|After reading Deuteronomy 22, we should have greater respect for Joseph.
He betrothed Mary, the mother of Jesus. That meant the two were all but married. In this scenario, there’s no deciding to not want to marry. The only thing missing is the consummation. So, when Mary becomes pregnant, it is as if she has committed adultery.
The culture gave Joseph every right to reject Mary. By the law of Deuteronomy 22, the men of her town could have stoned her to death. Joseph was “faithful to the law,” but he did not want Mary to suffer disgrace (Matthew 1:19). So, he intended to find a way to divorce her quietly.
I’m sure you know that not all men would have done that. They would have gladly enforced the law of God. Marriage, after all, was a financial institution. And you know what they say: Money makes people funny.
Did you notice in the reading of Deuteronomy 22 there were no efforts to reconcile a married couple? There’s no talk of betrayed love or hurt feelings. There’s a marriage deal between two families that has, potentially, gone bad. What kind of relationship do you have after all these accusations? Besides the adultery and rape scenarios, what’s at stake are the legal rights of those wronged.
So much for all the sentiment and love. Now, the family keeps the wedding sheets or some other wedding-night cloth as legal documents.
Of course, there is justice and mercy in the law. Jesus considered it a way to undermine the hardened hearts of men who wanted to discard their wives. Otherwise, it would be too easy for a man to accuse his wife of adultery. In ancient culture, we can assume the man has the upper hand in these kinds of situations. If a man accused his wife, he didn’t have to prove it. It was the burden of the family to disprove the accusation.
So, what does all this mean for us today? None of this has bearing on how we deal with divorce in our culture. What are we to make of these laws?
God valued the idea of marriage. Did the people’s culture align with our sense of love, accountability and mutual support? Probably not. But consider that God used marriage as an illustration of the kind of relationship the people had with the Lord. God would be faithful. There was no questioning God’s fidelity. It was the people who struggled.
Our view of marriage can impact how we view our communion with God. Are we eager to throw away our relationships? Do we abuse one another or take love for granted? In the first scenario we read about in Deuteronomy 22, look how easy it was for someone to ruin another’s life just by accusing them. If marriage is such an ideal and illustration of God’s love, how dare we trifle with it? That gives us pause to reflect on how we respect and care for each other, married or not.
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