Abraham banishes Hagar and Ishmael; Sarah and Isaac look on. Engraving by R. Parr after G. Hoet. Iconographic Collections
In seminary I researched the Malachi 2:13-16 text:
“And this you do as well: You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor at your hand. You ask, ‘Why does he not?’ Because the Lord was a witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did not one God make her? Both flesh and spirit are his. And what does the one God desire? Godly offspring. So look to yourselves, and do not let anyone be faithless to the wife of his youth. For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless.” (NRSV)
A portion of my work on the Malachi 2 text was studying the word “divorce.” The Hebrew word for divorce as seen in Malachi 2 is found two other places: when Abraham banishes Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness and when David’s son Amnon throws David’s daughter Tamar out after he rapes her.
Divorce in those cases has to do with one person who has the privilege (usually the man in Biblical times) not taking care of the other person, leaving them destitute in body, mind and soul. Likewise, the Malachi text pertains to abandoning one’s wife and leaving her to survive with little resources.
Divorce happens. Sure, God dislikes divorce – nobody likes divorce. We don’t head into marriage expecting that our covenant will end. We truly hope that our marriages and relationships will triumph over the statistics.
But sometimes, divorce is inevitable. The covenant is broken through abuse, infidelity and other trust issues. Sometimes, after much counseling, a couple will divorce because the relationship is no longer healthy. People will change over the years, and couples will try their hardest to make the relationship work, but in the end will find peace in the dissolution of the marriage.
Yet there can be faithfulness even in divorce. When we see divorced couples working together for the sake of their children or amicably splitting property in divorce settlements, we see two people loving God and neighbor the best they can through a challenging time.
Lastly, God gives grace in divorce. God wants us to find happiness and mercy in our lives, and I believe God wants us to abide in hope and find love again. Even in the case of Abraham and Hagar, both were given God’s gift of descendants through both Isaac and Ishmael. We will find that blessings in our lives as well.
A prayer for those divorcing or divorced:
God of the coupled and uncoupled,
You sit with us in the shadows of our souls.
Your hope feeds us and your grace quenches our thirst,
And through your nourishment, we find movement towards tomorrow.
Bless those who are currently journeying through the wilderness of divorce.
Help them to see their estranged spouse as a person created in your image.
Bless their efforts in amicable settlements and custody arrangements.
Help them find new ways of being family, even if family has taken a new form.
God, we know your grace is always pouring upon us
And so we ask that you help us see that grace
In the moments when hope seems far
And shame seems too close to us.