Deuteronomy 24:1
When a man has taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he has found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorce, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
XXIV.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4. DIVORCE.

Some uncleanness.—Evidently mere caprice and dislike are not intended here. There must be some real ground of complaint. (See Margin.)

Let him write her a bill of divorcement.—“Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives,” is the Divine comment upon this. It is a distinct concession to the weakness of Israel—not the ideal standard of the Law, but the highest which it was found practicable to enforce. (See Matthew 19:2 seq.) There are many other particular enactments in the Law of Moses of which the same thing may be said. The ideal standard of morality has never varied. There is no higher ideal than that of the Pentateuch. But the Law which was actually enforced, in many particulars fell short of that ideal.

(2) If the latter husband hate her.—Rashi says here that “the Scripture intimates that the end of such a marriage will be that he will hate her.” He makes a similar remark on the marriage with the captive in Deuteronomy 21. The result of the marriage will be a hated wife, and a firstborn son of her, who will be a glutton and a drunkard.

(4) Her former husband . . . may not take her again . . . and thou shalt not cause the land to sin.—The comment upon this, supplied by Jeremiah 3:1, is singularly beautiful. “They say, If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man’s, shall he return unto her again? Shall not that land be greatly polluted? But thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the Lord.”

Deuteronomy 24:1. Some uncleanness — Some hateful thing, some distemper of body, or quality of mind, not observed before marriage: or some light carriage, as this phrase commonly signifies, but not amounting to adultery. Let him write — This is not a command, as some of the Jews understood it, nor an allowance and approbation, but merely a permission of that practice for prevention of greater mischiefs, and this only until the time of reformation, till the coming of the Messiah, when things were to return to their first institution and purest condition.24:1-4 Where the providence of God, or his own wrong choice in marriage, has allotted to a Christian a trial instead of a help meet; he will from his heart prefer bearing the cross, to such relief as tends to sin, confusion, and misery. Divine grace will sanctify this cross, support under it, and teach so to behave, as will gradually render it more tolerable.In this and the next chapter certain particular rights and duties, domestic, social, and civil, are treated. The cases brought forward have often no definite connection, and seem selected in order to illustrate the application of the great principles of the Law in certain important events and circumstances.

These four verses contain only one sentence, and should be rendered thus: If a man hath taken a wife, etc., and given her a bill of divorcement and Deuteronomy 24:2 if she has departed out of his house and become another man's wife; and Deuteronomy 24:3 if the latter husband hates her, then Deuteronomy 24:4 her former husband, etc.

Moses neither institutes nor enjoins divorce. The exact spirit of the passage is given in our Lord's words to the Jews', "Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives" Matthew 19:8. Not only does the original institution of marriage as recorded by Moses Genesis 2:24 set forth the perpetuity of the bond, but the verses before us plainly intimate that divorce, while tolerated for the time, contravenes the order of nature and of God. The divorced woman who marries again is "defiled" Deuteronomy 24:4, and is grouped in this particular with the adulteress (compare Leviticus 18:20). Our Lord then was speaking according to the spirit of the law of Moses when he declared, "Whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery" Matthew 19:9. He was speaking too not less according to the mind of the prophets (compare Malachi 2:14-16). But Moses could not absolutely put an end to a practice which was traditional, and common to the Jews with other Oriental nations. His aim is therefore to regulate and thus to mitigate an evil which he could not extirpate.

CHAPTER 24

De 24:1-22. Of Divorces.

1-4. When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes—It appears that the practice of divorces was at this early period very prevalent amongst the Israelites, who had in all probability become familiar with it in Egypt [Lane]. The usage, being too deep-rooted to be soon or easily abolished, was tolerated by Moses (Mt 19:8). But it was accompanied under the law with two conditions, which were calculated greatly to prevent the evils incident to the permitted system; namely: (1) The act of divorcement was to be certified on a written document, the preparation of which, with legal formality, would afford time for reflection and repentance; and (2) In the event of the divorced wife being married to another husband, she could not, on the termination of that second marriage, be restored to her first husband, however desirous he might be to receive her.Of the woman that was dismissed by her husband with a bill of divorcement, Deu 24:1-4. The liberty of the new-married man, Deu 24:5. Pawns and pledges, Deu 24:6. Man-stealers, Deu 24:7. Leprosy, Deu 24:8. And again of pawns or pledges, Deu 24:10-13. Of day wages, Deu 24:14,15. Prone to be punished for another’s offence, Deu 24:16. Of justice and love towards widows, fatherless, and strangers, Deu 24:17-22.

That she find no favour in his eyes, i.e. he dislike and loathe her. It is a figure called meiosis, whereby more is understood than is expressed, as Proverbs 10:2 17:21 24:23.

Uncleanness; Heb. nakedness, or shamefulness, or filthiness of a thing, i.e. some filthy or hateful thing, some loathsome distemper of body or quality of mind, not observed before marriage; or some light and unchaste carriage, as this or the like phrase commonly signifies, but not amounting to adultery, which was not punished with divorce, but with death.

Send her out of his house; which is not a command to divorce them, as some of the Jews understood it, nor an allowance and approbation, as plainly appears, not only from the New Testament, Matthew 5:31,32 19:8,9, but also from the Old Testament, Genesis 2:24 Malachi 2:16; but merely a permission or toleration of that practice for prevention of greater mischiefs and cruelties of that hard-hearted people towards their wives, and this only for a season, even until the time of reformation, as it is called Hebrews 9:10, i.e. till the coming of the Messias, when things were to return to their first institution and purest condition. The husband is not here commanded to put her away, but if he do put her away, he is commanded

to write and give her a bill of divorcement, before he send her out of his house. And though it be true, as our Saviour observes, that Moses did suffer these divorces, to wit, without punishing them, which also is here implied, yet it must be acknowledged, that if we consult the Hebrew words, those three first verses may seem to be only a supposition, and the words rendered, then let him write her, in the Hebrew run thus, and hath written her, and so it follows, Deu 24:2. And she be departed out of his house, and be gone and become another man’s wife; then follows Deu 24:3, which even according to our translation carries on the supposition, And if the latter husband hate her, & c. Then follows the position or prohibition, Deu 24:4.

When a man hath taken a wife and married her,.... That is, when a man has made choice of a woman for his wife, and has obtained her consent, and the consent of her parents; and has not only betrothed her, but taken her home, and consummated the marriage:

and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes; is not agreeable to him, he takes no delight in her person, nor pleasure in her company and conversation; but, on the contrary, his affections are alienated from her, and he cannot bear the sight of her:

because he hath found some uncleanness in her; something that he disliked, and was disagreeable to him, and which made their continuance together in the marriage state very uncomfortable; which led him on to be very ill-natured, severe, and cruel to her; so that her life was exposed to danger, or at least become very uneasy; in which case a divorce was permitted, both for the badness of the man's heart, and in favour of the woman, that she might be freed from such rigorous usage. This word "uncleanness" does not signify adultery, or any of the uncleannesses forbidden in Leviticus 18:6; because that was punishable with death, when it could be proved; and where there was only a suspicion of it, the husband might make use of the bitter water: though the house of Shammai seem to take it in this sense; for they say a man might not divorce his wife unless he found her in some unclean thing, something dishonest and wicked, and which they ground upon these words; but the house of Hillell say, if she burnt his food, or spoiled it by over salting, or over roasting it; and Akiba says, even if he found another woman more beautiful than her or more agreeable to him. But neither his sense, nor that of the house of Shammai, are approved of by the Jews in general, but that of the house of Hillell (m); and they suppose a man might divorce his wife for any ill qualities of mind in her, or for any ill or impudent behaviour of hers; as if her husband saw her go abroad with her head uncovered, and spinning in the streets, and so showing her naked arms to men; or having her garments slit on both sides; or washing in a bath with men, or where men use to wash, and talking with every man, and joking with young men; or her voice is sonorous and noisy; or any disease of body, as the leprosy, and the like; or any blemishes, as warts, are upon her; or any disagreeable smell that might arise from any parts of the body, from sweat, or a stinking breath (n):

then let him write her a bill of divorcement; Jarchi says, this is a command upon him to divorce her, because she finds not favour in his eyes; and so the Jews (o) generally understand it, and so they did in the time of Christ, Matthew 19:7; whereas it was no more than a permission, for reasons before given. A man might not dismiss his wife by word of mouth, which might be done hastily, in a passion, of which he might soon repent; but by writing, which was to be drawn up in form; and, as the Targum of Jonathan, before the sanhedrim, in a court of judicature, which required time, during which he might think more of it, and either recede from his purpose before the case was finished, or do it upon mature deliberation; and a firm resolution. The Jews say (p) many things of the witnesses before whom it was to be written and sealed, and at what time, and upon what, and with what it was to be written, and who were proper persons to write it or not, in a treatise of theirs, called Gittin, or divorces. In the Hebrew text this bill is called "a bill of cutting off" (q); because the marriage was rescinded, and man and wife were cut off and separated from one another for ever; of the form of such a bill; see Gill on Matthew 5:31,

and give it in her hand; which was to be done before witnesses, and which is one of the ten things requisite to a divorce (r); though it made no difference whether it was delivered by himself, or by a messenger; or whether to her, or to her deputy, appointed by her before witnesses; or whether it was put into her hand, or in her bosom, so be it that she was but possessed of it; with which agrees the Jewish canon,"if he casts a bill to his wife, and she is within the house, or within the court, she is divorced; if he casts it into her bosom, or into her work basket, she is divorced (s):"

and send her out of his house; which was a visible token and public declaration of her divorce; besides, were she to be continued in his house afterwards, it would give suspicion of cohabitation, which after a divorce was not lawful.

(m) Misn. Gittin, c. 9. sect. 10. & Maimon. & Bartenora in ib. (n) T. Bab. Gittin, fol. 90. 1. 2. Misn. Cetubot, c. 7. sect. 6, 7. & Maimon. & Bartenora in ib. (o) T. Bab. Gittin, ut supra. (n)) (p) Misn. Gittin, c. 2. sect. 2, 3, 4, 5. (q) "libellum excidii", Montanus, Fagius; "succisionis", Munster; "abscissionis", Tigurine version. (r) See Ainsworth in loc. (s) Misn. Gittin, c. 8. sect. 1.

When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: {a} then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.

(a) By this God does not approve light divorcement, but permits it to avoid further inconvenience; Mt 19:7.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
When a man taketh a wife] Deuteronomy 22:13.

then it shall be … that he shall write her, etc.] Rather, and it come to pass … that he write her, etc. The apodosis does not commence here but in Deuteronomy 24:4.

some unseemly thing] As in Deuteronomy 23:14 (15), the nakedness of a thing, something indecent or repulsive, LXX ἄσχημον πρᾶγμα. The expression is so indefinite that it gave rise to controversy in the Rabbinic schools; that of Shammai understanding by it unchastity, that of Hillel any physical blemish or other, even the most trivial, cause of dislike. It cannot be adultery for this was punished by death. The words suggest some immodest exposure or failure in proper womanly reserve.

bill of divorcement] Lit. of separation. Bill, Heb. sepher, used of any missive (e.g. 2 Samuel 11:14 f.) or legal deed (Jeremiah 32:11), as well as book, LXX βιβλίον. Something in legal form, and possibly procurable only from some public authority. Yet, notice, there is no mention of elders here as in the procedure in Deuteronomy 22:13-21. The later Jews called such a document geṭ, and the procedure in connection with it is prescribed in the Mishna, ‘Giṭṭin.’

and give it … her … and send her …] Two further formal steps of personal service of the deed, and the husband’s own solemn dismissal. So his responsibility in the matter is not weakened.Ver 1. - Because he hath found some uncleanness in her; literally, a thing or matter of nakedness, i.e. some shameful thing, something disgraceful; LXX., ἄσχημον πρᾶγμα: Vulgate, "aliquam foeditatem." In the Targum of Onkelos, the expression is explained by עֲבֵירִת פִתֵגָם; "aliquid foeditatis" (London Polyglot); "iniquitas rei alicujus"(Buxtorf); "the transgression of a [Divine] word" (Levi). On this the school of Hillel among the rabbins put the interpretation that a man might divorce his wife for any unbecomingness (Mishna, 'Gittin,' 9:10), or indeed for any cause, as the Pharisees in our Lord's day taught (Matthew 19:3). The school of Shammai, on the other hand, taught that only for something disgraceful, such as adultery, could a wife be divorced (Lightfoot, 'Her. Hebrews et Talm.,' on Matthew 5:31, Opp., tom. 2:290). Adultery, however, cannot be supposed here because that was punishable with death. A bill of divorcement; literally, a writing of excision; the man and woman having by marriage become one flesh, the divorce of the woman was a cutting of her off from the one whole. Lightfoot has given (lee. et.) different forms of letters of divorce in use among the Jews (see also Maimonides, 'De Divortiis,' Deuteronomy 4. § 12). Different Theocratic Rights of Citizenship. - Deuteronomy 23:19, Deuteronomy 23:20. Of his brother (i.e., his countryman), the Israelite was not to take interest for money, food, or anything else that he lent to him; but only of strangers (non-Israelites: cf. Exodus 22:24 and Leviticus 25:36-37).
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