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Though the priests did not sin alone, yet it is not without reason, as we have said, that they were regarded as the first in wickedness; for it was their office to correct what the people did amiss. Their dissimulation had the effect of encouraging the common people to sin: hence the Prophet accuses them especially as the authors of impiety; and this is what the words intimate, if they are rightly considered.
To you, he says, O priests. They might have indeed exonerated themselves, or at least transferred a part of their guilt to others: “Oh! what can we do? for we see that the people are growing cold in God’s worship; it is better that imperfect sacrifices should be offered than none at all.” As then they might by evasion have somewhat extenuated their guilt, the Prophet the more sharply reproves them and says, To you especially is addressed this command, as they ought to have shown to others the right way; for when they dissembled, their connivance was nothing else but a consent; and thus they divested the people of God’s fear, and allowed them to corrupt the whole of religion by offering spurious sacrifices. To you then, he says, that is, “Though the whole people is guilty before God, think not that ye are on this account excused; for it behoves you to check this wickedness, for God has set you over the people as their teachers and guides: as then ye have neglected your duty, whatever others have done amiss, falls justly on your heads. For how has it happened that the people have dared to proceed so far in impiety? even because you have no concern for religion; for God has promoted you to the priesthood for this end — to preserve in integrity the worship of his name; but ye know of all the prevailing profanations, and ye hold your peace: To you then is this command. ”
He then adds, If ye will not hear nor lay it to heart to give glory to my name, etc. He seems here to threaten the priests alone; and yet if any one carefully considers the whole passage, he will easily perceive that this address extends to the whole people, in such a way however that it is in the first place directed to the priests; for as I have said the greater portion of the guilt belonged to them. God then denounces a heavy punishment on the whole people as well as on the priests, even that he would send a curse. But that they might not object and say that they were too severely dealt with, God shows how justly he was displeased with them, because they hearkened not nor attended to his warnings. What indeed is less tolerable than not to hear God speaking? But as many thought it enough to stretch the ear, and then immediately to forget what had been spoken, it is added, If ye lay it not to heart, that is, If ye attend not and seriously apply your hearts to what is said. We see then that the Prophet shows how that God had a just cause for severely punishing them; for it was an impiety not to be borne, when he could obtain no hearing from men. But the Prophet shows at the same time what it is to hear God; he therefore adds the latter clause as a definition or an explanation of the former: for God is not heard, if we receive with levity his words, so that they soon vanish away; but we hear them when we lay them on the heart, or, as the Latins say, when we apply the mind to them. There is then required a serious attention, otherwise it will be the same as though the ears were closed against God.
Let us further learn from this passage that obedience is of so much account with God, that he bears nothing less than a contempt of his word or a careless attention to it, as though we regarded not its authority. We must also notice that our guilt before God is increased and enhanced, when he recalls us to the right way, and seeks to promote our welfare by warning and exhorting us. When therefore God is thus kindly careful for our salvation, we are doubly inexcusable, if we perversely reject his teaching, warnings, counsels, and other remedies which he may apply.
He now adds, I will send on you a curse; and this curse he immediately explains, I will curse your blessings (213) The word blessing, we know, means everywhere in Scripture the beneficence or kindness of God. God then is said to bless us when he bountifully supports us and supplies whatever is necessary for us. And hence seems to have arisen the expression, that God by his nod alone can satisfy us with all abundance of good things. By blessings then he means a large and an abundant provision, and also rest from enemies, a healthy air, and everything of this kind. Some think that those prayers are intended, by which the priest blessed the people; but there is no reason for this. God then had manifested his favor to the Jews; he now declares that he will deprive them of all his benefits, that they might know that he is not propitious to them. Blessings then are evidences of God’s bounty and paternal favor.
But he immediately adds, Yea, I have cursed. By which words he proves their senselessness: for they were not even taught by their evils, which yet produce some effect even on fools, who, according to the common proverb, begin to be wise when they are chastised. God then here reproves the stupidity of the Jews; for they had already been deprived of his benefits, and they might have known by experience that he was not propitious to them, but on the contrary an angry judge; and yet they were touched by no penitence, according to what we have seen in the other Prophets.
We now understand the import of the words, and at the same time the object of the Prophet: I will then curse your blessings, and what is more, (so I explain,
(213) It is “your blessing” in one MS., in the Septuagint, the Targum, and Arabic; and this reading is confirmed by “it” in the next line. By “blessing,” says Newcome, “is meant the portion of the priests:” and as the priests are especially addressed, this is probable. — Ed.
He confirms here again what he had said in the last verse, — that they would perceive God’s curse in want and poverty. The curse of God is any kind of calamity; for as God declares especially his favor by a liberal support, so the sterility of the land and defective produce most clearly evidence the curse of God. The Prophet then shows, by mentioning one thing, what sort of curse was nigh the Jews, — that God would destroy their seed. Some read, but improperly, “I will destroy you and the seed.” I wonder how learned men make such puerile mistakes, when there is nothing ambiguous in the Prophet’s words. I will destroy then for you the seed; that is, “Sow as much as you please, I will yet destroy your seed, so that it shall produce no fruit.” In short, he threatens the Jews with want and famine; for the land would produce nothing when cursed by God. (214)
But as the Jews flattered themselves on account of their descent, and ever boasted of their fathers, and as that preeminence with which God had favored them proved to them an occasion of haughtiness and pride, the Prophet here ridicules this foolish confidence, I will scatter dung, he says, on your faces: “Ye are a holy nation, ye are the chosen seed of Abraham, ye are a royal priesthood; these are your boastings; but the Lord will render your faces filthy with dung; this will be your nobility and preeminence! there is then no reason for you to think yourselves exempt from punishments because God has adopted you; for as ye have abused his benefits and profaned his name, so ye shall also find in your turn, that he will cover you with everything disgraceful and ignominious, so as to make you wholly filthy: ye shall then be covered all over with dung, and shall not be the holy seed of Abraham.”
But as they might have again raised a clamor and say, “Have we then in vain so diligently served God? Why has he bidden a temple to be built for him by us and promised to dwell there? God then has deceived us, or at least his promises avail nothing.” — The Prophet gives this answer, “God will overwhelm you with disgrace and also your sacrifices.” But he calls them the dung of solemnities, as though he had said, “I will cover you with reproach on account of your impiety, which is seen in your sacrifices.” Had the Jews any holiness they derived it from their sacrifices, by which they expiated their sins and reconciled themselves to God: but the Prophet says that it was their special ill-savor which offended God, and which he abominated, because they vitiated their sacrifices. Nor is that to be disapproved which some of the rabbins have said, that the Prophet alludes to the oxen, calves, and rams; for when the Jews from various places brought their sacrifices, there must have been much dung from all that vast number. There is then here a striking allusion to the victims themselves, as though he had said, “Ye think that I can be pacified by your sacrifices, as though loads of dung were pleasing to me; for when ye bring such a vast number, even the place itself, the area before the temple, throws an ill-savor on account of the dung that is there. Ye are then, forsooth! holy, and all your filth is cleansed away by means of this dung. Begone then together with the dung of your solemnities; for I will cast this very dung on your heads.”
We now perceive what the Prophet means: and emphatical are the words, Behold I; for God by these single words cuts off all those pretences by which the Jews deceived themselves, and thought that their vices were concealed from God: “I myself,” he says, “am present, to whom ye think your sacrifices to be acceptable; I then will destroy your seed, and I will also cast dung on your faces; all the dignity which ye pretend shall be abolished, for ye think that ye are defended by a sort of privilege, when ye boast yourselves to be the seed of Abraham: it is dung, it is dung,” he says. He afterwards shows what was especially the dung and the filth: for when they objected and said, “What! have our sacrifices availed nothing?” he answers, “Nay, I will cast that dung upon you, because the chief pollution is in your sacrifices, for ye vitiate and adulterate my service: and what else is your sacrifice but profanation only? ye are sacrilegious in all your empty pomps. Since then all your victims have an ill-savor and displease me, and as I nauseate them, (as it is also said in the first and last chapter of Isaiah,) I will heap the dung on your own heads, because ye think it to be your chief expiation.”
He adds at last, It shall take you to itself; that is, “Ye shall be dung altogether; and thus all your boastings, that ye are descended from the holy Patriarch Abraham, shall be wholly useless; though I made a covenant and promised that you should be to me a royal priesthood, yet the dung shall take you to itself, and thus whatever dignity I have hitherto conferred on you shall be taken away.” (215) Let us proceed
(214) The word
Behold, I will withhold from you the shoulder.
The shoulder belonged to the priests, see Leviticus 7:32; Deuteronomy 18:3. This rendering suits the context better than the other. — Ed.
(215) Participles and vers are often connected by “and” in Hebrew, and so in Welsh; but then the auxiliary is understood. Such is the case here, and the Septuagint have so regarded it, “
Here he addresses in particular the priests; for though the whole people with great haughtiness resisted God, yet the priests surpassed them. And we know how ready men are to turn to evil whatever benefits God may bestow on them. It has been then a common evil in men from the beginning of the world, to exalt themselves and to raise their crests against God, when they found themselves adorned with his benefits: but we know that the more any one is bound to God the more thankful he ought to be, for our gifts are not our own, but the benefits by which God binds us to himself.
“What best thou as thine own?” says Paul, “thou best then no reason to glory.”
(1 Corinthians 4:7)
This evil however has ever prevailed among men — that they have defrauded God of his glory, and have turned to an occasion of pride the favors received from him. But it is an evil which is very commonly seen in all governors; for they who are raised to a high dignity, think no more that they are men, but take to themselves very great liberty when they find themselves so much exalted above others. Thus kings and those in authority seem to themselves to be above the common order of men, and presumptuously disregard all laws; they think that everything is lawful for them, as no one opposes their willfulness. The same thing is also to be seen in teachers. For when God favored the priests with the highest honor, they became blinded, as it will hereafter be seen, by that favor of God, that they thought themselves to be as it were semi-gods; and the same thing has taken place in the kingdom of Christ.
For how have arisen so great impieties under the Papacy, except that pastors have exercised tyranny and not just government? For they have not regarded the purpose for which they have been called into their office, but as the name of pastor is in itself honorable, they have dared to raise themselves above the clouds, and to assume to themselves the authority of God himself. Hence it has been, that they have dared to bind consciences by their own laws, to change the whole truth, and to corrupt the whole worship of God: and hence also followed the scandalous sale of justice. How have these things happened? Because priests were counted as angels come down from heaven; and this same danger is ever to be feared by us.
This then is the vice which the Prophet now refers to; and he shows that the priests had no reason to think that they could shake off the yoke, Ye shall know, he says, that to you belongs this command. We indeed see what they objected to Jeremiah,
“The law shall not depart from the priests nor counsel and wisdom from the elders.” (Jeremiah 18:18.)
These are the weapons by which the Papists at this day defend themselves. When we allege against them plain proofs from Scripture, they find themselves clearly reproved and convicted by God’s word; but here is their Ajax’s shield, under which they hide all their wickedness, retailing as it were from the ungodly and wicked priests what is related by Jeremiah, “‘The law shall not depart from the priests;’ we are the Church, can it err? is not the Holy Spirit dwelling in the midst of us? ‘I am with you always to the end of the world,’ (Matthew 28:20;) did Christ intend to deceive his Church when he said this to his Apostles? and we are their successors.” The Prophet now gives the answer, Ye shall know, he says, that to you, belongs this cornmand
And he adds, not without severity, that my covenant may be with Levi; (216) as though he had said, “On what account are ye thus elated? for God cannot get a hearing for himself, yet ye say that the covenant with Levi is not to be void, as though God had put Levi in his own place, and divested himself of all authority when he appointed that tribe, and made you ministers of the temple and teachers of the people; is he nothing? What was God’s purpose when he honored you with that dignity? He certainly did not mean to reduce himself to nothing, but, on the contrary, his will was, that his own right should remain entire and complete. When therefore I reprove your vices, and show that ye are become vile, and as it were dung, that ye are defiled by everything disgraceful, — when I make these things openly known, I do not violate the covenant made with Levi. God then justly summons you before his tribunal, and strips you of your honor, in order that the covenant he made with Levi may be confirmed and ratified.” This is, as I have said, a severe derision.
But we may hence learn a useful truth. The Prophet briefly teaches us that the priestly office takes away nothing from God’s authority, who requires a pure and holy worship, and that it lessens in nothing the authority of the law, for sound doctrine ought ever to prevail. So at this day, when we resist the Papal priests, we do not violate God’s covenant, that is, it is no departure from the order of the Church, which ought ever to remain sacred and inviolable. We do not then on account of men’s vices, subvert the pastoral office, and the preaching of the word; but we assail the men themselves, so that due order may be restored, that sound doctrine may obtain a hearing among men, that the worship of God may be pure, which these unprincipled men have violated. We therefore boldly attempt to subvert the whole of the Papacy, with this full confidence, that we lessen nothing from the authority of teaching, nor in any way defraud the pastoral office; nay, order in the Church, the preaching of the truth, and the very dignity of pastors, cannot exist, except the Church be purged from its defilements, and its filth removed. Thus must we say also of those unprincipled men, who are too nearly connected with us, or too near us, and I wish they were wholly extinct in the world: but how many pests conceal themselves under this covering, or under this mask — “What! are we not the ministers of the word?” So say you who are without any principle; I wish ye were in your dung, or in your cells, where formerly ye too much corrupted the world; but now the devil has brought you forth into the Church of God, that ye may corrupt whatever had hitherto remained sound. As then there are many at this day who boast of this honor — that they are ministers of the word, and pastors, and that they teach the gospel, they ought to be checked by this answer of the Prophet — that when all their corruptions are fully and really cleansed away, then confirmed and ratified will be the compact which God would have to be valid with his Church and with the ministers of his word. He then adds an explanation —
(216) That any covenant may remain with Levi. — Newcome. This seems to be the sense. He sent “this command,” or this message, as
The Prophet now proves more clearly how God violates not his covenant, when he freely rebukes the priests, and exposes also their false attempts in absurdly applying to themselves the covenant of God, like the Papal priests at this day, who say that they are the Church. How? because they have in a regular order succeeded the apostles; but this is a foolish and ridiculous definition; for he who occupies the place of another ought not on that account only to be deemed a successor. Were a thief to kill the master of a family, and to occupy his place, and to take possession of all his goods, is he to be accounted his legitimate successor? So these dishonest men, to show that they are to be regarded as apostles, only allege a continued course of succession; but the likeness between them ought rather to be the subject of inquiry. We must see first whether they have been called, and then whether they answer to their calling; neither of which can they prove. Then their definition is altogether frivolous.
So also our Prophet here shows, that the priests made pretences and deceived the common people, while they sought to prove themselves heirs of the covenant which God had made with Levi their father, that is, with the tribe itself. “I shall be faithful,” says God, “and my faithfulness will be evident from the compact itself; my compact with your father was that of life and peace: (217) but it was mutual: ye seem not to think that there are two parties in a compact, and that there is, according to what is commonly said, a reciprocal obligation: but I on my part promised to your father to be his father, and I also stipulated with him that he was to obey me, to obey my word, and whatever I might afterwards require. Now ye will have me to be bound to you, and yourselves to be free from every obligation. What equity is this — that I should owe everything to you and you nothing to me? My compact then with him was that of life and peace; but what is your compact? what is it that ye owe to me? Even what the mutual compact which I made with your father Levi and his tribe requires; perform this, and ye shall find that I am faithful and constant in all my promises.” I cannot go farther now.
(217) That we may understand these terms we must have recourse to the case evidently alluded to, that of Phinehas, in Numbers 25:12. God promised to him the covenant of peace and of perpetual priesthood—of peace, that is, of reconcilement, because God through the zeal displayed by Phinehas became reconciled to the children of Israel — and of perpetuity as to the priesthood, signified here by life or “lives,” as the word is plural. — Ed.
He explains mote fully how Levi responded to God’s command, — that he had the law of truth in his mouth. The chief duty of a priest is to show the right way of living to the people; for however upright and holy one may be through his whole life, he is not on that account to be deemed a priest. Hence our Prophet dwells especially on this point — that Levi taught the people. He does not speak of Levi himself; for we know that Levi was dead when Aaron was made a priest. For God does not here speak of individuals, but of the tribe; as though he had said, “Aaron and Eleazar, and those who followed them, knew for what end they were honored with the priesthood, and they faithfully performed their duties.” The Prophet now explains what God mainly requires from priests — to show to the people, as I have already said, the way of living a pious and holy life; but he adopts different words, which yet mean the same thing.
The law of truth, he says, was in his mouth. Why does he not commend the integrity of his heart rather than his words? Had he spoken of an individual, the Prophet might have justly said, that he who sought to be an approved servant of God, had conducted himself harmless towards men; but he speaks of a public office, when he says, that the law of truth was in his mouth; for he is not worthy of that honor who is mute: and nothing is more preposterous, or even more ridiculous, than that those should be counted priests who are no teachers. These two things are, as they say, inseparable — the office of the priesthood and teaching.
And that he might more clearly show that he speaks not of an ordinary matter, he repeats the same thing in other words, Iniquity was not found in his lips. We hence see that all this belongs peculiarly to the sacerdotal office. He afterwards adds, In peace and rectitude he walked before me. The Prophet here commends also the sincere concern for religion which the first priests manifested, for they walked with God in peace and uprightness; they not only carried signals in their lips and mouth, by which they might have been justly deemed the ministers of God and the pastors of his Church; but they also executed faithfully their office. And he alludes to the peace of which he had spoken: as God then had promised peace to the Levites, so also he says, that the Levites had lived themselves peaceably before God; for they did not break the covenant which he had made with them. As then they had responded to the stipulation of God, he says that they had walked in peace: but he also mentions how this was; it was, because they had walked in uprightness.
And the phrase,
He also mentions the fruit of their doctrine; for Levi turned many from iniquity, that is, he led many to repentance. It afterwards follows (for this verse ought to be joined) —
(219) “The fear of God,” says Cocceius, “which was in the first priests, is more fully declared by its effects, which are twofold—sayings and doings. The doctrine of truth was in their mouth; they taught the truth, they were not silent, but sincerely taught it, without admiring what was false; for what is false is injustice, and it is the truth set forth either in a perverted form, or by addition, or by diminution. As to doings, they walked in peace, they did not rebel against God, nor did they seek devious and crooked ways, but walked in a strait course.”
What the Prophet has said of the first priests he extends now to the whole Levitical tribe, and shows that it was a perpetual and unchangeable law as to the priesthood. He had said that Levi had been set over the Church, not to apply to himself the honor due to God, but to stand in his own place as the minister of God, and the teacher of the chosen people. The same thing he now confirms, declaring it as a general truth that the lips of the priest ought to retain knowledge, as though he had said, that they were to be the store-house from which the food of the Church was to be drawn. God then did appoint the priests over his chosen people, that the people might seek their food from them as from a store-room, according to what we find to be the case with a master of a family, who has his store of wine and his store of provisions. As then the food of a whole family is usually drawn out from places where provisions are laid up, so the Prophet makes use of this similitude, — that God has deposited knowledge with the priests, so that the mouth of every priest might be a kind of store-house, so to speak, from which the people are to seek knowledge and the rule of a religious life: Keep knowledge then shall the lips of the priest, and the law shall they seek from his mouth (220)
He shows how it is to be kept; the priests are not to withhold it, but the whole Church is to enjoy the knowledge of which they are the keepers. They shall then seek or demand the law from his mouth.
Law may be taken simply for truth; but the Prophet no doubt alludes here to the doctrine of Moses, the only true fountain of all knowledge. We indeed know that God included in his law whatever was necessary for the welfare of his Church; nor was there anything added by the Prophets. Our Prophet then so includes every truth in the word,
He says in the last place, that the priest is the messenger of Jehovah. He briefly defines here what the priesthood is, even an embassy which God commits to men, that they may be his interpreters in teaching and ruling the Church. What then is a priest? A messenger of God, and his interpreter. It hence follows that the office of teaching cannot be separated from the priesthood; for it is a monstrous thing when any one boasts himself to be a priest, when he is no teacher. The Prophet then draws an argument from the definition itself, when he says that a priest is a messenger of God. Then follows the contrast when he says
(220) The verbs, as here rendered, are future: but being preceded by
A son should honor a father,
And a servant, his Lord.
This use of the future, as designating a duty or obligation, is much more frequent in Hebrew than what is commonly supposed. — Ed.
He shows here how far were the priests of his time from fulfilling that compact which he had mentioned. He hence concludes that they were unworthy of the honor of which they were so confidently proud, and under the shadow of which they sought to cover their vices, as though they were not bound to God, and were at liberty to tread the Church under foot with impunity. He then shows that it was an extremely foolish arrogance in them to seek to be exempt from all law, and yet to regard God and the whole Church bound to them.
He says first, that they deviated from the way, that is, they exhibited nothing suitable to their office, on account of which they were counted priests. He then amplifies their guilt — that they made many to stumble in the law (221) He had before said that Levi walked in peace and uprightness; what he now says is very different — that the priests, forgetting religion, had first shaken off the yoke. He had said that Levi restored many from iniquity; but he now says that the priests made many to stumble.
He adds in the last place — Ye have therefore corrupted the covenant. An illative is to be put here, for so ought the sentence to be explained — “As ye have deviated from the way, and perverted the whole worship of God, ye have thus violated the compact which had been sanctioned with Levi; ye have then no reason to boast of your title of honor, for succession failed when ye fell away from the faithfulness of your father Levi.” At length it follows —
(221) “At the law” is our version, and that of Newcome, who adds, “By offering blemished sacrifices.” Henderson has “in the law.” They departed from the way prescribed in the law, and caused others to fall or stumble in it, that is, in the way which the law pointed out. The way, says Drusius, is the law itself. To stumble in the law is to transgress it.
For “causing to stumble,” the Septuagint have “ye have weakened—
The Prophet draws this conclusion — that the priests in vain gloried in the honor of their office, for they had ceased to be the priests of God. We may now return to the main point.
We perceive what the subject is which the Prophet handles here: as the priests sought by a peculiar privilege to exempt themselves from all reproof, he assails them in particular; for teaching would have been useless as to the common people, except the priests themselves were brought to order. The priests no doubt flattered the people, and thus attempted to deprive the Prophets of every respect, in order that their doctrine might produce no effect. This is the reason why our Prophet so sharply reproves them. But we must consider the state of the case. The priests said that they had been set, by divine authority, over the whole Church, and that they could not be deprived of that honor which they had received from God. They however took only but one part of the covenant, and yet sought to deprive God of his right. The Prophet here answers them — that God had indeed favored them with no common honor in appointing them the priests of his Church, but that the compact, which included a mutual stipulation, was at the same time to be considered; for God had not simply appointed them the guides of his Church, but had also added a condition.
We hence see that the hinge of the matter was, that the priests presumptuously and absurdly laid hold on what favored only their own cause, and at the same time passed by and cunningly overlooked the chief thing — that the priesthood was connected with the worship of God. Now had they attained what they wished, there would have been no God in the Church, but they would have exercised over it a tyrannical power. But it has ever been, and is still the will of God, to retain the supreme power over mortals in his own hand.
Having now seen the design of the Prophet, we may easily perceive the import of the whole subject. But before we proceed farther, we must first observe, that we have here described to us the character of true and legitimate priests; for the Prophet not only speaks of the office of priests, but sets before us a living image in which we cannot be deceived: and hence all who are engaged in the pastoral office may know what God requires from them. I will only just mention what he first says — that God gave fear to priests; for I have already given a sufficient explanation of this by saying, that priests are not to abuse their right, as though the highest power were granted to them; for God will not have his Church subject to tyranny, but his will is to reign alone in it through the ministry of men. The main thing then to be borne in mind is this — that a rule is prescribed to priests, that though they preside and possess the first rank of honor among the people, it is yet under certain conditions.
We shall now consider only this which the Prophet says — that Levi faithfully and sincerely performed his office, because the law of truth was in his mouth, and no iniquity was found in his lips; to which we ought yet to add the general truth which immediately follows — that the priest’s lips ought to keep knowledge. It is then a law which cannot be abolished, that those who are priests or pastors in the Church are to be teachers. And not unwisely does Gregory apply a custom under the law to this subject; for we know that appended to the priest’s dress were bells; and it is distinctly commanded by Moses, that the priest should not go forth without this sound, (Exodus 28:35.) Gregory, as I have said, accommodated this to teaching — “Woe,” he says, “to us, if we go forth without sound, that is, if we boast that we are pastors, and in the meantime are dumb dogs; for nothing is less tolerable than that he who speaks not in the Church and whose voice is not clearly heard to the edification of the people, should be deemed a pastor.” This is what a Roman Pope has said. Let those who now proudly and confidently boast themselves to be his successors, at least give the sound, and let us hear what they teach: but as their whole power is exercised in cruelty, it is evident how faithfully they keep God’s covenant! But I now return to the words of the Prophet.
He says, that this law has been fixed by God, and that it cannot be nullified by any decrees or customs of men, — that the priest is to keep knowledge in his lips. He farther explains himself by showing that the priest is to be the keeper of knowledge, not that he may reserve it for himself, but that he may teach the whole people: they shall seek, he says, the law from his mouth; and afterwards he confines knowledge to true doctrine, as it was to flow from the law of God, the only true fountain of truth; for he had said, that the law of truth was in the mouth of Levi. It would not then be enough for one to have his mouth open and to be prepared to teach others, except purity of doctrine be retained. We hence see, that not only teaching is required from priests, but pure teaching, derived from the very mouth of God, according to what is said in Ezekiel 3:17,
“Thou shalt receive from my mouth the word, and shalt declare it to them from me.”
God shows there that the Prophets had no such authority as that they could bring forth anything they pleased, or what they thought would be right, but that they were so far faithful teachers as they were his disciples alone: hence he bids him to seek the word from his mouth; and then he adds, “Thou shalt declare it to them from my mouth.” So also it is said in Jeremiah 23:28,
“What is the chaff to the wheat? The Prophet who has a dream, let him declare his dream; but he who has my word, let him declare my word faithfully.”
Here God limits and defines the prophetic right, as though he had said, that the Prophets were not appointed, that they might bring anything indiscriminately, but that each, according to the measure of what was revealed to him, might faithfully dispense, or deliver, as it were from hand to hand, what he had received from heaven: for by mentioning two things, it was God’s design to show that no doctrine is to be allowed, except what he himself has revealed; and he compares to chaff whatever men devise themselves, while the pure doctrine of the law is to be regarded as the wheat. This is then the second thing to be noticed in what the Prophet says in this passage: but we must also consider the last thing — that the priest is the messenger of the God of hosts.
This seems to have been said in honor of the priesthood; but the Prophet means that priests have nothing of their own or separate from God, and that whatever reverence is due to them ought to be referred to God himself, whose ministers they are. I have said that he reasons from the definition itself, as though he had said, that every one who would be a priest must also be a teacher. But we must also observe, that there is an implied comparison between God and priests, as though he had said, “Priests can claim nothing for themselves, but as interpreters of God.” Hence, the plain conclusion is, that the priesthood takes away nothing from God’s authority.
We now see that the Prophet includes in these few words two things of great importance — that there is no priesthood without doctrine or teaching, and no priest except he who faithfully performs his office as a teacher: and secondly, that God resigns not his own right and power when priests are set over the Church; for God commits to them the ministration only, and on this condition, that the authority remains in himself alone; for otherwise the priest would not be the messenger of the God of hosts. Among other things the Prophet requires also this of the priests — that they sincerely perform their duties. We indeed know that many apparently discharge their office, and excel in teaching, and carefully apply to their duties; but ambition stimulates some and avarice others. Hence the Prophet lays down another condition — that they are to walk in uprightness before God; that is, that they are not only to satisfy men, or to catch at the applause of the world, but to discharge their office with a pure conscience.
Thus have I shown that there is here set before our eyes a pattern by which we may know what God requires from us when he makes us pastors over his Church.
Now follows a reprobation of their conduct, for the Prophet says, Ye have departed from the way. Since he so boldly chastises the priests, we hence learn that they were subject to reproof; and nothing is more unreasonable than that the Papal clergy should seek to be exempt from every law and discipline, for the priests are here called to order, that they might know their own faults: Ye have departed, he says, from the way, and then, ye have made many to err in the law. This second thing being added, the priests ought by no means to be spared. When they sin only privately, though they may by bad examples corrupt the Church, yet this may somehow be borne with; but when they corrupt and deprave sound doctrine, when they subvert the order laid down in the law, they deserve no indulgence. This is the reason why Malachi so severely and so boldly reproves them.
He at last adds, Ye have therefore violated the covenant. This third clause may indeed be explained in two ways, — that the Prophet proceeds with his reproof, or that he draws a conclusion from the preceding clauses, — that they were deservedly stripped of all honor, because they stood not to the covenant. Now this latter exposition is the most suitable, according to what I have already stated. He then as I have said, draws this conclusion, that their boasting was foolish, that they in vain said that they were a holy tribe whom God had chosen to be a peculiar possession to himself, for he says that the covenant of Levi had been violated by them; and this clause is set in opposition to the former, in which he says, ye shall know that my covenant was with Levi. We said then that the unfaithful ever contrive some disguise when they are reproved, as though they would deprive God of his right: so the Levitical priests said, that what God had once established could not be made void. Under this pretext, that they were of the holy tribe, they sought to be deemed holy; the Prophet then said to them, ye shall know that God’s covenant is holy, and that ye are not holy. So also in this place, Ye have violated (222) the covenant of Levi, that is, “ye in vain pretend that you have been chosen by God, and that the honor of your priesthood has been confirmed to you; for God intended that his law, laid down by himself, should be kept. As then ye have violated the covenant of Levi, ye are no more Levites; as ye are become degenerated children, your inheritance is rightly taken away from you, and ye are deprived of the honor of the priesthood.
And corresponding with this view is what follows, And I have already rendered (or, will render) you despicable and base to the whole people, (223) as ye have not kept my ways and had respect of persons in the law (224) God first shows that he was now bound by no law, so that he would not cast away these unfaithful priests who had broken his covenant. He also adds, that they had respect to persons in the law, for they coveted gain, and therefore turned to gratify men, and corrupted the whole truth of religion; and this is indeed a necessary consequence, when ambition or avarice bears rule, there can then be no sincerity, and the teaching of true religion will be adulterated. I cannot now finish. We shall consider tomorrow the difference between the ancient priesthood and that of the Christian Church.
(222) The verb means to corrupt, and also to destroy or to make void. The Septuagint give the first meaning, “ye have corrupted —
(223) Striking and remarkable are the words of Adam Clarke on this verse, “See what happened to the truly abominable priesthood of France and Rome, 1796-8. They were the sole cause of that infidelity that brought to supply by grimace, paltry superstition, and jesuitical cunning, what they want in purity of morals, soundness of doctrine, and unction from God. They must mend, or look for another revolution. ”
(224) “Having one decision for the poor and another for the rich. See Leviticus 29:15.” — Newcome; or, as Jerome says, “Despising the just when poor, and honoring the unjust when rich.” — Ed.
The Prophet accuses the Jews here of another crime — that they were perfidious towards God and their own brethren, and departed from that pre-eminence into which God had raised them, when they were chosen in preference to other nations to be a holy and peculiar people. This ingratitude the Prophet now condemns by saying, that they all had one father, and that they had been all created by one God
The word Father may be applied to God as well as to Abraham, and some interpreters will have it repeated, which is no uncommon thing in Hebrew: they say then that all had God as their Father, because he created them all; so that the latter clause is taken as an explanation. But it is better, as I think, to apply the word to Abraham, and the passage requires this; for it follows at the end of the verse, that the covenant which the Lord had made with their fathers had been violated; and this will appear still more certain, when we bear in mind the design of the Prophet. (225) Presently a reproof follows, because they had taken many wives; but the Prophet seems not as yet to mention this vice, but speaks generally, that they did not preserve that purity to which they had been called, for they indiscriminately married heathen wives. As then they mingled without distinction with unbelievers and the despisers of God, the Prophet complains that they were unmindful of that dignity to which they had been elevated, when God deigned to adopt them as his holy people. For thus it happened, that the pre-eminence which Moses celebrates in Deuteronomy 4:8, disappeared, “What nation is so renowned, to whom God draws nigh, as thou seest that he is nigh to thee?” When therefore the Jews rendered themselves vile, the Prophet condemns them for ingratitude. He, at the same time, shows that they were become inhuman towards their brethren, with whom they had been united by a most sacred bond. It then seems probable to me, that God and Abraham are mentioned here, because God had chosen the race of Abraham and adopted them as his people, and also, because he had deposited his covenant with Abraham and the fathers: thus Abraham became, as it were, the mediator of the covenant which God made with his whole race. By thus understanding the subject of the Prophet, it is easier for us to see why he mentions Abraham as well as God.
Is there not one father, he says, to us all? that is, “Did not God select us from the rest of the world, when he promised to our father Abraham to be a God to him and to his seed? Since then God’s favor has flowed to us from that fountain, what sottishness it is to break that sacred bond by which God has joined us to himself in the person of Abraham?” For when the Jews did not consider that they derived their origin from the holy patriarch, the consequence was, that the covenant of God with them became void and of no effect. This then is the reason why he says, that one God was to them all a Father. And as other nations might have claimed the same privilege, he adds, Has not one God created us? He shows that the Jews had descended in no common or ordinary way from their holy father Abraham, but that God was the maker of his race, that he created them. Did not he also create the rest of the world? Not in the same manner; for this creation ought to be confined especially to the Church. God has created the whole human race; but he created also the race of Abraham: and hence the Church is often called in Isaiah the work and the formation of God, (Isaiah 66:21,) and Paul also adopts the same mode of speaking, (Ephesians 2:10.) Our Prophet then does not mean that the Jews had been created by God when born into this world, but that they had become his holy and peculiar people. As then God had thus created the Jews, and had given to them one father, that being mindful of their origin they might remain united in true religion, the Prophet here reprobates their sottishness in casting away from themselves this invaluable favor of God.
Every one dealt falsely with his brother; and thus they violated the covenant of the fathers. As to the verb,
We must yet notice what I have already referred to — that the priests are so reproved that the whole people are also included; and this we shall again presently see, and I add also, that the Prophet connects God with Abraham, in order to show that we shall fail to seek God effectually, if we seek him apart from his covenant, and also that our minds ought not to be fixed on men. There are indeed two vices against which we ought carefully to guard. Some, passing by all means, seek to fly upward to God; and so they entertain many vain thoughts and devise for themselves many labyrinths, from which they never emerge. We see how many fanatics there are at this day, who proudly speak against God’s word, and yet touch neither heaven nor earth; and why? because they would be superior to angels, and do not acknowledge that they need any helps by which they might by degrees, according to their weakness, ascend up to God himself. Now this is to seek God without the covenant or without the word. This is the reason why the Prophet here unites father Abraham to God himself; it was done that the Jews might know that they were confined by certain limits, in order that they might in humility make progress in God’s school, and be carried by degrees into heaven: for God, as it has been said, had deposited his covenant with Abraham. But yet as they might have depended on a mortal man, the Prophet adds a corrective — that they had been created by God; for they were not to separate their father Abraham from the very author of the covenant.
This passage then is worthy of special notice; for men from the beginning and in all ages have been inclined to the two vices which I have mentioned; and at this day we see that some indulge their dreams and despise the outward preaching of the word; for many fanatics say, that there is no need of rudiments or of the first elements, since God has promised that the sons of the Church would be spiritual. Hence Satan by such delusions strives to draw us away from pure simplicity of doctrine. It is therefore necessary to set up this shield — that God is not exhibited to us without Abraham, that is, without a Prophet and an interpreter. The Papists are also sunk in the same mud; for they have always the fathers in their mouths, but make no account of God. This is also very preposterous. Let us then remember that God is not to be separated from his word, and that the authority of men is of no account, when they depart from it. And the Prophet confirms the same thing at the end of the verse, when he speaks of the covenant of the fathers; for he does not here simply commend the covenant of the fathers, as the Turks might do, or as it is done by Papists and Jews; but he means the covenant which God had given, and which the holy patriarchs faithfully handed down to their posterity, according to what Paul says in the twenty-second chapter of the Acts, when speaking of his father’s religion; he did not speak of it as heathens might do of their religion, but he took it as granted that the law promulgated by Moses was not his invention, but had God as its author. It now follows-
(225) This is the view taken by most—Jerome, Theodoret, Drusius, Grotius, Marckius, and Henry. Henderson has been led astray by a supposed parallelism between this and the next sentence; and he regards God to be meant. Scott has taken it in both views, but this is not to explain the passage. Indeed the very argument here used renders it necessary that Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob, should be intended. Taking God to be meant by “father,” some have been led to think that it is the language of the Jews who married strange wives, in their own defense, “Have we not all, Gentiles as well as Jews, one Father? and has not the same God created me?” This might do well until we come to the conclusion of the verse, where the violation of the covenant of the fathers is mentioned. — Ed.
(226) The word
Why should we act perfidiously, each one with his brother,
By violating the covenant of our fathers?
The Prophet now explains how the Jews departed from the covenant of their fathers, and he exaggerates their sin and says, that abomination was done in Israel; as though he had said, that this perfidy was abominable. Some render the verb,
But he immediately comes to particulars: Polluted, he says, has Judah the holiness of Jehovah, which he loved; (228) that is, because they individually indulged their lusts, and procured for themselves wives from heathen nations.
We then see the purpose of this passage, which is to show, — that the Jews were ungrateful to God, because they mingled with heathen nations, and knowingly and wilfully cast aside that glory by which God had adorned them by choosing them, as Moses says, to be to him a royal priesthood. (Exodus 19:6.) Holiness, we know, was much recommended to the Jews, in order that they might not abandon themselves to any of the pollutions of the heathens. Hence God had forbidden them under the law to take foreign wives, except they were first purified, as we find in Deuteronomy 21:11; if any one wished to marry a captive, she was to have her head shaven and her nails pared; by which it was intimated, that such women were impure, and that their husbands would be contaminated, except they were first purified. And, yet it was not wholly a blameless thing, when one observed the law as to a captive: but it was a lust abominable to God, when they were not content with their own nation, and burnt in love with strange women. As however the Jews, like all mortals without exception, were inclined to corruptions, God purposed to keep them together as one people, lest the wife by her flatteries should draw the husband away from the pure and legitimate worship of God. And Moses tells us, that there was a crafty counsel given by Balsam when he saw that the people could not be conquered in open war; he at length invented this artifice, that the heathens should offer to them their wives and their daughters. It hence happened that the people provoked God’s wrath, as we find it recorded in Numbers 25:4.
As then the Jews after their return had again lapsed into this corruption, it is not without reason that the Prophet so severely reproves them, and that he says, that by marrying strange women they had polluted holiness, or that separation, which was their great honor, as God had adopted them alone as his people; and he calls it a holiness which God loved. Thus their crime was doubled, because God had not only bound them to himself, but he had also embraced them gratuitously. For if the cause of the separation be enquired, whether they excelled other nations, or whether they had any worthiness or merit? the answer is, No; but God loved them freely. For by the word love, the Prophet means the mere kindness and bounty of God, with which he favored Abraham and his race, without regard to any worthiness or excellency. He therefore condemns them for this ingratitude, because they had not only departed from the covenant which the Lord had made with their fathers, but had also neglected and despised that gratuitous love, which ought to have softened even their iron hearts. For if God had found anything in them as a reason why he preferred them to other nations, they might have been more excusable, at least they might have extenuated their fault; but since God had adopted them as his peculiar people, though they were unworthy and wholly undeserving, they must surely have been extremely brutish, to have thus despised the gratuitous favor of God. Their baseness then is increased, as I have said, by this circumstance, — that so great a kindness of God did not turn their hearts to obedience.
At the end of the verse the Prophet makes known, as I have already stated, their profanation; they had married the daughters of another god. By way of reproach he calls them the daughters of a strange god. He might have simply said foreign daughters; but he intended here to imply a comparison between the God of Israel and idols: as though he had said, “Whence have these wives come to you? from idols. Ye ought then to have hated them as monsters: had you any religion in your heart, what but detestable to you must have been everything which may have come from idols? but your hearts have become attached to the daughters of false gods.”
And we find that this vice had been condemned by Moses, and branded with reproach, before the giving of the Law, when he said, that the human race had been corrupted, because the sons of God married the daughters of men, (Genesis 6:2,) even because the posterity of Seth, who were born of the holy family, degraded themselves and polluted that small portion, which was holy and consecrated to God, by mixing with the world; for the whole world had at that time departed from God, except the descendants of Seth. The Lord then had before the Law marked this lust with perpetual disgrace; but when the Law itself which ought to have been like a rampart, again condemned it, was it not a perverseness wholly inexcusable, when the wantonness of the people broke through all restraints? He then adds —
(227) It is
(228) This last clause has been variously explained: “whom,” i.e., Judah, “he loved,” or, “which,” i.e., holiness, “he loved,” or, “which he,” Judah “had loved.” The last seems the most natural construction according to the tenor of the passage, if
Dathius gives this version, —
For he profanes Judah, the holiness of Jehovah, Who loves and marries a foreign wife.
But more suitable to the genius of the language would be this, —
For profaned has Judah the holiness of Jehovah, Because he has loved and married The daughter of a strange God.
(229) “The holiness of Jehovah,” i.e., the holiness required and enjoined by Jehovah. Most agree that what is meant is the separation from any alliance with heathens. See Deuteronomy 7:3. Ezra mentions Israel as “the holy seed,” Ezra 9:2. See also Jeremiah 2:3. Marckius, after Jerome and Cyril, takes this view, and so do Henry, Scott, Newcome, and Henderson. — Ed.
The Prophet here teaches us, that neither the priests nor the people would go unpunished, because they had mingled with the pollutions of the heathens, and profaned and violated the covenant of God. God then says, Cut off (the word means to scrape off or to blot out) shall God the man who has done this, the mover, or prompter, as well as the respondent (230) Jerome renders the last words, the master and the disciple; and interpreters vary. Some indeed explain the terms allegorically, and apply them to the dead; but by the mover, I have no doubt, he understands every one who was in power, and could command others, and by the respondent the man who was subject to the authority of his master. The masters then prompted or roused, for it belonged to them to command; and the servants responded, for it was their duty to receive orders and to obey them. It is the same as though the Prophet had said, that God would punish this perfidy, without passing by any, so that he would spare neither the common people nor the chief men: and he also adds the priests, intimating, that the priests themselves would not be excepted.
In short, he denounces punishment on the Jews universally, and shows that however prevalent had this impiety become everywhere, and that though every one thought that whatever was commonly practiced was lawful, yet God would become an avenger, and would include in the same punishment both the masters and the servants, and would not exempt the priests, who considered themselves safe by peculiar privilege. The rest tomorrow.
Him that teacheth and him that answereth. —Newcome
Him that passeth out and him that returneth. —Ib.
Him that watcheth and him that answereth. —Henderson
The teacher and the scholar. —Drusiusand Grotius
The most literal rendering is, —
The rouser and the respondent,
It seems to mean the leader in the faction and his assistant, the bold answer of his wickedness and his timid follower. Such we find to be in all factions. — Ed.
The Prophet amplifies again the fault of the priests, because the people, when they perceived that God was adverse to them, found no means of pacifying him. And when men have an idea that God is inexorable to them, every zeal for religion must necessarily decay; and hence it is said in Psalms 130:4 — “With thee is propitiation, that thou mayest be feared.” As the people then gained nothing by sacrificing, they had now nearly fallen off from divine worship. This evil, a most grievous one, the Prophet says, was to be justly ascribed to the priests; for as they were become polluted, how could their persons have been accepted by God, that they might be mediators to expiate sins and to pacify God?
This is the real meaning of the Prophet, which none of the interpreters have perceived. The Rabbins think that the priests are here reproved, because their wives filled the altar in the sanctuary with weeping, because they saw that their husbands did not faithfully treat them, according to the law of marriage; and almost all have agreed with them. Thus then they explain the verse — Ye have in the second place done this; that is, “That sin was of itself sufficiently grievous, when ye suffered lean victims to be sacrificed to me, as it were in mockery; but in addition to this comes your sin against your wives, who continually complain and deplore their condition before the altar of God, even because they are not loved by you, as the right of marriage requires.” They thus refer the tears, the weeping, and lamentation, to the wives of the priests, which were so cruelly treated by their husbands: they were not able to do anything else than to fill God’s sanctuary with their constant complaints. Hence they render,
But what I have already stated is the most suitable — that it was to be ascribed to the priests that no one could from the heart worship God, at least with a cheerful and willing mind; for God was implacable to the people, because the only way of obtaining favor under the law was when the priests, who represented the Mediator, humbly entreated pardon in the name of the whole people. But how could God attend to the prayers of the priests when they had polluted his altar by the filth of wickedness? We then see the object of this amplification — Ye cover the altar of Jehovah with tears, with weeping and wailing. The praises of God ought to have resounded in the temple, according to what is said —
“Praise, O God, waits for thee in Zion.” (Psalms 65:1.)
And the principal sacrifice was, that the people exercised themselves in contemplating the blessings of God, and in thanksgiving. But he says that none went forth before the altar with a cheerful mind, but all were sad and sorrowful, because they found that God was severe and rigid.
And the reason is added —
(231) It is not easy to give a version of this verse. Henderson renders the first line thus —
And this ye have done the second time.
The reference is, he says, to the repetition of the evil which had been corrected under Ezra 9:0 and 10. This seems probable; but we may view this “second,” or again, with regard to the previous denunciations. What are regarded as verbs in the infinitive mood are in my view participial nouns; the last,
And this again ye do — Covering with tears the altar, Weeping and groaning, Becausethere is no more turning to the offering, Or the receiving of what is acceptable from your hand.
The difference between Calvin and most expositors after him, as well as before him, is, that he regarded the lamentation to have been by the priests and people, and they by the repudiated wives. The cause of the weeping, as stated here, was the rejection of the offerings, as declared by the Prophet; and this seems enough to confirm Calvin’s view.
The priests and people had been denounced for their wickedness, especially for marrying strange wives. After this denunciation they “again” went to the altar and wept because God would not receive their sacrifices; and they did this without amending their ways. Then in the next verse the Prophet explains why God would not receive their offerings. — Ed.
The Prophet tells us here as before how prone the priests were to make a clamor, and it is a very common thing with hypocrites immediately to set up a shield to cover their vices whenever they are reproved; and hence it appears, that men are in a manner fascinated by Satan, when they attain such hardness as to dare to answer God, and with obstreperous words to repel all warnings. Malachi has several times already used this mode of speaking; we may hence conclude, that the people had become then so hardened that warnings were of no account with them. But he mentions one particular, by which it seems evident that they had lapsed into vices which were not to be borne. There is indeed no doubt but that he points out one of the many vices which prevailed. There is then in this verse an instance of stating one thing for the whole, as though he had said, “Your hypocrisy is extremely gross; but, to omit other things, by what pretext can you excuse this perfidy — that there is no conjugal fidelity among you? Were there any integrity and a sense of religion in men, they would surely appear in their conjugal connection; but ye have cast away all shame, and have taken to yourselves many wives. There is then no ground for you to think that you can escape by evasions, because this one glaring vice sufficiently proves your guilt.” This is the import of the Prophet’s answer.
We have indeed seen that the priests were implicated in other vices; the Prophet then does not now charge them with perfidy as though they were free from other sins, but he meant to show, as I have already said, by one thing, how wickedly and shamelessly they sought to evade God’s judgment, though they had violated the marriage pledge, which was wholly to destroy the very order of nature; for there can be, as it has been already said, no chastity in social life except the bond of marriage be preserved, for marriage, so to speak, is the fountain of mankind.
But in order to press the matter more on the priests, he calls their attention to the fact that God is the founder of marriage. Testified has Jehovah, he says, between thee and thy wife (232) He intimates in these words, that when a marriage takes place between a man and a woman, God presides and requires a mutual pledge from both. Hence Solomon, in Proverbs 2:17, calls marriage the covenant of God, for it is superior to all human contracts. So also Malachi declares, that God is as it were the stipulator, who by his authority joins the man to the woman, and sanctions the alliance: God then has testified between thee and thy wife, as though he had said, “Thou hast violated not only all human laws, but also the compact which God himself has consecrated, and which ought justly to be deemed more sacred than all other compacts: as then God has testified between thee and thy wife, and thou now deceivest her, how darest thou to come to the altar? and how canst thou think that God will be pleased with thy sacrifices or regard thy oblations?”
He calls her the wife of his youth, because the more filthy is the lust when husbands cast away conjugal love as to those wives whom they have married in their youth. The bond of marriage is indeed in all cases inviolable, even between the old, but it is a circumstance which increases the turpitude of the deed, when any one alienates himself from a wife whom he married when a girl and in the flower of her age: for youth conciliates love; and we also see that when a husband and his wife have lived together for many years, mutual love prevails between them to extreme old age, because their hearts were united together in their youth. It is not then without reason that this circumstance is mentioned, for the lust of the priests was the more filthy and as it were the more monstrous, because they forsook wives whom they ought to have regarded with the tenderest love, as they had married them when they were young: Thou hast dealt unfaithfully with her, he says, though she was thy consort and the wife of thy covenant
He calls her a consort, or companion, or associate, (233) because marriage, we know, is contracted on this condition — that the wife is to become as it were the half part of the man. As then the bond of marriage is inseparable, the Prophet here goads the priests, yea, touches them to the quick, when he reproves them for being unmindful of what was natural, inasmuch as they had blotted out of their minds the memory of a most sacred covenant. The wife of thy covenant is to be taken for a covenanted wife, that is, “The wife who has been united to thee by God’s authority, that there might be no separation; but all integrity is violated, and as it were abolished.” He then adds
(232) Or, “a witness has Jehovah been between thee and thy wife.” But Theodoret, Cyril, and Jerome, and also Cocceius, refer this to God’s testimony in the first institution of marriage, in Genesis 2:24. More suitabele to the context no doubt is to consider God as a witness to the marriage contract; and this is the view taken by Drusius, Henry, Scott, Newcome, and Henderson. — Ed.
There is in this verse some obscurity, and hence it has been that no interpreter has come to the meaning of the Prophet. The Rabbins almost all agree that Abraham is spoken of here. Were we to receive this view a two-fold meaning might be given. It may be an objection, — “Has not one done this?” that is, has not Abraham, who is the one father of the nations, given us an example? for he married many wives: and thus many explain the passage, as though the priests raised an objection and defended the corruption just condemned by the example of Abraham, — “Has not one done this while yet an excellency of spirit was in him?” We indeed know how prone men are to pretend the authority of fathers when they wish to cover their own vices.
Others prefer regarding the words as spoken by the Prophet himself, and at the same time say that there is here an anticipation of an objection, and think that an occasion for an excuse is here cut off, as though the Prophet had said, “Did not Abraham, when he was one alone, do this?” For as the Jews might have adduced the example of Abraham, the interpreters, whose opinion I now refer to, think that a difference is here stated, as though he had said, “Ye reason badly, for every one of you is led to polygamy by the lust of your flesh; but it was far otherwise with Abraham, for he was one, that is, alone;” and in Isaiah Abraham is called one on account of his having no children. The meaning then they think is this, “Was not Abraham forced by necessity to take another wife? even because he had no child and no hope of the promised seed. Lust then did not stimulate your father Abraham, as it does you, but a desire of having an offspring.” And they think, that this view is confirmed by what follows, “And why alone seeking the seed of God?” that is, the object of holy Abraham was far otherwise than to indulge his lust; for he sought that holy seed, the hope of which was taken away from him on account of the barrenness of his wife, and of her great age. When therefore Abraham saw that his wife was barren, and that she could no more conceive on account of her old age, he had recourse to the last remedy: hence the mistake of Abraham might have been excused, since his object was right; for he sought the seed of God, the seed in which all nations were to be blessed. Thus far have I told you what others think.
I thought twelve years ago that this passage ought to have been otherwise rendered in the French Bibles, and that,
I proceed now to explain the meaning of the Prophet. Has he not made one? that is, Was not God content with one man, when he instituted marriage? and yet the residue of the Spirit was in him. The Rabbins take,
But before we proceed farther, we must bear in mind his object, which was, to break down all those frivolous pretences by which the Jews sought to cover their perfidy. He says, that in marriage we ought to recognize an ordinance divinely appointed, or, to speak more distinctly, that the institution of marriage is a perpetual law, which it is not right to violate: there is therefore no cause for men to devise for themselves various laws, for God’s authority is here to be regarded alone; and this is more clearly explained in Matthew 19:8; where Christ, refuting the objection of the Jews as to divorce, says, “From the beginning it was not so.” Though the law allowed a bill of divorce to be given to wives, yet Christ denies this to be right, — by what argument? even because the institution was not of that kind; for it was, as it has been said, an inviolable bond. So now our Prophet reasons, Has not God made one? that is, “consider within yourselves whether God, when he created man and instituted marriage, gave many wives to one man? By no means. Ye see then that spurious and contrary to the character of a true and pure marriage is everything, that does not harmonize with its first institution.”
But some one may ask here, why the Prophet says that God made one? for this seems to refer to the man and not to the woman: to this I answer, that man with the woman is called one, according to what Moses says,
“God created man; male and female created he them,”
After having said that man was created, he adds by way of explanation, that man, both male and female, was created. Hence when he speaks of man, the male makes as it were one-half, and the female the other; for when we speak of the whole human race, one-half doubtless consists of men, and the other half of women. So also when we come to individuals, the husband is as it were the half of the man, and the woman is the other half. I speak of the ordinary state of things; for if any one objects and says, that bachelors are not then complete or perfect men, the objection is frivolous: but as men were created, that every one should have his own wife, I say, that husband and wife make but one whole man. This then is the reason why the Prophet says, that one man was made by God; for he united the man to the woman, and intended that they should be partners, so to speak, under one yoke. And in this explanation there is nothing strained; for it is evident that the Prophet here calls the attention of the Jews to the true character of marriage; and this could not have been otherwise known than from the very institution of God, which is, as we have said, a perpetual and inviolable law; for God created man, even male and female: and Christ also has repeated this sentence, and carefully explained it in the passage which we have quoted.
And here the Prophet sharply goads the Jews, as though they wished to overcome God, or to be more wise than he; Had he not, he says, an exuberance of spirit? He takes spirit not for wisdom, but for that hidden influence by which God vivifies men. Could not God, he says, have put forth his spirit to create many wives for one man? but his purpose was to create one pair; to make man a husband and a wife: as God then was not without a remaining Spirit, and yet did not exceed this measure; it hence follows, that the law of marriage is violated, when man seeks for himself many wives. The meaning of the Prophet is now, I think, sufficiently clear.
It follows, And wherefore one,
He then draws this conclusion, Therefore, watch ye over your spirit; that is, “Take heed lest any should deceive the wife of his covenant.” After having shown how perversely they violated the marriage vow who rushed into polygamy, he here counsels and exhorts them; and this is the best mode of teaching, to show first what is right and lawful, and then to add exhortations. The Prophet then endeavored first to convince the Jews that they were guilty of a nefarious crime: for otherwise his exhortation would not have been received, as they would have always a ready objection, “It is lawful for us to do so, for we follow the example of our father Abraham; and further, this has been permitted for a long time, and God would have never suffered it, were it wrong, to prevail for so many ages among the people: it hence follows, that thou condemnest what is lawful.” It was necessary, in the first place, to remove all these false pretences: then follows the exhortation in its proper order, Watch over your spirit; for he speaks of what has been, as it were, sufficiently proved. (235) It now follows
(234) The position of the words shows that it is a question, for there is no interrogative particle. So it is in our language, “Has he not made one?” And that it is a question, is evident from what follows, “and by one?” — Ed.
(235) This is the most lucid and satisfactory explanation of a text which has been deemed, and is still deemed by some, difficult. Some moderns have gone back to the track of the ancients, but needlessly. Newcome ’s attempt at a revision of the text is wholly useless, and renders the passage more abstruse. — Ed.
Here again the Prophet exaggerates the crime which the priests regarded as nothing; for he says, that they sinned more grievously than if they had repudiated their wives. We indeed know that repudiation, properly speaking, had never been allowed by God; for though it was not punished under the law, yet it was not permitted. (236) It was the same as with a magistrate, who is constrained to bear many things which he does not approve; for we cannot so deal with mankind as to restrain all vices. It is indeed desirable, that no vice should be tolerated; but we must have a regard to what is possible. Hence Moses has specified no punishment, according to the heinousness of the crime, if one repudiated his wife; and yet it was never permitted.
But if a comparison be made, Malachi says, that it is a lighter crime to dismiss a wife than to marry many wives. We hence learn how abominable polygamy is in the sight of God. I do not consider polygamy to be what the foolish Papists have made it, who call not those polygamists who have many wives at the same time, but those who marry another when the former one is dead. This is gross ignorance. Polygamy, properly so called, is when a person takes many wives, as it was commonly done in the East: and those nations, we know, have always been libidinous, and never observe the marriage vow. As then their lasciviousness was so great that they were like brute beasts, every one married several wives; and this abuse continues at this day among the Turks and the Persian and other nations. Here, however, where God compares polygamy with divorce, he says that polygamy is the worse and more detestable crime; for the husband impurely connects himself with another woman, and then, not only deals unfaithfully with his wife to whom he is bound, but also forcibly detains her: thus his crime is doubled. For if he replies and says that he keeps the wife to whom he is bound, he is yet an adulterer as to the second wife: thus he blends, as they say, holy with profane things; and then to adultery and lasciviousness he adds cruelty, for he holds under his authority a miserable woman, who would prefer death to such a condition; for we know what power jealousy has over women. And when any one introduces a harlot, how can a lawful wife bear such an indignity without being miserably tormented?
