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§ 4. For these derelictions of duty the priests are threatened with punishment.
This commandment. The threat or announcement is called a commandment, because God ordains it and imposes its execution on certain instruments. (For the expression, camp. Leviticus 25:21.) The threat is contained in Malachi 2:2, Malachi 2:3.
I will even send a curse; Revised Version, then will I send the curse. St. Jerome, regarding the temporal effect of the curse, translates, egestatem "scarcity" (comp. Deuteronomy 27:15-5.27.26; Deuteronomy 28:15, etc.). I will curse your blessings. The blessings which as priests they had to pronounce upon the people (Leviticus 9:22, Leviticus 9:23; Numbers 6:23-4.6.27). These God would not ratify, but would turn them into curses, and thus punish the people who connived at and imitated the iniquities of the priests. Or the expression may refer to the material benefits promised by God to the Israelites on their obedience. But as the announcement is made specially to the priests, this explanation seems less probable. I have cursed them already. The curse has already begun to work. Dr. S. Cox ('Bible Educator,' 3.67, etc.) points out here an allusion to Nehemiah 13:1, Nehemiah 13:2, wherein it is recorded that they reed from the Book of Moses how that the Moabites "hired Balsam against them that he should curse them; howbeit our God turned the curse into a blessing." Malachi, who, as he thinks, was present on this occasion, may have been deeply impressed by these words; and it is probable that we hear an echo of them in the threat of verse 2. "That of old God had turned a curse into a blessing, may have suggested the menace that he would now turn a blessing into a curse."
I will corrupt your seed. Henderson, "I will rebuke the seed to your hurt." God would mar the promise of their crops; but, as the priests did not concern themselves with agriculture, such a threat would have had no particular application to them. It is best, therefore, to take the pointing of some of the versions, and to translate, I will rebuke your arm; i.e. I will take from you the power of performing, or, I will neutralize your official duties, the arm being the instrument of labour, offering, and blessing. Others consider the threat to be that they should be deprived of their allotted portion of the sacrifice—the breast and shoulder (Leviticus 7:31, Leviticus 7:32), or the shoulder, the two cheeks, and the maw (Deuteronomy 18:3). Septuagint, Ἀφορίζω ὑμῖν τὸν ὦμον, "I take from you the shoulder;" Vulgate, Ego projiciam vobis brachium. Orelli takes "seed" in the sense of posterity, seeing here a reversal of such promises as Jeremiah 33:18, Jeremiah 33:22. Spread dung upon your faces. God will deliver them over to shameful treatment, which shall cover them with contempt. The idea is derived from the filth left in the courts by the victims (see the following clause). Your solemn feasts (chaggim); ie. the animals slain at the sacrificial feasts. God calls them "your," not "my," because they were not celebrated really in his honor, but after their own self-will and pleasure. The dung of the sacrificial animals was by the Law carried forth and bunted without the camp (Exodus 29:14; Le Exodus 4:12; Exodus 16:27). One shall take you away with it. They shall be treated as filth, and cast away in some foul spot.
Ye shall know. My threats are not vain; this ye shall experience and be forced to acknowledge. This commandment is the purpose and threat, as in Malachi 2:1 (where see note). That my covenant might be with Levi; i.e. that my covenant with Levi might remain firm. The covenant with Levi was the election of that tribe to be the ministers of the sanctuary. There is here a special allusion to the blessing pronounced on Phinehas for his conduct in the matter of Zimri (Numbers 25:12, Numbers 25:13). This election is called "a covenant," because, while conferring certain privileges, it involved certain duties. The difficulty in this interpretation is that the verb used here (hayah) does not mean "to remain," "to continue," but only "to be, to exist." Hence many critics take "the commandment" as the subject, translating. "That it (my purpose) may be my covenant with Levi, i.e. that as God observed the covenant made with the tribe of Levi in old time, so for the future this commandment and threat will be as vigorously observed and take the place of the old covenant. This explanation is too involved and refined to be acceptable. It is easiest to translate, with Henderson and Reinke, "Because my covenant was with Levi," and to understand God as implying that he warned and punished the priests, because he willed that the covenant with Levi should hold good, and he thus desired to have a body of priests who would keep their vows and maintain the true priestly character. What that character is he procoeds to unfold.
§ 5. In contrast with these evil ministers, the character of the true priest is sketched, and thus the faults of the former are shown in darker colours.
My covenant was with him of life and peace; rather, with him was life and peace. This is one side of the covenant, that which God gave—the blessing of life, abundance, prosperity, and secure and undisturbed enjoyment of these, in the everlasting priesthood, in agreement with the promise to Phinehas (Numbers 25:12; comp. Deuteronomy 33:8-5.33.11). I gave them to him for the fear, etc. I gave him life and peace. The pronominal suffix "them" is not expressed in the Greek and Latin Versions, and is absent from many Hebrew manuscripts, which read, "I gave him fear." So the Vulgate, Dedi eis timorem et timuit me; Septuagint, Εδωκα αὐτῷ ἐν φόβῳ φοβεῖσθαί με, "I gave him the fear of me." This expresses man's part in the covenant: God gave him certain blessings on condition that he feared, reverenced, worshipped, and obeyed the Lord. The last part of the verse as now read is more simply explained, "and (my covenant with him was, or, I gave him) fear, and he did fear me." God's gifts were life and peace. Levi's part was fear of God: this he performed. The ideal priest observed all the duties of piety and reverence, and therefore in his case the covenant stood firm and was duly carried out.
The law (teaching) of truth was in his mouth. All his teaching rested on those truths which were enshrined in the Divine Law (Deuteronomy 31:10-5.31.13; Deuteronomy 33:10). Iniquity; unfair decision. Neither false doctrine nor perverse judgment was found in him (Deuteronomy 17:8-5.17.10; Deuteronomy 19:17). Walked with me. Not only his teaching was true, but his life was pure and good; he was the friend of God, living as always in his presence, in peace and uprightness. So Enoch and Noah are said to have "walked with God" (Genesis 5:24; Genesis 6:9). Did turn many away from iniquity. The faithful discharge of duties and the holy life and teaching of the good priest led many sinners to repentance and amendment.
For the priest's lips should keep knowledge. It was the priest's duty to study the Law and to teach it faithfully, as it is said of Aaron, in Ecclesiasticus 45:17, "He gave unto him his commandments, and authority in the statutes of judgments, that he should teach Jacob the testimonies, and inform Israel in his laws." The law, here and verses 6, 8, means system of teaching, or the torah. At his month. The priest was the appointed interpreter of the Law (see Leviticus 10:11; Deuteronomy 17:9-5.17.11; Deuteronomy 33:10; and the note on Haggai 2:11). He is the messenger of the Lord. He announces God's will to men, explaining the Law to meet the varied circumstances which occur in daily life; he intervenes between God and man, offering man's worship to the Lord. So Haggai (Haggai 1:13) is called "the Lord's messenger," or angel. Some see here an allusion to Malachi's own name or office (see Introduction, § II.; comp. Deuteronomy 21:5; 2 Chronicles 17:9).
But ye are departed out of the way. The priests of this time had far declined from the high ideal set forth in Malachi 2:6, Malachi 2:7, the "way" in which God would have had them to walk. Ye have caused many to stumble at (in) the law. By their example and teaching they had made the Law a stumbling block, causing many to err, while they fancied they were not infringing God's commandments. Septuagint, Ἠσθενήσατε πολλοὺς ἐν νόμῳ, "Ye made many weak [equivalent to ἠσθενώσατε] in the Law." Ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi (see Malachi 2:5). They broke their part of the covenant, therefore Jehovah held himself no longer bound by it. They did not pay him due reverence and obedience; he withdrew the blessings promised to Levi, as threatened (Malachi 2:2).
Contemptible. The glory of the priesthood and the honour that belonged to it (Ecclesiasticus 45:7, etc.) were now turned into disgrace and contempt, when men compared the actual with the ideal. "Them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed" (1 Samuel 2:30). Have been partial in the law; Revised Version, have had respect of persons in the law; or, in your teaching, as Malachi 2:6, Malachi 2:8. The prophet names one special sin of the priests, and that the most flagrant—perversion of judgment, partiality in the administration of the Law. The same complaint is found in Micah 3:11.
Part II. CONDEMNATION OF PRIESTS AND PEOPLE FOR ALIEN MARRIAGES AND FOR DIVORCES.
Have we not all one Father? In proceeding to his new subject, the violations of the law of marriage, the prophet pursues his habitual method. He starts with a general principle, here assuming an interrogative form, and on it builds his rebuke. The priests were guilty, if not of profane marriages, at any rate of sinful neglect in not warning the people against them. Many take the "one father" to be Abraham (Isaiah 51:2), and it is no objection to this view that he was also the progenitor of Ishmaelites, Edomites, etc; because there was at this time no question about marriage with these nations, but with Canaanites, Moabites, Egyptians, and so on. But the parallelism with the following clause shows that by the Father is meant Almighty God (comp. Malachi 1:6; Deuteronomy 32:6; Isaiah 63:16). Hath not one God created us? Hath not God taken us as his peculiar people, so as to call us his sons and his firstborn (comp. Exodus 4:22, Exodus 4:23; Deuteronomy 32:18; Isaiah 1:2; Jeremiah 3:19)? Of course, God created all men; but the Jews alone recognized him as Creator. The prophet's proposition is that all Israelites were spiritual brothers and sisters, equally loved and chosen by God. From this he argues that in sinning against one another, they offended their common Father, and broke the family compact. Deal treacherously. Act faithlessly against one another. He does not yet say in what this treachery consists, but adds, by profaning the covenant of our fathers. He unites himself with them, because he suffered in their sin. They violated the covenant by which God chose them to be his peculiar people and placed himself in mysterious relation to them, on condition that they should keep themselves aloof from the evil nations around them, and avoid all connection with them and their practices. By intermarriages with the heathen, they profaned this covenant. This evil was one which Ezra had done his best to eradicate, using most stringent measures for its suppression (Ezra 9:1-15.9.15; Ezra 10:1-15.10.44.); Nehemiah, too, contended against those who had contracted these marriages, when he found on his return to Jerusalem many such transgressors (Nehemiah 13:23-16.13.28); and now the prophet lifts up his voice in the cause of purity and obedience. The warning against throe mixed unions is found in Exodus 34:16; Deuteronomy 7:3; Joshua 23:12, 18.
Judah, the whole nation, is guilty of this crime, has broken her promised faith. The special sin, mixed marriages, is named at the end of the verse. In Israel and in Jerusalem. The mention of Israel, the sacred covenant name, is meant to make the contrast between profession and practice more marked. But some critics would hero cancel the word "Israel," as being a clerical error (see note, Zechariah 1:19). Jerusalem is named as the centre of the theocracy, which gave its tone to the-people. For Judah hath profaned the holiness (sanctuary) of the Lord, which he loved (loveth); Septuagint, Ἐβεβήλωσεν Ἰούδας τὰ ἅγια Κυρίου ἐν οἷς ἠγάπησε, "Judah profaned the holy things of the Lord in which he delighted." Many consider that by the "sanctuary" is meant the temple, into which these heathen wives had penetrated, either led by curiosity or introduced by their profane husbands. But we have no knowledge that this was the case. It is better to take "the sanctuary," or that which is holy unto the Lord, to be the chosen nation itself, the community beloved by God, which was holy by election and profession, even as Christians are commonly called saints in the Epistles. (For the term as applied to the Israelites, see Exodus 19:6; Exodus 22:31; Leviticus 11:44; Exodus 19:2; comp. Ezra 9:2; Nehemiah 13:29.) The daughter of a strange god. A woman who is an idolatress, who adhered to a foreign deity (Jeremiah 2:27), as the Israelites are called "sons of Jehovah," as joined to him in communion (Deuteronomy 14:1; Proverbs 14:26). The LXX. omits the point of the charge, rendering, καὶ ἐπετήδευσεν εἰς θεοὺς ἀλλοτρίους, "and followed after strange gods."
Will cut off. The Hebrew is an imprecation, "May the Lord cut off" (Deuteronomy 7:2, Deuteronomy 7:3). It implies that the transgressor shall be deprived of his position as one of the covenant people, and shall leave no one to maintain his name and family. The man. Others render, "unto the man," making the following words the direct object of the verb. The master and the scholar; so the Vulgate, magistrum et discipulum; literally, the watcher and the answerer, i.e. the watchman and the inhabitants of the city; the LXX; reading somewhat differently, has, ἕως καὶ ταπεινωθῇ ἐκ σκηνωμάτων Ἰακώβ, "until he be brought low from the tents of Jacob," meaning, until he repent and return humbly to obedience. In this case the term "cut off" must be taken in some milder sense than "exterminate." The present text, however, seems to be a kind of alliterative proverbial saying to express totality, everybody; though whence it arose, and what is its exact signification, are matters of great uncertainty. Some take the phrase to mean," every waking and speaking person," i.e. every living soul. The English and Latin Versions proceed on the assumption (which Pusey denies) that the first verb can be taken actively, "he that awakeneth," the teacher being so called as stimulating the scholar, who is named "the answerer." The Targum and Syriac explain it by "son and son's son." Of the various suggestions offered, the most probable is that it is a military phrase derived from the challenge of the sentinels and the answer thereto, which in time came to de. note the whole inhabitants of a camp or city. The tabernacles. The dwellings. Or the word, as Dr. Cox supposes, may belong to the original saying, and have come down from the remote period when the Israelites lived in tents. And him that offereth an offering (michchah) unto the Lord of hosts. The same punishment shall fall on one who offers even an oblation of meal for men who are guilty of this sin. This sin would appertain specially to the priests. Or we may take the clause in a general sense. God will cut off every such transgressor, even if he try to propitiate the Lord by making an offering before trim (Ecclesiasticus 35:12. ), "Do not think to corrupt with gifts; for such he will not receive: and trust not to unrighteous sacrifices; for the Lord is Judge, and with him is no respect of persons."
Not only did they marry heathen females, but they divorced their own legitimate wives to facilitate such unholy alliances. This have ye done again; this again ye do. Here is another and a further offence. Others take "again" in the sense of "a second time," referring to the fact that Ezra had effected a reform in this matter, but the people had relapsed into the same sin. But the first explanation is preferable. Septuagint, καὶ ταῦτα, ἂ ἐμίσουν ἐποιεῖτε, "and this which I hated ye did." Covering (ye cover) the altar of the Lord with tears. The prophet, as before (verse 10), does not at once declare what this fresh outrage is, but intimates its nature. The picture he exhibits is that of a multitude of repudiated wives coming to the temple with weeping and lamentation, and laying their cause before the Lord. Insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more. This cruel and wicked conduct raised a barrier between them and God, so that he regarded with favour no offering of theirs.
Yet ye say, Wherefore? Here is the usual sceptical objection, as in Malachi 1:6, Malachi 1:7. The people will not acknowledge their guiltiness, and ask, "Why is God displeased with us? why are our offerings not acceptable?" The prophet replies, Because the Lord hath been witness, etc. The sin is now disclosed. Their marriages had been made before God; he who first instituted matrimony (Genesis 2:24) was a witness of the contract and gave it his sanction (comp. Genesis 31:50). The wife of thy youth. Whom thou didst marry when thine affections were pure and fresh, and for whom thy love was strong and simple (Proverbs 5:18). Against whom thou hast dealt treacherously; Septuagint, "whom thou hast deserted." This wife of thine thou hast betrayed, breaking faith with her by repudiating her. The wife of thy covenant. With whom thou didst make a solemn vow and covenant, to violate which is a monstrous crime. We have very little information respecting the religious ceremonies connected with a Jewish wedding. The previous espousal was a formal proceeding, conducted by friends and parents, and confirmed by oaths. The actual marriage seems to have been accompanied by certain solemn promises and blessings (see Proverbs 2:17; Ezekiel 16:8; Genesis 24:60; Ruth 4:11, Ruth 4:12; Tobit 7:13; Smith, 'Dict. of Bible').
And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. The passage has always been a crux, and has received many interpretations. The Anglican rendering (which, however, is probably not correct) is thus explained: God made at first one man and one woman, to show the oneness of marriage, and God gave man the breath of life and the residue to the woman; he made them both equally living souls; therefore divorce was never contemplated in the first institution of marriage. Others take "one" to mean Abraham, and explain: Abraham did not do so, i.e. did not repudiate his legitimate wife, though barren; and he had a share of the spirit of right, or he had excellence of spirit. But these are very forced interpretations, and do not occur naturally from a consideration of the words. The Hebrew may be translated more satisfactorily, Not any one has done so who has a remnant of the spirit (ruach)." No one acts as you have done who has in him any of that Divine life which God at first breathed into man; in other words, no man of conscience and virtue has ever thus divorced his wife. The reading of the Septuagint varies here, the Vatican manuscript giving, Οὐ καλὸν ἐποίησε; "Did he not well?" and the Alexandrian, οὐκ ἄλλος ἐποίησε: but both seem to imply an interpretation such as we have just given. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Why did one act in this way? was it that he might have godly children? Surely not. No one would divorce his lawful Hebrew wife, and marry an idolatress, who wished to leave a holy posterity behind him. Many commentators, thinking that Abraham is here meant, and that the prophet is meeting an objection which might be founded upon his action with regard to Hagar, translate, "And what did the one? He was seeking a godly seed." Abraham at Sarah's request took Hagar to wife, in order to have the promised seed; he dismissed her in order to carry out the purpose of God in confining the promise to Isaac. Therefore his conduct is no support for those who repudiate their own wives and marry strange women, not to raise up children for God, but to satisfy their carnal lusts. It is difficult, however, to see how the prophet's hearers could have understood the allusion without further explanation. As Ribera pithily observes (quoted by Knabenbauer), "Neque ita clare ex re allata designatur (Abraham), ut non potius divinatione quam explicatione opus sit ad eum eruendum." It may also be remarked that the reference to the patriarch would not have been altogether successful, if the auditors remembered the Keturahites, who, though sprung from Abraham, were not "a godly seed." The LXX. has, Καὶ εἴπατε, τί ἄλλο ἢ σπέρμα ζητεῖ ὁ Θεός; "And ye said, What else than seed doth God seek?" as if the increase of population, from whatever source, was the only object required. This may have been one thought of the people, but it can hardly be got out of the present Hebrew text. Take heed to your spirit. Beware lest ye lose the spirit which God has given you. By acting thus contrary to conscience and the light vouchsafed to them, they ran the risk of being deprived altogether of this heavenly guide, and losing all distinction between right and wrong.
He hateth putting away. This is another reason against divorce: God hates it. It is contrary to his original institution, and was only allowed for the hardness of men's hearts (see Deuteronomy 24:1, etc.; Matthew 19:3-40.19.9). Septuagint, "If thou hate her and dismiss her," etc.; Vulgate, "If thou hate her, put her away," which seems to encourage divorce, whereas in the context divorce is strongly condemned. Hence Jerome considers these words to be spoken by the Jews, quoting in their defence Moses' precept. Others think that they are ironical—Put her away, if you please; but you must bear the consequences. For one covereth violence with his garment. He who thus divorces his wife shows himself openly to all beholders as an iniquitous man. So the clause is better rendered, And one (who does so) covereth his garment with violence, or, violence covereth his garment. Iniquity attaches itself to him plainly, encircling and enfolding him; the clothing of iniquity is the mark of the foul soul within. The notion of "garment" being here used figuratively for wife (as Hitzig supposes) is without proof. Such a metaphor is certainly unknown to Hebrew literature, though there is something like it in Arabic, "Wives are your attire, and ye are theirs" (Koran). Bishop Wordsworth considers that the phrase in the text refers to the custom of the bridegroom in espousals casting the skirt of his garment over her who was betrothed to him (see Ruth 3:9). So the idea would be, "Ye cast your skirt over iniquity, and betroth violence to yourselves for a bride." But this seems somewhat forced. Take heed … treacherously. A repetition of the warning in Malachi 2:15.
Part III. THE DAY OF THE LORD.
§ 1. The faithless people, disheartened by present circumstances, doubted God's providence, and disbelieved his promises; but the prophet announces the coming of the Lord to judgment, preceded by his messenger. He shall refine his people and exterminate sinners.
Ye have wearied the Lord with your words. This is the introduction to the new section. The prophet makes his charge. The faithless multitude have, as it were, worn out God's patience by their murmuring and discontent. Because their expectations of prosperity and glory were not at once fulfilled, they called in question God's justice and holiness, and even the future judgment. The LXX. connects this verse with the preceding, Καὶ οὐ μὴ ἐγκαταλίπητε οἱ παροξύναντες τὸν Θεὸν ἐν τοῖς λόγοις ὑμῶν "And forsake them not, ye who provoked God with your words" But it is best to take this as the beginning of a new subject. Yet ye say. This is the usual sceptical objection. Everyone that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord. They complain that, though they are (Jolt's peculiar people, they are left in low estate, while the heathen, men that "do evil," are happy and prosperous (comp. Psalms 37:1-19.37.40; Psalms 73:1-19.73.28.). He delighteth in them. They choose to consider that the worldly prosperity of the heathen is a sign of God's special favour, or else that he acts unjustly. Where is the God of judgment? (Isaiah 30:18). Why does not God perform his promises to Israel, and execute vengeance on the enemy?
Our blessings cursed.
The cursing of blessings is a "strange work" to the blessed God, "the Father of mercies," who rather delights to turn curses into blessings. We may note—
I. THE CAUSES OF THIS CURSE. It may be traced to two things.
1. A disregard of the great end of life, "to glorify God." The motto of every creature, and especially of every redeemed sinner, should be that of Ignatius Loyola in its best sense, "Ad majorem gloriam Dei." No grander object can be sought. To fail in the endeavour to "give unto the Lord the glory due unto his Name" is to begin to lose "the promise" which godliness gives of both worlds. It empties our "blessings" of their true blessedness, and begins to corrupt them with a curse like—
"The little pitted speck in garnered fruit,
That rotting inward slowly moulders all,"
2. Neglect of God's appeals and warnings. He remonstrates, as he did again and again with the Jews, by his prophets. But if we neither hear nor heed, and will not lay these warnings to heart, the corrupting process goes on, the curse is ripening, "the rod hath blossomed; pride bath budded" (cf. Jeremiah 6:16-24.6.20; Zechariah 1:3-38.1.6; Zechariah 7:11-38.7.14). The remedies being cast aside, the disease holds on its course till "the whole head is sick," etc. (Isaiah 1:5, Isaiah 1:6). It is natural to God to sweeten the bitter waters of life and to neutralize its poisons (2 Kings 2:19-12.2.22; 2 Kings 4:38 2 Kings 4:41). But sin reverses these miracles of mercy, and constrains God to turn our water into blood, our food into poison, to curse our blessings.
II. THE SIGNS OF THIS CURSE. It may manifest itself in various ways; e.g.:
1. Withholding the gifts which God delights to bestow (Amos 4:6-30.4.9; Haggai 1:9; Malachi 3:10. scarcity implied).
2. Withholding the power to enjoy the gifts which God does bestow. It may be the food of a wealthy invalid (Ecclesiastes 6:1, Ecclesiastes 6:2) or the money of a miser haunted by fear of the workhouse (Job 20:22). The loss may be in the spiritual sphere—the power of receiving impressions of truth and duty may have been "taken away" (Matthew 13:12-40.13.15), because sinned away. The talents of an ungodly minister may be rather a curse than a blessing to him and to his flock, just as the blessings pronounced in words by these ungodly priests (Numbers 6:22-4.6.26) may have become practically curses to the people.
3. Blessings themselves may be turned into curses. Illust.: The high wages of the working classes in recent years, and the general prosperity of the country, leading to a great increase of extravagance, self-indulgence, and intemperance. The blessing of enjoying free will and the power of self-guidance and control may become a most terrible curse when we "lean on our own understanding" and pursue "a way which seemeth fight" in our eyes, but the end whereof is death (Proverbs 14:12; Psalms 81:11, Psalms 81:12). Our highest privileges may thus become curses to us, as were the Christian profession of Ananias and the apostleship of Judas. Even Christ may become "a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence" (1 Peter 2:6-60.2.8; John 9:40), and his ministers "a savour from death unto death" (2 Corinthians 2:16). As John Howe says, "When the gospel becomes deadly to a man, that is a most terrible sort of death; to die by a gospel plague is a most terrible way of dying."
Malachi 2:6, Malachi 2:7
The qualifications and objects of Christian ministers.
Aaron and the original priests of the house of Levi are here held up as a pattern to their degenerate descendants. Reference is made to the higher departments of the priest's work, for teaching is a nobler work than sacrificing, even according to a divinely appointed and typical ritual. Allusions to this work of teaching by priests or Levites may be found in Leviticus 10:11; Deuteronomy 33:10; 2 Chronicles 15:8; 2Ch 17:8, 2 Chronicles 17:9; Nehemiah 8:9; Micah 311, etc. This work, being common to Jewish priests and Christian ministers, makes the application we have given to the words quite legitimate. We are reminded of the following qualifications and aims essential for a minister of Christ.
I. A MESSAGE FROM GOD. "He is the messenger of the Lord of hosts." We are sent to the world by our Divine Master with definite instructions. There is a "glorious gospel of the blessed God committed to our trust." That gospel embodies the doctrines of "the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints" If we have no definite gospel to preach, for which we are willing to contend, to suffer, and if needs be to die, we had better hold our peace, for we are not "messengers of the Lord of hosts." "Wherefore wilt thou run, my son, seeing thou hast no tidings ready?" (2 Samuel 18:22); "I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied" (Jeremiah 23:21). A self-styled ambassador, with no instructions from his monarch, would be an object hardly less pitiable and contemptible than a speaker arrogating the position of Christ's minister, but quite uncertain as to what to speak in Christ's Name. The burden of our message is not, "Thus I think;" but, "Thus saith the Lord;" "Hear what the Spirit saith to the Churches." Christ bids us to teach men "to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." When men gather around us they should be able to say, "Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God." We are thus reminded of the need of:
1. Careful study of the Law of God, like Ezra (Ezra 7:6, Ezra 7:10), Daniel (Daniel 9:2), Timothy (1 Timothy 4:13). We must be scribes "instructed unto the kingdom of heaven," lest we should misread and misunderstand our message.
2. Of close communion with God; for errors that arise from sources that are spiritual may be more dangerous than those that are merely intellectual (see John 3:20; John 5:44; John 7:17; John 8:43; John 12:42, John 12:43; Hebrews 3:12).
II. FIDELITY IN DELIVERING IT. We learn this from:
1. The unalterable claims of truth (verse 6). All truth has the authority of a law. We must be prepared to teach others and to learn for ourselves that rather than deny God by a lie in business or any sphere of life, it would be better to be burned alive. A martyr's spirit is essential to a minister's character. If this is true of us, we may urge the same on our hearers, for there are no two standards of morality, one for the clergy the other for the laity. All are required to love the Lord their God with all their heart, and therefore never to "hold down the truth in unrighteousness" (Romans 1:18). The urgent duty of fidelity on the part of Christ's ministers is seen further because of:
2. Our responsibility as "stewards of the mysteries of God." So far as those "mysteries," first revealed to the world by inspired apostles, are understood by us, we are stewards of them. And "it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful" (1 Corinthians 4:1, 1 Corinthians 4:2). We are to "keep knowledge" for those who at any time may "seek the law" at our mouths. If others teach "another gospel" which may be more popular and acceptable, we are to decline popularity, "not as pleasing men, but God which trieth the heart." "For if I pleased men I should not be the servant of Christ" (see Jeremiah 23:28, Jer 23:29; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Corinthians 4:1-47.4.18 :l, 2; Galatians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4).
3. Our relation to the souls of our hearers. Their object should be to seek God's law from our lips that they may do it, and ours to turn them from iniquity. Our one object should be to declare the whole counsel of God so clearly, faithfully, and affectionately, that, whether men will hear or forbear, we shall be free from the blood of all Elihu's words are an excellent motto for a preacher (Job 33:3). The words, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue," suggest solemn thoughts as to fidelity on the part of preachers. What need of care, both in public and private, .in dealing with "seeking" souls, to point them direct to Christ, and not to any ceremonies or sacraments (Acts 20:20, Acts 20:21; 1 Corinthians 2:1-46.2.5), lest at some critical point in their spiritual history our lips should tail to impart the "knowledge," "the law," the message from the Lord of hosts which they need, and they should be directed along a wrong track rather than in "the way everlasting." The sin of unfaithfulness is exposed in verses 8, 9. Ministers may be "partial in the Law," e.g. winking at follies and sins fashionable among the rich, while severely condemning the sins of the poor, etc. But fidelity needs to be combined with discrimination. "For as all men cannot dive and fetch precious stones from the deep, but he that is cunning and hath the art of it; so not all, but the wise can either teach or conceive the deep mysteries. First, children must be taught letters, then syllables, after words, then construction, and after all the matter."
III. A LIFE IN HARMONY WITH IT. "He walked with me in peace and equity." These words remind us of the essential elements of a truly consistent Christian life. There must be righteousness with God, bringing after it peace with God. This righteousness is twofold.
1. A justification, which makes us "accepted in the Beloved," and gives peace with God (Romans 5:1; Ephesians 1:6).
2. A right state of heart, a conscious integrity of purpose, which ensures our being "accepted of him," well pleasing to him, and which brings with it a still deeper and purer peace (Isaiah 48:18; Romans 14:17, Romans 14:18). God desires that we should live in his perfect peace and favour in order that we "might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life." Such peace and equity toward God will ensure the same blessings in relation to our fellow men. This consistency of conduct is especially needed in the ministers of Christ. They must maintain this character in their homes (1 Timothy 3:2-54.3.5), in the Church (1 Peter 5:3), and in the world (1 Timothy 3:7). The guilt and shame of inconsistent lives is exposed in verses 8, 9, and is illustrated by the history of Eli's sons; 1 Samuel 2:30 being fulfilled in them, and in these priests ("I have made you contemptible." They had said in their hearts, "The table of the Lord is contemptible;" so God would requite them "measure for measure"), and in all unfaithful ministers; who will be despised by the people they seek to conciliate and please.
IV. ZEAL FOR THE RECEPTION OF IT. By faithfully discharging the duties of his calling, Levi, i.e. the priesthood, "did turn many away from iniquity." In doing so he did nothing more than what the standing and vocation of the priest required. The knowledge communicated to the mind was to be imparted by the lips. Without zeal for the reception of the message, and love that seeks the salvation of souls by means of it, the knowledge and "the tongues" of preachers profit nothing. The charge given to Paul (Acts 26:18) and to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:5) applies to every "good minister of Jesus Christ." We are appointed as witnesses for God; as labourers together with God; as ambassadors to promote reconciliation with God. We are ministers of the good tidings of Christ; soldiers of Christ (to overcome men's" evil "by Christ's" good"). We are lights ("the lamp that burneth and shineth," John 5:35) to light men to Jesus Christ. We are fishers of men, that we may secure them for Christ; under-shepherds of souls, that we may keep them; watchmen, that we may warn them. Mediately we may be said to be saviours of souls (James 5:19, James 5:20). So earnest should we be to secure this end, that our hearers should be able to say of us, as a plain woman did of Robert McCheyne of Dundee, "He seemed as though he were almost dyin' to have you converted." Such a ministry will secure its object (1 Timothy 4:12-54.4.16). A painful contrast is suggested between this ideal of the ministry and our attainments in attempting to reach it. We should learn humility and be melted into penitence. For God holds us responsible for what we might have been and might have done after all that he has done for us—a truth we are reminded of by God's appeal in Isaiah 5:4. But the lofty standard held out before us may also stimulate us to "forget the things that are behind," etc; and to make the aims of the Christ-like Apostle Paul our own (1 Corinthians 9:16-46.9.22; Colossians 1:28, Colossians 1:29).
The sin of conjugal unfaithfulness.
We here use the term "unfaithfulness" in its widest sense, extending far beyond the sin of unchastity. We note—
I. UNFAITHFULNESS TO GOD IS THE ROOT SIN OF ALL OTHER FORMS OF INFIDELITY. The sins denounced in the earlier verses of this book are quite sufficient to account for the criminality here exposed. Those who profane the "covenant" and the "holiness" of God in their hearts, and who do not seek "to give glory" to his Name (Malachi 2:2), are easily betrayed into glaring acts of wrong against the nearest and dearest on earth. "The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways," and those ways are all downward ways. The first sin of Adam and Eve led to mutual recrimination. Disobedience towards the heavenly Father paves the way for discord in the earthly home. "Therefore take heed to your spirit" (Malachi 2:16).
II. THIS INFIDELITY SHOWED ITSELF IN TWO FORMS.
1. In unlawful marriages. (Malachi 2:11.) This was a proof of unfaithfulness both to the national covenant (Ezra 9:10-15.9.12) and to God's purpose in marriage. Similar unfaithfulness shows itself under the Christian covenant when such precepts as 1 Corinthians 7:39 ("only in the Lord") and 2 Corinthians 6:14-47.6.18 are set at naught. For a Christian to marry an enemy of Christ, "a covetous person who is an idolater," or a slave of "the god of this world," is a breach of the sanctity of marriage. It tends to degrade it into a carnal union; it certainly grossly neglects its object as a spiritual bond, in which all material considerations are to be held as subordinate to that "great mystery," typical of the Divine union of Christ and his Church. By such sin a professed disciple of Christ virtually cuts himself off from the commonwealth of the saints, that he may join the congregation of the aliens. He thus exposes himself to the judgment of God, who will be impartial in his treatment of all classes, of those that lead into sin and those that are led (2 Corinthians 6:12; Job 12:16), and who will accept no "offering," no outward service, that might be regarded as a blind to the eyes of the Judge, presented by a man who sought thus to compound for his sin (Proverbs 21:27; Proverbs 28:9; Isaiah 1:13-23.1.17; Amos 5:21-30.5.24).
2. In ill treatment of their lawful wives. This is the second form of unfaithfulness, and reminds us that "the way of sin is downhill, and one violation of the covenant is an inlet to another" (M. Henry). Unfaithfulness to the marriage vow in any form (unkindness or neglect as well as adultery or divorce) is here condemned by the following considerations.
(1) Religious services are marred by moral delinquencies (2 Corinthians 6:13). It is a terrible thing to send any soul weeping in its prayer to God, and really, if not intentionally, appealing to him for avengement. How much worse if that soul should be the partner of thy life! God seeks songs, not groans, in our services. He desires unity in the home, "that your prayers be not hindered" (1 Peter 3:7). How, then, must he regard the prayers of a wife deprecating the unkindness of her husband!
(2) God was a witness of every word and vow at the marriage ceremony. Through the following years he notes how those promises are kept. He is still a witness of every act of wrong on the part of either husband or wife. And he is "the avenger of all such" (1 Thessalonians 4:6).
(3) The tender relations cruelly violated. Aggravations of this sin are suggested by each of the terms, "companion," "wife of thy youth," "wife of thy covenant."
(4) God's design in marriage (2 Corinthians 6:15). Polygamy is fatal to godly family life and training, and discord most perilous to it.
(5) The infectious influence of sins. If we deal treacherously against our "brother" (2 Corinthians 6:10), we tempt him to act in a similar way. This is applicable to the influence of an unfaithful husband on his wife, or on other husbands or on the unmarried whom by his example he may debauch and destroy. The master and the scholar, the blind leader of the blind,—all shall fall into the ditch.
(6) The Divine hatred which such sins incur (2 Corinthians 6:16). There are several things which we are expressly told in Scripture God hates (cf. Deuteronomy 12:31; Deuteronomy 16:22; Proverbs 6:16-20.6.19; Proverbs 8:13; Isaiah 61:8; Jeremiah 44:4). Among these things divorce and every other form of conjugal treachery and unfaithfulness are included. Men may make light of many of these sins, may patronize the criminals, and deride their censors. But see Luke 16:14, Luke 16:15, and the lesson it suggests. What God hates may we dread, and seek never to be unjust in the least, lest we be unjust also in much!
The brotherhood of men.
"Liberty, equality, fraternity," are Divine ideas, though men have sometimes striven to embody them in crude or even repulsive and brutal forms. Men are equals, inasmuch as they are all the creatures of the one God who created them. The revelation of that Creator as "the Father of spirits" constitutes those created spirits into a brotherhood. From this fraternal relation the claim to liberty and more than liberty follows.
I. SOUND ETHICS MUST BE BASED ON A TRUE THEOLOGY. Our relations to men depend on our relation to God. Our treatment of them will vary with our conceptions of those relations. False views of God are fatal to consistent conduct towards our brethren. And though our ethics may be partially true, they will be practically powerless unless supported by "the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness." Hence the practical impotence of heathen ethics, whether those of Socrates or of Confucius. We must recgonize such truths as these: that we are creatures of the one God, "in whose hand our breath is, and whose are all our ways;" that we are pensioners on his bounty; that we are sinners dependent on his mercy; and that, nevertheless, we are children entitled to claim our place in his family. We shall then recognize that we are bound to treat all our fellow creatures as members of the same family, sharing with us in the same bounty and mercy of the Father of all, "who willeth that all men should be saved." Jesus Christ, in whom that will is revealed, is the bond of unity, for "the Head of every man is Christ."
II. THERE IS A "COVENANT OF OUR FATHERS" MORE EXTENSIVE THAN THAT WHICH GOD MADE WITH THE JEWS. We can trace it back beyond Moses or Abraham to "our first father;" "for God hath made of one blood all nations of men;" "for we are also his offspring." The terms of this covenant are found in "the law written in our hearts." Hence moral law and Divine retribution are found beyond the limits of an inspired revelation. We see in the Bible illustrations of God's judgments denounced on:
1. The sins of the Hebrews against their own brethren; e.g. the re-enslavement of the freedmen (Jeremiah 34:1-24.34.22.).
2. The crimes of Hebrews towards strangers, though they were heathens; e.g. Saul's massacre of the Gibeonites (2 Samuel 21:1-10.21.22.), Zedekiah's perjury against Nebuchadnezzar (2 Chronicles 36:13).
3. The outrages of heathens upon their brother heathens, as when the King of Moab "burned the bones of the King of Edom into lime" (Amos 2:1).
III. A SIN AGAINST A BROTHER IS A SIN AGAINST GOD, WHO MADE HIM A BROTHER. The warning of 1 Corinthians 8:12 is applicable beyond the limits of the Christian Church. It was a fearful prediction that "the brother shall betray the brother to death." Give to the term "brother" its Divine significance, and every act of treachery or unfaithfulness is seen to be odious to the Father of all Hence the claims of truth towards our "neighbour, for we are members one of another;" of "all good fidelity" on the part of servants towards masters, "that they may adorn the doctrine of God;" of standing to our word, though it may be to our own hurt, that we may stand in the holy place of the Lord; of loving our enemies, that we may be children of our Father who is in heaven.
IV. THE FATHERHOOD OF GOD IS ONE GREAT MOTIVE FOR THE RIGHT TREATMENT OF HIS CHILDREN. Cruelty, tyranny, slavery, and every form of social wrong would then he banished from the family of God, the brotherhood of men. War would be as intolerable as fighting in the family circle. Punishment of offending brothers would only be inflicted under a grave sense of our responsibility towards their Father and ours. Practical benevolence would be inspired by God s love to us (1 John 3:17). And as Abraham interceded for the preservation of the heathen Sodomites, so should we, by prayers and labours, seek the salvation of the whole nature ("spirit end soul and body," 1 Thessalonians 5:28) of those children of God who are still lost to the Father's home.
Notice, in conclusion, how the fuller revelation of the Fatherhood of God in Jesus Christ, and our adoption in him, gives power and pathos to all the truths we have mentioned and the motives to brotherly kindness we have enforced (1 John 4:9-62.4.11). The knowledge of such a Father should inspire our hearts with the most tender compassion towards our brethren who know him not.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
The cursing of our blessings.
The direct address of this verse is to the priestly classy whose irreverence and indifference were so clearly shown in their offering the people's unworthy sacrifices, without attempting to reprove them, or endeavouring to awaken them to worthier and more spiritual views of sacrifice. When the ministry has become a fountain and a support of religious negligence and formality, the nation is placed in extreme peril, and severe providential dealings for the national and the priestly humiliation may be expected. The Divine threatening here is, "I will curse your blessings." This may mean either of three things; it may, quite possibly, include all three. It may mean, "I will turn the gifts of the people into curses." Or, "I will make the harvest of your work in the fields a failure and a curse instead of a blessing." Or, "I will make the blessing which you priests pronounce upon the people prove a curse to them." It should, however, be noticed that we now use the term "curse" with a connotation which is much more severe than that of Malachi. Our word "denunciation" would better fit the prophet's meaning.
I. TURNING THE PEOPLE'S GIFTS INTO CURSES. The priests received tithes, portions of the sacrifices, and offerings. God's judgment on the irreverent priests would come in limitation of tithes, disease from eating of the sick beasts offered as sacrifices, and the worthlessness of the offerings; for he who could give a mean thing to God would be sure to give mean things to his servants. Let God withdraw his added blessing, and our very "good things" fail to do us good. The psalmist recognizes this by praying that God would curse the blessings of his enemies (see Psalms 69:22). This is the permanent truth for all the ages, "The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it." Illustrate by the "little book" of Revelation, which was sweet to the taste, but bitter to the soul.
II. TURNING THE HARVEST OF TOIL INTO A CURSE. (Verse 3.) What a blessing the harvest of the fields is, let the Harvest Home testify. These priests and Levites were compelled to go to their homes, and try and gain a living by the tillage of their land. But the judgment of God on irreverence and indifference would follow them there, and make their harvest a "heap." They would find that, whatever they touched, there was no Divine blessing on their work.
III. TURNING THE PRIESTLY BLESSING OF THE PEOPLE INTO A CURSE. The words of the priestly blessing are given in Numbers 6:23-4.6.27. It is the deepest view of this Divine threatening to see it to mean this—The blessings which you, negligent and irreverent priests, pronounce in your formal way shall break in curses upon the heads of the people.—R.T.
Judgments recalling covenant obligations.
Malachi 2:8 gives the great feature of God's judgment, first as a fact, and then by a figure. The Levites might shirk their temple duties, and go off to their fields; but God's hand would be upon them there; he would "corrupt" the seed they sowed, so that their harvest Would be a failure. And so they would stand before the people impoverished, disgraced, and contemptible; with the stamp of failure on everything they touched. A recent account of the ceremony connected with the recovery of a Brahmin who had broken his caste explains the Eastern custom indicated in this verse. One part of the ceremony was the plastering of his entire body, except his eyes, with filth; he was then plunged into the river, and when the filth was washed away, the man was restored. The idea of Malachi 2:4 is that this Divine judgment on unfaithful Levi must take the place of the Covenant of life and peace which God had made with Levi, and would gladly have kept with his descendants. "I gave to Levi (that is, to you, the priestly tribe) a pledge of favour; but you have forfeited it, and it is now therefore turned into a threat of reprobation for your sins. No longer a covenant of peace, but of woe."
I. JUDGMENT IS GOD'S STRANGE WORK. It has not been sufficiently noticed, that God never threatens without indication of deep feeling of regret that he should be compelled to threaten. This may be illustrated from every part of Scripture, and especially in Divine dealings with the antediluvians, the Sodomites, the Israelites, and the Ninevites The keynote is given in this exclamation, "Have I any pleasure at all in the death of the wicked?" God is most unworthily misrepresented when he is thought of as punishing in a spirit of coldness and indifference. To judge and afflict is holiest pain to him.
II. JUDGMENT IS GOD'S NECESSARY WORK. Punishment belongs to moral discipline. It is an essential feature of it. It is part of all paternity. It is involved in the trust of childhood. God could not be his own Divine self if he did not punish. To let sin go would be unworthy of God. Father or King, he must be severe on wrong doers.
III. THREATENING OF JUDGMENT IS GOD'S HUMBLING WORK. God always threatens before punishing. Threatening recalls obligations. Recalling obligations sets conduct in contrast with duty, and bumbles us in the dust. Nothing bows us into penitence like seeing before us what we pledged ourselves to be, and being forced to place beside it what we are.—R.T.
Malachi 2:5, Malachi 2:6
The double future of a Jehovah covenant.
The covenant was made with the tribe of Levi; and the precise terms here referred to occur in the renewal of covenant with Phinehas, "Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace: and he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood" (Numbers 25:12, Numbers 25:13). A covenant is a mutual engagement entered into by two parties. Each party takes pledges; and each is exonerated from keeping his pledge if the other party breaks his. Too often the Divine covenant is treated as if it only involved God's putting himself under pledge of service to us. The truth needs to be emphasized that the covenant includes our pledge of faithful service to him. And this is true of the new covenant, sealed with the blood of Jesus Christ.
I. JEHOVAH'S PLEDGE TO LEVI. "My covenant was with him of life and peace," There is some reason for thinking that, before the Sinaitic revelation was made, the tribe of Levi provided the moral and religious teachers of the Israelites. They were designated for the special work of the priesthood, but the Divine covenant took a special shape in consequence of the loyalty and zeal of the Levites in the matter of the golden calf; and of Phinehas in vindicating the Divine claim to moral purity. God pledged two things:
(1) "life," or permanence; and
(2) "peace" or prosperity.
Security that the honour and usefulness of the position should be quietly maintained. There is a Divine side to every covenant. God condescends to pledge himself to men. He promises his providings, preservings, guidings, redeemings, sanctifyings. In the new covenant, in the hands of the Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ, all the old terms of covenant are renewed, and the special pledge of salvation from sin is added. He who has begun a good work in us is pledged to perfect it unto the day of Jesus Christ.
II. LEVI'S PLEDGE TO JEHOVAH. This side of covenant seldom receives sufficient attention. The Levites gave themselves to Jehovah's service; they pledged themselves to devote their lives to the services of his sanctuary, the teaching of his truth, and the upholding of his honour. So far as the early Levites were typified in Phinehas, they kept their pledge. Their personal characters honoured the covenant (Malachi 2:6). Their steadfastness in duty, their cherished sense of right, and their active ministry against all iniquity, maintained the pledge of the covenant. Then how striking is the contrast suggested between the Levites of the early times and the Levites of Malachi's days! Their broken pledge meant that God was relieved of all obligation to keep his pledge to them.—R.T.
The active influence of the steadfast man.
Levi is taken as the type of such a man. The man who walks with God in peace and equity cannot fair to exert a strong personal influence. He will "turn many from iniquity." The point of this sentence is that active influence for good is exerted by passive goodness. Men are powers by being established characters. Steadfastness is ministry. If it be so, then there are more workers for God than come into usual calculation. Priests and clergy have their power in what they are-in cultured, sanctified character—quite as truly as in Divine endowments and in trained efficiencies.
