The second “messenger” in the book of Malachi is the model priest who adheres to the covenant, walks uprightly, and preserves the knowledge of God so that he may teach it to the people.
One major criticism that God had for the priests in the days of Malachi was that they were showing partiality in their judgments, their thinking, and their attitudes toward others. In so doing, they had “turned aside from the way” (2:8) and had caused many to stumble by their instruction/teaching.
Having One Father
We then read Malachi’s argument from God’s point of view in Mal. 2:10,
10 Do we not all have one Father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously each against his brother so as to profane the covenant of our fathers?
Showing partiality profanes the covenant that God made with “our fathers.” Not only does it violate the terms of the Old Covenant, which commanded Israel to have just one law for both Israelites and aliens (Num. 15:16), but their partiality also violated the Abrahamic covenant which was designed to be a blessing to all families of the earth (Gen. 12:3).
Malachi’s message brings correction to the instructions of the priests in his day, for he reminds them that we all have one Father, one Creator. Though God created a huge variety with every possible difference imaginable, all things were created by the same Creator and “Father.”
This religious problem of showing partiality was still developing in Malachi’s time, but we see it much more clearly four centuries later in Jesus’ day. In fact, Luke pointed out the problem in many subtle ways, for he consciously wrote a balanced gospel. He gave equal attention to men and women, to Jews and Greeks, to rich and poor, showing how all were important to God.
Violating the Covenant
Malachi 2:11 continues,
11 Judah has dealt treacherously, and an abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord which He loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god.
The prophet was still addressing the priests and their ungodly “traditions of men” that violated the law and the covenant. Since the covenant was looked upon as a marriage covenant, its violation was a matter of spiritual adultery.
In this case, Malachi says that they had “married the daughter of a foreign god.” They were following the laws of a foreign god that allowed and even demanded partiality.
God’s verdict is seen in the next verse:
12 As for the man who does this, may the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob everyone who awakes and answers, or who presents an offering to the Lord of hosts.
The phrase, “everyone who awakes and answers” is a reference to the Temple watchmen who were called to sound the alarm and awaken the people if danger was approaching. The KJV reads, “the master and the scholar” to show that the prophet was referring to the priests and teachers in the temple who were called to awaken the people to danger. Those who wake up are those who “answer.”
The problem was that the priests were not doing their duty as watchmen. They saw no danger in their false teaching or in their traditions of men regarding their partiality. So Malachi lays the curse of God upon them, saying, “may the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob” those who are guilty of this violation of the law and the covenant.
This is a Hebrew idiom for sending someone into exile and removing their rights as a family member or the rights of citizenship in the tribe or nation. It is another way of saying “that man shall be cut off from among his people” (Lev. 17:4).
Being an Israelite by genealogy did not guarantee that a man would remain an Israelite by nationality. The law trumps genealogy. Genealogical Israelites could become non-Israelites by nationality. Likewise, non-genealogical Israelites could also join with the nation of Israel and become Israelite citizens having equal rights.
In other words, being “chosen” is not really based upon genealogical descent from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but upon faith in the Covenant-keeping God. The Apostle Paul understood this when he wrote in Gal. 3:7-9,
7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles [ethnos, “nations”] by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations shall be blessed in you.” 9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.
This was not a teaching that began with Paul. Paul says that this “gospel” was given to Abraham himself. Abraham’s household, which included 318 men of war born in his house (Gen. 14:14), were all blessed by the Abrahamic covenant and later were incorporated in the tribes of Israel.
The problem is that his descendants came to misunderstand the word of the Lord, thinking that they were chosen by virtue of their genealogy, regardless of their lack of faith. This problem persists to this day. Paul recognizes only the remnant of grace as being “chosen” (Rom. 11:4-7).
Mal. 2:13 says,
13 And this is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand.
There were many who greatly longed for God to accept them and to give them His touch. They sought it with tears, but they failed to obtain His ear. They went through all of the religious rituals that were expected of them, but God did not accept or regard their offerings.
Many of the people—perhaps even the majority of them—desired to please God, and they sought God’s favor at the temple. So why did God not regard their offerings? Why was He not moved by their tears?
Treating Wives as Slaves
Mal. 2:14 says,
14 Yet you say, “For what reason?” Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.
Here the prophet gives a specific manifestation of their treachery in showing partiality. Specifically, the men were taught that their wives were their slaves and that they had fewer rights than their husbands. Such unequal treatment of women can be traced back to the Old Covenant, which gave people a slave-mentality.
