How Are We To Worship? - Guarding Our Relationships

Updated: 1 September 2011

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How Are We To Worship? - Guarding Our Relationships

The book of the prophet Malachi, chapter 2, verses 10 to 16

God's Contract with Ancient Israel

(an ancient clay contract tablet)

Way back in Genesis the one true and living God, the creator of the ends of the earth Isaiah 40:28 chose one nation to reveal Himself to, as a special people. He made a contract with them; 'follow Me, and I will greatly bless you, and make you a light to the nations Genesis 12:2-3 - reject Me, the fountain of living waters, and I will reject you Jeremiah 2:3.'

The promised blessings were very, very good - eg, Deuteronomy 33:26-29

26 "There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides across the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty.

27 The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. He will drive out your enemies before you, saying, 'Destroy them!' 28 So Israel will live in safety; Jacob will dwell secure in a land of grain and new wine, where the heavens drop dew. 29 Blessed are you, Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will tread on their heights."

Would they follow Him and love Him, and show Him to a world of crumbling, desperate humanity? Sadly, they did not. They rebelled, they forgot, they pretended, and at last were carted away as slaves by the Assyrian and Babylonian empires.

Fresh Start, Same Ending

Malachi gave God's message to the people of Judah (the southern kingdom in the divided Israel after Solomon's time). This happened about 100 years after their return from exile, and about 300 years before the birth of Jesus the Messiah.

The people had made a fresh start under Nehemiah and Ezra, but it had all come to nothing. O yes, they observed the outer husk of religious ritual, but in their hearts they were despising God's kingship, and each was trying to set up his own kingdom of self at the expense of others. You can read all about it in Malachi 1:1-2:9. There we see how the religious leaders, the priests, had become corrupt and were not keeping God's covenant-contract.

But Wait, There's More...

It wasn't just greed for money and prestige. Look at Malachi 2:10-16

10 Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our ancestors by being unfaithful to one another? 11 Judah has been unfaithful. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the LORD loves by marrying women who worship a foreign god.
12 As for the man who does this, whoever he may be, may the LORD remove him from the tents of Jacob - even though he brings an offering to the LORD Almighty.
13 Another thing you do: You flood the LORD's altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer looks with favor on your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands.
14 You ask, "Why?" It is because the LORD is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.
15 Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.
16 "The man who hates and divorces his wife," says the LORD, the God of Israel, "does violence to the one he should protect," says the LORD Almighty.
So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.

What is going on here, in this dog-eat-dog society? ("Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another?").

In a word, lust, for religious and sexual novelty & excitement (and these were intimately linked in the cultures of Israel's pagan neighbours - see Leviticus 18:21, Deuteronomy 12:31, 2Kings 3:27, 16:3, 2 Chronicles 28:3, Psalm 10634-39, Isaiah 57, Jeremiah 19:5, Ezekiel 16, Revelation 2:14). This time it is not said of the priests, but of the people in general. It is "Judah", that is, the whole nation, that have been unfaithful (verse 11).

There are two things that they are doing that stink in God's nostrils. They are marrying pagan wives and divorcing their Israelite wives.

Marrying Pagan Wives - Malachi 2:10-12

God says this was detestable? Why?

You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons,
4 for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the LORD would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly.
Deuteronomy 7:3-4 NIV

This prohibition is repeated many times in the Old Testament. It had nothing to do with race, or any idea of superiority, but simply from the fact (demonstrated so often in the history of Israel) that such marriages almost always lead to worshipping the pagan gods (typically Baal, god of storms and rain, and Astarte, goddess of sex and fertility) with their heady mix of ritual sex (see Leviticus 18) and child sacrifices (Deuteronomy 18:10, Leviticus 18:21). Exciting stuff, yes! but evil stuff, and hateful to the one true and living God, Who designed sex as the bond of marriage and children as His heritage, and both precious.

Such pagan worship had been a snare for Israel ever since they came out of Egypt (see Exodus 32 and the golden calf idol they made), and was carefully and repeatedly condemned by the Lord God, and Israel was repeatedly commanded to avoid like the plague.

In adopting these pagan practices, and grafting them on to their so-called worship of the true and living God, the people of Israel broke many of the Ten Commandments, and thus "profaned the covenant" v10 and "desecrated the Sanctuary the Lord loves" v11.

They broke:-

21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
Romans 1:21-25 NIV

What are the lessons for us in the 21st century? Do we have to worry about lapsing into pagan idolatry? The answer lies in Paul's letter to the Corinthians (a city notorious for its sexual permissiveness and idolatry).

6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: "The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry." 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did - and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test Christ, as some of them did - and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did - and were killed by the destroying angel. 11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! 1 Corinthians 10:6-8 NIV
"14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality." (NIV) (remember, this was in the Christian church at Pergamum. The same thing had crept into the church at Thyatira, see Revelation 2:20-21.)

Divorcing Israelite Wives - Malachi 2:13-16

13 Another thing you do: You flood the LORD's altar with tears. v13

They were weeping over the altar, but their tears were like those of the fabled crocodile, weeping as it devours its victim! Real "crocodile tears", for they wept because God was refusing to bless them (and not because they had offended Him).


Not only were the Israelite men marrying exotic pagan wives (with the relish of pagan worship on offer) some were divorcing their Israelite wives. For some the two were probably linked - out with the old, and in with the new! "The wife of my youth is getting wrinkles - I'll just trade her in on a young and pretty one" and ignoring the wisdom of God:-

18 May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.19 A loving doe, a graceful deer- may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love.
20 Why, my son, be intoxicated with another man's wife? Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman? Proverbs 5:18-20 NIV

Divorce among the Israelites was rampant - a husband could divorce her for the most trivial and heartless reasons (see Jesus' words in Matthew 19:3-9 to see how easy it had become - his disciples were amazed, v10, because they took it for granted that divorce was easy "for any and every reason" v3)

By marrying pagan wives they were breaking their contract (or covenant) with God. By divorcing their original wives they were cruelly breaking their marriage contracts, bringing misery to "the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant". Malachi 2:14

(Jewish marriage contract)

God Himself, who invented and sanctifies marriage, is grieved by such divorce, by the man who "does violence to the one he should protect" v16. God made them both, husband and wife, and they belong to Him. "What He has joined together", said Jesus, "let not man separate". Matthew 19:6. Listen to what old Matthew Henry said on the beauty of man-woman marriage:-

"The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved."

Divorce among Christians is sadly common today. Sometimes it is humanly unavoidable - the damage from staying together exceeds that caused by separating. South African Bishop Frank Reteif, in his book Divorce, out of long pastoral experience, says that divorce should be seen as a last resort, but it is still a resort - "some marriages can't be saved".

Among the Israelites, a husband was bound to supply his wife's needs for food, shelter, clothing, security, affection and sexual love. To repeatedly and blatantly fail in these things is to break the marriage contract. The husband is then guilty of at least one of the three "A"s - Abuse, Adultery or Abandonment. If he will not repent, seek reconciliation and demonstrate his reform, there is no hope for that marriage.

Sadly, it is so often the children that suffer

One of the reasons God gives for marriage is "godly offspring" v15 - a man and woman who both honour and love God, bringing up children in a safe and loving home, that they might in turn trust in God. That is partly why divorce, even when it is of a marriage shattered by abuse, is more like the amputation of a leg than it is like the dissolving of a business partnership (but like amputation, sometimes essential to save life.)

What are the lessons for us?


What has all this got to do with "How are we to worship?"?

Simply this - our "Worship" will be a pretence, just play-acting, if we are faithless in our relationships, dishonouring God and hurting others who we are bound to love and protect. Such worship is not acceptable to God.

20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 1 John 4:20 NIV
35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" $$37 Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'38 This is the first and greatest commandment.$$39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'
40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." Matthew 22:35-37 NIV

May God help us all to choose well, to stick like super-glue to Him, and then to stick like glue to the wife or husband of our youth.


Isaiah 40:28 NIV

28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.

Genesis 12:1-3 NIV

1 The LORD had said to Abram, "Go from your country, your people and your father's household to the land I will show you. 2 "I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

Jeremiah 2:11-25 NIV

11 Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols. 12 Be appalled at this, you heavens, and shudder with great horror," declares the LORD. 13 "My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. 14 Is Israel a servant, a slave by birth? Why then has he become plunder? 15 Lions have roared; they have growled at him. They have laid waste his land; his towns are burned and deserted. 16 Also, the men of Memphis and Tahpanhes have cracked your skull. 17 Have you not brought this on yourselves by forsaking the LORD your God when he led you in the way? 18 Now why go to Egypt to drink water from the Nile? And why go to Assyria to drink water from the Euphrates? 19 Your wickedness will punish you; your backsliding will rebuke you. Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the LORD your God and have no awe of me," declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty. 20 "Long ago you broke off your yoke and tore off your bonds; you said, 'I will not serve you!' Indeed, on every high hill and under every spreading tree you lay down as a prostitute. 21 I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine? 22 Although you wash yourself with soap and use an abundance of cleansing powder, the stain of your guilt is still before me," declares the Sovereign LORD. 23 "How can you say, 'I am not defiled; I have not run after the Baals'? See how you behaved in the valley; consider what you have done. You are a swift she-camel running here and there, 24 a wild donkey accustomed to the desert, sniffing the wind in her craving- in her heat who can restrain her? Any males that pursue her need not tire themselves; at mating time they will find her. 25 Do not run until your feet are bare and your throat is dry. But you said, 'It's no use! I love foreign gods, and I must go after them.'

Westminster Dictionary of the Bible article 'BAAL'

"... Baal worship apparently had its origin in the belief that every tract of ground owed its productivity to a supernatural being, or Baal, that dwelt there. The farmers probably thought that from the Baalim, or fertility gods, of various regions came the increase of crops, fruit and cattle ... The worship of Baal was accompanied with lascivious rites (1 Kings 14:24), the sacrifice of children in the fire by parents (Jer.19:5), and kissing the image (1 Kings 19:18; Hos 13:2). Baal was often associated with the goddess Astoreth (Judg.2:13), and in the vicinity of his altar there was often an Asherah. (Judg.6:30; 1 Kings 16:32-33,R.V.)"


by Frank Reteif, Christian Focus Publications, ISBN 1-85792-421-5

This is the best book I've read on the difficult subject of divorce. From the back cover "Hope for the Hurting".

"This is not an exhaustive book delving into the minutiae of textual argument. People with marriage problems don't usually reach for such books! What makes this book virtually unique is that it is addressed to the ordinary person. It is eminently readable and biblically reliable. In my opinion it is and will remain a classic of pastoral theology..." Dr Tony Sargent

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