Malachi 2
Pulpit Commentary
And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you.
Verses 1-4. - § 4. For these derelictions of duty the priests are threatened with punishment. Verse 1. - This commandment. The threat or announcement is called a commandment, because God ordains it and imposes its execution on certain instruments. (For the expression, camp. Leviticus 25:21.) The threat is contained in vers. 2, 3.
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.
Verse 2. - I will even send a curse; Revised Version, then will I send the curse. St. Jerome, regarding the temporal effect of the curse, translates, egestatem "scarcity" (comp. Deuteronomy 27:15-26; Deuteronomy 28:15, etc.). I will curse your blessings. The blessings which as priests they had to pronounce upon the people (Leviticus 9:22, 23; Numbers 6:23-27). These God would not ratify, but would turn them into curses, and thus punish the people who connived at and imitated the iniquities of the priests. Or the expression may refer to the material benefits promised by God to the Israelites on their obedience. But as the announcement is made specially to the priests, this explanation seems less probable. I have cursed them already. The curse has already begun to work. Dr. S. Cox ('Bible Educator,' 3:67, etc.) points out here an allusion to Nehemiah 13:1, 2, wherein it is recorded that they reed from the Book of Moses how that the Moabites "hired Balsam against them that he should curse them; howbeit our God turned the curse into a blessing." Malachi, who, as he thinks, was present on this occasion, may have been deeply impressed by these words; and it is probable that we hear an echo of them in the threat of ver. 2. "That of old God had turned a curse into a blessing, may have suggested the menace that he would now turn a blessing into a curse."
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.
Verse 3. - I will corrupt your seed. Henderson, "I will rebuke the seed to your hurt." God would mar the promise of their crops; but, as the priests did not concern themselves with agriculture, such a threat would have had no particular application to them. It is best, therefore, to take the pointing of some of the versions, and to translate, I will rebuke your arm; i.e. I will take from you the power of performing, or, I will neutralize your official duties, the arm being the instrument of labour, offering, and blessing. Others consider the threat to be that they should be deprived of their allotted portion of the sacrifice - the breast and shoulder (Leviticus 7:31, 32), or the shoulder, the two cheeks, and the maw (Deuteronomy 18:3). Septuagint, Ἀφορίζω ὑμῖν τὸν ω΅μον, "I take from you the shoulder;" Vulgate, Ego projiciam vobis brachium. Orelli takes "seed" in the sense of posterity, seeing here a reversal of such promises as Jeremiah 33:18, 22. Spread dung upon your faces. God will deliver them over to shameful treatment, which shall cover them with contempt. The idea is derived from the filth left in the courts by the victims (see the following clause). Your solemn feasts (chaggim); ie. the animals slain at the sacrificial feasts. God calls them "your," not "my," because they were not celebrated really in his honor, but after their own self-will and pleasure. The dung of the sacrificial animals was by the Law carried forth and bunted without the camp (Exodus 29:14; Leviticus 4:12; Leviticus 16:27). One shall take you away with it. They shall be treated as filth, and cast away in some foul spot (comp. 1 Kings 14:10).
And ye shall know that I have sent this commandment unto you, that my covenant might be with Levi, saith the LORD of hosts.
Verse 4. - Ye shall know. My threats are not vain; this ye shall experience and be forced to acknowledge. This commandment is the purpose and threat, as in ver. 1 (where see note). That my covenant might be with Levi; i.e. that my covenant with Levi might remain firm. The covenant with Levi was the election of that tribe to be the ministers of the sanctuary. There is here a special allusion to the blessing pronounced on Phinehas for his conduct in the matter of Zimri (Numbers 25:12, 13). This election is called "a covenant," because, while conferring certain privileges, it involved certain duties. The difficulty in this interpretation is that the verb used here (hayah) does not mean "to remain," "to continue," but only "to be, to exist." Hence many critics take "the commandment" as the subject, translating. "That it (my purpose) may be my covenant with Levi, i.e. that as God observed the covenant made with the tribe of Levi in old time, so for the future this commandment and threat will be as vigorously observed and take the place of the old covenant. This explanation is too involved and refined to be acceptable. It is easiest to translate, with Henderson and Reinke, "Because my covenant was with Levi," and to understand God as implying that he warned and punished the priests, because he willed that the covenant with Levi should hold good, and he thus desired to have a body of priests who would keep their vows and maintain the true priestly character. What that character is he procoeds to unfold.
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.
Verses 5-9. - § 5. In contrast with these evil ministers, the character of the true priest is sketched, and thus the faults of the former are shown in darker colours. Verse 5. - My covenant was with him of life and peace; rather, with him was life and peace. This is one side of the covenant, that which God gave - the blessing of life, abundance, prosperity, and secure and undisturbed enjoyment of these, in the everlasting priesthood, in agreement with the promise to Phinehas (Numbers 25:12; comp. Deuteronomy 33:8-11). I gave them to him for the fear, etc. I gave him life and peace. The pronominal suffix "them" is not expressed in the Greek and Latin Versions, and is absent from many Hebrew manuscripts, which read, "I gave him fear." So the Vulgate, Dedi eis timorem et timuit me; Septuagint, Αδωκα αὐτῷ ἐν φόβῳ φοβεῖσθαί με, "I gave him the fear of me." This expresses man's part in the covenant: God gave him certain blessings on condition that he feared, reverenced, worshipped, and obeyed the Lord. The last part of the verse as now read is more simply explained, "and (my covenant with him was, or, I gave him) fear, and he did fear me." God's gifts were life and peace. Levi's part was fear of God: this he performed. The ideal priest observed all the duties of piety and reverence, and therefore in his case the covenant stood firm and was duly carried out.
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.
Verse 6. - The law (teaching) of truth was in his mouth. All his teaching rested on those truths which were enshrined in the Divine Law (Deuteronomy 31:10-13; Deuteronomy 33:10). Iniquity; unfair decision. Neither false doctrine nor perverse judgment was found in him (Deuteronomy 17:8-10; Deuteronomy 19:17). Walked with me. Not only his teaching was true, but his life was pure and good; he was the friend of God, living as always in his presence, in peace and uprightness. So Enoch and Noah are said to have "walked with God" (Genesis 5:24; Genesis 6:9). Did turn many away from iniquity. The faithful discharge of duties and the holy life and teaching of the good priest led many sinners to repentance and amendment.
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.
Verse 7. - For the priest's lips should keep knowledge. It was the priest's duty to study the Law and to teach it faithfully, as it is said of Aaron, in Ecclus. 45:17, "He gave unto him his commandments, and authority in the statutes of judgments, that he should teach Jacob the testimonies, and inform Israel in his laws." The law, here and vers 6, 8, means system of teaching, or the torah. At his month. The priest was the appointed interpreter of the Law (see Leviticus 10:11; Deuteronomy 17:9-11; Deuteronomy 33:10; and the note on Haggai 2:11). He is the messenger of the Lord. He announces God's will to men, explaining the Law to meet the varied circumstances which occur in daily life; he intervenes between God and man, offering man's worship to the Lord. So Haggai (Haggai 1:13) is called "the Lord's messenger," or angel. Some see here an allusion to Malachi's own name or office (see Introduction, § II.; comp. Deuteronomy 21:5; 2 Chronicles 17:9).
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.
Verse 8. - But ye are departed out of the way. The priests of this time had far declined from the high ideal set forth in vers. 6, 7, the "way" in which God would have had them to walk. Ye have caused many to stumble at (in) the law. By their example and teaching they had made the Law a stumbling block, causing many to err, while they fancied they were not infringing God's commandments. Septuagint, Ἠσθενήσατε πολλοὺς ἐν νόμῳ, "Ye made many weak [equivalent to ἠσθενώσατε] in the Law." Ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi (see ver. 5). They broke their part of the covenant, therefore Jehovah held himself no longer bound by it. They did not pay him due reverence and obedience; he withdrew the blessings promised to Levi, as threatened (ver. 2).
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.
Verse 9. - Contemptible. The glory of the priesthood and the honour that belonged to it (Ecclus. 45:7, etc.) were now turned into disgrace and contempt, when men compared the actual with the ideal. "Them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed" (1 Samuel 2:30). Have been partial in the law; Revised Version, have had respect of persons in the law; or, in your teaching, as vers. 6, 8. The prophet names one special sin of the priests, and that the most flagrant - perversion of judgment, partiality in the administration of the Law. The same complaint is found in Micah 3:11 (comp. 2 Chronicles 19:7).
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?
