Malachi may be associated with the jackal, which features early in his book, for God had left Edom to jackals, yet now God’s own people were acting like jackals.
So far, Malachi had covered two of God’s concerns with the people, that they would understand:
Oracle 1—God chose the Hebrew people as God’s own. (1:2-5)
Oracle 2—Blemished sacrifices were polluting God’s table. (1:6-2:9)
Now, Malachi would address two more.
Oracle 3—Marital infidelity illustrated Judah’s unfaithfulness to God. (2:10-16)
Oracle 4—Divorce illustrated Judah’s unfaithfulness to God. (2:17-3:6)
The next two offenses God listed had to do with marriage: marrying outside the faith, and divorce, problems that existed among the priests as well, even in the high priest’s own family.
Marrying Outside the Faith
This was a covenant issue, one God had specifically outlined before the people ever entered the Promised Land, saying,
You shall -not- make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land,
for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to their gods, someone among them will invite you, and
—you will eat of the sacrifice.
—you will take wives from among their daughters for your sons,
—and their daughters who prostitute themselves to their gods will make your sons also prostitute themselves to their gods.Exodus 34:15-16 (NRSV)
The main issue was not about mixing people groups. Two of the women in Jesus’ genealogy were Canaanite, and one was a Moabite. No, this was about faith.
The apostle Paul gave the same counsel, enjoining believers to marry only in the Lord.
God’s concern was about marrying those of other faiths who would invite God’s people into prostituting themselves with foreign gods.
Time and again, this is exactly what did happen, even among Israel’s kings (Jezebel comes immediately to mind!), as the writer of I and II Kings later explained.
King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the Israelites, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you; for they will surely incline your heart to follow their gods;”
Solomon clung to these in love.1 Kings 11:1-2 (NRSV)
It had never, ever, ever gone well with Israel when they intermarried with those of other faiths. Yet here they were again.
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 ancestors? 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.
May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob anyone who does this—any to witness or answer, or to bring an offering to the Lord of hosts.Malachi 2:10-12 (NRSV)
In those days also I saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab; and half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke the language of various peoples.
And I contended with them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair;
and I made them take an oath in the name of God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves.”Nehemiah 13:23-25 (NRSV)
Ezra led the entire nation, whole families, into a time of repentance and revival, and God’s Holy Spirit gripped them in their conviction of wrongdoing.
While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children gathered to him out of Israel; the people also wept bitterly.
Shecaniah son of Jehiel, of the descendants of Elam, addressed Ezra, saying,
“We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this.
So now let us make a covenant with our God to send away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law.
Take action, for it is your duty, and we are with you; be strong, and do it.”Ezra 10:1-4 (NRSV)
Thankfully, as the people placed themselves in Ezra’s hands, Ezra placed himself in God’s hands.
After much fasting and prayer, God gave Ezra a way to proceed, and the people complied.
Ezra the priest selected men, heads of families, according to their families, each of them designated by name.
On the first day of the tenth month they sat down to examine the matter.
By the first day of the first month they had come to the end of all the men who had married foreign women.Ezra 10:16-17 (NRSV)
It was permitted for an Israelite to marry outside the nation if she became Jewish in faith. This is most likely why it took a few months to thoroughly investigate each marriage case, to determine whether the foreign-born wife had indeed truly come to faith in YHWH, the One True and Living God.
Some of those marriages did end in divorce, and the wife and children were sent back to their land of origin. This had to have been heart-wrenching for all involved. Yet, rather than turn our tears and wagging fingers on God, wisdom points to the grievous nature of wrongdoing in the first place, and its consequences that so often sweep the innocent and guilty alike into its vortex.
Faithless in Marriage
This was not the only problem with marriages among the returned exiles.
the Lord was a 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.
Did not one God make her?
Both flesh and spirit are [God’s].
And what does the one God desire? Godly offspring.
So look to yourselves, and do not let anyone be faithless to the wife of his youth.
For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts.
So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless.Malachi 2:14-16 (NRSV)
So often, these verses have been used to keep couples out of divorce court in the mistaken notion that this is what God is commanding. Nothing could be further than the truth.
God did not say So take heed to yourselves and do not -divorce.-
Divorce is to a broken marriage what a funeral is to death.
The divorce papers are the obituary. The marriage itself has already been destroyed, put to death through some form of faithlessness and perhaps also abuse (covering one’s garment with violence).
We say to each other drive safe, and be safe. Why? Because we hate death. We cannot say do not die! But we can say protect yourself against dying.
So it is that God says, protect yourselves against divorce by being faithful, by refusing to abuse our partners, by striving to deepen and enrich our marriages and partnerships.
Faithless to God
In all this, the people complained to God.
You have wearied the Lord with your words.
Yet you say, “How have we wearied him?”
“All who do evil are good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.”
Or by asking,
“Where is the God of justice?”Malachi 2:17 (NRSV)
How can a righteous God allow so much evil in the world? Look at me, I am a pretty good person, but God makes my life hard and that person’s life easy.
It is God’s fault (certainly not my fault). God made me the way I am, how could I help myself?
It is a strange note to end on, but this was all the oracle God had given to Malachi, this last thought suspended in air.