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Monday, January 30, 2012

“Profaning the Covenant” - (01/29/12)

Malachi 2:10-16 (Message #4 in Malachi Series)
January 29, 2012

            The English word “profane” comes to us directly from the Latin word “profanus” made up of the preposition “pro” (before, prior to), and “fanum” (temple).  Thus the literal meaning of the word is, “prior to the temple,” indicating the state of something before it is offered up as a sacrifice.  The dictionary definition of the English word “profane” is… “Not sacred, common; not connected with religion or religious matters; secular; not hallowed or consecrated.”
            We also often hear a form of the word used to indicate cussing or using the Lord’s name in vain.  We call that “profanity,” meaning “unholy speech.”  It is the opposite of holy, God-honoring speech.
            The idea in both of these words is that once something is brought to the temple and offered to God it becomes sacred, it becomes a holy thing.  Ordinary things are made holy as they come into contact with the Living, Holy God.              

            Some things by their very nature are sacred because they are forever sacred to God.  Some things are inherently holy because they are a reflection of God’s holy nature.  These things include solemn covenants, because God is a covenant-keeping God and He expects His subjects to keep their covenants as well—covenants with Him and covenants with one another.  One such solemn covenant was entered into by the people of Israel, in which they promised that they would obey God and not marry foreign idol-worshippers.  God made it clear to His chosen people from the beginning that this would not be tolerated, and they agreed in solemn assembly to abide by the covenant.
Another thing that God holds as sacred is the holy covenant of marriage where the husband and wife swear to one another before God and before witnesses that they will “take one another to be their wedded spouse, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; until death do us part.”  The Bible is clear that holy matrimony is a picture of the relationship between God and His people.  In the OT Israel is referred to as “the Wife of Jehovah.”  In the NT the Church is called “the Bride of Christ.”  Clearly, God intends for covenant marriage to be a reflection of His love for us and that’s why He takes marriage and divorce so seriously.
In the verses leading up to today’s text we hear God’s indictment against the priests of Israel who, in God’s words, had “corrupted, or profaned the covenant” of Levi and had caused many people to stumble because of their bad teachings and their bad example (verse8).  Now God expands His indictment to include all the people of Israel for their widespread evil practices that constitute various forms of “profaning the covenant.” 

Verse 10: Do we not all have one father?  Has not one God created us?  Why do we deal treacherously each against his brother so as to profane the covenant of our fathers? 
  • You’ll notice that in this section, Malachi does almost all the talking.  Up until now he has sometimes been more like a megaphone for God.  However, in these verses Malachi, the prophet, sounds more like God’s lawyer, explaining and clarifying God’s position and point-of-view.
  • Starting out here in verse 10 Malachi seeks to establish the unity of the children of Israel.  “Do we not all have one father?”  God was their “Father” in the sense that He had chosen them in love to become His children.  He had adopted them.  He was also their “Father” by right of creation.  And, of course, if God is their Father then His children are brothers and sisters and they have a family obligation to do good to one another, and not to “deal treacherously” [1st of 5].  Moreover, Malachi points out that all the Israelites trace their lineage back to one earthly “father”—their forefather, Jacob (aka Israel).  So on the basis of their familial unity he implores his fellow countrymen who have become covenant-breakers to stop and rethink their attitudes and actions.
  • He says that by profaning and breaking the covenant that their fathers made with God (Exod. 19:5-6; 24:8), they are really committing an act of treachery [i.e. treason] against their brothers, because their actions will bring the judgment of God down upon everyone’s heads.

Verse 11: Judah has dealt treacherously, and an 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.    
  • Here Malachi mentions Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.  “Judah” was the southern area of the country and generally included the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.  “Israel” refers to northern ten tribes.  “Jerusalem” was the holy city, the nation’s capitol, which included “Mount Zion” on which the Temple of the Lord was built.  In other words, these three words take in the whole of the nation.  Malachi was saying that the whole country had “dealt treacherously” [#2] and had committed an “abomination” against God.
  • “Abomination.”  That’s a pretty harsh word!  What does it mean?  It indicates something that causes the stomach to revolt, that makes a person nauseated.  So God is telling the people that what they are doing makes Him so sick at His stomach that He feels like vomiting.  He does this in order to shock them into realizing that the anathema curse He’s pronouncing on the sins mentioned here are every bit as bad in His sight as the gross sins of idolatry, witchcraft, and homosexuality, which fall under the same condemnation: they too are “abominations.”
  • So what had they done, specifically?  It’s there in the last part of the verse: “…you have profaned the sanctuary of the LORD which He loves and have married the daughter of a foreign god.”  So why is that such a big deal?  By “the daughter of a foreign god” He means a pagan woman, dedicated to the worship of a heathen god.  Such mixed marriages were strictly forbidden because God knew that this would inevitably lead to apostasy and idolatry (cf. Exodus 34:15-16; Deut. 7:3-4; I Kings 11:1-6; Ezra 9:1-2; Nehemiah 13:23-29).  Multiple times God forbade the Jews from intermarrying with the pagan people of Canaan.  Moreover, every Jew knew that it was forbidden, but they had been doing it anyway, in essence, thumbing their noses at God.

Verse 12: As for the man who does this, may the LORD cut off from the tents of Jacob everyone who awakes and answers, or who presents an offering to the LORD of hosts. 
  • In the OT the term “cut off” sometimes refers to banishment or even death.  It is also often used to mean that God will deprive the sinner of posterity, of descendants.  Malachi says here that those who have committed this abomination of taking pagan brides will be “cut off” from the people or Israel.  On top of this, the text indicates that God will also inflict the same punishment on anyone who speaks up in defense of such a sinner, or who might be moved to offer a sin offering on behalf of such a sinner in order to try and atone for their sin.  God views such misguided help as “aiding and abetting” an unrepentant rebel.

Verse 13: This is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 
  • “This is another thing you do…”  The first thing is the one Malachi identifies in verses 11-12; namely, intermarrying with idolatrous heathens.  Now he brings up a second issue, one that is related to the first but somewhat different.  In verses 13-16 he deals with the sin of unjustified divorce.  The sin that was occurring was actually two-sided, however.  People were divorcing their Jewish wives without any moral justification (explained in vs. 14-16), and they were marrying pagan women who were leading them into worshipping false gods (explained in vs. 11-12).  God says that both of these things are wrong, in fact, an abomination, and constituted a profaning of their covenant with Him.
  • However, the people did not think that they were sinning!  In fact, they thought that God was just being mean and unreasonable in His demands.  They were grieved and unhappy that God was not accepting their sacrifices and was not blessing them.  They cried and wailed and groaned because God was, “…no longer regarding their offering or accepting it with favor from their hand.”  You see their tears were what we call, “crocodile tears.”  They were hypocritical tears coming from insincere repentance.  The people were unhappy, to be sure, but they were not truly repentant.  They were sad that God was unhappy but they were clueless about WHY He was unhappy with them.  It’s the difference between a lawbreaker being sad that he got caught, versus having genuine sorrow for his guilt and for the harm he has caused.  The Israelites were sad, but they weren’t sorry.

Verse 14: Yet you say, “For what reason?”  Because the LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 
  • Yet you say, “For what reason?”  They sound shocked that God would be unhappy with them.  After all, they were doing so many things right.  Why was Jehovah being so rigid and unreasonable?  They didn’t get it!
  • So here in verse 14 God, through His prophet, Malachi, brings His second indictment against Israel.  They have been divorcing their wives without grounds, thus ignoring the covenant they made with “the wives of their youth.”  God calls this “dealing treacherously” [#3] with their wives.
  • “The LORD has been a witness…”  Covenant marriage, the way God intended is always between two believers, with no exceptions.  For you see, holy matrimony is a covenant between three, not just two.  In Christian marriage God is the third partner in the relationship.  And when the husband and wife exchange their vows God is listening.  He is the Witness to every word they say: “I take you to be my lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; until death do us part.”  These men had not only married heathen wives but they had callously divorced their first wives to make room for these new ones that they liked better.  “Out with the old; in with the new,” was their motto.

Verse 15: But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit.  And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring?  Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. 
  • This is an interesting verse.  God seems to be saying through Malachi that these bums wouldn’t do such a heinous thing if they had even a scintilla of the Holy Spirit at work in them, because the Holy Spirit convicts of sin.  However, these guys seemed to have no feelings of remorse whatsoever.
  • The last sentence in this verse is an obvious warning, a threat, if you will.  And once again, for the fourth time in these seven verses we hear God warning against “dealing treacherously” [#4] with our wives.

Verse 16: “For I hate divorce,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the LORD of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.” 
  • Surprisingly in the Bible there are only a few things that God actually says He hates.  My point is that here in Malachi 2:16 God comes right out and says, “I HATE DIVORCE!”  Moreover, He says that He hates those who do it in an unjustified way, without grounds, just to trade one wife in for a newer model.  “…and him who covers his garment with wrong.”  In other words, God looks at this guy in his $3,000 silk Armani suit and all He sees is a guy in an orange prison jumpsuit.  The guy is guilty whether or not he admits it.
  • The verse ends with yet another dire warning: “Take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously [against the wife of your youth].”  There’s that phrase again: “deal treacherously” [#5].  This is the fifth time it has appeared in our text.  You see in God’s eyes an attitude of indifference and disrespect toward our marriage vows and obligations are the actions of a traitor. 

            So far this morning I have just been telling you what the text actually says.  Now in conclusion I want to help put this into perspective in terms we can wrap our minds around.  There are two big issues here: (1) believers marrying unbelievers; and, (2) believers divorcing without grounds.  Let’s look at these separately.
            First, the question of believers marrying unbelievers.  The OT is just as much the Word of God to us as the NT.  In the OT God absolutely forbade His people from marrying unbelievers because He knew that it would result in His people wandering away from Him into sin and idolatry.  And that’s exactly what happened, every time.  Now in the NT this principle is repeated.  We read in II Cor. 6:14-18 the following: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?  Or what harmony has Christ with Belial [Satan], or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?  Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols?  For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; 
and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 
Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the LORD, 
“and do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you.  “And I will be a Father to you, 
and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” 
says the LORD Almighty.” 
            You see God has not changed His mind about this.  It is never OK for a Christian to marry a non-Christian.  It has always been a grievous sin and it still is.  It is an act of treason against God.  Therefore, I have to also conclude that it is wrong for a Christian to date a non-Christian because dating is part of the courtship process leading to marriage.  There is no such thing as “evangelistic dating” in the hopes of leading the person to Christ.
            Let me say it one more time just in case you didn’t hear it before: there is never a case where God will give His permission for a Christian to marry an unbeliever.  Never!  Don’t even bother to ask Him.  The answer is “NO!”
            The second issue that I need to address briefly is this question of divorce.  The Scriptures only clearly lay out two justifications for divorce:  (1) “immorality” [Gr. porneia = adultery, sexual impurity, child molestation, pornography addiction, etc.]; and (2) abandonment = the unbelieving spouse wants to bail out of the marriage and will not be dissuaded, leaving the Christian spouse no option but to let them go.  [Note: I believe this category also includes both physical and mental abuse, and attempted murder.  These are alternate forms of abandonment and are covenant breakers in my opinion].  Outside of these two categories the door is tightly closed and locked for Christians wanting to divorce their mate and marry someone else.
            We live in an age when the divorce rate among so-called “Christians” in America is actually slightly higher than the national average.  Christians are getting divorced every time we turn around.  But here’s the take away: most of those divorces are not for Biblical reasons.  Most are the result of looking for the easy-out rather than digging in and with God’s help fighting to save the marriage.  Statistically, the vast majority of divorces are granted on the grounds of “irreconcilable differences.”  I’m sorry, but that is not biblical grounds for a Christian abandoning his or her marriage to go off and find somebody else.
            God told the Israelites that to throw away the wife of their youth was an abomination.  It made Him sick at His stomach.  So do you think that it’s going to be OK for you or for me to do it, just because we live a few hundred years further down the line of history?
            So here it is in a nutshell: If it was wrong back then to divorce your spouse and marry an unbeliever, it’s still a terrible sin today, and one that God promises that He will judge.  If back then God considered these sins that the Israelites were committing to be a gross breaking of their covenant with Him, then He’s not going to change the rules for us today just because we are more modern and more enlightened about these things.
            May God grant us the courage to take a hard look at our attitudes and actions in the light of His Word.  And may we rely on Him for the strength to do the hard thing rather than the easy thing—to take the narrow road of obedience that leads to everlasting joy, rather than the wide road of convenience and expediency that leads to judgment and death.

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About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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