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Before You Leave Your Wife

I used to wonder why so many marriages ended in divorce. Why so many of my friends through grade school, high school, and college were the children of divorce. And then in the years after college, why so many of my peers had already been divorced.

And then I married. And like any other married person, I suddenly felt how painfully hard communication can be between a man and a woman. I groaned over how grueling decision-making often became. I saw how marriage drew more sin out of me than any other relationship had before. I was confronted with how proud, defensive, and sensitive I can be when I am sinned against. I stumbled into all the typical (and explosive) marital land mines — budget, schedule, cleanliness, conflict, in-laws. I began to trace just how much our family backgrounds were shaping (and often straining) our new family.

Dating had sweetly accentuated our similarities; marriage profoundly stressed our differences. What had felt so compatible, so safe, so, well, easy at the altar, suddenly felt, at times, impossible. In other words, we discovered why many people get divorced.

And while the number of divorces has swelled in recent years, at least in America, temptations to give up and abandon our vows are almost as old as marriage itself. Since that first husband and first wife tasted the awful fruit of sin, Satan has seeded the thought that divorce might actually be better than marriage — that, whatever God might have said about marriage, surely he would understand why it would be different in our case.

God confronts temptations toward divorce directly with a tough but hope-filled word through the prophet Malachi, a place we may not think to look for marriage counsel and clarity. I don’t intend to address here husbands who have suffered adultery or abandonment. The men in Malachi’s day, and the men I have in mind, were husbands whose love had grown cold. They left because they thought another woman, another marriage, another life might finally satisfy them.

Five Wakeup Calls from God
The minor prophet Malachi gives us a surprisingly clear and profound (and often overlooked) vision for marriage.

“Sinfulness in marriage always begins with sinfulness in our relationship with God.”
In Malachi’s day, husbands in Israel were divorcing their wives because their hearts had grown cold (Malachi 2:16), and because many of them wanted to marry foreign women (Malachi 2:11). Why foreign women? “After the return from exile in Babylon, Judah was a small, disadvantaged region of the Persian Empire, surrounded by much more powerful neighbors. In such a situation, marriage connections were a useful means of gaining political and economic advantage” (Zephaniah, Haggai, Malachi, 133). Essentially, many of the men had abandoned their wives in search of a better life. They decided to provide for themselves, even if it meant sacrificing their bride and children.

Times were bleak as the people returned from exile. The letter begins, “‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’” (Malachi 1:2). The people were feeling abandoned by God. Suffering made them desperate, some of them desperate enough to abandon their covenants and desert their families. Beneath the marital infidelity was a deeper fear and wrestling — not with a spouse, but with God. Sinfulness in marriage begins with sinfulness in our relationship with God.

So, knowing something of what these men were facing and how awfully they responded, how does God confront them and call them to repentance and faithfulness in marriage? He rebukes them by reminding them what marriage is and why it’s worth guarding and keeping with all our strength. And in doing so, he gives us five great words for Christian husbands tempted to leave.

1. You made a promise.
The Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. (Malachi 2:14)

Though she is your wife by covenant. As God confronts these men who have gone after other, more desirable women, what does he remind them of first? You made a promise. From the very beginning, God said, “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Hold fast here does not mean a warm, affectionate embrace, but an exclusive and steadfast devotion — a covenant (Deuteronomy 10:20; Proverbs 2:16–17).