Friday, July 23, 2010

Malachi 2

A message to the priests (vs. 1-9)--This is an old story in the Old Testament, and it will be a major theme in Jesus' day: the failure of the religious leaders to provide proper direction for God's people. Now again, in the last book of the Old Testament, "O priests, this commandment is for you" (v. 1). The Lord would send a curse upon them "If you will not hear, and if you will not take it to heart" (v. 2). Verse 3 is pretty plain and graphic: Jehovah "will spread refuse on your faces, the refuse of your solemn feasts." That describes fairly clearly what the Lord thought of their religious service. The Lord had made a covenant with the tribe of Levi; they were the priestly tribe. The high praise given to that tribe in verses 5 and 6 might have reference to the fact that only the Levites stood with Moses on the matter of the golden calf (Exodus 32). For the most part, as noted at the beginning of the paragraph, the priests of the old law came in for their share of censure down through the centuries. But they did have a special calling from the Lord and a high responsibility: "For the lips of a priest should keep knowledge, and people should seek the law from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts" (v. 7). But, "you have departed from the way; you have caused many to stumble at the law. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi" (v. 8). Therefore, they were contemptible to the people. When the "godly" act in ungodly ways, even an unrighteous people are repulsed. Especially when "partiality in the law" is shown (v. 9).

The covenant profaned (vs. 10-12)--All of this had led to a profaning of the covenant (vs. 10-11). Interestingly, verse 10 refers to God as the Jews' "Father," a concept that is found very infrequently in the Old Testament, but dominates the relationship between God and His people in the New. Part of that might be the Roman concept of paterfamilias where the father of the family had total control over all in that family, was to be revered and reverenced unfailingly, yet was to always have a tender love and concern for those under his care. The people in Christ's day would understand such a concept; the Jews didn't have the same sort of relationship with their earthly fathers, or at least didn't view them in the same mold. In verse 11 of Malachi 2, the prophet refers to the people marrying "the daughter of a foreign god." Ezra complained about that at least a generation earlier (Ezra 9 and 10), and the people of his day apparently made some reformation of the condition. But it evidently didn't last. The Lord would "cut off" any man "from the tents of Jacob" who did this, especially if he had the unmitigated gall to bring "an offering to the Lord of hosts" (v. 12).
Hypocrisy (vs. 13-17)--While the theme of marriage continues through the rest of the chapter ("For the LORD God of Israel says that He hates divorce," v. 16), the major idea of this section of Malachi is rampant hypocrisy. “You cover the altar of the LORD with tears” (v. 13). “Crocodile tears” we call them. The prophet, since the subject of marriage had already come up, uses that again as an example of their hypocrisy. They showed such "contrition" in their offerings to God, but "the LORD has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant" (v. 14). Practicing religious ceremonies is utterly vain unless accompanied by a righteous life; that theme also saturates the message of the prophets, as we have seen time and again in this study. And part of that righteous life means at home. Women were especially vulnerable in ancient times, for there was no government welfare system. If they lost their husband, then they could be in dire straits, which is why we read frequently about God's anger over the mistreatment of widows. Her son(s) and family could possible take care of her, but that wasn't always possible, either. So this hatred of divorce by God comes from at least three sources: "Did He not make them one..." (v. 15), and from the beginning, God intended for there to be one man/one woman. He tolerated other arrangements in pre-Christian age, but Jesus tells us that such was not what God planned, and now we must return to the original purpose (Matt. 19:1-9). A second reason God hates divorce (at least as this context mentions) is "He seeks godly offspring" (v. 15). Marrying heathen women as the Jews were doing would very often produce an unfaithful seed. Read what happened when such took place in Genesis 6. The third reason was the one I mentioned earlier--the predicament a divorced woman could find herself in without a husband to provide for her. Women weren't nearly as independent in the ancient world as they are today; and, not surprisingly, divorce was far less common. The hypocrisy of Malachi's day was summed up in verse 17 where the people had "wearied" the Lord by saying "'Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and He delights in them,' or, 'Where is the God of justice?'" If we can convince ourselves that evil is good, or that God's silence at our sins means He doesn't care or won't punish, then our rationalization for blatant hypocrisy is complete.

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