1 - 4 Divorce and a Certificate of Divorce
1 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts [it] in her hand and sends her out from his house, 2 and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man’s [wife], 3 and if the latter husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts [it] in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife, 4 [then] her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance.
It seems that this arrangement is being made because divorce is already regularly happening. Possibly it has even been practiced in Egypt. The purpose of this prescript seems to be to discourage a light-hearted divorce. If someone has sent his wife out from his house and she is married again and is then sent away again, then the first husband is not allowed to have her back to be his wife.
Although God, because of the hardness of their hearts, has allowed them to send their wives away, He states that the woman has been defiled by the next marriage. Therefore the Lord Jesus says that anyone who marries a woman who is send away by her husband commits adultery. This could not be so if God were to recognize divorce as a lawful thing. In God’s sight, there can be no legitimate reason for divorce.
There is no explicit consent to divorce anywhere in Scripture. It is permitted, because of the hardness of heart (Mt 19:8). Nonetheless God hates divorce (Mal 2:16). This arrangement is also made to prevent a man from fickle willful acts, at his every caprice. He could change wives as often as he likes. What a confusion that would cause in family life! Finally, there would also be no clarity about the inheritance.
The reason for sending away can be anything the man describes as “some indecency”. In any case, it has nothing to do with adultery, because therefore the death penalty would apply (Deu 22:20-22). If he sends the wife away, he must give a certificate of divorce. She then has proof that her first husband renounces her and is no longer allowed to take her to wife.
God has given Israel a certificate of divorce: “And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce” (Jer 3:8a). Did God not prolong His hesitation before giving that letter? Finally, God had to write the certificate of divorce, because it is an apostate people in question who, as it is, will never return to blessing. For the people as a whole there is no recovery. What is being restored is a remnant of the election of grace (Rom 11:5,23-24). Grace goes beyond the law. Through this remnant God accepts His people again although, as a whole, they have been whoring away from Him.
For the church in nominal Christianity, the moment of the certificate of divorce also comes. No restoration is possible for this Christianity either (Rev 18:21; Rom 11:21-22). In the present time, however, a “Philadelphia” (Rev 3:7-13) persists. This is indicated in verse 5.
5 Dispensation for a Man Recently Married
5 “When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken.
Like the previous section, this verse also emphasizes the importance of marriage. It would be rather harsh to send a newly married man into battle with the specter of his death there. Then there is no chance of offspring and his name disappears from Israel. Therefore, he gets a year off to give happiness to his wife, which also means to experience sexual intercourse with her. This also makes the evil of the previous verses happen less.
This verse contrasts sharply with the previous verses. This is about a new wife taken by a man, whereas the previous verses are about a wife that is sent away. This man may stay at home for a whole year to give happiness to his wife. That’s how great the wife is for her husband! It is not a second wife, in addition to his first, but a new one.
For us, in practice, it is not that we give happiness to our wives for the duration of one year only, but it is our privilege to do so throughout our entire life (1Cor 7:33,39). The church is that wife to the Lord Jesus. The Lord is now free from battle and free from burdens and is committed to His church to give happiness to her. That is what He as Man in glory is doing now.
6 Grinding Instrument Is No Pledge
6 “No one shall take a handmill or an upper millstone in pledge, for he would be taking a life in pledge.
The interests of the brother are dealt with in the section of Deuteronomy 24:6-25:16. When our brother’s interests conflict with our own, our brother’s interests take precedence: “Do not [merely] look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. … For I have no one [else] of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:4,20-21).
God allows for much, but He also gives limitations to protect the other. Someone may take something in pledge from his brother. Notwithstanding that, the fact a brother is asking for such a loan it shows his great vulnerability, and therefore his need for protection. God indicates here what may not be taken in pledge. It is not so much the value of what is taken in pledge, but the great significance in its usage.
For example, if someone has to borrow grain, the instrument with which that grain has to be grinded may not be taken in pledge. He needs this instrument to process the grain so that it can be consumed as food and he can stay alive. This instrument is his life, and whoever takes this instrument in pledge, takes the life of his brother in pledge.
This can be applied to the ministry of someone who brings the Word. The spiritual ministry that comes to the believers in the words of the servant means spiritual food for the believers. What has been spoken, nevertheless, still has to be worked out by the believer. It is not suitable for consumption. It must be proved, tested. It is fit for consumption only when it has been worked out. The Word that comes to us has yet to be grinded, it has to undergo a process in our hearts and conscience to extract nutrition.
