Rev. Hanko is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Lynden, Washington. Previous article in this series: September 15, 2006, p. 495.


The Third Disputation: Chapter 2:10-16 (continued) 

16. For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garments, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.

The attempts to deny the plain teaching of this verse are legion. One commentator lists four basic interpretations, three of which turn the passage on its head: (1) that it concerns only pagan worship and has nothing to do with divorce; (2) that it permits or even requires divorce; (3) that it prohibits only “aversion” divorce, that is, divorce for no other reason than that the husband hates his wife and no longer loves her; and (4) that it actually does prohibit divorce. There can be little doubt that the fourth interpretation is the only correct interpretation, since the words “putting away” always refer in Scripture to divorce (Matt. 19:3, 8, 9).

That the Jews were given to divorce is evident from the question of the Pharisees in Matthew 19 and from Jesus’ response. Many of them believed in putting away “for every cause,” and Jesus in answering their questions about this speaks of the hardness of the hearts of the Israelites going all the way back to the time of Moses: “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives.” Things are no different now. The same hardness of heart that Jesus condemned allows for, practices, and even blesses divorce today.

The truth is, Malachi says, that God hates divorce. He hates it not only because it is a violation of His original marriage ordinance when He brought together one man and one woman in marriage, but also because it is He Himself who joins them: “What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” Especially, however, He hates it because marriage is both picture and part of His relationship to us. Divorce is a violation not only of the covenant of marriage, but of God’s covenant of grace with His people.

It ought to be noted, too, that God is not just condemning what one commentator calls “aversion” divorce. It is not just putting away out of lack of love that is condemned here, but all putting away, and it is condemned exactly because the very act of putting away is something God never does. As we will learn inMalachi 3:6, God never puts away or forsakes, never divorces His people, but is forever faithful to them, even though they are often unfaithful to Him.

Divorce is an act of violence against those who are put away to be sure, but it is also an act of violence against God Himself, an act of violence, however, that is usually covered up with a cloak of hypocrisy and piety: “God wants me to be happy. God cannot expect me to live singly. It is impossible for me to get along with this woman or this man. I no longer love her (or him). If I no longer love her, God Himself does not expect me to maintain a marriage that is only a sham.” Or on the part of church leaders: “Your marriage has broken down irretrievably, and therefore I, as your minister and counselor, advise you to get a divorce. You are not able to serve God as you should under the present circumstances, and if you separate and divorce you will be able to do so once again happily and thankfully.”

The question needs to be asked in connection with this condemnation of divorce: “What about Deuteronomy 24:1-4? Does not the Word of God there approve of divorce?”Deuteronomy 24:1-4 reads: “When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife. And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife; her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the LORD: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.”

It should be noted that the Deuteronomy passage is not approving of divorce but only laying down certain rules for divorcing in the face of Israel’s insistence on divorcing contrary to God’s ordinance. This is clear from what Jesus says in Matthew 19:7-9. There He makes it clear that divorce was only “suffered”—because of the hardness of heart that the Jews had shown. They had hard-heartedly insisted on divorcing, even though the Word of God was against it. And so Jesus also makes it clear that God’s original ordinance established marriage as a permanent bond between man and woman, a bond that is broken only by death.

Jesus says: “From the beginning it was not so.” And then He lays down the law for all time: “What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (v. 6).Deuteronomy 24, therefore, does not contradict Malachi, but rather confirms it, especially when interpreted in light of Jesus’ words in Matthew.

Against all this nonsense and hypocrisy, God tells the church both of the Old Testament and of the New and its members: “take heed to your spirit.” “Your relationship with God Himself is at issue in all this. Don’t deal treacherously with your spouses and don’t deal treacherously with Me. What I have joined don’t you dare put asunder. The wife (or husband) you have is the wife (or husband) I have given you. Instead of divorcing, take heed to your spirit, repent of your sins, seek My grace and help, for only in that way can you be blessed.”

How this needs to be heard today—that divorce is an act of violence and treachery and that putting away is displeasing to God. “He hateth putting away” ought to be written over the door of every church in Christendom today, though it is doubtful that it would be heeded even then, for most will do their own will and fulfill their own lusts no matter what admonishments, warnings, and threatenings God sends.

The Fourth Disputation: Chapter 2:17-3:6

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?

Though this last verse of chapter 2 is not unconnected with what precedes, it really belongs more with what follows. What God through Malachi says about the messenger of the covenant is in answer to Israel’s question: “Where is the God of judgment?” The chapter division is not, therefore, very helpful.

Once again Judah and Israel refuse to hear what God says about their sins. The question, “Wherein…” is not a question that arises from a regenerated heart that knows its own sinfulness, but from the pride and blindness of unbelief. When God speaks of the sins of His people in His Word, those whose hearts are softened by grace and who by grace know their own depravity always say, “It is I that the Word of God is describing.” Those who know their sins do not try to excuse them and hide them. They do not see only the sins of others instead of their own, but always acknowledge their sins before God.

Here God accuses the Jews, though in vain, of calling evil good and of saying that God delights in evil. We must understand that very few have ever had the courage to do this in so many words, but it happens all the time nevertheless. In Israel it was happening in various ways.

In relation to the sacrifices, the people were saying such things as: “Since God has not kept His Word to us in blessing us, He has no reason to be dissatisfied with the sacrifices we are bringing.” “The priests have approved of what we are doing, so it must be right.”

In the whole matter of marriage they were also calling evil good by approving both of mixed marriages and of divorcing, and by practicing these evils. In some cases they called evil good, simply by not condemning evil; in others by saying that a particular sin, such as that of divorcing, was not displeasing to God or a violation of His commands. Or, as so often happens today, they called evil good by actually arguing that a particular sin is demanded by God.

There is a good example of the latter in the interpretation of those who say that Malachi 2:16, instead of forbidding divorce, is actually approving it and even requiring it in certain circumstances. Those who interpret the passage this way translate it: “If he hates, let him divorce!”—an interpretation that fits neither the context nor the grammar of the passage, but is simply an attempt to call evil good.

That sin of calling evil good is committed today when the church says that homosexuality and women serving in church office are not sin, and especially when she says that these things are pleasing to God—that He loves homosexuals because they “love” one another, and that He loves women in teaching positions and positions of authority in the church because they are doing good work. Others approve of forms of worship that are not commanded in God’s Word and argue that such things are good because they bring in members, please the people, and arouse people’s emotions, even though they are contrary to all that Scripture reveals about God.

More often this sin is committed when sins are not dealt with in the church, but are overlooked and allowed to prosper—when elders and ministers and members allow even gross sins to remain unrebuked: cursing and swearing and gossip and fornication and theft and Sabbath-breaking and gambling and disobedience to authority and hatred and drunkenness and dabbling in the occult and a thousand other sins. Seldom are such sins disciplined. Rarely are those who commit them admonished, and so by default the church and its members call evil good.

Not only did Israel commit this sin, however, but they also argued that the sins of which they were guilty could not be sins because God, the God of judgment, did not punish them. They said, in other words, “Where is the God of judgment?” They were like the people of whom God speaks in Psalm 50, first condemning them for adultery, theft, lying, and slander and then adding: “These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes” (v. 21).

This sin, too, is not gone in the church. Everyone of us commits it when we go on in sin, thinking that because we prosper in sin and because God keeps silence and does not uncover our sin, we can therefore sin with impunity. We commit it when we think that because sinners are not punished, God is no longer a righteous Judge. We commit it when we put all thoughts of the coming judgment out of our minds and do not live as those who must soon stand before His judgment seat and give an account of every deed and word.