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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Malachi 2

Verses 2-9


"Malachi’s first address is governed by the ironic exhortation in Malachi 1:10, ’Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors.’ It is directed against the priests of the postexilic temple. Despite their responsibility under the covenant of Levi (cf. Malachi 2:4; Malachi 2:8) to be the Lord’s messengers of Torah (Malachi 2:7), they were dishonoring the Lord (Malachi 1:6), particularly in their careless attitude toward the offerings (Malachi 1:8). Failing to take their responsibilities to the Lord seriously, they had become political pawns of the influential in Israel who used religion to maintain respectability (Malachi 2:9). The priests are here exhorted to stop the empty worship and to begin honoring the Lord with pure offerings and faithful service. As motivation the Lord declares his love for them (and for all the people; Malachi 1:2-5) and threatens them with humiliation and removal from his service (cf. Malachi 2:1-3; Malachi 2:9)." [Note: Ibid., p. 244.]

One’s attitude toward and his or her relationship with God determine that person’s health and wholeness as a child of God. They also determined Israel’s national health and wholeness. This first address deals with this subject particularly: the theological issue of attitude toward and relationship with God.

Verses 1-2

Malachi announced an admonition to the priests from the Lord. If they did not pay attention to His rebuke and sincerely desire to honor Yahweh’s name, the Lord would curse them (cf. Deuteronomy 27:15-26; Deuteronomy 28:15-68). He would cut off their blessings; troubles would plague their lives. Blessing was their business, and by cursing their blessings the Lord would render their pronounced blessings vain. This curtailment of blessing may also include their income from the people as well as spiritual blessings. In fact, He had already begun to do so.

"The inevitable result of covenant unfaithfulness was the imposition of the curses that were always spelled out in covenant texts (cf. Leviticus 26:14-39; Deuteronomy 27:11-26; Deuteronomy 28:15-57)." [Note: Merrill, p. 405.]

"No single prophetic book contains all twenty-seven types of curses or all ten types of restoration blessings. The shorter books normally contain few of either. Malachi, on the other hand, contains a fairly high proportion of both types relative to its length, confirming what readers of the book have long noticed: the Book of Malachi is closely concerned with fidelity to the covenant and the consequences (thus curses and blessings) of keeping or breaking the law of Moses." [Note: Stuart, pp. 1260-61.]

Notice the importance of the priests taking to heart what the Lord was saying, repeated twice in Malachi 2:2 for emphasis.

"The word ’heart’ (leb/lebab) denotes in Hebrew what may be called the command center of a person’s life, where knowledge is collected and considered and where decisions and plans are made that determine the direction of one’s life. In view of the 814 occurrences of the word in the Old Testament in reference to the human ’heart’ (’the commonest of all anthropological terms’ [Note: Footnote 173: H. W. Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament, p. 40.] ) and the common usage of ’heart’ in English of emotions, it is important to differentiate the Hebrew meaning from the English and so to ’guard against the false impression that biblical man is determined more by feeling than by reason.’ [Note: Footnote 174: Ibid., p. 47.] " [Note: Clendenen, p. 288.]

Verses 1-9

E. Negative motivation: the results of disobedience 2:1-9

Whereas the emphasis in Malachi’s argument shifts at this point somewhat from the sins of the priests (cf. Malachi 1:6; Malachi 2:1) to their possible fate, there is a continuing emphasis on their sins. In the preceding sections (Malachi 1:6-14) the cultic activity of the priests (i.e., offering sacrifices) was prominent, but in this one (Malachi 2:1-9) their teaching ministry is. As with the second hortatory discourse (Malachi 2:10 to Malachi 3:6), this first one begins with positive motivation (Malachi 1:2-5) and ends with negative motivation (Malachi 2:1-9).

Verse 3

Part of this curse involved rebuking the priests’ offspring (Heb. zera’, physical descendants) and spreading (Heb. zarah) refuse from their feasts on their faces (cf. Zechariah 3:3-4). The disgusting picture is of God taking the internal waste of the sacrificial animals and smearing it on the priests’ faces. Consequently both sacrifices and priests would have to be taken outside for disposal. This play on words communicates a double curse (cf. Malachi 2:2). The priests’ descendants would not continue because the priests would cease to bear any or many children, and their inferior sacrifices would render them unclean. They would not, then, be able to continue to function in their office.

Verse 4

When these things happened, the priests would know that this warning had indeed come from the Lord. Its intent was to purify the priests so God’s covenant with Levi could continue (cf. Malachi 3:3). This is the first of six explicit references to "covenant" in Malachi. The covenants in view are God’s covenant with Levi (Malachi 2:4-5; Malachi 2:8), the Mosaic Covenant (Malachi 2:10), the marriage covenant (Malachi 2:14), and the New Covenant (Malachi 3:1). God had promised a continuing line of priests from Levi’s branch of the Chosen People (Deuteronomy 33:8-11; cf. Exodus 32:25-29; Numbers 3:12; Numbers 25:10-13; Nehemiah 13:29; Jeremiah 33:21-22). [Note: For an excursus on the Levitical Covenant, see ibid., pp. 296-306.]

Verse 5

The Lord’s covenant with Levi was a covenant of grant. In this type of covenant one individual, and perhaps his descendants, received a promise of continuing blessing for a special service rendered. The special service that Levi and his descendants rendered to God involved serving as His priests. The covenant that God made with Levi and his descendants resulted in life and peace for them. God gave them these blessings because they respected Yahweh and feared His name (Numbers 18:7-8; Numbers 18:19-21; cf. Numbers 25:10-13).

Verse 6

Also in contrast to the present priests, Levi and his descendants had given the Israelites true instruction rather than perverted teaching (cf. Hebrews 13:17; James 3:1). Levi, who here represents his faithful descendants, walked with the Lord in peace (Heb. shalom) and uprightness, and he turned many away from iniquity.

Verse 7

Priests should speak true knowledge and should be reliable sources of instruction (Heb. torah) because they are messengers of Yahweh. Levi contrasts with the priests of Malachi’s day, and Malachi ("my messenger") also contrasts with the priests of his day. Ezra was the great example of a faithful priest in postexilic Judaism (cf. Ezra 7:10; Ezra 7:25; Nehemiah 8:9).

"As the life of a community depends upon the keeper of its water supply to guard that supply from loss or contamination, so the life of Israel depended upon its priests to preserve God’s written word and effectively to dispense it when ’men should seek’ it." [Note: Ibid., p. 314.]

Verse 8

The priests of Malachi’s day had deviated from the straight path of truth and had caused many people who followed them to stumble through their instruction (Heb. torah).

"The definite article on . . . (tora), ’instruction,’ suggests that here it is not just any teaching in general but indeed the instruction, namely, the Torah, the law of Moses. The defection of the priests is all the more serious, then, for they are actually creating obstacles to the people’s access to the Word of God itself. To cause the people to ’stumble in the Torah’ is to so mislead them in its meaning that they fail to understand and keep its requirements. There can be no more serious indictment against the man of God." [Note: Merrill, p. 410.]

The unfaithful priests had corrupted the Lord’s covenant with Levi in the sense that they had put its continuance in jeopardy by their evil conduct.

"To have an ill-prepared minister, an incompetent pastor, a hireling for a shepherd was bad enough; much worse was it to have a deceiver, a schemer, a wolf in sheep’s clothing for a leader." [Note: Alden, p. 715.]

Malachi referred to three covenants in this book: this covenant with Levi, the covenant of the fathers (Malachi 2:10), and the covenant of marriage (Malachi 2:14).

Verse 9

Since the priests had despised the Lord, the Lord had made them despised in the eyes of the people. They did not obey His will but had told the people what they wanted to hear. Their penalty should have been death (Numbers 18:32).

Thus ends the first hortatory discourse in Malachi. This one, addressed specifically to Israel’s unfaithful priests, should challenge all God’s servants to serve Him with heartfelt gratitude for His grace and with the awareness that He will punish unfaithful workmen.


The Lord addressed the entire nation of Israel in this address, not specifically the priests as in the former one. His concern, as expressed through His messenger Malachi, was the peoples’ indifference toward His will. They were blaming their social and economic troubles on the Lord’s supposed injustice and indifference to them (Malachi 2:17). Furthermore they were being unfaithful to one another, especially their wives whom the husbands were apparently abandoning for foreign women. These conditions profaned the temple and the Mosaic Covenant (Malachi 2:10-15 a). The Lord’s command, which lies in the center of the section (as in the first and third exhortations), was for the people to stop their treachery toward one another (Malachi 2:15-16). Thus the major emphasis of this second main section of Malachi is social responsibility (love for and relationship with people), whereas the major emphasis of the first major section was theological (love for and relationship with God). First positive and, later, negative motivations act as bookends surrounding the Lord’s command (cf. Malachi 1:2-5; Malachi 2:1-9; and Malachi 3:10-12; Malachi 3:16 to Malachi 4:3).

"The style of the third oracle [according to the "disputation speeches" division of Malachi] differs from the others. Instead of an initial statement or charge followed by a question of feigned innocence, this oracle begins with three questions asked by the prophet. However, as at the beginning of each of the other oracles, the point is presented at the outset." [Note: Blaising, p. 1580.]

Verse 10

In view of their common brotherhood in the family of God, it was inappropriate for the Israelites to treat each other as enemies and deal treacherously with each other. They should have treated each other as brothers and supported one another (Leviticus 19:18). By dealing treacherously with each other they had made the covenant that God had made with their ancestors virtually worthless; they could not enjoy the blessings of the Mosaic Covenant.

". . . the Mosaic covenant was by Malachi’s time understood as a quaint, archaic document too restrictive to be taken seriously and inapplicable to a ’modern’ age-virtually the same way that most people in modern Western societies view the Bible today." [Note: Stuart, p. 1332.]

Verses 10-15

B. Situation: faithlessness against a covenant member 2:10b-15a

Verse 11

The evidence of Judah’s treachery was that the Israelites were profaning (making common) Yahweh’s beloved sanctuary. This sanctuary may refer to the temple or His people. They did this by practicing idolatry. They had married pagan women who worshipped other gods (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:14-16). Yahweh’s son (Malachi 2:10) had married foreign women that worshipped other gods and, like Solomon, had become unfaithful to Yahweh (cf. Exodus 34:11-16; Deuteronomy 7:3-4; Joshua 23:12-13; Ezra 9:1-2; Ezra 9:10-12; Nehemiah 13:23-27).

Verse 12

In a curse formula, Malachi pronounced judgment on any Israelite who married such a woman. The judgment would be that he would die or that his line would die out (be "cut off"). The difficult idiom translated "who awakes and answers" (NASB) evidently means "whoever he may be" (NIV). This curse would befall him even though he brought offerings to almighty Yahweh at the temple. Worshipping God did not insulate covenant violators from divine punishment then, and it does not now.

Verses 13-14

The people evidently could not figure out why God was withholding blessing from them, so Malachi gave them the reasons. Another sin involved weeping profusely over the Lord’s altar because He did not answer their prayers while at the same time dealing treacherously with their wives (cf. 1 Peter 3:7). Weeping over the altar must be a figurative way of describing weeping as they worshipped Yahweh. The marriage relationship is a covenant relationship (cf. Proverbs 2:17; Ezekiel 16:8; Ezekiel 16:59-62; Hosea 2:16-20), and those who break their vows should not expect God to bless them. God Himself acted as a witness when the couple made their covenant of marriage in their youth. This sin may have in view particularly the Israelite men who were divorcing their Jewish wives to marry pagan women (cf. Malachi 2:12), or divorce in general may be all that is in view.

"Although the designation of a wife as a ’partner’ [NIV] does not negate the subjection of her marital role to that of her husband, it certainly counters the concept that she was to be viewed as a mere possession to be disposed of at will. Though more than a friend or companion, she was not to be regarded as less than that." [Note: Clendenen, p. 347.]

Verse 15

The Israelites needed to be careful, therefore, that no one of them dealt treacherously with the wife he married in his youth by breaking his marriage covenant and divorcing her. The man is the responsible party in the text because in Israel husbands could divorce their wives. Wives divorcing their husbands was less common in Jewish patriarchal society.

Verses 15-16

C. Command: stop acting faithlessly 2:15b-16

This "command" section begins and ends with commands not to break faith. Instruction to "take heed to your spirit" immediately precedes each of these commands. Two quotations from Yahweh lie within this envelope structure. These commands from Yahweh constitute the turning point in this second chiastic hortatory discourse (cf. Malachi 1:10).

Verse 16

The Israelites were not to break their marriage covenants because the person who divorces his mate to marry an unbeliever brings disgrace upon himself. Divorcing for this reason constitutes covenant unfaithfulness, breaking a covenant entered into that God Himself witnessed (Malachi 2:14). As such, it is an ungodly thing to do since Yahweh is a covenant-keeping God; He keeps his promises. To break a covenant (a formal promise) is to do something that God Himself does not do.

Divorcing for this reason constitutes covering oneself with wrong. This is a play on a Hebrew euphemism for marriage, namely, covering oneself with a garment (cf. Ruth 3:9; Ezekiel 16:8). One covers himself with wrong when he divorces his wife whom he has previously covered with his garment (i.e., married). For these Jews divorce was similar to wearing soiled garments; it was a disgrace. For emphasis, the Lord repeated His warning to take heed to one’s spirit so one would not deal treacherously with his covenant partner (cf. Malachi 2:15).

There is some dispute among English translators whether the rendering, "I hate divorce," is correct. It is possible, and some English translators have so rendered it (AV, NKJV, RSV, NRSV, NASB, NIV, TNIV, NET), but it requires emending the Masoretic text. [Note: Joe M. Sprinkle, "Old Testament Perspectives on Divorce and Remarriage," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 40 (1997):539.] The normal way of translating the Hebrew literally would be, "If [or "for"] he hates sending away [i.e., divorce], says Yahweh God of Israel, then [or "and"] violence covers [or "he covers/will cover with violence"] his garment, says Yahweh of hosts." One paraphrase that captures the literal meaning well is, "For the man who hates and divorces, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts" (English Standard Version). Another good paraphrase is, "’If he hates and divorces [his wife],’ says the LORD of Hosts" (Holman Christian Standard Bible). One writer expressed the spirit of the Lord’s statement by paraphrasing it, "Divorce is hateful." [Note: D. L. Petersen, Zechariah 9-14 and Malachi, pp.204-5.]

"The passage [Malachi 2:10-16] does not deal with the case of a man divorcing a wife who has already broken her marriage vows, so it also does not apply to the case of a woman divorcing her husband who has already broken his marriage vows. This is another reason the passage should not be understood as an absolute condemnation of divorce under any circumstances. In fact, according to Jeremiah 3:8 the Lord himself had divorced the Northern Kingdom of Israel because of her adulteries (cf. Hosea 2:2)." [Note: Clendenen, p. 359.]

The fact that Ezra commanded divorce (Ezra 10) may appear to contradict God’s prohibition of divorce here. (Nehemiah neither advocated divorce nor spoke out against it; Nehemiah 13:23-29.) The solution seems to be that Malachi addressed the situation of Jewish men divorcing their Jewish wives to marry pagan women. Ezra faced Jewish men who had already married pagan women. Does this mean that it is all right to divorce an unbelieving spouse but not a believer? Paul made it clear that the Christian is to divorce neither (1 Corinthians 7:10-20). Evidently it was the illegitimacy of a Jew marrying a pagan that led Ezra to advocate divorce in that type of case.

Even though God typically opposes divorce, and in that sense hates it, He permitted it (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) to achieve the larger goals of maintaining Israel’s distinctiveness so she could fulfill His purposes for her in the world (Exodus 19:3-6). His purposes for the church are not exactly the same as His purposes for Israel. Furthermore the church is not subject to the Mosaic Law. Therefore it is inappropriate to appeal to the Jews’ action in Ezra as a precedent that Christians who are married to unbelievers should follow (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:12-13).

In none of the other passages in which divorce appears to be required (Genesis 21:8-14; Exodus 21:10-11; Deuteronomy 21:10-14) does God present divorce as a good thing. He only permitted it under certain circumstances created by sin (Matthew 19:9).

"The prophet’s concluding exhortation, ’So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith’ is a strong warning to every husband that he must be constantly on his guard against developing a negative attitude toward his wife." [Note: Ibid., p. 368. Cf. Colossians 3:19.]

Verse 17

D. Situation: complaints of the Lord’s injustice 2:17

Malachi recorded complaints that the people were voicing that gave further proof that they were acting faithlessly and needed to change (cf. Mal_2:10-15 a). That another disputation is in view is clear from the question and answer format that begins this pericope, as it does the others. Malachi 2:17 contains the question and answer, and the discussion follows in Malachi 3:1-6. The Israelites’ changeability (Malachi 2:17) contrasts with Yahweh’s constancy (Malachi 3:6).

"The reader is introduced here for the first time in Malachi to three themes, all of which may be expressed, for convenience, as needs: the need for messianic intervention, the need for a day of judgment, and the need for social justice." [Note: Stuart, p. 1346.]

Malachi announced to his hearers that they had wearied God with their words; He was tired of hearing them say something. Their response was again hypocritical incredulity. They believed He could hardly be tired of listening to them since He had committed Himself to them as their covenant lord (cf. Isaiah 40:28).

This is another place where Scripture seems to contradict itself. On the one hand God said He does not grow weary (Isaiah 40:28), but on the other hand He said He was weary (here). The solution, I think, is that in the first case He was speaking about His essential character; He does not tire out like human beings do. In the second case He meant that He was tired of the Israelites speaking as they did. In this second case He used anthropomorphic language to describe how He felt as though He were a human being, which, of course, He is not. [Note: For extended discussion, see Clendenen, pp. 372-82.]

The prophet explained that Yahweh was tired of the Israelites saying that He delighted in them even though they said that everyone who did evil was acceptable to Him. They seem to have lost their conscience for right and wrong and assumed that because God did not intervene He approved of their sin. Really their question amounted to a challenge to God’s justice. If they were breaking His law and He was just, He surely must punish them. Their return to the land indicated to them that He was blessing them, and He promised to bless the godly in the Mosaic Covenant (Deuteronomy 28:1-14).

Contemporary people say the same thing. "If there is a just God, why doesn’t He do something about all the suffering in the world?" "If God is just, why do the wicked prosper?" Scripture reveals that God blesses the wicked as well as the righteous (Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:17), and the righteous suffer as well as the wicked because of the Fall and sin (Genesis 3:16-19; Ecclesiastes 2:17-23). Moreover, God allows Satan to afflict the righteous as well as the wicked (Job 1-2). God will eventually punish the wicked and bless the righteous, but perhaps not in this life (cf. Job 21:7-26; Job 24:1-17; Psalms 73:1-14; Ecclesiastes 8:14; Jeremiah 12:1-4; Habakkuk 1). Malachi’s audience had forgotten part of what God had revealed on this subject, and, of course, they had not yet received New Testament revelation about it.

"Disillusionment had followed the rebuilding of the Temple because, though decade followed decade, no supernatural event marked the return of the Lord to Zion." [Note: Baldwin, p. 242.]

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Malachi 2". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.