Malachi now addresses the people in general and repeats part of what he had said in the previous chapter about worship. He reminds them that they were failing to honour God as their Father and their Creator. In the previous chapter, God’s complaint was about the quality of their sacrifices; in this chapter his complaint is about their inclusiveness of false religion into God’s worship.
The way that this had taken place was through marriage to non-Israelite women. The problem is not that they married these women, but that these women had retained their pagan faith. They were not like Ruth who left the gods of Moab and turned to follow the God of Israel. These women are called daughters of a ‘foreign god’. We can read about this situation in Ezra 9 and 10.
Yet the people still worshipped in an emotional manner: ‘You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favour from your hand.’ They sensed that something was wrong, but they were not willing to put the matter right. This was not the prayer of repentance but the cries of regret.
It is not clear if there is a connection between the marriages with pagan wives and the divorces that Malachi mentions. Some think that many men had divorced their Israelite wives in order to marry the foreign women. In any case, it is clear that they had divorced their wives for no valid reason.
Malachi makes it clear that their treatment of their wives prevented the men from giving acceptable worship. This is still the case today. For example, Peter says in 1 Peter 3:7: ‘Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honour to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.’
This chapter reminds us that all of religion is a matter of the heart. This is the case when we are speaking about our relationship with God, with our fellow worshippers, and with our spouses. Love is central to the Christian faith.