In my morning devotions, I’ve been reading from Malachi. This morning’s reading brought me to Malachi 2:16, which in the NIV reads:
“I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as with his garment,” says the Lord Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.”
This passage is actually a bit hard to understand. The first part is not so hard, but the second part is confusing (“a man’s covering himself with violence as with his garment”). One thing that often helps is to look at other translations and this passage is no exception. I believe the translation in the English Standard Version is easier to understand and is closest to the intended meaning. It reads:
“For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”
This way of translating and interpreting the passage actually works better in the context of the whole passage. In verse 13 of this chapter the writer speaks of flooding the Lord’s altar with tears, and wailing while the Lord refuses their sacrifices. He tells them this is because they have broken faith with the wives of their youth (Malachi 2:14). God is bearing witness against them for their mistreatment of their wives in putting them away and not remaining faithful to them.
This helps to understand the portion about covering one’s garments with violence. God is saying, “I do not hear your prayers or receive your covenant sacrifices, because I am bearing witness to the violation of your marital covenant.” Interestingly, this same sentiment is found in 1 Peter 3:7 (ESV):
“ Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”
Don’t get upset about the term “weaker vessel” and don’t misapply it. This is not saying she is weaker. It is not a statement of a fact, but a statement of how a husband should care for and protect his wife. If you have two vessels, one of stone and the other of fine thin ceramic, you will treat one with greater care. Interestingly, the one treated with greater care is also the one that is the most precious.
Another passage to consider in this is Jesus words about forgiveness found in Matthew 6:14-16, which reads:
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Jesus even gives a parable about a man seeking forgiveness, but then refusing to extend it to another. Imagine wanting the Lord to forgive us, but not being willing to forgive another. In the same way here we see husbands wanting to enjoy the benefits of their covenant with God, but refusing to follow their covenant with their wives.
Malachi is telling us that a husband who violates his covenant with his wife is harming himself. Funny, because most husbands think they will be happier with someone else, or without the responsibility of marriage. God is saying they will benefit from faithfulness. Unfaithfulness is harmful not only to the victim but just as harmful to the perpetrator.
But what does this unfaithfulness entail? In the NIV and some translations the word is “divorce.” In the KJV and some others the word is “put away” or “separate.” The word used actually means to divide from. This means that a husband who divides from his wife in violation of their covenant brings harm upon himself. Now, this should make us ask what sort of unity is entailed in the covenant relationship between a husband and wife, so that we can know what exactly a violation is.
Since the covenant is one of unity and oneness, in flesh, life and being, this violation of the covenant would be a refusal to protect the wife, or the relationship. Besides, divorce or physical separation, this would include abuse, sexual unfaithfulness, emotional distance, inconsideration. There are many ways to harm the covenant, and all are an abomination to the Lord. Anything that divides a husband and wife is abominable.
We husbands are commanded to love our wives as Christ loved the Church (Ephesians 5:25) and to work hard to encourage, equip and strengthen her. Keep the covenant with your wife, whatever the cost.