Malachi Lesson Four – Judah’s Unfaithfulness

10 Don’t all of us have one Father? Didn’t one God create us? Why then do we act treacherously against one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? 11 Judah has acted treacherously, and a detestable thing has been done in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned  the Lord’s sanctuary, which He loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12 To the man who does this, may the Lord cut off  any descendants from the tents of Jacob, even if they present an offering to the Lord of Hosts. 

13 And this is another thing you do: you cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning, because He no longer respects your offerings or receives them gladly from your hands. 

14 Yet you ask, “For what reason?” Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have acted treacherously against her, though she was your marriage partner and your wife by covenant. 15 Didn’t the one God make us with a remnant of His life-breath? And what does the One seek? A godly offspring. So watch yourselves carefully, and do not act treacherously against the wife of your youth. 

16 “If he hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord God of Israel, “he covers his garment with injustice,” says the Lord of Hosts. Therefore, watch yourselves carefully, and do not act treacherously. (HCSB)

This passage begins with a rhetorical question about Judah’s lineage. In contrast to the beginning of Malachi, which addresses a physical bloodline lineage (Jacob), here the focus is on the spiritual lineage of Judah.

Verse 10

The first two questions in verse ten lead into the passage’s focus; why do we act wrongly against each other, trampling on the covenant of their ancestors?

The terms “Father” and “creator” both refer to God in a complementary manner. In addition, the terms “us” and “we” refer to all of mankind, while the “one another” is referencing those who are in a covenant relationship with Yahweh, the people of Israel. Therefore, let’s look at the idea of God’s fatherhood from both an Old and New Testament perspective.

  • Old Testament – A unique and exclusive relationship Yahweh established with Israel by His grace in choosing them through Abraham, redeeming them from Egypt, and forming the covenant with them at Mt. Sinai.
  • New Testament – Those in Christ are sons of God. However, one significant difference is that Christians are God’s child by adoption. In contrast, Israel is God’s son because He brought them into existence as a nation. 

In this passage, the context is the proper treatment of fellow Jews as spiritual siblings. The phrase “one another” literally means “a man with his brother.” Correctly understanding the original meaning adds weight to the statement as the Bible repeatedly views the ill-treatment of a brother as a serious offense. Judah pleaded for Joseph’s life in Genesis 37:27b “For he is our brother, our own flesh.” If Israel grasped the idea that God brought them as a group into a covenant relationship with Him, they should have understood that faithfulness was not only required to Yahweh but to each other, too.

The last part of verse ten refers not only to breaking a marriage covenant, referred to in verse fourteen, but also the covenant with Yahweh, the “covenant of our fathers.” Since the charge is against the entire nation of Israel and not just the priests, it points to the Mosaic covenant, which applied to Israel as a nation. 

Verse 11

The term “detestable” actually softens the meaning of the original Hebrew, which is better understood as an “abomination.” The root for abomination is “hate” or “abhor,” often referred to as actions resulting in the most serious form of defilement, which would require destruction or death as a penalty. It was applied to various immoralities such as homosexuality, prostitution, child sacrifice, witchcraft, dishonesty, violence, and perversion of justice. It was also used to describe reprehensible religious behavior such as idolatry. 

Ezekiel rebuked the priests for committing an abomination, “When you brought in foreigners, uncircumcised in both heart and flesh, to occupy My sanctuary, you defiled My temple.” (Ezekiel 44:7a). It was also recorded in 2 Chronicles 36:14, “All the leaders of the priests and people multiplied their unfaithful deeds, imitating  all the detestable practices of the nations, and they defiled the LORD’s temple that He had consecrated in Jerusalem.

Malachi’s charges were very serious. The same abominations that condemned the Canaanites to extinction recorded in Ezra 9:1-14 and resulted in death, destruction, and exile on a treasonous and apostate Israel were now being practiced by the covenant community that had been brought back from exile.

The Israelite men were marrying women who worshipped pagan gods, which resulted in the introduction of destructive forces to the covenant family of Israel. Marriage outside the covenant community, specifically the Canaanites, was forbidden by Moses because of the danger of turning the people away from God. 

  • Deuteronomy 7:3-4 Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, because they will turn your sons away from Me to worship other gods. Then the LORD’s anger will burn against you, and He will swiftly destroy you.
  • Exodus 34:16 Then you will take some of their daughters as brides for your sons. Their daughters will prostitute themselves with their gods and cause your sons to prostitute themselves with their gods.

Israel’s pre-exilic history in the Bible records numerous examples of the spiritual dangers associated with entering into relationships with pagans. However, it is clear to see that post-exilic Israel struggled with the same issue, as recorded in Ezra 9 and Nehemiah 13:23-30. Malachi also records the continued struggles with disobedience, even among the priests.

Verse 12

This is a difficult verse, especially when looking at the original Hebrew text. However, it is linked back to the previous verses and the term “cut off” denotes a radical removal or eradication. The same term was used in the following passages.

  • Genesis 9:11a I confirm My covenant with you that never again will every creature be wiped out (cut off) by the waters of a flood.
  • Joshua 11:21a At that time Joshua proceeded to exterminate (cut off) the Anakim from the hill country.

Being “cut off” should be viewed as a divine sentence of condemnation, with the eventual result of one’s name being cut off from the family of Israel.

Verses 13-16 deal with violations of the marriage covenant and an implied breach of Israel’s covenant with Yahweh.

Verse 13

The context of this verse is that the people failed to understand why Yahweh didn’t accept their offerings or respond to their weeping and groaning. The people were pouring out their hearts from a position of selfishness and a hardened heart, but their pleas were useless as long as their actions didn’t line up with God’s instructions. 

Verse 14

Here we find the answer as to why the weeping, groaning, and offerings referenced in the previous verse were not being accepted. The men in question had betrayed and broken the covenant relationship with their wives. However, it’s even more heinous than just breaking the marriage covenant. They had divorced their Jewish wives and married pagan wives. There are three main points to consider in this verse and the charge against the men.

  • The men had acted treacherously against their wives. 
  • The treachery is that the men had broken the marriage covenant that their wives had entered into with them.
  • The men were casting aside their marriage partners, the ones they had made a vow to love and protect within the marriage covenant.

Israel’s behavior was an insult to Yahweh before who they had sworn their covenants. Their breaking of the marriage covenant oaths and their mistreatment of their wives was another way Israel was slandering Yahweh, just like the insulting sacrifices described in 1:6-14.

Verse 15

This verse contains two main parts – the first deals with children, and the second deals with the marriage covenant.

Even though the men had divorced their wives, there still existed a remnant of the spiritual bond found in the marriage covenant. Moreover, the “oneness” of the marriage covenant has as its purpose of producing godly children with the assistance of God. Thus, it is now appropriate to review biblical marriage, which often is in at least contrast if not outright conflict with our modern view of marriage.

  • To Israelite families, the concept that having children was an option would have been offensive or ridiculous. 
    • Modern families often view their personal happiness or fulfilling life goals as the primary reason to get married. Children are an option.
    • This position is in direct conflict with the Bible, which instructed mankind to be fruitful and multiply. Genesis 1:28a God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.
    • Not having children would be ignoring God’s command to be “fruitful.”  
  • God’s intended purpose for a man and woman to enter into a marriage covenant was fruitfulness. As a side note, this is also a condemnation against same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage is not able to fulfill the biblical mandate by being fruitful and having children.

The last part of the verse once again deals with the marriage covenant and the unfaithfulness that the men showed. We (husbands) must always be on guard that we don’t act treacherously against our wives. In the context of the passage, the treachery was divorce. However, treachery, in our modern world, can take on many other practices. Here are a few of them.

  • Adultery
  • Pornography
  • Mistreatment
  • Abuse
  • Neglect

The list could be much longer, but the idea is that any action on the husband’s part that in some way negatively impacts the marriage covenant could be viewed as “treachery.”

Verse 16

There has been some disagreement about the “scope” of divorce in this verse. Many translations portray it as a general condemnation against divorce. However, that viewpoint would be in conflict with several passages in the Law that permitted or referred to divorce.

  • Deuteronomy 24:1-4
  • Leviticus 22:13
  • Numbers 30:9
  • Deuteronomy 22:13-19
  • Deuteronomy 22:28-29
  • Matthew 19:9
  • Even God had “divorced” the northern kingdom of Israel for her unfaithfulness and spiritual adultery – Jeremiah 3:8.

It appears from the context of the passage that the issue of divorce in this passage is the treacherous actions of the husbands, which violated the marriage covenant. The men had engaged in unjustifiable divorce for their own personal reasons or convenience. Any man who divorces his wife simply on the grounds that he no longer likes her is committing violence against her. These men had divorced their wives out of hate or greedy desires. They had forgotten the responsibilities that, as husbands, they were to pursue on behalf of their wives.

  • Blessings
  • Goodness
  • Praise
  • Peace
  • Justice

The husbands were robbing their wives of these and other things.

Applications

  • If we bring our requests before God in prayer and none are getting answered, even after significant periods of time, we need to examine the situation. It could be that our prayers are not aligned with God’s will. Or it could be, as in this passage, that we are living in disobedience or have committed some grave offense against God and/or others. If it is the latter case, we need to repent both to God and the individual(s) we have sinned against. They may or may not accept our apology, but we still need to do it. Some situations/relationships may never be restored. However, as the offender, we still need to make an attempt.
  • Entering into a covenant should not be taken lightly. In this passage, we see the seriousness of a covenant and the consequences of breaking a covenant. We sin not only against the person(s) in the covenant, but we also dishonor God by our actions.
  • There is a warning here about entering into a marriage covenant with an unbeliever. At the same time, that is not a biblical reason for divorcing a spouse. 
  • Although God hates divorce and it is never the first choice in a broken relationship, there are allowances for it in Scripture. If you were the offender, refer back to the first application. If you were the victim, know that God can heal all of our hurts, even though it may not feel that way as you are going through the situation or shortly thereafter. Just because a person has been the victim in a divorce doesn’t mean they should be made to feel dirty or shameful; they are not a lesser Christian for what happened. As fellow brothers or sisters in Christ, we should never judge or look down upon them, and neither should the church. As Jesus said in John 8:11b, “‘Neither do I condemn you,’ said Jesus. ‘Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.’”

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