The apostasy of Israel so apparent in the last chapter has in this one continued unabated. The inner spiritual life of the people which should have been nurtured and encouraged by the priesthood is, in this chapter, further hindered and destroyed by an unbelieving, reprobate priesthood (Malachi 2:1-9). God announced even the annulment of the Levitical covenant (Malachi 2:8). In the second chapter division (Malachi 2:9-16), it is starkly clear that the vast majority of the remnant were going the way of Gilgal and Shittim in exactly the same manner of the corruption which had previously sent both northern and southern kingdoms into captivity.
And yet the Messiah had not come, a fact which absolutely necessitate the preservation and continuity of fleshly Israel as an identifiable people upon the earth until that Redemptive Event for all mankind occurred. It was this undeniable truth that accounts for the protective arm of Jehovah around Israel throughout the inter-testamental period. Such continued support would continue to be the portion of the returned Israel, no matter what they did; and yet the displeasure of God with their behavior (as a whole) would continue to be evident in the execution of the sentence of Hosea 3:4,5. "Without king, without prince, without sacrifice, without altar, without ephod and teraphim."
"And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you."
The language here is in the same tone of the pre-exilic judgments of Hosea, Amos, and Micah, implying that, "There can be no mitigation of the punishment about to be pronounced."
"This commandment ..." Although no actual commandment is seen in these verses, the Hebrew word from which this comes, "Indicates that what follows is not simply the prophet's message but a self-fulfilling word from Yahweh." Thus the judgment and threat announced are to be understood as God-ordained and in process of execution.
"If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith Jehovah of hosts, then will I send the curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings; yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart."
"Then will I send the curse upon you ..." The use of the definite article in "the curse" is significant. "The curse" almost certainly refers to the comprehensive curse threatened from the very beginning of Israel's history to the effect that if they failed to keep God's commandments, "all these curses shall come upon thee":
"Cursed shall thou be in the city, and cursed shall thou be in the field. Cursed shall be thy basket and thy kneading-trough. Cursed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy ground, the increase of thy cattle, and the young of thy flock. Cursed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and cursed shalt thou be when thou goest out (Deuteronomy 28:16-19)."
The grand axiom that underlies both the promises and the punishments that come from God is that "all are conditional," blessing being conditioned upon obedient faithfulness, and cursing being conditioned upon whether or not the object of it repents and returns to God. But this basic truth is far from a denial that there is also "a point of no return," especially with regard to cursing, beyond which there is a judicial hardening of the sinner and the practical impossibility of his renewal in God's fellowship. The stern language here seems to indicate the latter condition has developed in the returned Israel. But, is not this passage directed solely to the priesthood? Certainly, the priesthood is in focus here; but, as the last verse of the previous chapter indicated, and as it will be further developed in the latter paragraph of this one, practically all of the people are the victims of this flourishing apostasy.
"I will curse your blessings ..." Whether this refers to the taking away of privileges and benefits enjoyed by the priests, or to the benedictive blessings bestowed by them upon the people is immaterial. All blessings would be cursed.
"I have cursed them already ..." "The Hebrew text here means, `I have cursed them severally,' meaning, I have cursed each one of your blessings."
"Behold, I will rebuke your seed, and will spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your feasts; and ye shall be taken away with it."
The idea here relates to the offal and refuse remaining from the butchered animals of the sacrifices. This repulsive figure is an apt description of the final removal of the Jewish priesthood in the overthrow of A.D. 70, in which event the very institution of animal sacrifice was forever terminated. The Law required that this type of animal refuse resulting from the sacrifices should be carried forth and burned on the outside of the camp, or city (Exodus 29:14; Leviticus 4:12; 16:27).
"And ye shall know that I have sent this commandment unto you, that my covenant may be with Levi, saith Jehovah of hosts."
"That my covenant may be with Levi ..." This clause was rendered by Keil thus: "I have sent this commandment to you, that it may be my covenant with Levi." Both the New English Bible and the Jerusalem Bible render this passage as follows: "It is I who have given you this warning of my intention to abolish my covenant with Levi" (New English Bible); "My covenant with Levi falls to the ground" (Jerusalem Bible). Keil's rendition was paraphrased by him as follows:
"They will perceive that just as Jehovah has hitherto regulated his conduct toward Levi by the terms of His covenant, which was made with it at the time of its departure from Egypt, so will he henceforth let it be regulated by the decree of punishment which He has resolved upon now, so that this decree of punishment takes the place, as it were, of the earlier covenant."
This is a disputed verse, and not all scholars and translations give the negative cast of the passage in the manner of these cited; nevertheless, we believe that the negative import of these words is clearly revealed in the whole passage and throughout Malachi. What is seen here is the annulment and abrogation of the Levitical covenant of the Jewish priesthood, a cancellation due to the persistent and total violation of it by Levi himself (in the person of the priests), from whom all priests were derived. Deane also agreed with this: "This commandment (threat) ... will take the place of the old covenant." The judicial hardening of Israel by God Himself has either already happened, or is in the process of happening. Such a condition was prophesied by Isaiah 6:9,10; and that passage is one of the most frequently quoted from the Old Testament to be found in the entire New Testament. (Matthew 13:14,15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:37-vi, and Acts 28:25-27). It was to this condition that Paul referred in Romans 11:25,26.
"My covenant was with him of life and peace; and I gave them to him that he might fear; and he feared me and stood in awe of my name."
"My covenant was with him ..." Note the past tense. God here speaks of the Levitical covenant as a thing of the past, not merely because it was inaugurated in a time past, but because it was already terminated by the Levitical priests who had wantonly broken it and rejected it. A similar use of the past tense occurs in Paul's reference to the Law of Moses, "The Law WAS our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ" (Galatians 3:23, KJV).
Everything in the Bible, as well as all that is in this chapter and in this paragraph clearly indicates that what "this commandment," which God gave in the place of Levi's covenant means is the final termination of that covenant, on the basis of the people's having repudiated it. Many current scholars deny this, but they do not deny it from what is stated here, but from prior theological considerations. Baldwin, for example, stressed that, "God had sworn never to break his covenant (Leviticus 26:44; Judges 2:1, etc.) ... God's covenants were as certain to be fulfilled as the laws of nature ... (there is) a positive assertion throughout the Old Testament that God would never break his word."
All such general conclusions are based upon a false view to the effect that if God cancelled a covenant because of the people's violation of it, it would, in some unexplainable sense, be God's "breaking his word." Nothing could be more erroneous. One should re-read the last three chapters of Deuteronomy, in which it is boldly and clearly declared that all of God's covenant blessings of Israel were contingent, absolutely, upon Israel's maintaining a faithful and obedient attitude. This passage shows that the same applied to the Levitical covenant, as indeed it does to all covenants, even including the covenant of salvation in Jesus Christ!
"The law of truth was in his mouth, and unrighteousness was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned away many from iniquity."
This verse, along with Malachi 2:5,7,8, is given to show Levi's obligation under the covenant of life and peace. What God did here was to cite the provisions of the covenant law that Levi once kept, but that his successors were violating. Clarke has given a summary of these thus:
1. He feared me; he was my sincere worshipper.
2. He acted as in the presence of the just and holy God.
3. The law of God was ever in his mouth.
4. By example and teaching he influenced others.
5. No iniquity proceeded from his lips.
6. He lived in such a manner as to retain his union with God.
7. He turned many away from iniquity.
8. He conducted himself as a true messenger from God.
It is a simple matter to check all of these off one by one, from what is written in this chapter, to see that the Levitical priests of Malachi's time were in total violation of every obligation.
"For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth; for he is the messenger of Jehovah of hosts."
Despite the fact of Haggai having been designated a messenger (Haggai 1:13), this is the only Old Testament designation of the priesthood as, in fact, messengers of God; but even here, it is the statement of an ideal violated and not the indication of any reliability of human priests. Certainly, it is a fact now that if one is to communicate the knowledge of God effectively to anyone else, it must be done by one who himself is a sincere and faithful worshipper at the Throne, and who lives in full consciousness of the presence of God in his life. In the holy religion of Christ, however, there is no distinguishable priesthood apart from the rank and file of all Christians, who alike, are "kings and priests unto God." The false differentiation between clergy and laity is a damnable error. As Buttrick once said, "The institution of sacerdotal man has been demonstrated throughout five thousand years of human history as a shamefully incompetent and ineffective device." Israel's priesthood succeeded little better than the pagans in the communication of God's will to humanity.
"But ye are turned aside out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble in the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith Jehovah of hosts."
This verse flatly declares that all of the holy obligations cited above had been flagrantly and willfully violated, to the extent that the very covenant itself had been "corrupted."
Pusey noted that this means that the priests had "forfeited" the blessings of the covenant; however, it means a lot more than that.
"Since a covenant must be observed by both parties, the covenant which should have brought happiness and blessing upon them has been `corrupted,' that is, ruined, destroyed, annulled."
Of course the New Testament speaks plainly of the annulment that fell upon the covenant between God and Israel, but here it is made specifically clear that the annulment extended to all of that covenant, including that with Levi especially as it pertained to priests.
"Therefore have I also made you contemptible and base before all the people, according as ye have not kept my ways, but have had respect of persons in the law."
A part of priestly duty was that of the administration of the law; and the reprobacy of that priesthood is indicated here by the citation of a single sin, representative of many, but one of the most flagrant and disgusting, the sin of showing partiality and respecting persons in their decisions. The corruption of those charged with administration of justice is the mark of a society that has fallen low indeed.
Since they had shown their contempt for God, he would make them contemptible; and since they had shown such a low regard for God, God would make them low in the estimation of men.
"Therefore ..." "Therefore introduces the consequences brought on them by Jehovah." God expected his covenant to be honored by the obedience of them that had received it, for no covenant of God was ever made without regard to the obligations imposed by it upon them that received the promises. This principle stands even in reference to the sacred promises of Christianity. As Richard Trench expressed it:
"Nor may we leave out of sight that all forgiveness, short of that crowning and last act, which will find place on the judgment day, and will be followed by a blessed impossibility of sinning any more, is conditional, in the very nature of things so conditional, that the condition in every case must be assumed, whether stated or no; that condition being that the forgiven man continues in faith and obedience."
Jamieson's paraphrase of the meaning is, "Because ye do not keep the condition of the covenant, I will not fulfil the promise."
"Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, profaning the covenant of our fathers?"
"Have we not all one father ... ?" A very different subject is discussed, beginning here. The issue of the reprobate priesthood is settled; their covenant was abrogated. In this and verses following, Malachi speaks of the whole nation, condemning them also in the sternest language possible. It should be remembered that the final apostasy and judicial hardening of Israel (fleshly Israel) is the situation that lies behind these words. There was, of course, a faithful remnant; and Malachi would mention them in the next chapter.
"One father" here is God, as shown by the parallelism of the next clause where it is clear that the Creator is meant. This verse has sent some commentators into paroxysms of ecstasy, leading to bold generalizations with regard to the "Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of man!" It is true of course that, "Here lie seeds for the concepts both of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man"; but he "was not thinking in terms of the universal brotherhood of man," but rather of "brotherly loyalty within the nation of Israel." It is a false view that the mere fact of a common Creator forms any kind of a practical or legitimate foundation for an era of good will among the sons of Adam. The only "brotherhood of man" that has any possibility whatever of resolving the savage hatreds of unregenerated men for each other, is that of the brotherhood "in Christ Jesus." Only "in him" is the middle wall of partition broken down; only "in him" is there the grace to frustrate the evil passions of the flesh. Not even the strong fleshly ties among the Israelites has constituted any effective barrier against betrayal and exploitation by brothers against each other. The situation between the Arabs and the Jews more than twenty-five centuries later demonstrates this principle as well as the demonstration condemned by Malachi.
"Through the sin which it had committed, Judah, the community which had returned from exile, had profaned itself as the sanctuary of God, or neutralized itself as a holy community chosen and beloved of Jehovah."
God had emphatically warned Israel against mixed marriages with pagans (Exodus 34:16; Deuteronomy 7:3; and Joshua 22:12,13). Through intermarriages with the heathen they profaned that covenant. Ezra had done his best to eradicate the evil (Ezra 9:10); and, "Nehemiah, too, contended against those who had contracted such marriages," having found many such violations of God's law upon his return to Jerusalem (Nehemiah 13:23-28). The important consideration in this desire on God's part that Israel should not marry foreign wives was that doing so injected an element of paganism into Israel, an injection which had actually been the source of the total apostasy of both the secular kingdoms of Israel before the exile.
"Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel, and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of Jehovah which he loveth, and hath married the daughter of a foreign god."
