Menu Close

“Faithful in Marriage”

Malachi 2:10-16
Bob DeGray
October 3, 2004

Key Sentence

When we deal treacherously in our marriages we break faith with God.
When we are faithful in our marriages we keep faith with God.


I. Breaking faith with God’s ways (Malachi 2:10-12)
II. Breaking faith with God’s gifts (Malachi 2:13-15)
III. Breaking faith with God’s heart (Malachi 2:16)


        Being a pastor is a pain sometimes. I know about a lot of real-life situations that are object lessons for marriage, but I can’t tell you those stores because they were shared with me in confidence. It just not right to break that confidentiality, especially on Sunday morning from the pulpit. So this morning I’m going to mention from time to time the fictional couple Jane and Jerry Jones, and tell you about some of their attitudes and behaviors in marriage. Unfortunately Jane and Jerry are divorced, mostly because Jerry didn’t remain faithful to his marriage. Now it wasn’t all Jerry’s fault - Jane made marriage hard at times. But because Jerry didn’t have God’s heart about marriage, he allowed those frustrations to lead him into a series of choices that shipwrecked their relationship. He broke faith with his wife and betrayed her. But Jerry couldn’t see that when we deal treacherously in our marriages we also break faith with God. When we are faithful in our marriages we keep faith with God.

        Malachi 2:10-16 is one of the most significant Scriptures on faithfulness in marriage and on God’s attitude toward divorce. It’s a passage intended to correct and shape our heart attitudes. As a church and as individuals, it’s easy to accept our culture’s devaluing of the marriage bond and to allow a wrong attitude toward divorce to creep into our thinking, quietly giving up God’s standards on the sanctity of marriage. But we can’t do it - as individuals in our own marriages and as a church in our culture we have to say that unfaithfulness and divorce are sin - that when we deal treacherously in our marriages we break faith with God.

I. Breaking faith with God’s ways (Malachi 2:10-12)

        So let’s look at Malachi 2:10-16. We’ll begin with the first three verses, which indite the people of Israel for breaking faith with God’s ways. Malachi 2:10-12 Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another? 11Judah has broken faith. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the Lord loves, by marrying the daughter of a foreign god. 12As for the man who does this, whoever he may be, may the Lord cut him off from the tents of Jacob--even though he brings offerings to the Lord Almighty.

        Malachi recognizes that there is an essential unity among the people of God, and that the sins of one part of the body are treachery to the whole body. He says “We have one Father, and one God created us.” The implication is that as father and creator, God has the sovereign right to tell us what to do. Just as the artist who creates a painting calls it his painting, and can modify it or even destroy it if he wishes; just as the author who creates a novel controls that novel’s world, the fate of it’s characters, so God as the author of our lives has the right to be in charge of our lives.

        And he has chosen to deal with his people by means of covenants, solemn commitments in which God makes promises to us, and calls us to allegiance and obedience in order to receive those promises. But now God’s people have parted ways with the covenant he gave through Moses, disobeying the covenant commands relative to marriage. In this they have betrayed each other, both as husbands and wives, and as members of God’s family. In the same way, when we break faith with God we open the door for charges of hypocrisy, we weaken the faith of others who are trying to be faithful, and we dishonor our brothers and sisters in world’s eyes.

        The key Hebrew word this morning is “breaking faith’ or ‘dealing treacherously’. It’s used five times in the six verses. The verb means to deceive, and it was often used as a participle meaning ‘the one who deceives’. It’s used to indicated unfaithfulness in relationships, especially marriage, and also unfaithfulness to the Lord. It’s used of breaching man_made treaties and the social responsibilities expected in normal human relationships. The men of Shechem dealt treacherously against their king, Abimelech. Job felt betrayed by his friends, and in Jeremiah's time property rights were violated by treacherous men. So the word is well translated as ‘dealing unfaithfully’ or ‘breaking faith’ with others. But it’s interesting to me that the same Hebrew root as a noun means ‘a garment’, ‘a covering’. Scholars don’t agree on how the two are related, but I agree with those who see a connection to the fact that ‘to cover with a garment’ was a covenant act indicating an intention to marry. That’s what we see in the book of Ruth. Though the actual word for garment is different, the mind set that says ‘I cover you with my garment to protect you and establish a covenant with you’ is clearly present in the Hebrew culture. So for a related word to come to mean ‘breaking faith’ it must have acquired the connotation of uncovering, uncovenanting, leaving unprotected. It’s being a traitor to the person you’d made a covenant with - often, specifically, your marriage partner.

        So the people of Israel were breaking faith in their marriages, breaking faith with God’s covenant demands by marrying outside God’s people, marrying Gentiles. These ‘out-of-covenant’ marriages were clearly forbidden in Exodus 34 and Deuteronomy 7, but after Judah returned from the Babylonian exile, they became very common and the books of Ezra and Nehemiah reveal the extreme concern godly leaders had over this devastating violation of the covenant. Malachi shares that concern and says that anyone who breaks faith with God and God’s family that way is desecrating God’s altar with his offerings. And Malachi clearly anticipates that God himself will “cut him off from the tents of Jacob.”

        The point is that in the area of marriage, God desires our obedience. We can’t take lightly the commands and instructions and wisdom of God in this area because marriage was one of the first institutions created, it is an institution close to his heart, it is a model of his relationship with his people, and disobedience in this area brings dishonor both on God and on those who follow him.

        One application of this teaching is that Christians should marry Christians, and not be ‘unequally yoked’, in the words of the New Testament. When you’re not yet married, it’s too easy to give your heart away to someone appealing, before you really know the person. If they end up not being a believer, it not only violates God’s deaires for marriage, but it is almost always devastating to the marriage. Few things lead to discord faster than differing priorities in spiritual things.

        Another point is that no matter how concerned we might be about other sexual issues like homosexuality or pornography, we cannot lose the battle for godly marriages, or we lose the war. Some would say we already have. Just this month George Barna released his latest poll on marriage, and confirmed his earlier findings. First, he found that overall the percentage of Christians who have been divorced is almost exactly the same as that in the population as a whole. Roughly 35% of all those he polled who had ever been married have also been divorced, and that’s true whether you identify yourself as saved by Jesus or not. Barna did point out however, that among those who don’t identify themselves as saved fewer are getting married - they’re living together instead - and when they split up it doesn’t show as a divorce.

        Nonetheless, it’s appalling that nearly one_quarter of born again Christians get divorced two or more times; that Protestants are far more likely to get divorced than Catholics; that 44 percent of those who call themselves Pentecostals have been divorced, far more than, say, Presbyterians. Even more disturbing, Barna asked if, apart from adultery and abandonment, divorce should be thought of as a sin. Less than one half of self identified followers of Jesus said it was. That’s what worries me - ‘no fault’ divorce is infiltrating the minds of Christians.

II. Breaking faith with God’s gifts (Malachi 2:13-15)

        Where is God’s heart in this? We see it clearly in 13-15: Another thing you do: You flood the Lord's altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. 14You ask, "Why?" It is because the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. 15Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.
        In addition to the problem of marrying outside the faith, the people of Israel had the same problem that is rampant in our culture - they were getting divorces for no reason. As a result, God was not pleased with their sacrifices and was not answering their prayers or paying attention to their offerings. Thus God was acting as a witness and a judge between ‘you and the wife of your youth’. God has seen what you have done in your marriage, and he cannot let it slide, he has stepped out to confront you. God sees that you have broken faith with your spouse. That’s the second use of that word: you have uncovered her, uncovenanted with her, left her unprotected.

        But these verses also have a lot of positive things to say about what marriage is supposed to be. Verse 14 says ‘you have broken faith with her though she is your partner.’ The word partner or companion is a simple Hebrew word most often used of joining or uniting things. Objects were joined together, for example the tabernacle curtains, or the shoulder pieces of the priests' garments. In the same way men were joined together in political and military activities, while at other times, as in Hosea 4:17, men joined themselves to idols. The word is used as an adjective to refer to a very close bond between people, as in the close relationship between Daniel and his three friends, though bands of thieves and destroyers were also said to be joined this way. Finally, here in Malachi the feminine form of the word is used to indicate the joining together that is supposed to exist between husband and wife, like the joining together of two parts of one structure.

        It’s a great word, and Scripture supports the idea that marriage is for the joining together of two persons for mutual help and companionship. If you go back to God’s establishment of marriage in Genesis 2, he says “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." Companionship and mutual help are still keys to successful marriage today. As I’ve talked to Jane and Jerry I’ve heard over and over how he got so involved in his work, and she in raising their children, and they ended up with nothing in common. But companionship means the intentional placing of things in common, the intentional doing of things together, from recreation to household repairs to ministry, the intentional living of married life in a ‘how can I spend time with you?’ way and a ‘how can I help you?’ way. As we reinforce companionship and partnership we strengthen our marriages.

        The second word verse 14 uses to describe marriage is ‘covenant’; she is the ‘wife of your marriage covenant.’ The full scope of the word ‘covenant’ is too great for us to pursue here, but Easton’s Bible Dictionary simply says ‘a covenant is a contract or agreement between two parties’. It can be used of an agreement or contract between man and man, or between tribes or nations. In these covenants God was solemnly called to witness the transaction, so they are considered ‘covenants of the Lord’. And often the word is used in reference to God's revelation of himself through his promises and blessings. Thus God's promise to Noah after the Flood is a covenant, and later he made a covenant with Abraham, and then with the nation of Israel at Sinai, a covenant renewed at different times in Israel’s history, and characterized by the taking of oaths of commitment and by the bestowal of blessing by God.

        So marriage is a covenant, a solemn agreement made by oath, with God as the witness, and with the purpose of commitment to each other and to blessing. Marriage is called a covenant here, and in Proverbs 2:17, where the adulterous wife is said to have ignored that covenant, and in Ezekiel 16:8, of God’s marriage covenant with Israel. As a covenant, marriage has the characteristics of a covenant, including covenant loyalty by both sides, and an irrevocable or eternal nature.

        If you and I see our marriages as covenants, not just contracts, we will be committed to loyalty to our companion, and we will be committed ‘till death do us part.’ It’s a commitment that goes beyond the feelings of love. Jane and Jerry are forever telling me that continuing in their marriage is impossible because they just don’t love each other anymore. But who ever said marriage was about a feeling? Certainly not God. Marriage is about a commitment and about the loyal actions that come from that commitment. There’s a couple here in this room, and the husband has told me on several occasions that without the commitment both of them had to the basic institution of marriage theirs would not have survived. But it has.

        So the purpose of marriage is to bring into being a companionship that is protected by walls of covenant commitment. And there are no trial marriages in Scripture, there is no living together in Scripture, though in parts of our culture it is considered the norm. No, this is a committed relationship to the wife of his youth. Why? Because this commitment is not just witnessed by God, it is sanctioned by God by means of a supernatural work, a miracle that takes place in every marriage, but that unfortunately many people do not have eyes to see. This miracle is called ‘unity’ or ‘one flesh’. Verse 15 says “Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring.” The Hebrew of this verse is very difficult, but I think the NIV translators got it right: It is a reference to Genesis 2, where Moses says “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”

        This one flesh relationship is more than physical: it is physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. It is God-ordained and in a very real sense it is God-accomplished, so that in a wedding ceremony God is at work to make two people into one new unity, with two persons in it. The responsibility of marriage partners is to be what they are, one flesh in human practice as well as in spiritual reality. ‘Godly offspring’ simply means that children born outside of this covenant commitment and God-ordained unity are missing the tremendous blessings of godly marriage and family, and, especially in Old Testament times, on being part of God’s chosen line.

        Verse 15 ends with a command ‘So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth’. This is a key sentence for the section, and my key sentence is derived from it: when we deal treacherously in our marriages we break faith with God. Notice that it is a spiritual issue: disloyalty and unfaithfulness in marriage springs from a spiritual source - our fallen sinful natures. And the opposites, faithfulness and covenant loyalty, come from a spiritual source - God. As I’ve said to many couples planning to get married, and to many Jerrys and Janes sitting in my office - you can’t do this on your own. You have to depend on God for the strength, the wisdom, and the will to persevere in your marriage. Everything we’ve seen so far about God’s attitude toward marriage leads us to the conclusion that faithfulness in marriage is intimately linked to faithfulness to God.

        So when God tells us to guard our spirits, he’s telling us to guard ourselves spiritually, to be careful to have a soft heart toward God that recognizes our sin, confesses it, and turns from it, and that recognizes temptation and flees to him. At the same time we need have a soft heart toward our spouse, a heart of compassion, not condemnation, of forgiveness, not bitterness, of gentleness and not anger. Self examination is so key in this area: are you hard hearted toward God, toward others, toward your spouse? Or are you soft-hearted, vulnerable, and open to conviction and compassion? Contrary to what the world says, only the soft-hearted survive.

III. Breaking faith with God’s heart (Malachi 2:16)

        So we’re supposed to guard our hearts, and ultimately that means having God’s heart toward marriage. Verse 16: "I hate divorce," says the Lord God of Israel, "and I hate a man's covering himself with violence as well as with his garment," says the Lord Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.

        Ancient Hebrew didn’t have a distinct word for divorce - the word literally means ‘putting away’ and it’s only the context that tells you that this is the putting away of a wife. But there is no doubt at all that God is saying he hates divorce. Kaiser calls this ‘one of the strongest protests anywhere in Scripture against divorce. God is said in no uncertain terms to loath the practice and it’s results.’ Now some would contend that God allowed divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1, but Jesus himself explained that God wasn’t condoning divorce, he was only regulating it, due to the hardness of men’s hearts. Jesus said that because God made men and women to be united in this one flesh relationship, then anyone who does divorce except in the case of adultery is as bad as an adulterer. Anyone here who might be toying with divorce ought to read Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:3-9 and take caution.

        God hates divorce. He hates it when this unique bond he himself made between a man and a woman is wrenched apart. If we are going to have God’s heart about marriage then we have to see every divorce as a tragedy. I know some of you who are here this morning have been divorced, and I think you would be the first to agree that the whole thing was a mess - your marriage was a mess, the divorce was a mess, and you would agree with God that changed hearts and changed lives and a saved marriage would have been far preferable to what happened. But the hearts have to change, by God’s power, because messy marriages are dangerous. The anger that builds up in ungodly marriages leads to abuse and violence. That’s why the verse says ‘I hate divorce and I hate a man covering himself with violence as well as with his garment.’ Notice the recurrence of the garment there. Uncovering somebody is dealing treacherously with them. Instead of protecting them with the covenant garment, as Boaz did Ruth, this person has wrenched the garment away, and by violence and anger is protecting only himself instead of his family. That’s sick. If you are here this morning and your marriage is characterized by anger, and especially by violence, you desperately need God’s help - and help from others.

        Divorce is hateful, but a marriage characterized by violence is also hateful. Does that mean God would sanction divorce in cases of abuse? Some pastors and counselors would say yes, but I don’t think so. I would sanction temporary separation as a way of protecting families from violence. And I would sanction prayer, maybe over the long haul, that God would allow both the husband and the wife to have a soft heart, to guard their spirit in a godly way, so that they see their responsibility, confess their sin, and allow the Holy Spirit over time to change the violence and hatred not necessarily to feelings of love but to behaviors of love and loyalty and commitment.

        So what have we said? That when we deal treacherously in our marriages - by divorce, by violence, by anger, by any kind of unfaithfulness, by disloyalty, or even by the simple loss of companionship, we break faith with God. These are spiritual issues, and the two of you alone cannot deal with them - there has to be dependence on God. When we are faithful in our marriages we keep faith with God. I can not think of a Christian with a really healthy marriage who doesn’t also have a healthy relationship with God. The two go hand in hand. You want to be closer to God? Work on integrity in your marriage. You want to be closer to your husband or wife? Work on an honest and vulnerable relationship with God. Embrace his ways. Embrace his gifts, including the spouse he has given you. And share his heart.

        I’ve talked just a little about Jane and Jerry in this message, and how sad it has been to see them fall into this trap and accept the world’s standards and justify divorce through hard-heartedness and sin. But it doesn’t have to be that way. God can work. Here’s part of a testimony I found on a web site called “Covenant Keepers”

        “Have your picture taken on Santa's knee and send it to Becky"... these were the words being spoken to Murry's heart. But was this really God speaking? Maybe it was his flesh, his own desire. After all, it was Christmas and he really missed Becky. They had been divorced four months and he dreaded the holidays without her. However, the words persisted so Murry went to the mall and found Santa on the lower level, little children on his lap, having pictures taken. Embarrassed, Murry submitted to the ritual, holding a card with Becky's name on it. Santa and his helpers joined in the fun, thinking it a great Christmas present!

        Would Becky think so, though? After months of no communication, would receiving the picture make her angry? Time would tell. Murry hoped he was being led by the Holy Spirit but he wasn't always sure. He realized now that their marriage was doomed for destruction from the beginning because it had been built on the wrong foundation. A very angry young man, Murry coped with his anger by drinking, climbing the corporate ladder and doing drugs. Eventually he got into adultery. Becky prayed until finally, losing all hope, she filed for divorce.


        Devastated, Murry discovered the job he had worked so hard for suddenly meant nothing. So he resigned and moved to Tulsa. Repentance brought him to the place where he desired healing and deliverance and to know how to lay the proper foundation for his life. He felt that attending Bible school could help lay that foundation on the Word of God. Much the way an alcoholic might check into a rehabilitation center, Murry checked into Bible school.

        Murry purchased a gold chain, put it in the envelope along with his picture taken with Santa and dropped it in the mail box, wondering what Becky's reaction would be. Three days later his first communication from Becky arrived. A Christmas card. Much to his astonishment, inside the card was a picture of Becky sitting on Santa's knee! She had done the same thing he had done. So that was God speaking to him after all. Several days later he received a phone call from Becky. She had received his card and couldn't believe they had both had their picture made with Santa. Communication began as they spoke over the phone several times the next month.

        February second was their wedding anniversary. When Murry arrived home that afternoon there were several messages on the recorder from Becky. He called her to discover that she wanted to meet him midway between Dallas and Tulsa. The reason? So they could spend their anniversary together. At eight_thirty that evening they met and spent several hours together: eating, talking, laughing and praying.

        A letter from Becky soon followed, thanking Murry for being her friend. She said he had changed so dramatically from an angry young man to a man led by the spirit of God. Murry was so grateful he had been renewing his mind with the Word of God. The Word was stripping away the anger, hostility and defensiveness. As he learned to walk and pray the hurt and pain were healing and he was experiencing the joy of the Lord. As they continued to communicate Murry and Becky began to pray that they would hear and recognize God's perfect will for their lives. Becky especially asked God to show them in a way so big that they couldn't miss it.

        At this point Murry went to his pastor and they prayed for God's direction. Was it time for Murry to return to Dallas? The pastor reminded Murry that reconciliation was God’s idea in the first place. Three days later the telephone rang. Murry's former boss wanted to know if he would return to work for him in Dallas, as a division manager. Seven months after their divorce, Murry and Becky were remarried. This time when they vowed, "Until death do us part," they knew what they were committing to. They also knew that divorce would never again be an option.