Let None Be Faithless to the Wife of His Youth

Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another? 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. As for the man who does this, whoever he may be, may the LORD cut him off from the tents of Jacob—even though he brings offerings to the LORD Almighty. 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. You ask, "Why?" 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. 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." (NIV)

Last week we saw in verse 8 of this chapter that the result of priestly failure is that many are caused to stumble. "You [priests] have turned aside form the way; you have caused many to stumble by your instruction." In other words, when the truth and power of God begin to fade from the Christian community, then two other things begin to drain away from the Christian community as well, namely,

  1. the clarity of vision to avoid moral traps, and
  2. the strength to stand upright when the whole world would drag you down.

When there is a famine of the Word of God in the land, the spiritual nutrients that enable the eye to spot sin as sin are gone. And the spiritual protein that gives strength the moral muscle of the soul to do what is right is missing. The spiritual eye becomes diseased through malnutrition, and the clear lines between sin and righteousness begin to blur. The moral muscle of the will atrophies, and weakens, and the result is that the beckoning of the world wins because there is no strength to stand against it. When the ministry of the Word goes wrong, many are caused to stumble.

Three Areas in Which Israel Was Stumbling

Today's text spells out for us three areas where the people of Israel were stumbling.

  1. In verse 10 it's the general area of personal relationships: "Why then are we faithless to one another?" There was widespread dishonesty. People were not keeping their word. Trusts were being broken. "Why are we faithless [or treacherous] with each other?" That is, Why can we not trust each other? Why all this breaking of faith?
  2. In verses 11–12 Malachi gets specific and touches on the area of marriage to unbelievers. The last line of verse 11 says that Judah "has married the daughter of a foreign God." That means that many of the men were marrying women who were not believers in the true God. This was a very serious stumbling in the eyes of God.
  3. In verses 13–16 Malachi deals with the issue of divorce. Verse 16 makes the issue clearest: "I hate divorce, says the Lord the God of Israel."

What We Will and Will Not Cover Today

Now we only have 25 minutes to deal with these three areas. So how shall we limit ourselves? What I have chosen to do is simply to make as plain as I can the will of God which he makes explicit in these three passages, and the reasons why we should obey it. And so my aim is to strengthen your spiritual ability to resist three temptations: the temptation to break a trust in your relationships, the temptation to marry an unbeliever, and the temptation to divorce your spouse. One or more of those applies to every person in this room from childhood to the oldest among us.

Now that leaves unanswered a hundred questions. What if someone breaks trust with you? What if your child marries an unbeliever? What if your spouse abandons you and presses you for divorce? The Bible has something to say for our guidance in all these areas. And I pray that God will guide our study together over the coming months and years. I hope the whole range of biblical truth and the whole range of human need will be touched in a way that only God could design for our good.

Performing Back Surgery

As a little part of that life-long goal I want to try to do some back surgery this morning. Some of you remember my high school friend Nancy who came to Minneapolis a while ago to have back surgery for sever scoliosis—that's a distorted curvature of the spine. They operated and put steel rods up her back. The aim was to straighten her posture, and relieve pain, and strengthen her back.

Well, that is what I want to do. I believe that the word of God in this text—especially the reasons that God gives for his commands—is like steel. If a person is willing to receive it, and if the surgery is properly performed, your life can be made more upright, you can be spared many pains, and your moral backbone can be greatly strengthened. So let's try it together. You prepare yourself for the surgery and I will try to handle these steel rods as delicately as I can.

1. Malachi 2:10—General Relationships

First, in verse 10 Malachi tells us God's will for our relationships in general, and gives us three reasons why we should be eager to do it.

Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?

God's Plain Will for Our Lives

The will of God for his people is plain from this verse. He wills that we not be faithless to each other. This word for "be faithless" or "break faith" or "deal treacherously" is used in all three of the sections of our text this morning (2:10–16). In verse 10: "Why are we faithless to one another?"—referring to general untrustworthiness in our relationships. In verse 11: "Judah has been faithless . . . and has married the daughter of a foreign god"—in reference to the marrying of unbelievers. And verse 14: "You have been faithless to the wife of your youth"—in reference to divorce.

So the sin that runs through each of these areas of life is this failure to keep a trust, the failure to keep a commitment. It is the breaking of an agreement or covenant or contract or promise.

Two Alternative Ways to Live in a Community

So what Malachi does with this key word is to show that community life is supposed to be ordered by the faithful fulfillment of promises and contracts and oaths and covenants and commitments. But this order has given way to the disorder that comes when people give in to the power of self-centered emotional impulses.

In other words by consistently using this little word bagad and tracing faithlessness through in all the relationships of the text, Malachi makes clear for us two alternative ways for people to try to live in a community.

One way is what you might call covenantal order—it's what the OT means by shalom. All relationships are made peaceful and pure by the fulfillment of covenants and promises and oaths and contracts and commitments. Children to parents, and parents to children. Husbands to wives and wives to husbands. Employer to employee and employee to employer. Citizen to state and state to citizen. The peace and prosperity and joy—the shalom—of the community is held together by the deep strong spirit of covenant-keeping that pervades the community. The very fabric of the community is the trustworthiness of its people. Do they keep their commitments?

The other way for people to try to live together in community is the opposite of covenantal order; it's what you might call the disorder of self-indulgence. In this community the spirit of commitment-making and commitment-keeping has been replaced by a spirit of emotional and physical impulse. The moral fabric of faithfulness to covenants and promises and contracts is unraveled and what's left are the individual strands of private gratification.

Malachi's Very Relevant Message

Let me give you a quote from a secular sociological study of our own day to show you how the ways divide between these two forms of community life.

A woman finds herself pregnant and wants to abort, or a man feels bogged down by commitments to job, spouse and children, and wants out. A person's aging parents are interfering with his pleasures, and he wants someone to take them off his hands. A man wants to sleep with his secretary, or is tired of making a living and desires relief from his commitments. How we, as a society and as individuals, view the decisions made about fulfilling these desires is the crux of the problem. (Daniel Yankelovich, New Rules, 1981, p. 248)

Malachi's message to us this morning could hardly be more relevant or more needed. Five times in this text he warns us not "to act faithlessly"—or to put it positively, he urges us to make covenant-making and covenant-keeping the fabric of our life together. He warns against the pseudo-freedom of individualistic self-indulgence, and he tries to help us see the strength and beauty and joy and peace (shalom) of being faithful in all our relationships and all our commitments.

Three Reasons Not to Be Faithless to One Another

The three reasons given in verse 10 are:

  1. We have one Father: "Have we not all one father?" (v. 10). In other words when we betray a trust, we betray the family of God. We deceive our own flesh and we dishonor our Father.
  2. We have one Creator. "Has not one God created us?" (v. 10). If I am faithless to you, and break my commitment to you, I act as though you and I are accountable to two different Creators. I act as though my Creator lets me function on one set of terms—like self-indulgence that ignores my commitment to you—while I expect your Creator to hold you to another set of terms—like respect for my rights and stay off my case. But if we are both utterly dependent upon and accountable to one and the same Creator, that double standard will not do.
  3. The third reason we should not break faith with others is that it profanes the covenant of our fathers. "Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?"

What was this covenant? It was God's commitment to be Abraham's God, to work for him and bless him and give him life and hope—and not only him but all his true offspring, including you and me in Jesus Christ the seed of Abraham. In other words whenever you or I lie or fudge on our duties, or betray a trust, we act as though God is not able to take care of us and protect us and give us a fulfilling life if we keep our commitments. And when we act as though God cannot or will not give us what is best for us on the path of faithfulness, we profane his covenant. We act as though it is untrustworthy and worthless.

Those are Malachi' arguments: we have one Father; one God created us; and his covenant with us in Jesus Christ is the guarantee of his help and friendship. Therefore let's be a people of radical integrity and faithfulness in all our dealings whatever it costs!

2. Malachi 2:11–12—Marriage to Unbelievers

In verses 11–12 Malachi moves from relationships in general to the specific issue of marrying unbelievers. God regards this as another instance of being faithless or breaking trust. He calls it an abomination. Why is that? Let's read verse 11:

Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah has profaned the sanctuary [literally: the holiness] of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god.

The Primary Issue

The primary issue here is that the person that the man of Judah was marrying did not love and trust and follow Jehovah, the true God of Israel. She was not a daughter of the true God; she was a daughter of a foreign god.

So the point of the verse is that when we claim to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and then willfully choose to unite ourselves with an unbeliever in the most intimate personal union on earth, we profane the holiness of God. We act as though our emotional drive for human intimacy is more important than affirming the preciousness of God's holiness and nearness.

God calls this choice an abomination and he says in verse 12 that those who walk into it with their eyes open are asking for God to turn his back on them. "May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob, for the man who does this, any to witness or answer, or to bring an offering to the Lord of hosts!"

What Is and Is Not Being Said

Don't hear more than the text is saying here.

  1. It is not saying that it's impossible in every case for an unbelieving spouse to be converted. It is not impossible. We have seen it happen and 1 Peter 3 says that we should live so as to make it happen.
  2. It is not saying that if you are married to an unbeliever, you should get out. Five hundred years later some believers in Corinth drew that conclusion and Paul wrote them to tell them precisely not to pull out (1 Corinthians 7:12–13).

Rather what this text is saying to us clearly this morning is this: if the choice of marriage partner still lies before you, settle it in your mind right now never to marry anyone that does not love the Lord Jesus with all his or her heart. You are not too young to do this. From the time I was 13 years old it was one of the settled convictions of my heart: I would guard myself from the rising of all romantic affection for any girl who was not a true Christian. And by the grace of God I was not only spared a life of tragedy, but given a marriage and a family as peaceful and satisfying as any I have ever known.

3. Malachi 2:13–16—Divorce

Finally, Malachi turns to the third and final instance of acting faithlessly, namely, divorcing a spouse. Verse 16: "I hate divorce, says the Lord the God of Israel."

The versions differ so much on verse 15 that it would take us too long to settle on the best translation. So I am going to simply draw out three simple and clear reasons from verses 14 and 16 for why God hates divorce and why Christians should never seek to nullify their union with a living spouse.

Marriage Is a Covenant

In verse 13 we learn that God refuses to accept the offerings of the people. In verse 14 they ask, "Why does he not?" And the answer is given:

Because the Lord was witness to the covenant between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless [bagad!], though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.

The reason that divorce has kindled God's wrath is that marriage is a covenant. The life together is rooted not in the sand of emotional satisfaction but in the rock of covenant commitment. And two things in this text clarify what sort of covenant that is.

It Is a Covenant Before God

One is in the first part of verse 14: "The Lord was witness [to the covenant] between you and the wife of your youth."

"I, John, take you, Noël, to by my wife, and I do promise and covenant before God and these witnesses to be your loving and faithful husband as long as we both shall live."

"COVENANT BEFORE GOD!" That is the essence of marriage. And when God stands as witness to the covenant promises of a marriage, it becomes more than a merely human agreement. God is not a passive bystander at a wedding ceremony. In effect he says, I have seen this, I confirm it, and I record it in heaven. And I bestow upon this covenant by my presence and my purpose the dignity of being an image of my own covenant with my wife, the church.

God Is in a Covenant with His Wife, His People

We know this from Ephesians 5, but there is pointer to it in verse 16, and this is my final observation from the text. Verse 16 says, "For I hate divorce, says the Lord the God of Israel." This is the only time in the whole book where God calls himself the "God of Israel." I don't think that is an accident. Because the root reason why God hates divorce is that it is fundamentally a contradiction of his covenant with his wife, his people.

He is the God of Israel. The fellowship may be broken. There may be exile and separation. There may be anger and tears. But when whole story is told, the sum of the matter is Isaiah 54:4–8:

Your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. For the Lord has called you like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer.

God will never nullify his marriage to the elect. Christ will never forsake his bride, the church. He is a covenant maker and a covenant keeper. And that is the meaning of marriage.

The Merciful God of the Covenant 

And wherever you are this morning in your relationships—and none of us is precisely where we should be—remember these words of the covenant: "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin" (Exodus 34:6–7).

I invite you to turn from all sin. Cast yourself on the mercy of God. And in the security and freedom of his unbreakable covenant

  • don't back out on your commitments
  • don't marry an unbeliever
  • and don't divorce your covenant wife.