The teaching of Malachi 2:10-16 contains some of the most forceful teaching in the Bible on divorce and remarriage. This is why so many contemporary books on marriage, which want to move the church to a more permissive attitude in this area, ignore the passage. But ignoring Malachi’s teaching is part of the problem. In Malachi’s day there were clearly many divorces – and mixed marriages of God’s people with unbelievers, which is a matter related to divorce. But what made the problem so terrifying is that this very problem existed among the priests, who should have resisted the breakdowns of godly homes in Israel but who were in fact actually encouraging them.
Malachi words his condemnation of mixed marriages and divorce broadly to include laypeople as well as priests. But he has just been talking about the sins of the priests, and we are no doubt to assume that this also was among their faults. The loose morality of Malachi’s day was greatly compounded by the permissive attitude toward and sometimes participation in divorce by God’s priests. The application I want to make is that this is precisely the case today even in so-called evangelical circles.
In preparation for this lesson I have reread in part a sizable collection of contemporary books on marriage, divorce, and remarriage, and my impression is that in all but a very few cases the overall tendency of the books is to lower the standards previous generations have set and propose that the world’s contemporary low practices are not so bad after all. One writer has even gone so far as to suggest that remarriage, even when there have been unbiblical grounds for divorce, is desirable. I think this is sinful and tragic.
Let me acknowledge that there are ambiguities in some cases. And there are cases where remarriage is permissible. Jesus spoke of Moses granting the right of divorce because of the hardness of the people’s hearts (Matt. 19:8). Paul recognized that there are cases in which an unbelieving spouse may depart from the marriage and that nothing can be done to bring the spouse back. In that case the believer is not in the wrong and is not bound to the marriage (1 Cor. 7:15). Jesus spoke of the possibility of divorce for the cause of fornication (Matt. 5:32). I believe that in the case of a person who was married and divorced and then, subsequent to the divorce, became a Christian, it is right for him or her to marry again for the first time as a Christian, since “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17). Unfortunately, these few and carefully qualified exceptions have been used to excuse almost anything and open the door to remarriages which in the vast majority of cases must be judged offensive to God on the basis of Malachi 2:16 and other passages.