For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2002 James Melough 

2:1.  “And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you.”


Unquestionably what is written in the previous chapter applied also to the priests as well as to the people, but what is written here was specifically for the priests because it was their evil example that had corrupted those who looked to them for example and guidance.


To read this simply as the record of God’s dealings with the priests of ancient Israel is to miss the lessons for ourselves that are woven into the fabric of this portion of Scripture, for we too are priests, as it is written, “Ye are a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people ....” 1 Pe 2:9, this being almost the same language as is used of Israel in Ex 19:5-6, “... ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people ... and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation ....”


2:2.  “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.”


“If ye will not hear...” implies that they didn’t even bother to read what God had already written for their guidance in His Word; and “... if ye will not lay it to heart” indicates that even when they were aware of what He required of them, they refused to obey.  The first was a sin of omission; the second, of commission, and we would do well to examine ourselves as to the extent to which we are guilty of the same sins.


“... to give glory unto my name” reminds us that God is glorified by our obedience; but dishonored by our disobedience; and His being “the Lord of hosts” ought to remind us that He has the power to reward the former, and to punish the latter.  Nor should we delude ourselves that because neither the reward nor the punishment is immediately forthcoming, that it won’t eventually be carried out.  It will!  God’s patience should never be interpreted as indifference either to good or to evil.


2:3.  “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.”


While “seed” may refer to grain or to children, the latter seems the more likely here.  God’s removal of the priests from office would also include their children, for it was highly unlikely that those children would be any better than the fathers who were their mentors.


The sorry state, not just of apostate Christendom, but of the Church is the graphic evidence of the sad truth that we have similarly offended the God Who will not bless disobedience.  How many children of Christians are in the world today instead of in the Church, i.e., are born-again, and therefore in Christ!


“... even the dung of your solemn feasts,” is usually taken to refer to the intestines and the dung, which were discarded, and God’s threat to spread them on the priests’ faces was a metaphoric way of saying that as they the priests discarded this unclean material, so would He Jehovah discard them, i.e., expel them from the priesthood.


The clerical system which rules Christendom, and which has replaced the Spirit-directed activity of the priesthood of all believers, is the concrete evidence to all but spiritually blind eyes, that what is portrayed here is but the foreshadowing of what has happened to the Church.


“... and one shall take you away with it,” seems to mean that as they carted the dung out to the fields, so would He have them scattered over the face of the earth because they had made themselves as offensive to Him as dung is to people.  That scattering occurred in AD 70, and is one from which they will not be brought back until the Tribulation judgments will have brought a remnant of them, and of the Gentiles, to repentant faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.


2:4.  “And ye shall know that I have sent this commandment unto you, that my covenant might be with Levi, saith the Lord of hosts.”


When God’s Tribulation judgments eventually lead them to realize the enormity of their offenses, they will then do what they refused to do in the day when Malachi rebuked them, i.e., admit that their violation of the covenant made with them when God took the Levites to be His priests, is the cause of His righteous anger against them.  But compounding their violation of that covenant will be the far more terrible sin of having crucified God’s Son.  On that coming day of their awakening and repentance, there will be no more impudent arguing with God.  They will humbly and sorrowfully admit the justice of their punishment, and that repentance will secure God’s pardon and the restoration of His blessing.  It is tragic that their stubborn refusal to make that admission has caused so many generations of them to live and die under the judgment of God Who waits so patiently to bless them.


2:5.  “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.”


Fulfillment of their part of the covenant that had been made between God and their father Levi, see Nu 18 and 25:10-13, would have secured them life and peace (both of them eternal), God having entered into that covenant because of Levi’s reverential fear of Him (reverential awe produced by faith); but with the passing of that early generation the reverential fear gradually faded, to be replaced with the brazen contempt that marked their children, the generation addressed by the prophet being the one that had finally exhausted God’s patience.


This same sad pattern may be traced in many of our own lives.  The love and reverence that marked our relationship with God in the early days of our new life in Christ, began to cool, sometimes surprisingly quickly, being replaced with a cold orthodoxy that maintains an outward form of godliness, but from which is lacking what God desires most: the loving obedience impelled by continual remembrance of the price that was paid at Calvary to redeem our souls.


2:6.  “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.”


The priests of that first generation had been faithful to God, teaching the people sound doctrine, and being honest in all their dealings with Him and their fellows, with the result that they walked with God in peace and uprightness, their godly conduct encouraging many to follow their example, and therefore enjoy the same blessings.  How different it was with those addressed by Malachi!


This was also the happy condition of the early Church, but sadly it gave place all too quickly to the dead, cold, loveless, orthodoxy that maintains the outward form, while all that remains of the inward fire of love is a heap of cold ashes.


2:7.  “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.”


It was the duty of the priests, not only to teach the people the knowledge of God, but to be examples also, so that the people would be encouraged to follow their example.  Paul was such a man as is described here, he pleading with those he taught, “I beseech you, be ye followers of me,” 1 Cor 4:16, but adding in 1 Cor 11:1, “Be followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”


Elders and teachers are the NT equivalents of the Levites, and have the same responsibility, not only to teach the saints, but to be examples for them to follow, that being possible only as they themselves walk in the footsteps of Christ.


