I have people tell me I can’t remarry my spouse because of the passage in Deuteronomy 24. What are your thoughts?

Everyone knows about the “Proverbs 31 woman,” but have you ever heard about the “Deuteronomy 24 wife?” Bible scholars will tell you the divorce and remarriage issue is one of the less exact topics in the Bible. We do know that God “hates divorce” (Malachi 3) and that His best is one man for one woman for a lifetime. Beyond that, God seems to have left much open for interpretation, possibly to allow for the tangled webs His children often weave. The first verses of Deuteronomy 24, dealing with divorce and remarriage is not such a passage. When time is taken to study it, God’s law on that topic in Deuteronomy is without question. We are contacted from time to time by some misguided stander who has had one verse quoted to them as the reason they cannot leave an adulterous marriage relationship and return to their covenant mate. Those who do so are taking the verse out of context, and most cannot even quote it properly: They are hearing only: “… then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.” (Verse 4) To correctly apply any scripture to your life, you must consider the verses that appear before and after. Let’s look at this entire passage, with emphasis added for clarification: If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.” (Verses 1-4) What is, “something indecent?” It could not have been adultery, because the woman would have been stoned to death, and a dead woman returning to her covenant husband would not be an issue. (Exodus 20:14) It does not apply to a prodigal husband’s antics, because God is referring specifically to a “wife.” What is “something indecent?” In some translations, the word “uncleanness” is used in place of “something indecent.” The Hebrew word from which that is translated is”arwah”, meaning “shame,” or “disgrace.” The early rabbis could not come to terms with what constituted “uncleanness,” but it is thought to be nakedness, disgrace, or some other action having to do with sexual uncleanness which stopped short of adultery. Does this passage even apply to you? Let’s look. To be fretting over Deuteronomy 24, you must be (1) a wife (2) whose husband divorced her (3) because of sexual uncleanness, bringing shame upon the family, but stopping short of adultery. We have a mailing list of several thousand people, and my wife and I know most of their stories personally, and I cannot recall a single “Deuteronomy 24 wife!” Sadly, we know some who would have been stoned back in the time when Moses received these Laws. These laws were handed down at a time when the Egyptians were “divorcing” the wives by simply speaking words over them. The Egyptians had contracts for every area of their lives, except for divorce. As a result, women and children were being left with nothing. The Israelites then picked up the practice of divorce from the Egyptians. Out of necessity, and to provide food for their families, many “divorced” wives turned to prostitution. This passage appears to be God’s way of making order out of man’s “hardness of heart” over divorce. What does the Bible say elsewhere about returning to a covenant spouse? (Emphasis added) “If a man divorces his wife and she leaves him and marries another man, should he return to her again? Would not the land be completely defiled? But you have lived as a prostitute with many lovers—would you now return to me?” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 3:1) Would God say “No” to Israel when she desired to return to Him? Certainly not. Bible commentaries discuss a strong rebuke in the verse above, but the Lord will always accept His nation back. How then, can we say that a husband is prohibited from receiving his covenant wife back? Ephesians, Chapter 5 teaches us that marriage is a representation on this earth of the relationship between God and His church. There is serious error in instructing a hurting spouse that God will receive back both the individual and the nation that have been unfaithful to Him, yet our covenant spouse cannot do so. The “Deuteronomy 24 wife” issue is not complete until we acknowledge the covenant of marriage. If a wife is married (covenant) to one man, it is not possible for her to establish a second covenant with another man. She is in adultery, but not married to the second man. It is at this point that the path of life widens with God’s grace. There are a thousand and one scenarios that could have taken place. Neither could have been Christians at the time of the first marriage, or one was and one was not. Who was saved when? Are past spouses remarried? Has there been heartfelt repentance by those involved? The bottom line is that the Holy Spirit, and not any man or woman, should be speaking truth to those involved. God’s Word may be fuzzy on some of the divorce and remarriage issues, but His speaking to you will be loud and clear, if you are in a right relationship with Him. Do not allow any other person to attempt to become the Holy Spirit’s helper by dictating to you what is right or wrong, unless the Bible is perfectly clear on the subject. A “Deuteronomy 24 wife” is attempting to live under the law in this age of grace, (New Testament age). If you feel that you are in fact a “Deuteronomy 24 wife,” let’s look at what other directions and laws God gives in that same chapter: “If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.” (Verse 5) Did your husband stay home with you for one year after you were married? If you are really a “Deuteronomy 24 wife,” your husband could not have worked for that one year period. “Do not take a pair of millstones—not even the upper one—as security for a debt, because that would be taking a man’s livelihood as security.” (Verse 6) Millstones were two stones used to grind food. When a “Deuteronomy 24 wife” buys a car, her millstone cannot be taken as collateral. “If a man is caught kidnaping one of his brother Israelites and treats him as a slave or sells him, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you.” (Verse 7) The death penalty is recognized as appropriate by the Deuteronomy 24 wife. “In cases of leprous diseases be very careful to do exactly as the priests, who are Levites, instruct you. You must follow carefully what I have commanded them. Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam along the way after you came out of Egypt.” (Verse 8) This is law for the “Deuteronomy 24 wife” to follow should we have a leprosy epidemic. When you make a loan of any kind to your neighbor, do not go into his house to get what he is offering as a pledge. Stay outside and let the man to whom you are making the loan bring the pledge out to you. If the man is poor, do not go to sleep with his pledge in your possession. Return his cloak to him by sunset so that he may sleep in it. Then he will thank you, and it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of the Lord your God. (Verses 10-12) Cloaks must be returned by sunset to a poor man. How many cloaks are you holding? “Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin.” (Verses 14-15) If your family has financial needs, tell your husband that he must be paid by his employer each day. If not, tell the employer that he is sinning “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.” (Verse 16) Children dying for their sin? I am thankful Jesus came to pay the price for each of us and for our children. “Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this”. The “Deuteronomy 24 wife” may still be a slave, not realizing that Jesus redeemed her on the cross. When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. (Verses 19-21) Very few of us harvest wheat, olives, and grapes today, but here is God’s standard, should you want to be a real “Deuteronomy wife” and grow your own food. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this. Yes, each of us were slaves at one time, but our Redeemer came to set us free. Our precepts for living the Christian life today are found in the New Testament. No, God did not change His mind. He set us free from the law. Being a “Deuteronomy 24 wife” sounds silly, once we study the verses, doesn’t it? So does not being able to return to a covenant spouse, and restoring a family to live for and serve the Lord. These are the laws in the same chapter of Deuteronomy where you are attempting to make application to marriage. You cannot select which verse you will follow. I thank God for Jesus and the grace He provides. – Robert E. Steinkamp

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