Leadership is never easy. It wasn’t for Moses. It won’t be for us.
The Ideal Twice in Matthew 19:1-12 our Lord called the discussion back to the ideal, saying that marriage was permanent. One man, one woman, for life. That was the ideal; what God intended from the very beginning of civilization and what is modeled to us by Christ being the Groom of the church. Our earthly marriages point to that heavenly marriage.
Morphed But by the time of the Lord Jesus Christ, this ideal had morphed into divorce “for any and every reason”(vs. 3). Attitudes about divorce, then as now, ranged from very conservative to liberal.
The critics — the Pharisees — were the party of purity; the staunch, social conservatives; the defenders of the law, while the Sadducees were the liberals, the divorce “for any and every reason” crowd. So when the Pharisees asked, “Is it lawful to divorce for any and every reason?” they were throwing at Jesus something they did not believe in, hoping to put Him on the horns of a dilemma.
The Lord Jesus Christ responded by reminding them of the ideal (vs. 4; repeated in vs. 8). Between verse 4 and 8, the Pharisees countered with, “So why did Moses command that proper documentation be given?”
Forced from the Ideal During the 40 years of wilderness wandering, pressure mounted for liberalized divorce laws. By the time of the Lord Jesus the public mood changed from “Moses permit divorce” to “Moses commanded divorce.” Huge difference between those two words! The Lord said, “Moses permitted divorce because of the hardness of peoples’ hearts.”
Moses must have felt himself on dangerous ground to permit divorce. He knew the standard of God, the ideal. And it had not changed. On the other hand, pressure mounted as marriages fractured in the wilderness.
This is where the leadership of Moses got sticky. Difficult. Lie-awake-at-night-and-stew, stressful sticky. It was a leadership nightmare! An agony of soul! Here was the man through whom the law had come, and he is being pressured from the ideal, lest even more damage occur.
Did Moses fear to accommodate such departure from the ideal? Of course! Did he quake at offending God by allowing divorce? Appearing to sanction divorce? Sure! It would have given an aspirin a headache. This was stress on steroids.
Moses had to drop back to just insisting on some paper work – that it got done and that the wife was legally free. The was the best he could do to hold the line.
To minimize the suffering and injustice that takes place in most divorces, Moses insisted on an organizing of divorce which included the formalization of a “certificate of divorce” (vs. 6). Such a documentation would tie up the raged ends of lives which had unraveled.
All leadership carries with it the burden of threading the needle – the ideal versus the humanly possible. Because we are all sinners, society slips downward, reducing the possible. And that forces adjustments to the ideal which results in stress for leaders.