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and as to the case of Zipporah, the words in the fourth chapter of Exodus are somewhat ambiguous; and, if she did go to her father's house for a short time, she returned very soon afterwards to Moses again. Calmet affirms that Moses never divorced his wife at all.*
Not one precedent of divorce can be found anterior to the Mosaic law. Afterwards, indeed, they became lamentably frequent, and furnished one among the many subjects against which the Prophets directed open reproofs. The Prophet Micah represents the Divine Being, saying, “ The women of my people have ye cast out from their pleasant houses :"| and the Prophet Malachi; “ The Lord is witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou dealest treacherously, yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy youth.”
The Hebrew law itself thus limits and prescribes the liberty of Divorce ; the whole passage is transcribed, as it will be the foundation of many subsequent remarks. It is from Deuteronomy: “ When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her ; then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it into her hand, and send her out of his house; and when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife. And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it into her hand, and sendeth her out of his house, or, if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife, her former husband which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife after that she is defiled, for that is abomination before the Lord.”*
* The writers of the Ancient Universal History, and Calmet’s Antiquities.
† Micah ii. 9.
This is the celebrated passage in the Mosaic law, which relates to the matter of Divorce. That there is a clear permission of Divorce, need scarcely be observed ; but it is equally clear, that such permission is environed with certain limitations and restrictions. Foreign as Divorce was to the original institution of marriage, necessity compelled its permission ; and God was pleased, in the judicial law, (the magistrate's rule,) not totally to prohibit it, lest it might occasion the cruel treatment, or even murder, of those women who were not agreeable to their husbands. So the Saviour has interpreted the permission. “ Moses suf
fered you, for the hardness of your hearts, to put away ; but from the beginning,” the original institution, “it was not so.” After the age of the Patriarchs, and during the period that intervened between them and the giving of the law, the impure connexion with Egypt had introduced a corruption of manners, and indulged a vicious and excessive polygamy, which greatly needed some restraint. Few solemnities of marriage were observed, and wives and children were dismissed from their homes at the arbitrary will and irresponsible pleasure of their lord. The husband possessed not only the power of repudiation, and that dependent on his personal motives and feelings, but also on his sole and personal execution. But by the law, personal caprice was placed under restraints, the licentiousness which had perverted the sound use of marriage was corrected, and the sanctity of its nature, and the durability of its obligations, were recognized. Those great crimes, which would naturally dissolve such a contract, Adultery, the violation of the nuptial vow, we have already shown were punished with death; and the causes which allowed of the exercise of Divorce, under the passage above quoted, are now to be considered.
The term employed to describe these
causes in the English Version of the Pentateuch, is “ some uncleanness.” Expositors have been greatly divided in their opinions respecting the latitude of interpretation to be given to this term. Some contend that it signified Adultery, and others, such crimes as idolatry, &c.; but the answer to this is sufficiently obvious. Moses had previously prescribed a particular punishment for those, and made Adultery capital ; he would, therefore, hardly ordain a Divorce against those who were to be put to death.* Others, again, have given to the term the interpretation of barrenness, involving no moral guilt, as in the other cases. This interpretation might be supported by the consideration, that if such were the cause, it might have been intended to
* There has indeed been one mode suggested in which these two enactments would appear compatible, and the law of death and the law of divorce be made to consist together. The one might be a punishment denounced to deter from the commission of the crime, by terror ; the other, a permission granted, of a remedial nature, to the injured party, by which a way of mercy was open to the transgressor, and the punishment not regarded as compulsory. The law of death held the adulterous party in a snare ; the law of divorce might be intended to mitigate the cruelty of the stronger to the weaker sex, who, if no way were left open but the former, might exact the penalty to its fullest extent.
repress the selection of such a partner as would only serve to gratify the base purposes of carnal indulgence, defeating the intent of marriage, the procreation of children ; and it would obtain credit from the natural anxiety of many to become the parent of the promised seed. The probability is, that the word implied some bodily inaptitude, or some involuntary or ceremonial uncleanness or disease whether natural or contracted, which rendered the woman unpleasant in the sight of the husband, and unfit for the purpose of marriage. The original terms are, 727 miny, literally, “ nakedness of a thing, or a word, or matter, of nakedness or shame,”-probably, any thing unseemly or indecent. The LXX. have accordingly translated it, ao xuod urn as payuatos in Deuteronomy xxiii. 14; and by an xoMov a payua in Deuteronomy xxiv. 1. Selden, in explaining the passage, renders it “ rem fædam ;" “ et Judæi Hispanienses, discobertura cosa.”
In this latter, it evidently alludes to some personal infirmity, not discovered till after marriage, but such, perhaps, as a good man might bear with ; and therefore, our Lord, in alluding to this text, says, Moses permitted them to put away their wives, because of the hardness of their hearts; that is, as before intimated, lest, from a want of charity, they