Let’s remind ourselves that Jesus keeps calling for a return to the Covenant. What will Messiah’s reign demand of His subjects? The problem addressed here is the long and deep drift of Israel from that Covenant. The Jews no longer knew God in terms of His divine moral character, and so misconstrued the Law of Moses based on their own perverted legalistic reasoning.
This legalism turned patriarchy into privilege, instead of a burden of responsibility. There was some debate among rabbinical scholars, but the broad practice of Jesus’ day was that a man could divorce his wife for any petty reason at all. Typically this meant that a man already married found someone who pleased him more, so he sent the wife packing and married the new girl. So far as we can tell, the typical father of the rejected bride would be in a hurry to offer her to another man for a far lower bride price. It became rather like a market in breeding stock.
Jesus had already addressed this question before in the Sermon on the Mount. Thus, these inquisitors thought they knew what to expect. Their intent was to get Jesus to say something that would be very unpopular with the crowd, as this kind of arrogance toward women was common even among the peasants. They were hoping to trick Jesus into attacking this socially acceptable privilege of Jewish manhood.
Jesus answered from not merely the letter, but the intent of the Scripture. That intent is painfully obvious to a proper Hebrew mystical approach, but the Pharisees had long been perverted by the foreign Hellenistic logic. Jesus goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. His point in partially quoting from the first and second chapters together is that no other creature was declared as male and female on the same grounds as humans. It wasn’t a mere matter of reproduction, but of partnership in building shalom. There were things each could do best for the glory of the Creator, things the other could not do.
Then Jesus notes that the bond between husband and wife is stronger than that of parent and child. Yet we have that command to honor father and mother, so this transcends even the Ten Commandments. It’s something so fundamental to human existence itself that it wasn’t formally stated in the Law. It’s implications were too obvious. Even before the Fall, the two became one flesh. This statement provoked profound moral implications that would fill whole books. What Jew would dare to profane the original work of God from before the Fall?
Those inquisitors knew exactly what Jesus was saying. But they pressed the issue by asking if Jesus was suggesting Moses defied God on this issue. Why did Moses make it permissible to divorce? Catch what Jesus says here: Moses was pampering the most difficult bunch of whiners on this earth. Of all men, Moses was intimately acquainted with how hardhearted the Israelis were. Had he not given them this out, Jewish men would have abused their disfavored wives to the point some would simply kill them to be rid of them. What Moses commanded was an act of mercy. The only justification for divorce was a woman who was unfaithful; that kind of woman was a threat to covenant shalom. Otherwise, it pays to be far more circumspect in choosing a bride in the first place, because there was no other justification for divorce.
After the inquisitors left, even the Twelve showed how they struggled with the depth of this moral issue. Their comment was the same kind of childish arrogance typical of most Jewish men of their day: If I can’t have it my way, I refuse to play at all. Jesus answered from His own personal experience. Precious few are the men God chooses to remain celibate. There is a place for that — men whose calling and mission would be hell for a family. But obviously there would be no covenant nation if at least some men didn’t marry and raise families.
The whole point of the Covenant was to raise men above the worldly standards. Yet, if a man could absorb the moral character of God such that all he accomplished was divine justice in keeping peace in his own home, that was more than most of humanity could manage without divine revelation. That was the work of God, a work He would support by miracles unimaginable.
Trust the Lord to prosper what He commands.