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He sharply reproveth the priests for neglecting their covenant; and the people for idolatry, for adultery, and for infidelity.
Before Christ about 400.
Malachi 2:1. This commandment is for you— This decree is for you, or, this is decreed concerning you; for here is no commandment given to the priest, only punishment is denounced upon them, if they do not repent.
Malachi 2:2. I will even send a curse upon you— I will send a famine upon you. The last clause should be rendered, Yea, I will therefore curse them [that is to say, the blessings], because you do not repent. I will curse your blessings, means "those gifts which are brought to you from the productions of the earth;" for these productions are frequently called blessings in Scripture.
Malachi 2:3. Behold, I will corrupt your seed, &c.— Behold, I am about to take away the shoulder from you [namely, the right shoulder, which, by the law, was the peculiar portion of the priests]; and to throw the fat into your faces, even the fat which is offered in your sacrifices [meaning the fat which covered the intestines, and which was burnt upon the altar]; and it shall take you away with it. God threatens that he will not accept this gift, but will reject it, and throw it with disdain into the faces of the priests, and by that stroke repulse or drive them from the altar. He goes on, Malachi 2:4. And ye shall know, that I have sent this commandment or statute concerning you, [that is to say, to drive you from mine altar, Malachi 2:1.] that it may be instead of the covenant with Levi, saith the Lord of Hosts. That is, "this shall be established, that Levi be driven from the priesthood;" for ברית berith, is here taken in a bad sense, as this passage is full of threats, and not of promises; and therefore the word signifies here, not covenant, properly speaking, but that which is ratified, certainly fixed and determined, as in many other places. This is Houbigant's interpretation.
Malachi 2:5. My covenant was with him, &c.— Here the word covenant is taken in a good sense; for in this and the two following verses, the nature of the covenant of God with Levi is explained, as in the eighth verse these corrupt priests are reproved for having violated that covenant. The passage should be rendered, I gave them to him, that he might greatly fear me, and tremble at my name. Malachi 2:6. That the law of truth might be in his mouth, and no iniquity be found in his lips: that he might walk with me in peace and equity; that he might turn, &c. Malachi 2:7. That the priest's lips might keep knowledge, and that they might seek, &c. See Houbigant, who, instead of, Have been partial, Mal 2:9 reads, Have had respect to persons.
Malachi 2:10. Have we not all one Father? &c.— Here a new section begins, wherein the prophet severely reproves the people for marrying strange wives, which was much practised in Ezra's and Nehemiah's time, who expressed great detestation of it. Ezra 9:1-2.Nehemiah 13:23; Nehemiah 13:23. The prophet begins his expostulation with putting them in mind that they owned one God and Father, in opposition to the idols of the heathen, and therefore should dwell with one another as brethren, being nearly allied by spiritual, as well as fleshly relation. See Mal 2:14 and Lowth.
Malachi 2:12. The Lord will cut off, &c.— Whosoever doeth this, the Lord will cut off for him both boy and girl, from the tabernacle of Jacob, that he may not offer an offering, &c. Houbigant.
Malachi 2:13. And this have ye done again— This also you have done; you have covered the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping, and with groanings; so that no respect is now had to your offering, nor is any thing accepted from your hand. The priests not only had married strange wives, but also divorced those of their own country whom they had married; with whose tears the altar was imbrued, when these wives offered up their sacrifices to God, entreating him to give their husbands a better mind; whom God heard so effectually, that he would not accept the sacrifices of their husbands, on account of the tears and just complaints of their wives. Houbigant.
Malachi 2:15-16. And did not he make one?— Houbigant renders the passage, And hath he made thee one flesh and one spirit with her? And what does he require but a godly seed, and that you may mutually keep your spirit, and not deal treacherously? &c. Malachi 2:16. For whoever putteth away his wife through hatred, saith the Lord, hideth iniquity in his garment: therefore, &c. Among the various interpretations of these words, this seems the most probable, says Lowth, that the prophet puts the Jews in mind of the first institution of marriage in paradise, as Christ did afterwards upon a like occasion, Mat 19:3-5 and tells them, that God made but one man at first, and made the woman out of him, when he could have created more women if he had pleased; to instruct men that this was the true pattern of marriage, ordained for sincere love and undivided affection, and best served the chief end of it; namely, the religious education of children. (Dr. Pocock tells us, that the Easterns frequently call a wife by the name of a garment. See Deuteronomy 22:30.) According to the interpretation given above, the meaning of the 16th verse will be, that God hates divorcing a former wife to take in one of a strange nation, or that any should bring into his family an illegitimate wife, over and above that whom he had legally married.
Malachi 2:17. Ye have wearied the Lord, &c.— A new discourse begins here, and these words properly belong to the next chapter, where an answer is given to the objection proposed. See Malachi 3:2-3; Malachi 3:5; Malachi 3:18. It is the old objection against Providence, taken from the prosperity of the wicked; which implied, as they thought, either that their works were pleasing to God, or else that he disregarded human affairs, and would never call men to an account for their actions. Every one that doeth evil is good, &c. See Jer 12:1-3 and Psalms 73:0. Instead of, When ye say. &c. we may read, In your saying of every evil doer, that he is good,—and, or otherwise, where is the God of judgment?
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The word of God in this chapter is particularly directed to the priests. And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you; and they were bound deeply to consider the divine rebuke here given them. The prophet shews,
1. What was their duty. The priests' lips should keep knowledge; their mind should be stored with divine wisdom; they should be wise expositors of the law of God; ready to answer every case proposed to them, and diligent to preach and inculcate the truths of God: and they, the people, should seek the law at his mouth; teachable and inquisitive; desiring to know the mind of the Lord; humble hearers, and ready to follow his will, so far as it is made known to them: for he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts; distinguished with this high honour, and employed in this high office to carry God's messages to men, and, as an ambassador, to transact the great concerns which belong to the eternal world. Such, therefore, were bound by every obligation to walk worthy of their high vocation and calling.
2. What had been their practice? the very contrary to all this. But ye are departed out of the way; in principle and practice utterly apostatised from God; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; corrupted by their false doctrines, and emboldened by their ill examples; for nothing tends to make men infidels and libertines, so much as the wicked, careless, and worldly lives of those who pretend to be God's ministers. Ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi; defeated the great end and intention of it; as if the priesthood, instead of being instituted in order to lead sinners to a pardoning God, and make them holy and happy, was designed merely to enrich the priests, and fatten them with the spoils of the altar. Ye have not kept my ways; neither the moral nor ceremonial commandments: but have been partial in the law, in their observance of it; or accepted persons in the law; giving wrong judgments in favour of some, and to the prejudice of others.
3. Their sins were greatly aggravated by the consideration of the peculiar honour which God had put upon them in this covenant of priesthood established with their fathers, and by their degeneracy from their pious examples. My covenant was with Levi; God took that tribe into a peculiar relation, to attend solely on his worship; a covenant of life and peace, containing a promise of long life and prosperity to themselves here, and of endless life and peace hereafter, if they proved faithful. And also their ministrations were intended to be life to the guilty sinner, whose iniquities, which called for death, should be removed by faith in the blood of the sacrifices offered, as typical of the great Sacrifice; and peace with an offended God should be restored to their troubled consciences. And I gave them to him, the blessings of life and peace, for the fear wherewith he feared me; he rewarded the zeal of Levi, Exo 32:26 and the boldness of Phinehas, Num 25:11-12 with the settlement of the priesthood in that tribe and family: and he was afraid before my name; continuing faithful in God's service, jealous of offending, approving himself in all simplicity before him. The law of truth was in his mouth; he always spoke according to the oracles of God; and iniquity was not found in his lips, he never perverted the truth to flatter the great, nor concealed what would be offensive in order to please men; but plainly, freely, and fully, in all cases declared the word of God; and, in matters of judicature, decided with strictest impartiality, without respect of persons. He walked with me in peace and equity; his life adorned his doctrine; he was himself a man of peace, and the peace-maker among others; of unimpeached integrity, as ministers should be; an example to the flock in every good word and work: and did turn many away from iniquity; his life gave weight to his preaching, and God bestowed success on his labours; so that they were effectual to the converting of many sinners from the evil of their ways: and every faithful preacher of God's word may expect to see such fruit of their ministry, when they thus walk and speak; and as the blessed issue of such a conversation, after having turned many to righteousness, they shall shine as the stars in the firmament for ever and ever. Such godly priests as are here described had there been of old in the Jewish church; and to have been descended from them, and inherited the covenant of priesthood, and yet to have degenerated from their examples, and betrayed the trust delivered down to them, was the aggravated crime of that generation. Some apply this to Christ, of whom indeed the Levitical priesthood was a type and figure, and in whom most eminently these things were fulfilled. With him the everlasting covenant of life and peace was established, who is the purchaser of both for his faithful saints, and they are given into his hands to be distributed to such; and he has obtained this life and peace for them, because he feared, humbled himself to obey the precept, and submitted to the penalty of the law for us. In his mouth the law of truth, the gospel of our salvation, was found; in his lips was no guile; perfectly spotless he was in all his conversation, and turning many from iniquity, even all who ever have or ever shall have believed in and cleaved to him.
4. Judgment is denounced upon them. They had already begun to feel God's displeasure; and to the uttermost it shall light upon them. [1.] They had begun to feel God's wrath. I have already cursed your blessings; they had no comfort in their work, nor any enjoyment of their wages; all their temporal blessings were embittered, and nothing prospered in their hands: because ye do not lay it to heart, to repent of your sins, and glorify God in your ministry. Therefore have I also made you contemptible; since they had made themselves vile, God justly exposed them before all the people, and returned upon their own heads the contempt that they had shewn of his service. Nor can there be conceived a more infamous and despicable character than that of a profane, wicked, and negligent minister. [2.] What they had felt, if they continued impenitent, was but the prelude to greater evils in store for them. If ye will not hear these warnings, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith the Lord of Hosts, by an immediate return to him with broken hearts, and desire of ministering henceforth to God's glory, I will even send a curse upon you: even that wrath which shall burn like fire: and I will curse your blessings, their worldly good things shall be embittered with the sense of his displeasure, or destroyed. Behold, I will corrupt your seed, that it shall rot under the clod, and famine be the consequence; and spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your solemn feast; so far should these be from pleasing God, that he would treat them with the utmost contempt and aversion, as if the dung of the beasts which they brought were cast into their faces: and one shall take you away; either the Romans, or any other person would count them fit only for a dunghill; or the devil, the sinner's tormentor, shall seize them, and drag them with him into the pit of destruction. Note; (1.) They who rest on the external performances of religion, so far from pleasing God, will find that their dependence on these will render them abominable in his sight. (2.) The day is coming, when God will take away all the wicked from the earth, and deliver them over to the tormentors.
2nd, As corrupt principles naturally lead to corrupt practices; so, on the other hand, the love of sin and the service of it harden the heart in infidelity and atheism.
1. Their practices were very bad. In general they dealt treacherously every man against his brother; perverting justice, and having respect to persons, and in all their dealings full of dishonesty; thus profaning the covenant of their fathers, wherein such injustice and fraud were forbidden; and which was peculiarly criminal in them, who had one father, were brethren in a peculiar sense, as sprung from Abraham, and one God their Creator (not merely as men, but), who had formed them in a covenant of national peculiarity as a people for himself. But of all their treacherous dealings, that which especially is here brought to account is, their violation of God's covenant with regard to their marriages, both taking wives of the heathen, which had been so expressly forbidden, Exodus 34:15-16, and abusing and divorcing those of their own nation.
[1.] They took wives of the heathen, called here the daughters of a strange god, trained in the worship and service of idols as a child in the family; and this was to profane the holiness of the Lord which he loved. They were set apart for a peculiar people, dedicated to God, and to be observant of his holy law; and he then loved and delighted in them, when they approved their fidelity to him; but by these strange marriages they profaned their covenant of separation, and became an abomination in the sight of God; for which he threatens to cut them off, both master and scholar; or, as in the margin of our English Bibles, both him that wakeneth, the magistrates and elders, whose office it was to call and excite the people to their duty; and him that answereth; the people in general, who should be obedient to their admonitions. These God will destroy together, and him that offereth an offering unto the Lord of Hosts, the priests who should be found guilty of the like crime, as many of them were, Ezra 10:18; Ezra 10:44. Note; (1.) They who profess the faith of Jesus should no more be yoked now with unbelievers, than these with the daughters of a strange god; and ministers especially should shun so unequal a connection. (2.) Nothing more fatally endangers the soul, and exposes it to everlasting perdition, than rashly taking those to be our wives or husbands, who are dead in trespasses and sins. The daughter of a strange god will much sooner make a convert of her husband to idolatry, to the ways of sin and this world, than he can ever hope to bring her to the knowledge and worship of Jesus.
[2.] This have ye done again, or in the second place; abused and divorced the wives of their own nation, probably to make room for these foreigners; so that they covered the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping, and with crying; complaining of the ill usage of their husbands: insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good-will at your hand. These tears stood on the altar as a memorial against them; and all their offerings were but hypocritical, while they persisted in such wickedness. Yet ye say, Wherefore? why should not God accept our offerings? The reason is obvious: because the Lord hath been witness of those plighted vows which were exchanged between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously; divorcing her, or marrying others to vex her; and he will be an awful avenger of this breach of contract, aggravated as the sin is by various considerations. She is a wife of youth; placed her affections upon thee in those best days of youth and beauty, and therefore not afterwards to be neglected or abhorred: she is thy companion; has been the partner of all thy cares and griefs, and borne an equal share in them: and the wife of thy covenant; thou art bound to her by every sacred tie, till death shall part; and therefore it would be most cruel, base, ungrateful, and unjust, to treat her with falsehood, or break the marriage-bond. And did not he make one? When the great Creator formed us, did it not evidently appear, that he intended that one man should have but one wife, in the case of our first parents; yet had he the residue of the Spirit, and could as easily have formed many Eves as one. And wherefore one? The reason is, that he might seek a godly seed, or a seed of God; a noble and legitimate offspring, a seed to serve him, which is the great end of marriage; not to gratify men's lawless lusts and appetites; but to beget children who may be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Therefore take heed to your spirit; keep your hearts, keep your eye, keep every wandering desire in subjection, which would lead you after forbidden objects: and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth; but be constant, faithful, affectionate, and cleave to her alone: for the Lord the God of Israel saith, that he hateth putting away; and though suffered for the hardness of their hearts, to prevent worse consequences, it was displeasing to God, and contrary to his original institution; and therefore the author of such separation will be abhorred of God. For one covereth violence with his garment, and thinks that by pretending the permission of the law he can cover the violence done to his wife by the divorce; or he grieves, vexes, and ill uses her in private; and in public casts his garment over her, as if he would protect and cherish her; but God sees and will punish the unfaithful: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously; and great need there is that we, whose hearts are by nature so corrupt, should take heed to them; especially in this estate we need watch against every alienation of affection and unkindness; for if but once a breach be made, the mischief is often afterwards irreparable.
2. Their principles were corrupt, and their words corresponded with their works. Ye have wearied the Lord with your words; speaking perversely, and vindicating themselves in their wickedness, which was highly provoking. Yet ye say, wherein have we wearied him? denying the charge, and maintaining their innocence, which aggravated their crime. When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delighteth in them; observing the prosperity of the wicked, they concluded that God approved and rewarded him, which cast the most blasphemous imputation on the holiness of God. Or, Where is the God of judgment? why does he not appear to punish sin as he had threatened? They infer from his patience, that he has forsaken the earth; and that, let men live as they list, they have nothing to fear. Such infidel scoffers there were of old, who said, Where is the promise of his coming? and such there still are, who put far away the evil day, and say, Tush, God careth not for it; but they will be terribly undeceived when this God of judgment shortly appears to punish ungodly sinners, among their other crimes, for all the hard speeches they have spoken against him; Jude 1:15.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Malachi 2". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany