“This is another thing you do. You are covering the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning, because he no longer respects your offerings or receives them gladly from your hands. And you ask, ‘Why?’ Because even though the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, you have acted treacherously against her. She was your marriage partner and your wife by covenant.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
There is great comfort in the fact that Jesus followers are no longer liable to the Law of Moses. If you don’t believe me, take some time over the next few days and read through Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, and reflect on everything you don’t have to do in order to be right with God because Jesus came and did all that He did. That being said, Jesus didn’t simply do away with the Law. He fulfilled it. And in so doing, some parts of it were picked up for application in the lives of His followers. Where the various authors of the New Testament repeat commands from the Old Testament, we know there really isn’t any wiggle room on them for us. This is one of those commands, and it isn’t comfortable.
This section of Malachi’s prophecy is one of the most well-known in the collection. It is the locus of what many translations phrase as God’s most direct statement on divorce in the whole of the Scriptures: I hate it. The CSB that I use doesn’t go that translation route, but we’ll talk about that later in the week.
I have to admit, though, that I didn’t remember these two verses. Have you ever done that? Reread a section of text that you thought you knew well only to find something there that you either hadn’t seen before or else understood in a way you had never thought to understand it? I just taught through this collection last fall with my church. Dig as we might, we will never plumb the full depths of the Scriptures. The deeper we go, the more we will discover. They’ll never get boring. These are living and active words thanks to the Spirit who spoke them once and speaks them still. That’s a message for another time.
Let me get to these words directly by starting somewhere else in the Scriptures. One of the most disturbing verses in the New Testament, in my opinion, is found in 1 Peter. The apostle opens his third chapter by talking about marriage. He spends the first six verses offering encouragement and instruction to Christian wives of non-Christian husbands on how to win their souls without losing their relationship. It’s one of those places where husbands can sit back a bit and relax because we are not in the crosshairs.
Then, suddenly, we are. Big time. In v. 7, Peter turns his attention on us and it isn’t pretty. The summary is this: If you are not right with your wife, then you are not right with God. Yes, it really is that clear. Specifically, Peter says that if we do not treat our wives well, God isn’t going to listen to our prayers. If you are a husband who also would identify yourself as a follower of Jesus, those words should make your blood run cold. Being right with your wife isn’t just a matter of personal convenience, it is a matter of spiritual life and death. It really is that serious.
And if that was the only time something like that was mentioned in the Scriptures, it would be bad enough, but the cleverest among us could find some kind of a loophole. But as I have rediscovered personally here, that isn’t the only time the idea appears.
Verse 13 here is written to husbands who were feeling disconnected from God and were doing everything they could think of to fix that problem, but to no avail. Even their best efforts were not getting the job done. And they were giving it their best efforts. “You are covering the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning, because he no longer respects your offerings or receives them gladly from your hands.” Can you see the picture here?
These men were not taking some kind of a lackadaisical approach to their relationship with God. They were desperately seeking after Him. They wanted nothing more than for Him to receive their offerings and give confirmation that He had received them and that they were right with Him. But He wouldn’t. And they just didn’t understand why. They cried out to Him, “Why won’t you accept us?”
He finally gave them an answer: Because you haven’t treated your wives right. I touched on what exactly they were doing last week, but here’s the short version: Men then were doing what too many men today do. They were abandoning their wives and children in favor of younger, more exotic, foreign women. It was a cultural meme then just like it is now…they just didn’t know what memes were yet.
Remember what we said last week when we started looking at this section? God takes marriage entirely more seriously than we do. We see that again here. These men had dropped their wives like a bad habit in order to run after something new and exciting and different. They did this thing and were now trying to move on like everything was fine. Except, everything wasn’t fine. Far from it in fact. There was a train of victims in the wake of their pursuing their own interests and desires, victims about whom God was very deeply concerned. They weren’t going to be able to move forward in their relationship with Him until they went back and addressed the problem.
The summary here, like the summary for 1 Peter 3:7, isn’t very comfortable. It means this: If you are a husband, God takes the status of your relationship with your wife incredibly seriously. If it isn’t where it should be, He’s going to be looking first at you for a reason why. She’ll have to own her part of the mess, to be sure, but you’re the one who is supposed to be leading the two of you in His direction. If you aren’t moving in that direction, then as the leader, the onus of that responsibility rests on your shoulders. You’re going to have to answer for it first.
It also means this, if things between you and your wife aren’t like you want them to be, the solution to that problem is not going to be found in another woman. I don’t care what you feel in your heart, your heart is wrong and you are with it. If you’ve let your heart be drawn off after another woman because she’s willing to listen and lean into you in ways your wife isn’t at the moment, you’re being a faithless coward and you need to stop it. Be a man–a real man, not the pathetic excuse for man our culture often celebrates as idealistic–own what you’ve contributed to the state of your marriage, swallow your pride, and intentionally start working things back out with your wife.
And if you are going to dare claim to be a follower of Jesus in any even remotely meaningful sense, then you need to understand that if you pursue this path, your relationship with Him is going to be put on ice until you come back and deal with all the issues you have with your wife. You can cry out to Him for help all you want, but He isn’t going to listen. And, the further down this path you travel, the more issues you are going to have to come back and address. The further you go, the harder they’ll be as well. And if you have kids in the mix, you’ll have to deal with that element too. Ask King David how it worked in his family when he had his affair with Bethsheba. Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.
In other words, it doesn’t matter what your heart and feelings are telling you to do, you need to come back and seek to make things right with your wife or your life is going to get a whole lot harder and more complicated. Not just your life, but the lives of everyone close to you. Just don’t do it. There’s no win down that path. There’s just a long, painful string of defeats. The path of righteousness isn’t easy, but it will always be better in the long run. Commit to it for your wife and kids. They’ll all be glad you did.