Covenant Faithfulness

 

Now if you would please take a copy of the Scriptures in your hands and turn with me in them to the prophecy of Malachi, chapter 2; page 801 in the church Bibles. We’ll be thinking about the message of verses 10-16, the second half of chapter 2. And before we read it together, before we pray and then read, let me say two things about it. This is an immensely difficult passage, for two reasons. First, verses 15 and 16 are among the most difficult verses in the Hebrew scriptures to translate, and the array of interpretations are many and varied. And although the big idea of the text is not really in any doubt, so it’s hard in that regard. But it’s also hard secondly, because it says very hard things, particularly, about failures to be faithful to God’s pattern for marriage. And so let me say, by way of preface, if Malachi speaks to your circumstance and you find yourself in need of someone to talk to, all of our pastoral staff, I and the other ministers, are very ready to meet with you and to talk through the challenges, and the consequences, of sometimes our sin and failure in these important areas. So with that said, by way of preface, would you bow your heads with me as we pray? And then we’ll read the text together!

 

Our Father, we need You very much to come now, and by the work of the Holy Spirit, to give us light to understand the truth, to face ourselves in humility with contrite hearts where our sin is exposed and to turn from it, by Your grace, to Jesus. And we need Your help to see Christ in His perfections and beauty as Your remedy for our waywardness. So would You lead us by Your Word back to Him and as we rest on Him would You renew us and enable us, by that same Word, to live for Your glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

 

Malachi chapter 2 at the tenth verse. This is the Word of Almighty God:

 

“Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the LORD, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. May the LORD cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the LORD of hosts!

 

And this second thing you do. You cover the LORD’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, ‘Why does he not?’ Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says, the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

 

Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken in His holy, inerrant Word.

 

The first signs that there was a problem were found at several locations downstream from the newly built Teton Dam in Idaho on June 3, 1976. Water had begun to seep in different places from the ground well downstream. Then, two days later, seepage appeared on the face of the dam wall itself. It was the day that Jay Calderwood received an emergency telephone call. Jay had been involved in the construction of the dam, and he still lived in the area in one of the small towns in the valley below. Racing to the scene, Jay drove his tractor to the middle of the dam wall and assembled his team looking for a way to stop the seepage before it was too late. But very soon, right beside the heavy machinery, appeared in the lake a massive whirlpool descending to the bottom of the reservoir. As the escaping water began to gather momentum, Jay and his crew began to drop massive boulders into the whirlpool in an attempt to plug the leak. And it was just then that quite suddenly the dam wall under their feet began to shift, so they jumped back into their tractors and threw them into reverse and sped as fast as they could – sped was probably an overstatement for a tractor – but they made their way as quickly as they could back to the shore, just making it before the dam finally burst, and a thirty-foot high wall of water swept into the valley killing people, destroying crops, wiping towns from the map, causing almost $9 billion, $8.6 billion worth of damage. It started just with a trickle, with a slow seep of water miles downstream, but it led eventually to disaster, to catastrophe.

 

And that is the picture that Malachi has been painting for us in his prophecy so far, isn’t it? In chapter 2, verses 1 to 9 we learned that the Word of God has neither been faithfully preached by the priests, nor faithfully embraced by the people. And so in consequence, as chapter 1 showed us, their worship had grown cold and indifferent and lackadaisical. And now, here in the second half of chapter 2, as the slow seep of compromise has continued, the process of spiritual erosion has, at last, caused a breach in the dam wall to appear, tearing at the very fabric of the life of the community itself. And in particular, in the institution of marriage. And I think it’s instructive to see how having dealt with the piritual decline manifested in worship, Malachi now turns to show us that same spiritual decline manifested in the erosion of God’s pattern for marriage.

 

Increasingly, you may have noticed people are operating with an unwarranted dichotomy in their thinking. Worship, religion, spiritual things, are over here in one hermetically sealed area of life, and major decisions like who and when to marry or to divorce, belong in another, and “never the twain shall meet.” How dare we suggest that God has anything to say about my choice of life partner! How dare we suggest that a divorce may be sinful, and that remarriage afterwards is actually a form of adultery! “I’m devout! I go to church! I pray! But who I marry is my business!” That’s how we think. But Malachi wants to show us that spiritual erosion affects the whole fabric of who we are. And it’s often seen most clearly at crucial points of special vulnerability. It is seen in listless, indifferent worship – that was chapter 1. And here in our text, it is seen in the state of our marriages. In the state of our marriages.

 

And there’s a profound connection, you know, between those two areas of life. Far from being hermetically sealed from one another, they are related in Scripture in important ways, not the least of which, is the fact that marriage is perhaps the major Biblical metaphor for the covenant relationship that exists between God and His people. And so as Malachi takes aim at two areas in particular where the people of God had defected from the plan of God for marriage, we’re going to see in each case that Malachi deals with it in light of how we ought to relate to God within the bonds of the covenant of His love for us. Or to put it a little differently, Malachi 2:10-16 offers us Gospel solutions for failed marriages. Gospel solutions for failed marriages.

 

Would you look at the text with me please? And notice in particular the two areas of marital failure that the prophet addresses. He’s not being comprehensive! There are two in particular that he focuses on. In verses 10 to 12, Malachi applies the Gospel to the problem of the marriage of believers to unbelieving spouses. The marriage of believers to unbelieving spouses. And then in 13 to 16, he applies the Gospel to the problem of illegitimate divorce and remarriage; illegitimate divorce and remarriage.

 

  1. The Marriage of Believers to Unbelieving Spouses

 

Look at verses 10 to 13 first. Here is how the Gospel speaks to the sin of marrying an unbeliever. The sin itself is addressed there in verse 11. Do you see that in verse 11? “Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the LORD, which He loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god.” Do notice carefully, I’m sure you saw, the incredibly strong vocabulary that Malachi adopts in that passage to describe the problem in Israel. The sin is “faithless!” he says, an “abomination!” It is “profane!” he says. What is it that precisely qualifies for this blistering critique that the prophet offers? We expect some unspeakable, monstrous offense, don’t we, to merit such language – faithless, abomination, profane. It’s quite a description. And so it may well appear to us altogether anticlimactic when we discover that the offense in question is the intermarriage of believers with pagan spouses. Judah “has married the daughter of a foreign god.”

 

But if it appears that the severity of the offense does not match the extremity of the description, that really is a commentary on our own misunderstanding of what is actually at stake when a believer marries an unbeliever. The injunction against the people of God marrying those who do not know the Lord is consistent and unequivocal in the Scriptures. For example, Deuteronomy 7:3-4 tells Israel, “Do not intermarry with them” – people of the pagan nations – “because they will turn your sons away from me to worship other gods.” And we have an illustration of precisely that happening in the experience of King Solomon in 1 Kings chapter 11. “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh – Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian and Hittite women – from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, ‘You shall not enter into marriage with them neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.’ Solomon clung to these in love and his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old, his wives turned away his heart after other gods and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God as was the heart of David, his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom, the abomination” – there’s language from Malachi chapter 2 – “Milcom, the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did was what evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord as David, his father, had done. When Solomon built a high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, and for Molech, the abomination of the Ammonites on the mountain east of Jerusalem, and so he did for all his foreign wives who made offerings and sacrifices to their gods.”

 

Do not be Unequally Yoked

The Scriptures prohibit believers marrying unbelievers. And do notice carefully, by the way, the issue here is not “race or ethnicity,” but “worship and idolatry.” The Bible does not prohibit the marriage of people from different ethnic backgrounds; it prohibits the marriage of those who do not know the Lord to those who do. In fact, while in the new covenant in the church of Jesus Christ, the barriers of ethnic difference have been dissolved altogether, so that “there is now no longer Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, nor free but all are one, but Christ is all and in all,” Colossians 3:11. While that’s gloriously true in the new covenant church, nevertheless the prohibition still stands, 2 Corinthians 6, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers, for what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship of light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer have with an unbeliever? What agreement the temple of God with idols? We are the temple of God.” No, to walk in faithfulness to the Lord Jesus requires that Christians not enter into marital union with those who do not know Him.

 

And in verse 12 of Malachi chapter 2, we are told the Lord will not honor a person who thinks that on the one hand they can disobey God on this point, and on the other still honor Him when it comes to worship on the Lord’s Day. Look at verse 12. “May the LORD cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the LORD of hosts!” There are disastrous consequences when we think we can reject God’s rule in our life in the context of our relationships, while claiming to love and serve Him as His child everywhere else. I remember as a young Christian in Scotland when one of the older girls in our young adult group met a boy and fell in love, and he did not know the Lord, made no profession of faith in Jesus. And so our pastor, I remember it very vividly, warned her that to pursue that relationship would signal spiritual disaster. But she was adamant, and even managed to bring him to church a few times and argued that she would influence him. “Who knows, perhaps he even might become a Christian?” she said. But her own dogged refusal to submit to the mastery of Christ in her romantic relationships meant she had already compromised at a fundamental level. She had chosen her own preferences over her Savior’s command. And as a consequence, after she married him, she began to drift away, until at last, she made complete shipwreck not only of her faith, but of her marriage as well.

 

Jesus Must be First

Do not think you are a special case! Do not argue you “will be different!” That you “know better!” Heed the warning! The contradiction between disobedience in your romantic relationships and your worship on the Lord’s Day cannot long be endured. And since you’ve already refused to bend your knee to the Lord in one area, it will not likely be long before you do the same in other areas, and the seepage will become more and more pronounced until at last, if you’re not careful to turn back to your Master, the dam breaks. You can’t have both! Jesus must be first! Jesus must be first!

 

And if you’ll look at verse 10, you will see how Malachi offers us Gospel motivation to help us make and keep Jesus Christ first in our lives. Look at verse 10. “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?” We are, Malachi says, “children of God,” twice over – children of God by creation and children of God by covenant; by virtue of His making us and by virtue of His redeeming us. We’ve been adopted by grace into fellowship with Him. He has established His covenant with us in the blood of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We are united to Him by faith. And Malachi is asking us, given those glorious, Gospel realities of the love of God for you in Jesus, will you now glibly turn from the path of obedience to which He calls you, when to do so will mean spiritual disaster, a disaster from which His prohibition has designed mercifully to protect you? “No!” says, Malachi, “remember you are a child of God bound to Him by covenant, loved by Him in Jesus Christ. Take ahold of the good news about Jesus and what has been done for you in the love, and mercy, and grace of God in the Gospel, and resolve in light of it to walk the hard path of obedience, even in the context of your relationships, that there would be no no-go areas for the Lordship of Christ, not even your romantic relationships. Do not be unequally yoked with an unbeliever!”

 

  1. Illegitimate Divorce and Remarriage

 

And then secondly, would you look at verses 13 to 16? If Malachi applies the Gospel to the problem of believers marrying unbelievers first, now he takes up the question of professing believers divorcing their spouses illegitimately in order to marry another. The passage begins, notice, in verses 13 and 14, with an apparent problem. They were “covering the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards their offering or accepts it with favor from their hand.” It seems that they are aware of the spiritual chasm that has opened between them and the Lord as they have descended into moral rebellion. It grieves them. They know they’re not right with God. I dare say that may be the case for some of us here this morning? You’re grieved because you know that you are not right with God. And like them, perhaps, you have wept and prayed and worshiped, and still you are aware of alienation and distance from your Redeemer.

 

God Hates Divorce

And the question that they ask in verse 14, actually reveals that for all their apparent earnestness in spiritual things they are, nevertheless, oblivious to the real cause of their distance from the Lord. Look at verse 14. They ask, “Why does he not, why does He not accept our offerings? Why are we not right with Him again?” Look at the answer! They’ve missed it, but look at the answer! “Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.” They’re doing everything else they can think of to make it right with God except, address the one area where the rebellion against His rule in their lives was most acute and most pronounced. Isn’t that often the way it is with us when we stray and our consciences sting, don’t they, and we know that we’re not right with our God? We know that we’ve wandered away, and we may weep many tears and pray many prayers, we make our offerings to God and we try to make it right, but unless we come to see clearly and turn truly from the primary point of our rebellion, then our repentance, however dramatic and emotional it may appear, is not yet real, and the awareness we have of alienation and distance from God, of broken fellowship with our Lord, will remain.

 

God was putting His finger on the great sin of Malachi’s generation. The marriage bond has been shattered, altogether illegitimately. And so verse 16, “the man who does not love his wife, but divorces her, says the LORD God of Israel, covers his garment with violence.” Now just press pause there for one moment and let me say again at this point that verses 15 and 16, in particular are among the most difficult passages of the Old Testament scriptures to translate. The array of possible interpretations offered by the commentators are many and varied. I will not bore you with them here. But suffice it to say, that for all the complexity of the language that Malachi uses, the scholars are agreed that the essential message of the passage really isn’t in doubt. A culture of what we might call “no-fault divorce” had developed among the people. Marriages were just being thrown aside in order to facilitate a new union, presumably, as we’ve seen with a “pagan” spouse. But as at least one translation of verse 16 puts it, “I hate divorce, says the LORD God of Israel.”

 

The Grounds for the Legitimacy of Divorce

We saw earlier that the Scriptures are clear in denouncing the marriage of a believer to an unbeliever. They also speak with similar clarity about the question and the grounds for the legitimacy of divorce. Back in Deuteronomy 24, Moses provided for divorce as a concession to the people on the grounds of indecency in the marriage. Jesus similarly acknowledges, Matthew 5:32, for example, that divorce is permissible on very specific circumstances alone. He says, “Everyone who divorces his wife except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Similarly, later on the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, insists, “The wife should not separate from her husband, but if she does she should remain unmarried unless she be reconciled to her husband. And the husband should not divorce his wife.” Verse 13 of 2 Corinthians 7, “If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.” There, the situation is not the one Malachi denounces earlier in our passage where people are willfully marrying those who reject the Gospel. This circumstance, rather, is where two people are unbelievers and one of them after their marriage becomes a Christian. What happens then? Paul says don’t divorce. Let the marriage remain. But, he says, “if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not bound.”

 

Marriages That Stick

So adultery, or the desertion of a believer by an unbeliever are the legitimate grounds in Scripture for divorce. To divorce and remarry, as the people of Malachi’s day were doing simply in order to find, or perhaps because they’d already found someone else, a divorce certificate notwithstanding, was in fact, a form of adultery. That’s the teaching of the Scriptures. “We are not to be faithless to the spouses of our youth, our companion, our husband or wife by covenant,” Malachi says. He wants marriages that stick, and he wants the people of God to stick at their marriages even when, especially when doing so is hard, and bailing out and walking away seems like the much easier option.

 

And in verse 15, notice he once again supplies some Gospel help for us that we might do precisely that – stick at our marriages and that our marriages might stick. Look at verse 15; when believers marry, Malachi says, “God makes them one, and blesses them with a portion of the Spirit in their union.” Godly marriages are sacred things and one of the goals of a godly marriage, Malachi goes on to tell us, is the Lord blessing the marriage whenever possible, to raise up godly offspring to know the Lord, that the praise of God might multiply and His name be held in honor across generations. It’s the beautiful, positive vision of marriage that Malachi holds out for us and it tells us very clearly God is not indifferent to Christian marriages. He doesn’t leave us without assistance, without help, as we struggle through all the challenges that every marriage will encounter. No, He gives us a portion of the Spirit that our union with our husband or our wife might increasingly mirror our union with Him. That our marriage covenant might echo the unbreakable bonds of His redemptive covenant with us that our intimacy in the fellowship of marriage might be a picture of the union of Jesus Christ with His bride, the Church, in the fellowship of the Gospel. And He does all of that so that all who see our marriages, not least of all our children, might glorify God for the wonder of His grace in the way that these two, oftentimes quiet different people, live and love and serve one another their differences notwithstanding.

 

Fight for Your Marriages Confidently in the Lord

And so as Malachi puts it in verse 15, and again in verse 16, we are to guard ourselves in our spirits that none of us become faithless to the wife or to the husband of our youth. God hates divorce! To divorce, Malachi says, is to cover your garment with violence, it is to wear your offense on your sleeve for all to see. It is, we might paraphrase it in modern idiom, to air your dirty laundry in public. It is to make public display of your backsliding. You reveal your spiritual backsliding when you think you can still serve God faithfully while being unfaithful to your marriage vows. Do not give up on your marriage! Believing husbands, believing wives, fight for them! Fight for them in the confidence that God has brought you together and made you one, and promises a portion of His Spirit to strengthen you even in the challenges and difficulties of that union. Stand on His promises and you will find, even though it may be hard and sore and costly to do it, that He will bless you and your marriage and your home. Become a model, a demonstration right before the eyes of the watching world, perhaps before the eyes of your children, that God’s Word is always worth obeying and His promises always worth trusting. Do it for the glory of the name of Jesus who has loved us, after all, in our sin and our waywardness. We are unfaithful, aren’t we? So often we break covenant with Him time and again, yet He is resolutely faithful to us, never breaking covenant with us in His great love.

 

So we are to marry in the Lord that the Lord might be first in everything, including our relationships. And we are to be faithful to our spouses and to fight for our marriages. Divorce ought never to be an option we keep in our back pockets just in case. Instead, let us cling to Christ who by His Spirit will strengthen us to be faithful in the hardest places.

 

And let me say here very quickly before we close, I also know that there are some of you who have fallen into the errors against which Malachi has been warning us. You have made the mistakes Malachi is trying to protect us from. Perhaps you married an unbeliever, and now you live with the painful reality that at a very basic level you cannot share what is most important in your life – the Lord Jesus Christ Himself – with your husband or with your wife? There’s a fundamental disconnect now and it’s hard. Or perhaps there are others of you who have broken your first marriages illegitimately? Some who have entered into new marriages in disobedience to Christ and you know from bitter experience now that God’s pattern is better than our preferences as you live with the complicated, messy, fall-out of your mistakes. I want you to know there is good news for you too. There is good news for you too! If you will confess your sin and seek the mercy of Christ, there is no one who has fallen, no matter how far from faithfulness you have fallen, for whom there is not an abundance of mercy and forgiveness and grace in Jesus Christ for you! And while we must often live with the complex consequences of our sin, we need not live with the guilt of them. There is a way back into fellowship with God by repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. So do not simply presume that God will forgive, but neither should you assume there’s no hope for you. Instead, would you go in humility, with a contrite heart to Christ, and receive the pardon that He offers, and then, by His grace resolve to live in faithfulness, even in the midst of the complexity of your new situation? He will give you the grace to serve Him in faithfulness.

 

And so let us all look to the Lord to be obedient in our relationships, to fight for our marriages, and to have mercy on us when we fall. And may He establish and build us into a fellowship of people whose stable homes and faithful marriages display the wonder of grace to a watching world at a time when marriages and families are under siege, and are being eroded by a lost and confused and misled generation, for the glory of the name of King Jesus. Let’s pray together!

 

Father, we thank You for Your Word. We acknowledge our sin and we cry to You for grace. Forgive us. Forgive us for the ways we wander away and break covenant with You. Forgive us especially when that happens in our marriages, when we marry outside of the faith and disobey Your pattern for us, when we break our marriages and disobey Your commands and we need Your mercy. So would You come to us and forgive and strengthen us that we may live for Your glory now as we trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Help us to walk in faithfulness, not relying on our own strength but on Him alone, for we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.



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