9. Love, Worship, and Marriage (Malachi 1-2)

Audio (58:33)

James J. Tissot, detail from ‘Malachi’ (1898-1902), gouache on board, The Jewish Museum, New York.
James J. Tissot, detail from 'Malachi' (1898-1902), gouache on board, The Jewish Museum, New York.

Ezra and Nehemiah (active from 458 to about 430 BC) have worked hard to secure Jerusalem from its enemies, purify the priesthood, establish support for temple worship, and deal with ethical issues that plagued the returned exiles. Ezra approaches it from the standpoint of a priest scribe -- through the Word of God. Nehemiah approaches it from the standpoint of a godly administrator -- through covenants, laws, and procedures. But God also sends Malachi, who approaches these problems from the standpoint of a prophet -- through pointed words from God designed to reveal the heart and urge God's people to godly living.

We're not sure exactly when Malachi was written, since it doesn't include any historical mentions that might help us place it in an historical timeline. But the problems Malachi addresses are consistent with exiles who have become complacent. Some date it in the period from 500 to 475 BC, prior to Ezra's coming, though many place it a bit later, perhaps 450 to 430 BC, contemporaneous with the ministry of Ezra and Nehemiah..

Malachi seems to be divided into six oracles or prophecies. We'll cover three in this lesson and three in Lesson 10. Malachi's style is to set up a kind of "disputation." He asks rhetorical questions that might be in the mouths of his hearers. And then proceeds to answer them with words spoken directly from Yahweh. The effect is similar to the reasoned and forceful argumentation typical of a courtroom setting.[269]

Malachi's name means "messenger." Some have wondered if this is his real name. I think so; a number of prophets and kings in the Old Testament have meaningful names. I have a friend who calls him "the Italian prophet" by mispronouncing his name with the "ch" sound rather than the hard "k" sound -- ma-LA-chee vs. MAL-a-kai vs. (It's a joke, friends.)

Let's turn now to the various oracles or prophecies by which Yahweh seeks to renew his people.

Oracle 1. Jacob Loved, Esau Hated (Malachi 1:1-5)

"An oracle: The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi." (Malachi 1:1)

The word translated "oracle" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "burden" (KJV) is a heavy prophetic "pronouncement" accompanied by strong warnings. [270]

"2 'I have loved you,' says the LORD.
But you ask, "How have you loved us?"

'Was not Esau Jacob's brother?' the LORD says. 'Yet I have loved Jacob, 3 but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.'" (Malachi 1:2-3)

It's easy to over-translate these words "love" and "hate" to make them seem extreme polar opposites. The Hebrew word "love" (ʾâhêb) can cover anything from intense personal affection to preference for a specific food.[271] In the same way "hate" (śānēʾ) can range from deeply detesting something to a desire to avoid.[272] But it's fair to say that God is at least saying that he strongly prefers Jacob over Esau.

These verses are what we might think of as a kind "backhanded compliment." God is saying that Israel can see his love for them by comparing their reasonably good situation to the terrible judgment he has wreaked upon Edom, the traditional territory of Esau. Though Edom rebuilds, God promises that he will destroy them again.

Originally, of course, Jacob (Israel) and Esau are brothers. But, of the two, Jacob seeks God, while Esau doesn't seem to have much interest in his birthright or in God's promises. All this had taken place 1,500 years or so before Malachi's time. The results of those original ancestors' affections -- and God's gracious and faithful love to Jacob -- were that a remnant of Jacob's descendants followed Yahweh (sometimes only nominally), while Esau's descendants worshipped fertility gods and goddesses.

At this point, Yahweh considers Edom "the Wicked Land,[273] a people always under the wrath of the LORD" (Malachi 1:4b).

"You will see it with your own eyes and say, 'Great is the LORD -- even beyond the borders of Israel!'" (Malachi 1:5)

God promises that Israel will see the judgment upon Edom and attribute it to God's greatness as the universal God, not just the parochial, national God of Israel only.

Paul picks up this passage in Romans 9:10-15 to illustrate that God's election is entirely dependent upon His will, not upon the strivings of men.

You and I suffer various problems. But when we look at the blessings we experience from following the Lord, compared to the personal lives of those who have turned their backs on God, we can see what God has protected us from. Praise the Lord.

Oracle 2. Sincere Worship (Malachi 1:6-14)

The prophet has laid a foundation of assuring Israel of God's love. Now he asks: If I am a Father who loves you, why don't you treat me with respect?

"'A son honors[274] his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor[275] due me? If I am a master, where is the respect[276] due me?' says the LORD Almighty." (Malachi 1:6)

I can almost hear the famous line from American stand-up comedian Rodney Dangerfield (1921-2004) -- "I don't get no respect at all!"

When we treat holy things casually, we show that we don't respect God. I hope I don't offend you deeply in saying this, but when we put other things in front of gathering to worship God weekly, we disrespect God. Weekly worship must not be dependent upon the "quality" of the churches available in our community or our busyness. Worship is about God -- our respect for him and our love for him.

Showing Contempt for God (Malachi 1:6-10)

God's strongest indictment concerning disrespect, however, doesn't focus on the people's general disrespect only, but on the priests who should know better and allow the disrespect in the first place.

"It is you, O priests, who show contempt[277] for my name.[278]
But you ask, 'How have we shown contempt for your name?'
7 You place defiled[279] food[280] on my altar. [281]
But you ask, "How have we defiled you?"
By saying that the LORD's table[282] is contemptible.[283] 8 When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?' says the LORD Almighty." (Nehemiah 1:6-8)

What's going on is that people are taking the attitude: So long as I bring some kind of sacrifice, that's all I need to do. And why should I bring my best animal to sacrifice, an animal I can get top dollar for in the market? Instead, I'll bring animals of lesser value to the temple, animals that have defects such as blindness or injured limbs or various diseases. That way I can get rid of the poorest of my flock and still perform my religious duties.

You can see the deep disrespect for God inherent in such thinking. And the Mosaic Law is very clear about this.

"If an animal has a defect, is lame or blind, or has any serious flaw, you must not sacrifice it to the LORD your God." (Deuteronomy 15:21)

Again and again you see the phrase "without blemish" or "without defect" (Deuteronomy 17:1).

The priests know the Law -- or are supposed to. But they accept inferior sacrifices nevertheless. Why? Perhaps they are getting paid under the table to do so. Or perhaps they don't care. Or perhaps they feel that something is better than nothing. Whatever the reason, the people who bring the sacrifices demonstrate deep disrespect towards God -- and the priests even more, because they know better.

How will the nation -- and their neighbors around them -- understand the greatness of God when his own people and priests treat him disrespectfully?

"'My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,' says the LORD Almighty." (Malachi 2:11)

Attacking God's Reputation (Malachi 1:12-13)

Now the prophet goes back to the priests' attitude that profanes Yahweh's name and reputation.

"12 'But you profane it by saying of the Lord's table, "It is defiled," and of its food, "It is contemptible." 13 And you say, "What a burden!" and you sniff at it contemptuously,"' says the LORD Almighty. 'When you bring injured,[284] crippled or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?' says the LORD." (Malachi 1:12-13)

The priests probably don't actually utter the words, "The altar is defiled," and "These sacrifices are worthless." They say all the prescribed words of the ritual, but their actions speak louder than words of their disregard of God and his commandments. The priests see their ministry as a tiresome burden[285] rather than a privilege to bring reconciliation between man and God.

This casual attitude towards sacrifices "profanes" the Lord's name. The Hebrew word is ḥālal, "profane, defile, pollute, desecrate," with the idea of doing acts of "violence to the established law of God, breaking the covenant, or the divine statutes."[286]

When we treat worship as meaningless and not worthy of our full participation, we are saying to the world, our God isn't worth honoring with our very best. Though we say we are followers of Christ, those are just words. We don't really care!

A Curse on Those Who Cheat God (Malachi 1:14)

Now Malachi utters a curse on Yahweh's behalf.

"'Cursed[287] is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,' says the LORD Almighty, 'and my name is to be feared among the nations." (Malachi 1:14)

The prophet has admonished and cursed the priests for accepting flawed sacrifices. Now he curses the people who bring flawed animals for sacrifice, while they keep the better animals for themselves. He calls them "cheats," from a verb that means to "act cleverly, cunningly, deceitfully."[288] These shrewd people think they're so smart in bringing defective sacrifices, but in doing so they bring on themselves God's curse and the punishments that come with it.

Instead of congratulating themselves for their cleverness, these cheats should call out to God for mercy.

"9 'Now implore God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?'[289] -- says the LORD Almighty. 10 'Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires[290] on my altar! I am not pleased[291] with you,' says the LORD Almighty, 'and I will accept[292] no offering from your hands.'" (Malachi 1:9-10)

You think that God doesn't see your terrible attitude? Of course he does, and he doesn't accept your sacrifices for forgiveness of sins. Which means that you are still in your sins before the Righteous and Living God, our God who is a "consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:9). Don't even bother to come to the temple, God says. Don't bother to light "useless fires" on the altar. Unless you come with repentance before a God whom you honor, it is better that you don't come at all.

I recall two other occasions when God's prophet denounces the corruption of temple worship. First, Eli allows his sons to steal the worshippers' portion of the sacrifices they are bringing to the temple.

"The sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the LORD, for the men treated the offering of the LORD with contempt."[293] (1 Samuel 2:17, ESV)

And the punishment is severe, affecting their father, and generations after them.

"I am about to punish [Eli's] house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them." (1 Samuel 3:12b-13)

The most familiar occasion, of course, is Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers and driving sheep and cattle out of the temple.

"He said to them, 'It is written, "My house shall be called a house of prayer," but you make it a den of robbers.'" (Matthew 21:13)

This was a powerful rebuke on the high priest's family who received a profit from sales of sacrifices and money changing within the temple. The punishment was severe: the temple was utterly destroyed in 70 AD.

Q1. (Malachi 1:6-14) How were the people and priests disrespecting God with regard to offering sacrifices? In what ways do we today disrespect God in our attitudes toward worship, in giving to God, and in regard to holy things? What is God saying to you personally as you ponder this?

Admonition for the Priests (Malachi 2:1-9)

Chapter 2:1-9 seems to be a continuation of Oracle 2, but now directed to the priests. Malachi has rebuked concerning laxity in offering blemished animals; now he warns the priests what will happen if they don't give "honor" (kâbôd) to Yahweh's name.

"1 'And now this admonition is for you, O priests. 2 If you do not listen, and if you do not set your heart to honor my name,' says the LORD Almighty, 'I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not set your heart to honor me.'" (Malachi 2:1-2)

They have dishonored Yahweh by accepting and then offering sick and blemished animals on the Lord's altar (Malachi 1:6-7). The curse probably involves withholding the blessings that he has promised his people if they're obedient. We saw in Haggai 1:10-11 a drought that severely affects both crops and cattle. When we get to Malachi 3:9-12 the curse for not bringing the whole tithe is small crops. The blessing is the removal of obstacles. God promises to send rain, prevent pests from ruining crops, and to help vines bear full clusters of grapes. The prophet continues.

"Because of you I will rebuke your descendants; I will spread on your faces the offal from your festival sacrifices, and you will be carried off with it." (Malachi 2:3)

The rebuke will extend to the next generations as well. "Offal" (NIV) or "dung" (ESV) from the sacrifices is the feces of the sacrifices after they are killed. To spread animal feces on one's face is a particularly strong rebuke.

Our God is the Great God who fashioned the Universe and beyond. He must not be treated casually or with disrespect. His worship must be sincere.

"Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
bring an offering,
and come into his courts!
Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth!" (Psalm 96:8-9)

In the Old Testament the sacrifice was an animal. In the New Testament the sacrifice is our own bodies (Romans 12:1-2) and our praise (Hebrews 13:15).

The Covenant with Levi (Malachi 2:4-8)

Now Malachi contrasts the priests' dishonoring Yahweh to God's original intention, a covenant with the tribe of Levi, which we discussed in Lesson 8 in some detail.

"Remember them, O my God, because they defiled the priestly office and the covenant of the priesthood and of the Levites." (Nehemiah 13:29)

In this passage, Malachi points to several additional elements of this covenant.

"4 And you will know that I have sent you this admonition so that my covenant with Levi may continue," says the LORD Almighty. 5 My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name." (Malachi 2:4-5)

This covenant with the priests results in "life and peace," that is, forgiveness and peace with God for those who present a sacrifice for their sins. But such a covenant must not be taken for granted. It calls for "reverence" (NIV, NRSV), "fear" (ESV, KJV). We are not to be terrified of God. But we must have great respect for him, and not abuse the intimacy he gives us with holy things.

"This called for reverence (môwrâʾ) and [Levi] revered (yārēʾ) me and stood in awe (ḥātat) of my name." (Malachi 2:5b)

Three separate words in verse 5 communicate this idea -- reverence (fear),[294] revered (feared),[295] and stood in awe (was afraid).[296]

There is a strong tendency in certain Christian circles to soft-pedal any idea of fear and terror in the Bible. I think it is a reaction to the overdone theme of fire and brimstone that preachers used to scare their listeners into converting. Instead, people today quote to us a New Testament verse:

"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." (1 John 4:18)

John rightly explains that faith based in fear isn't mature. Mature love for God moves from fear to love, so that actions are no longer motivated by fear of God's punishment but love for God himself. How very true!

Having said that, the New and Old Testaments are filled with incidents designed to create fear that brings respect for a Living and Awesome God. Many examples can be found in Jesus' teaching (Luke 12:5; Matthew 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30), Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:5), the fearsome visions of the Book of Revelation, Paul's writings (2 Corinthians 5:10-11; 1 Timothy 5:20) the warnings of Peter (2 Peter 2:4-22; 3:10-14), and of the writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 12:27-30).

In Defense of Fearing God

Most of us live in cultures that can hardly be called God-fearing. Rather, the culture prides itself on its irreverence and secularism. While politically-correct minds are loathe to make fun of Islam or Judaism, Christianity is fair play, and the characterization of God, Christians, and the Christian faith in the media is cheap, stereotyped, and merciless.

If you and I want to return to a biblical Christianity, we need to have a healthy fear of displeasing God -- and a fear of punishment and strong Fatherly discipline if we get out of line. Until we have a healthy respect for our Heavenly Father's wrath, we're just kidding ourselves if we purport to love him.

Two things have helped me understand this. First, I lived in Los Angeles for about twenty years where the traffic is notorious. I learned that if I wanted to turn left in downtown Los Angeles, I couldn't just wait for traffic to clear -- it never did. Rather, I learned to edge the nose of my car slightly into the lane of opposing traffic -- not enough to get hit, but enough to make drivers think I might pull out in front of them. It was essentially a game of "chicken." Once I learned this, I was able to navigate the city streets well enough. However, I made two exceptions: trucks and buses. Never play chicken with trucks and buses, because if they hit you, you'll be crushed. It's one thing to show disrespect for human beings; it's quite another to disrespect the Living God, whose wrath is well-known towards the rebellious, and only becomes mercy when we repent.

Second, is an experience I had while in college. I roomed with a fellow Christian. And over time we began to joke about the church, and holy things such as the Lord's Supper and anything else. Nothing was sacred to our so-called humor. One night during a marathon study, I went to the restroom down the hall to rinse out my coffee cup. Somehow, it slipped off the shelf above the sink, broke on the way down, deeply slicing my left thumb as I tried to catch it, and then shattered when it hit the sink. I wrapped my thumb in paper towels and walked up the hill to the college infirmary, where a nurse cleaned the wound and put a couple of butterfly-bandages on it to keep the sides of the wound together. On my way back to the dormitory, I asked the Lord why that had happened. He spoke to me very clearly, "Don't joke about holy things!" I immediately stopped joking, though my roommate didn't understand and thought I was being way too sanctimonious. But I learned. And every once-in-a-while I look at the scar on my left thumb and remember.

My dear friend, we must fear God's wrath and discipline enough to obey him, before we can move to a mature love for him.

Q2. (Malachi 2:5; 1 John 4:18) What does it mean to "fear God" in Old Testament days? Should we "fear God" now, as Christian believers? How does fear of God interface with our love for God? How does our love change the fear?

Teaching Priests (Malachi 2:6)

Malachi has been talking about the covenant of the priesthood.

"True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin." (Malachi 2:6)

I think Malachi is pointing to an ideal priest, not any single person. Especially, not Aaron, who in his early ministry enables the people to set up a golden calf to worship! (Exodus 32:1-6). The Pentateuch suggests that a primary role for the priests and Levites is to teach the people:

"[Levi] teaches your precepts to Jacob and your law to Israel...." (Deuteronomy 33:10)

"Act according to the law they teach you and the decisions they give you. Do not turn aside from what they tell you, to the right or to the left." (Deuteronomy 17:11)

"... Be very careful to do exactly as the priests, who are Levites, instruct you. You must follow carefully what I have commanded them." (Deuteronomy 24:8)

Though this priestly teaching ministry was often neglected, it occurs occasionally throughout the Old Testament.

"For a long time Israel was without the true God, without a priest to teach and without the law." (2 Chronicles 15:3; see also 2 Chronicles 35:3a)

"They taught throughout Judah, taking with them the Book of the Law of the LORD; they went around to all the towns of Judah and taught the people." (2 Chronicles 17:9)

Ezra, of course, is one of these teaching priests, and during his time,

"The Levites ... instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read." (Nehemiah 8:7-8)

The Ideal Priest (Malachi 2:6-8)

With that background on God's plan for a teaching priesthood, let's read Malachi's entire prophecy on teaching priests and then seek to understand his message.

"6 True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin. 7 'For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction -- because he is the messenger of the LORD Almighty. 8 But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble; you have violated the covenant with Levi,' says the LORD Almighty." (Malachi 2:6-8)

In a former passage (Malachi 1:6-14) Malachi has indicted the priests for failings in their ministry of atonement via animal sacrifice. Now he indicts them for their failings in their teaching responsibilities. Malachi is obviously contrasting the priesthood in his time with the covenant priesthood that God had envisioned. As I read this passage, I see many of the same requirements that are necessary for pastors today, who, like priests, function as mediators, ambassadors, relational links, to bring men to God. I see five elements of this priestly ministry in this passage.

  1. Offering true instruction (verse 6a, 7b).
  2. Walking with God in peace and uprightness (verse 6b).
  3. Turning many from sin (verse 6c).
  4. Serving as messengers of Yahweh (verse 7b).
  5. Preserving and guarding knowledge (verse 7a).

Let's look at them one by one.

1. Offering true instruction (verses 6a, 7b). Priests and pastors must offer "true instruction," in contrast to something "false ... found upon his lips." "True instruction" (NIV, NRSV, ESV) or "law of truth" is two words: tôrâ, "law, instruction,"[297] and ʾemet, "firmness, truth, verity," carrying an underlying sense of certainty, dependability.[298]

"True instruction" (verse 6) that a priest should bring is contrasted with that which is "false" (NIV), "wrong" (NRSV, ESV), "iniquity" (KJV). The word is ʿavlâh, "injustice, unrighteousness," acts or deeds that are contrary to what is right and righteous.[299] Priests are to be the judges and interpreters of the Torah. They are to decide cases brought to them, but in Malachi's time the priests themselves are both allowing and sometimes advocating that which is contrary to the law. Later, Malachi brings a powerful word from God against those who are unrighteous and unjust (Malachi 3:5)

In our own day, we hear lots of "feel good" messages that pass for "true instruction," but fail to deliver actual instruction that can change lives. In some instances, preachers are even declaring a false or incomplete gospel in the guise of Christianity. Fellow pastors and elders, we are responsible to God for what we teach.

2. Walking with God in peace and uprightness (verse 6b). In both Old and New Testaments, "walk" is used figuratively to describe one's habit of life. Enoch "walked with God" (Genesis 5:22-24), Ahaziah, an evil king of Judah, "walked in the way of the house of Ahab" (2 Kings 8:27). Paul points to the "sins in which you once walked, when you followed the ways of the world..." (Ephesians 2:1b-2a). He exhorts believers to "walk by the Spirit" (Galatians 5:16), "walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:4).

In fact, walking with Jesus is the quintessential act of a disciple. Jesus calls men and women, "Come, follow me." Walking is following, that's why I've named my Bible studies, the JesusWalk Bible Study Series.

When my family camps in state and national parks, we enjoy the scheduled Ranger Walks that help explain the wonders of nature. I've observed that on such walks, some people (usually children) run on ahead, some cluster around the ranger, listening and asking questions. Then behind, people are strung out for 50 or 100 feet or more. When the ranger stops to explain something, the people at the back have hardly caught up by the time the ranger is ready to go on. It's one thing to go on a Ranger Walk; it is quite another to walk with the ranger. Priests and pastors must walk with the Ranger.

Two words characterize this fellowship -- "in peace and uprightness." Peace (shalom) can refer generally to a state of blessing and wholeness. But here I think it points to a relationship of peace, a state of peace, between us and God, the opposite of a state of war that might exist because of rebelliousness. Paul declares concerning believers, "We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). "Uprightness" or "equity"[300] refers particularly to justice in judging and deciding the cases brought to them. As the priests serve as judges (Deuteronomy 17:9; Ezekiel 44:24), they need to be just and honest, rather than showing favoritism or taking bribes to sway their decision. A lack of justice is one of the reasons God has punished the priests.

"So I have caused you to be despised and humiliated before all the people, because you have not followed my ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law." (Malachi 2:9)

3. Turning many from sin (verse 6c). "Turned" occurs more than 1,000 times in the Old Testament, usually literally, but often figuratively in the sense of repentance.[301] The Hiphil stem here suggests causation, "cause to turn, cause to repent." A true priest or pastor turns many from sin. But the corrupt priests of Malachi's day, do the opposite.

"But you have turned[302] from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble."[303] (Malachi 2:8)

Jesus speaks harshly of those who cause others to sin.

"If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck." (Mark 9:42)

How do priests and pastors cause people to turn away from sin -- or cause people to sin? In two ways:

a. Example. Though people often complain about their leaders, they tend to pattern their lives after them, and after others in places of authority or the public eye. "If the President can do it, I guess it's okay for me." We know that in the time of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi, the high priest and his family were sinning deeply, marrying non-Jewish women, and failing to condemn marriage to foreign wives (Nehemiah 13:28-29). If a leader sets an upright, faithful example, he or she encourages others to do the same. That's why sports heroes often act as role models for their young, impressionable followers. Our children watch our lives and more often than not end up emulating us, for better or for worse. Thus Paul can say,

"Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." (1 Corinthians 11:1)

b. Teaching. In the teaching of priests and pastors, we can (1) accurately reflect the teaching of the Word, or we can (2) focus on our own interpretations. We can say what people want to hear. Love, of course, is the central theme of the New Testament, but if love is taught stand-alone, without reference to repentance and faith, it becomes a corrupt gospel. Sometimes we preachers feel that God's word is too harsh or runs counter to the times, so we soften it or explain it away. When we do that we can be responsible for causing people to sin. God holds us responsible for what we teach.

4. Serving as messengers of Yahweh. Malachi refers to a faithful priest as "the messenger[304] of the LORD Almighty" (Malachi 2:7). As we observed earlier, malʾāk, "messenger," is the core of Malachi's own name -- "my messenger."

To be a "messenger" of Yahweh is an awesome responsibility! Jesus tells his disciples something similar.

"He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me." (Luke 10:16, cf. Matthew 10:40)

"I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me." (John 13:20)

Paul writes,

"He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us." (2 Corinthians 5:19-20)

We are weak; we are prone to misspeaking and mistakes. And yet, in spite of all that, we are entrusted with his message of life, we are "messengers of the Lord Almighty," a high and holy calling.

5. Preserving and guarding knowledge. Finally, the priest and pastor must "preserve knowledge," that is, guard knowledge with care."[305] Malachi is speaking both of the relational knowing of God as a Person, as well as knowing the content of the written record of God's words, the Scriptures.[306]

Priests and pastors must be students of the Word. They must know and teach the Scriptures. The prophet Amos says that God will send a famine, not for food or water, but "a famine of hearing the words of the LORD" (Amos 8:11). I live in California where secularism has a strong hold. Sermons are topical and relevant to needs, but Scripture often goes untaught, with the result that most younger Christians are truly biblically illiterate. I can see this as a famine. It is a pastor's job to preserve and guard God's word, even in times and places where it is unpopular.

These are the core positive characteristics of the ideal priest that Malachi pictures. But the priests in his time have also committed serious sins (verses 8):

  1. "Turned from the way."
  2. "Caused many to stumble."
  3. "Violated the covenant with Levi."
  4. "Not followed my ways."
  5. "Shown partiality in matters of the law."

As a result,

"I have caused you to be despised and humiliated before all the people." (Malachi 2:8)

What a sad epitaph on what an important, influential, and promising calling.

Q3. (Malachi 2:1-9) In what ways do church pastors and teachers fall heir to the role of "teaching priests"? Which of the roles of teaching priests do you see as most vital in your situation?

Oracle 3. Judah Unfaithful in Marriage Vows (Malachi 2:10-16)

Now Malachi turns from an indictment of the priesthood, to unfaithfulness in marriage, a sin that affects both priest and layperson alike. In Malachi's day, this unfaithfulness has two aspects in particular: (1) marrying non-Jews, and (2) divorcing wives.

Breaking God's Covenant (Malachi 2:10)

Malachi begins by establishing that Jews are part of one family, a family with covenant obligations.

"Have we not all one father?[307] Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another?" (Malachi 2:10)

Malachi's point is that all the people of the nation have covenant obligations to God. And to allow anyone in the nation to flagrantly break any of these covenant obligations puts the whole nation at risk of punishment.

These returnees from Exile have learned the hard way what the punishment is for repeated disobedience and rebellion against God. Memories of the destruction of Jerusalem and years in Babylonian Captivity are still part of the national memory, even though Malachi's hearers are several generations later than the original group that returned from Babylon in 537 BC.

Malachi asks rhetorically:

"Why do we profane[308] the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another?" (Malachi 2:10)

To allow some people to disobey covenant obligations breaks faith with the whole people, since it puts them all at risk and subjects the nation to God's wrath. The expression "breaking faith" (NIV), "are faithless" (NRSV, ESV), "deal treacherously (KJV) is the verb bāgad, "deal or act treacherously, deal deceitfully, (deal) unfaithfully, offend."[309] Some have broken the covenant, breaking faith both with God as well as with their own countrymen.

Marriage with Non-Jewish Women (Malachi 2:11-12)

"Judah has broken faith. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the LORD loves, by marrying the daughter of a foreign god." (Malachi 2:11)

What is the "detestable thing," the "abomination"?[310] Marrying women who are non-Jewish, "the daughter of a foreign god."[311] This intermarriage with pagans in surrounding villages had plagued Israel for a thousand years, ever since the time of the Judges. But the Covenant is crystal clear: "Do not intermarry with them" (Deuteronomy 7:3-4).

This isn't some kind of racial purity law. It has to do with faith. The "mixed multitude" that came out of Egypt with the Israelites were incorporated into the people (Exodus 12:38). When proselytes to Judaism accept circumcision, they are included within the covenant and treated just like natural-born Israelites (Exodus 12:48-49; Ezekiel 44:9; 47:22-23).

It seems strange that we see the problem of intermarriage in Malachi, since we've seen it twice before in our study: Ezra 9-10 and Nehemiah 13:23-30. Does Malachi prophesy directly to either of these separate incidents? We don't know, since it is impossible to date Malachi exactly.

Malachi's prescription, however, seems somewhat different than those offered by Ezra and Nehemiah.

"As for the man who does this, whoever he may be,[312] may the LORD cut him off from the tents of Jacob -- even though he brings offerings to the LORD Almighty." (Malachi 2:12)

The priests "bring offerings" before God, but they are not exempt. Offenders will be punished "whoever he may be." Malachi prays down a curse on offenders, that God will "cut him off from the tents of Jacob." "Cut off" is karat, literally, "cut off," metaphorically, "to root out, eliminate, remove, excommunicate or destroy by a violent act of man or nature."[313] The verse is hard to interpret exactly, since it includes a Hebrew idiom we don't understand, but the idea is that Yahweh's punishment will surely fall on offenders, on anyone "whoever he may be" (NIV). Offenders won't escape God's wrath.

Breaking the Marriage Covenant by Divorce (Malachi 2:13-16)

Malachi indicts the people for marrying pagan women. But he also condemns them for breaking the marriage covenant by divorcing "the wife of your youth."

"13 Another thing you do: You flood the LORD's altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. 14 You ask, 'Why?'" (Malachi 2:13-14a)

You are very upset that the Lord doesn't seem to hear your prayers, says Malachi. Here's the reason:

"It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant." (Malachi 2:14b)

The situation seems to be that middle aged men are divorcing "the wife of their youth," women they married when they were young. This isn't a divorce immediately after marriage because of a bride's supposed unfaithfulness prior to marriage. Rather this is men who see their wives getting older and losing their beauty, and want to discard them for someone younger. It was possible for women to initiate divorce proceedings under Jewish law,[314] but historically, such situations were rare and require very good cause.[315] Though our passage relates to men divorcing, the principles apply to both husbands and wives.

When you dig into these verses you begin to see more clearly a number of truths about marriage.

1. Marriage is a covenant (Malachi 2:14d). Verse 14 uses the term berît, essentially an agreement, here between individuals, that is witnessed by others and sealed by an oath. David and Jonathan had covenanted with each other "before the Lord" (1 Samuel 18:3; 20:8; 22:8; 23:18), that is, both parties agreed that God is witness to their agreement, so if either breaks it, he has to answer to God. Marriage is such a covenant between two individuals.

Though the words "covenant" and "contract" are used nearly synonymously in America, from a scriptural standpoint there is a difference. In Western law, a contract is an agreement between two parties that is enforceable by law. This is similar to a covenant, except that, while a contract is a purely secular agreement with no appeal to God, a covenant includes divine sanctions for breaching its terms.

2. God is Witness to the marriage covenant (Malachi 2:14a). You know the familiar words that begin a marriage ceremony:

"Beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of God and of these witnesses...."

God is a Witness, one who can bring proceedings against offenders. However, he is more than that; he is the One who designs and orders the relationship, as we'll see in a moment.

3. Divorce is a "breaking faith" with your spouse (Malachi 2:14b, 15d, 16d). "The expression "broken faith" (NIV), "been faithless" (NRSV, ESV), "dealt treacherously (KJV) in verses 14 and 15 is the verb bāgad (which we see above in verses 10 and 11) "deal(act) treacherously, deal deceitfully, (deal) unfaithfully, offend." The person who acts this way "does not honor an agreement.[316]

Divorce is the legal breaking of an agreement. Of course, agreements can be rendered void, when either party fails to abide by the terms of the agreement -- another way of "dealing treacherously." Jesus acknowledges that adultery is cause to break the marriage covenant (Matthew 5:32; 19:9) -- though even then, the parties may (and often do) decide to reconcile and stay in the relationship.

The problem that Malachi is speaking against, however, is not men breaking marriage covenants because their wives are adulterous. In Jesus' day, there was a very low bar for cause for divorce (for men, anyway). It came down to how one interpreted the Law's provision for divorce.

"If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent[317] about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house." (Deuteronomy 24:1)

In Jesus' day, the School of Hillel understood the passage to mean that a man could divorce his wife for any cause, even burning his toast.[318] This kind of sloppy Bible interpretation to justify one's sin is going on in Malachi's day also. Thus divorcing your spouse just because you didn't like her or she has lost her beauty, is, according to Yahweh, "breaking faith" or "acting treacherously" with regard to a solemn covenant.

4. We are God's property by creation (Malachi 2:15a)

"Has not [the LORD] made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his." (Malachi 2:15a)

God owns us because he created us. Rebellion against God, claiming we are agnostics or atheists, doesn't change the fact that we belong to God. To say that breaking a marriage is "nobody's business but our own," leaves out the fact that you and your spouse belong to God. He invents marriage. He is Witness to your covenant. It is indeed his business.

5. God makes husband and wife one in body and spirit (Malachi 2:15a). The "oneness" of marriage is not just a physical joining in sexual intercourse, but spiritual also (1 Corinthians 6:16-17).

6. God's interest in marriage is raising godly offspring (Malachi 2:15b).

"And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring." (Malachi 2:15b)

In many countries, marriages are governed by civil law, which represents society's interest in a just society where wives and children are cared for, and do not have to rely on welfare to support them. God cares about these things too. His particular interest, according to verse 15b is "godly offspring" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "godly seed" (KJV).[319] The implication is that the best opportunity for boys and girls to grow up as godly and knowing God is to be raised by both parents. Can this happen when they are raised by one parent? Of course, but it is more difficult. Malachi indicates that God's institution of marriage is intended to accomplish his purposes.

7. God hates to see divorce (Malachi 2:16a).

"'I hate divorce,' says the LORD God of Israel." (Malachi 2:16a)

My dear friend, please don't read this to think that God hates people who have been divorced. He doesn't. It means that his heart is broken when he sees divorce, since it is contrary to his purposes in marriage. Sometimes it is necessary, but it still breaks his heart, and ours. The church needs to love divorced people, not judge them or fear them. We all are broken people, whether divorced or not, needing the healing power of God and the love of his people to become whole.

8. God abhors marital violence (Malachi 2:16b).

"'I hate divorce,' says the LORD God of Israel, 'and I hate a man's covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,' says the LORD Almighty." (Malachi 2:16)

In parallel with God hating divorce, Malachi uses a common analogy of putting on violence and therefore covering oneself with violence in the same way as one puts on and covers oneself with clothing.[320] The term "violence" is almost always used in the Old Testament as sinful violence.[321] In connection with marriage, the implication seems to me to include physical abuse: beatings and the like. In other words, God not only hates breaking the marriage covenant, but also violence against one's spouse within that covenant relationship. Violence is completely contrary to the spirit of a mutual covenant,[322] and the opposite of a spirit of agape love.

9. The desire for divorce is a spiritual problem (Malachi 2:15c, 16d). Twice, Malachi warns men to guard against an attitude that would lead to divorce.

"So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth." (verse 15c)

"So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith." (verse 16d)

The basic idea of the verb "guard" (NIV, ESV), "look to" (NRSV), "take heed" (KJV) is "to exercise great care over" your spirit. The word is sometimes used regarding tending a garden or flock, guarding a city, etc. We're told, "He who guards his lips guards his life" (Proverbs 13:3a), and, with a close synonym, "Keep your heart with all vigilance" (Proverbs 4:23a).[323] In the Malachi passage we're exhorted to watch over our spirit, so that this desire to divorce or beat our wives doesn't take hold of us.

10. Divorce and marital violence hinder our prayers (Malachi 2:13). This matter about divorce came up in the first place in response to a rhetorical question: Why doesn't Yahweh answer our prayers? (verse 13). The answer is: God doesn't answer your prayers because you are sinning by divorcing and abusing your wives. We read something similar in 1 Peter:

"Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers." (1 Peter 3:7)

God won't hear us if we treat our spouses with disrespect, because our spouse is a "joint heir" in the same covenant that is designed to bring life. In the same way, Peter says, God won't hear you if are drunk and out of control (1 Peter 4:7). If we want God to answer our prayers, we must make a sincere effort to obey him -- and this very much includes our marriage relationships. We can't do violence to a covenant to which God is party and expect no consequences to our relationship with Him.

Q4. (Malachi 2:13-16). What does Malachi teach us about marriage in this passage? Which two or three of these truths do you think would most help improve Christian marriages if applied today?

Lessons for Disciples

There are many nuggets of truth for disciples in this passage, though some are difficult for us to digest.

  1. God loves us, even though we sometimes experience his discipline. Malachi points to how God has blessed Jacob (whom he "loves"), compared to Esau (whom he "hates"). The blessings of God protect us from a great deal that we aren't even aware of (Malachi 1:1-5).
  2. We owe God our respect -- which shows in the sincerity by which we worship him (Malachi 1:6-14). To neglect sincere worship actually shows contempt for God.
  3. The issue in Malachi's day was offering diseased or crippled animals on the altar, rather than animals without blemish. Perhaps for us the application is that we must not offer God our second-best. Only our best will do for serving God (Malachi 1:6-14).
  4. If we can't worship God with truth and sincerity, then it's better to close the church and not even go through the motions of worship (Malachi 1:9-10)
  5. Offering our second-best is an offense to God. He is the Great King, not someone we can offend without risk of his curse, and the withholding of his blessings (Malachi 1:14).
  6. God has made a covenant with Levi, that is, the priests and Levites have a prominent place in his Covenant, with responsibilities and privileges (Malachi 2:4-5). In our day, pastors and church leaders fill this role.
  7. We are required to fear God, that is, to revere him, and be afraid to offend him (Malachi 2:5).
  8. The pastors and church leaders of the New Covenant, are heirs of the "teaching priests" of the Old Covenant. We are called to offer true instruction, walk sincerely with God, turn people from sin, serve as messengers of God, and preserve knowledge (Malachi 2:6-7).
  9. God expects us to honor marriage by not marrying unbelievers, which he considers breaking faith with God's covenant (Malachi 2:10-11).
  10. From the passage on divorce we learn a number of things about marriage (Malachi 2:14-16).

  1. Marriage is a covenant (14d).
  2. God is Witness to this covenant (14a).
  3. Divorce is "breaking faith" with the covenant you make with your spouse when you marry (14-16).
  4. We are God's property by creation -- so he sets the rules of marriage (15a).
  5. God makes husband and wife one in body and spirit (15a).

  6. Available in paperback, PDF,  Kindle formats
    God desires us to have godly offspring (15b).
  7. God hates to see divorce (16a).
  8. God abhors marital violence (16b).
  9. The desire for divorce is a spiritual problem (15c, 16d).
  10. Divorce and marital violence hinder our prayers (13).


Father, thank you for your love and mercy. Without that we would have already been consumed. Help us to fear you in appropriate ways, to offer to you sincere worship, and to include you in our marriages. We fall so short sometimes. Help us when we fail, and forgive us. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"'A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?' says the LORD Almighty. 'It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name. But you ask, "How have we shown contempt for your name?"'" (Malachi 1:6, NIV)

"'When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?' says the LORD Almighty." (Malachi 1:8, NIV)

"My covenant was with [Levi], a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin. For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction -- because he is the messenger of the LORD Almighty." (Malachi 2:5-7, NIV)

"'The LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not [the LORD] made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. I hate divorce,' says the LORD God of Israel, 'and I hate a man's covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,' says the LORD Almighty. 'So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.'" (Malachi 2:14-16 , NIV)


[269] Andrew E. Hill, "Malachi, Book of," Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville (eds.), Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets, pp. 525-533.

[270] "Oracle" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "burden" (KJV) is maśśāʾ, "burden, oracle," from nāśāʾ, "to lift, carry, take." Normally maśśāʾ refers to a burden, "imposed by a master, a despot, or a deity on subjects, beasts, men, or things." But when used in the context of prophecy (24 times in the Old Testament), maśśāʾ is a technical term, "a burden imposed on...." introducing the theme of a prophecy. Most modern translations render it as "oracle," though the term still contains the ideas of compulsion, urgency, dread. Holladay (Hebrew Lexicon, p. 217) renders it "pronouncement." See Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, pp. 162-163; P.A.H. de Boer, An Inquiry into the Meaning of the Term Maśśāʾ (Brill: Leiden, 1948); Walter C. Kaiser, TWOT #1421e.

[271] "Loved" is ʾâhêb, "love," with meanings that can vary from God's intense affection for his people to someone who "loves" chocolate. Context must determine what the word denotes (Robert L. Alden, ʾâhêb, TWOT #29).

[272] "Hated" is śānēʾ, "hate, to be hateful." It expresses an emotional attitude toward persons and things which are opposed, detested, despised and with which one wishes to have no contact or relationship (Gerard Van Groenigen, śānēʾ, TWOT #2272).

[273] "Wicked" is rishʿâ, "guilt, wickedness," denoting the kind of life that is opposite to God's character (G. Herbert Livingston, TWOT #2222c). "Land" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "border" (KJV) is gebûl, "border," also used in verse 5. The noun is used to designate either a geographical boundary or the territory as a whole. Here it refers to "the territory of wickedness." (Victor P. Hamilton, TWOT #307a).

[274] "Honors" is the Piel stem of kābēd, "honor" (Holladay, Hebrew Lexicon, p. 150). In the Psalms this word is often translated "glorify" (e.g. Psalm 50:15). This is the same root from which we get the noun kābôd, "glory."

[275] "Honor " is kābôd, "distinction, respect, mark of honor"(Holladay, Hebrew Lexicon, p. 151). When used to describe God the word is translated "glory."

[276] "Respect" (NIV, NRSV), literally, "fear" (ESV, KJV), môrāʾ, "fear," from yārē, "fear, be afraid, revere" (TWOT #907c).

[277] "Show contempt" (NIV), "despise" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is bāzâ, "to despise, disdain, hold in contempt." The basic meaning of the root is "to accord little worth to something." While this action may or may not include overt feelings of contempt or scorn, the biblical usage indicates that the very act of undervaluing something or someone implies contempt. The use of bāzâ shows that disobedience to the Lord is based on "contempt, despising" of him. Thus David's adultery with Bathsheba is equated with contempt for the Lord (2 Samuel 12:10, 19) and his word (Bruce K. Waltke, TWOT #224).

[278] "Name" is shēm, "The concept of personal names in the Old Testament often included existence, character, and reputation" (Walter C. Kaiser, TWOT #2405).

[279] "Defiled" (NIV), "polluted" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is ʾal, "defile, pollute," used 12 times in the Old Testament. A similar root is found in Aramaic meaning, "abhor, loathe." It is used in Malachi 1:7, 12 to refer to "ceremonial pollution of imperfect sacrifices" (R. Laird Harris, TWOT #301a).

[280] "Food" (NIV, NRSV, ESV) is literally "bread" (KJV), leḥem.

[281] "Altar" is mizbēah, a place of sacrifice, from zābah, "to sacrifice, slaughter" (TWOT #525b). "Altar" is used in parallel with "table," shulḥān, "table," originally an animal skin, later "table" or "place of eating" (Hermann J. Austel, TWOT #2395a).

[282] Notice the phrase "the Lord's table" in verses 7 and 12. The altar is "the Lord's table." (See also Ezekiel 41:22; 1 Corinthians 10:21). Some Protestant groups have downplayed a physical communion table as an "altar," but the connection between an altar of sacrifice and the Lord's Table is founded in Scripture.

[283] "Is contemptible" (NIV, KJV), "is to be despised" (NRSV), "may be despised" (ESV) is the Niphal stem of bāzâ, "despise, distain, hold in contempt" (TWOT #224).

[284] "Injured" (NIV), "taken by robbery" (NASB), "taken by violence" (NRSV, ESV), "that which was torn" (KJV) is gāzal, "seize, tear off, pull off, take away by force, rob" (TWOT #337). Perhaps people were stealing animals that they would then offer in the temple.

[285] "What a burden" (NIV), "How tiresome" (NASB), "What a weariness" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) uses the noun telāʾâ, "toil, hardship" (TWOT #1066a).

[286] Donald J. Wiseman, ḥālal, TWOT #661.

[287] "Cursed" is ʾārar, "cursed," often used in the declaration of punishments, and the utterance of threats (Victor P. Hamilton, TWOT #168).

[288] Holladay, Hebrew Lexicon, p. 238. "Cheat" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "deceiver" (KJV) is the Qal stem of nākal, "be crafty, deceitful, knavish" (TWOT #366).

[289] "Accept" (NIV), "show favor" (NRSV, ESV), "regard your persons" (KJV) is literally, "lift up his face/countenance" as an indication of a good conscience, confidence, or acceptance (Walter C. Kaiser, nāśāʾ, TWOT #1421). We see this construction in the Aaronic blessing, "The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee," or, as the NIV puts it, "turn his face toward you" (Numbers 6:26).

[290] "Light useless fires" (NIV) "kindle fire in vain" (NRSV, ESV), "kindle fire for naught" (KJV), uses the word ḥinnām, "freely, for nothing, unjustly, without cause, in vain." (TWOT #694b). Ironically, this word is derived from ḥānan, "be gracious, show pity" and related to ḥēn, "favor, grace."

[291] "Not pleased" (NIV, NRSV), "have no pleasure" (ESV, KJV) is the negative with ḥēpeṣ, "delight" (TWOT #712b).

[292] "Accept" is rāṣâ, "be pleased with, be favorable to" (TWOT #2207).

[293] "Treat with contempt" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "abhorred" (KJV) is ʾaṣ, "despise, abhor," an action or attitude whereby the former recipient of favorable disposition and/or services is consciously viewed and/or treated with disdain (Leonard J. Coppes, TWOT #1274).

[294] "Reverence" (NIV, NRSV), "fear" (ESV, KJV) is the noun môwrâʾ, "fear," from the root yārēʾ which appears a word or two later (TWOT #907c). Probably the translation "reverence" catches the sense, with its opposite discussed previously disrespect, profane, disregard. The covenant is based on respect.

[295] "Revered" (NIV, NRSV), "feared" (ESV, KJV) is the Qal stem of the verb yārēʾ, discussed above: "fear, be afraid, revere."

[296] "Stood in awe" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "was afraid" (KJV) is the Niphal stem of ḥātat, "be afraid, dismayed." The root idea of ḥātat is "to be broken." The word is used here in the abstract sense of being shattered, demoralized, or in terror before God's awesome might (Andrew Bowling, TWOT #784).

[297] Tôrâ in verses 6, 7, and 8 is "law, instruction" (from which we get the English transliteration, "Torah"). Hartley, notes, "Teaching is the special task of the wisdom school as seen especially through the book of Proverbs and of the priesthood." The word tôrâ means basically "teaching" whether it is the wise man instructing his son or God instructing Israel.... The book of Deuteronomy itself shows that the law has a broad meaning to encompass history, regulations and their interpretation, and exhortations (John E. Hartley, tôrâ, TWOT #910d).

[298] Jack B. Scott, ʾemet, TWOT #116k.

[299] G. Herbert Livingston, ʿavlâh, TWOT #1580b.

[300] "Uprightness" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "equity" (KJV) is mîshôr, "level place," figuratively, "uprightness," from the root yāshar, "be level, straight." The verb means literally "to go straight or direct in the way." Ethically it refers to uprightness in your manner of life. The verb mîshôr, in particular, refers to "uprightness, straightness (in government), justice," judging with equity rather than partiality (Donald J. Wiseman, mîshôr, TWOT #930f).

[301] Victor P. Hamilton, shûb, TWOT #2340.

[302] "Turned away" (NIV), "turned aside" (NRSV, ESV), "departed" (KJV) is the Qal stem of sûr, "turn aside, depart, withdraw" (TWOT #1480).

[303] "Stumble" in verse 9 is kāshal, "stumble, totter, stagger," usually from weakness or weariness, or in flight from attackers, or figuratively in the sense of failing or ruin. Rarely -- and verse 9 is an example of this -- the word is used in the sense of the New Testament skandalidzō, "cause one to fall into sin" (R. Laird Harris, TWOT #1050). Other examples are Jeremiah 18:15 and Proverbs 4:16.

[304] "Messenger" (NIV) is malʾāk, "messenger, representative, courtier." The word can also refer to an "angel," a divine messenger. Bowling notes that "messenger" is an inadequate term for the range of tasks carried out by the Hebrew word malʾāk. These were a) to carry a message, b) to perform some other specific commission, and c) to represent more or less officially the one sending him (Andrew Bowling, malʾāk, TWOT #1068a).

[305] "Preserve" (NIV), "guard" (NRSV, ESV), "keep" (KJV) translate the Qal stem of shāmar, "keep, guard, observe, give heed," with the basic idea of "to exercise great care over" (TWOT #2414). The NRSV, ESV translation reflects the connotation of "take care of, guard," involving keeping or tending to things. The NIV translation reflects the connotation of "preserving, storing up." It's difficult to know here which connotation Malachi intended originally, as both fit the context. Whatever the exact idea, this is clearly a defensive action.

[306] "Knowledge" is the noun daʿat, "knowledge " from the common verb yādaʿ, "to know." Daʿat is a general term for knowledge, particularly that which is of a personal, experimental nature, and includes the knowledge of God (Paul R. Gilchrist, TWOT #848c).

[307] The NIV and ESV capitalize "Father." The NRSV and KJV do not. There is a dispute about which father is the subject. One argument is that the first two clauses of verse 10 are employing Hebrew synoptic parallelism; they both refer to the people's responsibility to God. Another argument sees "father" in the first clause as referring to one of the patriarchs -- Abraham or Jacob, since the third clause refers to "our fathers," our ancestors. What did Malachi intend? I don't think we can know for sure -- and it doesn't make too much difference.

[308] "Profane" is the Piel stem of ḥālal, "profane, defile, pollute, desecrate" (Donald J. Wiseman, TWOT #661). The root ḥll is used to mark the act of doing violence to the established law of God, breaking the covenant or the divine statutes.

[309] Louis Goldberg, bāgad, TWOT #198. The root in South Arabic means "to deceive." The verb is often used of unfaithfulness to marriage vows, and by analogy, being unfaithful to the Lord. In addition it is used to refer to unfaithfulness to property rights, and failing in one's responsibility to a king.

[310] "Detestable thing" (NIV), "abomination" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is ʿēbâ, "abominable (custom, thing)." The basic meanings of the Piel stem of the verb ʿab are "abhor, loathe" in a physical sense and "detest, exclude" for ritual or ethical reasons (Ronald F. Youngblood, TWOT #2530a).

[311] "Daughter of" is a Hebraic expression that means "to 'bear the character of' a deity whose ethos was diametrically opposed to the righteousness of Israel's God" (Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, p. 238).

[312] ESV suggests that the punishment shall fall on "any descendant of the man who does this" -- in other words that they shall be without any offspring. The Hebrew text includes an idiom, "any to witness or answer" (NRSV), but we're not sure exactly what it means. "The master and the scholar" (KJV) is one attempt at translating this incomprehensible phrase.

[313] Elmer B. Smick, karat, TWOT #1048. This is the same word that is sometimes used in relation to making a covenant, "to cut" a covenant. Smick notes, "It is sometimes difficult in a given context to know whether the person(s) who is "cut off" is to be killed or only excommunicated."

[314] m.Ket.5.5-8.

[315] See David Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church: Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities (InterVarsity Press, 2006) and Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context (Eerdmans, 2002). Instone-Brewer sees Exodus 21:10-11 as the duties that the Jews assumed men must fulfill, and believes they underlie New Testament marriage and divorce passages.

[316] Louis Goldberg, bāgad, TWOT #198.

[317] The phrase "something indecent" (NIV), "something objectionable" (NRSV), "some indecency" (ESV), "some uncleanness" (KJV) are two words, dābār, "word, speaking, thing," and ʿerwâ, "nakedness, shame." Jesus interpreted this as sexual unfaithfulness, Greek porneia, "unlawful sexual intercourse, prostitution, unchastity, fornication" (BDAG 854, 1).

[318] m. Gittin 9:10; Sipre Deut. 269.1.1.

[319] "Godly" here is ʾelōhîm. "Offspring" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "seed" (KJV) is zeraʿ, "seed, offspring." The word literally means "seed, semen," and then metaphorically to the product of what is sown (TWOT #582a).

[320] You often see this analogy of "putting on clothing" in Paul's epistles (Colossians 3:9-10; etc.).

[321] "Violence" is ḥāmās, "violence, wrong," from the verb ḥāmas, "wrong, do violence to, treat violently." The Arabic cognate means to be hard, strict, severe. In the Old Testament ḥāmās is almost always used in connection with sinful violence, not to natural disasters or doing justice. It is often a name for extreme wickedness (R. Laird Harris, ḥāmas, TWOT #678a). Note that the terrorist organization Hamas traces its name from an Arabic word meaning, "courage, zeal," not this word.

[322] Baldwin sees this as "a figurative expression of all kinds of gross injustice, which like the blood of a murdered victim, leave their mark for all to see" (Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, p. 241).

[323] "Guard yourselves" (NIV, ESV), "look to" and "take heed" to yourselves" (NRSV, cf. KJV) is the Niphal stem of shāmar, "keep, guard, give heed." The basic idea of the root is "to exercise great care over" (TWOT #2414). We're told, "He who guards (nāṣar) his lips guards (shāmar) his life" (Proverbs 13:3a). A close synonym, nāṣar, is used in a similar saying, "Keep your heart with all vigilance" (Proverbs 4:23a).

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