Breaking The Marriage Covenant Malachi 2:10-16

The United States has the highest divorce rate in the world at almost fifty percent. Many more who are emotionally divorced from each other would like to terminate their marriages, but they stay together because of economics, children or religious belief. Amazingly, eighty-five percent of these divorced persons will try marriage a second time within five years.

All this is not new, for twenty-five hundred years ago divorce was a major problem in Judah. Men were divorcing the wives of their youth in order to marry foreign women.

Such practices were an abomination in God’s sight. Thus Malachi was called upon to speak out against this degrading practice that had emerged throughout the land.


Previously the prophet had presented God’s indictment and then waited for a countering claim of innocence from the people. But in this section Malachi changes his approach and leads up to the indictment by presenting three ques­tions to the men of Judah.

First, “Have we not all one father?” (v. 10), asked the prophet. Malachi was not referring to their father Abraham, but to God, for He is the original Father of Judah (1:6).

Second, “Hath not one God created us?” (v. 10). The question has reference to the time when God forged them into a people, not the creation of all mankind. God had created Israel (Isa. 43:1, 7) for Himself so they could proclaim His praise throughout the whole world (Isa. 43:21). He considered Israel His “jewels” (3:17), which simply means that they are a treasured possession, precious in His sight.

Third, if the above is true, “Why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?” (v. 10), asked Malachi. The word “treacherously” is used five times in this section (w. 10, 11, 14, 15, 16) and means to deal deceitfully or unfaithfully with one another. Not only were the people unfaithful in their relationship with God but to family and friends as well.

How did Judah profane the covenant of their fathers? They did it by marrying the “daughter of a foreign god” (v. 11). The word for “married” used in this passage is “baal,” the noun form of which means lord, master, husband. Notice the play on words, “married [baal] the daughter of a foreign god” (v. 11). It must be remembered thai Baal was the false god worshiped by the Canaanites and Phoenicians.

This was not the first time that Israel had committed sin with the women who practiced Baal worship. Before Israel entered into Canaan, Balaam had tried to corrupt the nation by getting the men to practice sexual immorality with the women of Moab which would lead to the wor­ship of Baal-peor (Num. 25:1-4).

Solomon was drawn into the same trap centuries later. God had warned him not to marry foreign women, for eventually they would turn away his heart after their gods (1 Ki. 11:2); but in disobedience Solomon clung to these women in love. After his death the kingdom was divided and later fell to the Babylonians.

God had strictly prohibited intermarriage by the Israelites in order to protect the nation from idolatry (Ex. 34:11-16; Dt. 7:3-4; Josh. 23:12-13). For the nation to openly disobey the laws of marriage showed their total disregard for their God, nation and family.

Malachi let Judah know that their present practice of mixed marriage was an “abomination” (v. 11) to God, “a term reserved for the worst of evils, such as immorality, witchcraft, or idola­try.” 1

It has never been God’s plan for believers to marry unbelievers. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.. .” (2 Cor. 6:14) said Paul. The concept of “unequally yoked” is taken from Deuteronomy 22:10 where the Israelite was not to plow with an “ox” (clean animal) and an “ass” (unclean animal) yoked together. Their nature and temperament made them incompat­ible and uncooperative for plowing. The same is true for those believers who try to establish a harmonious walk through life with an unbeliev­ing partner.

Paul reinforced the above principle by the use of five rhetorical questions: “what fellowship [part­nership] hath righteousness with unrighteous­ness? . . . what communion [things in common, fellowship] hath light with darkness? . . . what concord [harmony] hath Christ with Belial [Sa­tan] ? ., , what part hath he that believeth with an infidel [unbeliever]? . . . what agreement [union] hath the temple of God with idols?” (2 Cor, 6:14­-16). The answer to all these questions is “None!” Therefore, the believer is not to be yoked into an unholy relationship with an unbeliever which would defile his or her relationship with Christ

What would be the consequence for marrying a foreign woman? “The Lord will cut off the man that doeth this, the master and the scholar, out of the tabernacles of Jacob” (v. 12). The words “master” and “scholar” are difficult to translate in Hebrew. The phrase has been translated: every­one who awakes and answers” (N.A.S.V,); “whoever he may be” (N.I.V.); or “anyone who gives testimony in behalf of the man who does this” (N.I.V., marg.). Whatever the exact translation, the meaning is clear. The man who committed such an act would be cut off, and possibly his family too.

People do not realize the web they weave for themselves by marrying unbelievers. So often they look back in deep sorrow over their actions, wishing they had thought twice before entering into such unholy relationships.

Those who married idolatrous women be­lieved that God would forgive their sin if they brought the proper “offering unto the Lord” (v, 12). But they were wasting their time, for “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. 15:8). Here is the epitome of hypocrisy and insensitivity!

The above calls to mind the judgment thai struck EIi. Both Eli and his family were cut off from the priesthood because he refused to disci­pline the wicked practices of his two sons in relation to their tabernacle service (1 Sam. 2:29­-35).


In the former section Malachi presented the sin and then the judgment which would follow. Here he reverses the order/ mentioning the judgment and then the sin.

Those presenting an offering covered “the altar of the Lord with tears” (v. 13). Who were these people? Some believe it to be the priests, since they were the ones who offered sacrifice. Others believe these to be women who were the divorced Israeli wives (vv. 14-16) crying out for justice on the unjust acts of their husbands. Still others teach that these were men in general who cried out for mercy and forgiveness when God rejected their offering and worship. Most likely these in tears were both the priests and men of Judah.

Completely baffled over God’s rejection, the worshipers asked, “Why?” (v. 14).

In no uncertain terms Malachi pointedly gave them an answer, “Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously [un­faithfully]; yet is she thy companion/and the wife of thy covenant” (v. 14).

The answer is clear. God rejected their worship because they had broken the marriage covenant by divorcing their wives! The covenant they made in marriage was not only before human witnesses, but also before God. Notice the description God used of their marriages: “wife of thy youth. .. thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant” (v. 14).

Today many view marriage as a “contract,” not a covenant. If the contract does not work out, the parties involved mutually agree to terminate the agreement, go their separate ways, and a divorce ensues.

The Jewish marriage was not a contract but a “covenant” (v, 14; cf. Prov. 2:17). The major characteristic of a biblical marriage involved the parties obligating themselves to an unalterable and permanent relationship for life.

The Bible does not stipulate a marriageable age for either the man or woman; but in later Judaism marriage was permissible after the boy’s bar mitzvah (13 years old) and the girl’s coming of age (12 years old). Marriages were arranged by parents (Josh. 15:16; Judg. 14:2-3); thus, the individuals had little say about whom they would marry.

The betrothal was considered to be a binding agreement between the parents of the couple (Dt. 28:30; 2 Sam. 3:14). If a man sexually abused a betrothed virgin, he was to be stoned to death by law (Dt. 22:23-24).


The marriage agreement was finalized when the groom paid the necessary bride-price to the father of the bride (Gen. 34:12; Ex. 22:16). Then the marriage ceremony began with the bride­groom taking his bride from her house to his. The procession was preceded by a group of singing and dancing musicians. The bride knew the groom was coming for her when she heard the sound of the procession, and she eagerly awaited his arrival with her attendants. Upon taking his bride, the groom ushered the whole wedding party back to his father’s house for the wedding feast. The feast and merriment would last for a week (Gen. 29:27) or two.

A marriage covenant (ketuba) was drawn up by the bride’s father for the participants to sign. A bridal chamber had been made ready (huppa) to which the veiled bride and groom were escorted. It was there that they would consummate their marriage (Ps. 19:6). The commitment was to be for life, and in God’s eyes only death could terminate the marriage.