I. THE STEADFAST MAN EXERTS ACTIVE POWER OF REPROACH. He need utter no word; his steadfast goodness speaks loudly enough. There is no reproach comes to the evil liver like the simple presence of the good liver. Nothing shamed into silence the foulness of old prison scenes like the simple presence of the saintly Mrs. Fry. And in sublimer ways the truth is illustrated in the case of our Lord. The devils that possessed men felt the reproach of his simple presence, and cried out in their alarm. Every one of us who stands firm to righteousness and equity is actively reproving the unsteadiness and evil that are daily around us.
II. THE STEADFAST MAN EXERTS THE ACTIVE POWER OF EXAMPLE. The imitative faculty of man is more influential than we are wont to think. Everybody is disposed to make models. And all persons are materially helped by having high models of virtue in their spheres. Every individual has a sphere of influence. Within that sphere his example is an active power. We are all ideals to some one. Then "what manner of persons ought we to be?"
III. THE STEADFAST MAN EXERTS A POSITIVE POWER ON MEN'S WILLS. To see a man who can stand fast to righteousness actually strengthens the decision and resolve of others. In it is the mastery of the tempter's lie that we cannot hope to be good. Our wills are weakened by the fear that goodness is unattainable, and it is of no use to try to be good. Every steadfast man proves that man can will the Roost and do it, and that God stands by such a man in his resolve.
IV. THE STEADFAST MAN EXERTS A POSITIVE SAVING INFLUENCE. He "turns men from iniquity." He cannot leave wrong doers alone. If the priests of Malachi's time had been steadfast men, they would soon have turned the worshippers from the. iniquity of bringing the lame and sick for sacrifice.—R.T.
Reasonable expectations of God's ministers.
"The priest's lips should keel knowledge." The ideal priest is here characterized, not by ceremonial exactitude, but by moral integrity. Sacrificing is not so essential as religious knowledge, sound learning, and wholesome teaching. The proper expectation of God's ministers is that they will tell God's will to the people, not only because they know it, but even more because they keep it. In our religious teachers we look for adequacy of knowledge, and adequacy of experience.
I. ADEQUACY OF KNOWLEDGE. In some countries, and in some ages, the sacred ministry has been the chief source of secular knowledge for the people. That is not the case now, and in civilized countries. But still God's ministers need to be abreast, and to keep abreast, of all that is thought and known in their day, because to them is entrusted the work of conserving the Divine element in all knowledge, and the Divine relation to everything discovered. Unless ministers have adequate knowledge, they occupy a lower plane than the secular teachers, and fail to influence the higher range of students with Divine claims, truths, and principles. To put it in another way—The ministry must be on the level of the people if it is to sympathize with them; but the ministry must be in intelligence and knowledge above the people, if it is to lift the people to higher things, Two points may be illustrated.
1. The ministers should gain knowledge as men can gain it.
2. The ministers should gain knowledge as spiritual men only can gain it. It is that spiritually acquired knowledge that is the minister's true efficiency; and more especially that spiritual knowledge as it relates to the mysteries of the sacred Word.
II. ADEQUACY OF EXPERIENCE. There is book knowledge, and there is experimental knowledge. It may be argued that for the common, everyday relations and duties of life, experience is a more valuable and practical teacher than books can be. It is certainly true that, for the ministry, experience is the essential thing. A man can only speak with power when "he has tasted and handled and felt the good word of life." The people have confidence in the teacher who has been taught of God in the discipline of life. What needs to be pointed out is that these two adequacies are not antagonistic, In their harmonious culture lies the true power.—R.T.
Unfaithfulness to God involves injury to our brethren.
This verse begins a new subject, and it might have headed a new chapter. Answering to the indifference shown in regard to Divine worship was an indifference in regard to moral and family relations. Loose worship and loose social morality usually go together. Let men become careless about God's claims, and they will be found careless about marriage relations, and will lightly do wrong by the wives of their youth, in the mastery of their self-indulgence. Ezra and Nehemiah had to deal very sternly with the social evils arising from the ready divorce of Jewish wives for the sake of heathen wives. Malachi begins his expostulations on this matter by putting the people in mind that they owned one God and Father, in opposition to the idols of the heathen, and therefore should deal with one another as brethren. By the marriages with strangers they were dealing falsely and injuriously with their brethren and countrymen, by ill treating their daughters whom they had taken in marriage.
I. BREAKING GOD'S COVENANT BREAKS IT FOE OTHERS. Illustrate by the case of the golden calf. Those who took no part in the sin had to take part in the penalty. It is the bitterness of all wrong doing that we can never keep its consequences to ourselves. "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge."
II. UNFAITHFULNESS TO GOD MAKES INJURY TO OUR BROTHER BY BEING A BAD EXAMPLE. Every man is bound to help his brother to be good. It is often shown that every man is bound to aid his brother in distress. It is not so often shown that every man has a claim on his brother, that he should help him to goodness. If a man does wrong, is unfaithful to God, he actually injures his brother by depriving him of his rights in his good example. Constantly we find wrong doing excused by examples of wrong doing. Sinners defraud their neighbours of their rights.
III. UNFAITHFULNESS TO GOD MAY LEAD TO POSITIVE ACTS OF INJURY TO OUR BRETHREN. The man who is strong enough to oppose God is usually masterful enough to injure his fellow. He who does not regard God is not likely to regard man. The love of God carries the love of man; the revolt against God is sure to involve the loosening of humanities.—R.T.
Worship spoiled by the tears of the injured.
The divorced and abandoned wives went to the courts of the temple "with tears, with weeping, and with crying." "Their wail of lamentation mingled with the prayers and hymns of the sacrificing priests. How could the Lord 'regard the offering any more, or accept it at their hands,' when attended by such accompaniments?" The point forced on attention is this: Here were men bringing their sacrifices, and offering their prayers for God's blessing. And at the same time, here were the injured women praying against their prayers, and pleading that their worship should not be accepted. The tears were spoiling the worship. There is scarcely a thought more solemn and searching than the thought that few, if any, of our prayers go up to God unqualified and unchecked. We pray for, something prays against, and God withholds the blessing because the balance is in favour of the "against."
I. WE MAY PRAY AGAINST OUR OWN PRAYERS. It is said of St. Augustine that for some time he prayed," Lord, convert me, but not yet." That was himself praying against himself. When duty prays one way and heart another; when we are not quite sure whether we want what we ask for; and when we are careless about receiving the answer,—we really pray against our own prayers. God may see our real prayer to be something quite other than our words.
II. OTHERS MAY BE PRAYING AGAINST OUR PRAYERS. This may be done unreasonably, and then God makes the prayer against strengthen the prayer for. Or it may be done reasonably, as when the cry of the widow, the fatherless, the divorced wife, the sweated workman, or the neglected sufferer, goes up to God against us. It would be well sometimes to ask ourselves whether there can be anything praying against our prayers.—R.T.
God served by our meeting family obligations.
This verse is difficult to paraphrase. 'Speaker's Commentary' renders thus: "And hath no one acted thus (in putting away his wife) who yet had a remnant of sense in him?" The prophet makes the people say this in excuse of their conduct, and in allusion to the Patriarch Abraham, who put away his wife Hagar. Wordsworth puts the sentence interrogatively, "And did not one (Abraham) do it (i.e. put away his wife Hagar), and yet he had a remnant of the spirit?" The answer to the question is that Abraham was justified because he acted upon the special direction of God in seeking a seed within the covenant. But the people of Malachi's days were acting on pure self-willedness, and with no possible excuse of having received Divine directions. They were not serving God. God is served by the fulfilling of family obligations. He cannot be served by the shirking of ordinary obligations at the instance of unbridled passion.
I. FAMILY OBLIGATIONS SHOULD BE ENTERED UPON SERIOUSLY. And seriously means with
(1) due self-control;
Early marriages are natural, and may be prudent; but when they are the result of impulse, of wrong doing, or of lightness and inconsiderateness, they are a most fruitful source of trouble. No marriage should be consummated unless upon it the Divine blessing can be honestly, sincerely, heartily, and hopefully asked.
II. FAMILY OBLIGATIONS SHOULD BE MAINTAINED WITH PATIENT PERSISTENCY. Much occurs in married life to knit hearts together; but much must necessarily occur which, if permitted, would drive hearts asunder. Bearing and forbearing have to be resolute work until they become easy work. And every triumph over self makes every new triumph easier. If each lives for the other, all goes well. If either lives for self, all goes ill. "Let none deal unfaithfully by the wife of his youth."
III. FAMILY RELATIONS SHOULD BE BROKEN ONLY WITH EXTREME PAIN. Cases do occur. But every one who is anxious for the moral well being of the nation looks with extreme anxiety on the increasing readiness with which divorces are sought and granted.—R.T.
The sin of confusing moral distinctions.
"Ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delighteth in them." Isaiah pleads in a similar way," Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" (Isaiah 5:20). It seems that some, in the days of Malachi, answered his pleadings with insolent defiance, even daring to deny moral obligations altogether.
I. CALLING EVIL GOOD IS THE WAY TO EXCUSE OUR SINS. Daring men who are determined to "follow the devices and desires of their own hearts," will bravely say, "Evil, be thou my good." But the process of deterioration is usually slower and more subtle. We want to do wrong, and we begin to wish that it were not wrong. Then comes the doubt whether it is wrong. Then we begin to imagine that it is wrong only under particular circumstances. Then we find that our case does not come into the bad list. And the way is open to do the wrong under the shadow of our self-delusion that it really is good. There are family delusions that lead us to call evil good; society delusions; sectarian delusions; and personal delusions. These last are the most serious. A man can easily persuade himself that the pleasant is the right; and he may only mean the pleasant to the body. The pleasant to the soul, the pleasant because of God's benediction, helps to truer judgments.
II. CALLING GOOD EVIL IS THE WAY TO RUIN OUR SOULS. There is no hope for a man when he loses his sensitiveness to good, for with it goes his sensitiveness to God. A man is never lost while he can believe in goodness. There is anchorage in that. He is indeed driven with the wind and tossed hopelessly on the sea of life, if he ever comes to say, "All is evil;" "All is vanity and vexation of spirit;" "All men are liars;" "There is no good: there is neither good nor God." There is good, for there is God. He is God, and much that his creatures do bears the stamp of his goodness. Evil and good are contraries. Hope for humanity lies in their never getting confused.—R.T.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
"And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you," etc. The grand subject we gather from these words is spiritual reformation. "Now, O ye priests." The priests are specially addressed and reproved, for they, whose mission it was to raise the people to true worship and to holiness, led them into sin. Notice—
I. THE NATURE OF THE SPIRITUAL REFORMATION REQUIRED. "If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my Name, saith the Lord of hosts." From this language it would appear that true spiritual reformation involves two things.
1. A practical application of the Word of God. There should be right attention to it. That Word is not only to be heard, earnestly listened to, but to be laid to heart, which means practical attention. It is to be applied to correct the wrong that is in us, and to generate and develop the true.
2. An entire dedication to the glory of God. "To give glory unto my Name: All genuine spiritual reformation is implied in this—right attention to the Divine Word, right application of the Divine Word, and an entire dedication to the glory of God. This is a reformation not of parchment but of principle, not of systems but of souls. It is in truth the only reformation worth having.
II. THE URGENCY OF THE SPIRITUAL REFORMATION REQUIRED. The neglect thereof incurs:
1. A curse. "I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings." "I will curse your benedictions." Not the personal advantages and perquisites enjoyed by the priests, but the blessings they pronounced upon the people. The service had been merely formal without any sort of reverence in it; the blessings they uttered should retributively be evacuated of all efficacy and should be a mere formula" (Dr. Dods). What an awful thing to have blessings turned into curses I and yet if we are unregenerate and unrenewed this takes place by the very laws of our moral constitution. As hemlock turns even the sunbeam into poison, corrupt souls turn God's blessings into maledictions.
2. A rebuke. According to Keil, Ewald, and others, the expression, "Behold, I will corrupt your seed," should be, "Behold, I will rebuke your arms." Perhaps the idea is—I will wither your power, I will check the growth of your posterity. There is no true prosperity without spiritual reformation.
3. Contempt. "I will spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your solemn feasts." "The dung in the maw of the victims sacrificed on the feast days. The maw was the perquisite of the priests (Deuteronomy 18:3), which gives peculiar point to the threat here. You shall get the dung of the maw as your perquisite instead of the maw. And one shall take you away with it, i.e. you shall be taken away with it, it shall cleave to you wherever you go" (Moore). "Dung shall be thrown in your faces, and ye shall be taken away, i.e. removed out of the way, as dung would be, dung begrimed as ye shall be (1 Kings 14:10; Jeremiah 16:1-24.16.21..Jeremiah 16:4; Jeremiah 22:19)" (Fausset).
CONCLUSION. Are we the subjects of this spiritual reformation? Have we been renewed in the spirit of our minds? "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again."—D.T.
The minister of Divine truth,
"My covenant was with him of life and peace," etc. We have here the minister of Divine truth as he always should be, and as he often is—
I. THE MINISTER OF DIVINE TRUTH AS HE ALWAYS SHOULD BE. We learn:
1. That he should be a man divinely called. "Ye shall know that I have sent this commandment unto you, that my covenant might be with Levi, saith the Lord of hosts." What was the Divine commission to the priesthood? Here it is: "Phinehas. the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, while he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy. Wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace: and he shall have it, and his seed after him" (Numbers 25:11-4.25.13). The Aaronic priests were called of God to be the ministers of life and peace to the people. Two of the greatest blessings of being. What is existence without life—intellectual and spiritual life? and what is life without peace—peace with self, the universe, and with God?
2. That he should be a man of profound reverence. "I gave them to him for the fear wherewith he feared me, and was afraid before my Name." The priest was not only to be entirely free from a volatile and frivolous spirit, but to be profoundly reverential, pervaded by a holy awe. He was to be impressed with the solemnity of the commission with which he was entrusted.
3. That he should be a man of moral truthfulness. "The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: The moral laws which he has to inculcate and administer are to be regal forces in his own soul, and embodied in his life. He is to be free from the control of all shams and theories, a man of stern, moral realities.
4. That he should be a man of practical devotion. "He walked with me in peace and equity." His life should be a walk; there should be progress in it; he should walk with God, and walk with God in "peace and equity."
5. That he should be a man of the highest usefulness. "And did turn many away from iniquity." Iniquity is man's curse and ruin; to turn him from that is to save him, and that is the work of the true minister. The commission given to Paul was to "turn men from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God' (Acts 26:18).
6. That he should be a man of the highest intelligence. "For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the Law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts" Being a "messenger of the Lord of hosts," he is to understand and appreciate the wonderful message, and give it from his own mouth to the people. Such is what Levi, as an ideal priest was and did, and every minister of Divine truth must be and do the same. What a high standard to aim at! How its light condemns and abashes most of us!
II. THE MINISTER OF DIVINE TRUTH AS HE OFTEN IS. The false minister is here represented:
1. As swerving from the right. "But ye are departed out of the way." Ye are very different in your conduct from the ideal priest and even from your actual predecessors in office; your careless teaching, your superficial dealing, your contentment with formulas and external rites, and your personal laxity, have given men a prejudice against religion altogether. Instead of helping men to accept the truth and live godly lives, you have caused even those who wished to do so to take offence and turn away. A sceptical age is necessarily the result of externality and heartlessness in the religious teachers of previous generations.
2. As leading the people astray. "Ye have caused many to stumble at the Law." Not only by their speech, but by their conduct, do many who profess to be ministers of God's Word lead the people to stumble. Their inconsistent life, their theological jargon, their exclusive spirit, lead the people to "stumble" at Divine things.
3. As perverting the truth. "Ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi." How many there are who tamper with the Word of God, who employ it to support some favourite prejudice, or to buttress their little sect! How far, for example, is our conventional theology from being like the theology of Christ!
4. As becoming contemptible. "Therefore have I also made you contemptible and base before all the people." Ministers who hunt after honour, popularity, gain, become contemptible in the estimation of intelligent and unsophisticated souls. The pulpit of England is certainly sinking into contempt with the English people. This is a sad calamity. The decrease in the number of those who attend churches, compared with the increase of population; the growth of a literature in thorough antagonism to the spirit and aims of Christianity; and the fact that the great bulk of the reading and thinking men of England stand aloof from all Churches, plainly show that the pulpit of England is sinking into popular contempt. Primates and prelates and preachers are treated with ridicule in nearly all popular literature and scientific discussion, A more terrible sign of the times I know not than this. The "salt" of the pulpit has lost its "savour," and it is being trodden underfoot with disdain and contempt. Trodden underfoot by our authors, scientists, artisans, tradesmen, and merchants. Gracious Heaven, raise up men for our pulpits, so high in culture, so gifted in faculty, so Christly in love, so invincible in duty, so independent in action, that they shall not only counteract the downward tendency to ruin, but shall attract to it with reverence the intellect of the age!—D.T.
"Have we not all one Father," etc..? "This section," says Keil, "does not stand in any close connection with the preceding one. It does not furnish an example of the stumbling upon the Law mentioned in Malachi 2:8; nor of the violation of the covenant of the fathers (Malachi 2:10); or of the marriage covenant (Malachi 2:14), appended to the neutralizing of the covenant of Levi on the part of the priests (Malachi 2:8 and Malachi 2:4). For there is no indication in Malachi 2:10-39.2.16 that the priests gave any impulse through their bad teaching to the breaches of the Law which are here condemned; and the violation of the covenant of the fathers and of the marriage covenant forms no more a thought by which the whole is ruled, than the violation of the covenant with Levi, in the previous section. The prophet rather passes over with Malachi 2:10 to a perfectly new subject, viz. the condemnation of marriages with heathen women." From this passage the three following truths are deducible.
I. THAT THE GREAT GOD IS NOT ONLY THE CREATOR BUT THE COMMON FATHER OF MANKIND. "Have we not all one Father? hath not one God created us?" It is clear that the one Father does not mean either Adam the progenitor of the race, or Abraham the Father of the Israelitish nation, but Jehovah himself. He is the Creator of all things, but not the Father of all things. We could not regard him as the Father of the mountains, the valleys, the rivers, the oceans, the stars, though he is the Creator of all these. All things are created by him; but he is the Father of human souls. "We are all his offspring." This relationship implies two things.
1. A resemblance in nature. Children resemble their parents in nature and attributes. All intelligent moral beings bear a resemblance to the Infinite. They are spiritual in essence, moral in sentiment, free in action; they are formed in his image.
2. The existence of parental sympathy. While a human father has the ordinary sensibilities of a man, he has the peculiar affections of a parent, a tender interest in his offspring, which he feels for no other object in the world. So God is a Father. Whilst he has an interest in all the works of his hands, he has a special interest in a human soul.
3. The obligation of filial devotion. Filial love and loyalty raise and bind the souls of children to their parents. Such is the feeling that human spirits should cherish and develop in relation to God. Man is the only creature on this round earth that has the capacity, and consequently the obligation, to feel, entertain, or develop this filial affection. He then who is the Creator of all things in the world is the Father of man; all are his creatures, but men are his children. Sublime distinction this!
