Deuteronomy 24:4
Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the LORD: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
Deuteronomy 24:4. Her former husband may not take her again — This is the punishment of his levity and injustice in putting her away without sufficient cause, which, by this offer, he now acknowledgeth. Defiled — Not absolutely, as if her second marriage were a sin, but with respect to her first husband, to whom she is as a defiled or unclean woman; that is, forbidden; for things forbidden are accounted and called unclean, (Jdg 13:7,) because they may no more be touched or used than an unclean thing. Thou shalt not cause the land to sin — Thou shalt not suffer such lightness to be practised, lest the people be polluted, and the land defiled and accursed by that means.

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.

This is the punishment of his levity and injustice in putting her away without sufficient cause, which by this offer he now acknowledgeth.

After that she is defiled; not simply and absolutely, as if her second marriage were a sin, but respectively, or as to her first husband, to whom she is as a defiled or unclean woman, that is, forbidden; for things forbidden are accounted and called unclean, Judges 13:7, because they may no more be touched or used than an unclean thing.

Thou shalt not cause the land to sin, i.e. thou shalt not suffer such abominable lightness and lewdness to be practised, lest the people be polluted, and the land defiled and accursed by that means.

Her former husband which sent her away may not take her again to be his wife,.... Though ever so desirous of it, and having heartily repented that he had put her away: this is the punishment of his fickleness and inconstancy, and was ordered to make men cautious how they put away their wives; since when they had so done, and they had been married to another, they could not enjoy them again even on the death of the second husband; yea, though she was only espoused to him, and he had never lain with her, as Ben Melech observes, it was forbidden the former husband to marry her; though if she had only played the whore, according to the same writer, and others (a), she might return to him:

after that she is defiled; not by whoredom, for in that case she was not forbidden, as it is interpreted, but by her being married to another man; when she was defiled, not by him, or with respect to him, nor with regard to any other man, whom she might lawfully marry after the decease of her latter husband; but with respect to her first husband, being by her divorce from him, and by her marriage to another, entirely alienated and separated from him, and so prohibited to him; and thus R. Joseph Kimchi interprets this defilement of prohibition, things prohibited being reckoned unclean, or not lawful to be used:

for that is abomination before the Lord; for a man to take his wife again, after she had been divorced by him, and married to another man; and yet, such is the grace and goodness of God to his backsliding people, that he receives them when they return unto him their first husband, and forsake other lovers, Jeremiah 3:1,

and thou shalt not cause the land to sin which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance; since if this was allowed, that men might put away their wives, and take them again at pleasure, and change them as often as they thought fit, no order could be observed, and the utmost confusion in families introduced, and lewdness encouraged, and which would subject the land and the inhabitants of it to many evils and calamities, as the just punishment thereof.

(a) Maimon. & Bartenora in Misn. Sotah, c. 2. sect. 6.

Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is {b} defiled; for that is abomination before the LORD: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.

(b) Seeing that by divorcing her he judged her to be unclean and defiled.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
4. after that she is defiled] Ambiguous indeed, as the most carefully chosen terms of some laws often are. But the natural meaning is that she is unclean to the former husband by her union with the latter. It cannot be a matter of indifference to him that she has been another’s, as (presumably) the popular humour took it. Such easy passage of a woman from one man to another did defile her: it is an abomination before Jehovah (notice the peculiar construction before and the absence of thy God after the divine name). She was, therefore, taboo, or unlawful to her first husband. Marti suggests that the uncleanness may have a demonistic origin (cp. Deuteronomy 22:9-11). This, of course, may have been the motive of the original law, but if so, it has disappeared from its present form.

thou shalt not cause the land to sin] Sam., LXX ye shall not, etc. Cp. Deuteronomy 22:9.

which the Lord thy God is to give thee, etc.] See on Deuteronomy 4:21.

Verse 4. - The woman was held to be defiled by her second marriage, and thus by implication, the marrying of a woman who had been divorced was pronounced immoral, as is by our Lord explicitly asserted (Matthew 5:32). The prohibition of a return of the wife to her first husband, as well as the necessity of a formal bill of divorcement being given to the woman before she could be sent away, could not fail to be checks on the license of divorce, as doubtless they were intended to be. Deuteronomy 24:4Deuteronomy 24:1-5 contain two laws concerning the relation of a man to his wife. The first (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) has reference to divorce. In these verses, however, divorce is not established as a right; all that is done is, that in case of a divorce a reunion with the divorced wife is forbidden, if in the meantime she had married another man, even though the second husband had also put her away, or had died. The four verses form a period, in which Deuteronomy 24:1-3 are the clauses of the protasis, which describe the matter treated about; and Deuteronomy 24:4 contains the apodosis, with the law concerning the point in question. If a man married a wife, and he put her away with a letter of divorce, because she did not please him any longer, and the divorced woman married another man, and he either put her away in the same manner or died, the first husband could not take her as his wife again. The putting away (divorce) of a wife with a letter of divorce, which the husband gave to the wife whom he put away, is assumed as a custom founded upon tradition. This tradition left the question of divorce entirely at the will of the husband: "if the wife does not find favour in his eyes (i.e., does not please him), because he has found in her something shameful" (Deuteronomy 23:15). ערוה, nakedness, shame, disgrace (Isaiah 20:4; 1 Samuel 20:30); in connection with דּבר, the shame of a thing, i.e., a shameful thing (lxx ἄσχημον πρᾶγμα; Vulg. aliquam faetiditatem). The meaning of this expression as a ground of divorce was disputed even among the Rabbins. Hillel's school interpret it in the widest and most lax manner possible, according to the explanation of the Pharisees in Matthew 19:3, "for every cause." They no doubt followed the rendering of Onkelos, פתגם עבירת, the transgression of a thing; but this is contrary to the use of the word ערוה, to which the interpretation given by Shammai adhered more strictly. His explanation of דּבר ערות is "rem impudicam, libidinem, lasciviam, impudicitiam." Adultery, to which some of the Rabbins would restrict the expression, is certainly not to be thought of, because this was to be punished with death.

(Note: For the different views of the Rabbins upon this subject, see Mishnah tract. Gittin ix. 10; Buxtorf, de sponsal. et divort. pp. 88ff.; Selden, uxor ebr. l. iii. c. 18 and 20; and Lightfoot, horae ebr. et talm. ad Matth. v. 31f.)

כּריתת ספר, βιβλίον ἀποστασίου, a letter of divorce; כּריתת, hewing off, cutting off, sc., from the man, with whom the wife was to be one flesh (Genesis 2:24). The custom of giving letters of divorce was probably adopted by the Israelites in Egypt, where the practice of writing had already found its way into all the relations of life.

(Note: The rabbinical rules on the grounds of divorce and the letter of divorce, according to Maimonides, have been collected by Surenhusius, ad Mishn. tr. Gittin, c. 1((T. iii. pp. 322f. of the Mishnah of Sur.), where different specimens of letters of divorce are given; the latter also in Lightfoot, l.c.)

The law that the first husband could not take his divorced wife back again, if she had married another husband in the meantime, even supposing that the second husband was dead, would necessarily put a check upon frivolous divorces. Moses could not entirely abolish the traditional custom, if only "because of the hardness of the people's hearts" (Matthew 19:8). The thought, therefore, of the impossibility of reunion with the first husband, after the wife had contracted a second marriage, would put some restraint upon a frivolous rupture of the marriage tie: it would have this effect, that whilst, on the one hand, the man would reflect when inducements to divorce his wife presented themselves, and would recall a rash act if it had been performed, before the wife he had put away had married another husband; on the other hand, the wife would yield more readily to the will of her husband, and seek to avoid furnishing him with an inducement for divorce. But this effect would be still more readily produced by the reason assigned by Moses, namely, that the divorced woman was defiled (הטּמּאה, Hothpael, as in Numbers 1:47) by her marriage with a second husband. The second marriage of a woman who had been divorced is designated by Moses a defilement of the woman, primarily no doubt with reference to the fact that the emissio seminis in sexual intercourse rendered unclean, though not merely in the sense of such a defilement as was removed in the evening by simple washing, but as a moral defilement, i.e., blemishing, desecration of the sexual communion with was sanctified by marriage, in the same sense in which adultery is called a defilement in Leviticus 18:20 and Numbers 5:13-14. Thus the second marriage of a divorced woman was placed implicite upon a par with adultery, and some approach made towards the teaching of Christ concerning marriage: "Whosoever shall marry her that is divorced, committeth adultery" (Matthew 5:32). - But if the second marriage of a divorced woman was a moral defilement, of course the wife could not marry the first again even after the death of her second husband, not only because such a reunion would lower the dignity of the woman, and the woman would appear too much like property, which could be disposed of at one time and reclaimed at another (Schultz), but because the defilement of the wife would be thereby repeated, and even increased, as the moral defilement which the divorced wife acquired through the second marriage was not removed by a divorce from the second husband, nor yet by his death. Such defilement was an abomination before Jehovah, by which they would cause the land to sin, i.e., stain it with sin, as much as by the sins of incest and unnatural licentiousness (Leviticus 18:25).

Attached to this law, which is intended to prevent a frivolous severance of the marriage tie, there is another in Deuteronomy 24:5, which was of a more positive character, and adapted to fortify the marriage bond. The newly married man was not required to perform military service for a whole year; "and there shall not come (anything) upon him with regard to any matter." The meaning of this last clause is to be found in what follows: "Free shall he be for his house for a year," i.e., they shall put no public burdens upon him, that he may devote himself entirely to his newly established domestic relations, and be able to gladden his wife (compare Deuteronomy 20:7).

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