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.