ONE OF THE SIGNS THAT A culture is coming apart is that its people do not keep their commitments. When those commitments have been made to or before the Lord, as well as to one another, the offense is infinitely compounded.
There is something attractive and stable about a society in which, if a person gives his or her word, you can count on it. Huge deals can be sealed with a handshake because each party trusts the other. Marriages endure. People make commitments and keep them. Of course, from the vantage point of our relatively faithless society, it is easy to mock the picture I am sketching by finding examples where that sort of world may leave a person trapped in a brutal marriage or a business person snookered by an unscrupulous manipulator. But if you focus on the hard cases and organize society on growing cynicism, you foster selfish individualism, faithlessness, irresponsibility, cultural instability, crookedness, and multiplied armies of lawyers. And sooner or later you will deal with an angry God.
For God despises faithlessness (Mal. 2:1-17). Within the postexilic covenant community of ancient Israel, some of the worst examples of such faithlessness were bound up with the explicitly religious dimensions of the culture—but not all of them:
(1) The lips of the priest should “preserve knowledge” and “from his mouth men should seek instruction—because he is the messenger of the LORD Almighty” (Mal. 2:7). The priest was to revere God and stand in awe of his name (Mal. 2:5), convey true instruction (Mal. 2:6), and maintain the way of the covenant (Mal. 2:8). But because the priests have proved faithless at all this, God will cause them to be despised and humiliated before all the people (Mal. 2:9). So why is it today that ministers of the Gospel are rated just above used car salesmen in terms of public confidence?
(2) As do some other prophets (e.g., Ezek. 16, 23), Malachi portrays spiritual apostasy in terms of adultery (Mal. 2:10-12).
(3) Unsurprisingly, faithlessness in the spiritual arena is accompanied by faithlessness in marriages and the home (Mal. 2:13-16). Oh, these folk can put on quite a spiritual display, weeping and calling down blessings from God. But God simply does not pay any attention. Why not? “It is because the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant” (Mal. 2:14).
(4) More generically, these people have wearied the Lord with their endless casuistry, their moral relativism (Mal. 2:17).
“So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith” (Mal. 2:16).