II. THAT THE FACT OF THIS UNIQUE RELATIONSHIP IS A MIGHTY ARGUMENT WHY MAN SHOULD DO NO WRONG AGAINST EITHER HIS FELLOW CREATURE OR HIS GOD. "Why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?" Two remarks are suggested concerning the wrong with which the Israelites are here charged.
1. It was a wrong committed against mankind. The special wrong referred to is the contraction of marriage with a heathen woman, and the putting away the Israelitish wife. This is the treachery and the "abomination" referred to. The repudiation of Jewish wives and the adoption of heathen.
2. This wrong against mankind was a wrong against God himself. "Judah hath profaned the holiness of the Lord which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god." God's law with the Jewish people was that they were to be a separate people, separate from all the other people of the earth, and they were to sustain their distinction by not intermarrying with other peoples. But now, at the period when the prophet wrote, they were doing so, and that to a great extent (see Nehemiah 13:23-16.13.29; Ezra 9:1-15.9.4). It is a universal truth that a wrong against man is a wrong against God; to sin against our fellow creatures is to sin against God himself; and this is an outrage against the relationship which we all sustain to him, not only as our common Creator, but our common Father. We are all children of the same Father, and therefore we should be fair in our dealings one With another. We should love one another, and cooperate with one another for our mutual advantage in all that is virtuous and noble. "Have we not all one Father?" Wherefore, then, should we cheat, hate, deceive, oppress, murder one another? How monstrous!
III. THAT THE PERPETRATION OF WRONG EXPOSES THE DOER TO THE MOST LAMENTABLE RESULTS. "The Lord will cut off the man that doeth this, the master and the scholar, out of the tabernacles of Jacob, and him that offereth an offering unto the Lord of hosts. And this have ye done," etc. This, perhaps, means utter extermination. "The master and the scholar," some translate, "him that watcheth and him that answereth." In "master" the special reference is to the priest who ought to have taught the people piety, but who led them into evil; in "scholar," to the people themselves, who were the pupils of the priests. The idea is that both the priests and the people will suffer on account of the wrong they were committing. Great distress had come upon them already. "This have ye done" (see Ezra 10:1-15.10.44.; Nehemiah 13:10-16.13.13) Again, this is only a shadowy picture of the evils that ever flow from wrong. "Sin brought death into our world, and all our woe." It is sin that kindles and feeds the flames retribution.
CONCLUSION. Haste the time when men shall realize the fact that they are all children of one Father, so that all wrongs against one another shall cease, and the spirit of universal brotherhood prevail!
"A happy bit hame this auld world would be,
If men when they're here could make shift to agree,
An' ilk said to his neighbour, in cottage an' ha',
'Come, gi'e me your hand—we are brethren a'.
"I ken na why ane wi' anither should fight,
When to 'glee would make a' body comie an' right;
When man meets wi' man, 'tis the best way ava,
To say, ' Gi'e me sour hand—we are brethren a'
"My coat is a coarse ane an' yours may be fine,
And I maun drink water while you maun drink wine;
But we both ha'e a leal heart, unspotted to shaw,
'Sae gi'e me your hand—we're brethren a'.'
"Ye would scorn to do fausely by woman or man;
I haud by the right, aye, as well as I can.
We are ane in our joys, our affections an a',
Come, gi'e me your hand—we are brethren a'.'"
The Divine institution of marriage.
"Yet ye say, Wherefore?" etc. The subject of these verses is the Divine institution of marriage. In relation to this institution we observe—
I. THAT IT IMPLIES A LOVING UNION OF TWO, AND ONLY TWO, SOULS UNTIL DEATH. "Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one?" "Wife of thy youth." The Jews had ever been accustomed to marry very young, the husband often being not more than thirteen year's of age, and the wife younger. "Thy companion;" not a slave, nor an inferior, but an equal and a friend. Love-companionship is the highest ideal of matrimony. "Wife of thy covenant." A relationship established by mutual agreement. Marriage (Proverbs 2:17) is called the covenant of God; it is so because he has ordained it. "Did not he make one?" Thine exclusively. "Yet had he the residue of the sprat, etc. Maurier and Hengstenberg explain this verse thus: "The Jews had defended their conduct by the precedent of Abraham, who had taken Hagar to the injury of Sarah his lawful wife. To this Malachi says, 'Now no one [ever] did so in whom there was a residue of intelligence [discriminating between good and evil], and what did the one [Abraham, to whom you appeal for support] do, seeking a godly seed? His object [viz. not to gratify passion, but to obtain the seed promised by God] makes the case wholly inapplicable to defend your position.' It is asked, 'And wherefore one?' Wherefore only Eve for Adam, Sarah for Abraham?" "Instead," says Dr. Henderson, "of forming two into one, the Creator might have given to Adam many wives. There was no lack of spiritual existence from which to furnish them with intelligent souls. When he gave to Eve such an existence he did not exhaust the universal fountain of being. There remained all with which the human race had been furnished throughout its generations. What, then, the prophet asks, was the design of the restriction? To this he replies—The securing of a pious offspring. Divorces and polygamy have ever been unfavourable to the education of children. It is only by the harmonious and loving attention bestowed by parents upon their children that they can be expected to be brought up in the fear of God. The reply bore hard upon the priests who had married idolatrous wives."
II. THAT IT HAS BEEN SADLY OUTRAGED IN ALL AGES. The Jews outraged it. The command here, "Take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth." implies this. They dealt "treacherously" against the wife of their youth by marrying others. "Ye have transgressed, and have taken strange wives" (Ezra 10:10). They do so also by putting them away—by divorce. "For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the Lord of hosts." This has been done in all ages.
1. Polygamy is an outrage on it.
2. Cruelty is an outrage on it.
3. Mutual unfaithfulness is an outrage on it.
The Divine idea of marriage is that the two souls shall be one, so united in love, sympathy, aim, that the two would think, feel, and act as one. But how few amongst the million matrimonial alliances reach this ideal!
III. THAT OUTRAGE OF THIS INSTITUTION IS FRAUGHT WITH CALAMITOUS RESULTS.
1. It is abhorrent to God. "The Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away." A separation of man and wife, a divorce, is abhorrent to the Almighty, although by the Law of Moses it was allowed because of the hardness of their hearts.
2. It involves violence. "For one covereth violence with his garment." Some suppose the garment here means the wife, and that the idea is that violence was done to her. Others suppose it means the pretext they employed for doing so by the permission of Moses (Deuteronomy 24:1). Others suppose the garment means man's reputation, and that he would damage his influence by it. Whatever the particular meaning of the passage is, it is certain that the outrage of the institution of marriage is fraught with great evils.
CONCLUSION. An extract from my Marriage Service in the 'Biblical Liturgy' may not be out of place here. "Marriage is an institution of God: it accords with the dictates of nature and the laws of inspiration. It is coeval with human society; it was an essential ingredient in the happiness of Eden. It heightened, it perfected, the pure, fresh, and serene joys of that garden, the scene of every beauty and the temple of God. In mercy it has been perpetuated to the present hour as a social blessing to soothe and sustain our nature amidst the depressing circumstances of our fallen state. Jesus threw around this relationship a peculiar grandeur. He clothed it with sublimity: to his holy eye it was a holy thing; he ratified its contract, he guarded its obligations, he expounded its laws, he graced its celebration with his presence; the first miracle his sacred hands performed was at a bridal feast. The apostles caught the idea of their Master, and invested it with a mystic solemnity by representing it as a type of the substantial, invisible, and everlasting union existing between Christ and his Church. It involves the most tender, close, and lasting ties that can unite human beings together in this life. 'Therefore shall a man leave father and mother, and cleave unto his wife; and they both shall become one flesh.' It combines the earthly interest, fortunes, and happiness of two; it may influence the destinies of many. The interests of the parties united, the triumphs of truth, and the upward progress of humanity are all dependent on the nuptial bond."—D.T.
The words of scepticism.
"Ye have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?" These words are directed against the spirit of scepticism and discontent which prevailed amongst the Israelites in the time of the prophets, and they lead us to offer two remarks on the words of scepticism.
I. THEY ARE WORDS OF COMPLAINT AGAINST GOD. "Ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord." This is what they said; this was perhaps their current talk. A very old topic of complaint was theirs. It means this: "Wherefore doth the wicked prosper?" Wherefore are the righteous afflicted? This was the chief problem of the Book of Job; this was the burden of Psalms 73:1-19.73.28. Since vice is here triumphant and virtue oppressed, "Where is the God of judgment?" If there is a God who governs the world, his righteousness is not seen; on the contrary, he shows more favour to the evil than to the good. "Where is the God of judgment?" We want him to put an end to this state of things.
II. THEY ARE WORDS UNGRATEFUL TO THE EAR OF GOD. "Ye have wearied the Lord with your words." Observe:
1. God hears the words of men. Every syllable enters his ears; he understands our thoughts afar off.
2. Sceptical words are offensive to him "Ye have wearied the Lord with your words." Wearied him with their ignorance, their falseness, their impiety. The creating and the supporting of a universe does not weary God, for he "fainteth not, neither is weary." But the endless chatterings of sceptical and discontented souls weary him.
3. The authors of sceptical words are indifferent to this terrible fact. "Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him?" They go on talking against God in their families, their clubs, in their public halls, in their workshops and their warehouses, and are utterly indifferent to the fact that their words are offensive to the ears of the All-hearing One.
CONCLUSION. "I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment." Every idle word. Not merely the profane and impious language of the scoffer and blasphemer, but every idle word—words that have little or no meaning, the most airy words of wit and humour spoken in jest, not to delude or pain, but simply to please.—D.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Malachi 2". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent