Matthew 19:8 MEANING

Matthew 19:8
(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.

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.

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,.... 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.

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