Verses 10-16 - Part II. CONDEMNATION OF PRIESTS AND PEOPLE FOR ALIEN MARRIAGES AND FOR DIVORCES. Verse 10. - Have we not all one Father? In proceeding to his new subject, the violations of the law of marriage, the prophet pursues his habitual method. He starts with a general principle, here assuming an interrogative form, and on it builds his rebuke. The priests were guilty, if not of profane marriages, at any rate of sinful neglect in not warning the people against them. Many take the "one father" to be Abraham (Isaiah 51:2), and it is no objection to this view that he was also the progenitor of Ishmaelites, Edomites, etc., because there was at this time no question about marriage with these nations, but with Canaanites, Moabites, Egyptians, and so on. But the parallelism with the following clause shows that by the Father is meant Almighty God (comp. Malachi 1:6; Deuteronomy 32:6; Isaiah 63:16). Hath not one God created us? Hath not God taken us as his peculiar people, so as to call us his sons and his firstborn (comp. Exodus 4:22, 23; Deuteronomy 32:18; Isaiah 1:2; Jeremiah 3:19)? Of course, God created all men; but the Jews alone recognized him as Creator. The prophet's proposition is that all Israelites were spiritual brothers and sisters, equally loved and chosen by God. From this he argues that in sinning against one another, they offended their common Father, and broke the family compact. Deal treacherously. Act faithlessly against one another. He does not yet say in what this treachery consists, but adds, by profaning the covenant of our fathers. He unites himself with them, because he suffered in their sin. They violated the covenant by which God chose them to be his peculiar people and placed himself in mysterious relation to them, on condition that they should keep themselves aloof from the evil nations around them, and avoid all connection with them and their practices. By intermarriages with the heathen, they profaned this covenant. This evil was one which Ezra had done his best to eradicate, using most stringent measures for its suppression (Ezra 9, 10.); Nehemiah, too, contended against those who had contracted these marriages, when he found on his return to Jerusalem many such transgressors (Nehemiah 13:23-28); and now the prophet lifts up his voice in the cause of purity and obedience. The warning against throe mixed unions is found in Exodus 34:16; Deuteronomy 7:3; Joshua 23:12, 18.
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.
Verse 11. - Judah, the whole nation, is guilty of this crime, has broken her promised faith. The special sin, mixed marriages, is named at the end of the verse. In Israel and in Jerusalem. The mention of Israel, the sacred covenant name, is meant to make the contrast between profession and practice more marked. But some critics would here cancel the word "Israel," as being a clerical error (see note, Zechariah 1:19). Jerusalem is named as the centre of the theocracy, which gave its tone to the-people. For Judah hath profaned the holiness (sanctuary) of the Lord, which he loved (loveth); Septuagint, Ἐβεβήλωσεν Ἰούδας τὰ ἅγια Κυρίου ἐν οῖς ἠγάπησε, "Judah profaned the holy things of the Lord in which he delighted." Many consider that by the "sanctuary" is meant the temple, into which these heathen wives had penetrated, either led by curiosity or introduced by their profane husbands. But we have no knowledge that this was the case. It is better to take "the sanctuary," or that which is holy unto the Lord, to be the chosen nation itself, the community beloved by God, which was holy by election and profession, even as Christians are commonly called saints in the Epistles. (For the term as applied to the Israelites, see Exodus 19:6; Exodus 22:31; Leviticus 11:44; Leviticus 19:2; comp. Ezra 9:2; Nehemiah 13:29.) The daughter of a strange god. A woman who is an idolatress, who adhered to a foreign deity (Jeremiah 2:27), as the Israelites are called "sons of Jehovah," as joined to him in communion (Deuteronomy 14:1; Proverbs 14:26). The LXX. omits the point of the charge, rendering, καὶ ἐπετήδευσεν εἰς θεοὺς ἀλλοτρίους, "and followed after strange gods."
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.
Verse 12. - Will cut off. The Hebrew is an imprecation, "May the Lord cut off" (Deuteronomy 7:2, 3). It implies that the transgressor shall be deprived of his position as one of the covenant people, and shall leave no one to maintain his name and family. The man. Others render, "unto the man," making the following words the direct object of the verb. The master and the scholar; so the Vulgate, magistrum et discipulum; literally, the watcher and the answerer, i.e. the watchman and the inhabitants of the city; the LXX., reading somewhat differently, has, ἕως καὶ ταπεινωθῇ ἐκ σκηνωμάτων Ἰακώβ, "until he be brought low from the tents of Jacob," meaning, until he repent and return humbly to obedience. In this case the term "cut off" must be taken in some milder sense than "exterminate." The present text, however, seems to be a kind of alliterative proverbial saying to express totality, everybody; though whence it arose, and what is its exact signification, are matters of great uncertainty. Some take the phrase to mean," every waking and speaking person," i.e. every living soul. The English and Latin Versions proceed on the assumption (which Pusey denies) that the first verb can be taken actively, "he that awakeneth," the teacher being so called as stimulating the scholar, who is named "the answerer." The Targum and Syriac explain it by "son and son's son." Of the various suggestions offered, the most probable is that it is a military phrase derived from the challenge of the sentinels and the answer thereto, which in time came to de. note the whole inhabitants of a camp or city. The tabernacles. The dwellings. Or the word, as Dr. Cox supposes, may belong to the original saying, and have come down from the remote period when the Israelites lived in tents. And him that offereth an offering (michchah) unto the Lord of hosts. The same punishment shall fall on one who offers even an oblation of meal for men who are guilty of this sin. This sin would appertain specially to the priests. Or we may take the clause in a general sense. God will cut off every such transgressor, even if he try to propitiate the Lord by making an offering before trim (Ecclus. 35. [32] 12), "Do not think to corrupt with gifts; for such he will not receive: and trust not to unrighteous sacrifices; for the Lord is Judge, and with him is no respect of persons."
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.
Verse 13. - Not only did they marry heathen females, but they divorced their own legitimate wives to facilitate such unholy alliances. This have ye done again; this again ye do. Here is another and a further offence. Others take "again" in the sense of "a second time," referring to the fact that Ezra had effected a reform in this matter, but the people had relapsed into the same sin. But the first explanation is preferable. Septuagint, καὶ ταῦτα, α} ἐμίσουν ἐποιεῖτε, "and this which I hated ye did." Covering (ye cover) the altar of the Lord with tears. The prophet, as before (ver. 10), does not at once declare what this fresh outrage is, but intimates its nature. The picture he exhibits is that of a multitude of repudiated wives coming to the temple with weeping and lamentation, and laying their cause before the Lord. Insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more. This cruel and wicked conduct raised a barrier between them and God, so that he regarded with favour no offering of theirs.
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.
Verse 14. - Yet ye say, Wherefore? Here is the usual sceptical objection, as in Malachi 1:6, 7. The people will not acknowledge their guiltiness, and ask, "Why is God displeased with us? why are our offerings not acceptable?" The prophet replies, Because the Lord hath been witness, etc. The sin is now disclosed. Their marriages had been made before God; he who first instituted matrimony (Genesis 2:24) was a witness of the contract and gave it his sanction (comp. Genesis 31:50). The wife of thy youth. Whom thou didst marry when thine affections were pure and fresh, and for whom thy love was strong and simple (Proverbs 5:18). Against whom thou hast dealt treacherously; Septuagint, "whom thou hast deserted." This wife of thine thou hast betrayed, breaking faith with her by repudiating her. The wife of thy covenant. With whom thou didst make a solemn vow and covenant, to violate which is a monstrous crime. We have very little information respecting the religious ceremonies connected with a Jewish wedding. The previous espousal was a formal proceeding, conducted by friends and parents, and confirmed by oaths. The actual marriage seems to have been accompanied by certain solemn promises and blessings (see Proverbs 2:17; Ezekiel 16:8; Genesis 24:60; Ruth 4:11, 12; Tobit 7:13; Smith, 'Dict. of Bible').
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.
Verse 15. - And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. The passage has always been a crux, and has received many interpretations. The Anglican rendering (which, however, is probably not correct) is thus explained: God made at first one man and one woman, to show the oneness of marriage, and God gave man the breath of life and the residue to the woman; he made them both equally living souls; therefore divorce was never contemplated in the first institution of marriage. Others take "one" to mean Abraham, and explain: Abraham did not do so, i.e. did not repudiate his legitimate wife, though barren; and he had a share of the spirit of right, or he had excellence of spirit. But these are very forced interpretations, and do not occur naturally from a consideration of the words. The Hebrew may be translated more satisfactorily, Not any one has done so who has a remnant of the spirit (ruach)." No one acts as you have done who has in him any of that Divine life which God at first breathed into man; in other words, no man of conscience and virtue has ever thus divorced his wife. The reading of the Septuagint varies here, the Vatican manuscript giving, Οὐ καλὸν ἐποίησε; "Did he not well?" and the Alexandrian, οὐκ ἄλλος ἐποίησε: but both seem to imply an interpretation such as we have just given. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Why did one act in this way? was it that he might have godly children? Surely not. No one would divorce his lawful Hebrew wife, and marry an idolatress, who wished to leave a holy posterity behind him. Many commentators, thinking that Abraham is here meant, and that the prophet is meeting an objection which might be founded upon his action with regard to Hagar, translate, "And what did the one? He was seeking a godly seed." Abraham at Sarah's request took Hagar to wife, in order to have the promised seed; he dismissed her in order to carry out the purpose of God in confining the promise to Isaac. Therefore his conduct is no support for those who repudiate their own wives and marry strange women, not to raise up children for God, but to satisfy their carnal lusts. It is difficult, however, to see how the prophet's hearers could have understood the allusion without further explanation. As Ribera pithily observes (quoted by Knabenbauer), "Neque ita clare ex re allata designatur (Abraham), ut non potius divinatione quam explicatione opus sit ad eum eruendum." It may also be remarked that the reference to the patriarch would not have been altogether successful, if the auditors remembered the Keturahites, who, though sprung from Abraham, were not "a godly seed." The LXX. has, Καὶ εἴπατε, τί ἄλλο η} σπέρμα ζητεῖ ὁ Θεός; "And ye said, What else than seed doth God seek?" as if the increase of population, from whatever source, was the only object required. This may have been one thought of the people, but it can hardly be got out of the present Hebrew text. Take heed to your spirit. Beware lest ye lose the spirit which God has given you. By acting thus contrary to conscience and the light vouchsafed to them, they ran the risk of being deprived altogether of this heavenly guide, and losing all distinction between right and wrong.
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.
Verse 16. - He hateth putting away. This is another reason against divorce: God hates it. It is contrary to his original institution, and was only allowed for the hardness of men's hearts (see Deuteronomy 24:1, etc.; Matthew 19:3-9). Septuagint, "If thou hate her and dismiss her," etc.; Vulgate, "If thou hate her, put her away," which seems to encourage divorce, whereas in the context divorce is strongly condemned. Hence Jerome considers these words to be spoken by the Jews, quoting in their defence Moses' precept. Others think that they are ironical - Put her away, if you please; but you must bear the consequences. For one covereth violence with his garment. He who thus divorces his wife shows himself openly to all beholders as an iniquitous man. So the clause is better rendered, And one (who does so) covereth his garment with violence, or, violence covereth his garment. Iniquity attaches itself to him plainly, encircling and enfolding him; the clothing of iniquity is the mark of the foul soul within. The notion of "garment" being here used figuratively for wife (as Hitzig supposes) is without proof. Such a metaphor is certainly unknown to Hebrew literature, though there is something like it in Arabic, "Wives are your attire, and ye are theirs" (Koran). Bishop Wordsworth considers that the phrase in the text refers to the custom of the bridegroom in espousals casting the skirt of his garment over her who was betrothed to him (see Ruth 3:9). So the idea would be, "Ye cast your skirt over iniquity, and betroth violence to yourselves for a bride." But this seems somewhat forced. Take heed... treacherously. A repetition of the warning in ver. 15.
Ye have wearied the LORD with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?
Verse 17-ch. 4:6. - Part III. THE DAY OF THE LORD. Verse 17-ch. 3:6. - § 1. The faithless people, disheartened by present circumstances, doubted God's providence, and disbelieved his promises; but the prophet announces the coming of the Lord to judgment, preceded by his messenger. He shall refine his people and exterminate sinners. Verse 17. - Ye have wearied the Lord with your words. This is the introduction to the new section. The prophet makes his charge. The faithless multitude have, as it were, worn out God's patience by their murmuring and discontent. Because their expectations of prosperity and glory were not at once fulfilled, they called in question God's justice and holiness, and even the future judgment. The LXX. connects this verse with the preceding, Καὶ οὐ μὴ ἐγκαταλίπητε οἱ παροξύναντες τὸν Θεὸν ἐν τοῖς λόγοις ὑμῶν "And forsake them not, ye who provoked God with your words" But it is best to take this as the beginning of a new subject. Yet ye say. This is the usual sceptical objection. Everyone that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord. They complain that, though they are (Jolt's peculiar people, they are left in low estate, while the heathen, men that "do evil," are happy and prosperous (comp. Psalm 37, 73.). He delighteth in them. They choose to consider that the worldly prosperity of the heathen is a sign of God's special favour, or else that he acts unjustly. Where is the God of judgment? (Isaiah 30:18). Why does not God perform his promises to Israel, and execute vengeance on the enemy?

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