Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 6/1/97
Malachi 2:10 Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously each against his brother so as to profane the covenant of our fathers? 11 Judah has dealt treacherously, and an 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 As for the man who does this, may the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob everyone who awakes and answers, or who presents an offering to the Lord of hosts. 13 And this is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the Lord with tears and weeping and with groaning, because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 Yet you say, “For what reason?” Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. 16 For “I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the Lord of hosts. So take heed to your spirit, that you deal not treacherously.
There is no more serious problem facing our nation today than the breakdown of the family. Less than one half of all our children now live with both of their original parents. Nearly one half will spend at least some time in a single-parent family. In recent years the number of one-parent families has doubled, and the number of families headed by unmarried women has tripled. Along with this comes the accelerating phenomenon of the disappearance of the father. Paul Meier says that eight-five percent of the mentally ill had a weak or absent father and a strong, domineering mother. Armand Nicholi, II, of Harvard University Medical School, reports a drastic shift beginning in the 1980’s. Formerly, most people looking for psychiatric health did so for problems related to inhibitions, i.e., the inability to express their feelings. Now it is mainly for problems related to the inability to control their feelings. He relates this shift to the declining influence or even presence of the father in the home. Who is going to model fatherhood, indeed, manhood, for the next generation? Add to that the increasing commodification of children. Perfect children are seen as a cute accoutrement of the Yuppie lifestyle (if indeed we don’t opt to be DINKS—Double Income, No Kids). If we’re going to have them we want them to be perfect; but we aren’t going to go to the trouble of actually raising them! No, we institutionalize them in Daycare almost the week after we bring them home. They’re right up there with our set of titanium golf clubs. So why not kill them if they turn out to be defective in the womb? It is much less convenient if we only discover their imperfections later. But this should be no surprise, since we started out by looking at our spouses that way. As with any other commodity, any other accessory to a perfect suburban lifestyle, if it isn’t working, just trade it in, right? Hmm.
The effects of these trends must be devastating, and they will only be fully seen in the next generation. But wait: None of this is adequate to help us realize what a serious problem we have. But Malachi tells us. Spiritual adultery is linked to marital unfaithfulness, and when God’s people condone this linkage, when they treat it as inevitable or acceptable, his blessing departs from them and he gives them up to a curse. Oh, my! Do I need to remind you that the divorce rate of Christians is no different—in fact, by some statistics, is actually worse—than that of the surrounding society? If Malachi is right, we are in serious trouble indeed.
Now, before I go any further I need to make a disclaimer. (This paragraph was not in the original sermon as it was preached a decade ago, but it needs to be here now as I transcribe it for the Website.) I cannot afford to get up on any soapbox and thunder condemnations, for I am divorced myself. I’m not going to describe that divorce or defend it, except to say that I did not seek it but I had to accept it. I hope God used it to teach me some humility and some compassion. I know it taught me something about how dangerous and unfair and, yes, cruel it can be to utter broad generalization and blanket denunciations of people whose lives have been touched by divorce. Nevertheless, those who have tried to be faithful to the Lord even through a divorce know, sometimes better than anyone else, how serious the problems I’ve mentioned in this introduction really are. So please believe that I am not making any assumptions about you or judging you as an individual if you have been touched by this tragedy and are part of these statistics. For all I know you had no choice; for all I know you did the right thing. (And for all I know you did have a choice and you didn’t do right—I am making no assumptions one way or the other.) But please agree with me also that there are too many divorces, too many preventable divorces, and that this is a serious sociological problem for our society and an even more serious spiritual problem for the church. And so, while there is no topic I would personally rather avoid, I along with you must try to hear what Malachi has to say to his spiritually blasé generation—and ours.
A lot of what Malachi has to say here is somewhat cryptic to a modern audience and just needs some explanation before we can begin to follow, much less understand, his points. So please be patient while I try to unpack it.
Vs. 10: “Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously each against his brother so as to profane the covenant of our fathers?” Why does this section begin this way? The one father is Abraham. This along with the one God emphasizes the spiritual unity of the people. As we will discover later, the particular “treacherous dealing” Malachi is talking about is, not just divorce, but any act that compromises the spiritual unity of the people through its marriages. The point to take away from this verse is that, in the church, an unequally yoked marriage or a divorce is not just a personal matter for the individual, but injures the whole Body and compromises its ability to fulfill its covenant with God, to represent Him to the whole world.
Vs. 11: “Judah has dealt treacherously, and an 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.” Prior to the problem of divorce comes the problem of mixed marriages, unequal yokings. In both the Old Covenant and the New, believers are to marry only other believers, other serious worshippers of the true God. If we are the sons of God, how can we marry the daughters of another god? As Harry Ironside quaintly put it, “If you are a child of God and marry a child of the Devil, you are sure to have trouble with your Father in Law.” But far more is at stake than personal peace and inconvenience at home! Such spiritual adultery profanes the sanctuary. It affects not just you but the nation, or, in our case, the church. When spiritual things have so ceased to be the focus of your life that you do not make them the focus and indeed the foundation of your family, you set yourself up for personal disaster and, far worse, undermine the spiritual integrity and ministry of the church.
Vs. 12: “As for the man who does this, may the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob everyone who awakes and answers, or who presents an offering to the Lord of hosts.” Malachi, writing under inspiration, expresses the indignation and curse of God against those who perpetrate such apostasy. What he describes in this “cutting off” is an end to the family line that has been so polluted. And that for an ancient Israelite would be one of the worst curses imaginable. It doesn’t say the Lord will do this; it says may He do it. History tells us God usually doesn’t; most such family lines do in fact continue. What Malachi is telling us is how God feels about it. He is giving us the curse that, apart from God’s inexplicable mercy, we deserve for such profanation of the sanctuary.
Vs. 13: “And this is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the Lord with tears and weeping and with groaning, because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand.” What is the actual result of such behavior? It is “Ichabod! The glory has departed!” As a result of these unequal yokings, Jewish religion had fallen into the disillusioned and cynical going through the motions that Malachi described in chapter one. Their religious life had become lots of show with little substance, lots of ritual with no reality. Even they could tell that something was missing, but they didn’t know what. Malachi is trying to tell them: it is the spiritual integrity in your personal and family life that makes true worship possible.
Vs. 14: “Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.” Malachi now tells the people why their worship is so unsatisfying: a lack of spiritual commitment has led to unspiritual loves which have led to unspiritual marriages which have become broken marriages. In fact, some men appear to have been dumping their wives in favor of hot young pagans—a double unfaithfulness. Both forms of unfaithfulness are connected. A lack of spiritual integrity, a lack of integrity in your walk with the Lord, will show up in your family.
Vs. 15: “But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth.” Unfortunately, the Hebrew text of the first part of verse 15 is apparently corrupt. The text as we have it is impossible to translate. The NASB that we have here is almost certainly not correct. Another reconstruction that might make more sense is something like, “Did the Spirit not make Adam and Eve one flesh? Why? That he might give them godly offspring.” No sure doctrine can be built on this verse. If we can gather anything from it, it might be the principle that if you want godly offspring, the best thing you can do for them is maintain the unity of your marriage—which in context would imply its spiritual integrity, and before that your own spiritual integrity.
Vs. 16: “For ‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘and him who covers his garment with wrong,’ says the Lord of hosts. So take heed to your spirit, that you deal not treacherously.” Verse 16 is the climax of the argument, and no wonder. Unfortunately, the dramatic statement at the beginning has too often been taken out of context and turned into a generalization that would contradict other Scriptures where our Lord and his Apostle make divorce a valid choice for victims of unrepentant adultery or desertion. Too often we have implied that God hates what such victims have done—with His explicit sanction and permission!—to protect themselves from the very kind of behavior, the marital treason, that He says he hates here. What God hates is treachery, spiritual treason against Himself, and specifically the kind of divorce that is a manifestation of that treason, showing itself in treason against one’s spouse. That, and nothing else, is what this passage, understood in context, says.
We do not have time here to deal with all the ramifications of the full biblical teaching on divorce, when it is permitted, whether a right to remarriage is included when it is permitted, etc. That would be a useful series in its own right. But I want to make sure we do not miss the point being made in this passage, for it is of crucial importance. Marital integrity and spiritual integrity are tied together; indeed, they are inseparable. And the blessing or curse of God on an individual, a family, a nation, or a church, is tied to that spiritual integrity, which shows itself in our approach to marriage. The unequal yoke and the easy divorce both betray the covenant and profane the sanctuary. (Note well: when you profane the marriage bed, you also profane the sanctuary.) The unequal yoke and the easy divorce are thus both symptoms of an underlying spiritual apostasy, even when the outward forms of religiosity and even doctrine are being scrupulously maintained. The blessing of God on a nation or a church is therefore related to the strength and health of its marriages. This should not be surprising. Does not the New Testament teach us that a Christian marriage is to be a picture, a living object lesson, of the love between Christ and his Church? How can it be if we have betrayed the Savior by pursuing an unequal yoke? For thus we shout to all the world that the Savior and spiritual things have second place at best in our affections. How can it be if we act toward the wife of our youth with betrayal, which is merely the expression into the external world of the betrayal of the Savior that has already taken place in our souls? Why should lost souls be interested in a Savior who will act toward them like that? And if that is the picture of Christ and the Church that we have presented them, why would their blood not be on our hands when they are lost forever?
So what is the practical application of all of this? The best thing you can do for your family is to be faithful to your faith—really faithful, not just going through the motions the way the Jews were in the day of Malachi. The best thing you can do for your spouse is to be faithful to your Savior. The best way to keep your marriage vows is to take seriously your baptismal vows. This is no substitute for sustained forgiveness, intelligent caring, and good communication; rather it is the foundation that makes those necessary things possible and provides the motivation for faithfulness in them when your own resources are inadequate. For spiritual integrity and marital integrity are intimately connected. You cannot have either without the other. And until we have both, our churches will continue to grow in size and decline in impact. Selah!
The breakdown of the family is a huge problem in itself, but it will never be solved until we recognize it as the symptom of an even deeper problem. We must love God in ways that cannot be expressed (in Malachi’s terms) by hurried worship and the sacrifice of lame, blind, half-dead sheep. Let us pray that God will work in us to that end, for our own sakes, for the sake of our families, for the sake of our nation, and above all for the sake of the witness of His Church.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams