In chapter 2, the discussion with the priests continues and moves into both the consequences of all of this as well as the underlying issue – the breaking of a covenant and the lack of faithfulness.
God has always made covenants with his people, they do this, he’ll do that. He will be their God, they will be His people. The Levites were the priests, the faithful ones from Deuteronomy 33:8-10 whose job it was to teach the people, make sure they know what is right and to administer the sacrifices. Even when Israel wandered, the priests were there to remind them, bring them back. And what are we finding? Even they are bailing. When the people needed them the most, they stopped caring, became derelict in their duties. Basically, if these priests will not honor God and do the work they are supposed to do, God will not bless their work. In fact, God will curse those the blessings they declare.
God’s ultimate reaction to them breaking the covenant, not keeping up their end of the deal, is to reject their sacrifices and rebuke the Levite lineage (offspring) and then…well…spread dung on their faces and send them and their dung faces out of the temple. Now, in this case, dung refers to the innards of the sacrifices that were taken outside the temple and burned. That part is rejected, and so now are the priests who wear these rejected sacrifices on their face. I mean, dang, that’s fierce.
God continues to remind them of what this covenant was that they have disregarded. It was a promise of life and peace (and God was faithful). The Levites rightly feared God, stood in awe of His name, spoke truth, walked in peace and uprightness and turned away from the wrong thing. The priests pursued knowledge and shared it with the people that they should desire the same knowledge; they spoke for God. (What a harrowing yet cool responsibility they had!) Yet, they led people astray, corrupted them, and so God gives them the just consequences of being brought low in front of those they failed to serve.
Here’s the thing, there are consequences to not keeping covenants. If there weren’t, no one would bother making them. God always told his people that he would be faithful to them and bless them but they must keep up their end of the covenant. And time and time again they did not do it and they received the consequences. What’s cool, though, is those consequences were always intended to call them back to the covenant, to have them join back with God that they may be blessed.
I think we need to be careful with v.10 onward. Although I think there are tangible, people-level things to take away from this section about marriage, I think the broad point is to use faithless marriage as a comparison to Israel’s relationship with God. What those who bring offerings to the temple have done to their wives and what the priests have done to their wives is like what Israel has done to God. Coming off of what Malachi has described so far, a few verse diversion solely to hit up the sanctity of marriage, only to dive back out of that and back into shallow, lazy worship and covenant keeping for the rest of the book doesn’t really make any sense. Again, I think the people-level lessons we can learn here are still right and good, but I think it serves two purposes.
We see this theme of “faithlessness” start to show up over and over again in this section. Malachi asks why the people of God have been faithless to one another, profaning the temple with their junk sacrifices and marrying those who do not serve God. (We’ve seen similar downfalls with Solomon, yes?) By why is this described as them being faithless to one another? Because failure to keep their covenant with God has consequences that fall on everyone. It’s communal. (Interesting, saw very similar concepts in the letters of John. We love others by keeping God’s commandments.) Again, the blindness of Israel shows up here – they do this marrying outside of God’s people and still come to the altar and offer to God as if it’s not a thing. Everyone knows it’s a thing.
Then back to the priests, who seem to weeping like children do when they have been rightly accused of doing the wrong thing but they are trying to pass it off as if they are not guilty by crying to bring the point home. Pathetic. These jokers, in addition to betraying every duty they are responsible for, are discarding their wives and chasing other ladies around. That marriage is a covenant, they are joined together as one (a union that the Spirit is part of) and yet they have been faithless. They are dishonoring their covenant and not producing Godly offspring (physically, children, but on the broader sense of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, the product or offspring is probably a growing, blessed nation that serves as a light to the world.)
God is not fooled, he hates what they’re doing, and their selfishness and unfaithfulness will have consequences. No one is quite sure what “…covers his garment with violence” means but everyone agrees that it can’t possibly be good. The way to prevent this, Malachi says, is easy – do not be faithless.
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