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Commentary On Zechariah Malachi by Jean Calvin

Malachi 2:15

15. 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.

15. Et non unum fecit? et exuperantia spiritus illi? et quorsum unum? quarens semen Dei: ergo custodiamini in spiritu vestro; et in uxorem adolescentiae tuae ne transgrediatur (vel, ne fraudes; est mutatio personae, ponitur enim tertia persona loco secundae)

There is in this verse some obscurity, and hence it has been that no interpreter has come to the meaning of the Prophet. The Rabbins almost all agree that Abraham is spoken of here. Were we to receive this view a two-fold meaning might be given. It may be an objection, -- |Has not one done this?| that is, has not Abraham, who is the one father of the nations, given us an example? for he married many wives: and thus many explain the passage, as though the priests raised an objection and defended the corruption just condemned by the example of Abraham, -- |Has not one done this while yet an excellency of spirit was in him?| We indeed know how prone men are to pretend the authority of fathers when they wish to cover their own vices.

Others prefer regarding the words as spoken by the Prophet himself, and at the same time say that there is here an anticipation of an objection, and think that an occasion for an excuse is here cut off, as though the Prophet had said, |Did not Abraham, when he was one alone, do this?| For as the Jews might have adduced the example of Abraham, the interpreters, whose opinion I now refer to, think that a difference is here stated, as though he had said, |Ye reason badly, for every one of you is led to polygamy by the lust of your flesh; but it was far otherwise with Abraham, for he was one, that is, alone;| and in Isaiah Abraham is called one on account of his having no children. The meaning then they think is this, |Was not Abraham forced by necessity to take another wife? even because he had no child and no hope of the promised seed. Lust then did not stimulate your father Abraham, as it does you, but a desire of having an offspring.| And they think, that this view is confirmed by what follows, |And why alone seeking the seed of God?| that is, the object of holy Abraham was far otherwise than to indulge his lust; for he sought that holy seed, the hope of which was taken away from him on account of the barrenness of his wife, and of her great age. When therefore Abraham saw that his wife was barren, and that she could no more conceive on account of her old age, he had recourse to the last remedy: hence the mistake of Abraham might have been excused, since his object was right; for he sought the seed of God, the seed in which all nations were to be blessed. Thus far have I told you what others think.

I thought twelve years ago that this passage ought to have been otherwise rendered in the French Bibles, and that, 'chd, ached, ought to be read in the objective case; |Has he not made one?| Jerome seems to me to have had a better notion of what the Prophet means than what others have taught; but he could not attain the real meaning, and therefore stopped as it were in the middle of his course. He read the word in the nominative case, |Has not one,| that is, God, |made them? |and then he added, |And in him alone,| that is, Abraham, |was an exuberant spirit.| We see how he dared not to assert anything, nor did he explain what was necessary. The sense is indeed suspended, and is even frigid, if we say, |Has not one made them?| but if we read, |Has he not made one?| there is no ambiguity. It is a common thing in Hebrew, we know, that the name of God is often not expressed, when he is referred to; for so great is He, that his name may be easily understood, though not expressed. It ought not therefore to confuse us, that the Prophet withholds the name of God, and mentions a verb without its subject, for such is the usage, as I have said, of the Hebrew language.

I proceed now to explain the meaning of the Prophet. Has he not made one? that is, Was not God content with one man, when he instituted marriage? and yet the residue of the Spirit was in him. The Rabbins take, s'r, shar, as meaning excellence; but I know not what reason have induced them, except that they ventured to change the sense of the word, because they could not otherwise extricate themselves; for the mistake, that Abraham is spoken of here, had wholly possessed their minds. What then is, s'r rvch, shar ruch? Excellence of Spirit, say they; but, s'r, shar, we know, is residue or remnant: what then remains of anything is called, s'r, shar; for the verb means to remain and to lean. Here then the Prophet takes the residue of the Spirit, so to speak, for overflowing power; for God could have given to one man two or three wives; inasmuch as the Spirit failed him not in forming one woman: as he inspired Eve with life, so also he might have created other women and imparted to them his Spirit. He might then have given two or four or ten women to one man; for there was a spirit remaining in him. We now then understand what the Prophet means at the beginning of this verse.

