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.
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 by instructing the priests in his day, for he reminds them that we all have one Father, who is the Creator of all men. 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. As a Greek believer, 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 unjust 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. This was extended to the prophets and teachers as well. 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 be cast out into exile into what Jesus called “outer darkness” if they violated the law of sacrifice (Lev. 17:4). If this happened, then those Israelites would become non-Israelites (by nationality). Likewise, non-Israelites could also join with the nation of Israel and become Israelite citizens having equal rights.
In other words, being “chosen” (i.e., an Israelite) 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 into the tribes of Israel. None of those 318 men were Abraham’s children in a genealogical sense, yet they served as prophetic types of the “household of faith” (Gal. 6:10).
The problem is that many of Abraham’s 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” or “elect” (Rom. 11:4-7).
Malachi 2:13 continues,
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
Malachi 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 great 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—that of Adam and Eve—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 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 of impartiality 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 practical need 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 the model for the earthly 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 a 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 issuing a command 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. Reading Deut. 24:1, 2 from Rotherham’s The Emphasized Bible,
1 When a man taketh a woman and marrieth her, then it shall be, if she find not favour in his eyes, because he hath found in her some matter of shame, that he shall write her a scroll of divorcement and put it into her hand, and shall send her forth out of his house. 2 And when she cometh forth out of his house, then may she go her way and become another man’s.
The law does not indulge in marriage counseling here, but limits its comments to proper divorce procedure. When we compare God’s law to the laws of Hammurabi, which formed the common law in that part of the world, it is evident that God’s law was most concerned about correcting injustice toward women. Hammurabi allowed verbal divorces, stipulating only that a husband speak to her three times, saying, “I divorce you.” This made the divorce legal, but it gave the woman no written proof of divorce.
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. Without that proof, he might charge her with adultery and both she and her next husband might be stoned unjustly.
God thus corrects this problem, demanding that the husband give his wife the proof of the divorce before putting her away (sending her out of the house). Hence, when God sent Israel out of the house into the land of Assyria, He first gave her a bill of divorce. 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 on account of Israel’s persistent desire to commit spiritual adultery with other gods. He is now preparing a New Covenant bride, the New Jerusalem, and this relationship will endure forever.
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.
Of course, even though it was necessary (because of sin) to give people the right of divorce, this should not be interpreted to mean that couples should seek a divorce without doing everything in their power to resolve their problem. Many give up too easily today just because the courts have made it easier for couples to divorce. Christians ought not to abuse their right to divorce, but should follow God’s example of patience with Israel. God did not divorce Israel for over 700 years, but sent many prophets to act as marriage counselors.
God Hates Putting Away
After the prophet presents the Genesis 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. We 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 even so, He divorced Israel and remained sinless. Just because God hated the idea of divorcing Israel does not mean that He was unable, in the end, to give her a bill of divorce.
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. Matt. 5:31 (The Emphatic Diaglott) poses the question,
31 And it was said, “Whoever shall dismiss [apoluon, “release”] his wife, let him give her a certificate of dismissal [apostasion, “divorce”].”
In other words, if a man intends to “dismiss” his wife (i.e., apoluon, send her away), he must first give her a written “certificate of divorce” (apostasion). This is the lawful procedure, and if one’s wife is sent away without this certificate of divorce, then he has violated the law and trampled upon her rights.
The next verse, where Jesus explains this further, focuses upon the consequences of putting away (apoluo) without a written bill of divorce (apostasion). 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 in Deut. 24:1-4, 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, if the law had been followed, she had proof that she truly was divorced. Her ex-husband had no further claim upon her, and thus she 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.
Malachi uses the example of marriage and the laws regulating divorce as His main illustration to show that we all have “one Father.” His point was to emphasize that because we all have one heavenly Father and are all God’s children from a creation standpoint, we ought to treat each other with respect and justice.
The law gives some basic parameters of loving our neighbors as ourselves, and though it does not cover every type of situation, nonetheless, we ought to understand the spirit of the law in our dealings with others. Mal. 2:13 says that God had refused to acknowledge men’s offerings in the temple, because their hearts were not right. The main evidence of this was in the fact that the people were mistreating their wives in this matter of divorce.
Malachi was not saying that divorce was unlawful; he was saying that the men had often put away their wives without giving them a bill of divorce. This violation of women’s rights showed the lawless condition of their hearts. God takes a dim view of those who “deal treacherously” with their wives and then cover up their sin with excuses (Mal. 2:17).
Apparently, the people and priests continued to ignore Malachi’s word from the Lord, because more than four hundred years later, Jesus found it necessary to correct their practices, implying again that God remained unimpressed with their sacrifices and offerings.
Misapplying the Law
After criticizing the priests for their partiality and their unjust marriage policies, the prophet says in Mal. 2:17,
17 You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you say, “How have we wearied Him?” In that you say, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them,” or “Where is the God of Justice?”
The prophet implies that the priests did not agree with his assessment. Instead, they argued with him and with God Himself, thinking they were righteous in their religious practice and in dispensing “justice” to the people.
It is not likely that Malachi was recording a direct quote from one of the priests. None of them would have dared to make the statement: “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord.” The prophet was making the point that the priests were justifying those who did evil, instead of condemning such actions.
What actions were evil? The prophet was speaking of dealing treacherously with one’s wife (2:14), which in turn was part of their violation of the law of impartiality. In other words, the priests justified those who mistreated their wives by denying them their God-given rights. The root of this problem was that their perception of an ideal marriage was based on the Old Covenant, rather than on the New, and so their wives were bond-slaves like Hagar, having no rights as freewomen. God bristled at this notion.
Disagreeing with the Law
The other objection to Malachi’s critique is expressed in the second statement in Mal. 2:17, “Where is the God of Justice?” Whereas the first objection declares what is evil to be good in the sight of God, the second objection is cynical, implying that God is not really a good God, nor is He just in His ways.
It is unfortunate that when the priests misunderstood God’s law, applying it in unjust ways, there were always some who knew that injustice was occurring, but they thought that the fault lay in the law itself, rather than in men’s application of it. These people were equally ignorant of the mind of God, but they assumed that the priests understood the law correctly. They saw the law itself as the problem, and not men’s understanding. Hence, when men saw injustice occurring—and when the priests justified their unjust practices by misinterpreting the law—the people questioned the inspiration of the law, rather than men’s understanding.
So some of the priests applied the law in an unjust manner, while others—who knew that injustice was taking place—claimed that God Himself was unjust, or a tyrant. In both cases, the priests did not understand the law, says Malachi, and this explained why God refused to acknowledge their offerings.