Matthew 19:1-3. “And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these sayings, He departed from Galilee, and came into the coasts of Judea beyond the Jordan: And great multitudes followed Him; and He healed them there. The Pharisees also came unto Him, tempting Him, and saying unto Him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?”
As Jesus traveled nearer to Judea and Jerusalem, His activities didn’t change much. Crowds of people followed Him, and He healed them. And, as always, there were Pharisees who followed His progress, seeking ways to accuse Him and discredit His authority. This time, they used the sacred insititution of marriage to try to trip Him up.
The Pharisees were traditionalists, and strong ritualists. As always, the question they ask is about their oral law, their man-made rules that may have been derived from the scriptures but that went way beyond what God originally established. Jesus had already dealt with their legalism regarding the Sabbath, and their rituals around the washing of hands before eating. He had pointed out more than once that they taught as doctrine that which was only the commandment of men, not of God.
Earlier, in chapter 5, Jesus had taught about marriage and divorce. It is interesting to me that this topic is still one of major division among believers today, and has never been resolved completely. Satan will always use that which is most dear to the heart of God and of true believers to try to trip us up.
The Pharisees hoped that this explosive issue of divorce, putting away, would be the issue in which they could finally trap Jesus into saying something that would condemn Him.
There were two opinions that divided the Pharisees about divorce. Some held to the views of Hillel, others to the views of Shammai. These two rabbis had taught differently. Hillel said that indeed for almost every cause a wife may be put away. There were long records of offences and rules by which this process was to be accomplished. One example was that a wife could be put away if she cooked her husband’s food poorly, over-cooking or over-salting it.
Those who followed Shammai permitted no divorce at all except for the case of adultery. The Pharisees, in tempting Jesus with this question, hoped to catch Him on the horns of a dilemma. Tomorrow we’ll see how well they succeeded.