Malachi: Dishonoring the Lord

Posted on July 7, 2018

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By David Ettinger

Note: This series was published in the magazine Zion’s Fire a few years back. I offer it here for anyone interested. I plan to run one article a day for 13 days. Being magazine articles, obviously each post will be longer than my usual blog length.

Name of Book: Malachi 

Author: The prophet Malachi 

Meaning of Author’s Name: “My Messenger” 

When Written: Around 430 B.C., possibly as late as 400 B.C. following the reforms of Ezra (458 B.C.) and Nehemiah (444 B.C.) 

Themes

  • Giving God the honor He deserves
  • Corruption of the priesthood
  • “Robbing” God
  • Indifference to God

Political Background
malachi artThe Israelites have been back in the land (from Babylonian captivity) for well more than 100 years. The Temple and city wall of Jerusalem have been rebuilt, and the priesthood reestablished. In fact, the priesthood has been operating for a while, long enough for priests to grow weary of their vocations and for the people of Judah to have drifted into apathy regarding their observance of the Mosaic Law. Some of the Israelites have gone beyond apathy to outright belligerence. Because of their failure to hold up their end of the covenantal relationship with God, the Israelites are suffering from poor harvests resulting in food shortages. Both the priests and general population are abusing the Mosaic Law by skimping on tithes and offerings and presenting to the Lord inferior sacrifices – wounded or blemished animals. The post-exilic Israelites have put God on the backburner, regarding His covenantal stipulations as of no account.                                                                                                  

Key Verses

  • Malachi 1:11: “For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles … My name shall be great among the nations.”
  • Malachi 2:16: “For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence.”
  • Malachi 4:2: “But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves.”

References in the New Testament

  • Malachi 1:2-3 (Romans 9:13)
  • Malachi 3:1 (Matthew 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27)
  • Malachi 4:5-6 (Matthew 17:10-11)

Synopsis
The book of Malachi uses a “dialectal” or “disputational” style. The format is a dialogue, with a twist: the Lord is voicing both sides of the discussion. He begins with a sharp, terse statement/accusation. Next, He verbalizes the people’s objection in the form of a question. He then enlarges the theme, clarifying His point. This is how the disputational style plays out in Chapter 1, verses 2-3:

“I have loved you,” says the Lord [the sharp, terse statement/accusation]. Yet you say, “In what way have You loved us?” [the objection-question]. “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” says the Lord. “Yet Jacob I have loved; but Esau I have hated, and laid waste his mountains and his heritage for the jackals of the wilderness” [the enlargement of the theme to drive home the point].

The point of this passage is that God has chosen Jacob over Esau (the meaning of hate and love here has to do with “chosenness” and “unchoseness”).

Asacrifices God’s chosen people, Israel is expected to honor and respect God; but she has failed miserably, and God takes her to task for it: “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is My reverence?” (v. 6). This dishonor begins atop the religious food chain, the priesthood. The priests are sacrificing blind, lame, and sick animals to the Lord. However, the book of Leviticus repeatedly demands sacrifices “without blemish” be offered (1:3, 10; 3:1, 6; 4:3, 23, 28, 32, etc.). God is disgusted with the priests’ offerings, accusing the priests of condemning the offerings with such terms as “profaned,” “defiled,” and “contemptible” (v. 12). God will not be marginalized; He says, “… I am a great King … and My name is to be feared among the nations” (v. 14).

Malachi begins Chapter 2 with God’s pronouncement of punishment upon the priests if they do not repent: “I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings” (v. 2); and “I will rebuke your descendants and spread refuse on your faces” (v. 3). The Lord’s anger is justified because “the lips of a priest should keep knowledge, and people should seek the law from his mouth” (v. 7). But Israel’s priests have “departed from the way” and “have caused many to stumble at the law” (v. 8), a truly grievous sin.

Malachi turns his attention to the citizens of Judah, whose relationships have suffered due to their faithlessness. The prophet introduces this new emphasis by declaring, “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously with one another by profaning the covenant of the fathers?” (v. 10). Malachi further accuses Judah of committing an “abomination” and acting “profane” (v. 11). In what ways have the Israelites done this? Malachi says, “He has married the daughter of a foreign god” (v. 12). The Israelites were to keep their family lines pure; instead they have married foreigners. If practiced en masse, this would mean the extinction of the Jewish people as future generations would lose their Hebrew identity.

Another social abomination was perpetrated by Israelite men who married Israelite women. Malachi writes: “… the Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant” (v. 14). In what way were Israelite men treating their Israelite wives treacherously? The prophet tells us, “For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence” (v. 16). Israelite men were callously divorcing their wives for no legitimate reason (such as adultery). This heinous behavior was regarded as “violence.” Divorce is so detestable to God that He equates it with physical acts of violence and treachery.

As if to contrast the evil ways of Judah with the holiness of God, Malachi begins chapter 3 with this prophecy: “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple” (v. 1). This prophecy was fulfilled in John the Baptist, the messenger, and Jesus Christ, the Lord. Of importance to Malachi is that the coming Messiah will be “like a refiner’s fire and like launderers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness” (vv. 2-3). Whereas the priesthood and citizens are morally and spiritually corrupt, the coming Messiah will purify the Israelites, establishing a spiritually cleansed people who will give to God the honor He deserves and treat each other – especially their wives – in a way that will be pleasing to Him.

coins stackAnother of Judah’s sins is “robbing” God by withholding tithes and offerings (v. 8). Because Judah is holding back what she owes God, He is withholding from Judah food, most likely in the form of meager harvest yields (vv. 10-11). Yet, God is merciful, encouraging the people to bring the full tithe “to the storehouse.” In return, the Lord vows to “open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it” (v. 10).

Remarkably, Malachi’s preaching pierces the hearts of some of the residents of Judah. He writes: “Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name” (v. 16). Considering the evils described in Malachi’s short book, these are truly uplifting and welcome words. In the midst of sin, God has a remnant of believers who are sensitive to His Word and align their hearts with His will.

Chapter 4 takes a sharp and stunning turn, almost as if the Lord is saying, “Enough of this! I am the One in charge! I will have the final say! Enough of your abominable behavior, Judah!” Malachi leaps ahead in time to the Day of the Lord. He writes: “‘For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘that will leave them neither root nor branch’” (v. 1). The Lord is in control and is making clear that there is only one will that will be accomplished upon the earth – His! The time for dishonor, violence, and immorality will be squashed in an instant when the Lord will at last punish the world for its manifold sin.

The prophet ends his book with the Lord continuing his conversation with righteous Israelites begun in Chapter 3. He tells us that God will send the prophet Elijah “Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (v. 5). (This end-times appearance of Elijah lines up with Jesus’ words in Matthew 17:11. However, we must note that it is difficult to determine whether Jesus is referring to a resurrected Elijah himself, or a prophet who will come in the spirit of Elijah as did John the Baptist. This is the probable meaning of this difficult passage.)

Besides letting the world know about the soon-return of Christ at the end of the age, this Elijah-like figure will be given another, fascinating role. It will be his job to “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (v. 6). What a curious phrase. What does it mean? Though difficult to nail down, it likely means that this man’s preaching will lead to a spirit of repentance and unity among those who will claim the name of Christ during the end-times, including fathers and sons.

Malachi adds one more condition to his “Elijah” pronouncement. Those who fail to repent will see the Lord “come and strike the earth with a curse” (v. 6). This curse could well be the outpouring of God’s wrath on planet earth.

malachi pageWith this warning, Malachi ends his book, closing God’s Old Testament revelation. Malachi is the final recorded prophet to whom God appeared until John the Baptist a little more than 400 years later.

Aftermath

  • Those who took Malachi’s preaching to heart repented and amended their ways. The Lord responded by promising to spare them, both in this life and the next (3:16-18).
  • The final prophetic book of the Old Testament left the Israelites with the promise of the coming Redeemer who would purify Israel and cleanse her from all wrongdoing.

Significance for God’s People Today

  • The Israelites were offering the Lord defective animals. What “defectiveness” are you offering the Lord? Are your prayers merely lip service? Do you force yourself to read your Bible as a way to pacify God? Do you attend church to truly worship God, or merely to “square” yourself with “the man upstairs”?
  • The Israelites withheld their tithes and offerings from the Lord. How are you when it comes to giving? Do you tithe, trusting God to provide you with your needs (3:10)? Are you giving to the Lord with a joyful heart (2 Corinthians 9:6-7)?

Implications for the World Today

  • Malachi encouraged Israel to seek God’s favor and forgiveness (1:9). Can there be any doubt that the West needs to do the same? The West has progressively shunned God with every passing year. If this pattern is not reversed, the time of God’s favor will pass – if it has not already.
  • Malachi 1:10 reads: “‘I have no pleasure in you,’ says the Lord of hosts.” If God spoke audibly to the West today, would He utter these same words? It seems certain the answer is yes.
  • In Malachi 2:15-16, the Lord voices His hatred of divorce. For years, the divorce rate of Western nations has hovered around the 50 percent mark in defiant opposition to God’s proclaimed desire for marriage: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). To this mandate, Jesus added, “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6).

Of Note

  • malachiSome believe the name of the man who penned this writing is unknown and that “Malachi,” which means “My Messenger,” is but a designation. Though there is some merit to this claim, scholars agree that the book is a unified work and the writing of a single author.
  • Malachi gives us a rare glimpse of this otherwise obscure era of Jewish history.
  • Though the last recorded prophet before the emergence of John the Baptist, Malachi is not the last-written Old Testament book. 1 and 2 Chronicles (originally one book), was written sometime between 400 and 350 B.C.
  • We know nothing about the author of Malachi.

Part 1: “Introduction: The Major Messages of the Minor Prophets”

Part 2: “Hosea: Adultery, Judgment, and God’s Grace”

Part 3: “Joel: Behold the Day of the Lord”

Part 4: “Amos: A Corrupt People and a God of Fury”

Part 5: “Obadiah: Pride and Arrogance Brought Low”

Part 6: “Jonah: Running From God”

Part 7: “Micah: He Has Shown You, O Man”

Part 8: “Nahum: The Ultimate in Fire and Brimstone”

Part 9: “Habakkuk: Why, Oh Why, Lord?”

Part 10: “Zephaniah: Packing a Powerful Prophetic Punch”

Part 11: “Haggai: “Stop Lounging Around and Get Back to Work!”

Part 12: “Zechariah: Israel, the Apple of God’s Eye”