesus did not supercede Moses, He did not overrule the Old Testament, instead, He upheld it. “What did Moses command you?” Jesus always refers to the Old Testament, frequently we read where He says, “It is written,” Jesus even confirmed that He did not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it. So He sends them back to Moses for their answer.
And then, instead of leaving it there, Jesus goes on to provide the motivation behind Moses decree. He explains to them that Moses gave this permission because of the hardness of their hearts. This is why divorce was allowed.
And this is very important when we think about Moses and what He was called by God to do. He was the Lawgiver, and the purpose of the Law of God was to reveal sin. Romans 3:20 tells us “By the law is the knowledge of sin.” We have knowledge of our sin, because of the Law of God, it reveals our sinfulness before a Holy God.
So in reference to marriage, it is in line with Moses’ role to permit divorce in order to reveal sin taking place in that union. “By the law, is the knowledge of sin.” So divorce is permitted to make public what has been going on in private in that marriage. And that, Jesus says, is something unseen, gnawing away on the inside of one or both partners, the hardness of heart.
Remember Pharaoh? Moses came to call for the release of the Children of Israel, and the Bibles says Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he refused to let them go. What Pharaoh was doing was ignoring the word of God, and following, instead, the natural inclinations of his own flesh—he wanted to handle it his own way. That is hardening your heart. When God reveals the proper path, and you shun that path in order to go your own way, “I’m not going that way, I’m going my way!” That is a hard heart. Selfish, prideful, and hardened to God’s redemptive ways.
So in the marriages of Israel, when a husband would discover something he deemed unclean, or indecent, or something that just didn’t please him about his wife, he would then have a decision to make. Will he have a soft heart toward his wife, love her unconditionally, win back her affection, become her greatest fan and partner? Or, will he harden his heart, and say “If you are going to be that way, then we’re over!” And dissolve the union.
Many problems in marriages stem from some relatively small thing that one partner takes offense at, that just simmers just under the surface, unspoken. Tempers flare when the issue is talked about so we start avoiding the issue, and then avoiding the person, and we hold them in contempt, ridicule them or demean them. And ultimately, this hard-hearted attitude ends up with one of the partners doing something drastic that wipes out the marriage.
We all make mistakes, usually unintentionally, but if our spouse, or both of us, are nitpicking and seemingly waiting to take offense at something, living together can be maddening. So is every marriage destined for the rocks when one party finds something displeasing in the other? A little offense is taken and it’s just a matter of time before the whole thing collapses?
Absolutely not, in fact, one of the purposes of marriage, is to provide an atmosphere where people can safely work through problems and difficulties in their lives. The marriage partners are like two streams converging into one river, and there’s going to be some white-water—but white water is natural when two unique and independent personalities are becoming one flesh.
The way to honor marriage is a cultivate and maintain a soft heart.
A soft heart is one that is pliable, gentle and loving. A soft heart recognizes its own inability to handle a situation, and will say so, and then relies completely on the wisdom and grace of God to see the situation through. That’s what should have been happening in ancient Israel, and it should be happening today. But when we see half of marriages failing, with partners being demeaned, mistreated, and neglected, we know that there is something else happening behind the scenes—on the inside. So Moses grants divorce, releasing the partners, displaying, that is, making public, the hardness of heart that caused the situation.
The Law didn’t heal the problem, it just brought it out into the open. The problem lies at the heart of each partner. But the hardness of heart that manifests itself in broken marriages is just the first part of Jesus’ answer. Next time we will look back past Moses to God’s original purpose for marriage, and why it is truly sacred.
Dear one, honor your spouse, honor your marriage, it is the closest, most beautiful and sacramental relationship in the world. If you are living on egg-shells and secretly expect your marriage to fail, and you realize your heart is stiffening, hardening toward your spouse, take responsibility for what is going on inside you, today, and repent. The solution starts with you. Begin to love, honor, and cherish your spouse in a way that makes them know they are the most important, loved, person in the world. Let God take it from there, He will finish the beautiful work He has begun in both of you.