Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you.II.
(1-9) The decree against the priests.
If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith the LORD of hosts, I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings: yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart.(2) Hear . . . lay to heart—viz., the warning of Malachi 1:6-13.
Your blessings.—Some take this as meaning the priests’ tithes, atonement money, and their portions of the sacrifices, in accordance with a common usage of the word in the sense of “gift”—e.g., Genesis 33:11. Others refer the words to the blessing which the priests pronounce on the people (Numbers 6:23-27).
Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your solemn feasts; and one shall take you away with it.(3) I will corrupt your seed.—Better, I will destroy for you the seed—viz., of the crops. It must be remembered that because the people neglected to pay the tithes, the Levites were obliged to go and till the fields (Nehemiah 13:10). The LXX. for “seed” reads “corn.”
Dung of your solemn feasts.—Or rather, of your festival sacrifices. (Comp. Exodus 23:18; Psalm 118:27.) The dung of the sacrificial animals was to be carried to an unclean place outside the camp, and burnt there. The priests, because they had profaned God’s Name by offering unfit animals in sacrifice, were to be treated in the most ignominious manner.
And one shall take you away with it—i.e., according to a Hebrew idiom, and ye shall be carried away to it (comp. Isaiah 8:4):—ye shall be treated like it.
And ye shall know that I have sent this commandment unto you, that my covenant might be with Levi, saith the LORD of hosts.(4) Commandment.—Or rather, decree, as in Malachi 2:1.
That my covenant might be.—Better, to be my covenant—i.e., so that this new decree, which I have been compelled to make against the house of Levi, may be my covenant with him instead of the old one, of which the prophet goes on to speak.
Levi denotes throughout the tribe of Levi, and especially the priests, the sons of Aaron. (See Note on Malachi 3:3.)
My covenant was with him of life and peace; and I gave them to him for the fear wherewith he feared me, and was afraid before my name.(5) Of life and peace.—Better, life and peace—i.e., by it life and peace were guaranteed to him.
Life in its highest sense.
Them—viz., life and peace.
For the fear . . . me.—Better, As fear—(i.e., as a motive for the fear of God), and he did fear me. Or, perhaps, a still better interpretation is that which represents God and Levi as each having performed his part of the covenant—God in bestowing “life and peace,” Levi in rendering “fear.” According to this view, the words should be translated, My covenant was with him—viz., life and peace—and I gave them to him; fear, and he feared me, and trembled before My Name.
The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity.(6) The law of truth—i.e., right instruction in the Law, and judgment in accordance with the Law, the reverse of which is “iniquity,” or rather, perversion.
In peace.—See on the preceding verse.
Equity—i.e., integrity of life.
And did turn. . . . iniquity.—Of this, says Pusey, “What a history of zeal for the glory of God and of the conversion of sinners in those of whom the world knows nothing, of whose working, but for the three words in the closing book of the Old Testament, we should have known nothing.”
For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.(7) Comp. Deuteronomy 33:10.
Keep.—Not as in a repository, but rather, observe (Zechariah 3:7)—i.e., speak in accordance with the knowledge of God, as revealed in the Law.
Messenger.—Literally, angel. (See Note on Malachi 3:1.)
But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the LORD of hosts.(8) But ye.—Priests of the present day have done in every respect the reverse.
Caused many to stumble at the law.—Or rather, in the Law; and ye have given them false instruction in the Law, and allowed those things which were forbidden, and so ye have corrupted the covenant of the (tribe of) Levi: ye have turned the Law, which ought to have been a light to their feet and a lamp to their path, into a stumbling-block.
Therefore have I also made you contemptible and base before all the people, according as ye have not kept my ways, but have been partial in the law.(9) Therefore.—I am no longer bound by the covenant I made with the tribe of Levi, and, instead of “life and peace,” I give you contempt, &c.
In the law—i.e., in the administration of justice. The authority of the priests, Levites, and of the judges of the day, in all matters ceremonial and civil, is expressly inculcated by Deuteronomy 17:8-13. It was in accordance with this passage that our Lord said (Matthew 23:2): “The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat; all, therefore, whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do,” &c.
Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?(10-17) The prophet now rebukes the two great sins of the nation at this time: (1) marriage with idolatresses; (2) divorce of the first (Israelitish) wife. He introduces this rebuke by a general statement, similar to that of Malachi 1:2.
(10) One father—i.e., not Adam, Abraham, or Jacob (as various commentators have held), but God Himself (Malachi 1:6; Deuteronomy 32:6; Deuteronomy 32:18), who is the spiritual Father of the nation, and in whom they are all brothers and sisters; so that when an Israelite married a heathen woman, or divorced an Israelitish wife, it was an offence against God, a “profaning the covenant of the fathers,” and a violation of the fraternal relation. Moreover, “one God created” them for His glory (Isaiah 43:7), for the special purpose of being a witness to His unity. The admission of idolatresses into their families would be fatal to this object.
Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the LORD which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god.(11) For the same collocation of “Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem,” comp. Zechariah 1:19.
The LORD will cut off the man that doeth this, the master and the scholar, out of the tabernacles of Jacob, and him that offereth an offering unto the LORD of hosts.(12) The man.—Better, to the man.
The master and the scholar.—This is the Talmudic interpretation of the Hebrew expression, which occurs only in this passage, but it is unsuitable (besides being philologically precarious), for the passage refers to the whole nation rather than to those who were their appointed scholars and teachers. It is better to render it, “watchman and answerer: i.e., the watchman who cried in the city, “Who comes there?” and him who answers, “Friend,” which is an exhaustive expression for all living persons, and so, in this context, “all posterity.” This is the interpretation of Gesenius, who quotes in support of it an Arabic expression from the life of Tímúr-lang (Timur the lame, Tamerlane):—“When he left the city, there was not a crier or an answerer in it”—i.e., there was not a person left alive. “Neither root nor branch” is another exhaustive term used by our prophet (Malachi 4:1). The Chaldee paraphrase gives the sense of the words in “son and son’s son.”
And him that offereth an offering . . .—Some refer this to the case in which the offender is a priest (Nehemiah 13:28); others understand it as “any one who might offer a sacrifice for him in expiation of his sin.” But since the highest privilege of the Jew was to bring offerings to the Sanctuary, the words may be merely a repetition of the former expression in different terms, and mean “a descendant enjoying religious privileges.” The intermarriage with heathens referred to here is that mentioned in Nehemiah 13:23-28, not the earlier case recorded in Ezra 9, 10.
And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand.(13) The prophet now rebukes the people for their frivolous divorces of their first wives, which was a natural result of their marriage with heathen women.
And this . . . again.—Or perhaps, And this a second thing ye do—viz., infidelity to the wife of their youth (Malachi 2:14). But the rendering of the English Version is in accordance with the Hebrew accentuation. That rendering is not improbably the right one. It would mean: “And this you do again (Nehemiah 13), even after Ezra has reformed the abuse, and you have solemnly undertaken not to act so again” (Nehemiah 9:10).
Covering the altar . . . with tears . . . and with crying out—i.e., with the plaints of the Israelitish women who were divorced against their will.
Insomuch that.—Or rather, so that.
Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.(14) Again with supercilious surprise they ask, “Wherefore?”
Witness.—Comp. Genesis 31:49-50 : “The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another. If thou shalt afflict my daughters, or if thou shalt take other wives beside my daughters, no man is with us; see, God is witness betwixt me and thee.” If people would seriously consider the meaning of this verse of Genesis, they would not be so fond of putting MIZPAH on their rings, for it denotes a strong suspicion as to the fidelity of the other party.
And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.(15, 16) These are two very difficult verses, which should perhaps, be rendered as follows:—
For did He not make [man and his wife, Genesis 2:24] one? and has he [the husband] any superiority of spirit [that he should divorce at will]? And what is this [pair which is become] one? [Answer.] It seeketh a godly seed. Therefore take heed to yourselves [literally, your spirit], and with respect to the wife of thy youth—Let none be faithless.
For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.(16) For [I] hate divorce [of the first wife], saith the God of Israel, and he [the divorcer of his first wife] covers his garment with injury, saith the LORD of Hosts; therefore take ye heed to your spirit, and do not be faithless. According to our interpretation, the whole of these two verses must be taken as the words of the prophet. Any superiority.—We take Heb. sh’ār, “remnant” in the sense of yithrōn, “superabundance,” “superiority.” Any superiority of spirit—i.e., any such essential superiority as to justify him in treating his wife as a mere slave, and divorcing her against her will. This passage coincides more nearly with the spirit of Matthew 19:3 seqq. than with that of Deuteronomy 24:1-4. To yourselves, or to your spirit. The expressions are equivalent. (Comp. Jeremiah 17:21; Deuteronomy 4:15; Joshua 23:11.) Let none be . . .—Observe the change of person, so common in Hebrew. (Comp. Isaiah 1:29.) His garment.—Some take this to be an Oriental expression for “his wife.” (Comp. Al Koran, 2:—“Wives are your attire, and you are theirs.”) Or garment may be taken as the external symbol of the inner state of the man. (Comp. Zechariah 3:4; Isaiah 64:5; Proverbs 30:9, &c.) Injury.—Heb., châmâs. This word is especially used of ill-treatment of a wife. (Comp. Genesis 16:5.) Keil takes the first verse as follows: No man who had ever a remnant of reason [or a sense of right and wrong] has done [sc., what ye are doing, viz., faithlessly putting away the wife of his youth. To this the people are supposed to object.] But what did the one [Abraham] do? [To this the prophet answers] He was seeking a seed of God [viz., the child of promise: i.e., he dismissed Hagar, because God promised to give him the desired posterity, not in Ishmael through the maid Hagar, but through Sarah in Isaac, so that in doing this he was simply acting in obedience to the word of God (Genesis 21:12).] Others vary the translation slightly, and render, And has no one done this who has a remnant of spirit in him? [This being supposed to be the objection on the part of the people. To this the prophet answers.] Wherefore did he so act? He was seeking a godly seed. Moore takes the verse quite differently, and refers it to the saying of Malachi 2:10. His words are, “The prophet at the outset had argued the return of the Jewish people . . . therefore these marriages that violated their oneness were wrong . . . He asks again . . . Did not [God] make [us] one? Did He not separate us from other nations into an isolated unity? Yet this was not done because the blessing was too narrow to be spread over other nations . . . for the residue of the spirit was with Him. There remained an inexhaustible fulness of spiritual blessing that might be given to other nations. Why [then did He choose] but one? He was seeking a seed of God [a nation which He should train up to be the repository of His covenant, the stock of His Messiah].” Many other interpretations have been proposed, but these are the only ones which are at all admissible.
(17) A new section of the prophecy begins with this verse. The prophet now directs his reproofs against the people for their discontent and their want of faith in the promises of God, because the expected manifestation of God’s glory did not take place immediately. Because the doers of evil seem to flourish, the people say that God takes delight in them, “or” i.e., if this be not the case, “Where is the God of judgment?” that He does not interpose to punish them. (Comp. Psalms 73, &c.)