September 30th, 2021 - Malachi 1-4
If you have read this far, congratulations!!! As we have done for the past 38 books, here are a few tidbits about the Book of Malachi. The author of this book is Malachi but his name means “my messenger” so there is some doubt about who this is. Some believe the author is anonymous and others believe the opening should read “the word of the Lord through my messenger”. Still others believe Malachi is a shortened form of Malachaiyahu, meaning the Lords messenger. We do not have a specific date for the books writing either but there are some clues. Sacrifices were being made at the temple. The Jews were living under a governor, so this suggests the Persian period. Jewish men were marrying foreign wives. This points to the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. All of this suggests a writing during the 5th century B.C. This book was written to Jews who had returned from exile in Babylon. The temple was rebuilt but the people had fallen into a state of apathy. They were both disillusioned about their future and skeptical of God’s promises. The Book of Malachi exhorted the people to worship God rightly and to live faithful lives as they waited for the fulfillment of His promises. There were several issues addressed by Malachi. These included: the offering of substandard animals as sacrifices, negligence of duty among the priests, intermarriages with pagans, general immorality, a failure to tithe, and a widespread cynicism about an individuals duty to God. On the other side, Malachi encouraged the people to maintain hope in the coming kingdom of God. This generation was not guilty of the gross idolatry of the earlier generations. Rather, these Israelites had embraced a sort of dead orthodoxy. They were trying to get by with the minimum that their faith required. Malachi uses repetition, and vivid and memorable figures of speech. Malachi asked 22 rhetorical questions in the span of 55 verses. He used these questions to argue against the Jews and to accuse them as people who certainly knew better than to pursue the sins that were distracting them from true worship. Malachi was the last prophet in Old Testament times. Between his work and that of John the Baptist there were 400 years of silence when the prophetic voice of God was silent. Malachi speaks of launderers soap, or fullers soap. This was an alkali prepared from the ashes of certain plants and used for cleansing and fulling (shrinking or thickening) new woolen cloth. His two prominent themes will come as no surprise to you: Israel’s unfaithfulness and judgement.
Malachi made sure the people knew his message was from the Lord which gave it authority and a sense of urgency. His audience, including us, is expected to pay attention and respond. His messages are literary disputations. This gives them a courtroom feel and establishes the tone of a trial. The first disputation presents the truth that God loves Israel. What we see is that the love between the Lord and Israel has covenant implications. God chose the Israelites as His people and despite their behavior and frequent disobedience He still loves them. The same goes for you and me. The hate described here is because of covenant unfaithfulness. Esau did not value either his birthright or his blessing, both gifts to him as the oldest son in the family. So God chose Jacob instead and Esau was left to fend for himself. Esau was the ancestor of the Edomite nation and his inheritance was located in the southeastern rim of the Dead Sea. Esau was selfish and contemptuous of the tokens of the Lords covenant, and the nation of Edom came to personify the pride of self centeredness. And, they were allies with Babylon in the destruction of Jerusalem. Heaven’s armies are at the beck and call of the Lord and through them we see God’s invincible power.
The second message runs from verse 1:6-2:9. This message affirmed the Lord’s role as God and Father of Israel. Because of this, He alone deserves true worship. God’s name is His reputation and character, and the Jews were showing Him how little they thought of Him by bringing worthless offerings. Malachi accused the people of defiling the sacrifices. Ritual uncleanliness or contamination disqualified an object or person from being in ceremonies of worship to the Lord. In this case, the defilement was the breaking of the laws that taught what kind of sacrifices were unacceptable to bring to the Lord. They were bringing blind, crippled animals as well as those with three legs and other defects. But to the people it seemed like a waste to bring a perfectly good animal for a sacrifice. And, they considered preparing their gifts properly a foolish waste of time, energy, and resources. What this was really doing was showing the condition of the people’s hearts towards the Lord. No sacrifices would have been more acceptable than the second rate ones the people were bringing. The governor was the one appointed by the Persians to be the overseer of the province of Judah. Setting “my altar” over and against “your governor” showed the confusion of loyalties among the Levitical priests. God will show no favor to those who bring second rate offerings. In fact, if the choices were a service with bad offerings and no gratitude vs. no services at all, the Lord would choose no services at all. That’s how detestable the hollow worship and the offering of second rate sacrifices was to Him. One day God will receive praise from all the Gentile nations and his chosen people would still be profaning His holy name. Dishonor was an ongoing state of affairs. And ironically, the guardians of Israel’s covenant relationship with God were the ones habitually profaning His temple. Malachi said that the demands of God were neither understood or appreciated. To the priests they seemed to be mere busywork. Binding someone with a curse was to deliver them over to misfortune as punishment for a serious crime against the community. Malachi spoke for the Lord so the curse was a pronouncement of doom.
