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Malachi 2:1-16



Priests To Be Disciplined Corrupt Priests The Priests Have Despised Their God and Their Solemn Vocation
The Lord Reprimands the Priests
An Indictment of the Priests
2:1-9 2:1-9 2:1-3 2:1-4 2:1-9
Sin in the Family Treachery of Infidelity God Hates Divorce and Demands Marital Fidelity The People's Unfaithfulness to God Mixed Marriages and Divorce
2:10-16 2:10-12 2:10-12 2:10-12 2:10-12
2:13-16 2:13-16 2:13-16

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



 1"And now this commandment is for you, O priests. 2If you do not listen, and if you do not take it to heart to give honor to My name," says the Lord of hosts, "then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings; and indeed, I have cursed them already, because you are not taking it to heart. 3Behold, I am going to rebuke your offspring, and I will spread refuse on your faces, the refuse of your feasts; and you will be taken away with it. 4Then you will know that I have sent this commandment to you, that My covenant may continue with Levi," says the Lord of hosts. 5"My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him as an object of reverence; so he revered Me and stood in awe of My name. 6True instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. 7For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. 8But as for you, you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by the instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi," says the Lord of hosts. 9"So I also have made you despised and abased before all the people, just as you are not keeping My ways but are showing partiality in the instruction."

2:1 "And now this commandment is for you, O priests" Malachi had been addressing priests from 1:6 and will continue to do so through 2:9. The priests in the Old Testament had several functions:

1. they were mediators between man and God (cf. Exod. 28)

2. they were teachers (cf. Lev. 10:11; Deut. 33:10)

3. they acted as a court of appeal (cf. Deut. 19:17-23).


2:2 "If you do not listen" This seems to reflect Deut. 28:15. Deuteronomy 27 and 28 are a very important covenant summary, dealing with the cursings and blessings connected to obeying or disobeying God's law.

▣ "take it to heart" This speaks of having a proper attitude. A similar phrase is used in Haggai (lit. "set your heart on," cf. 1:5,7; 2:15,18). The heart was used as a metaphor for the entire person. See Special Topic at Joel 2:11.

▣ "to give honor to My name" The term "honor" is the Hebrew concept of "glory" (BDB 458, cf. Josh. 7:19; I Sam. 6:5; Ps. 66:2; 115:1; Isa. 42:12; Jer. 13:16). See Special Topic at Haggai 1:8.

YHWH's name (BDB 1027) is a way of referring to His person (cf. 1:6 [twice], 11[thrice], 14; 2:2,5; 3:16; 4:2). Obedience honors Him; disobedience dishonors Him. Faith and life are inseparably bound together (cf. Deuteronomy 27-28).

▣ "the curse upon you" Curses (BDB 76) are the consequences of covenant disobedience. See Deuteronomy 27 and 28.

▣ "and I will curse your blessings" This refers to either (1) the blessings that the priests gave to the people (cf. Num. 6:22-27) or (2) God's blessing to them (cf. Deut. 18:21).

▣ "because you are not taking it to heart" The problem with the priests was their attitude toward the ministry and the lack of honor to God in their lives (cf. 1:6-10).

2:3 There are four separate rebukes: (l) curse your offspring; (2) spread refuse in your face; (3) spread refuse on your sacrifices; and (4) take you away (i.e., dung pile). Dung made all things unclean!

▣ "offspring" This is literally "seed" (BDB 282, cf. Deut. 28:18). This can refer to

1. children (cf. NKJV)

2. descendants (TEV, NIV)

3.  the harvest (Peshitta, KJV)

4. the Vulgate, NJB, NEB and REB change one vowel in the phrase which makes it read "cut off your arm" (a metaphor for "powerlessness). They were personally cut off from ministry because they were not physically whole.

5.  it could also mean "arm" in the sense of "shoulder," referring to the priests' food being cut off (cf. Deut. 18:3).


▣ "refuse" The refuse or offal (BDB 831) can refer to

1. the contents of the stomach

2. parts left from cutting up the animal for sacrifice

3. dung (cf. Jer. 8:2; 9:22; Zech. 3:3-4)

This term is used often (cf. Exod. 29:14; Lev. 4:11; 8:17; 16:27; Num. 19:5). Refuse was considered unclean and had to be burned outside the camp of Israel during the wilderness wandering period.

This trilateral root has several different meanings (BDB 831-832):

1. to spread, spread out

2. make distinct, declare

3. to issue an exact statement

4. pierce, sting

5. contents of stomach

6. horse, steed

7. horseman

Remember context, context, context determines meaning, not later Masoretic pointing systems!

The refuse of the sacrificial animals was to be removed from the camp and burned (cf. Exod. 29:14; Lev. 4:11-12). The priests and their offerings were considered to be in the same category and were themselves to be smeared with refuse and removed from the camp and destroyed (cf. Nah. 3:6).

NASB"and be taken away with it"
NKJV"and one will take you away with it"
NRSV"and I will put you out of my presence"
TEV"and you will be taken out to the dung heap"
NJB"and sweep you away with it"
LXX"and I will carry you away at the same time"
REB"and I shall banish you from my presence"
JPSOA"and you shall be carried out to it [heap]"

The MT has "and one will take you to it." Obviously several English translations have made emendations. Contact with animal refuse made one unclean and thereby they could not come to a holy, sacred place (i.e., tabernacle). These covenant violating priests could not officiate or even attend worship events!

2:4 The JB, REB, and NEB make this verse negative by changing a Hebrew vowel. However, LXX, Peshitta, NASB, NKJV, NRSV, TEV, JPSOA all translate it in a positive way. God intended His covenant with Levi, Aaron and their seed to continue (cf. Num. 25:11-13).

▣ "covenant" See Special Topic at Haggai 2:5.

2:5-7 Verses 5-7 describe how a true priest should act. He should follow the example of Levi (cf. Deut. 33:8-11):

1. revere God

2. speak the truth

3. walk with God

4. teach knowledge

5. be a true messenger of the Lord


2:5 "life and peace" These were what the Mosaic covenant was meant to give (cf. Deuteronomy 28). YHWH wanted to bless Israel so that the nations would be attracted and come to know and worship Him. But this is not what occurred because of Israel's disobedience (cf. Ezek. 36:22-38).

▣ "reverence. . .revered" There are three related terms in this verse:

1. "an object of reverence," BDB 432

2. "he revered Me," BDB 431, KB 432, Qal imperfect, often translated "feared" (cf. NKJV)

3. "stood in awe of My name," BDB 369, KB 365, Niphal perfect

A proper attitude toward God is crucial. Our religious actions are judged by our motives! God looks at the heart first, then the covenant obedience becomes significant. It is always heart, then life, then perseverance!

2:8 "You have turned aside" The verb implies a settled condition (BDB 693, KB 747, Qal perfect). All of the Hebrew terms for sin reflect a deviation from the standard, which is God Himself. The term "righteousness" means a "measuring reed." See Special Topic at Joel 2:23.

▣ "from the way" This is a pivotal concept in our understanding of God's will for our lives. God desires for us to follow Him in lifestyle ways. That is why in the OT "the way" (BDB 202) was a metaphor for godly living (cf. v. 6; Exod. 32:8; Deut. 9:12, 16).

The same term, "the way," is used in the book of Acts as the earliest title for the Church (cf. Acts 9:1; 18:25-26; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:15, 22).

▣ "you have caused many to stumble" Their basic problem was not only faulty living, but faulty teaching (cf. Matt. 15:14; 18:5-6; Luke 6:39) and showing partiality (cf. v. 9). Godly priests turned people to God (cf. v. 6); godless priests turned them away! They also brought down the spiritual influence of all other priests.

2:9 Because of their actions God will act against these post-exilic priests:

1. they will be despised, BDB 102, KB 117, Niphal participle

2. they will be abased, BDB 1050

Notice that it is YHWH Himself who will embarrass the priests before all of the covenant community.

▣ "but are showing partiality" This is literally "and lifting faces in the law." This idiom refers to a judge lifting the face of someone coming before him to see if he knows the person before rendering a fair verdict (cf. Lev. 19:15; Deut. 1:17; 10:17; 16:19; 24:17).

 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? 11Judah 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. 12As for the man who does this, may the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob everyone who awakes and answers, or who presents an offering to the Lord of hosts." 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. 14Yet you say, 'For what reason?' Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15But 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. 16For 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.'"

2:10 "Do we not all have one Father" In context this refers to (1) the fatherhood of God; (2) the Jewish nation (cf. 1;6; Exod. 4:22; Deut. 1:31; 8:5; 32:6; Isa. 1:2; 63:16; 64:8; Jer. 3:19; Hos. 11:103), or (3) possibly Abraham (the beginning of the Israelite family/nation, cf. Genesis 12; also note Isa. 51:2) and not to God.

▣ "Has not one God created us" The "we" of the previous phrase and the "us" of this phrase refer to the descendants of the Patriarchs.

Joyce G. Baldwin, in the Tyndale OT Commentary Series by IVP, notes that this same verb, "create" (BDB 135, KB 153) is also mentioned in Deut. 32:6, as is the concept of "fatherhood" (p. 237). I really enjoy the comments of this commentator!

Malachi (like all the prophets) is a covenant mediator (cf. Fee and Stuart, How To Read the Bible For All Its Worth, pp. 181-204). They all go back to the Mosaic covenant and demand obedience and heart-felt fidelity. See Introductory Article on Prophecy.

▣ "Why do we deal treacherously each against his brother" This is a strong verb (BDB 93, KB 108, Qal imperfect, cf. I Sam. 14:33; Ps. 78:57; Isaiah 24 [esp. v. 16]). Our love for God is seen in the treatment of our brothers (cf. Exod. 20:17ff.; Deut. 5). In this context, they are polluting the national faith by marrying pagan women.

2:11 "Judah. . .Israel" This reflects the splitting of the tribes in 922 b.c. (cf. I Kings 12).

▣ "a foreign god" Surprisingly in the post-exilic community, there was still this old temptation (cf. 3:5).

▣ "abomination" This is a term (BDB 1072) which is used in connection with idolatry (cf. Deut. 27:15; 32:16; II Kgs. 23:13).


NASB, NRSV"the sanctuary of the Lord which He loves"
NKJV"the Lord's holy institution"
TEV"the Temple which the Lordloves"
NJB"Yahweh's loved sanctuary"
REB"the sacred place loved by the Lord"

The MT has "has profaned the holy of YHWH." This could refer to:

1. the temple (Peshitta, cf. Ps. 108:7)

2. the people (cf. Deut. 7:6; Ezra 9:2; Isa. 6:13)

3. the holy things (LXX, JPSOA)

4. the covenant

5. marriage (NKJV)

Whatever "the holy" (BDB 871) refers to, it is loved by YHWH. The post-exilic community has "profaned" (BDB 320 III, KB 319, Piel participle, 1:12; Neh. 13:17; cf. Ezek. 24:21) it. This strong verb can be translated

1. pollute

2. defile

3. profane

This term is often used in Leviticus in warning about not "profaning" the name of the Lord (cf. 18:21; 19:12; 20:3; 21:6; 22:2,32), but it is Ezekiel that used the term most often (32 times). This is serious rebellion (cf. Neh. 13:23-29).

▣ "has married the daughter of a foreign god" This is not so much an inter-racial marriage as an inter-faith marriage (cf. Exod. 34:15,16; Deut. 7:3-4). Joseph and Solomon married Egyptian women and Moses seems married a black Cushite woman (cf. Num. 12:1). Neither were condemned, nor was Boaz's marriage to the Moabitess, Ruth.

The issue of inter-religious marriage is addressed in this same period by Ezra (cf. 9:1-15) and Nehemiah (cf. 13:23-29).

2:12 "to cut off" This verb (BDB 503, KB 500, Hiphil jussive) usually refers to death (i.e., Ps. 37:9; Isa. 29:20; Obad. v. 9; Zeph. 1:11), but here it possibly means banishment from the Promised Land (i.e., Edom).

▣ "the tents of Jacob" This is an ancient idiom for the people of God (cf. Jer. 30:18).


NASB"everyone who awakes and answers"
NKJV"being awake and aware"
NRSV"any to witness of answer"
TEV ----------
JB"whoever he be"
JPSOA"no descendants"
LXX"until he be humbled"
TARGUM"son and grandson"
NIV (footnote)"anyone who gives testimony in behalf of the man who does this"

This is obviously a difficult text. The MT has "the one awaking" (BDB 734 I, KB 802, Qal participle, possibly BDB 729, "witness") and "one responding" (BDB 772 I, KB 851, Qal participle). Here are some of the guesses:

1. teacher and student (Talmud and Vulgate, KJV)

2. nomads or settlers (NEB, REB, based on Arabic roots)

3. priests and laymen (LB)

4. witness and advocate (NRSV, NJB)

5. all without exception (JB, Translators' Handbook, p. 415)

6. humbled (LXX)

7. no descendants left

In context, this phrase is connected to "who presents an offering," so it must refer to some group in Israeli society, but which group must remain conjecture. As with so many of this kind of unsure texts, the context gives us the gist of the meaning. Number 7 seems to fit the context best.

2:13 "you cover the altar of the Lord with tears" There are several possibilities here: (l) the divorced Jewish wives cry out to YHWH; (2) the rejected offender who married a foreign wife; (3) insincere worship rites; or (4) pagan worship rites for the dying fertility god.

The term "altar" (BDB 258) could refer to

1. the temple (v. 11)

2. the place of sacrifice (v. 12)


▣ "He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand" This phrase has two balanced Qal infinitive constructs:

1. "turn," BDB 815, KB 937

2. "take," BDB 542, KB 534

YHWH, the faithful covenant God, refuses to acknowledge and receive the Mosaic sacrifices of the unfaithful covenant people (cf. Ps. 66:18; Isa. 1:15; Jer. 11:11,14; 14:12). The NT clearly shows the qualifications for effective prayer and worship. See Special Topic below.


2:14 "the Lord has been a witness between you and your wife, the wife of your youth" Biblical marriage is a religious covenant (YHWH Himself was a witness), not just a civil document (cf. Pro. 2:17). We must remember that promises we make in God's name are binding. Marriage among believers is possibly the best human analogy of covenant faithfulness.

▣ "youth" In Hebrew culture a boy became marriageable at age 13 (bar mitzvah), which was also the time of his personal commitment to YHWH and His covenant. One could be called "a youth" up to age 40 (cf. BDB 655).

Marriages were arranged by the parents and the wife came to live in the husband's family home. The husband's covenant requirements were part of his bar mitzvah education and commitment to YHWH.

As a university colleague from India once told me, Americans fall in love before they marry, Indians (and many Near Eastern cultures) learn to love the wife chosen for them. It is not how one finds a wife, but how one allows the spiritual and physical aspects of life, and time, to bind them together!

"you have dealt treacherously" This verb (BDB 93, KB 108, Qal perfect) describes their faithlessness to their covenant marriage vows, not just by divorcing, but by remarrying a pagan unbeliever (cf. Deut. 7:3)! This inter-marriage ban was for religious reasons (cf. Exod. 34:15-16; Ezra 9-10; Nehemiah 13), not racial!

▣ "companion" This term (BDB 289) means "wife" (KB 289 I) and is found only here in the OT.

2:15 This text is extremely difficult in Hebrew. The three major theories are:

1. it reflects the concept of "one flesh" (cf. Gen. 2:23) or monogamy as in the example of Adam and Eve who were meant to have children and fulfill God's command to be fruitful and multiply (Peshitta, NRSV, REB)

2. it relates to Abraham marrying Hagar instead of waiting for Sarah to become pregnant (LXX, Net Bible, NIV Study Bible [footnote])

3. it refers to the oneness of the covenant people

Some rabbis say it is the most difficult verse in the entire Old Testament.

The text is difficult because the key terms are ambiguous:

1. the "one"


b. Abraham

2. she "has made"

a. Adam

b. then from him, Eve

3. "spirit"

a. agency of the Spirit

b. breath of God in mankind (cf. Gen. 2:7)

4. "seed"

a. humans are to be fruitful and multiply (cf. Gen. 1:28)

b. a Messiah will come (cf. Gen. 3:15)

c. a covenant people and from them a Messiah (cf. Gen. 49:8-12; II Samuel 7)

d. this term is also found in 2:3 and refers to children

A good summary article on the difficulties and possibilities of this text can be found in Hard Sayings of the Bible, pp. 349-351.

2:16 "I hate divorce" In context this refers to Israelites of the post-exilic community divorcing their covenant wives to marry pagan women. Divorce (cf. Deut. 24:1-4) is not the issue, but inter-religious marriage!

This statement was understood in the Dead Sea Scrolls (cf. 4 Q 12a), the Targums, and the rabbis (cf. b. Git. 80b) to mean "if one hates his wife, divorce her." This is followed by the Vulgate. The text in the MT has, "he," which could be understood as "an Israelite husband" or YHWH.

Jesus clarifies this point in Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:4-9 (see notes in my other commentaries online at

▣ "the God of Israel" This title is found only here. For Elohim, see Special Topic at Obadiah v. 1. It has strong creator (Elohim) and covenant (Israel) implications.

▣ "who covers his garment with wrong" This seems to refer to a metaphor of marriage used in the OT (cf. Deut. 22:30; Ruth 3:9; Ezek. 16:8). In this case instead of a faithful marriage (i.e., covering garment) there is cruel and hurtful action (cf. TEV). The NJB takes the phrase as "concealing their cruelty under a cloak." This implies that divorce was legal (cf. Deut. 24:1-4), but not for the purpose of marrying a pagan woman!


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. What is Malachi's major complaint against the priests in verses 1-9?

2. In your translation is verse 4 positive or negative? Why?

3. Does the Bible teach that inter-racial marriage is wrong?

4. Why is verse 14 so helpful in a day when divorce is the norm?