The tone of the book changes somewhat beginning in verse 10 of Chapter 2. Instead of God speaking in the first person as He did in 1:6 through 2:9, Malachi now speaks on God’s behalf. And instead of addressing only the priests he seems to speak to all the people.
Malachi condemns the people for their unfaithfulness in three areas. They are unfaithful in their personal relationships, they are unfaithful to God, and they are unfaithful to their marriages. All three result in dire ramifications. God’s chosen people no longer care enough about Him or each other to remain faithful to their covenants.
Unfaithful to Each Other
In verse 10 Malachi begins with two rhetorical questions. He asks the people, “Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us?” He points out to them that Israel is a nation set apart and under one God (one father could refer to Abraham as the father of the nation or to God as the Father of the covenant people – the Hebrew is not clear). They are under the same covenant – God is their God and they are His people (Exodus 6).
Yet this people who are all really brothers and sisters in God’s sight are not faithful in their interactions with each other. They deal treacherously with each other – they do not honor their word and there is no integrity in all walks of life. They do not honor contracts in their business dealings, they do not honor their word in social arrangements – they take advantage of each other at every turn. They are, in short, just like the people of Israel in Amos’ time who were removed from the land as a result of their sin (Amos 5:10-13, 8:5-6).
Their behavior is such that Malachi tells them they profane the covenant of our fathers. The very covenant they are under as God’s people cries out against them. They are set apart as God’s people and benefit from God’s covenant that He cannot break. Yet they care nothing about the covenants they have with each other. God’s covenant people care nothing about covenants. They dishonor who they are and they dishonor God. Yahweh – the covenant-keeping God – means little to them as they regularly violate His law.
Though no punishment or ramification is spelled out here by Malachi, the danger the people are in is implied. If they have profaned the covenant of our fathers it means they are now open to the punishment the covenant spells out. God made it clear to Moses and the people that their place as His chosen people came with dire ramifications for disobedience. God does not allow His people to sin without consequence. As He told the people of Amos’ time – “You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth; therefore, I will punish you for all your iniquities” (Amos 3:2).
The people’s lack of integrity is a recipe for anarchy in society. When people cannot trust each other in contracts and business and social arrangements, society begins to crumble. The amount of time and energy spent by each person trying to protect himself from the dishonesty of others eventually overwhelms available resources. Transactions and relationships become very complicated and the rule of law loses its meaning. This is why Malachi calls it treachery.
Unfaithful to God
In verses 11 and 12 Malachi condemns the people for following after other gods. He says the Israelites have married the daughter of a foreign god. This likely means they have intermarried with women from pagan cultures – a direct violation of the law – and adopted their wives’ gods as their own – a bigger violation of the law. This is another example of the same actions that caused the exile.
With their unfaithfulness they have profaned the sanctuary of the Lord. Their actions are an abomination in Israel. There is nothing worse in God’s eyes than to follow after other gods or to simply add God to a list of deities to worship. God made a covenant with His people and they mock it with their choices. They profane His holiness by treating Him as no different from the pagan gods of their foreign wives.
Unlike the first condemnation in verse 10, Malachi pronounces a curse on the men who do this. He says the Lord will cut off from the tents of Jacob everyone who awakes and answers. The phrase awakes and answers is difficult to understand. It probably is a reference to the offspring of the people engaging in the sin (children being ones who awake and answer to the authority of their parents or masters). If this is the case, the idolater will have no seed to carry on his name or to provide for him in his old age. He will lose his place in the community of Israel and his name will be wiped out. God is jealous and does not take the violation of His first two commandments lightly.
Note the final characteristic of these people. They still offer sacrifices to God. Men who blatantly violate the two most important commandments and have no sense of fidelity to Yahweh continue to bring their offerings to the temple. They are unfaithful and care nothing about the covenant, but they crave the approval of men and the social standing that comes from keeping up the temple ceremonies. The approval of men is more important to them than faithfulness to Yahweh.
Unfaithful to Marriage
Malachi explains in verse 13 that God no longer accepts the offerings of the people because they are unfaithful to their marriage covenants. He says God has been a witness between them and their wives (no such thing in Israeli culture as a woman divorcing a man) and they have dealt treacherously with the woman who is your companion and your wife by covenant (kind of a neat way to describe a spouse – he/she is your companion and husband/wife by covenant).
The text does not explain the reasons for the divorces, but apparently the practice is widespread and common. Men find someone else who pleases them more or who benefits them more and they send away their current wife and take a new one. The covenant between them and their wife that was entered into before God (what he means when he says God has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth) means nothing to them. Like the covenant with God, this covenant is held to only as long as it is beneficial.
“COVENANT BEFORE GOD!” That is the essence of marriage. And when God stands as witness to the covenant promises of a marriage, it becomes more than a merely human agreement. God is not a passive bystander at a wedding ceremony. In effect he says, I have seen this, I confirm it, and I record it in heaven. And I bestow upon this covenant by my presence and my purpose the dignity of being an image of my own covenant with my wife, the church. – John Piper
God tells them He hates divorce and that the man who divorces his wife covers his garment with wrong (he effectively has the carnage of the broken marriage all over him). The covenant-keeping God cannot abide a broken covenant. Note the description of God in the first phrase of verse 16. Malachi calls God the Lord, the God of Israel (only time this name is used in the book). Malachi wants to make it clear that God has never violated His covenant with Israel. Unlike the men of Judah, God is faithful to his initial covenant – to His original wife. He is and ever will be the covenant-keeping God of Israel (Isaiah 54:5-8).
Malachi ends with a warning and an admonition. He tells the people to take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously. It is in the self-interest of the Israelites to stay faithful to their marriage covenants. Since God hates divorce and rejects their offerings and prayers as a result, it makes sense that they would preserve their marriages for the sake of preserving their souls. God rejects those who reject their covenants – consequently, it is good practice to honor the covenants in their lives.
Note – any single teaching on divorce must be balanced with what the Bible says in total. Both Paul and Jesus give reasons where divorce seems to be permitted. Malachi’s words are not meant to teach the believer that divorce is wrong in all cases. But we need to understand that God hates a broken covenant – and that is true whether divorce breaks the covenant or is the result of a covenant already broken.
[Verse 15 is almost impossible to interpret. Virtually every Bible translation has a different reading – most try to paraphrase it to make it understandable. The NASB stays true to the literal translation which catches the difficulty of the meaning. Some think the verse refers to Abraham (that one) and his attempt to father the son of promise (godly offspring) with Hagar. In this interpretation the assumption is that the men of Israel use Abraham as an example of one who was unfaithful to his wedding vows and yet was still blessed by God. Malachi points out that his motives were to produce the son of promise – not just find a new wife out of convenience. Another translation could be: “Did He not make one even though He had the remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He sought a godly offspring.” Meaning – God made only one wife for Adam when He could have made many – He did this so the couple could raise godly offspring which is not possible with many wives. The NIV and the ESV both translate the verse as referring to God making a married couple one (in body and spirit) – with the goal of producing godly offspring. Any of these translations could be correct or none of them could be. Regardless, the meaning of the text is not materially affected. Divorce violates the nature of God because it breaks a covenant.]
The people deal treacherously with each other which profanes the covenant of their fathers.
The people deal treacherously with God which profanes His sanctuary.
The people deal treacherously with the wife of their youth which profanes the marriage covenant.
They are unfaithful to each other in personal relationships and business dealings. They are unfaithful to God. They are unfaithful to their wives. The Israelites have a small view of God and a large view of themselves so they see no reason to put others first or to honor covenants that are not beneficial.
This text shows us the end product of lives lived with a small god. It does not describe all people with a wrong perspective – not everyone is engaged in all three examples listed in these verses – but it shows the logical outcome for those who make themselves big and God small. The ramifications of wrong theology are not limited to worship.
When God is small integrity becomes relative. Because life is about me, pleasing me becomes the goal – and faithfulness only has meaning to the extent that it fits the goal. When faithfulness means difficulty and discomfort, it is no longer a worthy pursuit and can be abandoned. My word has meaning, but it is secondary to my happiness. And it is valid to violate my word if my happiness is at stake.
When life is based on self and not on Another, any reason to work through difficulties that cause discomfort or pain disappears. There is nothing beyond self that gives meaning to hard times so hard times must be avoided at all costs. Why acquire a taste for trials? Why persevere through a difficult marriage? If something – or someone – spoils the pursuit of happiness it should be eliminated.
That is why the small-god life is ultimately a life of churning. Churning through friends, churning through relationships, churning through communities and jobs, churning through marriages – always looking for something or someone to make me happy and content. Always looking for a situation that has me at the center.
It also is a life of no trust. I do not trust others because I suspect in them the same all-encompassing self-based drive for happiness that I have. Or I try to trust others, but my definition of trust is someone who will make me happy and not hurt me or let me down in the process – and since that is impossible on a continual basis I find that I trust less and less. And I do not trust God because He is not part of my daily life (He is small and inconsequential) – so the thought of trusting Him to take care of me regardless of the actions of others has no meaning. So if I do not trust God and others then I have to take care of myself. That means I must ensure that I am happy and fulfilled whatever the cost. If I do not watch out for me then my rights could be trampled or I could be disrespected or unhappy – and those are the worst possible outcomes.
The positive conclusion to this text is this – he who would be faithful to both God and man must have his eyes on God. Our lives must have a higher purpose than ourselves. When we look at God and commune with Him and know Him and love Him and make Him the center of our universe, we both take on His perspective on the covenants in our lives and persevere through difficult times because our happiness is not the chief end. We look at God and remain faithful to others. We look at God and no longer measure men by their effect on our wellbeing. We look to God for contentment and meaning and love and so no longer demand those from the people in our lives. We trust God so trusting men becomes secondary – if God takes care of me I am no longer as worried about my rights and others’ respect. When we look at God we value relationships based on how much they glorify our Father in heaven instead of how much they benefit us.
One more thought not to miss. Covenants are HUGELY important to God and He is always a witness to our agreements. Remember that God actually defines Himself in the Old Testament by His covenants. The name ‘Yahweh’ effectively means “The Covenant-Keeping God.” It is His very nature to make and keep covenants and He has no allowance for breaking them. He punished Israel for breaking a centuries-old covenant made under false pretenses (Josh 9 and II Sam 21), and the punishment was brutal. When we give our word we must remember that God is a witness and He does not take it lightly and does not forget. There is no such thing as a meaningless covenant in God’s eyes.
Pray that God would fill our minds and our eyes with Him. Pray that God would enable us to see others through Him. Pray that God would give us His perspective on our relationships and covenants. And in the end thank Him that His mercy is everlasting and that He is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7a).