Malachi 2:16

16 "For 1the man who does not love his wife but divorces her,[a] says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers[b] his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and 2do not be faithless."

Malachi 2:16 Meaning and Commentary

Malachi 2:16

For the Lord the God of Israel saith, that he hateth
putting away
The divorcing of wives; for though this was suffered because of the hardness of their hearts, it was not approved of by the Lord; nor was it from the beginning; and it was disagreeable, and even hateful to him, ( Matthew 19:8 ) in the margin of some Bibles the words are rendered, "if he hate her, put her away"; and so the Targum,

``but if thou hatest her, put her away;''
to which agree the Vulgate Latin, Septuagint, and Arabic versions; and this sense made mention of in both Talmuds, and is thought to be agreeable to the law in ( Deuteronomy 24:3 ) though the law there speaks of a fact that might be, and not of what ought to be; wherefore the former sense is best; and this other seems to have been at first calculated to favour the practice of the Jews, who put away their wives through hatred to them. The Jews were very much inclined to divorce their wives upon very trivial occasions; if they did not dress their food well, were not of good behaviour, or not so modest as became the daughters of Israel; if they did not find favour with their husbands; and, especially, if they had entertained a hatred of them: so says R. Judah F11,
``if he hate her, let him put her away:''
but this is by some of them restrained to a second wife; for of the first they say,
``it is not proper to be hasty to put away a first wife; but a second, if he hates her, let him put her away F12''
and R. Eleazer says F13, whoever divorces his first wife, even the altar sheds tears for him, referring to the words in ( Malachi 2:13 ) and divorces of this kind they only reckon lawful among the Israelites, and found it upon this passage; for so they make God to speak after this manner F14,
``in Israel I have granted divorces; among the nations of the world I have not granted divorces. R. Chananiah, in the name of R. Phinehas, observes, that in every other section it is written, "the Lord of hosts"; but here it is written, "the God of Israel", to teach thee that the holy blessed God does not put his name to divorces (or allow them) but in Israel only. R. Chayah Rabba says, the Gentiles have no divorces.''
But some of them have better understanding of these words, and more truly give the sense of them thus, as R. Jochanan does, who interprets them,
``the putting away of the wife is hateful F15;''
it is so to God, and ought not to be done by men but in case of adultery, as our Lord has taught, ( Matthew 5:32 ) ( 19:9 ) and which was the doctrine of the school of Shammai in Christ's time, who taught,
``that no man should divorce his wife, unless he found in her filthiness;''
i.e. that she was guilty of adultery; though this Maimonides restrains to the first wife, as before: but the house of Hillell, who lived in the same time, was of a different mind, and taught that
``if she burnt his food;''
either over dressed or over salted it, according to ( Deuteronomy 24:1 ) . R. Akiba says, if he found another more beautiful than her, according to ( Deuteronomy 24:1 ) , he might divorce her F16; of the form of a divorce, (See Gill on Matthew 5:31). Those interpreters among Christians that go this way do not look upon this as an approbation of divorce, on account of hatred; but that so to do is better than to retain them with hatred of them, seeing it was connived at, or than to take other wives with them. For [one] covereth violence with his garment,
or "on his garment", saith the Lord of hosts;
as he that puts away his wife does her an open injury, which though he may cover, pretending the law, which connives at divorces; yet the violence done to his wife is as manifest as the garment upon his back: though those who think the former words are an instruction to put away wives, when hated, consider this as a reason why they should do so; because, by retaining them, and yet hating them, and taking other wives to them, is doing them a real injury, whatever cover or pretence may be used; because, if dismissed, they might be loved by, and married to, other men. Aben Ezra seems to have hit the sense of these words, when he makes this to be the object of God's hatred, as well as the former; his note is,
``the Lord hateth him that putteth away his wife that is pure, and he hates him that covereth; or God sees his violence which is done in secret.''
Mr. Pocock proposes a conjecture, which is very ingenious and probable, that as the words will bear the construction Aben Ezra gives, that God hates putting away, and hates that one should put violence upon or over his garment; by "garment" he thinks may be meant a man's lawful wife, which is as a garment to him; and by "violence" a second wife, or other wives, taken to the injury, hurt, and vexation of the former; and the covering, or superinducing violence over the garment, is marrying an unlawful wife, over or with, or above his lawful one: and the sense is, that as God hates divorce, so he hates polygamy: therefore take heed to your spirit, that you deal not treacherously;
(See Gill on Malachi 2:15).

F11 T. Bab. Gittin, fol. 90. 2.
F12 Maimon. Hilchot Gerushin, c. 10, 21, 22.
F13 T. Bab. Gittin, ib.
F14 T. Hieros. Kiddushin, c. 1. fol. 58. 3.
F15 T. Bab. Gittin, ut supra.
F16 Misn. Gittin, c. 9. sect. 10.

Malachi 2:16 In-Context

14 But you say, "Why does he not?" Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.
15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.
16 "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."
17 You have wearied the LORD with your words. But you say, "How have we wearied him?"By saying, "Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them." Or by asking, "Where is the God of justice?"

Cross References 2

  • 1. Matthew 5:32; Mark 10:9, 11; Luke 16:18; 1 Corinthians 7:10
  • 2. [See ver. 10 above]

Footnotes 2

  • [a]. Hebrew who hates and divorces
  • [b]. Probable meaning (compare Septuagint and Deuteronomy 24:1-4); or "The Lord, the God of Israel, says that he hates divorce, and him who covers
The English Standard Version is published with the permission of Good News Publishers.