Paul discusses this topic more thoroughly in Gal. 4:22-31. We see there that Abraham had two wives. Hagar was the bondwoman (slave); Sarah was the freewoman. These women represent the two covenants and the two cities associated with each covenant. More importantly, these two represent two different marriage relationships.
A slave wife has few rights. A slave cannot be expected to enjoy equal rights with one who is free. The problem was that even freewomen (wives) were being treated as slaves. The people thought that the Old Covenant was the model of godly marriage. Since Israel had vowed obedience as God’s wife (Exodus 19:8), they assumed that this was acceptable to God in their own marriages as well.
And yet the new covenant was revealed long before the old covenant was made with Israel. Under the new covenant it is God who makes vows, whereas under the old covenant it is man who makes vows. The old covenant thus puts man “under the law,” that is, under obligation to fulfill his vow. The new covenant puts God “under the law” until He fulfills His promises. See my book, The Two Covenants.
The First Marriage
The prophet shows remarkable understanding of the new covenant, admonishing the people not to deal treacherously with their wives. In the next verse he brings us back to the first marriage, which is the pattern for us all. However, this verse (Mal. 2:15) is difficult to translate, and most versions do not seem to understand the flow of the prophet’s message. Hence, they miss the point. The KJV reads,
15 And did not He make one? Yet had He the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That He might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.
In regard to the first sentence in verse 15, Dr. Bullinger says,
make one? = make [of twain] one flesh? Ref. to Pent. (Gen. 2:24).
In other words, Bullinger says that this refers to Gen. 2:24, where God arranged the marriage between Adam and Eve and pronounced them “one flesh.” God did not make two, but one only—that is, one couple. Hence, Mal. 2:15 should read, “And did not He make the two to be one flesh? Yet He had the residue [she’ar, “rest, remainder, left over”] of the spirit.”
In other words, God had “spirit” left over after making Adam and Eve one flesh. He did not use up all of His power in doing this.
“And wherefore one?” That is, why did God make them one flesh? Answer: “That He might seek a godly seed.” In other words, “a godly seed” comes largely through unity between a husband and a wife. It is well known how important it is for parents to be united by love. This is the atmosphere in which a “godly seed” can be nurtured.
So Malachi points out that the people in his day had family problems, where husbands were mistreating their wives. This topic stems from his earlier statements in verse 10, “Do we not all have one Father? Has not one God created us?” That “one God” also made the first husband and wife to be “one flesh.”
Further, since the main point of this entire passage was to chide the priests for being partial and dispensing unequal judgment, the prophet was telling the people to follow the family model that God had established at the beginning.
After Adam and Eve sinned, the family model was altered, putting Adam in authority over Eve. In Gen. 3:16 God tells Eve, “your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” An authority structure was not needed prior to sin, for both were in perfect unity under God. But after sin came into the world, God knew that unity was broken and that families thereafter would disagree. For this reason, someone had to make final decisions in the face of those disagreements. Hence, there was a need for authority in order to prevent chaos and paralysis in decision making.
What most do not realize, however, is that the original ideal marriage was one where husband and wife were in unity and therefore had no use for an authority structure. When both husband and wife hear God’s voice and submit to the authority of Christ, neither needs to command the other to “do this” or “do that.” Where there is no disagreement, there is no need for authority.
In other words, the original family design was based on unity, love, and equality under Christ. This is the new covenant ideal that is also what God is looking for in a Bride. By the old covenant He married a slave-wife at Sinai, which was then perpetuated in Jerusalem. That relationship could produce only children of the bondwoman, who could never qualify as inheritors of the promise (Gal. 4:30).
It is only through the new covenant that the “godly seed” is begotten by the gospel and later brought to full birth as the sons of God are manifested. Malachi tells us, then, that the men should adopt the original family model, which is the new covenant family relationship, and treat their wives without the spirit of partiality.
The problem is that very little teaching is done in this area. It is doubtful that Malachi’s words were understood, much less obeyed. My attempt at teaching this is found in my book, Old and New Covenant Marriage.
The Divorce Problem
The new covenant marriage model makes divorce not only unnecessary but irrelevant. When husbands and wives are in unity and their relationship is based on divine love and the ability to hear God’s voice, they always find a way to agree. Even if they start out in disagreement, they have the ability to seek the face of God until His will is known.
