The NIV translates "šal·laḥ" in Malachi 2:16 as "hates and divorces":

“The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty...

But it translates "šal·laḥ" in Genesis 8:10 as "sent forth":

And he stayed yet other seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark;

I am curious why the translators chose the particular translation in Malachi 2:16, especially in light of the fact that the KJV takes a more literal interpretation:

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...

Was "šal·laḥ" used to refer to legal divorce at the time of the writing of Malachi?


2 Answers 2

  1. Genesis 8:10:

    wayyōsep̱p           šallaḥ      ʾet-hayyônāh    min-hattēbāh  
    and-he-did-again    to-send   -- the dove       from-the-ark

    Presumably this was chosen as a comparator because it contains a form identical to the word of interest in Malachi 2:16 (an un-prefixed piel infinitive construct from š-l-ḥ). Despite the superficial connection, though, š-l-ḥ is one of the most common verbs in the Hebrew Bible (847x). It has a similar "basic" meaning in the qal and piel stems: "send".

  2. Mal 2:16: "Hates and divorces"?

    The syntax of the Hebrew is unclear and disputed here, but I think it's safe to say the the NIV has accepted the Masoretic vocalization and translated šallaḥ not as "hates and divorces" but rather "divorces".

      kı̂    śānēʾ            šallaḥ     
      For   he-hates         to divorce  
      The   man who hates    and divorces his wife

    The word "hates" has a separate, explicit counterpart: śānēʾ.

    In the NIV, the awkward infinitive "to divorce" has been taken as a gloss on the finite "hates" and therefore expressed as the English finite verb, "[he] divorces". A related interpretation would be "If [it is] hateful divorce...". (In support of these, see Stuart.) The main alternative within the Masoretic vocalization minimizes the awkwardness of the infinitive while adding an element of awkwardness in the identification of the subject of the verb "hates". This is taken to be God (="the one", gapped from the previous verse ("And what was the one seeking?")) -- "For God hates divorce". There is a certain artistry in the contrast between "the one" and the "dissolution of 'one' through divorce" (on which see Hill).

  3. Was "šal·laḥ" used to refer to legal divorce at the time of the writing of Malachi?

    In context, I'm not sure why you ask about legal divorce; this passage appears to be denouncing whatever sort of activity it refers to. In any case, this verb was indeed used in Biblical Hebrew to refer to divorce. Within the Hebrew Bible, there are a number of examples: Deut 22:19, 29; 24:1, 3-4; Isa 50:1; Jer 3:1, 8; 1 Chr 8:8 (list courtesy of the absurdly helpful Dictionary of Classical Hebrew). There is an additional Qumran text (4QOrda 2:10) I haven't been able to track down. Although dating is tricky, including Chronicles and the Qumran examples, these almost certainly span the date of Malachi. (Please note that there isn't a large corpus of extra-Biblical ancient Hebrew available for such pursuits.)

    As you can see, the terminology applies whether the divorce is legal or not. Compare:

    Deut 22:4:

    לֹא־יוּכַ֥ל לְשַּׁלְּחָ֖הּ כָּל־יָמָֽיו
    He may not divorce her (šallĕḥāh) all his days.

    Deut 24:1

    מָ֤צָא בָהּ֙ עֶרְוַ֣ת דָּבָ֔ר וְכָ֨תַב לָ֜הּ סֵ֤פֶר כְּרִיתֻת֙ וְנָתַ֣ן בְּיָדָ֔הּ וְשִׁלְּחָ֖הּ מִבֵּיתֽוֹ
    ... he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out (šillĕḥāh) of his out house

    Where the context allows, the ESV has translated "send her out", but (as in the case of Malachi 2:16, following vv. 14-15) the reference is clearly to divorce. In fact, to my knowledge this is the only verb used to indicate the dissolution of marital union in the Hebrew Bible.*

Douglas Stuart, Malachi. (The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expository Commentary; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 1341-1342.
Andrew E. Hill, Malachi. (The Anchor Yale Bible; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), 249.

*Please do let me know if I'm wrong. I searched the ESV for "divorce" and cross-checked the Hebrew. The passive participle gĕrûšāh is used as an adjective/noun: "divorced [one]" (lit. "the woman having been driven out"), but I didn't find other verbs.



Malachi 2:15-16

Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth, because He hates


says the LORD God of Israel, and

ḵis-sāh ḥā-mās ‘al- lə-ḇū-šōw

says the LORD of hosts.

Therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.

The structure of these verses makes it abundantly clear the prophet is telling his audience there are TWO aspects of their behaviour towards their wives that God hates, and considers treachery:

  1. šal-laḥ - sending forth/putting away.
    Malachi 2:14 refers to the marriage covenant (Genesis 2:24 - a man shall cleave/adhere to his wife and they shall be one flesh), and to send her forth would be to break that charge/promise/pledge.

    If the husband were to send forth his wife, to whom would she go?

  2. ḵis-sāh ḥā-mās ‘al- lə-ḇū-šōw - covering violence upon his garment.
    This is a very interesting expression. Gesenius connects the use of lə-ḇū-šōw here with an Arabic metaphor for wife. The sense of this is: she adorns him and is his pride/glory. To support this idea, there are only two other occurrences of lə-ḇū-šōw in scripture, both of which are used in relation to garments worthy of pride/glory: Job 41:13, where God speaks of Leviathan's impenetrable garment; and Isaiah 63:1, where the prophet speaks of the splendour of the avenger on his way to Jerusalem.

    The "violence" to his garment is a clear reference to the violation of conjugal union by the husband, since he will have stolen from his wife the one thing she cannot give to any other man - her innocence/virginity. This aspect of treachery is addressed by Jesus in his Olivet discourse (Matthew 5:32), when he says, "But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery..."

    The "covering" of this violence, is a reference to the weeping and crying and pleas for forgiveness that accompany the offerings of these treacherous individuals (Malachi 2:13). God is wearied by their insincerity and the abuse of the means He provided for them to walk "blameless" before him.


I believe the NIV translators have totally missed the covenant aspect of marriage that Malachi draws attention to. They mention the covenant in Malachi 2:14, but then totally mangle the clear reference to the "oneness" of marital union in Malachi 2:15.

Whether or not šal-laḥ refers to legal divorce, the conjugal union of a man and his wife was sealed by a covenant agreement that was supposed to deliver what God seeks - godly offspring. Breaking the covenant would result in the husband, henceforth, begetting ungodly children, and forcing his sent-forth wife to do the same.

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