Marital Sins

10Have 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?

11Judah 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. 12As 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.

13Another 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. 14You 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.

15Has 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.

16"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.

In the previous couple of sections of the book of Malachi, we have seen the priests rebuked by the Lord (through Malachi), for their improper methods of worship. Because of their improprieties, the priests were unable to be holy examples for the people. Instead, they were "despised and humiliated before all the people, because [they] have not followed [the Lord’s] ways" (Mal. 2:9). Now, whenever spiritual leadership is not following the ways of the Lord, you can be sure that their followers are also not following the ways of the Lord. This was the case in Malachi’s time. In this section, the people are taken to task for breaking the Lord’s laws concerning marriage and divorce. Specifically, the people are admonished for two particular sins: marrying out of the faith; divorcing the wives of their youth.

Malachi introduces his admonition of the people by pointing out the seriousness of the sins they were committing: "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?" (vs. 10). The marital sins they were committing were a profanation of "the covenant of their fathers", because they were "breaking faith with one another." We must not treat marital sins lightly. Make no mistake, they are sins. And they are sins that are not fitting of God’s people. Malachi asks: "Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us?" They are sins against our brothers and sisters. They are sins of breaking faith with our brothers and sisters. God, our "Father", is faithful to His words, faithful to His covenants. So also, as His children, we should be faithful to our covenants with one another.

Moreover, marital sins are not just sins between two individuals. They are sins against society, as well. Marriage outside the faith weakens the faith of society as a whole. Divorce weakens the institution of the family, which is so important to society. Furthermore, divorce often has side effects that place burdens on society. For instance, the children of divorced parents naturally receive less attention and instruction from their parents. This deficit of parental attention often results in discipline problems, which society must bear.

Malachi specifically admonishes the people for their sin: "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" (vss. 11-12). Malachi’s first admonition concerning marriage and divorce is against the sin of marrying out of the faith. Both the Old and New Testaments speak against marrying out of the faith. Concerning the unbelievers living around the children of Israel, the Lord commanded: "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 sons 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). In the New Testament, Paul commanded Christians: "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?" (II Cor. 6: 14-15). The argument Paul uses in that verse is surprisingly modern. These days, when looking for a marriage partner, people look for common interests and compatibility. Paul points out that a believer and unbeliever cannot be seen as being compatible. Our spiritual standing before God is the most important aspect of our lives, and so, given this, "what does a believer have in common with and unbeliever?" You may protest: "If I marry an unbeliever, will not I be in a good position to turn them to God?" But God’s commandments are based on wisdom. God knows that, far more often, the unbelieving spouse causes the believing spouse to drift away from God.

Next, Malachi speaks against divorce. To do so, Malachi first relates the effect that the divorces have had on the divorcee’s relationship with God: "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" (vss. 13-14). Here, the Lord takes the side of the deserted partner. In that culture, it was nearly always the wife who was the wronged one in the divorce. As a punishment for the wife’s suffering, the Lord cut off His relationship with the husband. The husband came to regret what he did: "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."

For the believer, a marriage is more than just a civil union between two people. It is a solemn covenant, with God Himself "acting as the witness." Such a covenant should not be broken lightly. Indeed, such a covenant should never be broken.

A divorce is not a private matter between two people. It is a rending of the fusion of two people into one, which God supernaturally created. As the Lord points out: "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" (vs. 15). A marriage is more than just a social contract between two people. Something more goes on when two people are joined in marriage: something mystical. "They will become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24). Those who are married are newly created into one being. More than this, their marriage becomes a model of the relationship between Christ and her bride, the Church. Paul says: "‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church" (Eph. 5:31-32). And if "God created marriage to illustrate the most blessed of all spiritual relationships—the union of a believing man or woman with Christ, the divine bridegroom of the church—then divorce must therefore illustrate apostasy or the falling away of a man or woman from God, which is damnation" [Boice, 246].

Malachi points out here, as we noted before, that divorce makes it difficult to raise up godly children: "And why one? Because He was seeking godly offspring." "Why did God make Adam and Eve only one flesh, when He might have given Adam many wives, for God certainly had more than enough of the Spirit, or creative power, to furnish many partners? However, because God was seeking a godly offspring, He restricted man and woman to a single bonding, for He knew that a plurality of mates for either partner was not conducive to raising children to the glory of God" [Kaiser, 466].

As a marriage lengthens, and the first blushes of love recede, we need to take special care to view marriage as a life-long commitment. Malachi exhorts: "So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth" (vs. 15). A successful marriage requires self-discipline and restraint. We need to "guard ourselves" against worldly desires, and realize that giving into the temptation to stray from "the wife of our youth" will lead to great pain and suffering. Ask anyone who has committed adultery whether they regret it. Odds are, they will say they do. True happiness comes in the stability of a life-long marriage.

Finally, Malachi presents the most compelling argument against divorce: "‘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" (vs. 16). Make no mistake, God "hates divorce." How much clearer can it be said? This statement by God Himself is unequivocal, uncompromising, and should be made clearly known by ministers of God’s Word to their hearers: "God hates divorce."

God also hates "a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment." This idiom seems to mean that God hates when a man does "violence" (the divorce), and then covers it by making excuses ("the garment"). I do not think there is any sin for which more excuses are made than divorce. It is the most rationalized of sins that is committed. "Instead of trying to find loopholes in God’s commandment or trying to convince ourselves that our spouse is not a Christian or is at least not behaving as one and is therefore divorceable, we ought to be shouting the holiness of marriage from the housetops" [Boice, 244].

To those who are married, I exhort you to begin today in the work of building your marriage, so that it will remain strong for years and years, for the rest of your life. This requires effort. It is not easy. It requires humility, submission, and (especially) a great amount of selflessness on the part of both partners.

To those who are not yet married, I exhort you, when looking for a marriage partner, to heed the words of God, that He hates divorce. So, choose a believer, and choose someone who is willing to work at love, and to work at building a lasting relationship. May the Lord guide you and bless you in this.

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