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I pose a question about the original Hebrew hermeneutics of this passage. The MT of Malachi 2:16 reads:

כִּֽי־ שָׂנֵ֣א שַׁלַּ֗ח אָמַ֤ר יְהֹוָה֙ אֱלֹהֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְכִסָּ֤ה חָמָס֙ עַל־לְבוּשׁ֔וֹ אָמַ֖ר יְהֹוָ֣ה צְבָא֑וֹת וְנִשְׁמַרְתֶּ֥ם בְּרוּחֲכֶ֖ם וְלֹ֥א תִבְגֹּֽדוּ

If the word šal•lah (שַׁלַּ֗ח) is the infinitive 'to divorce' (and please bear with me if I misunderstood that to be so) and the word śānē (שָׂנֵ֣א) is the present tense 'hates', could this text from the original language be translated as God 'hates to divorce' the one (his beautiful ideal marriage where two become one flesh) BECAUSE the man covers his garment with violence?

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The related Q&A deals very well with the awkwardnesses of this verse. Here, OP's interest is in whether the Hebrew described there can bear the sense in which YHWH ("The LORD") could be the subject of first clause of Malachi 2:16.

The short answer is "no": the sense cannot be "God hates to divorce...", even though some are tempted to see something like this sense implicit here.1 Why?

  • Taken in its most obvious sense, the agent-subject (continuing from v. 15) is the one who might be "faithless" towards the "wife of [his] youth". This one naturally, then, remains as the subject of the next clause.
  • Although some commentators think the speech attribution ("says the LORD, the God of Israel") might be a later insertion (which is purely speculative: there is no evidence for it),2 its inclusion makes it very difficult to see the deity's self reference in the third person. Perhaps not impossible, but typically, the voice of God in prophetic texts uses the first person ("I hate...").

    Almost all English versions adopt the expedient of emending that first verb so that it is first-person, thus fitting the scenario above. So far as I can see, one of the few to stick closer to the Masoretic Text here is the (Holman) Christian Standard Bible.3 I think it catches the sense nicely:

    “If he hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord God of Israel,...

  • As is widely noted, the compressed wording of Malachi 2:16 seems to have as its backdrop the scenario of Deuteronomy 24:3, where the same sequence of "hating" and "sending/divorcing" (latter in a technical sense) is seen.

The other translation difficulties of this grammatically awkward verse are already well explained in the other Q&A.


  1. E.g., Andrew E. Hill, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries; Nottingham: IVP Academic, 2012), p. 326.
  2. For instance, BHS encloses this phrase as b-b, and includes as the note: "add?". J. M. Powis Smith's ICC commentary inclines this way. He gives as reasons: "for it separates the protasis from the apodosis, constitutes the only occurrence of this title of Yahweh in Malachi, and is superfluous alongside of the immediately following affirmation of divine authority" (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi and Jonah [ICC; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1912], p. 55).
  3. There are still grammatical adjustments to be made, but these are less intrusive that the first-person emendation. This solution is well explained by Paul Reddit, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi (NCB; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), p. 174-5.
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Biblehub Commentary page has extensive commentaries on this text - Henry, Ellicott, Cambridge, etc etc. Pulpit commentary I found especially helpful.I do not wish to merely paste extensive quotations. My link is surely satisfactory.

Your own emphasis appears to be supported. God hates divorce because the perpetrator of it covers violence with his garment.

Ruth covered herself with the skirt of Boaz' garment, desiring to be one with him and to be under one covering with him.

But the man who 'covers' a woman in marriage and then tears her away from 'under his garment' is no longer covering himself and a woman in union.

He is covering up a violent rift in relationship.

It is as though, after the divorce, that his garment conceals an act of violence beneath it.

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  • I thank you Nigel J. I bring this up to address abuse. I'm a medical professional in women's health. After witnessing atrocities done to women at the hands of their husbands, I can only imagine that God would 'divorce' the wife from her oppressor if she cries out but that He would 'hate' to dissolve His union of the one flesh. The responsibility, sin, and chastisement seems to fall on the man who disdained this union with the wife of his youth so that God intervenes. God hears the voice of those oppressed according to multiple texts in the book of Psalms and the Lord delivers them out of all.
    – K. Reed
    Feb 23 '18 at 21:28
  • Paul makes it clear that, even within the church, a woman may - if she feels she must - separate from her husband. But she must thereafter remain unmarried. Paul encourages reconciliation, if it is at all possible. But he does not enforce it. I Corinthians 7:11.There is no need for a wife to dwell with an abusive man. I abhor the idea (which some seem to have) that the bible obliges wives to forcibly stay with vile men. It does not.
    – Nigel J
    Feb 24 '18 at 1:26
  • Down-voted for four reasons: 1) This is nearly a "link-only" answer. It should summarize the commentary, identify the author, and provide the link as a reference only. 2) The association with Boaz is far-fetched. There is no indication that he covers Ruth with anything. Ruth uses כנפך which doesn't necessarily mean "garment" whereas this verse uses לבוש c . 3) This answer ignores the context of the parsha and the chapter, that deals specifically with problems of the priestly class. 4) You don't seem to make any attempt to actually deal with the problems in the Hebrew text as the OP asks.
    – user17080
    Feb 24 '18 at 19:57
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When we read this (Mal. 2.16) in the modern context, we can easily come to the conclusion that this portion addresses the tragedy of divorce, the ending of an earthly marriage. Yes, it can mean that, and divorce is something that God does not want for any of us.

In fact, Jesus addresses this by telling the Pharisees, that divorce was granted because of the hardness of their hearts. He tells them that from the beginning of man, that was not what God had decided.

The divorce addressed here goes even further than the breaking of a marriage between a man and woman.

It speaks to the putting away of a nation once called to be the testimony of faith in God.

When we look at v.16, as it reads from the original text, it would read like this, in my opinion:

For the Lord, the God of Israel, said that He hates putting away (or rather those who have forsaken Him), for one covers unrighteousness with their outward apparel, says God, therefore obey your spirit and do not be unfaithful.

Israel’s leadership had become accustomed to living the lie. They would dress the part, with their priestly garments, but in their hearts, they no longer followed after God.

So, as much as we know God gave mankind marriage and that we must do our very best to preserve our marriages, the best meaning for v.16, IMO, is that God wants His people to listen to His calling upon their hearts, in the depths of their spirit, and follow Him.

They tested God over and over, not that God can be worn out, but He can come to the end of His patience when a people are unwilling to follow Him.

Because knew the hearts of the nation of Israel, He closed out an era of communicating with them and through them.

He only wants His people to have a desire for Him.

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  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics. I've taken the liberty of improving the format of your answer to make it easier to read. I hope you don't mind.
    – Lesley
    Feb 22 at 11:47
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As ESV Study Bible states in the note on the passage of Malachi 2:16 (bold is mine), “The Hebrew text of this verse is one of the most difficult passages in the OT to translate, with the result that the two main alternative translations proposed for this verse are strongly disputed.”

So, to try to 'square the circle' we are now to start from some anchors, as the starting line of a sprinter.

1 - The verses 13-16 of Malachi 2 form a logical group, with the one and the same context, namely, God is against who divorce from his wife (except in the case of God’s lawful reasons to divorce, namely, adultery, or exposed/quasi-exposed ‘nudity’- see an answer of mine, on the passage of Deuteronomy 24:1 What does the phrase "uncleanliness in her" refer to in Deuteronomy 24:1?).

2 – God considers the marriage as a legal covenant (Mal 2:14), derived from the original purpose of Him. ESV Study Bible Note (bold is mine): “[…] this passage is clear in its recognition that the biblical standard for marriage derives from the creation account (see […] Gen. 2:23-24) which establishes the covenantal nature of marriage. (Jesus when discussing a question about divorce, began with creation (Matt. 19:3-9.) Malachi starts from this creational base: he refers to creation (Mal. 2:10), calls a marriage a covenant (v. 14), refers to the oneneness of Gen. 2:24 (‘union’, Mal. 2:15), and reminds the community of the purpose of marriage (‘godly offspring’, v. 15). The man who would divorce the Israelite wife of his youth (perhaps even for the purpose of taking a pagan girl as his wife) thus commits a grievous offence: he violates the creation order, he breaks his covenantal relationship with his wife – and, in so doing, he deeply damages his character (‘covers his garment with violence’). But the impact of divorce reaches far beyond the individual, for divorce has a ruinous effect on the vitality of the whole community (vv. 13-15) and on its ability to fulfill its calling as God’s holy people.”

3 – The wrong behaviour of the man at issue in these verses must have to do with the goal to marry a woman as a replacement (younger?) for the original wife (‘wife of your youth’ [נעוריך אשׁת], twice in Mal 2:14-15).

4 – This behaviour impelled God to refuse every gift or offering the man at issue would give to Him (Mal 2:13; compare also the same concept exposed in 1 Pet 3:7).

Once we have got these solid conclusions we are ready to face the difficulties of this text.


As my habit, I now transfer here the Hebrew text of Mal 2:16, morsel by morsel (from 1 to 16), without the Masoretes’ diacritical system points (except that on the sin/shin letters, to distinguish between the two).

כי־שׂנא – [1] For-he hates or I hate

שׁלח – [2] to send out > to divorce

אמר – [3] says

יהוה – [4] Jehovah

אלהי – [5] God of

ישׂראל – [6] Israel

וכסה – [7] and- (who) covers

חמס – [8] (with) violence

על־לבושׁו – [9] on-garments of him

אמר – [10] says

יהוה – [11] Jehovah

צבאות – [12] (of) hosts

ונשׁמרתם – [13] and-you guard yourselves

ברוחכם – [14] into-spirit-of you

ולא – [15] and-not

תבגדו – [16] you deceive.


First Difficulty: “Who hates? A man (his original wife) or Jehovah (the sending away > the divorce)?

The text (morsels 1-2 above) leaves both the options open. Why? Well, maybe the most difficult thing for the slavish followers of Masoretes’ tradition to accept is that the Masoretes didn’t try to improve - systematically - the Hebrew text upon which they did stick on their diacritical system. It is historically proved that they ‘crystallized’ some Hebrew texts of the TaNaKh, which yet contained – regrettably - some errors (happily, the vast majority of them we – today - are able to correct through the utilization of textual criticism, or by comparison with cognate languages, context, or other linguistic disciplines).

Furthermore, the Masoretes, did not try to restore some linguistic original functions possessed by the ancient Hebrew tongue, such as the cases system, as well as the chronological factors inside the Hebrew verbal forms, or the univocal and fully independent personal pronouns, and so on.

Then, what about the first option (a married man was the hater)?

Consider an interesting comment in the Commentary of John Peter Lange (bold is mine): “The LXX, Vulgate, and Luther, construe this very differently as a permission of divorce; ‘If thou hate her put her away’. But this is inconsistent with the context, which condemns divorce; it is in opposition to the law which permits divorce only for some great misconduct, ‘some unclean thing’ […]. In favor of the translation, adopted by Köhler, Keil, Henderson, ‘I hate divorce’, may be urged, that the form may be considered as a participle, that the first person is often understood before participles, that, ‘saith Jehovah, God of Israel’, which follows in the Hebrew, implies that Jehovah is speaking directly in his own person.”

Taking into an account all the data presented above, I see that the more probable conclusion is that the hater is God himself.

Remember that we may infer the 3rd person singular (‘he hates’) from the Masoretes’ way of understanding the text. Differently, it could be correct to suppose the original text had the first person singular (I hate)? Yes, this is not a wild guess, necessarily. In fact, an illuminating note in the NET Bible states (bold is mine): “The verb שָׂנֵא (sane’) appears to be a third person form, ‘he hates’, which makes little sense in the context, unless one emends the following word to a third person verb as well. Then one might translate, ‘he [who] hates [his wife] [and] divorces her… is guilty of violence’. A similar translation is advocated by M. A. Shields, Syncretism and Divorce in Malachi 2, 10-16 [ZAW 111 (1999): 81-85]. However, it is possible that the first person pronoun אָנֹכִי (anokhi, ‘I’) has accidentally dropped from the text after כִּי (ki). If one restores the pronoun, the form שָׂנֵא can be taken as a participle and the text translated, ‘for I hate’ (so NAB, NASB, NRSV, NLT).”

(Calvin supposed, instead, a switch from verbal form [‘to divorce’] to a substantivized participle [‘divorcer’], “’For he hates the divorcer, (or him who puts away,) Saith Jehovah, the God of Israel; And the coverer of outrage on his own garment, Saith Jehovah of hosts.‘”)


Second (and last) Difficulty: “The ‘violence’ of the passage is linked with the previous argument (breaking the marriage covenant) or it is linked with other kind of violent deeds?

I allow to respond an ancient – and often keen - commentator (John Peter Lange) (bold is mine): “[…] ‘And him who covers with violence his garment’. The design of this clause, parallel to and coordinate with, ‘I hate divorce’, is to express more emphatically the consequences and enormity of the sin, that it is exceedingly heinous, and the height of cruelty. We read in Psa 109:18; Psa 109:29, of being clothed with cursing as with a garment, of being clothed with shame. We find the same construction of כִּסָּה with עַל in Num 16:33; Psa 106:15; Hab 2:14, where the object covered is preceded by עַל as here. ‘The earth covered them’, ‘And covered the company of Abiram’, ‘As the waters cover the sea’. We therefore understand the relative, which is frequently omitted, and regard this clause as the continuation of the preceding, ‘I hate divorce’, only with a more emphatic statement.”

Also the Cambridge Bible presents an alike concept (bold is mine): “‘For one covereth … his garment’. Rather, and ‘him that covereth his garment with violence (R.V.) (do I hate), saith the Lord of hosts’. Two things, in relation to the subject in hand, Almighty God declares that He hates. He hates ‘putting away’, for it is a violation of His primæval law, ‘What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder’. And He hates ill-treatment by the husband of his wife, which stains and pollutes, as it were, the garment of protection which he is bound to spread over her. By ‘his garment’ many commentators understand ‘his wife’. But no such Hebrew use of the word has been adduced, and the Arabic use which is alleged is not conclusive.”

And, the ESV Study Bible along the same lines (bold is mine): “The expression covers his garment with violence is probably a figure of speech referring to the defiling of one’s character with violent wrongdoing (see the similar image in Ps. 73:6; 109:18; Rev 3:4; and see the opposite in Job 29:14; Ps. 132:9; Isaiah 59:17; 61:10. […] as Malachi stresses, […] divorce based merely on the loss of affection breaks the marriage covenant and defiles one’s character, since it is untrue to the creation ideal of faithfulness (Gen 2:24 […]).”

I hope these notes will be useful for you.

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