Therefore, there is no divorce in a new covenant marriage. However, old covenant marriages do not enjoy the same unity and love relationship. Disagreements are resolved, not by both parties hearing God’s voice, but by the authoritative one making a decision and the other obeying. There are times, however, when conflicts inevitably arise, or when abuse occurs, or when sin destroys the relationship.
When this happens, God’s law allows divorce, as long as one follows the lawful procedure that protects the divorced wife from injustice that was common in those days (Deut. 24:1-4). The husband was required to give his wife a written bill of divorce, so that she could prove that he had renounced all familial rights over her. This divorce paper then gave her the right to remarry without fear that her ex-husband might change his mind later and claim her as his own.
The temple priests understood this law fairly well, but they found ways of abusing it in order to satisfy their fleshly desires. Some men “married” women one day and “divorced” them the next day, a practice that resembled legal prostitution. At other times a husband might put away his wife without giving her proper divorce papers, a practice that might jeopardize any future husband that she might marry.
By the laws of Hammurabi (i.e., Nimrod), which formed the Common Law in the Mideast during that time, a man was allowed to divorce his wife by a mere verbal statement. He was to say, “I divorce you” three times in order to make it legal. The problem was that the divorced woman often could not prove that she was divorced, if her ex-husband tried to reclaim her later.
God thus corrects this problem in Deut. 24:1-4, demanding that the husband give his wife the proof of the divorce before putting her away (sending her out of the house). For this reason also, when God sent Israel out of the house into the land of Assyria, He first gave her a bill of divorce by the written word of Scripture. Jer. 3:8 says,
8 And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also.
Hence, God followed His own law, because the law reveals His will in all judicial matters. God’s old covenant marriage with Israel ended in failure and divorce. He is now preparing a new covenant bride, the New Jerusalem, and this relationship will endure forever.
God Hates Putting Away
After the prophet presents the original family model, chiding the priests for dealing unjustly with their wives, Mal. 2:16 says,
16 “For I hate divorce,” [shalach, “to send away, put away, let go”] says the Lord, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the Lord of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.
The NASB translation above is incorrect, because it assumes that the act of putting away is the same as the written bill of divorce. The law, however, tells us that the bill of divorce (kerethuth) must be given prior to the time when she is sent away (shalach).
The KJV is more accurate in its translation, saying, “He hateth putting away.” This statement is made in the context of men dealing treacherously with their wives. It implies that men were putting away their wives without giving them a proper bill of divorce as the law demanded.
Divorce is not usually a good thing, but it is often necessary. Old covenant marriages are imperfect, and so the law had to provide a way out of them. In fact, if divorce were not allowed in the law, God would not have been able to divorce Israel, and the new covenant could never have replaced it. Mankind would have been stuck with an old covenant relationship with God.
God knew this well in advance, and so He provided a proper way to divorce one’s wife (or husband).
But the people in Malachi’s day were violating the law. The prophet does not give any specifics as to what the men were doing. It may be that they were divorcing their wives over trivial matters. It may be that they were marrying women for a day so as to engage in legalized prostitution. We do not know what Malachi had in mind. All we know is that divorce itself is not a sin, as long as it is done according to the law (and will) of God.
The problem raised in Deut. 24:1-4, when seen in its historical context, along with Malachi’s terminology, shows that God hates “putting away” (shalach), which implies that it was done without a written bill of divorce. No doubt God hates divorce, too, but yet He divorced Israel and remained sinless.
The same implication is seen in Jesus’ statement in Matt. 5:31, 32. This comments on the law in Deut. 24:1-4, but the NASB mistranslates it, “everyone who divorces his wife… makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” The KJV is more accurate, saying, “whosoever shall put away his wife… causes her to commit adultery.”
Verse 31 speaks of a writ of apostasion, “divorce,” in reference to the law of divorce in Deut. 24. But the next verse speaks only of putting away (apoluo), which is banned by the law unless first a written bill of divorce is put into her hand. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was commenting on the law. When He commented on the divorce law, Jesus did not contradict the law, but clarified it.
He was saying that if men put away their wives without a bill of divorce, they might cause their wives to commit adultery. How? Because if they married another man without being properly divorced, then they might be prosecuted as adulterers. This was why the divorce law was written in the first place. It was to protect women from unjust accusations, because she could prove with signed papers that she truly was divorced and thus had the right to remarry.
As long as Old Covenant marriages exist, divorce laws must exist. Otherwise God could not have divorced Israel. But divorce is regulated by law to prevent injustice to women and to protect their right to remarry.