In this work, no brother or sister may be hindered by having their millstone taken. No obstacle shall be created to frustrate the full enjoyment of the food. Anyone who brings the Word may not connect any of the hearers to himself and make him dependent on him for spiritual growth. Each one must process the food himself in fellowship with the Lord.
7 “If a man is caught kidnapping any of his countrymen of the sons of Israel, and he deals with him violently or sells him, then that thief shall die; so you shall purge the evil from among you.
The danger of dependency of the previous verse has grown here into kidnapping. Here someone is not only impoverished, but is additionally subjugated by someone else, to make a profit of him. In Christianity this finds its horrible fulfillment in the roman catholic church. She assumes herself to be the bride of Christ, and that there is no salvation without her. She is called “the great harlot” and “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS” (Rev 17:1,5). It says of her that she trades in “human lives” (Rev 18:12-13).
For this world church, the spirits are made ripe by the advancing charismatic movement. People with charisma who manipulate the (often large) audience through their rousing language and impressive manifestations of powers, signs and miracles exercise an enormous power over their followers. In their words they honor God, but in practice they manipulate the feelings of the Christians who admire them. People who regard any criticism of ‘their’ preacher or miracle worker as a slander of the Spirit often turn out to be completely under the spell of that preacher or miracle worker. They have sold themselves to such a person.
Spiritual leaders are always in danger of connecting people to themselves. If they do that, they become party leaders. An example of this is Absalom of whom we read: “So Absalom stole away the hearts of the men of Israel” (2Sam 15:6). By flattering the men, he won them for his party and loosened them from King David’s dominion. A party leader is a sect leader. Of a sectarian man it is written: “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned” (Tit 3:10).
How very different is the Lord Jesus. He is committed to the sheep and gives His life for them. The contrast with the thief who “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” is enormous. He is “the good Shepherd”, He “lays down His life for the sheep” (Jn 10:10-11).
8 - 9 Infection of Leprosy
8 “Be careful against an infection of leprosy, that you diligently observe and do according to all that the Levitical priests teach you; as I have commanded them, so you shall be careful to do. 9 Remember what the LORD your God did to Miriam on the way as you came out of Egypt.
Leprosy is a picture of sin with communicability as its hallmark and death as its result. The precept on the plague of leprosy seems to focus on preventing the plague. The thought seems to be: Be careful against the plague of leprosy, beware that it does not strike you through your rebellion against what the priests teach by the LORD’s command. It is about the Levitical priest’s teaching, not so much about the priest’s research of the plague. The importance of this teaching is emphasized by the fact that twice in this verse we read “be careful”.
Here in this book, by way of exception, something of the priest is mentioned again. A priest knows the holiness of God and teaches about it. Its purpose is that the flesh will not reveal itself. To add strength to this prescription Moses refers to what happened to Miriam.
Miriam is a concrete example (Num 12:2-10). In her there has been an eruption of sin. It is not about moral evil, but about forming a faction. She contested Moses’ leadership out of jealousy. The result was that the people could not continue their journey for seven days (Num 12:14).
This prescription to be careful against an infection of leprosy connects to the previous verse. That verse denounces the domination over others. The precept here points to the consequences of this: domination causes the infection of leprosy.
10 - 13 Procedure in Case of Taking a Pledge
10 “When you make your neighbor a loan of any sort, you shall not enter his house to take his pledge. 11 You shall remain outside, and the man to whom you make the loan shall bring the pledge out to you. 12 If he is a poor man, you shall not sleep with his pledge. 13 When the sun goes down you shall surely return the pledge to him, that he may sleep in his cloak and bless you; and it will be righteousness for you before the LORD your God.
As said, God allows His people to take a pledge as security for the repayment of the loan. He who makes a loan, however, is not free to choose his pledge himself. In verse 6 there is something mentioned that may not be taken in pledge. Now we are told how this pledge can be taken. Giving in pledge is a matter for the borrower. The one who takes in pledge may not enter the private property of the one who gives in pledge for this purpose.
God also imposes restrictions on the duration of taking items in pledge. If someone is entitled to the pledge of another, he still may not keep it for an unlimited period, despite the debt being unpaid. For example, a garment must be returned when the sun goes down if it belongs to a poor man. That gives blessing and will be accounted as righteousness. Here someone renounces his own interest, in favor of the interest of the other. The prophet Amos condemns the people for the transgression of this very commandment (Amos 2:8a).
This arrangement preserves the pledgor’s own responsibility and personal freedom. Sect leaders have no respect whatsoever for this. They push through decisions that they consider important for their cause, without acknowledging the voice of the vulnerable individual. Impoverished circumstance and personal conscience are not taken into account.
14 - 15 Treatment of a Hired Servant
14 “You shall not oppress a hired servant [who is] poor and needy, whether [he is] one of your countrymen or one of your aliens who is in your land in your towns. 15 You shall give him his wages on his day before the sun sets, for he is poor and sets his heart on it; so that he will not cry against you to the LORD and it become sin in you.
This is not a question of borrowing and debt, but of fairly earned wages. The employer must give each of his employees their entitlement, and must not postpone payment: “The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning” (Lev 19:13b; Mt 20:8; Job 7:2). If the wages are not paid in time, their outcry is made to the LORD (Jam 5:4). Anyone to whom a service is provided is obliged to pay the amount due in respect thereof. Employers should realize that they also have Someone above them: “Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven” (Col 4:1).
It also applies spiritually. Anyone who is “taught in the Word” is expected “to share all good things with the one who teaches [him]” (Gal 6:6). “For the laborer is worthy of his wages” (Lk 10:7). Where the spiritual is sown, it is only logical that the material things are reaped (1Cor 9:11).
The obligation to pay must be fulfilled before sunset, as with the return of the cloak taken in pledge (verse 12). The previous regulation concludes with a blessing for the pledgor and justice from the LORD if it is met. The regulation for payment of wages concludes with a cry to the LORD and the committing of sin if it is not met.
16 Everyone Dies for His Own Sin
16 “Fathers shall not be put to death for [their] sons, nor shall sons be put to death for [their] fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin.
Each one receives the punishment for his own fault and not a descendant (2Kgs 14:6; Eze 18:4,20). There seems to be a contradiction with the statement that the sins of the fathers are visited on the third and fourth generations (Exo 20:5). The answer is that we must always distinguish the punishment over sin from the consequences of sin. David receives forgiveness, but he cannot escape the consequences of sin (2Sam 12:1-13). We all too often meet the consequences of the fathers’ sin in the lives of their descendants.
17 - 22 Alien, Orphan and Widow
17 “You shall not pervert the justice due an alien [or] an orphan, nor take a widow’s garment in pledge. 18 But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and that the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing. 19 “When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. 21 “When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. 22 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing.
God upholds the right of the weak. We are referred back to what God has done for us. And then we see Someone Who has not thought of Himself, but only of our interests. He has freed us from the power of sin at the expense of Himself. That is the abiding example for our attitude toward others. We see this in the parable that the Lord Jesus tells of the debtor with a large debt that is forgiven him. This man forgets that so much has been forgiven him. This is evident from the fact that he constrains another who owes him a much smaller debt, without mercy, to repay it (Mt 18:21-35).
This deals with maintaining the rights of the other. In the church of God, it is different than in the world. In the world the norm and standard is upholding of self-focused human rights: ‘I have rights the other is obliged to respect.’ The defense of my own rights is my principal stance. In the church of God, on the other hand, my brother has only rights and I only duties. We cannot assert any rights. It is about heeding what God says to me. Of course, what He says is just as applicable to the other as well, but that is not my concern here. The memory of my own oppression and my liberation from it, helps to shift my stance to one defending others, including those who are oppressed.
What has remained on the land or on the olive tree and in the vineyard may not be collected later by the owner (see also Lev 19:9-10; 23:22). God determines that the reaping of what is left over is for those who have no other support than Him.
What has not been collected has been forgotten by the mowers. They have overlooked it. It is, so to speak, a fruit that sometimes is not obvious. Those to whom God has bestowed this fruit of the land must make an effort to find it, collect it, and enjoy it. It is not thrown into their laps or delivered to their homes. Ruth has to be active to appropriate these blessings (cf. Rth 2:2,7).
Just as the exhortation of verse 17 is followed by a reminder of the liberation from Egypt, so is the case with the reaping of what is left of the harvest. It is to be expected from those who have been shown mercy that they themselves will show mercy to others. The memory of proven goodness urges us to show goodness to others.