Calvin's Commentary on Malachi
    (... continued from file 7)
    Lecture One Hundred and Seventy-sixth. 
     13. And this have ye done again, covering the altar of
    the Lord with tears, with weeping, and with crying out,
    insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or
    receiveth it with good will at your hand. 
    13. Et hoc secundo fecistis, operiendo lachrymis altare
    Iehovae fletu et ploratu, eo quod amplius non respicitur
    ad oblationem, et non suscipitur beneplacitum e manu
         The Prophet amplifies again the fault of the
    priests, because the people, when they perceived that God
    was adverse to them, found no means of pacifying him. And
    when men have an idea that God is inexorable to them,
    every zeal for religion must necessarily decay; and hence
    it is said in Psalm1 130:4 - "With thee is propitiation,
    that thou mayest be feared." As the people then gained
    nothing by sacrificing, they had now nearly fallen off
    from divine worship. This evil, a most grievous one, the
    Prophet says, was to be justly ascribed to the priests;
    for as they were become polluted, how could their persons
    have been accepted by God, that they might be mediators
    to expiate sins and to pacify God? 
         This is the real meaning of the Prophet, which none
    of the interpreters have perceived. The Rabbins think
    that the priests are here reproved, because their wives
    filled the altar in the sanctuary with weeping, because
    they saw that their husbands did not faithfully treat
    them, according to the law of marriage; and almost all
    have agreed with them. Thus then they explain the verse -
    Ye have in the second place done this; that is, "That sin
    was of itself sufficiently grievous, when ye suffered
    lean victims to be sacrificed to me, as it were in
    mockery; but in addition to this comes your sin against
    your wives, who continually complain and deplore their
    condition before the altar of God, even because they are
    not loved by you, as the right of marriage requires."
    They thus refer the tears, the weeping, and lamentation,
    to the wives of the priests, which were so cruelly
    treated by their husbands: they were not able to do
    anything else than to fill God's sanctuary with their
    constant complaints. Hence they render , main oud penut,
    "I will not therefore regard," or, "no one regards;" but
    both versions are not only obscure, but wholly pervert
    the sense of the Prophet. 
         But what I have already stated is the most suitable
    - that it was to be ascribed to the priests that no one
    could from the heart worship God, at least with a
    cheerful and willing mind; for God was implacable to the
    people, because the only way of obtaining favour under
    the law was when the priests, who represented the
    Mediator, humbly entreated pardon in the name of the
    whole people. But how could God attend to the prayers of
    the priests when they had polluted his altar by the filth
    of wickedness? We then see the object of this
    amplification - Ye cover the altar of Jehovah with tears,
    with weeping and wailing. The praises of God ought to
    have resounded in the temple, according to what is said -
    "Praise, O God, waits for thee in Zion." (Psalm 65:1.)
    And the principal sacrifice was, that the people
    exercised themselves in contemplating the blessings of
    God, and in thanksgiving. But he says that none went
    forth before the altar with a cheerful mind, but all were
    sad and sorrowful, because they found that God was severe
    and rigid. 
         And the reason is added - , main oud penut,
    literally, "Is it not any more by regarding," &c.? It is
    easy to see how far they depart from the meaning of the
    Prophet who read - "They shall therefore offer no more;"
    for is this to be applied to God? Others also, who give
    this rendering - "I shall not therefore accept," pervert
    also the very letter of the text. But the most
    appropriate meaning is this - that all wept and groaned
    before the altar, because they saw that they came there
    without any advantage, that their sacrifices did not
    please God, and that the whole worship was in vain,
    inasmuch as God did not answer their prayers. The Prophet
    ascribes the fault to the priests, that God did not turn
    to mercy, so as to forgive the people when they
    sacrificed. With weeping, then, he says, was the altar
    filled or covered, because God received not what pleased
    him from their hand; that is, because no victims pleased
    him which were offered by polluted and impure hands. He
    afterwards joins 
    14. Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the Lord hath been
    witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against
    whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy
    companion, and the wife of thy covenant. 
    14. Et dixistis, In quo (vel, super quo)? Quoniam Iehova
    testificatus est inter te et inter uxorem adolescentiae
    tuae, quam tu fraudasti, (vel, erga quam tu praevaricatus
    es,) cum tamen ipsa esset consors tua, et uxor foederis
    The Prophet tells us here as before how prone the priests
    were to make a clamour, and it is a very common thing
    with hypocrites immediately to set up a shield to cover
    their vices whenever they are reproved; and hence it
    appears, that men are in a manner fascinated by Satan,
    when they attain such hardness as to dare to answer God,
    and with obstreperous words to repel all warnings.