Malachi addressed the priests, asking them to make up their minds. This was an issue of their will not their emotions. They were to honor the Lord’s name or suffer from a terrible curse. Here Malachi is picturing the utter destruction of those who violated God’s covenant. Punishment will fall on their descendants as well, the offal from the temple sacrifices being flung in their faces. The offal was the contents of the intestines of the animals who were being offered up as sacrifices. One translation made this promise of God: “I will throw you on the manure pile”! The Levites had been given the privilege of serving in the tabernacle and then the temple. They were to forsake any glory they might have and offer all the glory to the Lord. In return God would give them life and peace. It was the Levites duty and responsibility to teach God’s instructions. They had been entrusted with the sacred knowledge of God as revealed in the law of Moses. As teachers they became the guardians of God’s covenant with Israel. And, Malachi ascribed prophetic duties to these priests since they were the ones called to interpret God’s word. These priests were to administer the law with fairness and kindness, but they had not done so. They hadn’t even come close. It was ridiculous for the priests to suppose that God would show them favor when they had shown partiality in discharging the duties of their office.
The third message showed that the failure to keep the covenant extended from the priests to the people as a whole. They did not keep covenant with the Lord or with their fellow countrymen when they married foreign women. And they broke their covenants with their wives when they divorced them. Now Malachi spoke to his audience as fellow citizens, with a striking change in style from the adversarial indictment to an inclusive plea. Malachi used two titles for the Lord here in verse 10; God and Father. One shows the Lord’s uniqueness as creator and the other His exclusive role as Israel’s Father. By asking about One God Malachi points us back to the Shema, Israel’s creed of monotheism. Check out Deuteronomy 6:4-5. Shema is the Hebrew word for listen, or hear. And because God is creator of all humanity, He requires that humans deal equitably with one another. Broken covenants of any kind are seen as betrayals. Judah has dealt treacherously and an abomination as been committed. The term abomination is a very strong word indicating stomach revulsion. The people had done something so awful as to make one ill. Israel’s history had shown over and over that when the Israelites had intermarried with foreign, pagan women they began to worship pagan gods. This intermarriage was equated with adultery against God and eventual divorce as the people stopped worshiping Him. Malachi asked that every man who had participated in this of behavior be cut off. This is no small thing, being cut off. The intent was to blot out or destroy evildoers. It could be banishment or even death. This was much more serious than social banishment or religious excommunication. The tears Malachi mentions were judged as being hypocritical acts of insincere repentance. God will not accept offerings that are given for the wrong reasons. This was a case of the right things being done for the wrong reasons or attitudes.
When Malachi speaks of faithful partners he is referring to first wives. These men had not only married pagan wives but they divorced their first wives to make room for their new ones. Marriage is a solemn covenant to which God is a witness. God hates broken covenants of any kind. His relationship with the people is one of faithfulness and He expected no less that that from Israel. One translation called the people out for acting treacherously. To the Lord, the actions of indifference to covenants amounts to the actions of a traitor. Malachi’s fourth message concerned the disparity between God’s justice and human justice. In the scheme of a courtroom setting this would be the formal indictment against Judah. Malachi indicts dutiful but heartless religiosity that acts contrary to God’s justice. He appeals for honesty and genuine social concern. Malachi’s audience had wearied God by questioning His justice.
The word messenger here is a play in Malachi’s name. This messenger could be human or angelic. Jesus identified John the Baptist by pointing out this passage. The audience would probably have understood the messenger of the covenant to be a divine being. And the Christian church has understood Jesus Christ to be the messenger of the new covenant. In verse two Malachi turns to the second coming of the Messiah. The second advent will be one of judgement and purification. When He comes He will be like a refiners fire or fullers soap. The dross of the people’s wickedness must be burned away by the fires of divine testing and chastisement. The blazing fire and strong soap signify the testing by smelting and the cleaning that would restore Israel’s faithfulness to her covenant with the Lord. Once that has happened the Lord will once again accept the offerings of the people like He did before. In this coming day of the Lord, God is eager to witness against postexilic Judah. Sorcerers practiced black magic, witchcraft, and fortune telling for personal gain. The coming day of God’s judgement would either purify the sinful Judeans or destroy them.
Message number five echoes the first by emphasizing God’s faithfulness to His promises. He calls Israel to a similar faithfulness in worship, especially in giving their tithes and offerings. If this is a courtroom drama, this message serves as the judge’s verdict. The real message is repentance. God wants holiness and sincere worship from His people, of which tithing is a symbol. Malachi begins with the word from the Lord that He does not change. Some will view this as good news. God will be forever merciful. Others see nothing here but doom. God will never stop judging His people with severe consequences. Returning expresses a change of loyalty on the part of Israel or the Lord. Typically this is seen as repentance. The verb here is imperative, indicating urgency. This demands an immediate action from the audience. We see the people’s ignorance here when they say they have never left the Lord so how can they return. They were so corrupted they did not or would not see how far away from the Lord they actually were. God asks “should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me”. The people are somewhat taken aback. What do you mean? When did we do that? The cheating came in the form of tithes and offerings that were not being given. Tithes were required by mosaic law. These tithes supported the priests and Levites along with the widows, orphans, and the foreigners. While tithes were required, offerings were additional gifts or contributions. These were made to the Lord or His sanctuary and included produce, material goods, or personal valuables. Malachi urgently called the people to repent, turn to the Lord, and do what the covenant required.
God even invited the people to put Him to the test. Here the Lord offered the restored community an opportunity to prove His faithfulness to His covenant promises. If they choose to do this, God will bless them beyond anything they have ever seen. There will be so much the people will run out of room to put things. When this happens all the nations will call Israel blessed and once again the world will see the Lord’s favor toward Israel.
Malachi’s final message spans 3:13-4:3. This contains two distinct but related speeches. The first emphasizes service to the Lord and the second contrasts the fate of the wicked verses the fate of the righteous. In the courtroom this is the sentencing part of the trial. While wickedness seems to triumph over righteousness and God seems delinquent in judging sin in the community, the coming day of the Lord will vindicate God’s justice as the wicked are separated from the righteous by the fire of God’s judgement. The people had accused God of favoring evildoers. They had openly questioned His justice, yet the lord loves justice. They questioned the importance of serving God or obeying Him. They assumed their righteous acts would result in material blessings. They even doubted the purpose of showing sorrow for their sins. The idea here was to parade mournfully or walk in funeral garb to demonstrate penitence, as though such acts were righteous in and of themselves. Calling the arrogant blessed was blasphemy against God. Being proud or arrogant was a reference to godless, rebellious people.
Eventually Malachi served as a recorder, reporting the audiences reaction to his final message and God’s response to the discussion among those who feared the Lord. Interestingly enough, although God is listening to their deliberations there is no evidence that Malachi’s message effected any real change in the majority of the listeners. Nowhere are we told how many people signed the scroll. There were some who did place themselves under the law, those who feared God. And God did not ignore those who were faithful to Him. Those God referred to as his special treasure.
Chapter four is a direct warning to the people that repentance is the only proper response to the Lord’s message because His judgement is inescapable. The destruction of the wicked will be terrible and total devastation. The sun of righteousness may be a title for the Messiah, or a figurative description of a new era of righteousness in which God will overturn the curse of sin. Malachi compares the Savior with a bird whose comforting wings bring healing to the chicks that gather underneath. Outstretched wings are a symbol of God’s protection and rescue. Malachi concluded with an epilogue containing appeals to both Moses and Elijah. These two are ideal models of faith in the Lord and the ideals of the law and prophets. These two become the examples Malachi encourages the people to follow. The first reminds Judah to obey the law of Moses. Israel’s identity was rooted in the exodus and defined by the Sinai covenant mediated by Moses. The second warns that the divine judgement of the wicked is approaching along with promises of divine deliverance and restoration for the righteous. Elijah is a prime example of a prophet of God who preached repentance with messages that were authenticated by signs and wonders. Elijah was the forerunner of the day of the Lord. The New Testament identifies John the Baptist as the prophet who prepared the way for Jesus the Messiah. Malachi ends with both a promise and a warning. As in every act of God announcing judgement there is also an offer of His mercy. But if the people do not turn to the Lord He will bring a curse. This term is one of the harshest in scripture. The Hebrew word suggests complete annihilation. This is the same term, translated doom that is used in the account of the destruction of Jericho. Malachi ends with the warning that the people of Israel who do not respond to God’s prophet would face utter oblivion, just like their Canaanite neighbors.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
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