Agonizomai: Malachi 2:16-17 - Putting Evil for Good

Friday, August 21, 2009

Malachi 2:16-17 - Putting Evil for Good

Malachi 2:16-17 - Putting Evil for Good

Malachi 2:16-17 "For the man who hates and divorces, 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." 17 You have wearied the LORD with your words. But you say, "How have we wearied him?" By saying, "Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them." Or by asking, "Where is the God of justice?"

The AV and several other translations render verse 16 as follows:
"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."
In all of these other versions the concept is that God hates divorce. This seems to me to be consistent with God’s character. He is faithfulness personified. His commitments are forever. Marriage is given, in part, that we might gain insight into the character of our God through the "cost" of faithfulness in marriage. I say "cost" because it is our tendency toward sin that makes faithfulness seem like a sacrifice when it is, in fact, a great joy and blessing. It is the norm in heaven but the sometimes reluctantly extracted reality in our flesh. That is why we need God to uphold us even in our faithfulness - both to wives and to Him.

The more modern renditions seem to concentrate on the actions of man rather than the character of God. Thus, it is true that to divorce is effectively to hate, by heavenly (true) standards. It is first and foremost to hate God - and secondarily to hate the wife by not keeping a covenant made with her and her family before God. So no pretense ought to be made in the mind of the divorcer by which the action of divorce is separated from hatred towards the one being divorced. Yes, there are exceptions provided in scripture - adultery and the unwillingness of an unbelieving spouse to live with a converted person.

But even a spouse’s adultery need not be an end if repented of, because it reminds of us how we appear to God in our own whoredoms, and how He is ready to forgive for the sake of the covenant and out of His love with which He loved us before the world began. Perhaps we can find the grace of God to remove it as far as the east is from the west where there is true repentance by the adulterer. Remember the story of Hosea and Gomer.

These admonitions are for the true church. They have no soil in which to root in mere professors. It ought to be obvious that in America the divorce rate is practically identical between professing believers and pagans. Add to this the fact that a vast majority of Americans lay claim to being "born-again" believers and you find an enormous non-sequitur. Is the church apostate? Or is it full of people who never truly believed? Are there mostly tares and only a small remnant of true Christians?

Be careful how you answer. It would be useful and wise to read Ezekiel chapter 36 before being too hasty. {see Eze 36:16-36} Ask yourself Who it is that has both sworn and undertaken to make Israel obedient and holy. And then ask whether God has failed, or if He is able to do all that He purposes among the host of heaven and upon the earth. And if it be so that He is able, then wonder why He has not done so among the many professing Christians in our churches. I think the answer you will find - if you are honest - is that God has NOT failed and that there are many who do not belong to Him diluting the church and, tragically, being made to feel quite comfortable while doing so.

Notice also here the difference between newer and older translations in the emphasis. In newer versions it is the man who does this wrong of divorce that "covers his garment with violence" - indicating something visible that spoils the appearance. But in the older Authorized Version we find that the man "covereth violence with his garment" which indicates an attempt to cover up something by dressing it up to look acceptable. And this concept fits much better with the verse that follows in which it is said, essentially, that evil is put for good by these men. This is a woe. {Isa 5:20}

It would be far, far better to stumble honestly or to sin openly than to sin while maintaining in the heart the belief that one is doing good - that one is still "righteous" and acceptable to God. There is no deception worse than self-deception because both the deceiver and the deceived are fools, trying to outdo each other. This can lead only to death and to willful hypocrisy - the very evil which most seemed to infuriate our Lord. It leads to a man doing evil and actually calling it good and being blithely impermeable to the actual facts.

We all have self-justifying tendencies. We are all inclined to make excuses or to minimize or even to justify our sins. But the true child of God, being indwelt by the very God who is at work sanctifying him and bringing to completion the good work He started, will not lay in this iniquity with an easy conscience and will soon enough be disabused of it with, perhaps, a severe beating. God will not suffer those who truly belong to Him to abide in corruption. Those who do not belong to Him will go from bad to worse, never realizing their error and eventually becoming so hardened that they would as soon call Christ "Beelzebub" than be corrected. Therefore let every professor of Christ examine himself to see if he is (in actuality) in the faith. {2Co 13:5}

God is infinite in power and yet is said to be wearied by all this apostasy, false profession and outright sin. Obviously He is not drained of energy. He is, in fact, storing up energy after a fashion for the inevitable wrath that will be vented upon unrepented rebellion. God is patient but, though He is infinite, He is not infinitely patient. He has set limits upon His patience and forbearance that only He knows, since He alone is able to discern the absolute truth about an individual heart or an entire national ethos. Forbearance towards evildoers will come to an end - both individually and historically. As long as God is glorified by His forbearance it will continue - but when He is better glorified by His justice and wrath then that too will appear.

What these apostatizing Jews meant by "Where is the God of justice" is not the same as what David and the prophets might have meant. They cried out for the God of justice to vindicate the obedience of their faith in Him. They cried out for Him to reveal His righteousness by destroying evildoers. That is not what is going on here. What these men meant by the question is something along these lines:

"We can get away with this evil behaviour that is contrary to the precepts of God because He never does anything anyway. Where is He? If He was truly there He would say something or do something but He never seems to. Therefore we can act unjustly."

It is, in fact, the very antithesis of the Psalmist’s cries. It is rank unbelief actually daring a God they have no faith in at all. Pagans who are resisting the gospel display this sort of attitude all the time. "If there is a God then why does He permit evil?" "Why doesn’t lightning come down from heaven on all the murderers and rapists and genocides?" The lack of such lightning is, to them, proof that there is no God and so secretly excuses their own sins.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for blogging/podcasting these most excellent teachings, Tony. They are direct and totally God-centered. This is a breath of fresh air amidst all the man centered sermons that have departed from sola scriptura. You teach so clearly. My spirit bears witness to the truths you glean from the Word. I'm sharing your page on Facebook. It is a vital word in this time of apostasy.

9:55 am  

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