"And hath married the daughter of a foreign god ..." This gives light upon which marriages were forbidden. A great mixed multitude went up out of Egypt, but they were circumcised, and adopted into Judaism by keeping the Passover, etc. (Exodus 12:48, and Numbers 9:14). Ruth was married to Boaz, but that took place after she had rejected the Moabite gods (Ruth 1:16); also, Rahab the harlot was likewise married to a prince of Israel, but after she was committed to the true God. Thus, it was clearly the paganism of the foreign wives that was the crux of the violation. Then too, there was the matter of divorce, also an evil fiercely condemned by Malachi. (See under Malachi 2:16.)
"`Daughter of' implied `bearing the character of' a deity whose whole ethos was diametrically opposed to the righteousness of Israel's God."
"Jehovah will cut off to the man that doeth this, him that waketh and him that answereth, out of the tents of Jacob, and him that offereth an offering to Jehovah of hosts."
This is one of the difficult verses, the meaning of which is ambiguous.
"Him that waketh and him that answereth" has been rendered as:
teacher and scholar,
son and grandson,
master and servant,
stranger and kinsman.
But, while the exact implication of the words is not clear, the idea that dire and terrible consequences will occur in the lives of those whom Jehovah shall "cut off" is perfectly plain.
"Him that offereth an offering to Jehovah of hosts ..." This would appear to be an identification of a worshipper of God, with the meaning that a man who married a foreign wife, "daughter of a foreign god" would automatically assure that none of his children would accept the true religion. In practice, of course, that is the way it always worked out.
"And this again ye do; ye cover the altar of Jehovah with tears, with weeping, and with sighing, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, neither receiveth it with good will at your hands."
"This again ye do ..." Although some uncertainty attaches to this, it would appear to indicate that the people not only had failed to heed the former prohibitions against such foreign marriages so vigorously enforced by Ezra and Nehemiah, plunging headlong in to more and more of these; but the word "again" might also indicate "that some of the people who had reformed under Ezra had relapsed into the same sin again."
"Cover the altar ... with tears ..." There are two possible meanings of this. The people, finding their offerings not accepted by the Lord, added tearful displays to their sacrifices, but still refused to reform. This is objected to on the grounds that the people did not have access to the altar. Therefore, some suppose that the priests were the ones weeping, but that also seems to be utterly out of keeping with the view of that priesthood in this prophecy. "The Targum," followed by Jerome, inferred that it was the deserted wives who were weeping. Baldwin objected to this "Because they had not been mentioned." However, we agree with Hailey that, "The expression is a metaphor in which the rejected wives were covering the altar with their tears."
"Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because Jehovah hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously, though she is thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant."
"Yet ye say ..." See introduction for discussion of this arrogant rejection of the prophet's words recurring again and again throughout the prophecy. To every charge of evil, they had a stock reply "Where's the harm in it?"
The harm in it derived, first of all, from the sacred nature of marriage itself, in which the partners of the marriage relationship, since they sustain a religious relation to each other, are also viewed as co-partners with God Himself, the third member of the union, and "a witness between thee and the wife of thy youth."
Evil husbands who marry the young and the beautiful, and then, when the bloom of life has faded, shamefully and heartlessly divorce their wives to marry younger women do indeed deal "treacherously" with their wives. We can thank God that Malachi in this prophecy pours out the wrath and displeasure of the Almighty God Himself upon such selfish and evil men. Any fair appraisal of the conduct of such wicked husbands must indeed find it most reprehensible.
"The wife of thy covenant ..." One must deny all relationship to God Himself in order to do the wicked thing in view here. When one deals thus treacherously with his wife, who has been his companion throughout life, he is automatically, of course, a traitor against God and every holy obligation connected with religion. The fact of our current godless society's tolerance and even approval of divorce is an evil blight upon mankind. Men do not have the right to allow what God has forbidden that they should do. Marriage is "a covenant to which the Lord was witness (Genesis 31:50; Proverbs 2:17)." Therefore, "Marriage is not simply an individual matter, or even a social institution; rather it is a divine ordinance, the Lord himself being the chief witness at the wedding ceremony."
"And did he not make one, although he had the residue of the Spirit? And wherefore one? He sought a godly seed. Therefore, take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth."
As this verse stands in our version, the thought is that God had made man and his wife to be "one flesh," with the purpose of their bringing forth "a godly seed." Since the marriage of foreign wives who were also pagan would not have achieved such a purpose, God sternly forbade dealing "treacherously with the wife of thy youth." In this verse, the remaining clause, re: "the residue of the Spirit" is not clear. Robinson's comment on this was, "In any case, Malachi was a Christian on the subject of divorce; for, `No higher word on marriage was ever spoken except by Christ himself' (G. A. Smith)." "This verse (in the Hebrew) is hopelessly obscure"; and there are a number of efforts to translate it, all with different results. Baldwin thought that, "Perhaps it suffered at the hands of the scribes who objected to its teaching," nor can such a possibility be safely ruled out. Certainly, the passage is not absolutely clear, no matter which rendition is followed.
It is definitely known that polygamy was an accepted institution among the Jews until after the exile. The Old Testament references to the polygamous marriages of Abraham, Jacob, and the kings of Israel are numerous.
The institution of polygamy was recognized in the Talmud, in which is recorded, "Its prohibition of a larger number of wives than four to the ordinary Jewish citizen and eighteen for the king himself." One may only imagine, therefore, how vigorously some would have opposed the stern words of Malachi on marriage. It was the prophet, however, who carried the day on that subject. "After the exile, it is quite clear that monogamy was looked upon as the ideal state of marriage." When the Pharisees, therefore, brought their question to Jesus re: divorce, they thought they had him trapped. They knew that his teaching would not contradict that of the holy prophets, and that it would doubtless contradict the loose and sinful practice of which many of them were guilty. Their purpose was not that of learning anything, but that of trying to embarrass the Lord.
"For I hate putting away, saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, and him that covereth his garment with violence, saith Jehovah of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously."
"I hate putting away ..." God hates divorce. Our society loves divorce. The shameful acceptance of the wanton violation of the marriage covenant on the part of many today, to the extent of threatening even the holy institution of marriage itself, is a cruel, heartless, and brutal fact of our culture. We are rapidly drifting into a state of godlessness from which there might never be any complete return. It is a deadly cancer in our social order that should be of utmost concern to every thoughtful person. God's hatred of what many are doing ought to be a strong deterrent.
"Such a vigorous warning and exhortation from the Lord in a former decadent and permissive age should not be silenced; its principle should be heralded to the ends of our own time."
"That covereth his garment with violence ..." This is a difficult clause, as seen in the various renditions of it:
Covereth violence with his garment (KJV).
Covereth his garment with violence (ASV).
Violence covereth his garment.
Iniquity shall cover his garment (Douay).
Moffatt simply left it out!
It is not certain at all that we can find out exactly what is signified by these words, but one thing is clear. There will be unhappy consequences of divorce and remarriage.
"This figure appears nowhere else in the Old Testament. The basis of it seems to lie in an ancient custom whereby the casting of one's garment over a woman was tantamount to claiming her as a wife."
"Ye have wearied Jehovah with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? In that ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of Jehovah, and he delighteth in them; or where is the God of justice?"
Malachi concluded the argument and commandment against divorce in Malachi 2:16, and in this he takes up a new subject. It is the old problem of the prosperity of the wicked. Where is the justice of God? when the wicked prosper and the righteous are having a hard time of it ?
"Ye have wearied Jehovah with your words ..." God is displeased with all complainers against his justice. The eternal fairness and justice of God must be held as axiomatic. Questioning the goodness or righteousness of God distinguishes the questioner as having an evil heart. Souls born into an evil world as members of a race of men already launched on a full-speed-ahead rebellion against the Creator do not have the right to expect that things will be a bed of roses for those who love God. Quite the opposite is assured. A critical and peevish attitude toward God is the surest indication that the possessor of it is in sympathy with the rebellious, not with God. No wonder such complaints wearied God!
Deane explained the attitude of Jews in Malachi's day as the following query: "Why does not God perform his promise to Israel, and execute vengeance on the enemy?" "The people were cynical and had stopped taking right and wrong seriously. Practically, if not theoretically, they doubted the justice of God." Hailey was correct in seeing this condition "in the large majority who had lost their faith in God"; but a minority, called the remnant, were true to God; and they will be mentioned in Malachi 3:16. Under Malachi 3:6, below, a fuller discussion of why the Lord allows the wicked to prosper will be included.
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Malachi 2". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany