|WHY DO WE DEAL TREACHEROUSLY
WITH EACH OTHER?
Series: Questions People Ask - Part Three
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
February 24, 2002
Please turn with me to the Book of Malachi, chapter Two. This morning we’re continuing on in our series of messages from the Book of Malachi which we’ve entitled, “Questions People Ask.”
Malachi - as the last book of the Old Testament - a minor prophet - Malachi is unfortunately often overlooked. At it’s core it’s a beautiful love letter from God to His people. God calling out to His people - calling for them to trust Him with their lives. In Malachi there is a dialogue between God and His people. During that dialogue there are a series of questions that the people ask God - questions that people today are asking God. As we’ve been going through Malachi we’ve been looking at these questions. This morning we’re coming to the third of these “Questions People Ask.”
If you’ve found Malachi - turn to chapter 2:10 - look with me at this third question. Malachi 2:10: “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?”
Put another way: “We’re all sons of Abraham. We’re all created by God.” Or we could say, “We’re all Armenians. We’re all Christians. We’re all part of a common humanity. So why do we treat each other which such evil - such contempt - so easily disregarding what should bind us together?”
Contemplate human history - the world we live in - our inability to rise above our nature - the struggles we have in our relationships and even in our own hearts - and this question strikes deep to the core of every one of us. It is a question that mankind cannot by itself answer.
In Malachi 2:11-16 God answers His people. God’s answer is an illustration. He takes a real situation in the life of His people and applies to the deeper issue of their relationship with Him. First, we want to look at the illustration, then second we want to see how God applies His answer to our lives.
Here’s the illustration - Malachi 2:11: 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.
Through marriage foreign gods have been introduced into the life of God’s people - Hebrew men marrying women who worshipped false gods.
Verse 12: As for the man who does this, may the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob everyone who awakes and answers - literally teachers and students - those who should know better - or who presents an offering to the Lord of hosts. There’s a consequence. They can’t keep doing this and still come and worship as one of God’s people. This is serious sin we’re talking about.
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.
The people knew they were separated from God. They felt the spiritual emptiness in their lives. They were weeping and groaning and covering God’s altar with their tears. But they were crying for the wrong reasons. They should have been crying and in sorrow - repenting of their sins. Instead they we’re upset because God wasn’t listening to them.
Verse 14: Yet you say, “For what reason?” - Why isn’t God listening to us? - Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife or your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Remember that phrase. We’re going to come back to it: you have dealt treacherously with your wife.
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.
The New International Version translates verse 15 in a way that's a little easier to understand: Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are His. And why one? Because He was seeking godly offspring - godly children of godly parents. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife or your youth. Guard yourself so that you do not deal treacherously with the wife of your youth.
It’s important that we understand the situation - the treachery - God is talking about.
For 70 years the Hebrews had lived in exile in Babylon - as slaves of the Babylonian and Persian Empires. Then - returning from exile - for eighty plus years the Hebrews - maybe only a handful - about 100,000 - this remnant of the Hebrew nation had been living in their motherland.
A Hebrew man - a part of this remnant - one of God’s people - finds a Hebrew woman - also a part of this small group - herself one of God’s people - he stands before the priest - before his family - her family - his nation - and enters into a covenant - an agreement of exclusive faithfulness with that woman - now his wife. A covenant of marriage intended by God to be between a man and woman for a life time.
Over the years - surrounded by enemies - they’d been struggling side by side - rebuilding their homeland and their nation - worshipping God together - raising a family together. Now this man looks at his wife - after she’s spent years by his side - sees that she’s sagging a little here and there - the sun and gravity have taken their toll - the years have been hard - he looks at the young girls of the nations around them - finds a reason to divorce his old wife - literally trading her in on a newer model.
Somehow the Hebrew men expected God to overlook this kind of outrageous sin. Perhaps it wasn’t just the tears of sinful men that we’re on God’s altar. But, the tears and weeping of these betrayed women.
God condemns this treachery. It’s sin. It’s wrong. It will not be tolerated. That’s God’s real life illustration. His application - His practical answer to the question - “Why do we deal so treacherously with each other?” - comes in 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.”
There are two parts to God’s answer that we need to understand. The first is that GOD IS USING MARRIAGE TO ILLUSTRATE OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM.
In verse 16 God identifies “him who covers his garment with wrong.” To most of us that probably doesn’t mean a whole lot. But, to the Hebrew that phrase brought up some very powerful images and emotions. It ties together everything that God has just been illustrating about their sin.
If you turn with me back to the book of Ruth - Ruth 3:9 - the same image is used. As you’re turning - let me share and refresh our memories with the background picture of what’s happening.
You’ll recall that the book of Ruth is about a family that started off in Judah. There was a man by the name of Elimelech who was living in Bethlehem with his wife - Naomi - and his two sons - Mahlon and Chilion. In those days there was a famine in Judah - so Elimelech moved his whole family to the land of Moab - east of the Dead Sea.
When they got to Moab - Elimelech died and Naomi was left alone with her two boys - Mahlon and Chilion. In time the boys married women from Moab: Orpah and Ruth. 10 years went by and then Mahlon and Chilion died.
So Naomi is left in Moab with Orpah and Ruth - alone in a foreign land - with strange customs and gods - without family except her two daughters-in-law. Trying to decide what to do.
When the famine in Judah was over - Naomi decides to return home to Bethlehem and Ruth goes with her. Hungry - homeless - unmarried women - in order to have food to eat Ruth began to glean in the field of a man named Boaz. After the barley harvesters finished picking in the fields - Ruth would go out each day and collect the barley that had fallen on the ground. From this left over barley she and Naomi would have enough to eat.
One day - while Ruth was gleaning - Boaz saw her - fell head over heals in love with her - and as the story goes, marries her. But, before he can do that, she has to invite him to cover her with his cloak.
Ruth 3:9: He - Boaz - said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth your maid. So spread your covering over your maid, for you are a close relative.”
In the Hebrew culture - when a man married a girl, he took his garment, his outer garment, and put it over her. This custom was a sign of covenant - of Boaz’s covenant to protect Ruth who would be his bride.
If you turn forward to Ezekiel 16:8, with the same custom in mind, God speaks to Israel as His bride, “Then I passed by you and saw you, and behold, you were at the time for love; so I spread My skirt over you and covered your nakedness. I also swore to you and entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine.”
God speaks to the prophet Hosea. Hosea living in one of the darkest times of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. A time when God’s people openly rejected God in favor of other gods. God speaks to Hosea and says, “Go marry a prostitute.” Can you imagine God saying that to someone?
“Go marry a prostitute and have children of harlotry.” Why? Hosea 1:2: “For the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the Lord.” Hosea - who represents God - and the prostitute - who represents God’s people - they have children together. Each child bears a name showing that the covenant between God and His people has been broken. Hosea’s wife goes out again as a prostitute and Hosea ends up bidding on her in an auction - to buy back his wife from her slavery to sin - an amazing picture of God purchasing us in Jesus Christ. (Hosea 3:1)
God uses marriage - good or bad - to illustrate our relationship with Him. Perhaps this is one reason why God hates divorce. Aside from the tremendous pain - divorce breaks the covenant.
Adultery is idolatry. True worship is to attribute worth to a real Being, one who is truly there and who is truly worthy of complete devotion and the surrender of our total being - God. False worship - idolatry - spiritual adultery is to give ourselves to something or someone that isn’t worthy of that honor.
Today, we don’t face the same pantheon of false gods - the way the Hebrews did. But, there are rival gods out there - plenty of them - a tremendous number of voices and words coming into our minds all the time - voices that will repeatedly offer us protection and security - to deal with our fears - other philosophies - points of view - offers being made to us from other sources - that would try to convince us that God is really not worthy of our worship - we really can’t trust Him fully with our lives.
Put in the terms that Malachi uses - the illustration that God gives to His people - we are tempted to fornicate with our egos - our pride - our self will. To flirt with the sins of this world rather than maintaining our covenant with God.
The answer God gives to the question, “Why do we deal so treacherously with each other?” is this: Human treachery is a direct result of spiritual adultery against God.
First, God uses marriage to illustrate our relationship with Him. Second, God says, “TAKE HEED TO YOUR SPIRIT.” The way out of this treachery is to pay attention to our heart.
It’s interesting that these verses - Malachi 2:10-16 - are not filled with strong words about God’s coming wrath and judgment. There are a number of places in Scripture where God warns His people against sin by promising fire and brimstone and utter devastation. There is none of that here. Perhaps our loving Heavenly Father knows how painful this is for us - how deeply it touches our hearts. How hard it is for us to hear these words.
We need to remember that Malachi is, at its core, a love letter from God to His people - God calling His people to return to Him.
The Apostle Paul - in 2 Corinthians 6 - speaking of marriage and our relationship with God - Paul writes this, Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness. Or, what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said - notice these words of love and calling to each one of us - just as God said, “I will dwell with 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. 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. (2 Corinthians 6:14,16-18)
All of this may be very offensive. It would be so easy to have our pride ruffled by these words. But please hear this. When God says, “Examine your heart. Pay attention to your spirit. Be honest about your relationship with Me.” Those are not words of condemnation. Those are words of our loving God who is crying out to His people - people cast down in the sin tainted relationships of this world. God crying out to His people, “Keep the covenant. Give your life to Me. Stay faithful to me. Let me put my cloak over you and protect you and be with you through this life.”
_______________________Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.