Chapter 2 starts with an admonition to the priests. It seems they had not set their hearts to honor the Lord, and because of this he will curse even their blessings. The Lord is angry with the priests because they are dishonoring the covenant the Lord made with Levi’s descendants (Aaron, Moses’ brother) as the original priests. He doesn’t say descendants in the passage, but just Levi, which seems a bit strange because Levi (the third son of Jacob and his first wife Leah) wasn’t a pleasant fellow. It’s even more incongruous when we read the Lord’s words:
My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. 6 True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin.
This most certainly doesn’t describe Levi, and can’t refer to any of his descendants given they were all sinners. Can this allude to Christ, the final high priest, even though it is in the past tense? Probably yes and no, as so much prophecy is bound up in redemptive history even while it points to the fulfillment of that history in Christ. In its historical context it likely points back to events in Numbers 25, events most unpleasant and all too common in Israel’s history. The Israelite men were seduced by Moabite women into idolatry by sex, and the Lord’s wrath was turned back by Phinehas, Aaron’s son, but not before 24,000 died in a plague because of God’s judgment. As I said, unpleasant. But here is what he says of Phinehas:
10 The Lord said to Moses, 11 “Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites. Since he was as zealous for my honor among them as I am, I did not put an end to them in my zeal. 12 Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. 13 He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.”
Since the priests in Malachi’s time were admonished for the lack of honoring the Lord, this is possibly a way for the Lord to paint a radical contrast to one who did. Knowledgeable readers at the time would have likely known this. Yet in Malachi the Lord is saying something that can’t be true of any sinful human being. It can only point to Christ, who is our eternal high priest, in addition to prophet and king. In fact the next several verses say they are not doing what’s required, and have thus violated the covenant. There is only one as we know who can and did fulfill all the demands of the covenant, and on our behalf!
The next section of the chapter deals with marriage problems. Not only are some men of Judah marrying “the daughter of a foreign god,” they are breaking faith with the marriage covenant of “the wife of your youth.” In the midst of this the Lord says, “I hate divorce.” As the chapter implies, the concept of covenant, of promises made and kept, is very important to Israel’s God, Yahweh. But it doesn’t seem all that important to God’s people because they so easily break their covenant promises with him and each other. And the Lord implores them to “not break faith.” Unfortunately the chapter ends on an unpleasant note because as we can guess, the people are not going to listen. Even worse they contradict everything the Lord says. He tells them he is wearied by his words, and they are clueless. How can this be?
By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them” or “Where is the God of justice?”
How incredibly, sinfully human! Those who “do evil” cannot by definition be “good.” Even worse, they are saying that the Lord himself declares those who do evil as good. Jesus says we, however, each and every one of us, is evil, and there is not much room for nuance in his statement either. The Lord is wearied because it’s blindingly obvious that we are not “good,” so why do we, and did the Israelites of the time, continue to insist we are? And when we don’t affirm the true character of man, it automatically follows that we denigrate the character of God. But we who are God’s people will resist this very human tendency to judge reality by our own, or other human lights, and depend solely on God’s revelation in creation, Scripture, and Christ!