Deut 24:1 If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house,
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, 2nd ed., 327)
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.
Deut 24:2 and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man,
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.
Deut 24:3 and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies,
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.
Deut 24:4 then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.
‘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 moraly 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 Ho 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)
Deut 24:5 If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.
Deut 24:6 Do not take a pair of millstones—not even the upper one—as security for a debt, because that would be taking a man’s livelihood as security.
Deut 24:7 If a man is caught kidnapping one of his brother Israelites and treats him as a slave or sells him, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you.
Deut 24:8 In cases of leprous diseases be very careful to do exactly as the priests, who are Levites, instruct you. You must follow carefully what I have commanded them.
Deut 24:9 Remember what the LORD your God did to Miriam along the way after you came out of Egypt.
Deut 24:10 When you make a loan of any kind to your neighbor, do not go into his house to get what he is offering as a pledge.
Deut 24:11 Stay outside and let the man to whom you are making the loan bring the pledge out to you.
Deut 24:12 If the man is poor, do not go to sleep with his pledge in your possession.
Deut 24:13 Return his cloak to him by sunset so that he may sleep in it. Then he will thank you, and it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of the LORD your God.
Deut 24:14 Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns.
Deut 24:15 Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin.
Deut 24:16 Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.
Deut 24:17 Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge.
Deut 24:18 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this.
Deut 24:19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
Deut 24:20 When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow.
Deut 24:21 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow.
Deut 24:22 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this.