Malachi 2:14: “The Wife of Thy Covenant”

By Donald R. Wilson

In the beginning, because it was not good for man to be alone, God took from the side of Adam his own flesh and bone to make for him a helper suitable for him. Then, as Moses wrote, “For this cause a man shall leave (abandon, forsake) his father and his mother, and shall cleave (be joined, bonded, cemented) to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:18-24).

Malachi later wrote that marriage is basically a covenant relationship witnessed by God. A covenant is more than a simple contract; a covenant is based upon solemn promises (vows) of loyalty and faithfulness. This covenant relationship is designed and governed by God, who declares the terms, responsibilities, and conditions. The sexual union of husband and wife affirms and perpetuates the bond of the “one flesh” covenant. That is why adultery is so destructive; it is dealing treacherously with the wife of thy covenant (Mal. 2:14-16).

“Whereas fornication is a general term for all illicit sexual intercourse, adultery is used specifically of unlawful sexual conduct in violation of the marriage covenant . . . In literal adultery, it is the marriage covenant which is violated” (Mike Wilson, Is It Lawful?, Chap. 15, “The Meaning of Adultery”). Every Bible lexicon I have checked agrees that adultery is the sexual sin that involves the spouse of someone.

Jesus taught, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, and shall marry another, committeth adultery against her” (Mk. 10:11-12). Adultery is dealing treacherously with the wife of thy covenant. “For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living . . . . So then if, while her husband is living, she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress” (Rom. 7:2-3). Joining herself to another man while she still has a living husband is adultery because it is a violation of their marriage covenant; it is dealing treacherously with the husband of thy covenant. If a woman should put away her living husband for the cause of fornication, then she would not be an adulteress if she married another man. Her “first husband” is still living, but they no longer have a covenant relationship; he is no longer her husband before God. What appears to be an absolute statement in Romans 7:2,3 is not intended to be absolute.

Another illustration of an apparently absolute statement is this: “Every one who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity (fornication), makes her commit adultery.” Absolutely? In every case? No matter what she does or doesn’t do? Or consider the last part of the same verse (Matt. 5:32), “Whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Absolutely? In every case? What if her own husband married her again; against whom are they committing adultery? (See 1 Cor. 7:10-11.) Or what if she is the one getting the divorce for the cause of fornication? (She is still a “divorced woman.”) Or what if her husband died before she remarried, against whom would she be committing adultery? (I repeat, she is still “a divorced woman.”) Whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery if either of them, before God, has a marriage covenant with another living spouse.

The Pharisees who confronted Jesus with the question of “rights” to put away their spouses were misusing the Scriptures; Deuteronomy 24:14 is not affirming rights to put away your spouse. Deuteronomy 24 is “case law “: when and if this and that happened, then the result is such and so. We are making the same kind of error when we make Jesus’ teachings deal primarily with “who has the right to remarry?” Jesus is primarily teaching the only cause for putting away your spouse and marrying another is if your mate is guilty of fornication (Matt. 19:9; Mk. 10:11-12). Jesus does not specifically state who may remarry! Only by implication, by our own human reasoning, do we conclude that “the innocent party has the right to remarry. ” Jesus’ actual statement is another example of case law: whoever does what I am describing to you is committing adultery (unlawful sexual conduct in violation of the marriage covenant).

1 Corinthians 7:27-28 deals specifically with who has the right to marry without sin. “Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released (loosed, unbound, untied, divorced). Are you released from a wife (loosed, unbound, untied, divorced)? Do not seek a wife. But if you should marry, you have not sinned.” Are you bound in a marriage covenant with a spouse already? If not, you may marry without committing sin.

Guardian of Truth XXXV: 15, p. 464
August 1, 1991