Sermon preached on Malachi 2:10-16 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 11/06/2011 in Novato, CA.
“Do Not Deal Treacherously”
When you read the commentaries on this passage you find a lot of discussion regarding its translation. Just comparing these verses against a few different English translations and you’ll get a sense of some of the difficulties. It is by far the most difficult passage to translate. And yet I’m not going to let us get bogged down by the translation questions today. Because despite several of the translation questions that come up in this passage, the point of this text is abundantly clear. God’s dealing with treachery among his people. He’s dealing with treacherous people. People who have not kept faith in their promises. People who are not men of integrity. That’s the concern raised in this passage.
And yet there are two specific ways this treachery is shown here. Two related subjects, two related sins, through which it’s seen. The first sin is addressed in verses 10-12. The second is addressed in verses 13-17. The first sin is that they were marrying unbelievers. The second sin is that they were divorcing their wives without any biblical cause. In both sins, there is treachery going on. In each there is faithlessness on the part of the people. We’ll look at each of these two sins, starting first with the marriage to unbelievers.
Look with me then at verses 10-12. Scholars often label this as a prohibition against mixed marriage. Nothing technically wrong with that label, but don’t confuse it. It’s not a racial thing. The mixture is not of race, but of religion. The problem presented here is not marrying someone of a different ethnicity. It’s not that they weren’t supposed to marry a foreigner. No, the problem presented in verse 11 is that they were marrying the daughter of a foreign god. Verse 11 calls this an abomination. In other words it’s offensive to God. So you see the problem here is not that these women are foreigners. It’s that they have a foreign God. Remember the story of Ruth. She was a foreigner. But Boaz, a righteous man, did not have a problem marrying her. Why? Because at the start of that book she renounces her God in favor of the God of Israel. No, the problem is those marriages to people in allegiance to false gods. The historical books of Ezra and Nehemiah which cover this timeframe both show this was a major problem at that time.
You’ll notice that in verse 10 God says this is a violation of a covenant. Specifically, it’s profaning the covenant of the fathers. The covenant of the fathers is the Mosaic covenant. The same covenant their forefathers were under. It’s that covenant which included God’s law. Part of that law specifically forbade Israelites from marrying foreigners with their allegiance to foreign gods. Leviticus 20:26 and Deuteronomy 7:3 are passages that show this. In other words, old covenant law specifically said they must not take a spouse who essentially was an unbeliever – someone who worshipped a false god. The concern was that such a person who did this might be led astray to worship these false gods himself. Not to mention all the other places of compromise that you may be pressured to do in such a situation. At the end of the day, this is about loyalty to God, that they would have no other gods before him. In the new covenant, God again reiterates this principle of mixed marriages in a passage like 1 Corinthians 7. There it says that if you find yourself already married to an unbeliever, then don’t divorce them. But if you are looking for a spouse, then you need to find a Christian one. Put the point here is that Israel was breaking the covenant. Remember, they had just come back from exile because they had broken the covenant. Now, they are doing it again. Well, Malachi acting as God’s covenant lawyer, brings this charge against them. They are in breach of contract to the covenant.
The covenant judgment is issued in verse 12. Cutting off. They are being threatened with being cut off from the covenant. Some have suggested that the cutting off of verse 12 is specifically with regard to offspring. They God is threatening for this specific punishment to not give them offspring, and they will be cut off from the future generations of Israel. That’s a possible interpretation. Or it’s possible this is just the general idea we see in the old covenant where people are cut off, or excommunicated essentially from the nation. Either way the point is clear – they will not be counted among God’s people due to their faithlessness to the covenant. They need to have a renewed heart for obedience, repenting and returning to walk in the ways of God’s Word.
So the second specific sin we mentioned is divorce. Let’s turn now to look at that, verses 13-17. Start in verse 14. There we see the problem. They are dealing treacherously with their wife of their youth. The problem is even more clear in verse 16. Translations differ a bit on verse 16 but it seems that the idea is that God hates divorce. That language of divorce comes in verse 16 and you see that’s what verses 13-17 have been dealing with. God hates divorce. Recall Jesus’ teachings on divorce. He said we ought not to divorce our spouses. He said the only grounds for us to divorce our spouse is adultery. Obviously adultery is not the reason for divorce here. Why? Because it’s the husbands who are said here to be dealing treacherously with their wives. Not the other way around.
You see, here again there is covenant language. But now it’s not the Mosaic covenant in view here. It’s the marriage covenant. Verse 14 says they were dealing treacherously with the wife of their youth, who is their wife by covenant. We see the covenant idea brought out even by the start of verse 14. One part of a covenant would involve witnesses. The start of verse 14 says that God is that witness. He is witnessing between the husband and the wife. He will hold the husband to account who breaks the marriage covenant through an unbiblical divorce. So, this is why its treachery by the husband. A husband had solemnly entered into covenant with his wife, and he was breaking faith. He was breaking the covenant, not being faithful to its terms. But God would stand up on behalf of the wife who is the victim. He’d defend her cause!
So in both of these two sins, we have the same underlying problem of treachery. That specific language is even used in each section of this passage. Verse 11 says Judah has dealt treacherously through their marriages to unbelievers. Verses 14, 15, and 16, all deal with the second sin – divorce. Possibly the last one might be a summary of the entire passage – dealing with both sins. Therefore, do not deal treacherously. They had to be faithful to their covenant obligations. Faithful to their covenant with God. And faithful to their covenant with their spouses.
And so this passage deals with treachery versus fidelity. And what I’d like to do now is to reflect a little bit further on the subject woven throughout this passage. The subject of marriage. We’ve seen that the primary thrust of this passage is to forbid the treachery of marriages with unbelievers and divorce. And yet both these specific sins have to do with marriage. There is obviously a connection there. It’s clearly primary subject matter in this passage. I think we would be remiss to not then notice what this passage does positively state about marriage. As we see things forbidden here about marriage, we also have a picture of what marriage should look like. I’ll briefly mention six positive things said about marriage in this passage. Six things commended to us in this passage about marriage.
The first one is that it is to be with a believer. Now, yes we’ve said that in the reverse – don’t marry an unbeliever. But the positive side of this is that we should marry a believer. The idea is that you can together share your religion and faith together. Now, yes, sometimes a believer finds himself married to a non-believer. If that is the case, Scripture says you stay with them in light of how binding a marriage covenant is. God might even use you to win your unbelieving spouse to Christ. Certainly you have to be on guard that they don’t turn you away from Christ. But for those who are married to believers, see this for the good thing that it is. Cultivate your faith together and serve God as husband and wife. Encourage each other to a closer walk with God, not away from the one true God. For the single person, this means you should only pursue a spouse who is a Christian. A lot of young people quickly get in dangerous ground here. They date someone who is not a Christian saying they won’t marry them unless they become a Christian. Well that is playing with fire, and when you play with fire you usually get burned. Pursuing that kind of relationship with a non-Christian already is putting you in a compromised position.
The second positive principle here is that marriage is indeed a covenant. It’s a covenant with each other, but it’s also a covenant made before God. It’s more than just some simple contract. It’s a solemn binding together of husband and wife before man and God as witnesses. Thus we shouldn’t enter into marriage lightly. We should not take our vows lightly. We should see the seriousness of it. This is where our integrity and fidelity come in. We must honor our marriage covenant. Reflect on those vows. Vows that usually include loving each other, and forsaking all others until death do you part.
That brings us to the third principle found here. Marriage is ordinarily to be lifelong. To death do you part. Now, yes that’s not explicitly stated here. But the principle is here. Certainly the covenant language and its breaking infer that. But you especially get this in verse 14 when it talks about the wife of your youth. In other words, you loved her when you were both young. Now would you change your mind? Now when maybe her beauty if fleeting? Now would you discard her? No, this covenant is made for life. Other passages in Scripture use this same sort of language, of the wife of your youth, to get at the same idea. That marriage is supposed to be for life. Proverbs 5:18, for example, calls us husbands to always be rejoicing in the wife of your youth, always intoxicated by her love. Ecclesiastes 9:9 talks about enjoying your wife all your days. God intends for it to be a permanent union. That’s why he hates the sending away of his daughters.
The fourth principle is that marriage is to include companionship. Verse 14. She is your companion. This is a word that in the Hebrew is normally used to describe the close friendship of a man with another man. But here it says husband and wife are to be companions. Best friends. Loyal comrades. This shouldn’t surprise us though. It was in the beginning that God saw man was alone and so he made the first woman. It’s not good for man to be alone. There will be many dimensions to a relationship between husband and wife. Don’t miss this important one – companionship. It’s a biblical principle.
The fifth principle is that marriage is to be oneness. We find this in verse 15. This is another one of those verses modern scholars have struggled to translate. But it seems the best way to read it is that it is getting at the oneness of marriage. That together in body and soul he has brought the husband and wife together. Of course, you don’t have to go to verse 15. This oneness was affirmed at the institution of marriage in Genesis 2:24. That a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Jesus relates this oneness idea to the prohibition on divorce. What God has joined together let not man separate (Matthew 19:6).
The sixth principle is that a goal of marriage is to produce godly offspring. Verse 15 says this is at least one of God’s goals in marriage. Now this is specifically directed to believers. It’s connected with the prohibition of mixed marriages. Two believers together have children and are to raise them up to know the one true God and walk in righteousness. They are to raise these children up to know the Lord and worship him. This is one of the reasons why God brings believers together. To expand the covenant community to the next generation. Now this doesn’t mean there is no hope for the single parent or when only one parent is a Christian. God can do wonderful things and give you the grace needed in those situations. The same is true for those parents unable to have children – God has other ways he intends to use you. But let us nonetheless acknowledge the ideal of Christian husband and Christian wife raising up children, teaching them the fear and admonition of the Lord.
And so those six principles are a summary of the positive picture of marriage presented here. It’s a picture of two believers united in a sacred covenant before the Lord. It’s a lifelong oneness and companionship, that God may also use to bring forth godly offspring as well. Don’t miss this beautiful picture of marriage shown here in Malachi chapter 2. And so we’ve seen the negative in this passage and the positive. We’ve seen what Israel was told not to do with their marriages. That’s the negative. And we were given a picture of what marriage should look like. That’s the positive. Having studied some of the details of this passage, I’d like to then step back then and consider the overarching command in this passage. Do not deal treacherously. It’s a call for faithfulness.
This is what we’ve been talking about this whole time. Israel was not being faithful in their marriage covenants. And they weren’t being faithful in their covenant with God. They were breaking the covenant of their fathers. They are called to turn from this. To be people of integrity. That was true for them. Certainly by extension it’s true for us. In all our covenants, and contracts, and commitments, we are called to be people of integrity. To be true to our word. To be faithful to our obligations. This is God’s law. But how especially true this was for them in the old covenant, with regard to their covenant with God. This is what their covenant demanded of them. This is what the covenant of their fathers demanded. Strict adherence to its terms. This was so important to them. Did any of them want to be cut off? Did the nation want to go back into exile again?
And yet it’s in this we find great concern for them. If this is the covenant of their fathers as verse 10 point out, then they have a problem. Their fathers did not keep that covenant even. Their fathers had dealt treacherously. That’s why the nation had gone into exile. You see the problem is that the people in the past weren’t able to keep the covenant. It was subject to failure. It was able to be broken. Now they were back in the Promised Land having the same problems under the same covenant. Would they be any better than their fathers?
You see, the covenant of their fathers begged for something better. The prophet Jeremiah spoke of this. Jeremiah 31:31-33.
Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah — 32 “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. 33 “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
You see this was the tension of their day. Which covenant were they living in? They were back from exile. But were they under the new covenant now or the old one again? Well, Malachi 2 says they were under the old one. The same one their fathers were in. Well, Jeremiah says that the old covenant could be broken. Why? Because it relied on the faithfulness of the people to keep its terms in their integrity. That’s something sinful humans are not going to do. What God’s people need was a covenant that could not be broken. One that didn’t rely on man’s sinful integrity to keep it. Thus they needed a new covenant. And yet during the days of Malachi that new covenant had not yet come.
You see, man is not that good at keeping his promises. He struggles at being faithful. But the good news is that God promised this new better covenant that wouldn’t be dependent on man. God also promised a Messiah. Well, that Messiah has come. And that Messiah has brought with him the new covenant. Yes, I’m talking about Jesus Christ. This was the tension behind Malachi. Would God keep his solemn promises? Promises to bring a Messiah and restoration and a new covenant. Would God be faithful? The answer is yes and amen in Christ. Turn to Christ and come into the new covenant inaugurated by his shed blood. Believe in Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit into your heart. This is how we see Christ in this passage for today. The tension of man’s failing integrity begs for a covenant not secured by man’s righteousness but by God’s righteousness. That’s what Christ has accomplished. That’s the beauty of the new covenant.
Now yes, Christians enter that covenant through faith. But it’s not like our faithfulness is what really keeps us in the covenant. No, faith is a gift from above. Even our faithfulness is a grace from above. When we keep our earthly commitments and covenants it’s the grace of God enabling us to do so. It’s the working out of Jeremiah 31 which said that in the new covenant that God would write his law on our hearts. Every act of faithfulness and integrity that’s being formed in you is a work of his Spirit on your heart.
Well, we know that the Spirit works through his Word. And so right now he’s working on your heart this faithfulness and integrity. Today his Word has commended to you that Christians are to be people of integrity. This is especially true in our relationship to God. We must in all our ways show allegiance to Christ. That includes through not looking to marrying unbelievers who may try to turn us away him. We must also be people of integrity in our marriage covenants. With such high divorce rates among supposedly professing Christians, this is an alarming problem. We must be people of integrity.
And yet God isn’t just saying to just suffer through your allegiance to him and in your fidelity to your spouse. No, he wants you to find joy in your spouse. And he wants you to find joy in him. But God knows that faithfulness and integrity to your commitments is a starting place for this. He highlights this here in Israel’s day with the idea of their worship. In midst of all their treacherousness, they seem surprised that God had not been accepting their worship. The crying and weeping of verse 13 is likely referring to that. The people mourning and begging God to give them good favor when they offer sacrifices. And yet God had not been accepting their offerings. That’s what verses 12 and 13 get at. God would not receive it from their hand. Their worship had become hypocritical; acknowledge God’s covenant and role in their life through the outward acts of worship, but really they were full of broken promises to God. You see their worship should have been a really good thing. It had instead turned futile and an occasion for grief.
God instead wants us to find our greatest enjoyment as we seek fidelity to him and our covenants. That we would enjoy our spouses. And that we would especially enjoy him. The gospel of the new covenant tells us that we should see him growing us in that today. As his Word is proclaimed, look to him to grow you in this. Trust that he is. If you trust it, then seek to live it out. By faith, look to keep your covenant commitments. A practical example. If you are looking for a spouse, refuse to pursue a non Christian spouse. Trust that God will either ultimately provide you a believing one or enable you to have peace in your singleness. Exercise integrity and trust that he will give you the grace to live in such a way. And when you do stumble in this area, then seek forgiveness; look to make things right; and then remind yourself: God’s grace is sufficient for me. It is. Praise be to God. Great is his faithfulness. Amen.
Copyright © 2011 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.