Malachi 2:10-16: Profaning Marriage
Topic: Default Passage: Malachi 2:10–16
Malachi 2:10-16: Profaning Marriage
Our Scripture reading this morning comes from Malachi 2:10-16. It says,
10 Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? 11 Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12 May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the Lord of hosts! 13 And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord's altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. 16 “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”
May God bless the reading of his Word.
It has been said that the historian, Edward Gibbon, attributed The Decline and Fall of Rome to five reasons: (1) The rapid increase of divorce, or the undermining of the dignity and sanctity of the home, that is, the basis of human society. (2) Higher and higher taxes; and the spending of public money on bread and circuses. (3) The mad craze for pleasure, with sports becoming more exciting and more brutal with each passing year. (4) The building of gigantic armies to fight external enemies, when the deadliest enemy—that is, the decadence of the people—lay within the empire. And (5) The decay of religion; faith fading into mere form, losing touch with life, and becoming impotent to guide. Now, if that is not a commentary for our country in our day and age, I don’t know what is.
But we are not alone in this digression. For Israel also experienced such decay—at least in terms of its view regarding marriage—in Malachi’s day. They too experienced a rapid increase in divorce, and an undermining of the dignity and sanctity of the home, because of Gibbon’s fifth reason that he gave: the decay of their faith fading into mere form. Because Israel’s priests failed to guard the knowledge of God and seek his instruction, the nation not only declined spiritually, but morally as well. You could say, as goes the Church, so goes the home. And as goes the home, so goes the nation. If home life collapses in a rapid, large-scale fashion, empires and nations will soon follow. Jesus says in Mark 3:25 “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” In the aftermath of World War II in the 1940’s and the Sexual Revolution of the 1960’s, our country experienced a significant, widespread surge in divorce. And although divorce rates have fallen in recent years, marriage rates have dropped, too. Meaning that, more and more people have either chosen to not get married, or cohabitate, benefits without commitment. And so, as with Rome, as with Israel, the dignity and sanctity of the home remains undermined in our time and place, with women and children often experiencing—as a result—more negative consequences than men.
In today’s text, we see the men of Israel perpetuating the same trend, by divorcing or never marrying believing spouses, instead choosing wives for themselves who worship other gods. The issue has its roots in idolatry, with man thinking he knows better than God as to how he should live.
So, what should we do with this most basic and important of human relationships, the marriage relationship? And how should we then live? Which leads us to the main idea of our text today: Be faithful in your marriage to your faithful, believing spouse, so that, (1) your worship pleases God, and (2) your faithfulness cultivates an environment to raise godly offspring.
Back in ch1, vv1-5, God reminded his people that he had sovereignly elected them to be his. They had returned from Persian exile about 100 years before, still under Persian rule, with their land reduced to a mere fraction of its former glory. As a result, they had forgotten God’s love, because their sinfulness had caused them to experience God’s judgment. So, God called them in ch1, vv6-14 to give him their best, for he is worthy. Instead, they brought God their worst, offering sacrifices that were blind, lame, and sick. And so, God cursed the priests in ch2, vv1-9 for allowing this, chastising them for their failure to give honor to God by guarding knowledge and seeking his instruction. And as the priests had gone, so had gone the people. One unfaithfulness led to another. And in today’s text we see a practical outworking of unfaithfulness to God, manifested in unfaithfulness in marriage.
And unfaithfulness in marriage—on the part of the one who commits unfaithfulness—often begins with a strained, or non-existent relationship with God. Meaning that if I fail to honor God, seeking his instruction, repenting of sin, and requesting his forgiveness, eventually my strained relationship with God will result in a strained relationship with others, even in the most intimate of human relationships: the relationship I have with my spouse. The implication being that—for my part—if I want to be in right relationship with my spouse, I need to be in right relationship with God. Because Israel ignored their relationship with God, a practical outworking of that unfaithfulness resulted in a perverse understanding of marriage.
I. Marrying—or yoking oneself with—unbelievers profanes God’s covenant and nullifies worship, 10-14
In other words, if we forsake intimacy with our spouse, and cultivate intimacy—sexual, fantasy, or otherwise—with another, believer, or unbeliever, we fail to worship God in the ways he prescribes, and we profane, vulgarize, and violate God’s covenant promises.
A. Those who violate the marriage covenant face God’s punishment, 10-12
“Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us?” So, two rhetorical questions, both with an affirmative answer: we have one Father, one God, who created us. And in calling himself ‘Father,’ and not just ‘Creator,’ God uses covenantal language, signifying his special relationship with his people. He is creator of all, but the Father of his people. “Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?” As their Father, God had covenanted with his people in relationship. They in turn should emulate that covenant-keeping behavior by marrying among God’s people. Not only was that the custom of their forefathers prior to Moses’ day when the law was given, but it was expressly forbidden in the law to marry outside the faith. Deuteronomy 7 commands them to not intermarry with the nations, for they will turn away your children from following God to serving other gods. In Malachi’s day, Israel kept the forms of worshipping Yahweh, but ignored his word. As a result, they married outside of the faith. And in so doing, they violated—they profaned—God’s covenant. Now the word ‘profane’ refers to treating something meant to be holy, as ordinary, or common, as unholy. In this case, their marriages looked just like the marriages of the world.
“Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the LORD, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god.” So, specifically, they profaned God’s covenant—and now God’s sanctuary—by marrying women from the pagan nations around them. They married unbelievers. And then they had the audacity to present themselves before the LORD in worship as if they had done nothing wrong. God had called Israel to be a holy nation in Deuteronomy 7:6 and to be God’s sanctuary in Psalm 114:2. But, apparently, they knew better than God as to how to live.
And that decision comes with consequences. Verse 12 says, “May the LORD cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the LORD of hosts!” God takes marrying outside of the faith so seriously that a curse comes upon those who profane this covenantal obligation of marrying inside the faith. God does not see marriage as a means of evangelism. Meaning there is no justification for marrying an unbeliever in the hopes that you may influence them to convert. Now I realize that sometimes happens, but, perhaps, more often it does not. We see this in the example of Solomon. Even though he was the king—and arguably one of the most powerful men in the world, in his time—“when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God,” 1 Kings 11:4. If one of the most powerful men in the world could not influence his wives to follow the LORD God, what makes us think we can? In fact, what makes us think that we will not be negatively influenced, to not be solely true to God. Influence works both ways. So, we must obey God rather than man, or woman.
B. God rejects the worship of those who violate the marriage covenant, 13-14
This is serious. “And this second thing you do. You cover the LORD’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand.” Violating the marriage covenant grieves God so much that he cannot accept worship from the one who violates it. Now permit me for a second to open the aperture a little wider. Because not only does the violation of a marriage covenant grieve God to the point of him not being able to accept worship, but also any habitual sin keeps God from accepting worship and answering prayer. In Jeremiah 14 God says, “Thus says the Lord concerning this people: They have loved to wander thus; they have not restrained their feet; therefore, the Lord does not accept them.” Which results in God saying, “I will not hear their cry.” God does not even see their sacrifice. He does not hear their prayers. Instead, he sees their sin, and the destruction it causes. Now, to get back to the text at hand: Were they marrying outside of the faith because there were no spouses to be had inside the faith? —No. They followed the lust of their own hearts, and their own fallen, faithless reason.
“But you say, ‘Why does he not?’”—that is, why does God not accept the offering—“Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.” So, apparently, they had been married to believing spouses. But—it seems—they divorced those believing spouses to pursue relationships with unbelievers, as chronicled in the book of Ezra. One commentator says, “These women were being cast aside like an old garment for something new and fresh and exciting, but thoroughly worldly. Whatever had been there as holy matrimony was now being replaced by profane fornication.” They had violated their covenantal obligations to their spouses.
In his book, God, Marriage, and Family, the theologian Andreas Köstenberger, presents three models regarding the nature of marriage: sacramental, contractual, and covenantal. Some see marriage as a sacrament or means of obtaining grace, with its root in church law. Others see marriage as a contract between two individuals to be formed, maintained, or dissolved whenever one or two parties wish to, with its roots in civil law. And still others see marriage as a covenant or sacred bond between a man and a woman instituted by and entered into before God, with its root in divine law, as we see here in this passage. I think this third model is what we see most faithfully conveyed in Scripture. We, as Christians, see marriage as a covenant, not as a means of dispensing God’s grace, or as a contract to be made and dissolved whenever we should so wish it, but as a sacred, intimate, human bond that has cosmic implications as we see here in this passage. They took a contractual view of marriage. And thereby broke covenant with God and their believing spouses and, in essence, covenanted with the world.
Now if you are already married to a believer, or perhaps are not married, you may be tempted by now to entertain a self-satisfied, self-assurance, perhaps thinking, “He’s not talking about me. This passage is for someone else, some more blatant, more gross sinner than I.” But I am talking about all of those who are prone to wander. In other words, all of us.
Everyone who looks at a person with lustful intent has already committed adultery in his or her heart, Matthew 5:28. They—we—have broken covenant with God in our hearts. But this is not as it should be. For we are members of Christ’s body—1 Corinthians 6—and should therefore, flee sexual immorality, for a sexually immoral person sins against his or her own body. You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So, glorify God in your body. It does not glorify God to join with someone not your spouse, to join with an unbeliever, whether in actuality or in fantasy. And let me just be clear that this text in no way suggests that a believer divorces an unbelieving spouse. 1 Corinthians 7 makes clear that you stay married to that unbelieving spouse, so long as they are willing. But it is not as God intended. He would that you be equally yoked, believer to believer. 2 Corinthians 6:14, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” Do you want a surefire way of stunting worship and spiritual growth? Marry—or covenant with someone—outside of the faith. Now for those, perhaps, already in that situation of being a believer married to an unbeliever, God is good and gracious, and will uphold you. You stay in that situation; you be faithful and God will be faithful to you. In vv10-14, marrying unbelievers profanes God’s covenant and nullifies worship.
II. Remaining faithful to your believing spouse guards against divorce and cultivates an environment to raise godly offspring, 15-16
Now surely God remains sovereign and can surely raise up godly offspring even in cases of divorce, unfaithfulness, and unbelief. The God who created the heavens and the earth, and condescends to come to earth to live perfectly, die vicariously, and raise victoriously can do whatsoever he wills. Now with that said, God still calls us to faithfulness. We should not put him to the test, by justifying sinfulness, saying, “I will pursue what I want. God can clean it up later.” God would have you, for your part, remain faithful.
“Did he”—that is, God—“not make them”—that is, the believing couple—“one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union?” So God made them one flesh, united in mind and spirit, with the Spirit of God in their very midst, as they shared the same faith, served the same LORD, and extended that faith to the next generation. “And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.” The one God created them to be one flesh in a covenantal, god-fearing marriage to cultivate an environment where godly offspring could be raised. If both spouses show themselves to be devout followers of God, they give their children better opportunity to be properly influenced towards becoming devout followers of God themselves. “So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none be faithless to the wife of your youth.” Now surely God is able from stones to raise up children for Abraham. Again, he can raise godly offspring without both parents being devout believers. God can use any means necessary to accomplish his ends. He has, and he will. But that is no excuse to use any means possible—in this case, disobedience to God in marrying outside the faith—in the hope that the ends be the outcome you desire—in this case, godly offspring. For your part, be faithful. Do not put the LORD your God to the test, Deuteronomy 6:16, Luke 4:12.
We must be constantly vigilant. “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts.” Now commentator after commentator confesses that this is one of the most difficult Hebrew texts to translate. Are we talking about God’s hatred of divorce as some translations say, or the hatred—or lack of love—of the divorcing man to his wife as other translations say? Regardless, this much is clear: the man who breaks God’s covenant of marriage—a covenant that goes all the way back to creation in Genesis 2:24—commits a grievous offense against God, violates creation order itself by nullifying that covenantal relationship with both God and his wife, and deeply damages his character, or covers his garment with violence. Meaning that God sees divorce as violence against victims of divorce, be it the children or the married party trying to stay in the marriage. It wreaked havoc and upheaval in both their lives and in society, as a whole. More heinously it violated God’s covenant, a covenant he loves. Jesus says in Matthew 19, that “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” and “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
“So”—Malachi concludes—“guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” So how might we guard this most intimate of human relationships? Allow me to share 4 principles of how to C.A.R.E. for marriages in particular, and all human relationships in general. (1) Communication: with this principle in mind from James 1:19, “Be quick to hear, slow to speak.” And when you do speak, you communicate humbly and patiently. But more often you should listen intently—with your whole attention—and listen in a nondisruptive fashion, not thinking what to say next. And most importantly communicate with God in prayer consistently, for you and I need more help than we often realize.
(2) Attitude: an attitude of gratitude. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” That’s the attitude. Attitude has to do with perspective, not circumstance; how you see things, not what you’re going through. For instance, when a robber robbed the theologian and pastor, Matthew Henry, he had this to say, “Let me be thankful first because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.” That’s a godly attitude despite aggravating circumstances. Let’s have that same attitude in our relationships.
(3) Reconciliation: “First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift,” Mark 5:24. Marriage, as in any relationship, is the union of two good forgivers. I had a professor who made the analogy that we should treat forgiveness the way football players treat fumbles. When the ball is fumbled, players do not stand around and assign blame, or haughtily declare that it wasn’t their fault folding their arms waiting for the guilty party to act, declaring, “He dropped it, he should pick it up.” No. That would be insane. Instead, they just dive on the ball to recover the ball. In the same way, we should dive on forgiveness to recover reconciliation. Who’s fault is it? Who cares. There will be time for that later if we see patterns of sin emerge. Otherwise, when it comes to conflict be as honest and as generous with the other person as you would be with yourself, keep current, be non-reactive, and focus on solving the problem rather than assassinating the character of the other.
And (4) Expectation: with the mindset given to us in Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Problems happen in the gap between expectation—what we hope it will be like—and reality—what it’s actually like. Maybe you didn’t marry the wrong person. Maybe you just have the wrong view of marriage, as if it were meant to make you happy, rather than to make you holy. But an unmet expectation often leads to frustration, doesn’t it? This is my biggest problem. Which leaves me two options: (1) reduce my expectations or (2) improve my performance. Both of those are hard, so I guess I’ll just lazily make it harder on myself by continuing with high expectations and low performance.
In Song of Solomon 2:15, the bride warns her beloved, “Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyard,” she says. In other words, watch out for the cute, cunning, little things that seep in and destroy your relationship. Foxes are small, but do not underestimate the damage they can do. Foxes are smart, but for their benefit and not yours. Foxes are pretty, but they cannot be domesticated. Little things destroy love. For instance, when David saw Bathsheba, it has been said that a little laziness—not going to war when he should have—led to a little look, to a little call, to a little touch, to a little baby, to a little murder, which led to a little curse. This is serious.
Malachi gives us three warnings in this passage. Divorcing a believer and/or marrying an unbeliever: (1) destroys worship, (2) hinders producing godly offspring, and (3) damages the covenant of marriage. What is actually at stake here? Why would God place such a high emphasis on marital fidelity? Because Ephesians 5 will later reveal this to be a Gospel issue. The Gospel itself is at stake. In Ephesians 5, God compares the relationship between a husband and wife with the relationship between Christ and his church. Just as our relationship with God is meant to be primary, permanent, exclusive, and intimate, so is our relationship with our believing spouse. God designed marriage to provide an earthly portrait of our relationship with him.
Now no marriage is perfect. It will take real commitment, real work, constant repentance on our parts, a lot of prayer, and God’s power to remain faithful to the covenant of marriage. It will take attentiveness in a way that the world does not always know. As God remains faithful to you, so remain faithful in your marriage. And knowing that we cannot remain faithful in our own strength, God sent his son, Jesus, to be faithful to God in a way that we never could. And when we accept our broken, sinful condition, repenting of that, asking that God would cover that offense by the blood of his son, Jesus, who lived a perfect life, and died an atoning death, we might be forever changed to live out of his strength, who keeps the covenant on our behalf and gives us the ability to keep covenant with our spouse. Outside of God’s grace, we are God- and marriage-profaners. All of us need God’s help and God’s forgiveness. None of us has gotten this completely right. But there is mercy, grace, and forgiveness at the cross. God wants your marriage relationship to work, because it is a picture of his relationship with you. As God has taken all of the initiative to make his relationship with us work, so we, as Christians, should do likewise in taking all of the initiative we possibly can with our spouse. So what initiative might you need to take. Of those 4 principles of caring for our relationships, where might you need to grow and change the most? How might you guard yourselves in your spirit, and not be faithless?