Rev. Hanko is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Lynden, Washington. Previous article in this series: May 1, 2006, p. 343.
The Third Disputation: Chapter 2:10-16
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 covenants of our fathers.
This first verse of the third disputation seems to have little connection either with what precedes or with what follows, but is in fact an important introduction to the new third section of the prophecy. It is, though one of the most difficult verses in the prophecy, the premise on which the following condemnation of divorce and mixed marriage is based.
Many find in this verse proof of the universal fatherhood of God—that God is father of all men, loves them all, and is gracious to all without exception, and that this universal fatherhood is the result of God’s creating all. The context makes it clear, however, that this is not what Malachi’s words: “Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us?” mean. The point in the verses that follow is that the Jews were not allowed to marry heathen wives because those heathen girls and women were daughters of a strange god (v. 11), notdaughters of Jehovah. The passage itself states, therefore, that the heathen are not God’s children, nor He their Father, but strangers and foreigners. The passage proves the same when it speaks of the “covenants of our fathers.” It was not some universal covenant that was being violated by the sins of the Jews. They were not acting against the universal love and grace of God, but against His covenant with the Jews and His very exclusive love for them, revealed in His covenants with them. “We” in the passage is the Jews, and in the Old Testament that did not include the Gentile nations who were excluded from God’s covenants with the Jews and from all the privileges of those covenants.
Nor is there any love of God for all or any kind of universal fatherhood of God. The very first verses of the prophecy of Malachi make it clear that God’s love for some and hatred of others are eternal and unchangeable. It is only when the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in election and reprobation is discarded that one can even begin to speak of a universal love of God, a love that makes Him helplessly dependent on the will of the sinner in salvation, and that vitiates all that Scripture says about His wrath and His judgments against sin.
Instead, the verse is speaking of God’s gracious covenant relationship with Israel as something that was violated and profaned by the marital sins of the Jews, that is, by the sins of marrying heathen wives and callously divorcing the wives God had given them. Thus they profaned God’s covenant and dealt treacherously against their own brethren.
The sin of marrying heathen wives was an act of treachery against brethren, both because it brought the heathen into a relationship that had been established only with Israel, and because the bringing in of these heathen threatened the very existence of God’s covenant with Israel, for those heathen would bring with them their wicked and idolatrous practices. It was a profaning of God’s covenant because marriage is supposed to reflect God’s covenant relationship with His people, something these mixed marriages could not possibly do.
The other sin—of divorcing—was an act of treachery against brethren because it was an act of violence both against a bosom companion and against a fellow member of God’s covenant. It was a violation of the covenant because it broke off a relationship that was a reflection of and a part of God’s own unbreakable covenant relationship with His people.
It should be noted, however, that God’s covenant with Israel was not with every individual Israelite. Those who were wicked and unbelieving like the heathen were not even counted as Israel (Rom. 2:28, 29; Rom. 9:6-8). True Israel in Scripture is not an earthly nation with geographical boundaries, but the spiritual nation of those who believe the promises, love God, and walk in His ways. God is not only not the Father and covenant God of the heathen, He is not even the Father and covenant friend of every physical descendant of Abraham.
That is an important point. In the New Testament it means that the Gentiles who believe are also counted as Israel by God and are among the true children of Abraham (Gal. 3:29). The dividing line between Jew and Gentile, between God’s people and the heathen, is not drawn along the lines of earthly parentage and descent, but along spiritual lines, the lines of election and of grace. The Old Testament, with its promises and warnings, including this prophecy of Malachi, is addressed to God’s people in every age, to us as well as to them. We, too, are forbidden to intermarry with the “heathen” and to divorce, for fear of profaning the covenants of our fathers and of acting treacherously in God’s covenant.
As in the Old, so in the New Testament, those who have the name and who are born into the families of these true Israelites are not all Israel, but only those to whom God gives grace and who believe by grace. That is why the Word of God in a passage like this is so sharp. It makes separation between true Israel and that which has only the name, between those who belong to God’s covenant and those who do not, between those whom God the Father loves and those He does not love.
Malachi speaks of “we,” not excluding himself, because he understood, as we must understand, that there is a corporate responsibility for these sins. Especially is that true because they are sins committed against God’s covenant. When mixed marriages and divorcing for every cause are allowed in the church, then the whole church comes under the judgment of God and all suffer, not only those who are directly implicated in these sins.
11. 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.
Before we look at this verse and what follows, let us notice that the two great examples of covenant unfaithfulness mentioned in Malachi are faithlessness in office and in the worship of God by the church’s leaders, and faithlessness in marriage on the part of the ordinary people. Seeing that, it is difficult to miss the similarity between Malachi’s days and ours. If one had to pick two areas in which the church today is unfaithful, it would be exactly these two—on the part of the leaders, great unfaithfulness in knowing, teaching, and worshiping according to the Word of God and in using offices in the church for personal advantage and profit; and on the part of the people, a complete abandonment of all that the Bible teaches concerning marriage.
The first sin that Malachi condemns, then, is the sin of intermarriage with the heathen. That God speaks of Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem is intended to show how widespread this sin was, and the books of Ezra and Nehemiah confirm it, showing that it was not only the common people who had committed this sin, but also their priests and leaders. Nehemiah mentions the grandson of the high priest, and Ezra gives a long list of names, including 27 priests and Levites and 86 others (Ezra 10:18-44).
The sin did not lie in the fact that these women were foreigners and from other nations, but in that they were unbelieving and idolatrous. That it was not wrong in itself to marry a woman from outside Israel is seen in the many Old Testament marriages of that kind that God blessed—Joseph and Asenath, Salmon and Rahab, Boaz and Ruth. The difference was, however, that these women had learned to fear and worship Jehovah and had renounced their idolatry and the idolatrous nations in which they had been born: “Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God” (Ruth 1:16). They had become Israelites not only in name but in heart.
It was unbelieving and idolatrous women who might not be married to God’s people. That these heathen women are described as daughters of a strange god is a reminder of the hold that unbelief and idolatry have in the hearts of men. People love and honor and serve their gods, whether they be statues of Baal and Buddha, unbelieving philosophies, wealth and honor, possessions, or persons of influence, as children honor and obey and serve their parents. They really do become the children of their false gods.
When the heathen women who intermarried with the Israelites were still idol worshipers, then their sin became Israel’s sin. Through marriage to Jezebel, Baal worship was introduced into the Northern Kingdom and eventually also into Judah. Nehemiah, Malachi’s contemporary, mentions Solomon’s sin and its evil fruits for all Israel: “Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel: nevertheless even him did outlandish women cause to sin.”
The sin of mixed marriage is condemned also in the New Testament. In I Corinthians 7:39, the rule for Christian marriage is: “only in the Lord.” It is as wrong for a Christian to marry an unbeliever as it was for the Jews to marry Moabites, Philistines, and Ammonites (Neh. 13:23). Such marriages, contracted deliberately and against the express command of God, cannot have His blessing. Nor may young Christian men and women ever think that in marrying unbelievers they have the opportunity to convert them and be a good influence on them. The passages in Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi make it clear that the opposite is always true.
The greatness of this evil is seen in the words that Malachi uses to describe it: abomination, treachery, and a profaning of the Lord’s holiness. The word “abomination” is the word commonly used in the Old Testament to describe idolatry. It reminds us that such mixed marriages are not only the way in which idolatry is introduced into the church, but are themselves a form of idolatry, in that intermarriage with the ungodly always involves departing from the worship and service of God.
The treacherous act of a mixed marriage is committed both against God in forsaking His friendship for union and friendship with those who do not love Him, and against God’s people in bringing into the church those who will surely lead the church astray. For this reason, too, it is a profaning of His holiness, for it will always be cause of apostasy and failure in the church.
It should be emphasized that Christian marriage is a covenant—a relationship of friendship and fellowship that is part of God’s relationship with us. Paul makes this clear inEphesians 5. When speaking of Christian marriage, he adds, “But I speak concerning Christ and the church” (v. 32). He means that marriage does not just reflect the blessed and wonderful relationship that we have with Christ, but is part of that relationship, so that the two cannot really be separated. In marriage, man and woman experience and enjoy something of God’s relationship to us.
Nor may it ever be thought that the sin of idolatry, which is the danger faced by God’s people when such marriages are sanctioned, is a danger that no longer exists. Idolatry is committed not only by bowing down to a stick or a stone, but by loving, fearing, wanting, serving anything or anyone as much or more than God. It is committed when a man or woman loves and wants an unbelieving partner at the expense of obedience to God. We and our children, even in marrying, must be warned, “Thou shalt have no other gods beside me.”