But before we proceed farther, we must bear in mind his object, which was, to break down all those frivolous pretences by which the Jews sought to cover their perfidy. He says, that in marriage we ought to recognize an ordinance divinely appointed, or, to speak more distinctly, that the institution of marriage is a perpetual law, which it is not right to violate: there is therefore no cause for men to devise for themselves various laws, for God's authority is here to be regarded alone; and this is more clearly explained in Matthew 19:8; where Christ, refuting the objection of the Jews as to divorce, says, |From the beginning it was not so.| Though the law allowed a bill of divorce to be given to wives, yet Christ denies this to be right, -- by what argument? even because the institution was not of that kind; for it was, as it has been said, an inviolable bond. So now our Prophet reasons, Has not God made one? that is, |consider within yourselves whether God, when he created man and instituted marriage, gave many wives to one man? By no means. Ye see then that spurious and contrary to the character of a true and pure marriage is everything, that does not harmonize with its first institution.|

But some one may ask here, why the Prophet says that God made one? for this seems to refer to the man and not to the woman: to this I answer, that man with the woman is called one, according to what Moses says,

|God created man; male and female created he them,| (Genesis 1:17.)

After having said that man was created, he adds by way of explanation, that man, both male and female, was created. Hence when he speaks of man, the male makes as it were one-half, and the female the other; for when we speak of the whole human race, one-half doubtless consists of men, and the other half of women. So also when we come to individuals, the husband is as it were the half of the man, and the woman is the other half. I speak of the ordinary state of things; for if any one objects and says, that bachelors are not then complete or perfect men, the objection is frivolous: but as men were created, that every one should have his own wife, I say, that husband and wife make but one whole man. This then is the reason why the Prophet says, that one man was made by God; for he united the man to the woman, and intended that they should be partners, so to speak, under one yoke. And in this explanation there is nothing strained; for it is evident that the Prophet here calls the attention of the Jews to the true character of marriage; and this could not have been otherwise known than from the very institution of God, which is, as we have said, a perpetual and inviolable law; for God created man, even male and female: and Christ also has repeated this sentence, and carefully explained it in the passage which we have quoted.

And here the Prophet sharply goads the Jews, as though they wished to overcome God, or to be more wise than he; Had he not, he says, an exuberance of spirit? He takes spirit not for wisdom, but for that hidden influence by which God vivifies men. Could not God, he says, have put forth his spirit to create many wives for one man? but his purpose was to create one pair; to make man a husband and a wife: as God then was not without a remaining Spirit, and yet did not exceed this measure; it hence follows, that the law of marriage is violated, when man seeks for himself many wives. The meaning of the Prophet is now, I think, sufficiently clear.

It follows, And wherefore one, vmh h'chd, vame, eached? The interrogatory particle, mh, me, refers to the cause, end, form, or manner; we may therefore properly render it, For what, or wherefore, has God made one? even to seek the seed of God. The seed of God is to be taken for what is legitimate; for what is excellent is often called God in Hebrew, and also what is free from all vice and blemish. He sought then the seed of God, that is, he instituted marriage, that legitimate and pure offspring might be brought forth. Hence then the Prophet indirectly shows, that all are spurious who proceed from polygamy, because they cannot be deemed legitimate children; nor ought any to be so counted but those who are born according to God's institution. When a husband violates his pledged faith to his wife, and takes another; as he subverts the ordinance of marriage, so he cannot be a legitimate father. We now perceive why the Prophet says, that it was God's purpose to unite only one wife to one man, in order that they might beget legitimate offspring, for he shows by the effect how frivolous were the evasions which the Jews had recourse to; for however they might contend, their very offspring would prove them liars, as it would be spurious.

He then draws this conclusion, Therefore, watch ye over your spirit; that is, |Take heed lest any should deceive the wife of his covenant.| After having shown how perversely they violated the marriage vow who rushed into polygamy, he here counsels and exhorts them; and this is the best mode of teaching, to show first what is right and lawful, and then to add exhortations. The Prophet then endeavored first to convince the Jews that they were guilty of a nefarious crime: for otherwise his exhortation would not have been received, as they would have always a ready objection, |It is lawful for us to do so, for we follow the example of our father Abraham; and further, this has been permitted for a long time, and God would have never suffered it, were it wrong, to prevail for so many ages among the people: it hence follows, that thou condemnest what is lawful.| It was necessary, in the first place, to remove all these false pretences: then follows the exhortation in its proper order, Watch over your spirit; for he speaks of what has been, as it were, sufficiently proved. It now follows

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