Malachi reminded Judah of God’s original plan in marriage, “And did not he make one?” (v. 15). Man and woman were to leave their fathers and mothers to become “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). In creating man and woman God was still left with the “residue of the spirit” (v. 15). His creative powers were not depleted in making Adam and Eve. He could have made more.

If God could have created more, then “why one?” (pair) [v. 15]. He had one purpose in creating the pair, “That he might seek [aim at] a godly seed” (v. 15), or a godly couple would produce godly children. In other words, God created man and woman for each other in order that they could establish a stable home environ­ment to rear godly children who would go out and do likewise.

For this reason/ man is to take heed and not “deal treacherously [unfaithfully] against the wife of his youth” (v. 15). In order to do this, the husband must put a guard over his eyes, heart and motives so that he will not be tempted to leave the wife of his youth.

The temptation to infidelity is greater than ever before. The new morality has set standards in society which create an atmosphere for infidelity to take place. Businessmen spend more time with female associates than with their own wives, Career-minded women, in climbing the corpo­rate ladder, feel that they have outgrown their husbands, and a change must be made, or vice versa. Travel jobs create adverse effects on mar­riage, setting up opportunities for infidelity. The pressure of modern life causes spouses to look outside of the home for someone who will listen/ understand or comfort them in a time of need; soon a relationship which neither party desired has developed. These are only some of the factors contributing to unfaithfulness in marriage and the high divorce rate today.

God’s position on divorce is very clear, “he hateth putting away [divorce]” (v. 16) said Mala­chi. Why does God hate divorce so? Because it violates His original creative plan for marriage (Gen. 2:24; Mt. 19:4-6) and brings untold hard­ship on those involved, destroying both the family and society.

Then why did Moses make provision for husbands to divorce their wives (Dt. 24:1-3)? Jesus told the Pharisees it was because of the hardness of their hearts that God allowed them to put away their wives, but divorce was never in God’s plan for married people (Mt 19:7-8). It must be remembered that Moses did not “com­mand” divorce, but he set up laws to regulate a “permitted” practice already in existence.

Divorce in Moses’ day was much different than today. He permitted it for two reasons. First, so the wife would have a document of protection; thus, society would know her true marital stand­ing which would guard against wife exchanging. Second, it prohibited a woman who had been divorced, remarried and divorced again from marrying her first spouse which was forbidden by law.2

Malachi said that the person who divorced his wife “covereth violence with his garment” (v. 16). This figure of speech is better translated, violence covereth” the man, As a man’s garment tells a lot about him and covers his whole body, so it is with the man who divorces the wife of his youth to marry an idolatrous woman. He wears both his character and sinful act for all to see.

Once again Malachi concluded with a warning to guard against unfaithfulness, “therefore, take heed to your spirit,  that ye deal not treacherously [unfaithfully]” (v. 16). With the breakdown in marriage today, one cannot be reminded too often of the serious repercussions unfaithfulness brings, The story is told of two children who were fighting and screaming at one another. A con­cerned mother of the girl came running into the yard demanding an explanation for all the com­motion. “Oh, we were not fighting; we were playing house. He’s the father, and I’m the mother” replied the little girl. We might find this explanation amusing, but it is so true of marriages today. Children mimic what they see their par­ents doing;

Maybe you, like the children in this story, have not taken your marriage seriously, and you are only playing a game of “husband and wife.” Maybe you are weary of trying to hold a fragile, faltering marriage together. Maybe you are on the verge of divorcing the wife or husband of your youth to marry another. Whatever your situation, remember, there is an answer if you are willing to seek it through a pastor, counselor or individual who will help you through this diffi­cult time. Remember, God hates divorce!

  1. Herbert Wolf, Haggai and Malachi: Rededication and Renewal, (Chicago: Moody Press),1976, p. 88.
  2. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Malachi: God’s Unchang­ing Love, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), 1984, p. 73.

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