Matthew 19:1-12 Part 3

“From the beginning it is not so….”

Having been created by God, Adam and his wife were obligated to obey their Maker – and their children after them.  They became covenant breakers; and there resulted chaos and death.

Noah and his family were lifted up, in baptism, over the flood of the wrath of God - by grace.  And he, and all his posterity were obligated to obey their Savior God.  Noah’s posterity became covenant breakers; and there resulted chaos and death.

Abraham was called out, given faith, and promised a great posterity.  The covenant was ratified in blood sacrifice and fire. And Abraham and his children were obligated to obey.  They were put under oath to obedience. But in every case of disobedience, there resulted chaos and death.

The nation of Israel was “saved” and baptized in the waters of the Red Sea.  And the Law of God was given to them in great detail for them to obey.  And all the posterity of Israel was obligated to that obedience.  They did not choose to be the recipients of the grace of God, and they did not choose to accept or reject the covenant of God – they were already covenanted!  They were born in it!  And, being in the Covenant, they either became covenant keepers or covenant breakers.  And in every case in which the posterity of Israel disobeyed, there resulted chaos and death.

The Lord Jesus Christ was “cut off” in the baptismal waters of the wrath of God – having confirmed the Law of God in every detail.  And the New Israel, and all its posterity, was obligated (covenanted) in obedience to God.  We, and our children, are either covenant keepers or covenant breakers!

It is precocious arrogance and insolence and idolatrous self-esteem to claim for ones’ self a “right” of acceptance or rejection of the Covenant of God!  “From the beginning it is not so”…!  We are covenant breakers or covenant keepers.  We don’t “accept” the covenant of God – we break it or keep it!  Being already under the terms of the covenant, there is no such thing as “accepting” it.  Being a member of your family, does your child have the sovereign right to accept or reject the fact and reality of his birth?  From his conception, “it is not so!”

We all live under the Law of God, and under the terms and sanctions of His covenant.  He is our Creator!  And we have no right whatever to stand above His Word and “judge” it, as if we had the power and autonomy, individually, to accept it or reject it!  By virtue of our creaturehood, we are already under it!

This is the force of Jesus’ statement in verse eight. 


“From the beginning it is not so.” 


Now, should you read the KJV here, you would find it rendered this way:  . “from the beginning it was not so.”  That’s an attempt to make the verb match the “past tense” sense of the phrase “from the beginning....”  But that’s not how it reads.  Even though the prepositional phrase, “from the beginning,” does refer back to the past (at creation), Jesus doesn’t give the verb a past tense!  He uses, instead, the perfect tense, which is a continual state in the present, having come to be because of something that happened in the past.  “It is not so.”

So His statement here to the Pharisees is this:  “Your question is invalid.  You have impudently stood over the Word and Covenant of your God as its judge.  And you have perverted it for your own benefits.  Marriage is an institution created by God from the beginning.  And it, now, continually stands as it was created – your ridiculous disputes concerning it notwithstanding!”

In other words, the Pharisees could not reject, for any reason, the Word and Covenant of God.  They had no right to do so.  They had no authority to do so, for any reason – which includes the reason of their own sexual appetites!  They could not reject their own creaturehood, nor the Words of their Creator; so what they really are law-breakers and covenant-breakers!  They have arrogantly taken upon themselves the authority to distort the very creation of God and His Decree!  And that for their own benefit!

Now.  How did things get to this point?  And what does the Older Testament Word of God really say?  In the first sermon on this text, we laid the historical foundation.  And we said that the ecclesiastical and civil leadership of Israel at the time of Christ were alien seed – oversowed in the Garden of God.  And the nation of the Covenant had become worse than all the surrounding pagan nations.  It was thoroughly corrupt and demon-possessed.

God’s holy law for righteous living before Him had been perverted and turned “upside down.”  And Christ had come (one of the reasons) in order to execute the terms of the Covenant and destroy this evil nation.  For over seven hundred and fifty years, generations of elders, priests, scribes and Pharisees had distorted the Truth of God as they saw fit; and their word was the law!  And they called their word God’s Word!  They were hypocrites!

In the second sermon on this text we saw that God’s Creation ordinance of marriage is used in His Word as one of the images of Christ and the Church!  We spent some time on the image; but the point is that any distortion of the Creation institution is also a distortion of the picture presented by it of the union between Christ and His people!  So when man plays around with the law concerning marriage, (using it for his own benefit, changing the meaning and intent of the words, justifying his own actions and needs), he not only breaks the Law and Covenant of God (reaping the consequences of that), but he also presents and portrays a false picture of the work of Jesus Christ the Savior of the world!

So, as Jesus Christ leaves Capernaum for the last time, and enters the regions of Judea to become the Sacrificial Atonement for sin, it is very significant that marriage and divorce is the issue in the confrontation with the leadership of Israel.

Having heard about the thousands of people with Jesus on the other side of the Jordan River, the delegation of Pharisees leaves Jerusalem; and right out of the gate they test Him, trying to expose Him and put Him under their authority by way of the divorce issue. 


“Is it permitted a man to dismiss his wife down to every cause?”


Their question comes from Deuteronomy chapter twenty-four, which we’ll look at in a minute; but the question is designed to trap Jesus into taking sides.  There were two different, main opinions among the hypocrite theologians of Israel with regard to divorce.  One said that the whole list of reasons that they had developed for themselves, by which a man could “put away” his wife, was legal; whereas the other side was a little more restrictive.  (Their perversion of the text wasn’t quite as perverted as the other one was.)  “Would you say that divorce was legal down to the last cause on the list, or would you be more restrictive like some of our other theologians?”  That’s their question!

And if Jesus took one side or the other, the more restrictive perversion or the less restrictive, not only would He be advocating the breaking of the Law, and not only would He be promoting rebellion from the Covenant, and not only would He be falsely imaging the coming union of Himself and the Church, but He would also be choosing between two perverted political and theological parties!  And He would be placing Himself under the authority of the one He chose!

And if the huge crowds of people were to hear Him place Himself in the camp of one of the Pharisee parties, then the Pharisees would, again, be seen as ultimate authority in Israel.  So the “testing” which we see in verse three is a trap to destroy Jesus in the eyes of the people, or to, at least, lower their esteem for Him and restore their esteem for the Pharisees.

Now, let’s look at the passage of Scripture to which they refer in their question to Jesus.  And, by the way, both questions to Jesus refer to the same passage – the one here in verse three, and the one in verse seven.  Verse seven says:


“Why, then, did Moses direct to give a writing of repudiation and to dismiss?”


I want to read a translation of the passage for you; Deuteronomy chapter twenty-four, verses one through five.  As we’re reading it, see if you call spot the Pharisaical distortions of the text.  You have their questions in front of you in verses three and seven; so, with that in mind, listen very closely to what Moses said in Deuteronomy.  Here it is:


“When a man has taken a wife and married her, and it happens that she does not find favor in his eyes because of some shameful matter; and he writes her a writing of dismissal and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house; and if she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man’s wife; and the latter husband hates her and writes her a writing of dismissal and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house; or if the latter husband who took her to him to be his wife dies, then her former husband who sent her away may not take her again to be his wife; after that she is defiled.  For it is an abomination before Jahway, and you shall not cause the land which Jahway is giving you as an inheritance to sin.


Now, I ask you, with regard to the first question the Pharisees ask Jesus – verse three, does Moses address the causes for which a man may dismiss his wife?  And with regard to the second question they asked Jesus – verse seven, does Moses direct, or command, the people to give a writing of repudiation and to dismiss?  No!  Neither one! Do you see how the Pharisees have distorted the Word of God?  This is all evolved, developed perversion which has come to pass over more than eight centuries, and which has been written in the Midrashim (theological exposition and opinion of Israel’s Pharisees) and other places, and which has replaced the Torah!  (The Law).  It is the theological opinion, and exposition of opinion, of Israel’s Pharisees!

Let me give you some quick contextual and theological interpretation of this writing of Moses.  (I promise – we’ll get to the answer Jesus gives. At least we’ll begin it.)

But let’s think for a minute about what has been happening to the nation of Israel at the time of Moses.  Where had they been?  For four hundred years the twelve tribes of Jacob had lived in Egypt!  And most of that time they were in bondage to a pagan people who didn’t know Joseph – a people who conquered the Egyptians who had been kind to Jacob and his sons.  And having lived in a completely pagan atmosphere for four centuries, what do you anticipate would have happened to the culture of Israel?

Letters and writings have been uncovered from that period of Egypt’s history, and writings of divorce were commonplace.  Israel had accepted the culture of Egypt and it did the same things.  And when the two or three million people were led out of Egypt by Moses, what culture would you think they carried with them?  Egyptian culture, of course.  And the traditions were thoroughly pagan!  This people, separated out by God for Himself, went into the desert with all of these “social” problems caused by cultural syncretism.  And they had to hear the Word of God; they had to be disciplined; and their sin had to be controlled and regulated for the good of the society.   Men putting away their wives for shameful conduct, simply with a writing of repudiation, was Egyptian tradition and culture.  And even though the Law had already been given to Israel at Sinai, this sin was still a part of the fabric of the society of this nation as it wandered in the desert.  By their hardness of heart, they had not yet put this sin away!

That’s the historical context.  Now let’s look briefly at the Theology of the Deuteronomy twenty-four passage.  And I ask the question again: does Moses treat here the reasons for a man to dismiss his wife?  Does he “direct” the people to divorce by a writing of repudiation, as the Pharisees imply in their question to Jesus?

No. The Deuteronomy passage does not direct itself to the causes by which man could divorce his wife; and Moses doss not command the people to divorce by giving a writing of repudiation!  The Pharisees’ questions to Jesus are based on twisted interpretations of this passage!  That’s a technique employed quite often by false teachers and evil men.  They require you to answer invalid questions – ones that are based on twisted, false presuppositions; and, if you refuse to answer the questions that they propose, then they accuse you of being disingenuous or unsophisticated – or even evasive and deceptive.  That’s a no-win situation for us most of the time, because we try to answer the questions they propose, instead of answering the question as it should have been put, and answering it with the plain Word of God.  Like Jesus did here in our text.

But what does Deuteronomy twenty-four, verses one through five address since it doesn’t address the issues in the Pharisees’ two questions?  Since so many of you are divorced and remarried, and since that terrible, defiling sin is still going on in this nation, you shall not remarry your former wife if there has been an interim marriage!”  That’s the issue!  “The land, the nation, shall not be defiled by this sin, because it is an abomination to Yahveh your God.”

Let it be said that there was already moral defilement in divorce and remarriage, and it was commonplace in Israel – having recently come out of Egypt.  The command here is not to compound the defilement which occurred in the second sexual union with another divorce and a return to the first sexual union!  In the eyes of God this would have been, in Israel’s circumstances, a sin akin to incest and unnatural sex – homosexuality!  It is abominable, and it defiles the land.

Now, I having said all of that, there are a couple of things that can be gleaned from this passage other than the issue which it addresses.  First, divorce and remarriage is already sexual defilement, as is gathered from the Creation mandate, and the marriage institution, and in the image of Christ and his Church!  We’ll get to that next time.  Second, Israel’s pagan, Egyptian customs and traditions, practiced in the desert, give us no license for divorce and remarriage.  It did these twisted and perverted Pharisees, but not us.  Thirdly, Moses commanded no laws in opposition to the Creation institution of marriage.  He took the sinful condition of the people, as it was, and He regulated against additional defilement.

And, fourthly, Moses did not direct the people to divorce by way of a writing of repudiation, as the Pharisees said.  According to verse eight he was “vexed” by divorce and remarriage.  It was rampant among the nation, and he “suffered” it.  He gave them over to it – against (not because of, but against) the hardness of their hearts.  Moses was against them doing this; he was against the state of the people in their pagan traditions; his “giving them over to it” and his suffering of it and his regulating against further defilement was, in itself, condemnation of it.  There is no “permission” of its continuance even implied in this text.

But back at our own text, we see that the Pharisees’ question to Jesus is, “why, then, did Moses direct to give a writing of repudiation and to dismiss?” The terrible distortion and perversion of the hypocrites….

Well, we’re not going to get to Jesus’ answer today, after all.  But now maybe we understand the question a little better, and we’ll be more able to see the glory of Jesus’ answer – and abide in the Truth.

“From the beginning, it is not so.”

“In the beginning, God....”

It is not within the power or the purview of man to accept or reject God as our Creator or our Sovereign.  He has covenanted with His Son for the salvation of the world; and we are either Covenant keepers or Covenant breakers – and the blessings or curses are appropriate for each of those conditions.

The marriage institution is a creation of God.  Among its purposes (and its highest purpose) is that of imaging the union of Christ and the Church.  Any disregard for its sanctity, any reduction of its importance, any weakening of its bond, any abasement of its value is Pharisaical and Satanic.  And any attempt to reinterpret what God says with regard to it is an attempt to defile the marriage bed for self-serving purposes.  And it is an attempt to mar the image of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Church – for which He so graciously gave His life.  In every case in which this image is defiled by divorce and remar­riage, there has been chaos and death.  Observe the state of our own country –defiled and dying.

And, to those of us graced by His Power to be Covenant keepers, there are signs given to us whereby we are included in that Covenant and reminded of His Sovereignty and our duty.  By the Lord’s Table we remember tint we are in submission to Him, and that He is our sacrifice to God for our sin.  “From the beginning it is… so.”