What does Malachi 2 mean?
Malachi has a nuanced structure which is easily lost when looking at chapter and verse divisions. There are three main lessons delivered by Malachi, a name which literally means "My messenger." These lessons are divided into two halves. The focus of the first and second half of each lesson are mirror images of each other, so Malachi takes the form of a wave, flowing back and forth through ideas. Malachi is also unique among Old Testament prophets for taking the form of a dialogue, where God accuses Israel of specific sins, and Israel responds with doubt.
Chapter 2 (through verse 9) completes the first of Malachi's three messages, which is directed at the priests. They have been offering diseased, flawed, or unclean animals as sacrifices (Malachi 1:7–8). This is not only against the Old Testament Law, it is profoundly insulting to God. Israel's spiritual leaders know what to do, but they find it too much trouble (Malachi 1:13). As a result, God warns them that He will be honored properly, even by the—supposedly—unclean Gentiles (Malachi 1:11).
This passage completes God's oracle to the priests with a more personal threat. Insulting the name of God through disobedience and arrogance is to slight God Himself. If the priests continue to do as they have done, God will humiliate them in the eyes of the people (Malachi 2:9). He will remove them from office and allow them to be completely defiled by their own attitudes. This is phrased in rather graphic terms, with the metaphor of God smearing animal wastes on their faces (Malachi 2:3).
While this may seem harsh, the true penalty for "profaning" the name of God was supposed to be death (Numbers 18:32). So, even in judgment, God is showing mercy to those who abuse Him. The Old Testament priests were supposed to teach the people about God, as His messengers (Malachi 2:7). So, what Malachi—literally, "My messenger"— warns them about is very serious, indeed.
The second of Malachi's three messages begins in verse 10. As with Malachi's other lessons, this one begins with an accusation. Unlike the other charges, however, Israel gives no particular answer to this claim. Malachi's criticism here is that Israel is being unfaithful, to each other. Israelite men are divorcing their Jewish wives and marrying pagan women (Malachi 2:11,14).
Marrying those who reject God is blasphemy in and of itself. Adding to this national epidemic is the fact that the men of Israel are not only marrying those who worship false gods, they are breaking their commitments to Israelite women in order to do so. In this passage, God expresses absolute hatred for divorce (Malachi 2:16). The Bible is clear that God's laws regarding divorce are in no way a sign of acceptance. Rather, they are a necessity brought on by our own hard hearts (Matthew 19:8).
Sadly, the people of Israel are numb to their own sin. Worse, they blame God for the consequences of their own actions. They break God's laws, then complain that God has not blessed them (Malachi 2:17). They ignore His warnings, and grumble when He does not protect them from their own mistakes. This takes the form of a very arrogant, very dangerous question: "Where is the God of justice?" As Malachi will explain in chapters 3 and 4, God's justice is certainly coming, so Israel ought to be careful what they wish for.
Malachi 1:6—2:9 is directed specifically at the priests of Israel. Despite having knowledge of the Old Testament Law, they are offering improper sacrifices to God. Instead of following the requirements for pure offerings, they are sacrificing animals so defective that a mere politician would not accept them. This shows their apathy and disrespect towards God. In response, God warns that He will be praised properly, even if it's by the Gentiles, even if it's in spite of His own chosen people. This includes a threat to humiliate the priesthood, if they don't lead the people as they have been instructed.
Malachi 2:10–16 is perhaps the Bible's strongest indicator of God's views on divorce. This passage begins the second of Malachi's three prophetic lessons, ending in Malachi 3:6. The people of Israel are rebuilding Jerusalem and the temple, but under the control of a foreign nation. Rather than honoring God, and their own wives, it seems the men of Israel were divorcing Jewish women in order to marry pagans (Ezra 9:1–2; Nehemiah 13:23–27). This is described in this passage as an act of violence against the women. In no uncertain terms, Malachi expresses God's hatred for divorce.
Malachi 2:17—3:6 presents a dangerous accusation from Israel against God, and His sobering response. Israel accuses God of letting the wicked prosper and for not enacting enough justice in the world. God's reply reminds Israel, and us, that the first sin we need to be aware of is our own. God promises to send a messenger, preparing the way for Him. God also predicts the day when He will ''draw near'' for judgment. This uses metaphors including fire and powerful cleaning substances. In short, judgment is coming—to everyone.
God will humiliate the priests who are insulting Him with improper sacrifices. While the priests are being unfaithful to God, the people of Israel are also being unfaithful to each other. In particular, they are marrying pagans, and committing divorce, which God absolutely despises. God's covenant with Israel included both blessings for obedience, and consequences for disobedience. And yet, as Israel disobeys, they blame God for their hardships. God's people are defying Him, then blaming Him for the end results!
Malachi's structure is intricate, but can be divided into three primary messages. The first message is to Israel's priests, and runs from Malachi 1:2 through Malachi 2:9. Chapter 2 begins with a warning, to the priests, that God will humiliate them for their arrogant, apathetic attitudes. The topic then transitions to Malachi's second message, directed to Israel as a whole, accusing them of being unfaithful to each other. This rebuke of infidelity continues through the beginning of chapter 3, before calling Israel to repentance in the final message.
Malachi is the last message of prophecy given to Israel prior to 400 years of silence. Israel has rebuilt the temple, following the invasions of Babylon, but they are still under foreign oppression. Israel's spiritual condition, however, is dire. Hosea depicted Israel as prone to failure, but repentant. Later, Ezekiel exposed Israel's blatant disobedience. By the time of Malachi, Israel has passed into numbness and apathy. Unlike other Old Testament prophets, Malachi takes the form of a dialogue, where Israel responds to accusations as if unaware that they've occurred. The next prophetic voice from God would not come until the ministry of John the Baptist.
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