A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
We continue in our study of the Minor Prophets with chapter 2 of the Book of Malachi to see what the Lord had him say to the Israelites, and how it applies to us today.
Additional Warning to the Priests
“And now, you priests, this warning is for you. If you do not listen, and if you do not resolve to honor my name,” says the Lord Almighty, “I will send a curse on you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not resolved to honor me.
“Because of you I will rebuke your descendants; I will smear on your faces the dung from your festival sacrifices, and you will be carried off with it. And you will know that I have sent you this warning so that my covenant with Levi may continue,” says the Lord Almighty. “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. 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 2:1-6).
The Levitical system, named for Levi but established through his descendant Aaron, was put in place after God brought His people out of Egypt so they could worship Him and live in His presence. It was administered through the priests, who were responsible for bringing the prescribed offerings to God according to the instructions He had given them. It was also their job to teach the people what God expected of them in their daily life. Through the Levitical system the people learned how to live in a manner pleasing to God. Their lives were changed and they all received great blessings in return.
“For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth. 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. “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 2:7-9)
The priests were the teachers and the lawyers of Old Testament times and when they taught and administered both the spirit and letter of God’s laws, they and all the people enjoyed a life of peace and plenty that was the envy of all who observed it.
But when they abandoned the way of the Lord in favor of their own selfish interests the whole nation suffered. Instead of bringing people to the Lord they caused many to fall away. Their legal judgments favored the rich and oppressed the poor. Eventually, instead of being respected by the people they were despised.
Compare this to our times and you can readily see how we’ve followed the same road to ruin. A quick look at the state of America’s churches and our educational and legal systems tells the whole story. When God was at the center of these systems they were the envy of the world and America was blessed among the nations. But when He was excluded they turned into a cruel parody of their former selves.
Many of our churches still mention God’s name but no longer teach the people about Biblical Christianity. Instead they have become weekend entertainment centers where the focus is on drawing big crowds who don’t want to be burdened with concepts like sin and salvation.
Our public schools routinely “graduate” students without even the minimum skills necessary for life and it’s common knowledge that justice is no longer the primary concern of our courts. They’ve become a game of chance only the wealthy can afford to play. A poor, innocent person runs the risk of being convicted whereas a rich guilty one stands a good chance of going free.
Breaking Covenant Through Divorce
Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our ancestors by being unfaithful to one another?
Judah has been unfaithful. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the Lord loves by marrying women who worship a foreign god. As for the man who does this, whoever he may be, may the Lord remove him from the tents of Jacob—even though he brings an offering to the Lord Almighty (Malachi 2:10-12).
Speaking of the pagans in the land God had given to the Israelites He said,
Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you (Deut. 7:3-4).
From this we can see why the Lord had forbidden marriage outside the faith. He knew the pagan women would turn the men away from Him and entice them into worshiping their gods. Ezra (Ezra 9-10) and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 13:23-29) both tell of this problem in the time just after the return from Babylon, and by the Lord’s criticism here we can see that it was still going on.
At the cross, God was able to reconcile Himself to us by making peace through the blood of Jesus which was shed there for our sins (Colossians 1:19-20). This allowed Him to see the penalty for all our sins as having been paid in full. That’s why we don’t find Him issuing the strong prohibitions against behavior like this in the New Testament that is prevalent in the Old Testament.
Even so, Paul cautioned us against marrying an unbeliever, saying we shouldn’t be yoked together with one. He compared it to righteousness being yoked with wickedness or light being yoked with darkness. He said the two have nothing in common (2 Cor. 6:14-18). Our faith is supposed to be the number one priority of our lives, and marriage to an unbeliever will inevitably cause it to be assigned a lower level of importance.
In using the phrase “unequally yoked” Paul was drawing on Deut. 22:10 where trying to plow with a donkey and an ox yoked together was forbidden. The idea was that the two different types of animal could not be made to function like a team, and would frustrate the plowman’s attempts to make them do so. Their productivity would be limited by the physically weaker animal’s capability.
In an unequally yoked marriage the Lord’s attempts to accomplish His will in the marriage will be similarly frustrated. The two partners will not have the same world view and will not be able to function as a team. Their usefulness to the Lord will be limited by the spiritually weaker partner’s capability.
Another thing you do: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer looks with favor on your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.
Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.
“The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty.
So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful (Malachi 2:13-16).
From the very beginning the relationship between husband and wife was meant to be a model of the relationship between God and His people. In a marriage the man was in the role of God and the woman was in the role of the people. The marriage was a covenant that was not to be broken because the covenant between God and His people is an everlasting covenant.
Later Jesus explained that from the beginning, the only acceptable reason for divorce has been marital unfaithfulness (Matt. 19:8-9). This is because its a model of spiritual unfaithfulness, the worship of other gods. Since God can’t be unfaithful, only the people could break the covenant, and then only by the worship of other gods. That means only the woman’s unfaithfulness could justify ending the marriage. The man was simply not permitted to be unfaithful.
What made the Lord so angry here is that in fact it was the men who were being unfaithful. It was unacceptable to the Lord because it implied that He could be unfaithful to the people and abandon them if someone He liked better came along. He had to with hold His blessing and refuse to accept their offerings because they had symbolically violated the most important provision of the covenant, and that is the undying faithfulness of God.
When Paul applied this model to Jesus and the Church He again showed how much more extreme the man’s role is in maintaining the relationship. He began by telling wives to submit to their husbands in everything just as the Church submits to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-24).
But to husbands he said we’re to love our wives just as Christ loved the Church. And how did Christ love the Church? He gave himself up for us to make us holy, cleansing us by the washing with water through the word, to present us to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:25-27). A husband is to devote himself exclusively to his wife, putting her needs above his own, covering all her imperfections with his love, and considering her to be perfect in his sight.
I wouldn’t even hazard a guess as to how many marriages can meet this test, and since the divorce rate among Christians parallels that of unbelievers I think our sin nature probably prevents it. In Ephes 5:32 Paul said this is a profound mystery but he was primarily talking about Christ and the Church. I wonder how many churches one would have to visit to find one that’s submissive to Christ in all things? And yet His faithfulness to us is beyond question.
Breaking Covenant Through Injustice
You have wearied the Lord with your words.
“How have we wearied him?” you ask.
By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them” or “Where is the God of justice?” (Malachi 2:17)
One of the signs that a nation is approaching judgment time is when good is called evil and evil is called good. Behavior God considers to be an abomination could soon become the law of the land both in America and other parts of the world. At the same time, those who are striving to live a Christian life are now considered to be potential terrorists. I’d say we’re pretty far down the road.
Those who are upset about this say, “Where is the God of justice?” I’ll tell you where He is. He’s in Heaven. Having grown tired of trying to convince us to change our ways, He’s giving the world enough rope to hang itself. It’s a repeat of His attitude before the Great Flood, when He saw how great man’s wickedness had become, and that that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. He said, “My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal.” And having given them ample warning, which they ignored, He destroyed them all (Genesis 6:1-7).
But this time He’s also putting the final touches on the greatest escape in history, when in the twinkling of an eye He will cause every living believer to disappear off the face of the Earth and instantaneously reappear in Heaven.
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thes. 4:16-18) More next time. 06-22-13