Matthew 19:8
He said to them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(8) Moses because of the hardness of your hearts.—The force of the answer lies (1) in emphasized substitution of “suffered” for “commanded.” The scribes of the school of Hillel had almost turned divorce into a duty, even when there was no ground for it but incompatibility of temper or other lesser fault, as if Deuteronomy 24:1 had enjoined the writing of divorcement in such cases. (2) In the grounds assigned for the permission. Our Lord’s position in the controversy between the two schools was analogous to that in which those who are true at once to principles and facts not seldom find themselves. He agreed, as we have seen, with the ideal of marriage maintained by the followers of Shammai. He accepted as a legitimate interpretation of the Law that of the followers of Hillel. But He proclaimed, with an authority greater than that of Moses, that his legislation on this point was a step backwards when compared with the primary law of nature, which had been “from the beginning,” and only so far a step forward because the people had fallen into a yet lower state, in which the observance of the higher law was practically impossible. But for the possibility of divorce the wife would have been the victim of the husband’s tyranny; and law, which has to deal with facts, was compelled to choose the least of two evils. Two important consequences, it will be obvious, flow from the reasoning thus enforced: (1) that the “hardness of heart” which made this concession necessary may be admitted as at least a partial explanation of whatever else in the Law of Moses strikes us as deviating from the standard of eternal righteousness embodied in the law of Christ—as, e.g., the tolerance of polygamy and slavery, and the severity of punishment for seeming trivial faults; (2) that the principle is one of wider application than the particular instance, and that where a nation calling itself Christian has sunk so low as to exhibit the “hardness of heart” of Jews or heathens, there also a concessive legislation may be forced upon the State even while the churches assert their witness of the higher truth.

19:3-12 The Pharisees were desirous of drawing something from Jesus which they might represent as contrary to the law of Moses. Cases about marriage have been numerous, and sometimes perplexed; made so, not by the law of God, but by the lusts and follies of men; and often people fix what they will do, before they ask for advice. Jesus replied by asking whether they had not read the account of the creation, and the first example of marriage; thus pointing out that every departure therefrom was wrong. That condition is best for us, and to be chosen and kept to accordingly, which is best for our souls, and tends most to prepare us for, and preserve us to, the kingdom of heaven. When the gospel is really embraced, it makes men kind relatives and faithful friends; it teaches them to bear the burdens, and to bear with the infirmities of those with whom they are connected, to consider their peace and happiness more than their own. As to ungodly persons, it is proper that they should be restrained by laws, from breaking the peace of society. And we learn that the married state should be entered upon with great seriousness and earnest prayer.He saith unto them ... - Jesus admits that this was allowed, but still he contends that this was not the original design of marriage. It was only a temporary expedient growing out of a special state of things, and not designed to be perpetual. It was on account of the hardness of their hearts. Moses found the custom in use. He found a hard-hearted and rebellious people. In this state of things he did not deem it prudent to forbid a practice so universal; but it might be regulated; and, instead of suffering the husband to divorce his wife in a passion, he required him, in order that he might take time to consider the matter, and thus make it probable that divorces would be less frequent, to give her a writing; to sit down deliberately to look at the matter, and probably, also, to bring the case before some scribe or learned man, to write a divorce in the legal form. Thus doing, there might be an opportunity for the matter to be reconciled, and the man to be persuaded not to divorce his wife. This, says our Saviour, was a permission growing out of a particular state of things, and designed to remedy a prevailing evil; but at first it was not so. God intended that marriage should be between one man and one woman, and that they were only to be separated, in the case specified, by him who had formed the union.

Hardness of your hearts - He speaks here of his hearers as a part of the nation. The hardness of you Jews; as when we say, we fought with England and gained our independence; that is, we, the American people, though it was done by our fathers. He does not mean to say, therefore, that this was done on account of the people whom he addressed, but of the national hardness of heart - the stubbornness of the Jewish people as a people.

8. He saith unto them, Moses—as a civil lawgiver.

because of—or "having respect to."

the hardness of your hearts—looking to your low moral state, and your inability to endure the strictness of the original law.

suffered you to put away your wives—tolerated a relaxation of the strictness of the marriage bond—not as approving of it, but to prevent still greater evils.

But from the beginning it was not so—This is repeated, in order to impress upon His audience the temporary and purely civil character of this Mosaic relaxation.

Ver. 7,8. Mark reports this a little differently, Mark 10:3 &c., as if Christ had first said unto them. What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept, & c. The substance of our Saviour’s answer seemeth to be this: Moses gave you no positive command in the case, he could not make a law directly opposite to the law of my Father; but Moses saw the wantonness and wickedness of your hearts, that you would turn away your wives without any just and warrantable cause; and to restrain your extravagances of cruelty to your wives, or disorderly turning them off upon any occasion, he made a law that none should put away his wife but upon a legal cognizance of the cause, and giving her a bill of divorce. Indeed possibly this bill of divorce was sometimes judicially granted upon irregular causes, and Moses might connive at it for the preventing of greater evils, because you were always a hard hearted and stiff necked people; and you by your traditions have expounded that law beyond Moses’s intention, and made a bill of divorce grantable in cases which he never thought of, nor intended in that law. But the measures of lawfulness are neither to be taken from Moses’s temporary toleration and connivance, nor much less from your traditions and expositions of the law of Moses, but from the original institution of marriage, and from God’s original law relating to it: now God at first made but one woman for one man, and so united them that he styled them one flesh; so as he who puts away his wife, doth as it were divide and tear his own flesh piece from piece, which is barbarous, inhuman, and unnatural. And the law of God was not, that a man should forsake his wife whenever he had a mind to it, but that he should rather forsake his father and mother than his wife; that he should cleave to his wife, living and dwelling with her, as a man of knowledge; not hating his own flesh; loving his wife as his own body, loving and cherishing her, Ephesians 5:28,29. Now how can this possibly consist with a man’s putting away his wife upon every little and trivial cause of offence or dislike unto her. He saith unto them,.... In answer to their objection;

Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives: in which may be observed, that, though it was by direction that Moses, in his system of laws, allowed of divorces; yet not God, but he is said to do it, because it was a branch of the political and judicial laws, by which the people of the Jews were governed under Moses, and whilst the Mosaic economy continued, and did not concern other people, and other times; and therefore it is said "you" and "your" wives, you Jews, and you only, and not the Gentiles. And so the Jews say (m), that the Gentiles have no divorces: for thus they represent God, saying;

"in Israel I have granted divorces, I have not granted divorces among the nations of the world. R. Chananiah, in the name of R. Phineas, observed, that in every other section it is written, the Lord of hosts, but here it is written, the God of Israel; to teach thee, that the holy, blessed God does not join his name to divorces, but in Israel only. R. Chayah Rabbah says, , "the Gentiles have no divorces."''

Besides, this was a direct positive command to the Jews, as the Pharisees suggest in their objection; it was only a sufferance, a permission in some cases, and not in everyone; and that because of the hardness of their hearts; they being such a stubborn and inflexible people, that when they were once displeased there was no reconciling them; and so malicious and revengeful, that if this had not been granted, would have used their wives, that displeased them, in a most cruel, and barbarous manner, if not have murdered them: so that this grant was made, not to indulge their lusts, but to prevent greater evils; and not so much as a privilege and liberty to the men, as in favour of the women; who, when they could not live peaceably and comfortably with a man, might be dismissed and marry another:

but from the beginning it was not so; from the beginning of time, or of the creation, or of the world, or at the first institution of marriage, and in the first ages of the world, there was no such permission, nor any such practice. This was not the declared will of God at first, nor was it ever done by any good men before the times of Moses; we never read that Adam, or Seth, or Noah, or Abraham, put away their wives, upon any consideration; though in the latter there might have been some appearance of reason for so doing, on account of sterility, but this he did not; nor Isaac, nor Jacob, nor any of the "patriarchs".

(m) T. Hieros. Kiddushin, fol. 58. 3.

He saith unto them, Moses {f} because of the hardness of your hearts {g} suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

(f) Being brought about because of the hardness of your hearts.

(g) By a political law, not by the moral law: for the moral law is a perpetual law of God's justice; the other bows and bends as the carpenter's bevel.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 19:8. Πρός] out of regard to, with (wise) consideration so as to avert greater evil.

σκληροκαρδίαν] stubbornness of heart (Mark 16:14; Romans 2:5; Acts 7:51; Sir 16:10; Deuteronomy 10:16), which will not be persuaded to self-reflection, gentleness, patience, forbearance, etc.; κατὰ διαφόρους αἰτίας μισούντων τὰς γαμετὰς, καὶ μὴ καταλλαττομένων αὐταῖς. Ἐνομοθέτησε γὰρ ἀπολύειν ταύτας, ἵνα μὴ φονεύωνται, Euthymius Zigabenus.

οὐ γέγονεν οὕτω] non ita factum est, namely, that a man should have permission to put away his wife. The above primitive institution of God is accordingly not abrogated by Moses, who, on account of the moral obduracy of the people, is rather to be understood as only granting a dispensation in the form of a letter of divorce, that the woman might be protected against the rude severity of the man.Matthew 19:8. πρὸς τ., with reference to.—σκληροκαρδίαν: a word found here and in several places in O. T. (Sept[110]), not in profane writers; points to a state of heart which cannot submit to the restraints of a high and holy law, literally uncircumcisedness of heart (Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4).—ἐπέτρεψεν, permitted, not enjoined. Moses is respectfully spoken of as one who would gladly have welcomed a better state of things; no blame imputed except to the people who compelled or welcomed such imperfect legislation (ὑμῶν twice in Matthew 19:8).—ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς, etc.: the state of things which made the Mosaic rule necessary was a declension from the primitive ideal.

[110] Septuagint.8. because of the hardness of your hearts] Literally, having respect to, with a view to the hardness of your hearts towards God. So the law was relatively good, not absolutely. A great principle. Even now all are not capable of the higher religious life or of the deepest truths. Some interpret “hardness of heart,” of the cruelty of men towards their wives.Matthew 19:8. Πρὸς, for, because of[859])—ἐπέτρεψεν, permitted) not ἐνετείλατο, enjoined, except in that sense in which St Mark (Mark 10:3) employs the word.—ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς, in the beginning) The origin of wedlock was recorded also by the same Moses, from whom our Lord demonstrates the matter.

[859] Τὴν σκληροκρδίαν, the hardness of heart) So great is the perversity of the human mind, that there are not a few things by which it ought to be put to the blush, as the jews ought to have been in the case of the writing of divorcement, but which it abuses to a preposterous clearing (justification) of itself.—V. g.Verse 8. - Moses because of (πρὸς, with a view to, to meet) the hardness of your hearts; your obstinacy, perverseness. You were not honest and pure enough to obey the primitive law. There was danger that you would ill treat your wives in order to get rid of them, or even murder them. The lesser evil was regular divorce. But the enactment is really a shame and reproach to you, and was occasioned by grave defects in your character and conduct. And it is not true to say that Moses commanded; he only suffered you to put away your wives. This was a temporary permission to meet your then circumstances. Divorce had been practised commonly and long; it was traditional; it was seen among all other Oriental peoples. Moses could not hope at once to eradicate the inveterate evil; he could only modify, mitigate, and regulate its practice. The rules which he introduced were intended, not to facilitate divorce, but to lead men better to realize the proper idea of marriage. And Christ was introducing a better law, a higher morality, for which Mosaic legislation paved the way (comp. Romans 5:20; Romans 8:3; Hebrews 9:10). From the beginning. The original institution of marriage contained no idea of divorce; it was no mere civil contract, made by man and dissoluble by man, but a union of God's own formation, with which no human power could interfere. However novel this view might seem, it was God's own design from the first. The first instance of polygamy occurs in Genesis 4:19, and is connected with murder and revenge. Because of (πρὸς)

Rev., for: having regard to.

It was not so (οὐ γέγονεν οὕτως)

The A. V. is commonly understood to mean, it was not so in the beginning. But that is not Christ's meaning. The verb is in the perfect tense (denoting the continuance of past action or its results down to the present). He means: Notwithstanding Moses' permission, the case has not been so from the beginning until now. The original ordinance has never been abrogated nor superseded, but continues in force.

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