What God Has Joined Together
Mark 10 records the Pharisees coming to Jesus, testing Him, questioning Him “whether it was lawful for a man to divorce a wife.” He responded, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” Jesus responded, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; so they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (see vv. 2-9).
First, note again that they were testing Jesus. They weren’t interested in the truth. They weren’t interested in following Jesus as Lord. They were asking with ulterior motives and wanted to find something wrong with Jesus. Though Jesus’ response certainly answers the actual question, He is also responding to the fact that they are testing with the intent to trip Him up. They asked a “yes” or “no” question, and either way He answered, without further explanation, would have gotten Him into some kind of trouble. Jesus slipped through the horns of this dilemma by digging further and exposing their failure to understand the design of God’s plan.
Second, Jesus shows that, while Moses did permit the situation they mentioned, it was due to their hardness of heart. That is, God permitted some matters temporarily due to hard hearts, but this was never His full intention or will. This point alone should have silenced them, for it exposed what they really were deep down: stubborn and self-willed. This was about what they wanted, not what God wanted. I don't believe this point was as much about the marriage question as it was about their own motivations for their rejection of Jesus. Yes, it applied the question about Moses, too, but it was the hardness of their own hearts that prompted them to test Jesus in the first place. They weren't looking for truth; they were looking for excuses. We all need to check our motives.
Third, Jesus’ response goes back to the beginning. God first initiated marriage in the garden. This was His ideal, but sin corrupted everything, and as a result the purpose of marriage was also abused. God may have allowed certain situations for a time (and polygamy is in this category, too), but His will is expressed in the very first marriage circumstance: One man, one woman, for life. This point answers questions related to our modern culture wars over homosexual marriage. The only two who can become “one flesh” and joined by God legitimately are going to be male and female. Anything else is a perversion, and any sexual relations outside of that are sinful (cf Heb. 13:4).
Fourth, take careful note of the main point: What God has joined together, let no man separate. Man has no right to change what God has set in order or put together. This is really what defines biblical or lawful marriage. People might marry in some technically legal sense, but if they are not joined together by God, then they are not lawfully married or joined, regardless of what any human government says.
We need to learn to respect God’s boundaries for marriage. Marriage is to be held in honor, and the marriage bed is undefiled (Heb 13:4). While culture debates marriage around us, they seem to be missing the most critical part of what truly validates marriage: God’s hand in it. Man has no right to separate what God joins together. If, in our own selfishness and pride we attempt to do, we'll certainly not have God’s blessings in it. This fact is seen in the next couple of verses.
The disciples questioned Jesus privately about His response to the Pharisees. Separating what God has joined together, then marrying another, results in adultery. We understand there is one exception given in verse 9, but the rule stands. If the people were looking for excuses to divorce and remarry, they weren't going to get the approval of God in this. It’s almost as if they were bent on mistreating others for the sake of their own selfish desires. God surely does not permit such.
Divorce is never to be treated lightly. Even more, God’s will and desire is not to be treated lightly. We have a basic choice to make: God’s will or ours. You'll recognize that this is the same basic we have in virtually everything else we do. We can seek to do things our way, in which case we have succumbed to the hardness of our own hearts, or we can do things God’s way.
The bigger problem for the Pharisees remains today’s biggest problem: failure to recognize Jesus as the Lord. Instead of testing Jesus to get our own way, why not submit to Him and participate the blessings He promises those who are in Him?