Marriage and Divorce

Mark provides a series of parables in chronological order matched to the overall story of the Bible. This one is about Moses.

The Story

1And he departed from there, and came to the border of Judah at the crossing of the Jordan; and a great many people went to him there, and he taught them again, as he was accustomed to do. 2And the Pharisees came to him, tempting him and asking, Is it lawful for a man to leave his wife? 3He said to them, What did Moses command you? 4They said, Moses gave us permission to write a letter of separation, and then to divorce. 5Joshua answered, saying to them, It was because of the hardness of your heart that he wrote this particular law for you. 6But from the very beginning, God made them male and female. (Genesis 1:27) 7For this reason, a man will leave his father and his mother and copulate with his wife, 8and the 2 will be 1 flesh. (Genesis 2:24) From then on, they are not 2, but 1 flesh. 9Therefore, what god has joined, let no man separate. 10And his disciples again asked him about this in the house. 11And he said to them, Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery. 12And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery. Mark 10:1-12


The parable begins with a crossing of the Jordan river. It takes place on the other side of the Jordan. This is a hint as to the prophetic application of this passage... near the Jordan.

There is a large crowd gathered together in one place, as the ancient Israelites were for the 40 years between leaving Egypt and crossing the Jordan into Canaan.

The Pharisees approach Jesus and ask Jesus if it is lawful to divorce. The entire book of Deutoronomy, one account of the Mosaic law, was given on a single day in the few days before crossing the Jordan.

Jesus pushes back at these men who should be experts in the Law of Moses. He asks what the Law of Moses says about divorce. This, too, is a reference to the time of Moses, setting the general timing of the parable about the year 9040 AA, the last year of the wandering in the wilderness when the Israelites were across the Jordan.

Jesus continues and explains that at the beginning it was not God’s intension that men and women should separate in divorce. At a marriage men and women become one flesh. He concludes with the point of the parable. What God has joined together, men should not separate.

Though this discussion is covering the topic of marriage, the discussion is a parable. In the New Testament marriage is used as a metaphor describing the relationship God has with his people. Paul explains this in a letter where he goes into more depth and states in clear text this is a description of the relationship between people and God. Ephesians 5:22-33

Notes on Symbolism

This symbolism is typical of a modern marriage ceremony where the bride and groom walk the isle between the parted community. It is also typical of the Biblical form for covenant making. In order to make a covenant typically an animal, sometimes several animals are cut into two pieces and the parties making the covenant pass between the pieces. The symbolic significance to this ceremony is that if either party breaks their part of the bargain then the offended party has the right to cut the offender into pieces like the animal.

In the case of the Red Sea the the significance is in the meaning of the seas themselves. Seas represent the peoples of the world. (cite from Rev.) By passing through the seas together the Lord and the people make a covenant. Should either break that covenant the offending party will be cut into two pieces and thrown back into the peoples.

Of course the Lord is without sin and will not break his part to a covenant. This is in part why he guards his words so carefully.

The people, though, were the ones prone to breaking covenant. After crossing the Red Sea the people demonstrated that they were quick to break the marriage covenant. The Lord, though, was slow to exercise his part of the covenant. The kingdom itself was not split into two kingdoms until after the reign of King Solomon. There, during the time of Rehoboam king of Judah and Jeroboam, king of Israel, the kingdom was split into two parts. A split that continues to this day. (Between Russia and the English speaking world.)

The adultery that Jesus refers to at the end of this parable is the behavior of the people after crossing the Red Sea. They went after other gods and so broke the marriage covenant they had entered into at the Red Sea. The reason no one would approach Jesus in this matter after his discourse is because no one would approach the Lord early in the time of wandering in the wilderness. Only Moses, here pictured by the disciples, could safely approach the Lord.

In the case of the ancient Israelites leaving Egypt, it was the younger generation, those people in their 19th year or younger at the time of the Exodus, who would be able to cross the Jordan river and enter into Canaan. Those children are the subject of the next parable.

Phil Stone, Updated 2016-11-06