Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Malachi 2

Verses 10-12

YHWH’s Cause Against His People As A Whole Because They Have Married Foreign Syncretistic Wives (Malachi 2:10-12).

It should be noted here that Malachi now once again brings not only the priests, but all of Judah, within the condemnation that he has described. He has already stressed that they too had betrayed their Father and Master (Malachi 1:6) and dealt treacherously (Malachi 1:14). They too had broken the covenant of their fathers. Thus they were to recognise in what Malachi has been saying an indictment against them also.

Malachi’s indictment against them is that they have not only profaned the holiness, the untainted purity and ‘otherness’, of YHWH, as the priests had done, by their blemished offerings, but that they have also done so by marrying those who worship other gods and are not wholly devoted to YHWH. And the result is that they will, as a result, be cut off from the benefits of the covenant.

The people of Judah are, however, then portrayed as not happy with the suggestion that they are profaning the covenant, and are not treating each other rightly. They feel rather that they have a strong bond with each other. They declare:

Malachi 2:10

‘Have we not all one father?

Has not one God created us?

Why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother,

Profaning the covenant of our fathers?’

By this they are portrayed as taking up the description of YHWH in Malachi 1:6. They affirm that they all together have one Father, because one God has created them. Thus they feel that they are united as one by that fact. They have a common faith and are fellow-believers.

They speak in terms of creation, but implied within their question is the fact that He is especially the Father of Israel, and that that especially makes them a united nation. He has created them as Israel. In the words of Isaiah, ‘Thus says YHWH Who created you, O Jacob, and formed you, O Israel, fear not for I have redeemed you. I have called you by My Name, you are Mine’ (Isaiah 43:1). Thus they saw themselves as firmly one as His people.

Indeed had He not said, ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn?’ (Exodus 4:22). And they cannot see why they should therefore be being portrayed as dealing treacherously every man with his brother, when they felt that they showed each other a good deal of neighbourliness. Nor could they understand the suggestion that they were profaning the covenant of their fathers by the way they lived.

However, as we have already seen, they have been clearly represented by Malachi in Malachi 1:14 as having been brought into the indictment against the priests, for they equally shared in the responsibility for the unsatisfactory offerings and sacrifices that were being offered to YHWH. But seemingly their consciences have not been moved and they are not happy about it. They try to turn the blame on the messenger. They feel rather that it is YHWH Who is failing them (Malachi 2:13).

It is always strange how easily people think that, in spite of how badly they behave towards Him, He should be all sweetness and light towards them, and that really everything is His fault.

Malachi now replies by listing some of their faults. And the first of these lies in the fact that many of them are marrying local women who believed in and worshipped another god, with the result that these are introducing false worship into the community of God’s people, and even into Jerusalem.

Malachi 2:11

‘Judah has dealt treacherously,

And an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem,

for Judah has profaned the holiness of YHWH which he loves,

And has married the daughter of a foreign god.

This is YHWH’s reply. How have they dealt treacherously against Him? How have they besmirched and profaned the holiness of YHWH? They have done it by committing an ‘abomination’ (a word regularly connected with idolatry) in Israel and in Jerusalem. They have profaned the very holiness of YHWH which is so precious to Him. And they have done it by marrying ‘the daughters of a foreign god’. (This phrase is in contrast with the fact that Israel is ‘God’s son, God’s firstborn’ - Exodus 4:22).

The point here is not that they have married ‘foreigners’ as such. Some of the Jews had once been ‘foreigners’ before they had become proselytes. (In fact a good proportion of Israel were not direct descendants of Jacob). It was that they had married women who worshipped other gods, and had brought their worship with them. They had introduced idolatry into Israel and Jerusalem. Thus the community of God’s holy people was being infiltrated by what was ‘unholy’, and this was jeopardising the total commitment of the community to YHWH (compare Deuteronomy 7:4).

It is a warning to us lest we introduce what is ‘foreign’ among the people of God. The pathway from true holiness and dedication to having a church in which God comes second, is an easy one to follow, and one not quickly remedied. It is important that even ‘secular’ activities are kept ‘holy’.

Malachi 2:12

‘YHWH will cut off,

To the man who does this,

Him who wakes and him who answers,

Out of the tents of Jacob,

And him who offers an offering,

To YHWH of hosts.

So, Malachi says, let them be in no doubt. YHWH will cut off from His covenant every man who does this, no matter who they are. They will be cut off from their fellow Israelites. They will be cut off from the sentries who wake and receive a response from the sentries from whom they take over, in other words, from the security of the community (at some stage each male would probably act as a sentry as they had no army). They will be cut off from those who worship YHWH and make their offerings to Him.

