Malachi: You Have Been Unfaithful To Your Wives and God
The people of God are in a covenant relationship with God, and marriage is a symbol of that. It is also a covenant that God expects us to keep and honor.
To really comprehend what’s going on, let’s look at it more closely. Verse 10 opens this dispute with a reminder: “Are we not all children of the same Father?” or, “Do we not all have one ancestor?” Now, this message was to the people of Israel, who did in fact share a common ancestry, having descended from Abraham. But, the follow-up question right after indicates that their human ancestry wasn’t the point: “Did not one God create us?”
This language invokes an image of God as a father. Remember, the first chapter started with God arguing that he does and has loved them as his chosen people, and this builds on that concept. He loves them as a good and perfect father who loves his children. But they needed to be reminded about this fundamental truth: that God created and sustained them, and that without him they would not exist.
This reflects a statement made way back in Deuteronomy 32:5-6
Deuteronomy 32:5–6 (CSB):5 His people have acted corruptly toward him; this is their defect—they are not his children but a devious and crooked generation. 6 Is this how you repay Yahweh, you foolish and senseless people? Isn’t he your Father and Creator? Didn’t he make you and sustain you?
Not only does verse 10 remind them that God is their father and creator, it specifically uses the wording that they were created by ONE God. This echoes their most fundamental creed, the shema, which, again, goes back to Deuteronomy. At the very beginning of the shema, in Deuteronomy 6:4, it starts by saying:
Deuteronomy 6:4 (CSB):4 “Listen, Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one.
This monotheistic statement of Jewish theology was something that set them apart from all the other nations and people groups, and at the core of their covenantal relationship with God. The very first of the 10 big commands given through Moses was to not worship any other gods. That was to be the most basic expression of their covenant, and of their love for God. Again, back to the shema: what comes after “Listen, Israel Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one?” The very next verse is “LOVE Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength.”
So, the way verse 10 opens, it’s an implication and an invocation of Jewish theology and their covenantal relationship with God. It says “Isn’t this true?” “Don’t we all have one father? Hasn’t one God created us?” And then it follows up with “Then why are we unfaithful to each other?” or “Why are have we been treacherous” or “why have we betrayed” each other? Profaning, violating the covenant of our ancestors.
How exactly have they violated the covenant? Verse 11 goes on to explain:
Malachi 2:11 (NLT):11 Judah has been unfaithful, and a detestable thing has been done in Israel and in Jerusalem. The men of Judah have defiled Yahweh’s beloved sanctuary by marrying women who worship idols.
Remember, Malachi was written to people around the same time as the events in Ezra and Nehemiah. To get more of the picture of what was going on, we can look at Nehemiah’s first-hand account:
Nehemiah 13:23–27 (NLT):23 About the same time I realized that some of the men of Judah had married women from Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. 24 Furthermore, half their children spoke the language of Ashdod or of some other people and could not speak the language of Judah at all. 25 So I confronted them and called down curses on them. I beat some of them and pulled out their hair. I made them swear in the name of God that they would not let their children intermarry with the pagan people of the land. 26 “Wasn’t this exactly what led King Solomon of Israel into sin?” I demanded. “There was no king from any nation who could compare to him, and God loved him and made him king over all Israel. But even he was led into sin by his foreign wives. 27 How could you even think of committing this sinful deed and acting unfaithfully toward God by marrying foreign women?”
So, Nehemiah saw this problem and got pretty passionate about it! He called down curses on them, beat them and pulled out their hair! Whoa! Obviously, this was a big deal to Nehemiah, because he knew it was a big deal to God.
Not only were these men marrying women who led them to worship foreign gods and idols, they were divorcing their Jewish wives for no reason other than to go run off with these foreign wives!
They had previously entered into covenant relationships with their wives. That’s what marriage is. A covenant relationship. And that covenant marriage with their wives served as a mirror image of their covenant “marriage” relationship with God! So, they were simultaneously “profaning” or “violating” two covenant relationships, by divorcing their wives and running off with women who caused them to worship idols. This was treacherous, and tragic.
Israel had lost sight of what it meant to be in a relationship with God, AND what it meant to be in a relationship with their wives. Now, this message in Malachi is obviously directed at the men, blaming the husbands, not the wives for their divorces and idolatry. However, understanding the concept of these covenant relationships and how they reflect each other, is a message that applies to all of us.
So, I want to talk about marriage for a moment. A lot of this message is going to focus on marriage, because that’s the focus of the passage. But I don’t want single people to tune out just because of that.
Whether you are married or single, we are all called to be image bearers of God, and imitations of Christ’s love to all the people God brings into our lives. So, I think this message in Malachi, while it’s technically directed to married men, it applies to anyone who has made a commitment to love God and love others. Marriage is one beautiful expression of love, but Jesus taught that a broader expression of love would point people to him:
John 13:34–35 (NLT):34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
While this passage focuses on marital unfaithfulness, it applies to any breach of covenant agreements, or broken promises. In their case, they left their wives for other women and worshiped other gods.
And marriage really is the most intimate and intense human relationship, which is why it is used to symbolize Israel’s (and our) relationship with God. So, let’s talk about marriage for a minute.
The tradition of marriage, and the idea of it being a sacred institution, goes back way farther than the Mosaic covenant, or even the Abrahamic covenant. In fact, it’s the most ancient tradition held by humans in the whole history of the world! Every culture on earth, across every time period has instituted marriage in some form.
It began with creation itself! Genesis 1 focuses on the fact that God made humans in his own image, how they were created to represent him on Earth. They were told to multiply and fill the earth and rule it on God’s behalf.
Then, in Genesis 2, we’re given some more details as to the process by which God created the first man and woman, and it focuses in on their relationship with each other. After God created the first man, Adam, he knew that in order for him to fulfill his purpose as a human, he would need a partner. For Adam to function in his role in creation, he needed help. He needed a woman. So, God gave him Eve.
In verse 23, Adam meets Eve for the first time, and says “AT LAST! Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (which is kind of a weird sounding phrase), but he’s essentially saying “God has finally given me my soulmate, my partner.” She’s the one who will allow humans to fulfill their role in creation, a role Adam couldn’t accomplish by himself.
And then we get to verse 24, which has this very important statement:
Genesis 2:24 (CSB): 24 This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh.
So, the story of Adam and Eve’s union is part of the story of creation…how God created the world. That’s the narrative content of Genesis 1-2. But this one verse, verse 24, stands out from the narrative. It’s like a side-note, or a little piece of built-in commentary. It explains the whole point of the preceding few verses. Why are these few details of Adam and Eve’s union included in this story?
Scripture, especially Old Testament narrative, is not often this convenient, in that it comes out and tells you the point of the story; what the takeaway is supposed to be.
Obviously, a lot has happened since the creation of the world, but the human origin story has a lasting significance that still applies today. And that’s what verse 24 is telling us:
This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh.
Why? Because that’s the model, the precedent that was set by the creator of the universe, when he breathed life into his first human emissaries on earth.
From the beginning of humanity, men and women have been coming together in this fundamental and sacred union…two becoming one.
To prove that Genesis 2:24 is important, and relevant even thousands of years later, you’ll find that Jesus actually quoted it, and so did Paul, in some of his epistles to the early church.
One place you’ll find it is in Ephesians chapter 5, where Paul is talking about how husbands and wives should treat each other, and he’s also talking about how that relates to the example Christ set for the church.
Ephesians 5:24–33 (NLT):24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything. 25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. 30 And we are members of his body. 31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
So, in this portion of his letter to the church in Ephesus Paul is talking simultaneously about marriage, and about Christ’s love for his bride, the church. He’s saying that wives must submit to, commit to, and trust their husbands, in the same way that Christians trust Jesus. BUT he’s also saying that husbands need to, in turn, exemplify Christ in the way they lead and love their wives. How did Jesus lead and love? By serving, in humility, selflessly, even to the point of sacrificing his very life for his beloved, not because we deserved it but because his love is unconditional.
So, that’s what marriage is supposed to be. As a husband and wife grow closer together, they grow closer to God, learning how to love each other and love God, and point other people to him in the process.
The situation in Israel, as we can see from both Malachi and Nehemiah, was quite the opposite of that.
Ultimately, the accusation in Malachi 2:10-16 is that of infidelity, and unfaithfulness. It’s betrayal. It’s treachery. And the last sentence of verse 16 is a very simple call to action: Don’t do it. Do not be faithless. Don’t betray each other, and don’t betray God.
That’s easy to say, isn’t it? But it’s not so easy to live it out sometimes. Israel turned their backs on their wives because somebody new and exciting came along, so they totally abandoned their first love, and went chasing after new women and new gods.
But this sin, this unfaithfulness isn’t just about the divorce. Really, the sin is that of adultery and idolatry. Those are the two actual commandments, two of the big 10, that they were breaking. The life of another prophet, Hosea, demonstrates how painful and heartbreaking martial infidelity is, which demonstrates how painful and heartbroken God feels when his people are unfaithful to him. Idolatry is to one’s relationship with God, as adultery is to one’s relationship with their spouse.
And, let’s face it, we in 2020 are no less prone to this sin than they Israel was in the second temple period. It’s tragically common, and not just in our culture! Yes, in the US and westernized culture in general, we have pervasive promiscuity in media, and high rates of both infidelity and divorce, but there are some cultures in which adultery is even more normalized, as Mike learned from his trip to Zambia. And reading the bible shows that this is a basic human tendency, a temptation very common to humankind. And it doesn’t even take physical action to become guilty of adultery! Some of you can probably guess what verse I’m going to read next:
Matthew 5:27–28 (NLT):27 “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Jesus, by making this statement, was laying on conviction and leaving no room for excuses. And this certainly makes the mind-boggling statistics on pornography consumption and addiction in our culture very concerning. The sobering reality is that destroying a marriage with infidelity can happen by sinning with your eyes and in your heart, and without even leaving your house.
And sometimes, it can seem impossible to avoid, so pervasive it has become in our culture, which is when we have to remember the encouragement and promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13:
1 Corinthians 10:13 (CSB):13 No temptation has come upon you except what is common to humanity. But God is faithful; he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to bear it.
That’s a great verse to commit to memory.
And in that verse is a great reminder, that simple statement: God is faithful. And he keeps his promises. We’ve seen that through Israel’s story in the Old Testament, and in the coming of his promised Messiah, Jesus, and we know that we can trust God to fulfill all that he has promised. I could quote a hundred verses, probably a hundred just from Psalms, but here’s just one from Numbers, a book in which God demonstrates that his covenant plan will always stay on track, even when his covenant people do not. They sin and complain and rebel, and God promises consequences, but also that he will fulfill his promise in the garden of Eden, and his covenants with Abraham and Moses.
Numbers 23:19 (CSB):19 God is not a man, that he might lie, or a son of man, that he might change his mind. Does he speak and not act, or promise and not fulfill?
He can do it because he’s God, NOT a human, and that’s good news. And that’s an underlying understanding that’s important to have when reading Malachi. In hindsight, we can see how God was still planning to send Jesus and fulfill the promise of a messiah, while in Malachi’s day everything seemed totally hopeless.
Today, we have the promise of his return and we can trust that God will fulfill his promise to restore, redeem earth and humanity to the form and purpose to which we were originally created. To love each other and God perfectly, in a glorious union with Him.
Now, back to Malachi, look again at verses 11-12:
Malachi 2:11–12 (CSB):11 Judah has acted treacherously, and a detestable act has been done in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned Yahweh’s sanctuary, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12 May Yahweh cut off from the tents of Jacob the man who does this, whoever he may be, even if he presents an offering to Yahweh of Heaven’s Armies.
They had profaned the sanctuary; which can refer to both the temple, and the people themselves. And even then, in that period in which they were supposed to offer sacrifices, it was never just about the sacrifice itself. This wasn’t a call to present more burnt offerings, it was a call to repentance. They could follow all the rituals perfectly, but if they weren’t sacrificing out of a broken and contrite heart, it would be pointless.
David understood this when he wrote Psalm 51, in which he was repenting of his sin of adultery with Bathsheba. And this happened after the prophet Nathan showed David his sin. Just like Malachi is showing Israel their sin, this is the goal, the desired result: repentance.
Psalm 51:16–19 (CSB):16 You do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it; you are not pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. You will not despise a broken and humbled heart, God. 18 In your good pleasure, cause Zion to prosper; build the walls of Jerusalem. 19 Then you will delight in righteous sacrifices, whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
Going through the motions of living a godly life, and doing good things in service to God and the church, when you meanwhile have ongoing, or unrepentant sin in your life, is worse than not doing those things at all.
On the other hand, when we DO truly repent, and offer a humbled heart to God, he forgives and accepts us. That’s what he WANTS to do. Of course, like David experienced, there are often consequences for sin, earthly results of our actions. But Jesus offered himself as the ultimate sacrifice for our sin, so that we can be forgiven and restored through him:
1 John 1:9 (CSB):9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
So, with all the heaviness of this message, Jesus the one who is willing to lift that burden, if you just trust him to do so.
As we wrap up today I encourage you to invite the Holy Spirit to convict you of any sin, whether it’s lust or idolatry or hatred or greed, if there is any sin you have been blind to or become calloused to or simply ignored, I promise God can show it to you if you’re willing to look. And when he does, confess and repent with a humble heart. To him directly, and to anyone in your life who you may have wronged or hurt. It’s not fun, it’s not easy, and it’s not comfortable, but it gives life, brings healing, and ultimately reason to rejoice in the incredible love and mercy God shows us.