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The Secret Codes in Matthew: Examining Israel’s Messiah, Part 15: Matthew 18:21-20:34, by Kevin M. Williams

And some Pharisees came to Him, testing Him, and saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?” (Matthew 19:3).

Sadly, because there are times when the Pharisees challenged Yeshua in order to trap him in an attempt to prove him false, the tendency is to believe that all of them were doing so at every turn. This text does not support that theory.

Rather, it is more likely that they were attempting to discern his personal leanings. Was he more in keeping with the School of Shammai and a typically more strident application of the Torah, or did Yeshua fall into the School of Hillel and the more liberal school interested in the spirit of the Torah more than it’s strict application? Yeshua was perplexing. At times, his teachings were more parallel to Hillel. But on this occasion, he seemed to align more with Shammai.

The School of Shammai say a man may not divorce his wife unless he has found unchastity in her, as it is said, ‘… because he has found in her indecency in a matter.’ But the School of Hillel say he may divorce her even if she burns his food, as it is said, ‘… because he has found in her indecency in a matter.’ (Mishna: Gittin 9:10).

Yeshua’s response, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate”(Matthew 19:6) would likely have provoked a puzzled response from the Pharisees. This rabbi from Nazareth was typically more liberal, looking for the spiritual principles within the Torah than this. Hence the next question, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate and divorce her?” (Matthew 19:7).

Yeshua answers the core of the matter, which just happens to follow the subject he had just finished teaching in the Galilee region in Matthew 18:21-35. Because there was no chance for genuine reconciliation and forgiveness in the hearts of mankind, for the sake of a more harmonious community, God made an exemption. Yeshua then wraps up his argument, lining up with the School of Shammai, “whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9).

This must have puzzled the Pharisees, making it all the harder to “peg” this rabbi from the north.

The next comment from his disciples, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry” (Matthew 19: 10) was a bold statement. Within Judaism in that day and age, as today, marriage was considered a paramount virtue. To “be fruitful and multiply” is a commandment and for the faithful Jewish man and woman, a requirement. To consider otherwise, as the disciples do here, would have raised more than one eyebrow.

When a boy is born in a Jewish home, the first prayer canted after the bris (circumcision) on the eighth day is, “Just as he has entered into the covenant, so may he enter into the Torah, the marriage canopy, and good deeds.” From his eighth day, his family and the entire congregation are already looking forward to his marriage.

In our day, when a daughter is born in a Hassidic (ultra Orthodox) home, the father will very often take out marriage insurance. He will pay a monthly premium so that when his daughter reaches a marriageable age, he can cash in the policy and pay for an elaborate wedding—often costing upwards of $50,000. At 18 years of age, she qualifies for the full amount. At 20, she gets a little less. By age 30, she may get nothing. So the pressure to marry is culturally and financially very high.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Fall 2004, Pneuma Review

About the Author: Kevin M. Williams, Litt.D., H.L.D. has served in Messianic ministries since 1987 and has written numerous articles and been a featured speaker at regional and international conferences on Messianic Judaism.

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