An alternative possible translation is, ‘as for the man who does this, whether it be him who wakes or him who answers, may YHWH cut him off from the tents of Jacob, even though he brings offerings to YHWH of hosts’. Here ‘him who wakes and him who answers’ simply means ‘everyone’. And the idea is that he will be cut off from Israel in God’s eyes, even though he continues to offer sacrifices to YHWH. Thus men’s sacrifices will be seen as unwelcome, not only when they are blemished, but also when they are offered by those whose heart are not right towards God. There is nothing automatic about the effectiveness of sacrifices, as the prophets had constantly made clear (e.g. Isaiah 1:11-15; 1 Samuel 15:22; Micah 6:6-8)

Verses 13-16

YHWH’s Cause against The People Because They Accuse Him Of Not Heeding Their Prayers And Because They Have Divorced Their First Wives (Malachi 2:13-16).

He also points out that while the people profess to weep and be concerned because YHWH is not responding to them, the truth is revealed to be that it is they who are not responding to Him, and this is especially brought out in regard to divorcing the wives of their youth.

If anything brings out the importance of faithfulness in marriage to God, it is the fact that He sees marriage as connected with two of the crowning sins of Judah/Israel, amidst all the other sins that they were committing. The priests had been unfaithful to YHWH as His messengers, as revealed by their totally unacceptable attitudes and behaviour, but Judah are being faithless to YHWH as His witnesses because of their casual attitude towards the sacredness and purity of marriage. We can compare how Jesus would lay the same emphasis on the need for faithfulness in marriage in Matthew 19:3-12 when preparing for the establishment of the new Kingly Rule of God.

Malachi 2:13

‘And this again you do, you cover the altar of YHWH,

With tears, with weeping, and with sighing,

In as much as he does not regard the offering any more,

Nor receives it with good will at your hand.

Another thing that they do is that they come before YHWH at His altar and cover it with weeping and with tears, because they cannot understand why He is not accepting their offerings and responding by doing all the good things that He has promised. They assume that it is all YHWH’s fault that He does not respond to them. And they are basically asking, ‘why does God not answer their prayers?’

‘You cover the altar of YHWH with tears.’ The priests could do it actually, the people could do it by submitting tearstained offerings, probably deliberately, feeling that by offering tear-stained offerings they were also offering their tears to God.

Malachi 2:14

‘Yet you say, Why?

Because YHWH has been witness between you and the wife of your youth,

Against whom you have dealt treacherously,

Though she is your companion, and the wife of your covenant.’

So there questions are, ‘why is there no answer?’ and ‘how can you say that we are not one in the covenant’. And Malachi simply replies by listing a second grievance that God has against them. It is because they have been treacherously divorcing their original wives, even though these wives have been their companions and are their wives within the covenant. Here then is one way in which they are dealing treacherously with each other.

Thus he has now answered both their questions about how they deal treacherously with each other and how they profane the covenant, in terms firstly of marrying women whom they marry who introduce other gods, and secondly in terms of their treacherous behaviour towards their own wives who have grown old and are therefore no longer quite so attractive. They are certainly not behaving well towardsthemor demonstrating neighbourliness.

This not only brings out how important the binding nature of marriage is to God, but also gives us a picture of how those who called themselves God’s people felt that they could manipulate marriage for their own benefit in spite of God’s original statement that by marriage they became as one flesh (Genesis 2:24). One of the reasons for marrying local women was probably in order to obtain rights over land, and they were clearly quite willing to sacrifice their own wives in order to achieve it, once these wives were past their main usefulness.

Malachi 2:15

‘And did he not make one,

And he had the residue of the spirit?

And wherefore one?

He sought a godly seed (literally ‘seed of God’).

Therefore take heed to your spirit,

And let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.’

Malachi now explains the situation in terms of Genesis 2. In Genesis 2 God had originally breathed into the man alone the breath of life and he had become ‘a living soul’ (Genesis 2:7; compare Genesis 6:17 where this is described as ‘the spirit (ruach) of life’). So in terms used elsewhere he had received ‘spirit’. And then God had brought the woman out of man, thus sharing both his flesh and his spirit, and He had then brought them together through sexual union in order that through ‘marriage’ they might once again become one flesh, each enjoying part of the same spirit. They who were originally one, had been made two by the Creator in order that they might become one again. ‘And shall cleave to His wife and they will be one flesh’ (Genesis 2:24). It is against this background that any Jew would see the question of marriage.

And it is what Malachi is saying here:

· God made man as one, and, after dividing woman from man, again made them one - ‘did He not make one?’.

· God put the spirit within man, but then imparted some of that spirit to the woman - the result was that ‘he had the residue of the spirit’. And that was because he had shared his spirit with the woman, so that between them they shared one spirit.

· And why did God make them one in flesh and spirit? - ‘and wherefore one?

· It was so that they might have godly descendants coming from one united pair - ‘He sought a godly seed’. (This aspect would be especially poignant in cases where the divorce took place so that the man could marry ‘the daughter of a foreign god’ (Malachi 2:11) who would not produce a godly seed)

· So now they needed to consider the fact that God had given them one spirit, which had been shared between them, a spirit which in marriage was in a sense united the one with the other by the blending of their spirits, thus making them again ‘one spirit’, a situation which divorce destroyed - ‘therefore take heed to your spirit’.

