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Pett's Commentary on the Bible Pett's Commentary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Malachi 2". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ pet/ malachi-2.html. 2013.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Malachi 2". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
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The Failures Of The Priesthood Which Are Reflected In The People (Malachi 1:6 to Malachi 2:9 ).
Having declared His love for Israel God now brings out why that love might not have produced what His people expected. And the first reason that is given is the failure of the priesthood in the fulfilment of its responsibilities, especially in regard to the condition of the offerings and sacrifices that they offered. Instead of offering the best of what they produced they were offering the worst.
‘A son honours his father,
And a servant his master.
If then I am a father, where is mine honour?
And if I am a master, where is my fear?’
Says YHWH of hosts to you,
O priests, who despise my name.
And you say,
In what have we despised your name?
With the idea of His Fatherly love in mind God compares the way that a dutiful son honours his father, and a servant honours his master, to the way that the priests treat Him. Is He not their Father? Is He not their Master? Why then do they not honour and fear Him?
Indeed, He says, rather than honouring Him they demonstrate that they despise His Name, that is, they despise what He is as Father and Master and Lord. They are simply unaware of the greatness and glory of the One with whom they have to do. There is no doubt that this is also a very modern problem. It is so easy for even believers to treat God lightly. This then immediately raises the question in the priest’s mind. ‘In what have we despised your Name?’
This idea of God as the Father of Israel as a whole is a regular one in the Old Testament. See Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 32:6; Isaiah 63:16; Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 4:4; Jeremiah 4:19. Jesus took this a step further by describing Him as the Father of each one who truly believes. But we must beware of assuming that because of this we can treat Him lightly. As God reminds us here. As our Father He expects to be treated with ‘Honour’, not as though He was a soft option.
‘You offer polluted food upon my altar.’
And you say, ‘In what have we polluted you?’
In that you say,
‘The table of YHWH is contemptible.’
God’s answer is that the fact that they despise His Name is revealed by how the priests are treating Him. This comes out firstly in that they continually offer ‘polluted food’ on His altar. This will later be defined in terms of the inadequate and defective condition of animals brought as offerings and sacrifices. But prior to this explanation the priests ask, ‘In what have we polluted You?’ Note the emphasis on ‘You’. They clearly recognise that if they have been offering defective sacrifices they are actually polluting YHWH Himself.
The answer is that by their actions they are saying that the Table of YHWH is only worthy of contempt. For by them they are demonstrating that they have nothing but contempt for the Table of YHWH. This may refer to the tables made available for the cutting up of the offerings prior to sacrifice, or it may refer to the brazen altar itself. It must be remembered that in most cases the priests partook of part of the sacrifice. Thus the sacrifices were food for the priests. Or the idea may be that symbolically the offering was seen as food available to God, something of which He ‘partook’ as a pleasing odour’ (Leviticus 3:16) when the offering was burned on the altar (see Leviticus 3:11; Leviticus 3:16).
‘And when you offer the blind for sacrifice,
It is no evil!
And when you offer the lame and sick,
It is no evil!
Present it now unto your governor,
Will he be pleased with you?
Or will he accept your person?
Says YHWH of hosts.’
He then explains precisely what He means. Instead of choosing out an unblemished offering they offer up one that is blind. And then they say, ‘It is no evil’. Or they offer up one that is lame or sick. And again they say, ‘It is no evil.’ It is difficult to believe that they did not realise what they were doing, for the Torah was quite clear about the need for sacrifices to be unblemished (Leviticus 22:20). But it may be that the priests were receiving only blind, lame and sick animals from the people in general (which would thus involve the people as a whole in the charge). Or it may be that somehow they had convinced themselves that it did not really matter, or they may even have used distorted measures of adequacy. Either way God was being insulted.
Indeed this is brought out by the argument that if they offered similar animals to the Governor he would certainly not be very pleased. Nor would it be acceptable to him. He would reject anyone who brought such a gift to him and refuse him audience, or even worse. How then could they expect God to be pleased, or find their offerings acceptable?
The word for ‘governor’ is an Akkadian loan word, and indicates that this was an official in the Persian empire.
‘And now, I pray you,
Entreat the favour of God (El),
That he may be gracious to us,
This has been by your means,
Will he accept any of your persons?
Says YHWH of hosts.’
Malachi now interjects (revealed by the ‘us’) and says sarcastically, ‘And now (in view of your attitude and of what you are) entreat the favour of God (El - the use of the singular is in order to bring out His mightiness), that He may be gracious to us.’ It was one of the main duties of the priests to be intercessors for the people at the daily prayers and at special feasts. But of what use, Malachi is saying, is the intercession of those who are rejected by God? How can we expect any response when using such intercessors? For in view of the offering of these unacceptable sacrifices (‘this has been by your means’) do they really think that the Almighty God will accept any of their persons, asks YHWH of hosts?
‘Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors,
That you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain!
I have no pleasure in you, says YHWH of hosts,
Nor will I accept an offering at your hand.
Indeed YHWH is so utterly displeased with their offerings and their behaviour, that He expresses a wish that someone would shut the door that leads into the outer court so that it might become impossible for them to offer sacrifices at all. For He wants them to know that when they kindle the fires of the altar they are wasting their time. He has no pleasure in them (they are totally unacceptable to Him) and under no circumstances will He accept an offering from their hands. In other words, He want the Sanctuary shut down.
