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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Malachi 2

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Unfaithful Priests and Broken Marriages

A. God exposes and condemns the unfaithful priesthood of Israel.

1. (Mal 2:1-4) God threatens to severely rebuke a wicked priesthood.

"And now, O priests, this commandment is for you. If you will not hear, and if you will not take it to heart, to give glory to My name," says the LORD of hosts, "I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have cursed them already, because you do not take it to heart. Behold, I will rebuke your descendants and spread refuse on your faces, the refuse of your solemn feasts; and one will take you away with it. Then you shall know that I have sent this commandment to you, that My covenant with Levi may continue," says the LORD of hosts.

a. If you will not hear: If the priests will not hear and repent God promises to curse their blessings. This is either a reference to the "blessings" brought to the priests by the people, or the priestly blessings they gave to the people.

b. Because you do not take it to heart: Their sin all goes back to a hollow formalism. It is a religion of surface emotions and outward signs, but not of the heart.

c. Spread refuse on your faces: Sacrificed animals still had excrement in their systems, and God said this should be burned outside the sanctuary (Exodus 29:14). Here, God says He will "rub their noses in it," so that they will have to be taken outside the sanctuary.

d. That My covenant with Levi may continue: This shows the motive for God's discipline against these ungodly priests. The LORD hoped that this would warn the priests back to a proper respect of His covenant.

2. (Mal 2:5-7) What a priest should be - the example of Levi.

"My covenant was with him, one of life and peace, and I gave them to him that he might fear Me; so he feared Me and was reverent before My name. The law of truth was in his mouth, and injustice was not found on his lips. He walked with Me in peace and equity, and turned many away from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should keep knowledge, and people should seek the law from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts."

a. My covenant was with him: God promised Levi that his descendants would be scattered in Israel. This was turned into a wonderful blessing when Levi was designated as the priestly tribe and the priests were sprinkled throughout Israel.

b. So he feared Me: God uses Levi as an example for the priests in the days of Malachi. Levi is shown to be an example of:

- Reverence: He feared Me and was reverent before My name
- Knowing God's Word: The law of truth was in his mouth
- Godly character: He walked with Me in peace and equity
- Preserving and promoting God's Word: Should keep knowledge, and people should seek the law from his mouth

c. The law of truth was in his mouth: The priests had a special responsibility to hold and spread the word of God (2 Chronicles 31:4, Nehemiah 8:7-9). God's word was given to the priests for life and peace, and so they would be reverent before the LORD.

d. The lips of a priest should keep knowledge: Because the priests had to hold and spread God's word they had to do it with knowledge, so the people could seek the law from his mouth. Leaders should be knowledgeable messengers of God's word.

3. (Mal 2:8-9) Contrast between the ideal and the real.

But you have departed from the way; you have caused many to stumble at the law. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi," says the LORD of hosts. "Therefore I also have made you contemptible and base before all the people, because you have not kept My ways but have shown partiality in the law."

a. You have departed from the way: The priests should have held the word of God in knowledge, reverence, and obedience. Instead, they departed from the way and therefore caused many to stumble at the law.

b. Therefore I also have made you contemptible and base before all the people: Because the priests of Malachi's day fell so far short of God's ideal for them, the people held them in contempt.

B. God exposes and condemns their treachery, especially in their marriages.

1. (Mal 2:10) God rebukes the priests of Israel for their treacherous dealing.

Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously with one another by profaning the covenant of the fathers?

a. Have we not all one Father? This does not teach the idea of the universal fatherhood of God, the doctrine that all are saved or that God is everyone's father in the same way. This is a simple assertion that because we are all made in the image of God, we must respect and deal honorably with all.

b. Why do we deal treacherously with one another: Malachi will apply this specifically to marriage, but their sin of treachery went beyond their unfaithfulness in marriage.

i. "All betrayals, from the slightest unkindness to the grossest injustice, merit God's disapproval." (Alden)

2. (Mal 2:11-12) The first offense of the priests: marrying foreign wives.

Judah has dealt treacherously, and an abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem, for Judah has profaned the LORD's holy institution which He loves: he has married the daughter of a foreign god. May the LORD cut off from the tents of Jacob the man who does this, being awake and aware, yet who brings an offering to the LORD of hosts!

a. The LORD's holy institution which He loves: This tells us exactly how God feels about marriage. It is holy to Him; it is an institution to Him; and God loves marriage.

i. When we sin against our marriage or our marriage vows, we sin against something holy to God. He has set apart marriage for a special meaning, a special purpose in the life of His people.

ii. When we sin against our marriage or our marriage vows, we sin against an institution that God has established. Marriage is God's idea, not man's; He formed and established the first marriage as a pattern for every one afterwards (Genesis 2:20-25). Because it is an institution, we are not allowed to define marriage any way that pleases us; God has established it and we must conform to what He has established.

iii. When we sin against our marriage or our marriage vows, we sin against something that God loves.

- God loves marriage for what it displays about His relationship with us
- God loves marriage for the good it does in society
- God loves marriage for the way it meets the needs of men, women, and children
- Most of all, God loves marriage as a tool for conforming us into the image of His Son

b. He has married the daughter of a foreign god: The first treachery and abomination God addresses is the intermarriage between the people of God and their ungodly neighbors. The dangers of an ungodly intermarriage are well documented in the Old and New Testaments.

i. Israel married women from Moab and brought the curse of God upon the people (Numbers 25).

ii. Solomon married foreign women who took his heart away from God (1 Kings 11:1-10).

iii. Ahab married Jezebel - a foreign woman - who led Israel into new depths of depravity (1 Kings 16:29-33).

iv. Paul says that believers and unbelievers should not be joined together (2 Corinthians 6:11-18).

c. May the LORD cut off from the tents of Jacob the man who does this, being awake and aware, yet who brings an offering: God promised to punish the priests who married foreign, pagan wives and thought that it would not affect their service of the LORD.

i. Awake and aware is a tough phrase to translate. Other translations have "master and scholar," "tempter and tempted," "witness and advocate," "kilth and kin," or even "nomads and settlers." "Obviously, the Hebrew idiom is just another way of saying 'everyone.'" (Alden)

ii. God's command against mixed marriages in Israel had nothing to do with race, but with faith. There is even a foreign wife in the genealogy of Jesus - Ruth was a Moabite who married a Jewish man named Boaz; but she forsook Moab's gods for the LORD (Ruth 1:16).

3. (Mal 2:13-16) The second offense of the priests: a low regard of marriage.

And this is the second thing you do: you cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and crying; so He does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive it with goodwill from your hands. Yet you say, "For what reason?" Because the LORD has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. "For the LORD God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one's garment with violence," says the LORD of hosts. "Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously."

a. You cover the altar of the LORD with tears … so He does not regard the offering anymore: The neglected and divorced wives of the priests came and wept at God's altar. When their priestly husbands then offered sacrifice to God at the same altar it offended God.

i. "They cover the altar of Jehovah with tears, namely, by compelling the wives who have been put away to lay their trouble before God in the sanctuary." (Keil)

ii. Pastor, has your harsh, neglectful, or unkind treatment of your wife caused her to cry out before God? "You caused your poor wives, when they should have been cheerful in God's service … to cover the Lord's altar with tears, with weeping, and with crying out." (Trapp)

b. Because the LORD has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously: The priests sinned by forsaking the wife they married in their youth, breaking the goal of marriage (she is your companion) and the bond of marriage (your wife by covenant).

i. "They kept their wives till they had passed their youth, and then put them away, that they might get young ones in their place." (Clarke)

c. Did He not make them one: The Bible continually comes back to God's goal and plan for marriage as revealed in Genesis 2:18-25. Essential to God's plan for marriage is the essential oneness between husband and wife. One important reason for this oneness is to establish a proper environment for raising godly offspring.

d. He hates divorce: There is no doubt that God hates divorce because it destroys what He loves - marriage is the LORD's holy institution which He loves (Malachi 2:11). Specifically, we can say that God hates divorce for at least three reasons:

- God hates divorce because it breaks a solemn vow
- God hates divorce because it is harmful
- God hates divorce because it illustrates apostasy and damnation

i. There is no doubt that God allows divorce in particular circumstances, though divorce is never commanded. God's heart is always for repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation in marriage. We have sinned against God far worse than any spouse could sin against us, and God does not divorce us - though He has every right to!

ii. Yet because we are fallen and suffer from hardness of heart, God gives permission for divorce in two circumstances. Sexual immorality is valid grounds (Matthew 19:1-9), and so is desertion by an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:10-16).

iii. Significantly, misery, unhappiness, poverty, or incompatibilities are never given as grounds for divorce. Where there is danger or abuse separation may be in order in accordance with 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, but the separated couple must live in complete faithfulness to their marriage vows, though they live as separate.

iv. If someone does not have Biblical grounds for divorce, God regards them as still married and any subsequent relationship is considered adultery (Matthew 19:8-9). It isn't that you shouldn't divorce for unbiblical grounds; you can't divorce for unbiblical grounds. Nevertheless, if someone divorces with proper grounds, then they are free to remarry (1 Corinthians 7:15).

e. It covers one's garment with violence: Part of the marriage ceremony in Bible times involved the husband covering his wife with his garment as a symbol of the protection he brought her. But now, their garments were covered with violence. When a wife is forsaken or mistreated the man covers his own garment with violence. This is because the husband and wife are one, and he cannot mistreat his wife without bringing misery and destruction to himself.

i. This is Paul's point in Ephesians 5:28: So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. Simply said, when you love your wife, you benefit yourself.  Perhaps it is better to put it in the negative: when you neglect your wife, you neglect yourself, and it will come back to hurt you.

ii. We all know what it is like to neglect something - like a noise or a maintenance issue on an automobile - and it comes back to hurt you.  Husbands, it is even more true regarding your wife, because she is part of you.

f. Therefore take heed to your spirit: This phrase is repeated twice because it is so important. The reason why the priests dealt treacherously against their wife is that they did not take heed to their spirit. They allowed their hearts to become hard, critical, and embittered against the woman they were supposed to regard as their special, God-given companion in oneness.

i. It is important to realize that we can change our feelings towards our spouse. If we do not feel loving or connected or caring about them, that can be changed if we will take heed to our spirit.

4. (Mal 2:17) The fourth question: Where is the God of justice in this unjust world?

You have wearied the LORD with your words; yet you say, "In what way have we wearied Him?" In that you say, "Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and He delights in them," or, "Where is the God of justice?"

a. Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD: The people of God in Malachi's day were depressed and discouraged because it seemed like the wicked prospered and had it better than the godly. This filled them with doubt and unbelief, and they grumbled that everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD.

b. Where is the God of justice? When they compared themselves with others, they thought it was unjust of God to bless others and not them. Nevertheless, their question shows that they don't understand what the God of justice would give to them.

c. You have wearied the LORD with your words: This kind of ignorant, unbelieving talk from God's people is wearisome to God. It shows how much His people resist His truth and His work.

i. "God is offended when people accuse Him of injustice." (Boice)

© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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