Question: "What does Malachi 2:16 mean when God says, 'I hate divorce'?"
Answer: In Malachi 2:16 we read, “‘I hate divorce,’ says the LORD God of Israel.”* In our society, where the divorce rate is particularly high, this wording jars us. We have become so used to divorce that the prophet’s condemnation of it seems overly strong. Yet this is God’s Word: He hates divorce.
Though the Mosaic Law sometimes allowed for divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) and Ezra once commanded the post-exilic Jews to break off their ungodly marriages to pagan wives (Ezra 10:10-11), Malachi makes it clear that God objects to divorce.
Jesus’ teaching on divorce is equally strong. The religious teachers asked Jesus, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” (Matthew 19:3). Jesus answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6; cf. Genesis 2:24). Jesus then noted that the Law had allowed divorce only because people had a “hardness of heart” and were bent on doing what they wanted anyway. Divorce was never part of God’s original design (Matthew 19:8).
Divorce was apparently rampant among Malachi’s Jewish audience. God’s response was, “So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless” (Malachi 2:16b). What the people needed was a commitment to personal holiness and a steadfast fidelity to their spouses.
God says, “I hate divorce,” not to hurt those already suffering from broken marriages but to reprimand unfaithful spouses. Verse 14 says, “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.” The men had been unfaithful to their wives—likely, they were involved in adulterous relationships and divorcing their wives in order to remarry. God’s statement is not a condemnation of those hurt by divorce; rather, it is warning to adulterers who create situations leading to divorce.
After hearing what Jesus said regarding divorce in Matthew 19, “the disciples said to him, ‘If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry’” (Matthew 19:10). The disciples, like so many in our contemporary society, wrestled with the idea of being faithful in marriage when so many easy ways out exist.
While the world sees divorce as a valid option for almost any reason, God’s original intent for marriage is seen in the first couple, Adam and Eve. One man and one woman in a committed, loving, lifelong relationship. Such faithfulness in a relationship is meant to reflect God’s forever love for His people (Hosea 2:19; Ephesians 5:31-32).
*An alternate translation of Malachi 2:16 would read something to the effect of, “If he hates and divorces his wife...” instead of “I hate divorce.” While this is a different statement that God Himself saying, “I hate divorce,” it would not change the point of the passage that divorce does violence to the wife the husband has sworn to protect.