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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Malachi 2

 

 

Verses 1-3

A curse pronounced upon the faithless priests, 1-9.

The condemnation of priests and people in Malachi 1:6-14, is followed by the announcement of a curse upon the priests, who have proved disloyal to Jehovah and to their high calling.

Malachi 2:1 is introductory, announcing to the priests that the succeeding oracle is intended in a special manner for them. The order of the words in the original makes the announcement more emphatic: “And now, this commandment is for you, O priests.”

And now — Your guilt having been established.

O ye priests — The message is addressed directly to the priests.

This commandment — Includes the entire message contained in Malachi 2:2-9. No command of any sort is found in these verses, not even an exhortation to repentance, though such exhortation is implied in Malachi 2:2; hence the word cannot be understood in the narrow sense of commandment, but as meaning purpose or decree. The divine decree, shown by the succeeding verses to be one of destruction, is for the priests.

The case is put very clearly in Malachi 2:2. Either they must give glory to the name of Jehovah or destruction will be their portion.

If ye will not hear — That is, pay attention to the words of warning already spoken or to any that may yet be spoken.

Lay to heart — The same message of warning; so as to profit by it.

Give glory unto my name — As the result of laying the message to heart. How they may give glory to the name of Jehovah may be seen from Malachi 1:6-14, by rendering to him the service which is his due. If they fail to reform, and reform quickly; disaster will overtake them.

I will even send a curse — R.V., “then will I send the curse.” The article is emphatic; the curse threatened for such disobedience (compare Deuteronomy 27:15-26; Deuteronomy 28:15 ff.).

I will curse your blessings — The blessings are not those “pronounced by the priests upon the people by virtue of their office,” which God will make ineffective or turn into the very opposite; nor are they the priestly income, the sacrificial portions belonging to the priests; but, in a more general sense, the blessings, favors, and privileges bestowed upon their order and tribe by Jehovah; from their honorable position he will reduce them and their posterity and make them “contemptible and base before all the people” (Malachi 2:9). LXX. reads “your blessing” (singular), and since the pronoun in the next clause is in the singular in Hebrew, it (Eng. them), it is not improbable that LXX. has preserved the original.

I have cursed them already — The curse has already been decided upon in the divine mind, because Jehovah knows their stubbornness. Some commentators consider the latter part of Malachi 2:2, beginning, “I have cursed them already,” a later addition, because (1)

LXX. does not agree with the Hebrew text, (2) they think Malachi 2:3 would make a better continuation of 2a. The arguments are inconclusive.

Malachi 2:3 continues the threat.

I will corrupt — Better, R.V., “rebuke,” and so destroy (compare Zechariah 3:2). Wellhausen changes the verb into “I will cut off” (see next comment).

Your seed — LXX, and other ancient versions read, with a different vocalization, “thy arm,” which many commentators, even the conservative Keil, consider original, “because the priests did not practice agriculture.” Wellhausen and those who accept his emendation of the verb read the clause, “I will cut off thine arm.” Since the arm is used in the performance of priestly duties, Keil explains the expression to rebuke the arm as signifying “the neutralizing of the official duties performed at the altar and in the sanctuary”; that is, though they will continue their ministries, Jehovah will make them of no effect. However, if the reading of LXX. is accepted, the threat seems to imply more than a neutralizing of their ministrations; it means the rebuke (destruction) of the arm, so that they can no longer perform their unacceptable service; in other words, the withdrawal of their authority, office, and power. The testimony of LXX., and especially of the literal translation of Aquila, cannot be disregarded, and it is not impossible that these ancient versions have preserved the original; nevertheless, the Hebrew text, as it now stands, also gives a satisfactory sense. Certainly seed cannot be understood of the seed sown by the priests, which God will curse and thus cause a failure of the crops; little better is the suggestion of Pusey, that it is the seed sown by the people. “Since the tithes,” says he, “were assigned to them (the priests and Levites), the diminution of the harvest affected them.” But in the Old Testament seed is used very frequently in the sense of posterity, and this would give good sense here. The covenant with Levi (Malachi 2:4-5; Malachi 2:8) was to hold good also for his posterity, but the corruption of the present generation of priests had gone so far that the entire tribe deserved to be cut off; those who are priests now as well as their descendants will be affected by the curse.

Their own persons, which should be considered sacred, will receive the most shameful treatment.

Spread dung upon your faces — A figure of the most ignominious treatment.

The dung of your solemn feasts — For solemn feasts see on Hosea 2:11. The dung is that which is left in the fore-courts by the animals used for sacrifice on the feast days. This dung was unclean, and was to be carried to an unclean place and burned (Exodus 29:14; Leviticus 4:11; Leviticus 16:27). Marti and others consider these words as well as the last clause a later addition, and the text of the latter they consider hopelessly corrupt; Nowack does not even attempt a translation.

One shall take you away with it — R. V., more idiomatically, “ye shall be taken away with it.” The obscurity of the clause can be seen best from the various interpretations given to the same even by those who express no doubts as to its originality. If the words are original, the following seems the most satisfactory interpretation: The Hebrew reads “unto it” (so margin), not “with it,” and this should be retained; unto it can refer only to the dung spoken of in the preceding clause. Not only will dung be cast into their faces, but they will be taken up bodily and cast upon the dung heaps; in the words of Hitzig, “Dung shall be cast upon them, and they on the dung.” Such treatment would be impossible while people looked upon the priests as mediators between them and God; it presupposes the dishonoring of the priests by Jehovah himself.


Verse 4

4. When these things come to pass the priests will be convinced that Jehovah has sent the threats just uttered.

This commandment — Contained in Malachi 2:2-3 (see on Malachi 2:1).

That my covenant might be with Levi — This is undoubtedly the proper translation. All that Jehovah will do or has threatened to do is for the purpose of maintaining the covenant made in ancient times with Levi, which demanded of the priests holiness and assigned to them an important place in the working out of the divine plan of redemption. Jehovah would maintain that covenant, though to do this he would be compelled to cut off the entire present order of priests. Not all Levites were priests, and from these other Levites a new priesthood might be raised up, with which the old covenant might be continued. Over against this interpretation there is another view, which translates, “that it may be my covenant with Levi.” It is made to refer back to commandment in the preceding clause, and the meaning of the clause is thought to be that the commandment or threat contained in Malachi 2:2-3 will henceforth determine the attitude of Jehovah toward Levi; it, so to speak, will take the place of the former covenant. The first interpretation is to be preferred because (1) it follows more closely the Hebrew; (2) it fits better into the prophet’s argument.

Levi — Meaning the tribe of Levi, to which the priests belonged. Malachi evidently holds the view concerning the origin of the priesthood among the Hebrews that is set forth in the Pentateuch. For the covenant with Levi, that is, the appointment of the priests, their privileges and obligations, see passages like Numbers 18:1 ff; Numbers 25:10 ff.; Deuteronomy 10:8-9; Deuteronomy 33:8-10.

The reference to the covenant with Levi (Malachi 2:4) leads the prophet to describe in Malachi 2:5-6 the true nature of this covenant; in Malachi 2:7 he points out what in the light of this covenant the character of the priests should be; with these ideals he contrasts the conduct of the priests whom he condemns (8), and he closes with a reiteration of the sentence of judgment (Malachi 2:9).


Verse 5

5. Was… of life and peace — Literally, was the life and the peace; that is, it aimed at life and peace. The article indicates that a specific kind of life and peace is in the mind of the author.

Life — The continued existence as priests of Jehovah, equivalent to everlasting priesthood (Numbers 25:13).

Peace — “The sum of all the blessings requisite for well-being” (compare Numbers 25:12). This twofold blessing Jehovah guaranteed to Levi. The construction of the rest of Malachi 2:5 is somewhat obscure. R.V. renders, “and I gave them to him that he might fear; and he feared me, and stood in awe of my name.” This is preferable to A.V., but it is incorrect in translating “that he might fear” and in connecting these words with the preceding clause, “I gave them to him.” “That he might fear” A.V. renders more accurately “for the fear,” the italics indicating that the preposition is not in the original; literally, the fear. Here again the article is used to show that a particular kind of fear is meant, namely, the fear of Jehovah. What has been said thus far may lead to a right understanding of the grammatical construction of Malachi 2:5. Fear occupies the same position in the sentence as life and peace; so that Malachi 2:5 may be translated or paraphrased, “My covenant was with him; (my obligation being to give to him) the life and the peace, and I gave them to him; (his obligation being to give to me) the fear, and he feared me and stood in awe of me.” Fear… feared… stood in awe (R.V.) — Fear of Jehovah is the Old Testament term for piety; it means a reverential attitude toward Jehovah, resulting in obedience of life and conduct. This Jehovah demanded of Levi, who promised to give it, and kept his promise.

My name — See on Malachi 1:6, and references there.


Verse 6

Malachi 2:6 states in greater detail how Levi met his obligation.

The law of truth was in his mouth — For law see on Hosea 4:6. It was the duty of the priests to instruct the people in the law of Jehovah (see on Hosea 4:6; Micah 3:11; compare Leviticus 10:11; Deuteronomy 33:10; Haggai 2:11; Zechariah 7:3); this duty Levi fulfilled faithfully; he gave instruction according to the truth.

Iniquity — R.V., “unrighteousness.” He did not teach for reward (Micah 3:11; compare Deuteronomy 16:18-19), nor did he call good that which was evil (compare Malachi 1:8). As a result his relations with Jehovah were of a friendly character.

He walked with me — He sustained “confidential intercourse” with God, and walked, so to speak, by his side like an intimate companion and friend (compare Genesis 5:22).

In peace — Neither side did anything to interrupt the happiness and fellowship (Malachi 2:5).

Equity — R.V., “uprightness.” His life corresponded to his words; he gave truthful instruction and he “practiced what he preached.”

Did turn many away from iniquity — By his teaching and his consistent life. In those early days the priest took an active interest in the spiritual welfare of the people; only too soon did he forget his duties (Malachi 1:6-14; compare Hosea 4:6; Micah 3:11).


Verse 7-8

7. This conduct of Levi corresponded to the divine purpose concerning the priests, who as messengers of Jehovah of hosts should speak and live the truth continually. Marti, following Boehme, considers Malachi 2:7 an interpolation, because (1) it is not needed after Malachi 2:6; (2) it interrupts the connection between Malachi 2:6 and Malachi 2:8, and thus weakens the contrast between the conduct of Levi and that of the present priests; (3) 7b contains two peculiarities: (a) in Malachi 2:5-6 Jehovah is the speaker, in 7b he is referred to in the third person; (b) the term “messenger of Jehovah” denotes in Malachi a being other than the priests (Malachi 3:1). He considers the verse made up of elements taken from Malachi 2:6 and Malachi 2:8. The reasons are not conclusive.

Should keep knowledge — The knowledge of Jehovah (compare Isaiah 11:2), which is a clear insight into his moral character and into the requirements which are the outgrowth of this character (compare Hosea 2:20; Hosea 4:1). This the priests should possess in order that they may instruct others.

And they should seek the law at his mouth — They, the people. It should be their privilege to consult the priests. Law is equivalent to instruction in the law or in the will of Jehovah.

For he is the messenger — A causal clause belonging to the two preceding clauses. His position as a messenger of Jehovah makes it imperative for him to possess the knowledge of Jehovah, and should inspire the people to go to him for advice. In Haggai 1:13, the prophets are called messengers of Jehovah, and in Malachi 3:1, the term is applied to a messenger par excellence, but it does not follow that one and the same author could not apply it here to the priests; in a very real sense the priests were the messengers of Jehovah, for their commission was to make known his will and law.

In Malachi 2:8 the prophet returns to the priests of his own day; they have completely lost sight of their high calling.

Ye are departed out of the way — R.V., “turned aside.” From the way in which they should have walked as priests and successors of Levi (compare Malachi 2:6-7). They no longer walk with Jehovah in peace and righteousness (see on Malachi 2:6).

Ye have caused many to stumble at the law — R.V., “in the law.” They made the law a stumbling-block both by their false exposition of it and by destroying its authority through their disregard of it in their own lives. A sad contrast to the conduct of Levi, who turned “many away from unrighteousness.”

Ye have corrupted — Or, destroyed.

Levi — Here with the article, the Levi; used perhaps to express the idea that the covenant was not with Levi as an individual, but with the house of Levi, the Levite in a collective sense —the Levites. This covenant (see on Malachi 2:5) they have made of no effect, they have failed to meet their own obligations, and thus they have made it impossible for Jehovah to do his share.


Verse 9

9. He must cut them off, though the covenant itself must continue; a priesthood of a different character must be substituted (see on Malachi 2:4).

Therefore have I also — The contrast would be brought out more forcibly by rendering, “Therefore I on my part have” (compare Amos 4:6).

Made you contemptible and base — In view of Malachi 2:2-3 the tenses should be interpreted as prophetic perfects; Jehovah will surely bring them into contempt by refusing to accept and bless their ministrations (Malachi 1:9-10). When people find out that the priests have lost the divine favor they will heap upon them the ignominies described in Malachi 2:3. The present attitude of Jehovah is the beginning of the fulfillment of the curse.

Before all the people — Who now look upon them as their spiritual guides.

According as — The judgment will be according to the lex talionis. As they have despised Jehovah (Malachi 1:6-7; Malachi 1:12), so they will be despised by the people.

Ye have not kept my ways — The ways marked out by Jehovah, which are uprightness in life and teaching (Malachi 2:6); from these they have swerved (Malachi 2:8).

Have been partial in the law — This is only one of their many crimes (compare Malachi 1:6-14). In the law means in the administration or exposition of the law. How this partiality showed itself is not stated, but a passage like Micah 3:11 (compare also Malachi 2:5) may suggest how it was done. The same passage makes it also probable that the statements should not be restricted to decisions in legal disputes. Marti, following Torrey, thinks that this last accusation is out of place, since in the chief condemnation (Malachi 1:6-14) nothing has been said about partiality in the exposition or administration of the law. By omitting one letter and changing one vowel point he secures a text that may be translated, “and have not had regard for me in the law”; the last two clauses, “according as ye have not kept my ways, nor have had regard for me in the law.” A similar expression occurs in Malachi 1:8, translated “accept your persons”=have regard for your persons. The emendation improves the text, but this in itself is not conclusive evidence that it restores the original reading.


Verses 10-12

CONDEMNATION OF MIXED MARRIAGES AND OF DIVORCE, Malachi 2:10-16.

With Malachi 2:10, begins a new section, which, until quite recently, has been universally interpreted as dealing with marriage alliances between Jews and heathen women (Malachi 2:10-12), and the putting away of Jewish wives by their husbands (Malachi 2:13-16). Torrey (Journal of Biblical Literature, 1898, pp.

1ff.) declares this interpretation to be untenable: “To treat these expressions literally, as referring to an actual marriage and divorce, involves one in insuperable difficulties.” And again: “There is one, and only one, admissible interpretation of the passage; namely, that which recognizes the fact that the prophet is using figurative language. Judah, the faithless husband, has betrayed the wife of his youth, the covenant religion, by espousing the daughter of a strange god, that is, a foreign cult. The whole passage from beginning to end is a telling rebuke of unfaithfulness to Jehovah, which would prove the suicide of the nation.” Adopting this interpretation, he gives the following summary of contents: “The unfaithfulness of part of the people threatens to forfeit for all the covenant of the fathers (Malachi 2:10). Judah has dealt falsely with the wife of his youth, the covenant religion, and is wedding a strange cult. The sanctuary of Jehovah is profaned (11, 12). The worshipers (who, of course, insist that they are still worshiping Jehovah) lament, because their offerings fail to bring a blessing, and are strangely unable to see why ill fortune has come upon them (13, 14a). Such sin merits the severest punishment, and Israel may well be warned (12, 15, 16).” Winckler agrees with Torrey in interpreting the passage figuratively, but he differs from him in dating it. Arguing along different lines, he attempts to show that the verses are directed against the innovations introduced in the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes during the early part of the second century B.C. This position he can establish only by means of unwarranted emendations of the text, a fact which in itself makes the view improbable. Torrey’s view is not open to the same objection, and the example of Hosea (see p. 21f) shows that the marriage relation did serve to some of the prophets as a symbol of spiritual relations.

The chief argument of Torrey against the literal translation is expressed in these words: “To assume, in the first place [there seems to be no second], that divorce of Israelitish wives stood in any necessary or even probable connection with the wedding of women from other nations is ridiculous.” The reply may be made: (1) Is it really improbable to suppose that in many cases there did exist a close connection between the two abuses? (2) There is nothing to prevent us from understanding the verses as a condemnation of two distinct crimes, practiced during the same general period, though by different individuals. The objection raised against the literal interpretation can hardly be regarded as conclusive.

All scholars admit that the passage is one of the most difficult in the entire book, and it is quite certain that the text has suffered in the course of transmission. As a result many emendations have been attempted (see comments); even entire verses have been omitted as later additions. G.A. Smith, for example, omits 11-13a, not because he considers the condemnation of heathen alliances unsuitable in the days of Malachi, but “because they disturb the argument,” which, he thinks, deals exclusively with the divorce question. “To him [the prophet] the fatherhood of God is not merely a relation of power and authority, requiring reverence from the nation. It constitutes the members of the nation one close brotherhood, and against this divorce is a crime and unnatural cruelty.” Marti agrees with him; on the other hand, Nowack and Wellhausen among recent commentators retain the whole section, interpreting it literally of marriages with heathen women and divorces of Jewish wives. Whether or not this interpretation will involve us in “insuperable difficulties” will be seen as we proceed.

Malachi 2:10 stands at the head of the entire discussion. The prophet adheres to his custom (see on Malachi 1:2) of commencing with a general statement, which he applies to the individual cases as he proceeds. In Malachi 2:10 he emphasizes the generally accepted truth that Jehovah is the father of all Israelites and the related truth that all Jews are brothers and sisters. Every crime against this fraternal relation, be it the marrying of foreign women or the putting away of Jewish wives, is an offense against Jehovah and against the covenant which binds Israel to Jehovah as son to father.

Have we not all one father? — That is, Jehovah. He was the father of Israel in a sense in which he was not the father of other nations, and this the people would readily admit (see on Malachi 1:6, and references there, especially Hosea 11:1).

Hath not one God created us? — The prophet is not concerned here with the creation of all mankind — it also he would have ascribed to Jehovah — but only with that of the Jews. One and the same God has created all of them. This again no one would deny. But if the two propositions stated are correct, then the individual Israelites are bound to one another in a close bond of brotherhood. In Malachi 1:6, the prophet inquires why they do not meet the obligations toward Jehovah which this peculiar relation imposes upon them; here, why they disregard the obligations toward one another which grow out of this same relation.

Deal treacherously every man against his brother — Better, one against another, since offenses against women receive chief condemnation.

They are dealing with one another in a manner contrary to the spirit of brotherhood. Wherein the treacherous dealings consisted is stated in the succeeding verses (11, 14, 15, 16).

By profaning the covenant of our fathers — The covenant meant is that made by Jehovah with the ancestors of the Jews, when he chose them to be his own peculiar people (compare, for example, Exodus 19:5-6; Leviticus 20:24; Leviticus 20:26). They desecrated this covenant when they entered into foreign marriage alliances and when they treated one another in an unfair spirit.

Malachi 2:11-12 give the first specification under the general indictment in Malachi 2:10. They have desecrated the covenant by marrying “the daughter of a strange god.”

Judah — The postexilic community, which settled chiefly in the territory formerly occupied by Judah.

Hath dealt treacherously — Repeated from Malachi 2:10, to emphasize the accusation about to be uttered.

An abomination is committed — Everything contrary to the spirit of his covenant with Israel is an abomination to Jehovah.

In Israel — If original, Israel is identical with Judah in the preceding clause. After the exile the distinction between north and south disappeared, hence the two names might be used interchangeably. Some commentators, however, consider Israel an interpolation; its omission would produce a more satisfactory parallelism: “Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Jerusalem.” The latter is named as a poetic variation; it is practically equivalent to Judah and denotes the entire postexilic community; perhaps it is meant to emphasize the idea that the abomination has been committed in the very dwelling place of Jehovah.

Profaned the holiness — Better, margin R.V., “sanctuary,” meaning the chosen people itself, which is holy because it is set apart for the service of Jehovah (see on Zechariah 14:20). Judah has become desecrated through the conduct of its own individual members, hence it is no longer a fit dwelling place for Jehovah.

Which he loved — The contrast between the loving attitude of Jehovah toward the people and the rebellion of the people toward their God brings out more forcibly the baseness of their conduct (compare Isaiah 1:2-4; Hosea 11:1 ff.; Amos 2:6 ff.). How they have profaned the sanctuary of Jehovah is stated in the last clause.

Hath married the daughter of a strange god — The Jews, the sons of Jehovah, marry women who are worshipers of other deities; in doing this they introduce into their own nation impure blood and impure religious ideas, the holy seed is mingled with the seed of the land (Ezra 9:2), and thus they desecrate it in the sight of their God. For the prevalence of mixed marriages in the days of Malachi see Ezra 9:1 ff; Ezra 10:1 ff.; Nehemiah 13:23 ff.


Verse 12-13

12. Jehovah must punish this desecration with destruction. The entire verse is more or less obscure, but the translation of R.V. is to be preferred: “Jehovah will cut off, to the man that doeth this, him that waketh and him that answereth, out of the tents of Jacob, and him that offereth an offering unto Jehovah of hosts.” A more literal rendering would be in the form of a wish, “May Jehovah cut off…”; but, since the wish is born of the conviction that Jehovah will do it, the translation of R.V. is permissible.

To the man (R.V.) — The judgment will fall upon the criminal, but it will not stop with his own destruction; his offspring also will be slain.

Him that waketh and him that answereth (R.V.) — A.V., “the master and the scholar,” a translation that is based upon ancient rabbinical tradition. Of these words Torrey says, “The phrase has always been, and is still, a riddle.” All interpreters agree that an expression including the entire family or posterity of the condemned man is expected, and various attempts have been made to get this meaning from the present Hebrew text. It is easy to call the phrase “a proverbial expression for every living member of the transgressor’s family”; but to prove the assertion is more difficult. That the Hebrew does at times express “totality by opposites” is true (Deuteronomy 32:36), but is wake the opposite of answer? Von Orelli renders the first verb “that calleth,” but this translation is without support in Hebrew usage. Perowne says, “It is taken from sentries or watchmen who as they go their rounds give their challenge and receive the watchword in reply.” Then, following Gesenius, he calls attention to the Arabic expression, “no one crying out and no one answering,” that is, no one alive; but again, wake is not the same as cry out. And yet if the text is correct, some such meaning must be given to the words. Following LXX., Wellhausen, by changing a single consonant, gets “witness and defender”; G.A. Smith, “champion”; as if the prophet meant to say that everyone who might take the part of the criminal would be cut off. It may be questioned whether this is really an improvement over the present text, for the introduction of legal terms and a judgment scene seems unexpected and out of place in this context. Peshitto reads, “his son and his son’s son,” which expresses the right idea, but, as Torrey remarks, may be only a sensible guess. On the basis of “root… branch” in Malachi 4:1, Torrey suggests to read the same words here, completely (see on Amos 2:9). If an emendation is needed, which is by no means certain, since the present reading may embody an idiomatic saying whose full force is no longer understood, that of Torrey is the most satisfactory offered thus far. The tents of Jacob (R.V.) — A poetic designation of the entire Jewish community.

Him that offereth an offering — These words are not to be limited to the priests, but include everyone “who is willing to offer a gift upon the altar for men of this description” (Jerome).

In Malachi 2:13 the prophet passes to the second crime against the covenant (Malachi 2:10), the divorcing of Jewish wives, which in many cases — though by no means always — may have been closely connected with the marrying of heathen women, a fact which may explain the joining of the two accusations. The utterance of Malachi marks an advance from Deuteronomy 24:1, which permits divorce under certain conditions, toward the words of Jesus (Matthew 19:3 ff.), due, perhaps, to the fact that in his day the divorce evil had become prevalent enough to prove a menace to the integrity of the community, so that it was necessary to take stringent measures against it.

And this have ye done again — R.V., “And this again ye do.” The words introduce the second accusation and might be rendered freely, “And, secondly, ye do this.” The rest of the verse is explanatory of this.

Covering — Though this is a literal translation, R.V. expresses the thought more idiomatically, “ye cover.”

Tears.… weeping,… crying out — R.V., “sighing.” Not the weeping and sighing of the cast-off wives, but the weeping of the treacherous and profane in the community (Malachi 2:10).

Inasmuch — They cry out in despair, because they cannot understand why Jehovah refuses to look with favor upon their religious ceremonies (compare Malachi 1:9).


Verse 14

14. Wherefore — Wherefore does Jehovah pay no attention to them? This cry gives the prophet an opportunity to present the accusation.

Because Jehovah hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth — Of the marriage as well as of the wicked putting away, and as a righteous God he must avenge the wrong; he cannot look with favor upon a hypocrite (Genesis 31:50; compare Isaiah 54:6).

Dealt treacherously — In putting her aside when he should have loved her faithfully.

Thy companion — In joy and sorrow. This companionship should have united them more closely.

The wife of thy covenant — Not the marriage covenant, but the covenant with Jehovah (Malachi 2:10). In contrast to “the daughter of the strange god” (Malachi 2:11), the wife belonging to the religious community of Jehovah. To cast off such a one is a desecration of the covenant (Malachi 2:10).

The translation and interpretation of 15a are matters of dispute; indeed, it is very doubtful if, without deep-going emendations, an entirely satisfactory sense can be had; but who can be certain that the “emended” text represents the thought of the prophet? Two interpretations of the text as it stands may be given. The one is that of Pusey, who follows closely the translation of A.V.

Did not he — God.

Make one — Adam. “In order to designate the unity of marriage, he willed to create but one.”

Yet had he the residue of the spirit — The breath of life by which man became a living soul (Genesis 2:7); this God possessed in an abundant measure, so that, had he desired, he might have created any number of men or women, but he deliberately chose the other way.

Wherefore one? — Wherefore did God create one man, and did create from him a mate, the two to be one, never to be put asunder? The answer is supplied by the succeeding clause.

That he might seek a godly seed — A seed worthy of God. Only in the manner selected could he accomplish this purpose. 15b is an exhortation to the prophet’s contemporaries. These things being so, they would better be careful about their conduct. Embodying this interpretation, Perowne gives the following translation of 15a: “Did not he (God) make one (one man, and out of him one woman, and the twain ‘one flesh’)? And (yet) the residue of the spirit (of life) was his (so that he could, had it pleased him, have created, for example, one man and many women). And why (did he make) the one? He sought (what only by the purity and integrity of the marriage bond can be secured) a godly seed.” Much, indeed, has to be read between the lines, but when all that is placed in parenthesis is read in or gathered from the text, the result is not inappropriate. But is it the thought Malachi desired to express? He certainly might have expressed it with less obscurity.

Most scholars who retain the present text prefer an entirely different translation and interpretation. In part this translation is given in margin R.V.; for the whole of 15a that of Von Orelli may be quoted: “And not one has done this, while yet a remnant of spirit was in him. And how (did) the one so? In seeking a seed of God.” 15b is again understood as an appeal to the prophet’s contemporaries. According to this translation the prophet means to contrast the conduct of his contemporaries with the actions of past generations, and he declares that no one who had even a remnant of reason or of sense for right and wrong had ever put away his wife in the manner in which they were doing it.

Spirit — A sense of right and wrong, the faculty that determines moral and religious actions. How did the one so? (see translation above) — These words must be understood either as an objection raised by some bystander, or by the prophet himself to forestall an objection by some one else. The one would be Abraham, who put away Hagar. If their conduct is so reprehensible in the sight of God, how did this friend of God come to put away one who had borne children to him? To this the prophet replies, he did so in order to raise up a godly seed. Had he retained Hagar and her child, the covenant seed might have become tainted and corrupt.

This translation reproduces the Hebrew more faithfully than the other, but again much has to be read between the lines. The construction is peculiar, and the one as a designation of Abraham, who has not yet been named, appears strange. Besides, the analogy breaks down, for Abraham did not put away the wife of his youth, Sarah, but Hagar, who had never been his legitimate wife. It is a very easy way out of the difficulty to say, “One feels the holy indignation under the power of which the prophet speaks in the style, which is abrupt and obscure.” The present writer, however, is inclined to think that the obscurity has arisen not so much from “holy indignation” as from a corruption of the text. Wellhausen rewrites the text, “Hath not one God (compare Malachi 2:10) created and sustained our breath?

And what does he desire? A seed of God.” This gives good sense, for it furnishes two reasons why the hearers should abstain from their evil practices: (1) one God has created both husband and wife (see on Malachi 2:10); (2) he desires a pure offspring, which can be had only if they retain their Jewish wives. But is it the original text?


Verse 15-16

Malachi 2:15 b is an exhortation to discontinue the practices condemned in Malachi 2:14.

Take heed to your spirit — Identical in meaning with “lay to heart” (Malachi 2:2) and “take heed to yourselves” (Jeremiah 17:21; Deuteronomy 4:15). The Hebrew reads in the last clause “the wife of thy youth,” which should be changed — so the English translations — into “his youth,” or, following some of the ancient versions, the whole sentence should read, “and deal not treacherously with the wife of thy youth.”

Malachi 2:16 supports the exhortation of 15b.

That he hateth — Better, R.V., “I hate” (see on Amos 5:21). He hates and must hate abominations of every sort.

Putting away — A common expression for divorcing a wife. In Deuteronomy 24:1-5, provision is made for divorce under certain conditions; Malachi seems nearer the spirit of Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:3 ff., than Deuteronomy. The condemnation of the custom by Malachi implies that in his day the law was wantonly abused.

For one covereth violence with his garment — R.V., “and him that covereth his garment with violence” — do I hate; literally, and one covers with violence his garment. If the literal translation is accepted Malachi 2:16 presents two reasons why the hearers should discontinue their practices: (1) Jehovah hates their conduct; (2) by it they cover themselves with violence or sin. R.V. co-ordinates these words with the preceding clause and renders, “and him that covereth his garment with violence” (by putting away his wife); such a one also Jehovah hates. If his garment could be understood as equivalent to his wife — so after Arabic analogies, Hitzig, Ewald, and others, but Hebrew usage does not favor it — this would give good sense; but the general thought that God hates the sinner, appears out of place in the midst of the specific denunciations of this section. One can hardly suppress a suspicion that here also the text has suffered. The section closes with a repetition of the exhortation to desist from the reprehensible conduct.


Verse 17

JEHOVAH’S APPROACH IN JUDGMENT, Malachi 2:17 to Malachi 3:5.

In Malachi 2:17, the prophet introduces to the reader a new class of thinkers in the postexilic community, the skeptics, who have lost faith in Jehovah and in his word, because the sinful prospered while the good suffered. From these inequalities they concluded that Jehovah was taking no interest in the affairs of the nation and doubted that he would ever appear in judgment to right the wrongs (Malachi 2:17). To this complaint Jehovah replies that he will suddenly appear, preceded by a messenger who will prepare his way (Malachi 3:1); his coming will be terrible to all who have departed from the right, for he will come like a refiner’s fire to burn up the dross (Malachi 3:2). The priests he will purify, so that they may again offer sacrifices in “righteousness” (Malachi 3:3-4); and from the nation at large he will sweep away everything that is contrary to his will (Malachi 3:5).


Verse 17

17. Ye — The latter part of the verse indicates that the prophet here addresses the skeptics who doubt that Jehovah takes an interest in the affairs of the nation, or that he is a “God of justice.”

Have wearied — His patience is exhausted, he can keep silent no longer.

With your words — Quoted by the prophet in the rest of the verse. To this general accusation some one might reply (see on Malachi 1:2), How have we wearied him with our words? And the prophet promptly meets the challenge.

Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of Jehovah — So it would seem to those who shared the philosophic thought of the day, that prosperity was an evidence of piety and adversity a sign of godlessness. The same complaint finds expression in Psalms 37, 49, 73. “Behold, these are the wicked and being always at ease they increase in riches; surely, in vain have I cleansed my heart, and washed my hands in innocency; for all day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning” (Psalms 73:12-14). But, unlike the psalmist, the contemporaries of Malachi did not go “into the sanctuary of God” to have their perplexity solved; on the contrary, they recklessly challenged Jehovah. The evil doers who prospered in the days of Malachi were the nobles who oppressed the poor (Nehemiah 5), though it is not impossible that the prosperity of the nations surrounding the Jews, compared with the poverty of the chosen people, was partly responsible for this skepticism.

He delighteth in them — Only on this assumption could they explain their prosperity.

Or — If the preceding accusation is not deserved.

Where is the God of judgment? — R.V., “of justice.” If he has no pleasure in the wicked why does he not interfere in righteous judgment? (Compare Isaiah 5:18-19.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Malachi 2:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/malachi-2.html. 1874-1909.

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