by Kim Johnson
According to statistics, over 50% of marriages will end in separation or divorce. Many people have family members whose marriages have ended in divorce. Many others have close friends who have experienced divorce. Churches are full of people who have experienced divorce. This isn’t something new. However, there is one divorce that is rarely discussed and it is found in the Bible. A very brief study of Jeremiah 3 shows that God, himself, has experienced divorce. What is even more astounding, he initiated it.
Throughout the Bible the nation of Israel is pictured as the “Bride of Christ.” The relationship God had with Israel throughout the Old Testament was of a loving husband who continued to look after and care for a “bride” who did not return the same love. Yet, he did not continue to suffer and stay content in his broken marital state as many pastors today counsel their members to do. When Israel continued to scorn him over and over, God divorced Israel. This is found in Jeremiah 3:6-8 (KJV):
“The LORD said also unto me in the days of Josiah the king, Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? She is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot.
And I said after she had done all these things, Turn thou unto me. But she returned not. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery, I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also.”
There are several things to understand in these verses. God compares his relationship with Israel as a marriage relationship. Israel, according to verse 6, played the harlot. In verse 7, God gave his bride a second chance, a chance to repent and “turn back to me”. Israel did not turn back, and for Israel’s adultery, God did exactly as his Law instructed concerning a husband whose wife no longer had favor in the eyes of her husband. He gave her a bill of divorce and put her away. It is very clear that “put away” (shalach) and “bill of divorce” (keriythuwth) are two separate and distinct things here (as well as other places in Scripture). If they were one and the same, then verse 8 would read:
“And I say, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery, I divorced her and divorced her;”
Or it might read this way:
“And I say, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery, I had given her a bill of divorce and gave her a bill of divorce;”
Neither of these verses makes any sense when translated the way current versions have done. Instead, as God himself shows in Jeremiah 3:6-8, they are two separate and distinct actions. But the most important thing to see here is that God identifies himself as divorced! God divorced Israel! He followed the process he gave to Moses in Deuteronomy 24. Does that mean he has sinned? Is he then disqualified from being God?
Some might try to explain this by saying God’s marriage to Israel is a marriage in the “spiritual realm” and not a “physical marriage” as between two humans. However, this only makes the fact that God says he divorced Israel even more meaningful. If divorce was a sin, why would he do it? Since God is the supreme example and role model for us, it is pertinent to note that he broke the relationship when his spouse, Israel, so broke the marriage contract. While the position could be taken that God’s divorce from Israel is still unclear, in reality it is only unclear if prejudices and preconceived notions are getting in the way of a clear reading of God’s Word. God clearly divorced Israel.
Many times, a church member will come to their pastor for marriage counseling when their spouse has been unfaithful or broken the marriage vows in other ways. Many pastors say they may not divorce because it is a sin and if they ever remarried, they would be adulterers. What would these pastors have said to God had he come to them for counseling? The only conclusion that can be drawn from these Scriptures is that God refers to himself as divorced. God cannot sin, so for that very reason divorce cannot be a sin. While sin leads to divorce, it is not a sin for us, His children. This does not mean take away from the sanctity of marriage. Rather, it is a reflection of the sinful, broken world in which we live.