Bible translations made for people with limited reading skills often remove many of the literary devices that enrich reading and communicate the message with powerful impact. It’s understandable why they do it, and not altogether inappropriate. At the same time, something is lost in this type of translation. (Something gets lost in every translation, so let’s not be too harsh.)
The prophet Malachi uses a series of three questions to accuse the people of Israel of breaking their covenant with God. The first two are rhetorical questions, that is, the answers are obvious. Then he comes in with a third question, based on the first two, that grabs the readers and demonstrates the inconsistency and folly of their actions. Some versions even start the third question with the adverb “then.” (See ESV: “Why then …?”)
Do we not all have one father? Did not one God create us? Why do we betray one another, thus making light of the covenant of our ancestors? Malachi 2.10.
The Old Testament doesn’t often describe God as father. This is one of the few passages that does. (It seems better to take it as a reference to God than to Abraham.) It strengthens Malachi’s point. Betrayal of the covenant is to betray one’s own family.
Here, the prophet does not speak of God being father to all humanity, but to Israel, in their covenant relationship to him. The Bible has little to say about the “brotherhood of man.” The phrase common in some parts that “we are all children of God” is not a scriptural sentiment.
The act of creation by the one God that Malachi has in view is probably, again, his creation of this special nation, out of all the nations of the world. It takes us not to Genesis 1, but to Exodus 19.
The apostle Paul may well have had this verse in Malachi in mind when he ends the seven pillars of unity with the rousing proclamation of “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” Ephesians 4.6. Here, too, the apostle’s reference to “all” probably refers to all Christians./1 (See Ephesians 3.20.) The one God, both in his covenant with Israel and in his covenant through Christ, is the great unifier.
If one God has created his special people, they must be one in purpose and holiness. This is exactly the sequence of 1 Peter 2.9-12:
- Identity: chosen race, etc., now God’s people, vv. 9, 10.
- Mission: proclaim, v. 9.
- Holiness: good conduct, good deeds, vv. 11-12.
Peter’s mission declaration is surrounded by the act of God’s creation of his people. He creates, and we carry out his purposes.
Malachi knows that unfaithfulness to the covenant (and to their wives of the covenant) frustrates the purpose for which the one God created his people — the continuity of his holy people: “And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring” Malachi 2.15 ESV./2 He today also seeks more people brought into covenant with him.
Malachi and the New Testament demonstrate the interconnected nature of faith. We cannot act according to our desires and preferences and still respect the one God who formed a people and desires to work through this people in order to accomplish his purpose. Instead of betraying God and our brethren by our infidelities, we need commitment to love one another in truth, John 13.35; Ephesians 4.15. We need faithfulness from beginning to end. Maturity means respecting vows, not freedom to abandon them when we think they no longer serve us.
If one God created us all and called us into a covenant relationship with him, he unifies us when we respect the terms of the covenant and show faithfulness to him and to his people.
“Be attentive, then, to your own spirit” Malachi 2.15.
1/ A.G. Patzia, Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians (Harper & Row, 1984): 210-211; pace M.R. Weed, Letters of Paul to the Ephesians, the Colossians, and Philemon (Sweet, 1971): 159.
2/ Malachi 2.15 is a problematic verse to translate and understand.
For a similar approach to today’s marriage relationship, see Covenant Marriage: God’s Blueprint for Marriage, by Glover Shipp.