Monthly Archives: April 2015

A fairy tale

Once upon a time, there was a great and mighty city that was under siege by an ancient and powerful enemy. The enemy had destroyed many cities before. The city held firm for many days and then the warriors began running away from the battle and the ancient enemy started breaching the walls.
The wise men of the city investigated where all the warriors went. They were charged to defend the wall against the attack on the enemy and they had disappeared. Where did they go?
After many days they were found. They were measuring the skirts of their wives and daughters making sure that they weren’t turning into liberal feminists.
The enemy eventually destroyed the city. Pride and fear have caused many cities to fall.

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God Hates Divorce, part 2

In my previous post, I showed how the Hebrew of Malachi 2:16 has only one possible translation that takes into account the grammar and pronunciation of the Hebrew words:

“Because he hates, send away,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “and violence covers his garment.”

The question now is how that translation fits with the immediate context of Malachi.  The pericope is 2:10-16:

 10 Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?

 11 Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the LORD which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god.

 12 The LORD will cut off the man that doeth this, the master and the scholar, out of the tabernacles of Jacob, and him that offereth an offering unto the LORD of hosts.

 13 And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand.

 14 Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.

 15 And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.

 16 For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.

 (Mal 2:10-16 KJV)

The theme that Malachi is expounding is found in verse 10, “Why do we deal treacherously?”  The word “treacherously” is found 5 times in these verses. It means to deal faithlessly, with deceit.

We were created to relate to God and to one another. There are rules for living together in a society. The Bible calls these relationships “covenants”. Some are simple and not spelled out explicitly. I have an expectation to not be insulted and abused by strangers. I expect to be treated fairly.  Other expectations are spelled out explicitly. The marriage relationship is marked by solemn vows before God. We join churches, take oaths in courts, and sign contracts. All of these are covenants.

To deal treacherously is to break these covenant relationships. The word is bagad. This word is the theme of our text. Judah was dealing treacherously. They were abusing their relationships. The first example that Malachi gives is the example of Judah dealing treacherously with God by marrying the “daughter of a foreign god.” A man who marries outside of the covenant with God is either saying that his covenant with God is irrelevant, or that his covenant with his wife is irrelevant. How can one be “one flesh” with a wife who is not in fellowship with the one true God? The only way that a man can marry an unbeliever is by reducing marriage to simply a sexual relationship, OR by reducing his covenant with God to a matter of tradition and convenience. Either way, the man is guilty of bagad – treachery.

But that isn’t all. The next accusation, for the rest of the sons of Judah, is this one: The altar of God was covered with tears.

When one is weeping on the altar, one has no other remedy, no help and no strength. She has no where else to turn except to pour out her complaint to God. And why was she pouring out her grief on the altar? Because her husband was dealing treacherously with her. She entered into a marriage covenant – which meant he promised to love and honor and cherish her. He promised to cling to her and forsake all others.

His WIFE! She was the wife of his youth, his “companion”. The word “companion” is a word that is only used once in this form in the whole Old Testament. The only other time that a form of it appears is in describing the curtains of the tabernacle and how they were “tied” together in knots. A companion is one who is tied to you with knots. She’s your knot. God joined you to her. She’s the wife of your covenant. There is no closer relationship.

THIS woman, whom you vowed to love and cherish – you’ve dealt treacherously with her. You have treated her so badly that she is covering the altar of the Lord with tears so that God doesn’t accept your offerings anymore. God has heard your vows. And God has watched how you have treated your wife when you think no one else is watching. He is a witness.

Verse 15 is difficult to translate, but the meaning seems clear. God made Adam and Eve to be fruitful and to fill the earth and have dominion over the earth. They were created in God’s image and were called to spread this kingdom of God – the dominion of God’s image-bearers – throughout all of creation, just like it was in Eden. For this to happen, God didn’t create another species and bring that species to Adam. Rather, he took Eve from Adam’s rib. One flesh, one blood – the man and woman, husband and perfect suitable helper – and made them one flesh. He sought the “seed of God”.

But instead of that, sin entered the world and men became treacherous, violating that harmony, hating their wives and oppressing them, rather than loving them. This should not be, especially among God’s people.

And now we get to verse 16 and see that it makes perfect sense. If you hate her that much, set her free! Be open with it. You put on one front but behind closed doors you are something else entirely. Clothe yourself with the violence that defines your life and set your wife free!

So is God condoning divorce? No. That isn’t really the point of the passage. The point is the last part of the verse:  “therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.”

The point is that there are things in this world that God hates far, far more than divorce. He hates treachery. He hates bagad. It is a violation of his nature, of his faithfulness, of our calling as creatures in his image. He hates all forms of it. He hates oppression. He hates persecution. He hates lying and deceit. He hates the proud, treacherous heart. He hates the entitlement mentality that says “I am; and there is none like me!” God hates the hatred that a man has for his wife, causing him to rail at her, to oppress her, to take a mistress or another wife. He hates the disharmony that wicked men cause in their home.

If you insist on treating your wife like this, set her free. It will be the only decent thing you’ve ever done.

What would be far better, though, is if you took heed to your spirit and quit treating her this way. If you refuse to do that, don’t think that God doesn’t hear the voice of your wife pouring out her tears on the altar. God hears that, and will not allow those tears to go unanswered.

Why isn’t God hearing your prayers? Why doesn’t he accept your sacrifices? Because of how you treat your wife.

If you hate her that much, set her free.

But then, you say, how will we keep our wives from leaving us? First, I have to say to you that if force and intimidation are the only tools in your arsenal to keep your marriage, then you need to reevaluate your existence as a human being.

Instead of asking that question, ask instead, “How can I make my wife WANT to stay married to me?”

Paul answers this in Ephesians 5. Love your wives, as Christ loved the church.

Or, as Malachi puts it – take heed to your spirit. Remember the wife of your youth. Build relationship with her. Quit the angry bitter thoughts. Think of her as the wife of your youth – the first blooming of love in the heart of the passionate teenager. Those blossoms can only grow when tended, each year more and more beautiful, until when you are 100 and she is 90, and she is calling you lord in her heart, as Sarah did to Abraham.

You may snort and say, “Well, she’s no Sarah.”

And you’re no Abraham. Tend your garden. Love your wives. don’t you dare deal treacherously with the one that God tied to your soul – your wife by covenant.

 

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God hates divorce?

Does Malachi 2:16 teach that God hates divorce?

The King James: For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.

The New King James: “For the LORD God of Israel says That He hates divorce, For it covers one’s garment with violence,” Says the LORD of hosts. “Therefore take heed to your spirit, That you do not deal treacherously.”

The New American Standard: “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 do not deal treacherously.”

The English Standard: Malachi 2:16 “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

The New International Version: “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.

One can certainly tell that there is  no unanimity in the translation of this rather difficult text.

The current interpretation of the text by conservative Christians is close to the New American Standard translation. “I hate divorce”, says the Lord, the God of Israel…”

I have an incessantly curious nature when it comes to God’s word. Why are there so many different translations? Why are there so many interpretations? Why, if God hates divorce, does God divorce his people Israel? Why does God permit divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1-4? God never permits that which he hates. What does it mean?

Another problem that arises is that anyone who strays from the “God hates divorce” camp is immediately accused of being tainted by the world. “50% divorce rate because of liberal thinking like this. God hates divorce!” You will be called worldly, or worse, a feminist!

But I am a Christian who believes in the infallible and inerrant word of God as our only guide to eternal life. Our faith and our practice is driven ONLY by the inspired word.

So with that understanding, I delved into Malachi 2:16. I could not simply allow the “professionals” to translate it and pick which version I liked best. I am accountable to God to use whatever gifts He has given me to discern what the text actually says.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what the world says. It doesn’t matter what accusations are thrown around. It doesn’t matter the opinion of the latest celebrity preacher. All that matter is what God says.

This article is a little more technical than I usually write. There is a reason for it. I am fully aware that the views expressed here will leave me open to accusations of being “soft on divorce”. I assure you that is not the case. My only concern is to rightly discern God’s word and go where it leads. This article is for the purpose of making it clear what my view is; how I arrived at it; and perhaps open up some very closed minds to the truth of God’s word.

If we believe that the bible is the word of God; if we believe that it is sufficient, necessary, clear and authoritative; then we must go to the text itself and let it speak for itself.

There are certain principles of interpretation that every student of the Bible, especially those of the Reformed and Presbyterian persuasion, should recognize.

First, the primary author of Scripture is God Himself. There is only one author, and He is perfectly wise and His lips speak knowledge and understanding. For this reason, there are no contradictions in Scripture. God doesn’t change His mind. God doesn’t grow in His knowledge and understanding. Jesus doesn’t contradict Moses and Malachi doesn’t contradict Hosea. To apply this simply, those texts that are clear must interpret those texts that are rather difficult. If an interpretation on a text flatout contradicts a clear text elsewhere in scripture, great care must be taken. God is not foolish. He is not “yes” and “no”.

Second, God used human language and human authors. This means that ordinary rules of grammar were used to communicate eternal truths about God. These human authors lived in cultures and eras of history and their language was the language of the time. Of course, this can be and has been greatly abused – mostly by those who do not keep the unchanging Divine Author clear in their thoughts. But the truth of the matter is that the words that were used were intended to be read and understood by a contemporary audience. There was no “secret” language with secret numbers and hidden codes. Just ordinary words used in an ordinary way following the ordinary rules of communication.

Third, the Hebrew language posits some challenges all its own. It is well known that the Hebrew text is a consonantal text. This means that in the original there were only consonants. Vowels were passed down from generation to generation through oral tradition. In the early Middle Ages after Christ, (around 800AD or so) a group of Hebrew scholars known as the Masoretes invented a system of dots and lines to indicate the vowels and the proper pronunciation. After several centuries, this system was modified, edited and corrected until it was received by all, and by the 10th century there was a received text of the Hebrew Bible with the vowel points added.

The vowel points are crucial to the interpretation of the words. If the pronunciation of a word changed, the meaning and the grammar of that word would change. If the vowel points are not reliable, then the text is not reliable.

I hold to the general inerrancy of the Hebrew vowel points. I believe that God has providentially preserved even the pronunciation of the Hebrew Bible. I am aware that this means that at times there will be difficulties, but I am far more comfortable saying that I don’t understand something than I am saying that the text is corrupted somehow.

This is important. Current scholarship generally denies the inerrancy of the points. Whenever a passage is difficult to interpret, they tend to try to make sense of the words by attempting different vowels here and there until they think that they have a solution. I believe that this is bad exegesis. It tends to lend itself to endless variation of translation based upon the presuppositions of the translator.

This also explains why there are so many different translations of Malachi 2:16, especially as the “fluidity” of the vowel points became more and more an acceptable interpretation technique. Change a vowel here and there, and “he hates” becomes “I hate”; and the verb “to send away” becomes the noun “divorce”.

So to summarize: God’s word does not contradict itself; God used ordinary language and grammar to communicate His word; The Hebrew text has been passed down to us accurately – let’s begin to look at the words themselves.

With that in mind, lets look at Malachi 2:16

As it happens, the entire difficulty in this passage is in the interpretation of the first three words of the text:  כִּי־שָׂנֵא שַׁלַּח ki-sane shallach

        The first word is ki. It is a common Hebrew conjunction that can be translated many different ways depending on the context. It can mean “because” or “for” or “that”, or it can be used similar to our quotation marks to mark off a direct quotation. Other possibilities are “When, if, although,” and so on.

        The second word, sane,  is “he hates”. The third word, shallach is “send away, set free, let go.”

        After these three words, the text says, “Says the LORD, the God of Israel”.

        So what does it mean? We will take the conjunction last, since its interpretation depends upon the other two words. Here are the possibilities from the English translations:

First, “For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away” (King James Version). In this version, the conjunction is tied to the second phrase, not the first one. The assumption is that the subject of the verb “to hate” is God and that the object of God’s hatred is “the sending away”. This scheme is generally followed by the NKJ and the NAS. But there are some problems:

First, the third phrase, completing the quote is this: “and violence covers his garments”. If “he” in the first phrase refers to God (as the one hating) then why would the antecedent suddenly change in the rest of the quote? Is it God’s garments that are covered with violence? If “he” is God in the first, it must be God also in the rest of the quote. Then we would have “God hates divorce and violence covers his garments.”

You could make some sense of it in English, but not without mangling the Hebrew.

If you took the stance of the New American Standard, and changed the subject of “hates” to the first person singular pronoun, (I hate), then the rest of the phrase could justify a change in the pronoun (as the NAS does) but the problem is that the vowel points do not fit. In fact, there is only one translation that matches the pointing of the text: “He hates”. That’s the only thing that it can mean without twisting the pronunciation. So who is the subject of the sentence? It can’t be God, because that doesn’t fit the rules of grammar. Since the subject is not given expressly, I would take the subject as a hypothetical man, an indeterminate “he”.

The next word shallach (to send away) is a little more difficult.  The first problem is the assumption that “to send away” is the exact equivalent of “to divorce”. It is not. The primary meaning is to send. The form that it is in (the vowel points and double consonant “L”) is what is called the piel  form, which slightly changes the meaning. The most common translations are “set free”, “let go”, “dismiss”, “send away”. Divorce, as it is understood today, is the legal procedure of acknowledging the broken marriage covenant. One can certainly “send away” a wife without divorcing her.

If the meaning of this text is as it is commonly presented, “God hates divorce”, then even the translation of the word itself is problematic. Usually those who hold this view say that if a woman is in an abusive relationship, she can separate, but not divorce. However, the word shallach means to send away, not to obtain a bill of divorcement. If divorce is forbidden here, then certainly separation is.

Instead of ascribing a rather obscure and perhaps unknown meaning to the word shallach let’s take it in its most common and highly attested use, “send away”, and see where that leads us.

The next issue are the vowel points. As they stand, there are only two forms of the Hebrew verb that use these vowel points. One is called the infinitive construct. It is similar to an English infinitive. If it was an infinitive construct, the two words together would be translated, “He hates to send away;” Since this doesn’t make a lot of sense, it is generally understood as a participle: “He hates the sending away”, or “he hates divorce”.  But there are a lot of assumptions that need to happen for this to be valid. first, one would have to assume that an infinitive construct is the equivalent of a participle, which it is not. The second assumption is that “he” refers to God, and then switches to the treacherous man in the second half of the quote. That is a big leap. If the only translation of these vowel points is an infinitive construct, we might have to make some leaps like this.

But there is a far easier way that fits the grammar, the historical context, and the analogy of scripture perfectly. The word shallach is actually a command. It is an imperative, 2nd person, masculine singular. That is the only form it CAN be without twisting the natural use of language. The use of shallach as a command is extremely well-attested in the Old Testament. The exact spelling – points and all – is found throughout the book of Exodus and translated, “let go”.  As in, “Let my people go.”

The problem with the translation given by the ESV (For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her) is that the word “divorce” is translated as if it is a simple action verb. But the vowel pointing does not allow that. In order for this to mean “he divorces her”, the verb would have to be spelled differently.  The points don’t fit. The only form where the points and the grammar fit is an imperative, (command).

Taking the whole phrase in it’s most natural sense, without any assumptions and without changing any of the pronunciation, we have this:

“Because he hates, set free,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “for violence covers his garment.”

This translation not only is the only one that does full justice to the inspired text, including the vowel points and the simply, ordinary use of language, but it is also well attested in the history of the church. It is the translation of the Aramaic Targums, the Vulgate, most of the church fathers, Luther and Calvin. In fact, Calvin wrote,

“This then is the reason why the Prophet now says, If thou hatest, dismiss; not that he grants indulgence to divorce, as we have said, but that he might by this circumstance enhance the crime; and hence he adds, For he covers by a cloak his violence.”

This may seem a bit strange to those who have been steeped in the teaching of the church for the past 30 years. Does the Bible really say that if a man hates his wife, he should set her free? This can’t be so! Does that fit the context of Malachi?

That will be the subject of my next article.

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