The picture is a sad one. Here were the people of Israel, gathered and filled with admiration and awe as these ‘respected’ priests offered the offerings and sacrifices, and all the time it would be a sham, and would be totally unacceptable to God. It was not only a total waste of time, it was blasphemy. And it might well be that the people who had brought unacceptable offerings were equally responsible. The whole thing was a charade.
It is a warning to us that in our case also God will not accept from us anything that comes short of our best. We cannot offer Him more than we have, but woe betide us if we do not offer Him the best that we have. If we do He will simply disregard us. No wonder that we complain that God does not answer our prayers.
‘For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same,
My name is/will be great among the Gentiles,
And in every place incense is/will be offered to my name,
And a pure offering,
For my name is/will be great among the Gentiles,
Says YHWH of hosts.
‘But you profane it, in that you say,
The table of YHWH is polluted,
And its fruit, even its food, is contemptible.’
YHWH then looks ahead to the future. They are wondering why YHWH has not brought the Gentiles flocking to worship at their Temple as Haggai had suggested (Haggai 2:6-7), are they? Well let them now know this. In the future from one end of the world to the other YHWH’s Name will be exalted as great among the Gentiles (His true greatness will be recognised), and everywhere incense will be offered to His Name, and a pure offering acceptable to Him will be offered by them, because His Name is recognised as so great among the Gentiles (the greatness of YHWH is a feature of this chapter, see Malachi 1:5; Malachi 1:14). While in contrast they, His supposed priests, are profaning His Name because of the attitude that they have towards His Table, and His offerings and sacrifices. For they instead of indicating that His Name is great, are profaning it, and indicating that His Table is a polluted thing and that its product is to be looked on as contemptible.
The verbs ‘is/will be’ are not in the Hebrew text so that the prophet may have in mind both the present and the future, the present in the fact that around the world synagogue worship was probably already causing Gentiles to worship YHWH in prayer and in obedience to the Law and by the offering of themselves and their gifts to Him, and the future in terms of the constant prophecies of blessing among the Gentiles that would both grow from such activities, and especially the blessing and worship that would result from the activities of the Messiah/Servant (Genesis 12:3; Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6; etc).
However, the phrase ‘For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same,’ points to an eschatalogical and therefore Messianic interpretation. Compare Psalms 50:1; Psalms 113:3; Isaiah 45:6; Isaiah 59:19 which all have in mind great events. And thus the great stress is on what God will finally achieve through His Servant.
We may thus find here a remarkable prophecy of the way in which:
1). The majority of the priesthood will be rejected after the death and resurrection of Jesus, (but with some repenting), just as they are being here.
2). Large numbers of Gentiles will respond and acknowledge the greatness of YHWH and His Name by accepting the once for all offering of Jesus Christ, and then, through Him, offering true prayer to God as the equivalent of incense (comparePsalms 141:2; Psalms 141:2; Revelation 5:8).
3). The resulting continual sacrifice of themselves as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2) on the basis of that offering of Jesus Christ made once for all (Hebrews 9:28; Hebrews 10:12; Hebrews 10:14).
4) And all quite apart from the Temple.
YHWH’s point is that He does not really need the Israelite sacrifices in view of the certainty of what is happening even now ‘worldwide’, and of what is to come in even greater measure. Thus their choice as to whether they heed His words or not, while it will certainly affect their own future position, will have no effect at all either on the future worldwide worship of God or on the fulfilment of His intentions. Thus they are not to see themselves as necessary to the fulfilment of His purposes. Whether therefore they respond or not is up to them. If they want to be included in His purposes they will respond. Meanwhile He will be recording in His book of remembrance all the names of those who fear YHWH and think on His Name (Malachi 3:16)
It is also a reminder that being a priest was of no advantage to a man unless his behaviour towards God was genuine. They may have been anointed as belonging to YHWH but they should recognise that it makes not the slightest difference unless their response is true. Man may look at the outward appearance, and even be in awe of it, but God looks at the heart.
We should note here the contrast between Edom and the Gentiles. For Edom their brother tribe there is no future outside Israel (and indeed they would be absorbed into Israel). But as for the Gentiles, the word of God will reach out to them worldwide, and at that time all the world will hear of the Great God of Israel and will respond to Him in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
‘You say also, Behold, what a weariness is it!
And you have snuffed (sniffed, breathed out) at it, says YHWH of hosts;
And you have brought that which was taken by violence,
And the lame, and the sick,
Thus you bring the offering.
Should I accept this at your hand? says YHWH.’
But in total contrast to the coming wholehearted attitude and response of the Gentiles is the attitude of these priests of Israel. It is one of weariness. Indeed they sniff at each offering, and that at an offering made to YHWH of hosts! Such an indolent and contemptuous attitude towards worship and service often arises from long familiarity with it (compare Isaiah 1:11-15; Micah 6:6-8; 1 Samuel 2:12-17) so that even the most sacred things can become a joke. And in this case the offerings they brought were either those seized from others, or slain by wild beasts (which were thus not seen as suitable for sacrifice - Exodus 22:31), or lame and sick ones. Do they really expect Him to accept these from their hand?
‘But cursed be the cheat, who has in his flock a male,
And vows, and sacrifices to the Lord a blemished thing,
For I am a great King, says YHWH of hosts,
And my name is terrible among the Gentiles.
And it is not only the priests who are guilty. The people too are cheats. For regularly, although they have a stout male in their flock, they make their vow and then sacrifice to their sovereign Lord one that is inferior and blemished. So almost the whole of Israel is caught up in the scam. It is clear that, to them, anything is good enough for God, while they keep the best for themselves. Note the change from YHWH of hosts to sovereign Lord (adonai) to emphasise the greatness of the crime. And this is even further emphasised by the perpetrator of the fraud being ‘cursed’. In these extreme phrases YHWH incorporates all the people in with His casting off of the priests.
Their crime is then emphasised even more by pointing out that while He may not count for much in their eyes, He is in fact a Great King (a title usually used by conquerors of themselves, compare Isaiah 36:4) with a huge reputation among the Gentiles. This may refer to His renown from past doings, the deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 1-15, see Exodus 15:14-16); the conquest of Canaan (Joshua); the deliverance of Jerusalem from Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:35-36); the humiliation of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:30-37) or it may have in mind the great Name that is to be His when the Gentiles in every place offer incense to His Name (Malachi 1:11). It is a reminder that Malachi has his sights set high. It is in the end YHWH’s worldwide rule and worship that he has in mind (compare Malachi 1:12; Psalms 2:0).
The idea of the kingship of YHWH occurs regularly throughout the Old Testament. Compare Numbers 23:21; Numbers 24:7; Exodus 15:18; Deuteronomy 33:5; 1 Samuel 8:7; and regularly in the Psalms (e.g. Psalms 22:28; Psalms 47:2; Psalms 48:2; Psalms 95:3; Psalms 103:19; and often). For ‘YHWH has established His throne in the Heavens and His Kingship rules over all’ (Psalms 103:19).
What a warning we should read for ourselves from these words. How easily our worship become perfunctory, how quickly we forget the greatness of the One We worship, how carelessly we can treat our responsibilities on His service, how all too easily we can justify to ourselves the giving to him of second best. We need to wake up and recognise how in doing this we are profaning Him.
‘And now, O you priests,
This commandment is for you.
If you will not hear,
And if you will not lay it to heart,
To give glory to my name,
Says YHWH of hosts,
Then will I send the curse upon you,
And I will curse your blessings,
Yes, I have cursed them already,
Because you do not lay it to heart.
Having rebuked them YHWH now calls on them to consider their ways. He has spoken and given His ‘divine command’ (mitswah) and it is up to them to hear and respond. But if they will not do so. If they will not begin to bring glory to His Name by carrying out the correct sacrificial procedures with the finest of their animals, and in a right frame of mind, then He will send the curses on them outlined in Deuteronomy 27:26; Deuteronomy 28:15-20. He will curse their blessings. This may signify that the normal priestly blessing would become a curse both to the pronouncer and on those on whom it was pronounced (Numbers 6:23-27), or that He would turn the blessings of Deuteronomy 28:0 into the cursings of Deuteronomy 28:0.
‘I have cursed them already’ may refer to the fact that they were not having good harvests as warned in Deuteronomy 28:15-19, or to the present condition of Jerusalem with its gates burned with fire after they had rebuilt them. Or indeed to both. And either way it was because they had not laid to heart God’s warnings.
‘Behold, I will rebuke your seed (or ‘arm’),
And will spread dung on your faces,
Even the dung of your feasts,
And you will be taken away to it.
And you will know that I have sent this commandment to you,
That my covenant may be with Levi, says YHWH of hosts.
As a result of the failure of both the priests with their careless attitude and the people with their blemished offerings YHWH will ‘rebuke their seed’. This may mean that they will not produce a satisfactory harvest (seed in the sense of grain), something which will affect both the farmers who brought the blemished sacrifices, because their output is diminished, and the priests who offered them, because their share in the firstfruits and other portions will be reduced.
Or the reference may be to their descendants. Their disobedience will not just affect them it will result in YHWH’s rebuke and curse on their descendants (Deuteronomy 18:18). This would tie in with their being replaced by the ‘covenant with Levi’.
Alternately we may repoint (change the vowels which were not a part of the original text) to signify ‘rebuke your arm’. In this case it signifies that He will affect their activities so that they cannot carry them out properly. This affecting of their arm movements may account for why the dung (the contents of the stomach and intestines) will be spread on their faces.
The spreading of dung (which should be burned in a clean place) on their faces is signifying very unpleasant treatment. Possibly the idea is that it will be caused by jerky arm actions (‘rebuke your arm’) or by the wind blowing it in their faces, or it may simply be intended to be metaphorical indicating that they will be treated like those who have had dung flung on them, or will be treated as dung, to such an extent that they are then carried off to the place of dung. In other words they may think themselves ‘holy’ but they will become in His eyes as ‘holy animal dung’, fit only to be taken out with other holy remnants and burned (e.g. Leviticus 4:11-12; Leviticus 16:27), rather than being offered up to YHWH. That is the only ‘holiness’ that He will see these ‘holy priests’ as having.
Whatever the exact meaning the contempt and diminution that it expresses towards them is clear, and it probably also includes the idea that the dung spread on them will make them patently unfit for duty.
Then, once they have been humiliated, they will know that the command that they had received and disobeyed, and which has resulted in their rejection to the dung heap, was the command of YHWH, and that as a result they will be replaced so that His covenant might be with a new Levi.
