24:1 If a man marries a woman and she does not please him because he has found something offensive in her, then he may draw up a divorce document, give it to her, and evict her from his house. 24:2 When she has left him she may go and become someone else’s wife. 24:3 If the second husband rejects her and then divorces her, gives her the papers, and evicts her from his house, or if the second husband who married her dies, 24:4 her first husband who divorced her is not permitted to remarry her after she has become ritually impure, for that is offensive to the LORD. You must not bring guilt on the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.

Wright characterises this chapter as ‘a portrait of a caring society’, adding that ‘the majority of laws in this chapter have to do with restraining exploitation and greed for the sake of protecting the needy.’

This law is concerned with what happens after a divorce has taken place, not with the divorce itself.

‘The law is not prescribing divorce as a punishment here, only assuming that some divorces were being carried out on the basis of common law. The reason for divorce is not the point that this legislation aims to address. Deut 24:4 is more concerned about protecting the woman from exposure to the whims of a fickle or vindictive husband, who, without putting his declaration of divorce in writing, could resume or drop his married state-depending on what his sexual needs, laundry pile or desires for a good meal were!’ (HSB)

‘When Jesus was questioned about this passage, (Mk 10:2-12; Mt 19:1-9) he explained to the Pharisees that Moses had recorded this word “because your hearts were hard,” but that the principles of Gen 2:24 were still normative for all marriages. The two were to become one flesh. What God had joined together, no person was to separate.’ (HSB)

Note the thrust and purpose of this passage. It does not require, recommend, or even sanction divorce. Its primary purpose is not with divorce at all, nor even with certificates of divorce. Its object is to forbid a man who has divorced his wife to remarry her. It is supposed that this ruling was intended to protect a woman from a capricious and possibly cruel former husband. Verses 1-3 are the protasis or conditional part of the sentence; verse 4 is the apodosis or consequence. The law is saying, ‘if a man divorces his wife, and if he gives her a certificate, and if she leaves and remarries, and if her second husband dislikes and divorces her, or dies, then her first husband may not marry again. (See Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today, 4th ed., 366f)

Something indecent – This difficult expression has been variously understood. It is assumed not to be referring to adultery, since that was punishable by death, Deut 22:20f. Its meaning was debated in the 1st cent. AD. Rabbi Shammai took the strict line and argued that it referred to sexual offence of some kind that fell short of promiscuity or adultery. Rabbi Hillel, however, took the broader view so that a man could secure a divorce on the grounds of bad cooking, quarrelsomeness, or simply because he had lost interest in her or had found a woman more attractive.

Instone-Brewer (Moral Questions of the Bible) writes that the Hillelites found a basis for this broader view of divorce from their reading of this verse:

‘They derived this new type of divorce from Scripture using an ingenious legal maneuver. Everyone agreed that the strange phrase “a cause of nakedness” in Deuteronomy 24:1 meant “adultery.” But the Hillelites argued that the word “nakedness” by itself implies adultery, so the word “cause” must have extra meaning. Moses, they claimed, must therefore have been referring to two grounds for divorce: “a cause” and “nakedness.” They concluded that “nakedness” meant divorce for “adultery,” but “a cause” meant divorce for “any cause”—and thus they created the new law of divorce for any cause.’

By the time of Jesus, many Jews (including Philo and Josephus) had come to accept this broader ground for divorce.  The minority view was that of the Shammaites, who argued this verse allowed only one ground for divorce – adultery.  In Mt 19:9, Jesus sides with this more restrictive view.

When she has left him she may go and become someone else’s wife – It is interesting that according to this passage, if divorce was allowed, so was remarriage, even though in this case she was the ‘guilty party’, having done something to displease her husband. As far as we can tell, all the cultures of the ancient world understood that divorce carried with it permission to remarry. These cultures allowed for divorce by the husband, and sometimes by the wife as well. Usually, the divorced wife had her dowry returned to her, and received some divorce-money as well. If divorce was comparatively rare in the ancient world, it was because the termination of one marriage and the arrangement of a second would have been financially crippling.

A certificate of divorce – Given that in many societies, a divorce could be secured by the husband virtually on a whim, the certificate regularises the procedure and protects the woman in as much as it proves her status as free to marry another man.

v4 ‘The practical effect of this rule is to protect the unfortunate woman from becoming a kind of marital football, passed back and forth between irresponsible men.

After she has been defiled – That is, ritually unclean or ‘out of bounds’. This expression may hint at the teaching that Jesus would eventually bring out, that the woman’s second marriage, although tolerated legally, was morally adulterous. Alternatively, the point may be precisely the protection of second marriage of the woman, by preventing any further interest in the woman from the former husband. As far as he was concerned she was (not unclean, but) out of bounds, not to be touched again.

Divorce law is taken up by three of the prophets: Isa 50:1-2; Jer 3:1-5 4:1-2; Hos 3:1-3.

‘Note, It is best to be content with such things as we have, since changes made by discontent often prove for the worse. The uneasiness we know is commonly better, though we are apt to think it worse, than that which we do not know.’ (MHC)

24:5 When a man is newly married, he need not go into the army nor be obligated in any way; he must be free to stay at home for a full year and bring joy to the wife he has married.
24:6 One must not take either lower or upper millstones as security on a loan, for that is like taking a life itself as security.
24:7 If a man is found kidnapping a person from among his fellow Israelites, and regards him as mere property and sells him, that kidnapper must die. In this way you will purge evil from among you.

Respect for Human Dignity

24:8 Be careful during an outbreak of leprosy to follow precisely all that the Levitical priests instruct you; as I have commanded them, so you should do. 24:9 Remember what the LORD your God did to Miriam along the way after you left Egypt.
24:10 When you make any kind of loan to your neighbor, you may not go into his house to claim what he is offering as security. 24:11 You must stand outside and the person to whom you are making the loan will bring out to you what he is offering as security. 24:12 If the person is poor you may not use what he gives you as security for a covering. 24:13 You must by all means return to him at sunset the item he gave you as security so that he may sleep in his outer garment and bless you for it; it will be considered a just deed by the LORD your God.
24:14 You must not oppress a lowly and poor servant, whether one from among your fellow Israelites or from the resident foreigners who are living in your land and villages. 24:15 You must pay his wage that very day before the sun sets, for he is poor and his life depends on it. Otherwise he will cry out to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin.
24:16 Fathers must not be put to death for what their children do, nor children for what their fathers do; each must be put to death for his own sin.
24:17 You must not pervert justice due a resident foreigner or an orphan, or take a widow’s garment as security for a loan. 24:18 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I am commanding you to do all this. 24:19 Whenever you reap your harvest in your field and leave some unraked grain there, you must not return to get it; it should go to the resident foreigner, orphan, and widow so that the LORD your God may bless all the work you do. 24:20 When you beat your olive tree you must not repeat the procedure; the remaining olives belong to the resident foreigner, orphan, and widow. 24:21 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard you must not do so a second time; they should go to the resident foreigner, orphan, and widow. 24:22 Remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt; therefore, I am commanding you to do all this.