Learning From Commanded and Godly Divorce

“Let us now make a covenant with our God to divorce our pagan wives and to send them away with their children….”

Then Ezra the priest stood and said to them: “You have committed a terrible sin. By marrying pagan women, you have increased Israel’s guilt. So now confess your sin to the Lord, the God of your ancestors, and do what he demands. Separate yourselves from the people of the land and from these pagan women.” – Ezra 10:3, 10-11, NLT


Ezra is a confusing book for modern people. I want to share a few framing pieces of information that explain the radical differences between those days and our own before I draw some conclusions.

The reasoning behind the divorce of pagan wives in Ezra chapter ten has to do with the old covenant with God where the Israelites were forbidden to intermarry with outside races. To violate this command was to court national disaster–hence, the imperative here to divorce during a time of national rebuilding–as a violation of the covenant came with all the curses tied to the Old Testament covenant. In other words, the people of Judah here were striving to obey their covenant with God in order to end the curse upon their nation for violating it.

I share that historical information to say this passage does not readily avail itself of modern applications when it comes to a theology of divorce. It is limited by its context. However, I see two important exceptions to that rule:

1) This passage proves divorce is not sin and may–under some circumstances–be a godly choice.

We cannot honor God by sinning. So, it makes absolutely no theological sense to label divorce as always sin when we have Scripture here clearly indicating divorce as God-honoring. In fact, the Jewish men are divorcing their pagan wives here as an act of turning away from sin and to God. That is radical and mind-blowing to consider today.

This passage still serves as an important corrective to our evangelical subculture’s hyper divorce phobia. We need to remember that God views sin as more heinous than divorce. Remember:

It is important not to confuse a proxy–i.e. divorce–with the problem–i.e. sin. 

That said, divorce certainly can be sin–e.g. Malachi 2 teaching against jettisoning a Jewish spouse for a pagan one–but the fact of divorce–i.e. it happened–says nothing about whether it is sin or not. The circumstances need examination. The divorced person may very well be acting righteously–like the Jewish men in Ezra’s day–by choosing divorce. Today’s divorced Christian may be choosing to follow God’s example of refusing to tolerate adultery as in Jeremiah 3:8.

2) It serves as example of a priest–i.e. pastor–advocating strongly for divorce.

I alluded to this in a previous post. The reason I raise this second point is to highlight how a godly leader sometimes may need to advocate for divorce. These particular set of circumstances found in Ezra are not applicable for today, in my opinion. However, the passage still stands as a counter to the generally unchallenged evangelical stance of pastors or Christian leaders never advocating for divorce. In my opinion, other situations like ongoing adultery, for example, may call for such godly advocacy from a pastor or Christian leader (see Jeremiah 3:8, Mt 1:19, and I Cor 7:15).

Once again, this passage serves to remind priests of our primary calling–i.e. to honor God in our leadership. This means focusing on holiness where sin is avoided–and not necessarily divorce–as we see in this passage.

Ezra chapter ten is a very interesting passage in how it challenges our modern thinking on divorce in the church. I hope the points I have raised today have provoked thought and brought healing to other faithful spouses who have experienced the opposite of such teachings in damaging ways.


4 thoughts on “Learning From Commanded and Godly Divorce”

  1. I still find it extremely embarrassing to speak the words to others that I am “divorced”. Even though I was not the one who chose to leave our family for someone else, I still have to carry the label. It’s so hard to own it without wanting to explain the circumstances. “He left for another married woman in our church,,,,,He divorced me against my will”. My EH has left me with the shame of divorce, while he is instantly remarried and respected.
    That would be something you could address if you write that book. lol
    Also, when you have children, how do you stand on Godly truth, when 99% of the “Christian” community and your EH’s Christian family treat their new marriage like it is Godliness, Holy, and to be honored. She is his new step-mommy (even the idea of that makes me sick and it says that she got everything…including my son), and he is now blessed with two homes to enjoy (their words). They make sure he knows that it takes two (meaning me) to ruin a marriage (her words to our son). That is where my anger is greatest. It’s like a continual “soul rape”.

    1. Changed Forever,

      I can related to hating that label “divorced” and feeling the injustice of it all having been abandoned by a cheater. But it is best to focus upon what we DO control in this. We do not need to accept the shame of it.

      If people have a problem with us being divorced–some Christians will–that says a lot about THEM. Everyone has issues in their lives. Being divorced just makes our “issues” more visible than others’. My point in this is it is not your job to get everyone’s approval that you meet. You cannot control what other people say or think about you. Trying to do so will only make you miserable.

      Plus, who cares if others think you are “bad” because you are divorced? God knows. You are the faithful spouse! You survived abandonment and soul rape. God made you an overcomer. Can they say the same?

      I would not worry about telling everyone even though the impulse is there. If it comes up with your children, keep it direct and brief. Also, make sure it is age-appropriate:

      Say he is a teen–assuming he does not already know: “We are divorced because of your father’s sinful choices to commit adultery and abandon us. His current wife might like to blame me for your father’s sins, but I assure you they are his alone. Some people struggle to own their own poor choices.”

      As to other Christians, I would encourage finding another community. That community sounds toxic and ungodly. Not all Christians are like that. I left a toxic denominational situation and found a very healthy, supportive denomination. They DO exist even if it does not feel like it now. I do not want to invalidate that feeling…been there, too.


  2. I would like to give a little nudge to ChangedForever to remember there is zero reason for you to feel any shame, because there is NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus. Stop letting Satan tell you you are damaged goods because of divorce. It’s a closed chapter and God is continuing a good work in you! Here’s a booklet written by the same folks that write the Our Daily Bread devotionals that was eye-opening to me: http://web001.rbc.org/pdf/discovery-series/gods-protection-of-women.pdf

    Divorce Minister, I would also like to add a little something regarding the Ezra story….God commanded them to come out of those pagan marriages because that is what they were: PAGAN. They worshipped false gods and idols. It wasn’t due to “race” a.k.a. cultural differences. If race were an issue with God, He would have had a few words for Moses and his marriage to Zipphorah who was Ethiopian. Many go to the verse about not being unequally yoked and stop there, but there are two more words in that verse: WITH UNBELIEVERS. God warns us not to marry outside our faith, not outside our race, although if a couple is going to enter someone of a different race, they really need to be 100% sure because in the racist climate we live in, such a couple is going to face adversity.

    1. I wish I could edit that….I see a weirdly-worded section that needs correction. Oh well….I’m pretty sure folks knew what I meant. LOL

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