The meaning of this latter comes out in what follows. The ministry of the priests having been disgraced, and the sacrificing priests who have so misused the sacrifices having been cast out on the dung heap, the covenant made with Levi in Deuteronomy 33:8-11 will be renewed with other, worthier, ‘sons of Levi’. In other words from the moment that the priesthood is rejected if they fail to respond to YHWH’s warning, a new teaching ministry of ‘Levites’, of those uniquely set apart to the service of God, will come into prominence, replacing the old priesthood. And this because the old priesthood have debased the ministry (Malachi 2:8-9).
(We can call to mind here the words of John the Baptist to those who boasted about being sons of Abraham, ‘God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham’ (Matthew 3:9). In the same way here God is saying that He can easily raise up other ‘sons of Levi’).
Note on ‘the Covenant of Levi’ (Malachi 1:8 , compare Malachi 1:4 ) And The Sons of Levi.
It is significant what Malachi draws out when he refers to ‘the covenant of Levi’ (Malachi 1:8). We saw in Malachi 1:12 that there was to be pure worship among the Gentiles ‘in every place’ and thus a worship not connected with Jerusalem. Here now there is to be a ministry of the Levites not connected with the old priesthood, a ministry the emphasis of which is not on sacrifice, but on loyalty to YHWH and the proclamation of righteousness and the law of truth (Malachi 1:6). Malachi foresees the old unrepentant priesthood as in some way being replaced so as to introduce a more spiritual ministry.
A ‘covenant with the Levites, the priests, my ministers’ is mentioned in Jeremiah 33:20-21, (compare also Nehemiah 13:29), but that is unlikely to directly indicate the one mentioned here because here the priests have been ‘thrown on the dung heap’. It could have been had they repented. And they may have done for a time. But as we know from the Gospels if they did it was not one that lasted. However, the wider covenant of YHWH with Levi is described in the ‘blessing of Levi’ in Deuteronomy 33:8-11 which reads as follows:
“And of Levi he said,
Your Thummim and your Urim are with your godly one,
Whom you proved at Massah,
With whom you strove at the waters of Meribah,
Who said of his father, and of his mother,
‘I have not seen him,’
Neither did he acknowledge his brethren,
Nor did he know he his own children.
For they have observed your word, and keep your covenant.
They will teach Jacob your ordinances, and Israel your law.
They will put incense before you,
And whole burnt-offering on your altar.
Bless, Oh YHWH, his substance,
And accept the work of his hands.
Smite through the loins of those who rise up against him,
And of those who hate him, that they rise not again.”
The godly one who was proved at Massah and is specifically said to have been striven with by the people at Meribah was Moses himself (Exodus 17:1-7; Numbers 20:3), who was of course of the tribe of Levi. In Numbers 20:0 it was along with Aaron. The Urim and the Thummim was the means by which the Priest (High Priest) determined the will of YHWH in disputed or difficult cases. Thus Moses and Aaron seem to be jointly in mind here, as ‘sons of Levi’. The description of the one who ‘said of his father, and of his mother, “I have not seen him,” neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor did he know he his own children’ has in mind the Priest when he was involved in his sacred duties. As YHWH’s holy ‘Priest’ (initially Aaron) he was forbidden to enjoy the usual family relationships when on his sacred duties. He was in some ways separated off from his family. If any of his family died, whether father, mother, brother, sister, son, or whoever, he was not to touch their dead bodies nor even to leave the tabernacle while serving there, in the event that they were to die suddenly (Leviticus 21:11). As God’s supreme representative on behalf of Israel he had to be impervious to all family loyalty. This was proof of the Priest’s dedication and his especially holy position. The picture may also have been intended to include Moses whose position and calling had meant that he had to keep himself separate from family loyalties to such an extent that they are lost sight of. In both cases it stresses an attitude of total dedication and obedience. We can compare with this how Jesus Himself, in a similar way, set Himself off against family claims in Matthew 12:46-50, and His words to His disciples about ‘loving less than God’ their father and mother, son and daughter (Matthew 10:37).
‘They observed your word and kept your covenant’ has in mind the way that Levi stood firm with Moses at Sinai (Deuteronomy 33:26), and their ministry that followed. The result was that they were appointed as teachers of the Torah, the priests acting more centrally, with the Levites acting to a lesser and more local extent in the rest of Israel, as they went around collecting the tithes. They would guide on religious matters, including such things as tithes, firstfruits, suitable sacrifices, etc., would call men to the exaltation of the Lord YHWH, and were no doubt also called on to pass judgments. And it was the Levitical priests who were to offer the incense on the altar of incense and the burnt offerings on the brazen altar. In return they were put under the special protection of YHWH, Who would ‘smite through the loins of those who rise up against him, and of those who hate him, that they rise not again.’
There are important parallels between this ‘covenant’ in Deuteronomy 33:8-11 and that described by Malachi here in Malachi 2:5-6. Thus we can compare them as follows:
· ‘ Who said of his father, and of his mother, ‘I have not seen him,’ neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor did he know he his own children ’ with ‘ And he feared me, and stood in awe of My Name’ ’.
· ‘ For they have observed your word, and keep your covenant ’, with ‘And unrighteousness was not found in his lips, he walked with me in peace and uprightness.’
· ‘ They will teach Jacob your ordinances, and Israel your law, with ‘the law of truth was in his mouth, and unrighteousness was not found in his lips --- and he turned many away from iniquity ’.
· ‘Smite through the loins of those who rise up against him, and of those who hate him, that they rise not again’, with ‘my covenant with him was of life and peace ’.
But it will be noted that in Malachi it is the teaching ministry that is being stressed. The more priestly elements have dropped away. The priests who have failed are, unless they respond to YHWH’s warning, to be replaced by new ‘sons of Levi’, whi will be teachers of righteousness rather than offerers of sacrifices, and this especially in view of the future worldwide worship among the Gentiles.
End of note.
My covenant was with him of life and peace,
And I gave them to him that he might fear,
And he feared me,
And stood in awe of my name.
The law of truth was in his mouth,
And unrighteousness was not found in his lips,
He walked with me in peace and uprightness,
And turned many away from iniquity.
Here is a picture of the ‘ideal’ Levi, and the emphasis in Malachi’s words is on the fact that unless they respond to YHWH’s warning the old priests will be replaced by a new Levi who will do all God’s will, and will teach righteousness and truth. The references to sacrifice and incense, and to the Urim and the Thummim (see note above), are dropped out from the old promises, and He concentrates on those to whom He will give life and peace, those who will walk before Him in reverent awe, in whose mouths will be the law of truth, whose lips will be free from unrighteousness, and who will walk in peace and uprightness and turn many away from iniquity.
The thought is thus of an inner core of Israel who will walk righteously and truly, and he may well have had in mind the faithful Servant of Isaiah described in Isaiah 42:1-7; Isaiah 49:1-7; Isaiah 50:3-8; Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12 Who summed up the true Israel in Himself. He would take YHWH’s Law to the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:4)
‘My covenant was with him of life and peace.’ The covenant of ‘life’ was made with all in Israel who walked rightly before YHWH (Deuteronomy 30:15-20), and it was the way that ‘Levi’, first in Moses and Aaron, and then as a whole (Deuteronomy 33:26) chose. The result was that YHWH Himself became their inheritance (Deuteronomy 10:9; Joshua 13:33), and they were scattered throughout Israel as His servants to minister in His Name. The covenant of ‘peace’ is mentioned in Numbers 25:12; Isaiah 54:10; Ezekiel 34:25; Ezekiel 37:26. In Numbers 25:12 it refers to a special covenant given to one of the tribe of Levi who acted in zealous faith towards YHWH. In Isaiah 54:10 it refers to YHWH’s covenant with those who are true to Him by which He will continually do them good. In Ezekiel 34:25 it refers to His covenant with the coming ‘Davidic king’ guaranteeing peace and security. And in Ezekiel 37:26 it refers to His everlasting covenant as a result of which they will prosper and enjoy His presence with them for ever more in a new and more holy sanctuary. Thus it is YHWH’s covenant with those who are true to Him, and connected with the activity of the coming Davidic King.
‘And I gave them to him that he might fear, and he feared me, and stood in awe of my name .’ The idea behind the covenant of life and peace was that of granting of fullness of life and wellbeing and security by YHWH in response to a full-hearted loyalty revealed by those who look to Him, and the purpose of His giving this was that ‘Levi’ might ‘fear YHWH, which they did, so that they stood in awe of His Name.’ We can see already the contrast with these faithless priests with their haphazard and careless ways.
‘The law of truth was in his mouth, and unrighteousness was not found in his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many away from iniquity.’ And this ‘Levi’ with whom YHWH made His covenant was wholly true to the Law, and no word of unrighteousness ever passed his lips. He walked before YHWH in peace and uprightness and turned many from iniquity.’ That there had been such Levites, even though we have not been told of them, must have been so for a righteous remnant continually to survive in Israel, especially in the early days before the prophets. And it would be true again once the prophets had ceased operating. They were the unknown, unsung, faithful servants of YHWH who stood true when others were going astray. And YHWH’s point here is that, unless the priests repent, they will be replaced by those who are in this way truer to the ways of the ideal ‘Levi’ those whose lives reveal that they are true ‘sons of Levi’
That this ideal was fulfilled in Jesus Christ need hardly be stressed. The law of truth was in His mouth (compare Isaiah 49:2; Isaiah 50:4; John 14:6) and He was indeed the only One of Whom it could be said that ‘no unrighteousness passed through His lips’ (compare Isaiah 53:9), but it was, of course, also true to a large extent in His Apostles once they had been anointed by the Holy Spirit. They received the covenant of life and peace, feared the Lord and stood in awe of His Name, had in their mouths the law of truth, abjured unrighteousness, walked before God in peace and uprightness and turned many from iniquity. Thus did they finally become the replacements of the old priesthood, the true ‘sons of Levi’ (those who were like the ideal’ Levi).
‘For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge,
And they should seek the law at his mouth,
For he is the messenger of YHWH of hosts.
But you are turned aside out of the way,
You have caused many to stumble in the law,
You have corrupted the covenant of Levi,
Says YHWH of hosts.’
YHWH now applies this ideal to the priests. He begins by outlining what they should be. Their lips should be keeping knowledge, and they should be constantly seeking YHWH’s Instruction from His very lips, because they are the appointed messengers of YHWH. What a privilege was theirs. And so their whole thought and aspiration should be on knowing His truth so that they can pass it on.
We have practical examples of how they did this in 2 Chronicles 17:7-9 when Jehoshaphat sent out teachers, which included Levites, to teach the book of the Law of YHWH to the people. Compare also Nehemiah 8:8-9.
But what was the truth of the matter concerning these priests to whom he is speaking? It was that instead of ‘keeping knowledge’ and passing it on, they themselves have turned aside out of the way. It was that instead of seeking His Instruction at His mouth they had caused many to stumble in that Instruction. And they had done it because instead of being true messengers of YHWH they had corrupted the covenant of Levi. That is His indictment.
‘Therefore have I also made you contemptible,
And base before all the people,
According as you have not kept my ways,
But have had respect of persons in the law.
And that is why He has (prophetically speaking of something in the future) made then contemptible, flinging dung in their faces, and that is why He will make them base before all people. It is because they have not kept His ways, and walked in them and taught them, and it is because they have had respect of persons in the Law.
This last charge is a new one, capping off all the remainder of their iniquities. Instead of being fair and just and open minded, and treating all God’s people alike, they have shown respect of persons in their interpretation of God’s Instruction. They have been faithless messengers.
And now his words to the priests are over, and they are left to ponder them. But they have had their warning, and unless they take heed they will be replaced. That they did not finally take heed we know, and the Chief Priests were among the most vehement opponents of Jesus and His Apostles. And thus their ministry was brought to an abrupt end, and they were replaced by the ‘new Levi’ in the persons of the righteous preachers of the early church, something which has continued to this day. But this warning equally applies to modern preachers. If they too prove unfaithful, they too will suffer the same fate.
YHWH’s Cause Against His People As A Whole Because They Have Married Foreign Syncretistic Wives (Malachi 2:10-12 ).
It should be noted here that Malachi now once again brings not only the priests, but all of Judah, within the condemnation that he has described. He has already stressed that they too had betrayed their Father and Master (Malachi 1:6) and dealt treacherously (Malachi 1:14). They too had broken the covenant of their fathers. Thus they were to recognise in what Malachi has been saying an indictment against them also.
Malachi’s indictment against them is that they have not only profaned the holiness, the untainted purity and ‘otherness’, of YHWH, as the priests had done, by their blemished offerings, but that they have also done so by marrying those who worship other gods and are not wholly devoted to YHWH. And the result is that they will, as a result, be cut off from the benefits of the covenant.
The people of Judah are, however, then portrayed as not happy with the suggestion that they are profaning the covenant, and are not treating each other rightly. They feel rather that they have a strong bond with each other. They declare:
‘Have we not all one father?
Has not one God created us?
Why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother,
Profaning the covenant of our fathers?’
By this they are portrayed as taking up the description of YHWH in Malachi 1:6. They affirm that they all together have one Father, because one God has created them. Thus they feel that they are united as one by that fact. They have a common faith and are fellow-believers.
They speak in terms of creation, but implied within their question is the fact that He is especially the Father of Israel, and that that especially makes them a united nation. He has created them as Israel. In the words of Isaiah, ‘Thus says YHWH Who created you, O Jacob, and formed you, O Israel, fear not for I have redeemed you. I have called you by My Name, you are Mine’ (Isaiah 43:1). Thus they saw themselves as firmly one as His people.
Indeed had He not said, ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn?’ (Exodus 4:22). And they cannot see why they should therefore be being portrayed as dealing treacherously every man with his brother, when they felt that they showed each other a good deal of neighbourliness. Nor could they understand the suggestion that they were profaning the covenant of their fathers by the way they lived.
However, as we have already seen, they have been clearly represented by Malachi in Malachi 1:14 as having been brought into the indictment against the priests, for they equally shared in the responsibility for the unsatisfactory offerings and sacrifices that were being offered to YHWH. But seemingly their consciences have not been moved and they are not happy about it. They try to turn the blame on the messenger. They feel rather that it is YHWH Who is failing them (Malachi 2:13).
It is always strange how easily people think that, in spite of how badly they behave towards Him, He should be all sweetness and light towards them, and that really everything is His fault.
Malachi now replies by listing some of their faults. And the first of these lies in the fact that many of them are marrying local women who believed in and worshipped another god, with the result that these are introducing false worship into the community of God’s people, and even into Jerusalem.
‘Judah has dealt treacherously,
And an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem,
for Judah has profaned the holiness of YHWH which he loves,
And has married the daughter of a foreign god.
This is YHWH’s reply. How have they dealt treacherously against Him? How have they besmirched and profaned the holiness of YHWH? They have done it by committing an ‘abomination’ (a word regularly connected with idolatry) in Israel and in Jerusalem. They have profaned the very holiness of YHWH which is so precious to Him. And they have done it by marrying ‘the daughters of a foreign god’. (This phrase is in contrast with the fact that Israel is ‘God’s son, God’s firstborn’ - Exodus 4:22).
The point here is not that they have married ‘foreigners’ as such. Some of the Jews had once been ‘foreigners’ before they had become proselytes. (In fact a good proportion of Israel were not direct descendants of Jacob). It was that they had married women who worshipped other gods, and had brought their worship with them. They had introduced idolatry into Israel and Jerusalem. Thus the community of God’s holy people was being infiltrated by what was ‘unholy’, and this was jeopardising the total commitment of the community to YHWH (compare Deuteronomy 7:4).
It is a warning to us lest we introduce what is ‘foreign’ among the people of God. The pathway from true holiness and dedication to having a church in which God comes second, is an easy one to follow, and one not quickly remedied. It is important that even ‘secular’ activities are kept ‘holy’.
‘YHWH will cut off,
To the man who does this,
Him who wakes and him who answers,
Out of the tents of Jacob,
And him who offers an offering,
To YHWH of hosts.
So, Malachi says, let them be in no doubt. YHWH will cut off from His covenant every man who does this, no matter who they are. They will be cut off from their fellow Israelites. They will be cut off from the sentries who wake and receive a response from the sentries from whom they take over, in other words, from the security of the community (at some stage each male would probably act as a sentry as they had no army). They will be cut off from those who worship YHWH and make their offerings to Him.
An alternative possible translation is, ‘as for the man who does this, whether it be him who wakes or him who answers, may YHWH cut him off from the tents of Jacob, even though he brings offerings to YHWH of hosts’. Here ‘him who wakes and him who answers’ simply means ‘everyone’. And the idea is that he will be cut off from Israel in God’s eyes, even though he continues to offer sacrifices to YHWH. Thus men’s sacrifices will be seen as unwelcome, not only when they are blemished, but also when they are offered by those whose heart are not right towards God. There is nothing automatic about the effectiveness of sacrifices, as the prophets had constantly made clear (e.g. Isaiah 1:11-15; 1 Samuel 15:22; Micah 6:6-8)
YHWH’s Cause against The People Because They Accuse Him Of Not Heeding Their Prayers And Because They Have Divorced Their First Wives (Malachi 2:13-16 ).
He also points out that while the people profess to weep and be concerned because YHWH is not responding to them, the truth is revealed to be that it is they who are not responding to Him, and this is especially brought out in regard to divorcing the wives of their youth.
If anything brings out the importance of faithfulness in marriage to God, it is the fact that He sees marriage as connected with two of the crowning sins of Judah/Israel, amidst all the other sins that they were committing. The priests had been unfaithful to YHWH as His messengers, as revealed by their totally unacceptable attitudes and behaviour, but Judah are being faithless to YHWH as His witnesses because of their casual attitude towards the sacredness and purity of marriage. We can compare how Jesus would lay the same emphasis on the need for faithfulness in marriage in Matthew 19:3-12 when preparing for the establishment of the new Kingly Rule of God.
‘And this again you do, you cover the altar of YHWH,
With tears, with weeping, and with sighing,
In as much as he does not regard the offering any more,
Nor receives it with good will at your hand.
Another thing that they do is that they come before YHWH at His altar and cover it with weeping and with tears, because they cannot understand why He is not accepting their offerings and responding by doing all the good things that He has promised. They assume that it is all YHWH’s fault that He does not respond to them. And they are basically asking, ‘why does God not answer their prayers?’
‘You cover the altar of YHWH with tears.’ The priests could do it actually, the people could do it by submitting tearstained offerings, probably deliberately, feeling that by offering tear-stained offerings they were also offering their tears to God.
‘Yet you say, Why?
Because YHWH has been witness between you and the wife of your youth,
Against whom you have dealt treacherously,
Though she is your companion, and the wife of your covenant.’
So there questions are, ‘why is there no answer?’ and ‘how can you say that we are not one in the covenant’. And Malachi simply replies by listing a second grievance that God has against them. It is because they have been treacherously divorcing their original wives, even though these wives have been their companions and are their wives within the covenant. Here then is one way in which they are dealing treacherously with each other.
Thus he has now answered both their questions about how they deal treacherously with each other and how they profane the covenant, in terms firstly of marrying women whom they marry who introduce other gods, and secondly in terms of their treacherous behaviour towards their own wives who have grown old and are therefore no longer quite so attractive. They are certainly not behaving well towards them or demonstrating neighbourliness.
This not only brings out how important the binding nature of marriage is to God, but also gives us a picture of how those who called themselves God’s people felt that they could manipulate marriage for their own benefit in spite of God’s original statement that by marriage they became as one flesh (Genesis 2:24). One of the reasons for marrying local women was probably in order to obtain rights over land, and they were clearly quite willing to sacrifice their own wives in order to achieve it, once these wives were past their main usefulness.
‘And did he not make one,
And he had the residue of the spirit?
And wherefore one?
He sought a godly seed (literally ‘seed of God’).
Therefore take heed to your spirit,
And let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.’
Malachi now explains the situation in terms of Genesis 2:0. In Genesis 2:0 God had originally breathed into the man alone the breath of life and he had become ‘a living soul’ (Genesis 2:7; compare Genesis 6:17 where this is described as ‘the spirit (ruach) of life’). So in terms used elsewhere he had received ‘spirit’. And then God had brought the woman out of man, thus sharing both his flesh and his spirit, and He had then brought them together through sexual union in order that through ‘marriage’ they might once again become one flesh, each enjoying part of the same spirit. They who were originally one, had been made two by the Creator in order that they might become one again. ‘And shall cleave to His wife and they will be one flesh’ (Genesis 2:24). It is against this background that any Jew would see the question of marriage.
And it is what Malachi is saying here:
· God made man as one, and, after dividing woman from man, again made them one - ‘ did He not make one? ’.
· God put the spirit within man, but then imparted some of that spirit to the woman - the result was that ‘ he had the residue of the spirit ’. And that was because he had shared his spirit with the woman, so that between them they shared one spirit.
· And why did God make them one in flesh and spirit? - ‘ and wherefore one? ’
· It was so that they might have godly descendants coming from one united pair - ‘ He sought a godly seed ’. (This aspect would be especially poignant in cases where the divorce took place so that the man could marry ‘the daughter of a foreign god’ (Malachi 2:11) who would not produce a godly seed)
· So now they needed to consider the fact that God had given them one spirit, which had been shared between them, a spirit which in marriage was in a sense united the one with the other by the blending of their spirits, thus making them again ‘one spirit’, a situation which divorce destroyed - ‘ therefore take heed to your spirit ’.
· By divorce they were breaking up that one spirit and marring the unity that God had created through marriage, and thus irreparably damaging their wives quite unfairly - ‘ and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth ’.
The result was that they were breaking the God-given unity achieved in marriage, which was marred by divorce and a second marriage. And this was grieving to God, and seen by Him as nothing short of treachery.
‘For I hate putting away,
Says YHWH, the God of Israel,
And him who covers his garment with violence,
Says YHWH of hosts,
Therefore take heed to your spirit,
That you deal not treacherously.’
YHWH now indicates two things that He hates, ‘divorce’ and ‘covering the garment with violence’. Thus the first thing that God hated was ‘putting away’. He hated divorce. That is unequivocal.
Secondly He hates all violence, especially within marriage. In view of the context the thought may be that divorce is seen as an act of violence in that it rends apart what God has made one. Compare Matthew 19:6, ‘what God has joined let no man put asunder’. The idea of ‘covering the garment’ has in mind that the garment is the outward means by which a man is known to the world. Thus divorce is an outward show of violence against the God-given unity of marriage.
Alternately the words may have been spoken against violence both within marriage, and outside of marriage. It may be seen as an indication that God hates all violence.
The final exhortation is for them to take heed to their spirit, jointly shared between man and wife, and to maintain its oneness. For not to do is to ‘deal treacherously’ against the covenant, the very charge that they are trying to refute (Malachi 2:10).
Brief note on Malachi 2:15-16 .
In the above comments we have taken the view which in context appears to us to bring out the significance of the words, and which appears to fit best with the Scriptural background to marriage. Malachi 2:15 is, however, seen by most as ‘a difficult verse’. Two other interpretations put on the words (out of many), and necessarily presented briefly, are:
1). We could repoint ‘residue’ as ‘flesh, and then read ‘did He not make them one, even having flesh and spirit?’ The final meaning is not significantly different from what we have suggested above. The problem here is that flesh does not occur anywhere else in the passage. Why then should it be introduced it here? In the context it is the oneness of the spirit which would seem to be seen as important
2). ‘Did not One make them, and a residue of the spirit to him? And why did One make them? He sought a seed of God.’ This ties in the One with the ‘one God’ of Malachi 2:10. Here the unity arises at least partly out of their having been made by One Father, with the view of producing seed for God.
It must be stressed that variations on all these ideas can be found, together with many variations of interpretations. Some even try to introduce Abraham. But in view of the total silence about Abraham that appears to us to be very unlikely. However, as we do not see the verse as crucial to the main argument, except in so far as it strengthens the idea of the oneness between a man and his first wife, we hope we may be forgiven for leaving the matter to rest here.
End of note.
Other Allegations Against The People Of Israel (Malachi 2:17 ).
Malachi now briefly add other sins of which they are guilty before God. No doubt in his oral prophesying he considerably expanded on these.
You have wearied YHWH with your words.
Yet you say, In what have we wearied him?
In that you say, “Every one who does evil is good in the sight of YHWH,
And he delights in them,”
Or “Where is the God of justice?”
In Malachi 1:13 the priest had found offering the sacrifices ‘wearisome’. Now we learn that God finds His people wearisome (although using a different Hebrew stem). They have wearied YHWH with their words. But how have they wearied Him?
They say, ‘Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of YHWH and He delights in them.’ These words are not to be taken literally as they stand. We are not to assume that the people were openly approving of evil and saying that it did not matter. What it signifies is:
· Either that they were manipulating the Law to justify their lawless behaviour (Jesus’ regular charge against the Scribes and Pharisees - Mark 7:8-13; Matthew 23:16-28).
· Or that they were assuming that evil did not matter as long as sacrifices for sin were offered (the same danger as is often inherent in auricular confession).
· Or that they are grumbling because YHWH appears to be treating those who do evil as good, something made clear by the prosperity of their lives.
Note the assumption that most of them were involved in this. They had settled down into a self-satisfied apathy, and were simply allowing the Law to be flouted in many ways, and were then justifying it in one way or another. And this it should be noted is on top of their general attitude towards sacrifices, their offering of blemished animals, their marrying of foreign idolatrous wives, and their penchant for divorce. It is clear that the community was in a general state that was displeasing to God (very similar to our own).
And in spite of their own unwillingness to do and demand from each other what was right, they grumbled because they thought that God was not just. (How like us they were). Their point was that He was not fulfilling their hopes and expectations. Thus they were saying, ‘Where is the God of justice?’ This may have indicated that they felt that God was not acting as He ought in regard to their affairs (having the feeling that they deserved better) or it may be a sarcastic question in the light of the fact that He was not punishing those that they considered deserved punishment. The question that they did not ask was what it was about their lives that prevented Him from fulfilling their expectations.