    Malachi has several times already used this mode of
    speaking; we may hence conclude, that the people had
    become then so hardened that warnings were of no account
    with them. But he mentions one particular, by which it
    seems evident that they had lapsed into vices which were
    not to be borne. There is indeed no doubt but that he
    points out one of the many vices which prevailed. There
    is then in this verse an instance of stating one thing
    for the whole, as though he had said, "Your hypocrisy is
    extremely gross; but, to omit other things, by what
    pretext can you excuse this perfidy - that there is no
    conjugal fidelity among you? Were there any integrity and
    a sense of religion in men, they would surely appear in
    their conjugal connexion; but ye have cast away all
    shame, and have taken to yourselves many wives. There is
    then no ground for you to think that you can escape by
    evasions, because this one glaring vice sufficiently
    proves your guilt." This is the import of the Prophet's
         We have indeed seen that the priests were implicated
    in other vices; the Prophet then does not now charge them
    with perfidy as though they were free from other sins,
    but he meant to show, as I have aready said, by one
    thing, how wickedly and shamelessly they sought to evade
    God's judgment, though they had violated the marriage
    pledge, which was wholly to destroy the very order of
    nature; for there can be, as it has been already said, no
    chastity in social life except the bond of marriage be
    preserved, for marriage, so to speak, is the fountain of
         But in order to press the matter more on the
    priests, he calls their attention to the fact that God is
    the founder of marriage. Testified has Jehovah, he says,
    between thee and thy wife. He intimates in these words,
    that when a marriage takes place between a man and a
    woman, God presides and requires a mutual pledge from
    both. Hence Solomon, in Prov. 2:17, calls marriage the
    covenant of God, for it is superior to all human
    contracts. So also Malachi declares, that God is as it
    were the stipulator, who by his authority joins the man
    to the woman, and sanctions the alliance: God then has
    testifed between thee and thy wife, as though he had
    said, "Thou hast violated not only all human laws, but
    also the compact which God himself has consecrated, and
    which ought justly to be deemed more sacred than all
    other compacts: as then God has testified between thee
    and thy wife, and thou now deceivest her, how darest thou
    to come to the altar? and how canst thou think that God
    will be pleased with thy sacrifices or regard thy
         He calls her the wife of his youth, because the more
    filthy is the lust when husbands cast away conjugal love
    as to those wives whom they have married in their youth.
    The bond of marriage is indeed in all cases inviolable,
    even between the old, but it is a circumstance which
    increases the turpitude of the deed, when any one
    alienates himself from a wife whom he married when a girl
    and in the flower of her age: for youth conciliates love;
    and we also see that when a husband and his wife have
    lived together for many years, mutual love prevails
    between them to extreme old age, because their hearts
    were united together in their youth. It is not then
    without reason that this circumstance is mentioned, for
    the lust of the priests was the more filthy and as it
    were the more monstrous, because they forsook wives whom
    they ought to have regarded with the tenderest love, as
    they had married them when they were young: Thou hast
    dealt unfaithfully with her, he says, though she was thy
    consort and the wife of thy covenant. 
         He calls her a consort, or companion, or associate,
    because marriage, we know, is contracted on this
    condition - that the wife is to become as it were the
    half part of the man. As then the bond of marriage is
    inseparable, the Prophet here goads the priests, yea,
    touches them to the quick, when he reproves them for
    being unmindful of what was natural, inasmuch as they had
    blotted out of their minds the memory of a most sacred
    covenant. The wife of thy covenant is to be taken for a
    covenanted wife, that is, "The wife who has been united
    to thee by God's authority, that there might be no
    separation; but all integrity is violated, and as it were
    abolished." He then adds 
    15. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of
    the Spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly
    seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none
    deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. 
    15. Et non unum fecit? et exuperantia spiritus illi? et
    quorsum unum? quaerens semen Dei: ergo custodiamini in
    spiritu vestro; et in uxorem adolescentiae tuae ne
    transgrediatur (vel, ne fraudes; est mutatio personoe,
    ponitur enim tertia persona loco secundoe.)      There is
    in this verse some obscurity, and hence it has been that
    no interpreter has come to the meaning of the Prophet.
    The Rabbins almost all agree that Abraham is spoken of
    here. Were we to receive this view a two-fold meaning
    might be given. It may be an objection, - "Has not one
    done this?" that is, has not Abraham, who is the one
    father of the nations, given us an example? for he
    married many wives: and thus many explain the passage, as
    though the priests raised an objection and defended the
    corruption just condemned by the example of Abraham, -
    "Has not one done this while yet an excellency of spirit
    was in him?" We indeed know how prone men are to pretend
    the authority of fathers when they wish to cover their
    own vices. 
         Others prefer regarding the words as spoken by the
    Prophet himself, and at the same time say that there is
    here an anticipation of an objection, and think that an
    occasion for an excuse is here cut off, as though the
    Prophet had said, "Did not Abraham, when he was one
    alone, do this?" For as the Jews might have adduced the
    example of Abraham, the interpreters, whose opinion I now
    refer to, think that a difference is here stated, as
    though he had said, "Ye reason badly, for every one of
    you is led to polygamy by the lust of your flesh; but it
    was far otherwise with Abraham, for he was one, that is,
    alone;" and in Isaiah Abraham is called one on account of
    his having no children. The meaning then they think is
    this, "Was not Abraham forced by necessity to take
    another wife? even because he had no child and no hope of
    the promised seed. Lust then did not stimulate your
    father Abraham, as it does you, but a desire of having an
    offspring." And they think, that this view is confirmed
    by what follows, "And why alone seeking the seed of God?"
    that is, the object of holy Abraham was far otherwise
    than to indulge his lust; for he sought that holy seed,
    the hope of which was taken away from him on account of
    the barrenness of his wife, and of her great age. When
    therefore Abraham saw that his wife was barren, and that
    she could no more conceive on account of her old age, he
    had recourse to the last remedy: hence the mistake of
    Abraham might have been excused, since his object was
    right; for he sought the seed of God, the seed in which
    all nations were to be blessed. Thus far have I told you
    what others think. 
         I thought twelve years ago that this passage ought
    to have been otherwise rendered in the French Bibles, and
    that , ached, ought to be read in the objective case;
    "Has he not made one?" Jerome seems to me to have had a
    better notion of what the Prophet means than what others
    have taught; but he could not attain the real meaning,
    and therefore stopped as it were in the middle of his
    course. He read the word in the nominative case, "Has not
    one," that is, God, "made them? "and then he added, "And
    in him alone," that is, Abraham, "was an exuberant
    spirit." We see how he dared not to assert anything, nor
    did he explain what was necessary. The sense is indeed
    suspended, and is even frigid, if we say, "Has not one
    made them?" but if we read, "Has he not made one?" there
    is no ambiguity. It is a common thing in Hebrew, we know,
    that the name of God is often not expressed, when he is
    referred to; for so great is He, that his name may be
    easily underderstood, though not expressed. It ought not
    therefore to confuse us, that the Prophet withholds the
    name of God, and mentions a verb without its subject, for
    such is the usage, as I have said, of the Hebrew
         I proceed now to explain the meaning of the Prophet.
    Has he not made one? that is, Was not God content with
    one man, when he instituted marriage? and yet the residue
    of the Spirit was in him. The Rabbins take , shar, as
    meaning excellence; but I know not what reason have
    induced them, except that they ventured to change the
    sense of the word, because they could not otherwise
    extricate themselves; for the mistake, that Abraham is
    spoken of here, had wholly possessed their minds. What
    then is , shar ruch? Excellence of Spirit, say they; but
    , shar, we know, is residue or remnant: what then remains
    of anything is called , shar; for the verb means to
    remain and to lean. Here then the Prophet takes the
    residue of the Spirit, so to speak, for overflowing
    power; for God could have given to one man two or three
    wives; inasmuch as the Spirit failed him not in forming
    one woman: as he inspired Eve with life, so also he might
    have created other women and imparted to them his Spirit.
    He might then have given two or four or ten women to one
    man; for there was a spirit remaining in him. We now then
    understand what the Prophet means at the beginning of
    this verse. 
         But before we proceed farther, we must bear in mind
    his object, which was, to break down all those frivolous
    pretences by which the Jews sought to cover their
    perfidy. He says, that in marriage we ought to recognize
    an ordinance divinely appointed, or, to speak more
    distinctly, that the institution of marriage is a
    perpetual law, which it is not right to violate: there is
    therefore no cause for men to devise for themselves
    various laws, for God's authority is here to be regarded
    alone; and this is more clearly explained in Matt. 19:8;
    where Christ, refuting the objection of the Jews as to
    divorce, says, "From the beginning it was not so." Though
    the law allowed a bill of divorce to be given to wives,
    yet Christ denies this to be right, - by what argument?
    even because the institution was not of that kind; for it
    was, as it has been said, an inviolable bond. So now our
    Prophet reasons, Has not God made one? that is, "consider
    within yourselves whether God, when he created man and
    instituted marriage, gave many wives to one man? By no
    means. Ye see then that spurious and contrary to the
    character of a true and pure marriage is everything, that
    does not harmonize with its first institution." 
         But some one may ask here, why the Prophet says that
    God made one? for this seems to refer to the man and not
    to the woman: to this I answer, that man with the woman
    is called one, according to what Moses says, "God created
    man; male and female created he them," (Gen. 1:17.) After
    having said that man was created, he adds by way of
    explanation, that man, both male and female, was created.
    Hence when he speaks of man, the male makes as it were
    one-half, and the female the other; for when we speak of
    the whole human race, one-half doubtless consists of men,
    and the other half of women. So also when we come to
    individuals, the husband is as it were the half of the
    man, and the woman is the other half. I speak of the
    ordinary state of things; for if any one objects and
    says, that bachelors are not then complete or perfect
    men, the objection is frivolous: but as men were created,
    that every one should have his own wife, I say, that
    husband and wife make but one whole man. This then is the
    reason why the Prophet says, that one man was made by
    God; for he united the man to the woman, and intended
    that they should be partners, so to speak, under one
    yoke. And in this explanation there is nothing strained;
    for it is evident that the Prophet here calls the
    attention of the Jews to the true character of marriage;
    and this could not have been otherwise known than from
    the very institution of God, which is, as we have said, a
    perpetual and inviolable law; for God created man, even
    male and female: and Christ also has repeated this
    sentence, and carefully explained it in the passage which
    we have quoted. 
         And here the Prophet sharply goads the Jews, as
    though they wished to overcome God, or to be more wise
    than he; Had he not, he says, an exuberance of spirit? He
    takes spirit not for wisdom, but for that hidden
    influence by which God vivifies men. Could not God, he
    says, have put forth his spirit to create many wives for
    one man? but his purpose was to create one pair; to make
    man a husband and a wife: as God then was not without a
    remaining Spirit, and yet did not exceed this measure; it
    hence follows, that the law of marriage is violated, when
    man seeks for himself many wives. The meaning of the
    Prophet is now, I think, sufficiently clear. 
         It follows, And wherefore one, , vame, eached? The
    interrogatory particle , me, refers to the cause, end,
    form, or manner; we may therefore properly render it, For
    what, or wherefore, has God made one? even to seek the
    seed of God. The seed of God is to be taken for what is
    legitimate; for what is excellent is often called God in
    Hebrew, and also what is free from all vice and blemish.
    He sought then the seed of God, that is, he instituted
    marriage, that legitimate and pure offspring might be
    brought forth. Hence then the Prophet indirectly shows,
    that all are spurious who proceed from polygamy, because
    they cannot be deemed legitimate children; nor ought any
    to be so counted but those who are born according to
    God's institution. When a husband violates his pledged
    faith to his wife, and takes another; as he subverts the
    ordinance of marriage, so he cannot be a legitimate
    father. We now perceive why the Prophet says, that it was
    God's purpose to unite only one wife to one man, in order
    that they might beget legitimate offspring, for he shows
    by the effect how frivolous were the evasions which the
    Jews had recourse to; for however they might contend,
    their very offspring would prove them liars, as it would
    be spurious. 
         He then draws this conclusion, Therefore, watch ye
    over your spirit; that is, " Take heed lest any should
    deceive the wife of his covenant." After having shown how
    perversely they violated the marriage vow who rushed into
    polygamy, he here counsels and exhorts them; and this is
    the best mode of teaching, to show first what is right
    and lawful, and then to add exhortations. The Prophet
    then endeavoured first to convince the Jews that they
    were guilty of a nefarious crime: for otherwise his
    exhortation would not have been received, as they would
    have always a ready objection, "It is lawful for us to do
    so, for we follow the example of our father Abraham; and
    further, this has been permitted for a long time, and God
    would have never suffered it, were it wrong, to prevail
    for so many ages among the people: it hence follows, that
    thou condemnest what is lawful." It was necessary, in the
    first place, to remove all these false pretences: then
    follows the exhortation in its proper order, Watch over
    your spirit; for he speaks of what has been, as it were,
    sufficiently proved. It now follows 
    16 For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth
    putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment,
    saith the Lord of hosts; therefore take heed to your
    spirit, that ye deal not treacherously. 
    16 Si odio habeas (quisque odio habet,) dimittat (i.e.,
    uxorem) dicit Iehovah Deus Israel; et operit, (vel,
    texit) violentiam sub vestimento suo, dicit Iehovah
    exercituum: ergo custodiamini in spiritu vestro et ne
         Here again the Prophet exaggerates the crime which
    the priests regarded as nothing; for he says, that they
    sinned more grievously than if they had repudiated their
    wives. We indeed know that repudiation, properly
    speaking, had never been allowed by God; for though it
    was not punished under the law, yet it was not permitted.
    It was the same as with a magistrate, who is constrained
    to bear many things which he does not approve; for we
    cannot so deal with mankind as to restrain all vices. It
    is indeed desirable, that no vice should be tolerated;
    but we must have a regard to what is possible. Hence
    Moses has specified no punishment, according to the
    heinousness of the crime, if one repudiated his wife; and
    yet it was never permitted. 
         But if a comparison be made, Malachi says, that it
    is a lighter crime to dismiss a wife than to marry many
    wives. We hence learn how abominable polygamy is in the
    sight of God. I do not consider polygamy to be what the
    foolish Papists have made it, who call not those
    polygamists who have many wives at the same time, but
    those who marry another when the former one is dead. This
    is gross ignorance. Polygamy, properly so called, is when
    a person takes many wives, as it was commonly done in the
    East: and those nations, we know, have always been
    libidinous, and never observe the marriage vow. As then
    their lasciviousness was so great that they were like
    brute beasts, every one married several wives; and this
    abuse continues at this day among the Turks and the
    Persian and other nations. Here, however, where God
    compares polygamy with divorce, he says that polygamy is
    the worse and more detestable crime; for the husband
    impurely connects himself with another woman, and then,
    not only deals unfaithfully with his wife to whom he is
    bound, but also forcibly detains her: thus his crime is
    doubled. For if he replies and says that he keeps the
    wife to whom he is bound, he is yet an adulterer as to
    the second wife: thus he blends, as they say, holy with
    profane things; and then to adultery and lasciviousness
    he adds cruelty, for he holds under his authority a
    miserable woman, who would prefer death to such a
    condition; for we know what power jealousy has over
    women. And when any one introduces a harlot, how can a
    lawful wife bear such an indignity without being
    miserably tormented? 
         This then is the reason why the Prophet now says, If
    thou hatest, dismiss; not that he grants indulgence to
    divorce, as we have said, but that he might by this
    circumstance enhance the crime; and hence he adds, For he
    covers by a cloak his violence. Some interpreters take
    violence here for spoil or prey, and think that the wife
    is thus called who is tyrannically compelled to remain
    with an adulterer, when yet she sees a harlot in her
    house, by whom she is driven from her conjugal bed: but
    this is too strained and too remote from the letter of
    the text. The Prophet here, I doubt not, shakes off from
    the Jews their false mask, because they thought that they
    could cover over their vice by retaining their first
    wives. "What else is this," he says, "but to cover by a
    cloak your violence, or at least to excuse it? for ye do
    not openly manifest it: but God is not deceived, nor can
    his eye be dazzled by such a disguise: though then your
    iniquity is covered by a cloak, it is not yet hid from
    God; nay, it is thus doubled, because ye exercise your
    cruelty at home; for it would be better for robbers to
    remain in the wood and there to kill strangers, than to
    entice guests to their houses and to kill them there and
    to plunder them under the pretext of hospitality. This is
    the way in which you act; for ye destroy the bond of
    marriage, and ye afterwards deceive your miserable wives,
    and yet ye force them by your tyranny to continue at your
    houses, and thus ye torment your miserable wives, who
    might have enjoyed their freedom, if divorce had been
    granted them." 
    He concludes again with these words, Watch over your
    spirit; that is, "Take heed; for this is an intolerable
    wickedness before God, however you may endeavour to
    extenuate its heinousness." 
    Grant, Almighty God, that though we daily in various ways
    violate the covenant which thou hast been pleased to make
    with us in thine only-begotten Son, we may not yet be
    dealt with according to what our defection, yea, the many
    defections by which we daily provoke thy wrath against
    us, do fully deserve; but suffer and bear with us kindly,
    and at the same time strengthen us that we may persevere
    in the truth and perform to the end the pledge we have
    given to thee, and which thou midst require from us in
    our baptism, and that we may each of us so conduct
    ourselves towards our brethren, and husbands towards
    their wives, that we may cherish that unity of spirit
    which thou hast consecrated between us by the blood of
    thine own Son. - Amen.  

    Calvin's Commentary on Malachi
    (continued in file 9...)

    file: /pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-09: cvmal-08.txt