God’s people are a covenant people, formed and kept by God’s covenant faithfulness, and covenant faithfulness should mark us. In Malachi’s day the people were beginning to doubt the reality of God’s faithfulness and love (1:2), yet the real problem was their own faithlessness. Five times in this passage comes God’s repeated charge against his people that they have broken faith. Two (clearly related) issues are confronted in this passage – the marrying of unbelieving wives (vv.11,12) and the divorcing of believing wives (vv.13-16).
The reference in this verse is probably not to God’s creation of the world, but to his creation of Israel as a nation, his chosen people bound to him by covenant. That covenant had huge implications for their relationships with one another and the world. By breaking faith with one another, they are breaking faith with God – the covenant is being profaned.
The issue is not racially mixed marriages (cf. Ruth and Boaz), but religiously mixed marriages – hence “daughter of a foreign god”. Such marriages are potentially disastrous for the believer (so when Nehemiah, Malachi’s approximate contemporary, tackles this issue he reminds the people of Solomon and how his marriages led him astray – see Neh.13:23-27), but Malachi’s concern is that it desecrates the sanctuary because it brings idolatry into the covenant community. It demands the severest response, even though the husband might think it needn’t affect his own faith.
This obviously needs to be carefully applied. Certainly for a Christian to marry an unbeliever is wrong and dangerous, but we don’t excommunicate people in such a position! The New Testament says to Christian wives married to non-Christian husbands, don’t despair and don’t divorce (1Pet.3:1-6; 1Cor.7:13,14). Maybe though these verses should make us consider the effect such marriages have, not just on the Christian, but on the Church (since we are now God’s temple).
The issue here is the divorcing of their original wives. Marriage is a covenant, and it is meant to imitate the covenant relationship between God and his people (cf. Eph.5). Again, the fact that they have proved faithless in marriage has consequences for their relationship with God (v.13). We can’t compartmentalise as we like to do, and imagine that we can disobey in one area of life (particularly such a fundamental one) and for that not to affect our spiritual life.
God’s signature does not appear on the marriage certificate as a witness, but he is both the crucial witness and an active participant, for he makes them one. And his purpose for marriage is made plain (v.15) – not merely the having of babies, but the nurturing of godly offspring. When a father divorces his wife and marries again, he is scarcely helping his kids understand the covenant love of God – indeed it often makes it much harder for them to comprehend it.
Hence God hates divorce, for it seeks to destroy a unity he has made and it undermines his purpose for marriage. And it causes much much pain – it is an act of violence (v.16).
Notice the two-fold warning: “guard yourself in your spirit”, which we should all take to heart, whether single or married.
Obviously this passage raises issues which may well be painful for some in our groups. Don’t lose sight of God’s grace and forgiveness – God hates divorce, not divorcees! And the NT makes it clear that there are (exceptional) circumstances when divorce is the only way forward.