· By divorce they were breaking up that one spirit and marring the unity that God had created through marriage, and thus irreparably damaging their wives quite unfairly - ‘and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth’.

The result was that they were breaking the God-given unity achieved in marriage, which was marred by divorce and a second marriage. And this was grieving to God, and seen by Him as nothing short of treachery.

Malachi 2:16

‘For I hate putting away,

Says YHWH, the God of Israel,

And him who covers his garment with violence,

Says YHWH of hosts,

Therefore take heed to your spirit,

That you deal not treacherously.’

YHWH now indicates two things that He hates, ‘divorce’ and ‘covering the garment with violence’. Thus the first thing that God hated was ‘putting away’. He hated divorce. That is unequivocal.

Secondly He hates all violence, especially within marriage. In view of the context the thought may be that divorce is seen as an act of violence in that it rends apart what God has made one. Compare Matthew 19:6, ‘what God has joined let no man put asunder’. The idea of ‘covering the garment’ has in mind that the garment is the outward means by which a man is known to the world. Thus divorce is an outward show of violence against the God-given unity of marriage.

Alternately the words may have been spoken against violence both within marriage, and outside of marriage. It may be seen as an indication that God hates all violence.

The final exhortation is for them to take heed to their spirit, jointly shared between man and wife, and to maintain its oneness. For not to do is to ‘deal treacherously’ against the covenant, the very charge that they are trying to refute (Malachi 2:10).

Brief note on Malachi 2:15-16.

In the above comments we have taken the view which in context appears to us to bring out the significance of the words, and which appears to fit best with the Scriptural background to marriage. Malachi 2:15 is, however, seen by most as ‘a difficult verse’. Two other interpretations put on the words (out of many), and necessarily presented briefly, are:

1). We could repoint ‘residue’ as ‘flesh, and then read ‘did He not make them one, even having flesh and spirit?’ The final meaning is not significantly different from what we have suggested above. The problem here is that flesh does not occur anywhere else in the passage. Why then should it be introduced it here? In the context it is the oneness of the spirit which would seem to be seen as important

2). ‘Did not One make them, and a residue of the spirit to him? And why did One make them? He sought a seed of God.’ This ties in the One with the ‘one God’ of Malachi 2:10. Here the unity arises at least partly out of their having been made by One Father, with the view of producing seed for God.

It must be stressed that variations on all these ideas can be found, together with many variations of interpretations. Some even try to introduce Abraham. But in view of the total silence about Abraham that appears to us to be very unlikely. However, as we do not see the verse as crucial to the main argument, except in so far as it strengthens the idea of the oneness between a man and his first wife, we hope we may be forgiven for leaving the matter to rest here.

End of note.

Verse 17

Other Allegations Against The People Of Israel (Malachi 2:17).

Malachi now briefly add other sins of which they are guilty before God. No doubt in his oral prophesying he considerably expanded on these.

Malachi 2:17

You have wearied YHWH with your words.

Yet you say, In what have we wearied him?

In that you say, “Every one who does evil is good in the sight of YHWH,

And he delights in them,”

Or “Where is the God of justice?”

In Malachi 1:13 the priest had found offering the sacrifices ‘wearisome’. Now we learn that God finds His people wearisome (although using a different Hebrew stem). They have wearied YHWH with their words. But how have they wearied Him?

They say, ‘Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of YHWH and He delights in them.’ These words are not to be taken literally as they stand. We are not to assume that the people were openly approving of evil and saying that it did not matter. What it signifies is:

· Either that they were manipulating the Law to justify their lawless behaviour (Jesus’ regular charge against the Scribes and Pharisees - Mark 7:8-13; Matthew 23:16-28).

· Or that they were assuming that evil did not matter as long as sacrifices for sin were offered (the same danger as is often inherent in auricular confession).

· Or that they are grumbling because YHWH appears to be treating those who do evil as good, something made clear by the prosperity of their lives.

Note the assumption that most of them were involved in this. They had settled down into a self-satisfied apathy, and were simply allowing the Law to be flouted in many ways, and were then justifying it in one way or another. And this it should be noted is on top of their general attitude towards sacrifices, their offering of blemished animals, their marrying of foreign idolatrous wives, and their penchant for divorce. It is clear that the community was in a general state that was displeasing to God (very similar to our own).

And in spite of their own unwillingness to do and demand from each other what was right, they grumbled because they thought that God was not just. (How like us they were). Their point was that He was not fulfilling their hopes and expectations. Thus they were saying, ‘Where is the God of justice?’ This may have indicated that they felt that God was not acting as He ought in regard to their affairs (having the feeling that they deserved better) or it may be a sarcastic question in the light of the fact that He was not punishing those that they considered deserved punishment. The question that they did not ask was what it was about their lives that prevented Him from fulfilling their expectations.

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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Malachi 2". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.