2:8.  “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.”


How different it was with those addressed by the prophet!  They had long since forsaken the path of obedience, and by their evil teaching and example had led many of the people also into sin.  In doing this they had corrupted (violated) the covenant which their fathers had entered into with God, the substance of that covenant being that obedience would secure blessing; and disobedience, chastisement.


That same principle governs man’s relationship with God in every age.


2:9.  “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.”


As they had caused God to be held in contempt by the people, so also had He made them, the priests, contemptible in the eyes of the congregation.  Their being base means that the people no longer accorded them the honor that attached to the office of priest when they had obeyed God’s laws, but rather regarded them as common, one of themselves, as it is written in 1 Sa 2:30, “... the Lord saith ... for them that honor me I will honor, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed.”  That principle still holds good.


Their being “partial in the law” means that they interpreted and wrested it to accommodate and justify their own sinful desires.


The pattern is repeated in Christendom.  The disobedience of those professing to be Christians has brought dishonor to God; and He in turn has caused the so-called “church” and her “ministers” to be also viewed contemptuously by the people at large, their estimation of the “church” being expressed in the frequently heard comment that all the church wants is money.


Christendom has also interpreted and wrested God’s Word to accommodate and justify their own sinful desires.


2:10.  “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?”


Some understand the “one father” to be God; others, Abraham, but the point being emphasized by the prophet was that whether as descendants of Abraham, or as having been created by God, they were brothers, and ought therefore to display brotherly love in their dealings with one another.  The gracious spirit of the prophet is displayed in his including himself as one of them, “why do we deal treacherously, etc.?”


For comments on the profanation of the covenant “of our fathers” see verse 8.


The same “treachery” as marked ancient Israel marks also today’s Christendom whose philosophy is aptly summed up in the expression “dog eat dog.”


2:11.  “Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem (Judah); for Judah hath profaned (defiled) the holiness of the Lord which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god.”


To deal “treacherously” is literally to be unfaithful or deceitful; and as used here an “abomination” is something that is disgusting.


Many in Judah and Israel had been guilty of divorcing their wives, and marrying “the daughter of a strange god,” i.e., idolatrous pagan women, in spite of the fact that God had forbidden such marriages, see Dt 7:1-5.  The treachery lay in their having thus violated their marriage vows; and their deceit lay in charging their wives with fault in order to find a pretext for divorcing them, when the truth was that the gratification of forbidden lust was the real reason motivating them.


“... the holiness of the Lord” is variously translated, e.g., “the sanctuary which He loves,” “that holy estate,” “God’s holy and beloved Temple,” some maintaining that Israel is the object of God’s love, a view having validity in view of the fact that Israel is spoken of as the wife of Jehovah, see Isa 54:5, “For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is his name.” 


While this may be taken to refer to the profanation of the Temple by the presence of these pagan wives, it seems that in the present context the reference is more likely to be to the “temple” of the human body, see, John 2:19-21; 1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16.  By these illicit marriages they profaned, defiled, made unholy what God loved, i.e., them, their bodies dedicated to holiness, that holiness being preserved in legitimate marriage, the holy estate ordained by God for the very purpose of preserving holiness, see Mt 5:32: 19:4-12; 1 Cor 7:1-11; Eph 5:23-33.


By marrying heathen women the Israelites were marring the purity of the Jewish race, God’s earthly people, for since man and wife are one, that unit now consisted of two diverse elements, the children of such marriages being also an impure mixture, part Jew, part Gentile.


The very sin rebuked here is rampant in today’s Christendom in spite of God’s having forbidden marriage between a believer and an unbeliever, see 2 Cor 6:14-17; and comment on today’s divorce rate would be redundant.


2:12.  “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.”


Translators have been virtually unanimous in rendering the first part of this verse “May the Lord cut off, etc” rather than the KJ translation, “The Lord will cut off, etc.,” thus making it the wish of the prophet rather than his assured assertion that the Lord would cut off the evildoers.  The KJ rendering, however, seems preferable.


As used here “master” is literally “one who opens the eyes,” i.e., a teacher; and “scholar” is literally “to heed,” i.e., the scholar or listener.  Those who committed this sin; those who taught that it was not a sin; and those who believed this false teaching, would all be cut off, and be left without anyone to present an offering on his behalf, i.e., he would be left without posterity. 


Some understand the latter part of this verse to mean that the offenders hypocritically presented offerings to God in the belief that such offerings would secure His blessing, and such is true; but the meaning is that the priest who officiates in the presentation of such an offering brought by a guilty Israelite, would also be cut off, for he should have known better.


2:13.  “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.”


The clarity of the NEB translation makes comment almost unnecessary, “Here is another thing that you do: you weep and moan, and drown the altar of the Lord with tears, but he still refuses to look at the offering or receive an acceptable gift from you.” 


It is generally understood that because of their sin God had withheld blessing: their harvests were meager; their flocks and herds were reduced in size, as were also their families; but these and other evidences of God’s displeasure hadn’t awakened them to their utter sinfulness.  They continued the formality of offering proscribed sacrifices, and foolishly expected Him to bless them in return, so they thought that by weeping and moaning when they presented their offerings, God would grant blessing, failing to understand that there must be genuine repentance evidenced in their forsaking their sinful activities.  They were blind to the truth that God deals in reality.  He is angered rather than appeased by mere cold outward ritual.  What He wants is the genuine love of repentant redeemed hearts whose love is expressed in obedience.


Christendom is guilty of similar folly, for they too think that they can sin blatantly, and still secure God’s blessing by observance of loveless outward ritual.  They too, however, will perish.


2:14.  “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.”


“Wherefore” might be paraphrased, “Why does the Lord reject our offerings?”  God’s answer, given through His servant Malachi, was that He was fully aware of their treacherous dealings against the wives they had first married.  Any pretext furnished sufficient justification to divorce those wives, when the real reason was that they had grown tired of them, and wanted younger women.  But nothing except adultery on the wife’s part, see Mt 5:32: 19:9, could justify dissolution of the marriage bond.  Each had chosen his wife to be his lifelong companion, and in marrying her had entered into an unbreakable covenant to keep that contract as long as either of them lived.


God’s hatred of divorce will be better understood if we remember that the marriage bond is a type of that which unites the Lord Jesus Christ and His Church, see Eph 5:22-33, so that divorce is the typological declaration of the lie that a believer could ever be separated from Christ, i.e., that he could lose his salvation.

The care God has for the preservation of His types may be assessed by the fact that Moses was denied entrance to Canaan just because he spoiled a type when he struck the rock the second time, see comments on 1:8.


2:15.  “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.”


The first part of this verse is the interrogative announcement of the truth that by marriage God makes the man and his wife one entity, see Ge 2:24 and Eph 5:31.  It might be paraphrased, “Didn’t God make Adam and Eve one person, and what He did with them He does with every married couple?”


Relative to “the residue of the spirit” the reference is neither to the Holy Spirit nor to that part of man which is spirit.  The sentence is ambiguous, and is variously translated, but in the present context the thought appears to be that He Who first created man has placed in him the ability to reproduce his kind, that ability, however, being operative only in the union of the man and his wife in marriage, neither one alone being capable of producing children.  “That he might seek a godly seed” seems to confirm this interpretation, for clearly God is saying that He desires His people to be godly, so that their children will be brought up in the nurture and reverential fear of Him, and so be blessed.


“Therefore take heed to your spirit” is His command to these disobedient people of His to be careful to maintain that spirit of reverential fear which will ensure the obedience that will command His blessing, and keep them from disobedience which just as surely brings chastisement and cursing.  There was great need for them to cultivate that spirit relative to their marriages.  They were not to divorce their wives.


Only the spiritually blind will fail to see the relevance of this command to today’s Christendom.


2:16.  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.”


God continues to emphasize His abhorrence of divorce, that repeated emphasis being designed to impress upon us the enormity of this sin in His sight.


“... for one covereth violence with his garment,” is the assertion that he who divorces his wife “overwhelms her with cruelty” - NEB, the Amplified translation being, “I hate divorce and marital separation, and him who covers his garments [his wife] with violence.” 


This is related to the custom in which a man signified his taking a woman as his wife by putting his garment over her, declaring symbolically that he was taking her under his loving protection, see Ruth 3:9 and Ezk 16:8.  In divorcing her therefore the man was treating her cruelly, violently, rather than lovingly.


“... therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously” continues to emphasize the need for a man to nurture the spirit of love for his wife, so that other women will hold no attraction for him, and he will never even think of divorcing her, as it is written in Eph 5:25-33 “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.... So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself ... let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.”


2:17.  “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?”


Their hypocritical words, which were contradicted by their sinful deeds, had wearied God; yet such was their lack of spiritual discernment that when told this, they asked incredulously, “How have we wearied Him?”


The answer returned discloses how seared their consciences had become.  They had long since lost the ability to discern between good and evil, as is revealed in the fact that in spite of all their wickedness they imagined themselves to be righteous, for it was they who did evil in His sight, yet were so blind as to believe that He still delighted in them!


Their question, “Where is the God of judgment (justice)?” may have been that of the wicked majority asking the prophet, “If, as you say, we are wicked, why then doesn’t God punish us?” but it seems that it is more likely to have been the question on the lips of the minority, the small godly remnant in the midst of the apostate mass of the nation.  As they surveyed the abounding wickedness on the part of people and priests alike, they must indeed have wondered, “Where is the God of justice?”


The same question is in the minds of many believers today as they survey a world that defies God to His face, yet has the brazen effrontery to maintain an outward show of religion which they imagine to be all that is required to avert His judgment upon their sin.  What a terrible awakening awaits the multitudes of them who plunge daily into hell as death snatches them away from this scene of their careless occupation with the world’s business and pleasures, and indifference to the claims of God, while those who remain till the now imminent Tribulation will experience the terrible outpouring of His wrath that will leave this pleasure loving world in ruins.  The one bright gleam amidst the gloom of that dreadful era will be that those judgments will awaken some to their need of the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, and lead them to trust Him for the salvation of their souls.

[Malachi 3]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough