Idolatry and adultery were twin sins that hindered the nation of Israel from enjoying the blessing of God. Both sins have underlying causes springing from serious matters of the heart, not just merely choosing wrong actions. Idolatry is rooted in unbelief; adultery is rooted in unfaithfulness. These two sins are in direct violation of the seventh commandment: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Both sins still affect men, families, churches, and nations today.
These two sins often are linked together in the Old Testament. Both idolatry and adultery share a desire or a lust for something other than what God has provided to righteously fulfill our human needs. To use the Bible phrase, we can “go a whoring” (Ezekiel 6:9) after strange gods as well as after “strange” (immoral) women. In the tragic cases of Samson and Solomon, as well as the Israelites in the days of the judges, the Lord equated one sin with the other one.
A good example of this commandment being disregarded is found in Jeremiah 3:9 where the Lord proclaims that Israel has “committed adultery with stones and with stocks.” God links the worship of man-made objects (made of wood and stone) with adultery of the heart. Another example occurs in Ezekiel 16:25–28: by turning away from the Lord God of Israel and giving her loyalty to other gods, Israel “played the harlot.” The entire Book of Hosea is an allegory of how Jehovah loved and pursued His unfaithful and idolatrous people even as Hosea loved and pursued his unfaithful wife Gomer (Hosea 2:14–20).
Loyalty is the key to fidelity, both toward God Himself and also toward our wives. To forsake the Lord is to break His covenant. To forsake one’s wife is to break a covenant also. The nature of adultery is grievous. For this reason, adultery was punished severely under the Law of God with the death penalty (Deuteronomy 22:22). Adultery was treachery.
Treachery begins in the heart. It is the alienation of affection, discontent, secret lustful looks, pornography, flirtatious conversation, and fantasizing about other women. Then the lust progresses from the heart to actions. Sin that begins in the heart is carried out in the body, and the consequences are dreadful. According to James 1:15, “Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.”
We see this process exemplified in the life of King David. First, he saw Bathsheba and lusted for her, committing adultery in his heart. Then, he sent for her and lay with her, committing adultery in a deliberate, willful act of sin. Afterward, he tried to hide his sin by arranging for the murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah. When the prophet Nathan confronted David about his sin, he confessed it, forsook it, and received the mercy that he testified of in Psalm 51. This account in David’s life encourages us that there is hope for any man, no matter how shackled he is by the bonds of lust. But tragic consequences endured to the end of David’s life.
The prophet Malachi, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, described how the Lord Himself is a witness of the covenant between a man and his wife. As a witness to this covenant, God is grieved by the painful results of unfaithfulness in the covenant of marriage.
Malachi first described how the men and women of Judah in his day had an empty religion, a worship suffused with tears and crying, but a worship that was not received favorably by God. “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. 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. 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” (Malachi 2:13–15).
Have you ever personally considered the fact that when you exchanged vows on your wedding day, the Lord was witness to your covenant? He testifies that the covenant is sealed, and He also testifies when the covenant has been broken by treachery.
Malachi did not exhort, “Take heed to your marriage.” He did not command, “Take heed to your body.” He did not urge, “Take heed to your wife.” Instead, Malachi wrote a very interesting and convicting statement: “Take heed to your spirit.” The prophet of God struck at the very heart of the seventh commandment.
We will look next week at the words of the Lord Jesus when He used the seventh commandment to warn His disciples of the danger of looking at a woman in order to lust after her. Jesus called this “committing adultery with her in the heart.” Jesus did not “raise the bar” on an Old Testament external law code. The seventh commandment deals with man’s heart attitudes, in both the Old and New Testaments. We must take heed to our hearts lest we “deal treacherously” against the wives that God has given us.
Malachi closed this discussion with these sobering words, “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” (Malachi 2:16). It could not be said more strongly than this. Jehovah hates “putting away.” This is the Old Testament term for what we now commonly call divorce. Simply stated, God hates divorce.
In a day when divorce is looked upon so casually by many, even in churches, we need a reminder of how much God hates treachery against the marriage covenant, even when this treachery is concealed in the hidden recesses of the heart. This heart attitude is why each one of us must follow the prophet Malachi’s exhortation and take heed to our spirits. Instead of being unfaithful in our marriages, may each of us renew our commitment to be loyal and to love our wives.