This is a brief overview of the subjects of sex, marriage, divorce, remarriage and polygamy from God’s perspective, as found in the Bible. It is also an attempt to be truthful and open on some matters that most if not all ministers will shy away from.
MARRIAGE: GOD’S PLAN
First and foremost, we have to say that God instituted marriage and blessed it, right from the start (Matthew 19: 4-5). At least a part, and perhaps the entire goal of God in instituting marriage was “because he was seeking godly offspring” (Malachi3:15). He wants us to raise children, and to teach them to know him and to love him. No, I didn’t say that sex is only for having children, did I?
MARRIAGE AND SEX
In these and other passages we see that integral to marriage is physical union. Sex within marriage is not sinful. God created male and female (Genesis 1:27), he created them naked and unashamed (2:25), and he told them to “be fruitful and multiply” (1:28). He told them to be “one flesh” (2: 24). They probably didn’t waste any time obeying him on that one. This was all before the Fall, not after it. Yes, sex was created by God. The devil didn’t think it up, he only uses it in an attempt to destroy God’s plan. Human nature inflicts havoc on God’s design of union.
There’s no getting away from the fact that God doesn’t want us to divorce. In fact, God hates divorce (Malachi2:16). However, He does not hate the divorcee. If you read the story of the woman at the well, you will find that Jesus Christ wanted to extend his love to a woman who he knew had been married five times and was living with another man (John 4: 4-27). He also lovingly forgave the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11). So how do God’s hate and his love line up?
As in all commandments, God’s wish is not only to maintain a healthy creation which reflects his holiness, but also that we would be healthy and happy. We are most likely to live in health and happiness when we live as He wishes us to. If we fail, he still loves us. That doesn’t mean we can just do what we want, it means there’s forgiveness ready and waiting when we recognize our sin and change our ways. What God hates is not the sinner but the sin. God hates divorce because it destroys, wounds and scars us and our children, and damages his plan for us. I’m not saying there aren’t times when it’s necessary, but God’s original plan was for us to stay married to the same person.
Jesus said that Moses gave the Israelites the right to divorce, not because it was okay, but because of the hardness of their hearts: Moses reluctantly made it legally possible (Matthew 19:8).
God only sees one acceptable reason to divorce, and that is if your spouse has been unfaithful. Even then, it would be preferable to forgive and reconcile, if he or she is willing to change their ways immediately. In the case of a continually adulterous or abusive spouse, it would not be wrong to separate, because God has called us to live in peace, not war (1 Corinthians 7:15).
THEY DID IT IN THE BIBLE TOO
There are Biblical precedents for divorce and separation. God “divorced” Israelfor unfaithfulness (Jeremiah 3:8). Moses sent away his wife Zipporah, for no reason that we are aware of (Exodus 18:2), then married a Cushite (Numbers 12:1). Abraham sent his wife Haggai away because his other wife and the Lord told him to (Genesis 21: 10-14). Yes Haggai was his wife (Genesis 16:3-4). Neither
Abraham nor Moses were condemned by God for what happened, any more than the woman at the well was.
Paul did counsel the Corinthians not to divorce or separate (1 Corinthians7:10-15). However, in the case of an unbeliever leaving a believer, Paul said that we should let him or her go, “because God has called us to live in peace”.
We find in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians that he counseled divorcees not to remarry, and said it was a command of the Lord (1 Cor.7: 10-11). Someone who divorces another is causing them to commit adultery if they then go on to have another relationship (Matthew 19:9). However, Paul also said to the unmarried and the widows “if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (verse 9). He also said “since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband” (verse 2).
If I were divorced at a young age, I would not have wanted to or been able to stay single and alone for the rest of my life. We see that Moses remarried, and there is no record of any condemnation from the Lord: just from some of the people around him. There is forgiveness even for adultery if we do not continue in it. However, any remarriage should be entered into very soberly and cautiously. We cannot live frivolously and expect God to wink and smile at us.
God made one man for one woman. Males and females each make up roughly fifty percent of the world’s population. That makes the Math pretty easy to do. Having multiple wives would simply be greedy and selfish, since it’s depriving another man of a wife. Having said this, it’s remarkable how certain Old Testament characters, chosen and blessed by God, in fact had more than one wife at a time, and were never corrected or condemned by the Lord for it. I’m not saying it’s okay to live like this, but one thing we can learn is that God is far more forgiving than we imagine:
Abraham had two wives (Genesis 16:3-4) as well as some concubines -essentially wives- who he had children by (25:6);
Jacob had two wives and two concubines, and had children by them all (Genesis chapters 29 and 30);
Abimelech had children by his wife and his slave girls with the Lord’s agreement (Genesis 20: 17-18);
Gideon had numerous wives (Judges 8:30).
David had numerous wives simultaneously:
Michal 1 Sam. 18-27;
Ahinoam 1 Sam. 25:43 and 2 Sam 3:2;
Abigail 1 Sam. 25:29-42;
Maacah 2 Sam. 3:3;
Haggith 2 Sam. 3:4;
Abital 2 Sam: 3:4;
Eglah 2 Sam. 3:5; and
“more concubines and wives” 2 Sam.5:13).
As if this were not enough, God gave Saul’s wives to David (2 Sam. 12: 7-8). Perhaps these are included in the previous list, I do not know yet. David also married Bathsheba 2 Sam. 11: 27, but this marriage was not made in heaven, because Bathsheba was already married, and David arranged for her husband to be killed (see 2 Sam. 11 and 12). God did discipline David very sharply for that one, but had nothing to say about all his other wives;
Solomon had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines (1 Kings 11:3). It seems that God did not confront him on the number of wives he had, but he was angry with Solomon for marrying foreign women who led him astray with false gods (11:1-13).
While it’s clear that the Lord allowed these men to have as many wives and concubines as they wished, there are a few more important things to note. First, there were inevitably consequences for having several women. You can read about them yourself in the relevant Bible books. David suffered greatly for having several children who were in rivalry against each other and against him. Also, we can’t imagine that his wives got along with each other very well. The same could be said for Solomon, and his foolishness led to gross sin, because he was led away from the living God to the false idols and gods of the surrounding nations.
There are consequences for all of our actions and decisions, and those of us who have been around long enough know that only too well. God will forgive us but will not shield us from all the consequences. Sometimes we only learn the hard way.
OTHER FACTS TO NOTE
Throughout the Bible we see that the Lord was very clear about sex: it was created for a lasting, committed relationship called marriage. Marriage is for one man and one woman: anything else is a corruption of God’s plan. Sex with another man or woman’s spouse is a very serious sin (Hebrews 13:4). These sins can be forgiven but we have to turn away from them, not continue in them.
The Bible presents its characters “warts and all”. We see the darker side of people’s lives because they were real characters – not religious fabrications.