Verses 1–4

This is that permission which the Pharisees erroneously referred to as a precept, Matt. 19:7; Moses commanded to give a writing of divorcement. It was not so; our Saviour told them that he only suffered it because of the hardness of their hearts, lest, if they had not had liberty to divorce their wives, they should have ruled them with rigour, and it may be, have been the death of them. It is probable that divorces were in use before (they are taken for granted, Lev. 21:14), and Moses thought it needful here to give some rules concerning them. 1. That a man might not divorce his wife unless he found some uncleanness in her, Deut. 24:1. It was not sufficient to say that he did not like her, or that he liked another better, but he must show cause for his dislike; something that made her disagreeable and unpleasant to him, though it might not make her so to another. This uncleanness must mean something less than adultery; for, for that, she was to die; and less than the suspicion of it, for in that case he might give her the waters of jealousy; but it means either a light carriage, or a cross froward disposition, or some loathsome sore or disease; nay, some of the Jewish writers suppose that an offensive breath might be a just ground for divorce. Whatever is meant by it, doubtless it was something considerable; so that their modern doctors erred who allowed divorce for every cause, though ever so trivial, Matt. 19:3. 2. That it must be done, not by word of mouth, for that might be spoken hastily, but by writing, and that put in due form, and solemnly declared, before witnesses, to be his own act and deed, which was a work of time, and left room for consideration, that it might not be done rashly. 3. That the husband must give it into the hand of his wife, and send her away, which some think obliged him to endow her and make provision for her, according to her quality and such as might help to marry her again; and good reason he should do this, since the cause of quarrel was not her fault, but her infelicity. 4. That being divorced it was lawful for her to marry another husband, Deut. 24:2. The divorce had dissolved the bond of marriage as effectually as death could dissolve it; so that she was as free to marry again as if her first husband had been naturally dead. 5. That if her second husband died, or divorced her, then still she might marry a third, but her first husband should never take her again (Deut. 24:3, 4), which he might have done if she had not married another; for by that act of her own she had perfectly renounced him for ever, and, as to him was looked upon as defiled, though not as to another person. The Jewish writers say that this was to prevent a most vile and wicked practice which the Egyptians had of changing wives; or perhaps it was intended to prevent men’s rashness in putting away their wives; for the wife that was divorced would be apt, in revenge, to marry another immediately, and perhaps the husband that divorced her, how much soever he though to better himself by another choice, would find the next worse, and something in her more disagreeable, so that he would wish for his first wife again. “No” (says this law) “you shall not have her, you should have kept her when you had her.” Note, It is best to be content with such things as we have, since changes made by discontent often prove for the worse. The uneasiness we know is commonly better, though we are apt to think it worse, than that which we do not know. By the strictness of this law God illustrates the riches of his grace in his willingness to be reconciled to his people that had gone a whoring from him. Jer. 3:1; Thou hast played the harlot with many lovers, yet return again to me. For his thoughts and ways are above ours.