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. Some interpreters take violence here for spoil or prey, and think that the wife is thus called who is tyrannically compelled to remain with an adulterer, when yet she sees a harlot in her house, by whom she is driven from her conjugal bed: but this is too strained and too remote from the letter of the text. The Prophet here, I doubt not, shakes off from the Jews their false mask, because they thought that they could cover over their vice by retaining their first wives. “What else is this,” he says, “but to cover by a cloak your violence, or at least to excuse it? for ye do not openly manifest it: but God is not deceived, nor can his eye be dazzled by such a disguise: though then your iniquity is covered by a cloak, it is not yet hid from God; nay, it is thus doubled, because ye exercise your cruelty at home; for it would be better for robbers to remain in the wood and there to kill strangers, than to entice guests to their houses and to kill them there and to plunder them under the pretext of hospitality. This is the way in which you act; for ye destroy the bond of marriage, and ye afterwards deceive your miserable wives, and yet ye force them by your tyranny to continue at your houses, and thus ye torment your miserable wives, who might have enjoyed their freedom, if divorce had been granted them.” (237)
He concludes again with these words, Watch over your spirit; that is, “Take heed; for this is an intolerable wickedness before God, however you may endeavor to extenuate its heinousness.”
(236) This is not strictly correct, see Deuteronomy 24:2; and our Savior allows that Moses “suffered” the Israelites to put away their wives, though he says that is was for the hardness of their hearts. See Matthew 19:8. — Ed.
(237) The interpretation given of the first clause of this verse is according to the Septuagint and the Targum, and has been adopted by Cyril, Jerome, Theodoret, Drusius, Grotius, Dathius, and others. Our version is derived from Jun. and Trem., and Piscator, and has been followed by Marckius, Lowth, Scott, Adam Clarke, Newcome, and Henderson. The second clause has been variously interpreted both by the ancients and the moderns. The Septuagint make “violence,” or wrong, the nominative to “cover,” and the Targum the accusative. “Iniquity shall cover his garment,” is the version of Jerome. “For he covers violence as with his garments,” has been the version of others; which corresponds with the Targum, as the former does with the Septuagint.
The most natural construction of the first part is no doubt what our version exhibits; the meaning of the second is less obvious: but they seem connected. What seems to be said is, — that God hates the divorcer, and him also who maltreats his wife without divorcing her. Then we may give this literal rendering, —
For he hates the divorcer, (or him who puts away,) Saith Jehovah, the God of Israel; And the coverer of outrage on his own garment, Saith Jehovah of hosts.
To speak of God here in the third person is in accordance with the preceding verses. “His own garment,” according to Venema, Dathius, and Henderson, is a figurative designation of a wife. See Ruth 3:9; Ezekiel 16:8.
The condemning of divorce is more suitable to this place, than any reference to its permission; because in the previous part the allusion is evidently made to the first institution of marriage, and not to any posterior modification. — Ed.
The Prophet here reproves the Jews who expostulated with God in their adversity, as though he had undeservedly forsaken them, and had not brought them immediate help. Thus are hypocrites wont to do; unless God immediately assists them, they not only indirectly complain, but also break out into open blasphemies; for they think that God is bound to them, and hence they assail him more boldly, and even with greater freedom and insolence. It is indeed a proof of true piety when we patiently submit to the judgments of God, and when, as Jeremiah teaches us by his own example,
“we sustain his wrath, because we know that we have sinned.” (Jeremiah 3:14.)
But as hypocrites are conscious of nothing wrong, (for they flatter themselves, and stupify their own consciences,) because they examine not themselves, they think that God acts unjustly towards them when he does not immediately bring them aid. Such was the dishonesty of the people of whom the Prophet now speaks.
He says that they had wearied God, that is, that they had been troublesome to him by their clamorous complaints; for the verb,
But there is a dilemma presented in the words; for the Jews thought that God favored the wicked, inasmuch as he did not immediately punish them, or that he was now unlike himself, and forgot his own nature. The difficulty or the dilemma appears not at the first view, as they seemed to have repeated the same thing. But in the first clause they accuse God of injustice; and in the second they intimate that there is no God, for he cannot exist without exercising judgment. Then the passages contains two clauses differing from each other — “God has either changed his nature, and so is no God, or he favors our enemies; for he does not immediately execute vengeance.” We see then that they concluded that God either acted unjustly, or that there was no God. But we have mentioned the cause of this blasphemy — the Jews did not examine themselves, and therefore did not confess that they deserved these chastisements. They were like vicious horses, who kick and fling, though gently treated by their riders.
But such insolence is now seen in all masked men, who vauntingly profess religion when they are treated according to their own wishes; but when God deals more sharply with them, they not only murmur, but vomit forth, as I have already said, impious slanders against him, as though he did not render to them the reward due to their just dealings. Admonished by this example, let us learn that it is true wisdom to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, (1 Peter 5:6;) and that though he may suspend the granting of our prayers, we ought still to bear, not impatiently, what is hard and severe, and also to subdue our feelings, and to seek from them the Spirit of meekness, to retain us in a tranquil submission.
He says that they still replied — In what have we wearied thee? (238) Here he strongly reproves their hardness, because they did not become wise through the rebuke given them, but regarded with scorn the words of the Prophet, by which we clearly see that they must have been convinced of their guilt, had they not been doubly stupid. It was an intolerable reproach cast on God, to say that he favored the ungodly, and was pleased with their crimes; for God would thus not only rule as a tyrant, but also subvert all order. But nothing is more contrary to his nature than to hold forth his hand to the ungodly as though he had an alliance with them. As this then was an evident impiety, it was a monstrous stupidity to ask in what they wearied God; they ought indeed to have known that he regards nothing as precious as his own honor; and yet, as though Malachi had unjustly reproved them, they opposed him with an iron front, according to similar instances which we have before observed; for though they were covenant-breakers as to marriage, though they defrauded God in the tenths, though they cunningly evaded the Prophets, they yet as it were wiped their mouths and asked, In what had they sinned? The Prophet shows that they were become so hardened in their contumacy that they daringly rejected all admonitions; for they did not ask this as though it was a doubtful thing, nor can it be concluded from their words that they were teachable; but it was the same as if they were armed, ready for a contest, yea, armed with effrontery and perverseness; for they no doubt despised and ridiculed the Prophet’s reproof.
He then answers them — When ye say, Whosoever doeth evil is acceptable in the eyes of Jehovah, and in them he delights. The word rendered “acceptable” is
We indeed know that even the godly are sometimes wearied, and their faith is ready to fail, when things in the world are in a disturbed and confused state: and this was the case with David, as it is recorded in the seventy-third Psalm; but there is in the servants and sincere worshipers of God some concern for what is just and right, whenever they have such grief and trouble of mind, according to the case of Habakkuk, when he said,
“How long, O Lord!” (Habakkuk 1:2;)
for no doubt his complaint arose from a right principle, because his desire was that God should be truly served in the world. But there was nothing of this kind in the Jews, with whom our Prophet contends here; for as we have said, there was no hatred of wickedness, but only a care for their own advantage; they hence said, that the ungodly pleased God, because God did not immediately interpose when they apprehended some trouble from their enemies.
The repetition is a proof of greater bitterness; for they were not content with one clamorous expression, but added, that God took delight in them.
Then follows the other clause, or where is the God of judgment? (240) They seem not here to reason amiss, that is, from the nature of God. Men may change their counsel and their design, and remain men still, for they are subject to inconstancy and fickleness; but to God there belongs no change. There seems not then to be an impropriety in this — that there is no God, except he be the judge of the world; for he cannot divest himself of his office without denying himself. But they malignantly impeached God; nay, they now insinuate that there is none, because he had abdicated his judgment; for they took it as granted, that God had ceased to be the punisher of wickedness, which was most false; but yet they thought that according to facts it was certain and clear. Hence they concluded that there was no God, as his divinity must have been abolished together with his judgment. We hence see to what extent of insolence they burst forth in their complaints, so that they either charged God with injustice, or alleged that his divinity was annihilated. Now follows
(238) There is a stronger word employed by the Septuagint — “
(239) Some have contended that from the order in which the words occur, the rendering ought to be as follows —
Whosoever makes evil good in the eyes of Jehovah, Even in them he delights. (See Isaiah 5:20.)
The Septuagint favor this version, as the word for “good,”
Every doer of evil is good (approved) in the eyes of Jehovah, And in them he delights.
Cocceius observes on these words — “None are so impiously bold as actually to express such words, but Scripture is wont to ascribe to the wicked such expressions as are suitable to their character.” — Ed.
(240) “The God of righteousness —
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Malachi 2". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany