This sermon is number 4 in a series of 8
Malachi's Modern Message - Part 4
"Message On Marriage"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2005 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
We're turning in the Scriptures again to Malachi's prophecy chapter 2, Malachi chapter 2, and we left off last week at verse 9, and we take up our reading this evening at verse 10 through to verse 16 - just leaving one verse undealt with this particular night, we'll begin at verse 17, God willing, next Monday evening.
Verse 10: "Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers? Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the LORD which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god. The LORD will cut off the man that doeth this, the master and the scholar, out of the tabernacles of Jacob, and him that offereth an offering unto the LORD of hosts. And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand. Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously".
'Malachi's Modern Message' - we saw in our first study in verses 1-5 of chapter 1, the first symptomatic sign of Israel's spiritual bankruptcy - what was that? Well, we found out that it was an insensitivity to God's divine deep love towards His people. Then we saw their second symptomatic sign of spiritual backsliding: God levelled at them the accusation that not only had they been insensitive to His love, but they had actually despised His name. He was levelling that accusation specifically at the priests, the spiritual leaders, the ecclesiastical system in Judaism of the day - and He accused them of being a compromising priesthood. God told them that He had given them His very best, and He asked their best in return - but we found out that they used God's best for themselves, they were selfish in their service to God. Then last week, thirdly, we saw the third symptomatic sign of their spiritual bankruptcy in verses 1-9 of chapter 2, was in the form of God's condemnation of that compromising leadership. He spoke specifically to them about the levitical covenant that He had made with all of the levitical priests, yet they had profaned God's covenant, they had broken the agreement that He had given to them in the ministry wherewith they were to serve Him. We saw last week that in chapter 2 there is a great emphasis on covenants in general - in verse 4, verse 5, verse 8, verse 10 and verse 14 - the covenant is mentioned.
There are three specific covenants that Malachi mentions to the priests within this chapter. The first that we dealt with last week in verses 1-9 was the Levitical covenant that was made, not just with Levi and the tribe of Levi, but also with that great warrior of God, Phinehas. This covenant of peace was given to the tribe of Levi to keep in their priestly ministry. But what we're going to see tonight in verses 10 through to 12, and also in verses 13 through to 16, there are two more covenants that Malachi speaks to the priests about, and that is the covenant that God made with Israel as a nation, and also the covenant that God makes with a man and a woman in Israel in their marriage bond - which is a covenant. That's so important to note at the very outset of our study this evening.
Now if you look at verse 10, Malachi says - of course, God through Malachi - 'Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?'. God is speaking through Malachi to the people, to the priests specifically, about the covenant that God made at Sinai with the nation of Israel. It's spoken of in Exodus 19 and Exodus 20 as 'Israel's marriage to Jehovah'. That is so important, because that's the metaphor that God uses in making His covenant between He, the covenant keeping God, Yahweh or Jehovah, and His covenant people Israel. The picture that is used is an actual marriage covenant between God and his people. But of course the whole story of the Old Testament Scriptures is how this wife of Jehovah, Israel, has been unfaithful to her husband. Right throughout the Old Testament, the major and the minor prophets, we get this continual theme repeated that God's people have committed adultery with false gods against their husband, Jehovah.
We need turn no further than to the prophet Hosea, and as you read that great graphic prophecy, we find that it is none other than an allegory of the way that God, represented in the person of Hosea, God has had adultery and fornication committed against Him by His people, represented by Gomer - the prostitute that Hosea is commanded to marry. There you have a great picture of how God married Israel at Sinai, but God's people have been unfaithful to Him. Not only in the covenant is there this husband-wife relationship, but there is also a father-son relationship. God is seen as the people's father, they as the children, and we've seen this already in chapter 1 where God asks: 'If I be a father, where is my honour?'. In verse 10 we have another question rhetorically: 'Have we not all one father?'. Now some scholars believe that the father that is spoken about here is 'father Abraham', the father of the faith - I don't in particular, I do believe that it's referring to God. It does not speak of what is commonly believed today in some universalist circles as the fatherhood of God over all humanity and the universal brotherhood of man. It doesn't mean, when Malachi says 'Have we not all one father?', that God is the Father of every person in every nation upon the face of the earth, and ultimately that we're all brothers under the fatherhood of God, and we're all on our way to heaven because God is our Father. I believe 'father' here is referring to God, but the context of this verse is Malachi speaking to the nation of Israel. What Malachi is saying is: 'God created you, Israel, He is the Father of the nation. He has claimed you' - as we read in Isaiah 63 and Exodus 4 - 'He has claimed you as His son. You have one Father'. He's saying: 'Have we not all the one same Father?'. The implication of what he is saying is this: when you Jewish men divorce your Jewish wives to marry other heathen women, you're not just sinning against God who is the Father of the nation, but you're sinning against your brothers in Judaism - not just against your wives, but against every person in the nation!
That might be hard for us to understand, but what God is laying down very forcibly for us is a principle that we find in the New Testament that is not an ancient outdated one, but it's applicable also to the church, and it challenges the notion that many have in their minds today that they have a personal choice to sin as they wish, as often as they like, because their sin does not harm anyone else, their sin is personal. It was John Donne who said 'No man is an island', and that is exactly what God is saying here. If you claim to be among God's people, you can't claim not to harm anyone else by your actions - but if you're in the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, or if you're in the church of Jesus Christ in the New Testament, no man or woman is an entity of themselves, we have a corporate responsibility in our behaviour. That is what God is saying when He asks the question: 'Have we not all one father?'. So if we deal treacherously with our wives, with other family members, with other people within the household of faith, we are sinning every man against our brother.
Let me show you this in the New Testament, so that you can see that this applies to us in the New Testament era. First Thessalonians 4 and verses 3 through to 6, and Paul speaks, related to sexual immorality that we'll be dealing with tonight in Malachi 2, but he shows the people in Thessalonica their responsibility, corporately, that they can't just sin personally and expect it not to affect other people - 1 Thessalonians 4 verse 3: 'For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified'. Now look at that verse 6: 'That no man go beyond and defraud his brother' - now Paul is talking about fornication and sexual immorality, but he speaks of the one who is guilty of it as defrauding their brother. Now that seems strange, but it's not when you understand this principle, that no matter how we sin, to whom we sin, there is a corporate responsibility and there is an effect of our personal sin on the whole of the body of God's people that we are in.
That means, put simply, it's impossible to offend God and not to offend our fellow man. In the same way as it's impossible to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and all your strength, and not love your neighbour as yourself; it's also impossible to offend God and not offend your neighbour. Now those priests that Malachi is speaking to not only broke the Levitical covenant that we saw last week, but this week God is laying at their door the fact that they had broken their marriage covenants, not just with the wives of their youth, but that marriage covenant was with the God of Israel whom they entered into a marriage covenant with.
Their sin that we're looking at tonight was twofold, and please don't miss this. You could almost, very casually reading or studying this passage, think that their sin was just one, but it's twofold. The first is this: they divorced their Jewish wives, the Jewish wives of their youth. But the second sin was that they married heathen women, and that was equal to the sin of divorce. Malachi sums it all up in verse 14, and he uses this word several times in this passage: they had dealt 'treacherously' against their families, and against one another in this sin of divorcing their Jewish wives and joining themselves to pagan ones.
Now let's deal with this first sin of marrying the pagan wives first of all. I want you to see this evening, in the light of what God's word teaches not only in Malachi but right throughout the Scriptures, the seriousness with which God viewed this sin of marrying an unbeliever out of the household of faith. Now let's spend a bit of time on this, because it's important that we understand the import of the judgment that Malachi is pronouncing. Turn with me back to Exodus 34, the very beginning where the law is given. Exodus 34 and verse 10, here God legislates that they were to marry among one another, and this was not a racial thing, it was a religious thing. It wasn't physical, it was spiritual. Exodus 34:10: 'And he said, Behold, I make a covenant: before all thy people I will do marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation: and all the people among which thou art shall see the work of the LORD: for it is a terrible thing that I will do with thee. Observe thou that which I command thee this day: behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite. Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee: But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves: For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God: Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice; And thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods. Thou shalt make thee no molten gods'.
God laid down at the very beginning that they were not to follow other gods, that they were not to make covenants with other nations, they were not to marry the daughters of other nations because they would entice them to worship other gods. Now when we turn to the book of Ezra, you will find a contextual background of some of what Malachi is preaching against - both in Ezra and Nehemiah. We'll look first at Ezra chapter 9 - Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, and then the Psalms -Ezra 9 verse 1: 'Now when these things were done, the princes came to me, saying, The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands, doing according to their abominations, even of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass. And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonied. Then were assembled unto me every one that trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the transgression of those that had been carried away; and I sat astonied until the evening sacrifice'.
Now turn to Nehemiah chapter 13, a similar situation, indeed the same, and we see the astonishment of Nehemiah akin to that of his contemporary, Ezra, as he witnesses the same compromise as these Israelites marry pagan daughters and begin to worship their gods. Nehemiah 13 verse 23: 'In those days also saw I Jews that had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab: And their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews' language, but according to the language of each people. And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel: nevertheless even him did outlandish women cause to sin. Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil, to transgress against our God in marrying strange wives? And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was son in law to Sanballat the Horonite: therefore I chased him from me. Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites. Thus cleansed I them from all strangers, and appointed the wards of the priests and the Levites, every one in his business; And for the wood offering, at times appointed, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good'.
God was angry! There was an unequal yoke in Israel, and even the priests were marrying pagan gods! Just like Solomon, one of the greatest kings of Israel, their heads were turned, their devotion was directed from their covenant God and their husband, Jehovah, towards the false gods of the Gentiles. That was a serious sin in Malachi's day, and it's a very serious sin in our day today; because, you see, marriage is not just a contract - and oh, I wish I could assimilate that not only into the minds, but into the language of believers in our day and age: marriage is not just a contract! Marriage, according to God's word, Old and New Testament, is a covenant - a covenant not just between a man and a woman, but God says it is a covenant between a man and a woman and He Himself. But the problem in Malachi's day was that that sacred triangle between a man, woman and God was interrupted, because unbelievers were being permitted to enter into that sanctified bond.
You remember, and I'm sure you recall, that when Diana Princess of Wales was recounting Prince Charles' adultery with his future wife, she said these words in a television interview, citing the reason for the failure of her marriage: 'There were three in our marriage'. Do you remember those words? 'There were three in our marriage' - well, there are three in every true marriage according to God's word, and the third person is not the mistress, the third person is God! Because marriage, properly speaking, is between a husband and a wife and God! But the Israelites had departed from this, they had left God out of the equation, they had divorced the Israelite wives of their youth, and they had followed other gods by marrying other wives!
Now Paul reinforces this truth and principle in the New Testament, a bit like Malachi, by asking five rhetorical questions in a similar fashion to the way Malachi does in his book. Those questions are found in 2 Corinthians chapter 5, you can turn to them if you wish. Second Corinthians, I beg your pardon, chapter 6 and verse 14 he says, first question: 'What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? What communion hath light with darkness? What concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people'. The word of God in the New Testament is this: He takes the unequal yoke more seriously, I would say, in the New Testament era than He did in the Old - because we don't just worship in a temple, we are the temple! That's why he says in verse 14: 'Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers'.
Verse 14 of Malachi 2 tells us why God takes it seriously: because God is our witness, God is the witness in Jewish marriage in the Old Testament, and God is the witness in marriage in the New Testament. It's not just between you and your spouse, it's between you, your spouse and God - and in verse 14 God says: 'The LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth'. You know how, in the marriage ceremony, maybe there is the Best Man, or the bridesmaid, and they stand in a civil, legal sense as a witness to the marriage. God is saying: 'I am the witness between you men, you priests, and the wives of your youth - and I expect you to be faithful because of the covenant that you have not only entered into with your spouse, but with me'.
Now the scene that we have before us here in verse 13 is that these very husbands, probably the priests, were coming before God and they were weeping and wailing as they brought their offering to sacrifice - God wouldn't accept them. We found this in previous weeks: they don't understand why God has taken His blessing away from His people. They don't understand why they're living in the day of small things, the signs and the wonders have all gone away, and as they bring their offerings to God they are crying: 'Lord, why will you not accept what we bring to you?'. God says: 'I will not accept your offering and sacrifice because you have not put away your sins'. They had broken not only the Levitical covenant, not only the Israelite covenant, but the covenant that had been made between them and their wives and God. What God wanted them to see in refusing their offerings was that there were wider implications, even than just for family or for nation, of their idolatry and of their adultery. 'What is it?', you say - look at verse 15: 'Did not he make one?', that could be translated and read like this, 'Did the Lord make husband and wife one? Why? That you might bring forth a godly seed', or 'the seed of God', or 'a godly family'.
Now when we read Exodus 34 do you remember that God told Israel right at the very beginning when He chose them and married them as His wife, that He wanted them to be a light unto the nations, He wanted them to be a witness unto the world. They had been chosen to testify the name of God to all of the universe! Ultimately speaking, as we go through the Old Testament toward the New, we find that Israel had been chosen to be the nation and race that would bring Messiah onto the scene of time. By God is saying to them: 'There are wider implications of your idolatry and your adultery. There are implications for your family, there are implications for the nation, but there are implications for the very coming of Messiah into this world - the holy seed of your Deliverer!'. What am I talking about? God was saying: 'Your pagan marriages and your casual divorce is not only defiling my holiness', as He says in verse 11, 'but it is endangering the promised seed of Messiah'. God says to them: 'You're not just harming your family, you're not just harming the nation, you're actually jeopardising My plan in sending My Son to this earth!'. The people are crying, they're weeping and wailing, saying: 'Why will God not accept our offerings?', and God says to them: 'Because you have broken your marriage covenant'.
Now this series is entitled 'Malachi's Modern Message', and over the last couple of weeks we have looked at how, in application of this Old Testament truth, the church is to function today - not confusing it with Israel, but it is to function today as a light to this dark world, as salt in this dead earth. But we have also seen in application that, just as the people in Malachi's day experienced, we know awful indifference and apathy - and we live in a time, if I could call it, of non-event Christianity, nothing seems to be happening in any ground-shaking manner! We live in a day of little persecution, but even less passion and less power among God's people! Even though we are New Testament priests, all of us, we find that we are not, in the West, living up to the charge that God has given to us - to the extent that last week we saw in chapter 2 and verse 2, that God may even be disciplining us to the extent that He is turning our blessings into cursings. I ask again, in all that we are experiencing in the church in the West today, is God not disciplining us and chastening us, because we have allowed the world in which we live to push us into its mould?
But the specific question and application here tonight is: have we become so like the world in our family life, like those in Malachi's day, that God's purpose in choosing and saving us to be a witness has been jeopardised? Did you get that? The reason why God chose us and saved us and set us apart - if we are following the ways, the principle, the fashion, the lifestyle and attitudes of the world - there is the danger that the light won't shine, that the salt won't work; and the reason why we were saved in the first place, to be a witness, has been jeopardised.
Specifically to Malachi's day was the matter of pagan marriage and divorce, and both of them are major problems in the church today, I believe. The unequal yoke, believers marrying and going with non-believers, and divorce among the ranks of Christendom. Now before I go on any further, touching this very sensitive and controversial subject of divorce, I want to maintain two positions first and foremost - and I believe that whatever your views are about divorce and remarriage, and you know mine well - if you want to know what they are, you can get the tapes, two of them, one on Corinthians, one on Matthew's gospel where divorce and remarriage are mentioned; you'll find out exactly what I believe the Bible teaches on this matter. But without going into all that detail tonight, I say this: there must be a balance that is maintained when we address this subject, and it is the balance between grace and truth - the balance that was found in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Joseph Stowell, in an article that he wrote called 'The Divorce Dilemma', said this - and I believe it's profound: 'We must keep our commitment to strong families, and still provide welcome and support to those who have been damaged by divorce. Grace that threatens truth is not grace at all; and truth apart from grace requires an impossible goal of perfection'. So if we show grace in relation to this issue of divorce, yet it's not grace and truth, it's not grace at all. Or if we show a cold legalistic truth that is absent from any grace, we set up a standard of perfection that is impossible to gain. This is our challenge, is it not, in a world that is wrecked - families broken, marriages severed - to minister the spirit of Christ to them, whatever their circumstances may be, a spirit of grace and truth.
Now what is the truth regarding marriage? We must maintain both the grace and the truth - what is the truth? It's very clear in God's word, the truth of God demands that the biblical teaching of marriage be this: that divorce must never ever weaken marriage in the Christian life - never! We must never dilute the teaching of the permanence of marriage, it must always be maintained - because, as far as God's word declares from start to finish, God institutionalised marriage at the very beginning as His foremost institution. It is true, as He has given His last word in the Old Testament, that He hates divorce, He hates putting away. The Bible emphasis right throughout, we must maintain, is always clear: that there is permanence in marriage, because marriage, as far as God is concerned, is an indissoluble covenant. That is God's truth, and it's not for you and it's not for me to dilute it. But secondly, the other side of the coin, it's not just truth but grace - and that grace demands that we apply these biblical requirements with a tender compassion. Grace is there to help people, grace is there as remedial, grace finds people in the church that have been hurt and scarred by divorce and puts the arm around them, including children who have been affected by it - and grace recognises the wrenching trauma, and we stand beside the victims of this awful plague. It is difficult to keep those two in tandem, I know, but I believe that however difficult this issue is, any solution must have the combination of those two things: the truth of God maintained and undiluted, but the grace of God in its administration and practice.
Now here is my point, in the light of what Malachi teaches, and it's in the light of the fact that even those who have a liberal view on the divorce and remarriage issue - a more liberal view than I have - testify to this fact in the modern day Western church age: that there is an alarming increase of divorce in Christian homes. Whatever your view is on divorce, you cannot be blind to this fact! Not long ago a prominent American evangelical leader made a statement that many believed was long overdue: he told his audience that the biggest threat to the family in the United States is not homosexuality, it's divorce. Perhaps because the homosexual wing has been shouting so much, we have missed this fact. According to the latest polls in the United Kingdom the percentage of Christian marriages that are ending in divorce is around 50% - about the same as the national average. Now that also includes second marriages that have failed, but nevertheless - and I hope the statistics are correct - what does that tell us? First of all, that far too many Christian families are being torn apart by divorce, but this is what it tells us in the light of Malachi's Modern Message: there is now little difference between the way the world lives, and the conduct of those that belong amongst the nation of God's people!
I looked on an atheist website - that's right, an atheist website - and they were commenting on the family bond, and they said - I don't know whether this is kosher and can be relied on, but I think it's very interesting in the light of our study tonight - 'the average divorce rate for born-again type Christians and others are both higher than that for atheism'. Divorce rate among Christians is higher than that among atheists! 'Empirically', they say, 'that means', as far as they conclude, 'atheists are more devoted to each other and commit to a more stable relationship pattern than people who believe in God'. 'Yet', they go on to conclude, 'people who believe in God are the ones who say that they stand for family values!'. They make this quip: 'There is a saying that those who shout loudest are normally the least capable'. Now whether those statistics are true or not, I do not know, but one thing I do know is that the trends in Christendom today are certainly reminiscent of Malachi's day.
Do you remember what they were doing? They were weeping, they were wailing at the altar, there was an outward form of religious rite, yet their personal life was a shame and a disgrace! That is why Malachi, and we, must assert unashamedly and without intimidation from the political correctness in the world or in the modern church, that God has laid down His ideal that marriage is permanent, and that He hates divorce! Now I know that it was permitted in Deuteronomy 24, and that does not contradict what is said in verse 16 of Malachi 2, because the Lord Jesus taught that it was because of the hardness of the people's hearts that Moses permitted divorce, but He concluded 'from the beginning it was not so'. It was not God's ideal, and He goes to Genesis 2:24, and says: 'There at the beginning, before even the fall, the man was to leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they would be one flesh - the two, one flesh - and what God hath joined together, let no man put asunder'. Here we find that God levels at them the same, verse 15: 'Did he not make one?' - that word 'one' is reminiscent of way back in Genesis; God is saying that He has made one wife, one husband, the two are to become one flesh - and it's the wife of your youth, you Jewish priests, but you have dealt treacherously towards them.
Now people say to me: 'But is there not polygamy in the Bible? Is there not divorce in the Bible?' - yes, there is polygamy and divorce, there's polygamy today and there's divorce today; but let us never as the church get to the point of acceptance, where we start to even preach that it's inevitable that Christians should be divorcing. I know it happens! I know sometimes there's nothing can be done about it, especially in this day and age when you can be divorced by your partner and you've no say in the matter at all. But don't tell me that either polygamy or divorce were helpful in bringing God's plans to completion, because they never were. You look at polygamy, it never worked out for God's plan - Hagar and all the rest of them. It's the same with divorce, it never worked according to God's plan, it never brought the godly seed. We have learnt, if anything, in Malachi's Modern Message in chapter 3 and verse 6 the Lord says: 'I am the LORD, I change not' - and if He changes not, and He says: 'I hate divorce', He still hates divorce for the reasons that I have given you, because it breaks this covenant that he has with his wife and with God. But apart from the reasons already given, in verse 16 He says: 'For one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously'. He says that divorce is actually violent!
Now what's He talking about? Well, he talks about the covering of violence with his garment, and if you remember the book of Ruth you will remember that she requested of Boaz: 'Spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman', and this is an old custom where the husband would put his garment over a woman to claim her as his wife. But what Malachi is claiming here is that instead of their garment protecting their wives, they were covering the garment of violence, they were expressing violence towards the wives of their youth. Rabbi Earl Grollman is a professional divorce lecturer and author - he's a Jew of course, and he believes divorce can be more traumatic even than death. You heard that right: divorce can be more traumatic than death. He says: 'The big difference is that death has closure, it is over, but with divorce it is never over'. That is the link between divorce and violence that is explained by Joyce Baldwin in her New Testament Tyndale commentary, where she says this: 'Malachi sees divorce to be like the covering of one's garment with violence, a figurative expression for all kinds of gross injustice which, like the blood of a murder victim, leaves a mark for all to see'.
Now those, maybe even in the meeting tonight, who have been divorced and affected by divorce through no fault of their own, know exactly what I'm talking about: the violence that is wrought on your life for all to see because of divorce. Can I express to you my heartfelt and deepest sympathy? We see that violence expressed even more when we look to the children of families that have experienced divorce. Someone has said: 'Fifty years ago parents were apt to have lots of kids, nowadays kids are apt to have lots of parents'. Studies have shown, and I'm only repeating what research has proven, that children who have come from broken homes are more likely to suffer depression, anxiety, even learning disorders, they tend to be more prone to engaging in drinking and drugs and illicit sexual behaviour. Put it this way: it doesn't help. It doesn't help in a godly seed. Pat Conroy wrote a book entitled 'Death of a Marriage', it was his own personal experience of divorce, and he put it like this: 'There is not metaphors powerful enough to describe the moment when you tell the children about the divorce, to look into the eyes of your children and to tell them that you're mutilating their family, and changing all their tomorrows. Personally', he says, 'it felt as though I had doused my entire family with gasoline and struck a match'.
Now whilst we must sympathise with those who find themselves in this predicament, in much of the evangelical subculture of the West today I fear that there is a growing tolerance of divorce, of remarriage, that ignores not only the violence that it does many times to one of the spouses, but the violence that it inflicts upon the family unit, and ultimately to the witness of Jesus Christ. I'm not wishing to add insult to anyone's injury tonight, but let us say in the light of Malachi's Modern Message, that our emphasis as the church of Jesus Christ must not be upon when we can permit divorce, when we can permit remarriage, when we can or cannot give our blessing to it - our clarion cry should be, as always, that God hates divorce and God has laid down a permanent institution in marriage. I know that it's a minefield, and I know that we have to be sensitive and gracious, and I hope that I'm doing that tonight - but I also know this: our young people are growing up in a world where divorce is in the back of everyone's mind who is getting married as a 'get-out clause': 'If it doesn't work, well, this is my fire escape'. I hope to God that when I counsel young couples who come to me to be married, as I do - and I won't marry any that won't be counselled - I hope I'm vigorous in emphasising to them the permanence of what they are entering into; and they will hear those words that 'it ought not be entered into lightly' or unadvisedly, and they will stand before the judgment and give account of all the secrets of their hearts. But apart from the damage and the violence that it can do to couples and to children, and to homes and to families - what about the violence that it can do to the witness of Christ? That is the chief spirit of the message tonight from Malachi.
Now let me wrap all this up tonight in four concluding thoughts. The first is this: what we have learnt tonight clearly establishes the principle that the unequal yoke, a believer marrying an unbeliever, or I would say even going with them, is a recipe for disaster. The word of God teaches nothing else. Secondly: if you are divorced, there is still grace that is greater than any sin, the sin that has been committed to you, or a sin that you may have committed. I believe there still is a road to recovery, and divorce, remarriage, adultery, fornication, immorality, homosexuality - you name it - none of them are the unpardonable sin. Jesus said: 'All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven of men', that's what grace is all about. If your theology doesn't fit into that, that's your problem. There is grace, and we must show sympathy, and the fact of the matter is: we must waken up to the fact that 50% of our converts, if we get any in the days that lie ahead, are going to come from this background.
Thirdly, if you're contemplating marriage do not enter into it with the assumption that there is a get-out clause. If you're thinking about getting out, get out now while you can, not then when it's too late. Fourthly, if you're here tonight and your marriage is on the rocks, and you come into this place as if everything is all right and everybody thinks you're the most loving and romantic couple - all of us have problems, and you're not any different than anyone else. If the statistics are bore out, some of you here tonight have got those problems too - get help! Get help! As far as is possible, persevere and don't give up to the spirit of the age. 'What is the spirit of the age?', you say. On April 2, 1979, in a radio broadcast, Paul Harvey, with a voice of amazement, reported that Romeo Bittencourt of Brazil had just been granted a divorce. Romeo was a Brazilian farmer, 90 years of age, he had been married 65 years, he had 12 children, he had 50 grandchildren, he had 36 great-grandchildren - what was the reason for divorce? Incompatibility! That's the spirit of the age. Friends, Charles Swindoll, who has a different view on divorce than I have, nevertheless said this: 'Surrendering is not an option if you plan to win a war, or if you succeed in a marriage'. He says: 'I firmly agree with that San Francisco attorney whom I heard say, 'There are two processes that must never be started prematurely: embalming and divorce''. A Christian ought never to start that process prematurely. Someone has said: 'When the doors on a marriage are shut and bolted, and a fire breaks out, all your time and energy goes to putting out the flames'.
Are the doors of your marriage bolted and shut as a Christian, and you have decided: 'I have made my vows before God in a covenant in His sight, in His presence, and I am not looking for a fire escape. I will make this work, and no matter how hard things may be all my energy, both of our energies, will go into making this thing work'. I'm not saying stay in a relationship with a man that's battering you - if that's the case, and you can't survive it, get out of the home, be separated if that is necessary - Paul allows that - but divorce is a different thing; and surely, if anything, one of the reasons why we have a lukewarmness in our church today is that Christians are too easily running, for every reason, for a divorce. What does it do to the testimony of Jesus Christ? God says: 'I am the LORD, I change not', and He still hates divorce.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the fourth recording in his Malachi's Modern Message series, titled "Message On Marriage" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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