Problems in Post-Exilic Judah

For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, 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” (v. 16).

- Malachi 2

False worship comes in two main varieties. The first and easiest to identify of these is the worship of false gods. The second variety is the worship of the one true God in a manner that He does not approve. Because this second form of false worship is more subtle, it is sometimes difficult to identify. Even worse is when the strongest proponents of worshipping the Lord in ways that He does not approve are the guardians of worship themselves. In the middle of the fifth century BC, the post-exilic Jews in Jerusalem had to deal with priests who allowed for the sacrifice of defective animals even though God commanded that anything offered to Him had to be blemish-free (Mal. 1:6–14; see Lev. 1:10; 4:23).

Our Creator’s response to this was to warn the priests in Jerusalem that persistence in their sin would lead to all manner of problems for them. Malachi 2:1–9 describes the consequences promised to the priests who were not doing their jobs. God would cause their words of blessing not to achieve the good outcome that was spoken; instead, He would make their blessings into curses that did the opposite. But in Malachi’s day, this was not merely a possibility but a reality (v. 2). God’s blessings were tied to prosperity, so those whom the priests allowed to sacrifice improperly would suffer great loss. Moreover, the prophet told the priests that God would remove them from office if they were to persist in sin. The graphic metaphor of animal dung on the faces of these priests underscores the thorough loss that they would have to endure for their impenitent sin (vv. 3–9). Ezra 7–10 and Nehemiah 8–13 refer to thorough religious reforms that occurred at this time, which likely means that the priests Malachi addressed did not repent and that God removed them from office.

Religious intermarriage was also a problem for the post-exilic community. Malachi 2:10–16 references this reality, describing faithless dealings between men and the wives of their youth. Jewish men were divorcing their Jewish wives and marrying women of other religious faiths. In all likelihood, this had to with money. Given the choice of one’s first wife and a life of poverty in Judah, instead of a secure financial future, the Jews likely engaged in the intermarriages in an attempt to better themselves, since the foreign wives would not have come from economies that had been as devastated as was Judah’s. Choosing money over fidelity to the covenant, the people were looking to earthly provision and not what their heavenly Father could give them.

Coram Deo

Scripture tells us that marrying someone who does not share the beliefs of the covenant community leads to trouble. For example, Solomon’s marriages to pagan women led him astray and gave paganism a foothold in Israel (1 Kings 11:1–8). If you are single and looking for a spouse, you must look for a Christian. Married couples should encourage one another in the Lord. If you are already married to a non-Christian, pray daily for your spouse’s salvation.

Passages for Further Study

Deuteronomy 15:19–23
Ezra 10
Mark 6:14–29
1 Corinthians 7:12–16

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