A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
This is the latest in our series on the minor prophets called “The Prophets Speak Again”. As in the past, we’ll take a message from the Lord to ancient Israel and see if there’s a parallel application in our world today. But first lets get a little better acquainted with Malachi.
The name Malachi means “my messenger”. Very little is known about him, and some even speculate that Malachi was a title rather than a name, making the book’s author unknown. But most say he was a real person, a prophet who spoke to Israel for God somewhere between 433-425 BC. That would place his time of service after those of Haggai and Zechariah, during the early days of the Second Temple period.
According to Jewish history, a man named Malachi was a member of the Great Assembly, a body of 120 leaders who were the ultimate authority in Israel at that time. He was most likely the same Malachi whose book we’re about to read.
(The second Temple is often called Herod’s Temple but it was originally built under the direction of Zerubbabel following the return from Babylon. The first Temple, built by Solomon, had been destroyed by the Babylonians.
Zerubbabel’s Temple was expanded during the Hasmonean dynasty (140-116 BC), but in 20 BC King Herod began such a dramatic renovation project that it was swallowed up in the grandeur of his reconstruction, and that’s when the Second Temple became known as Herod’s Temple.)
The Jews of Malachi’s time had lost hope in the promises God had made through Haggai and Zechariah. These included a promise that the glory of Zerubbabel’s Temple, which was a much more modest structure than Solomon’s Temple, would be greater than the one it replaced and would be the place where God would grant peace (Haggai 2:9). He said henceforth He would always bless them (Haggai 2:19) and He said He would return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem (Zechariah 7:3) as king of the whole world (Zechariah 14:9). We now know that some of these were fulfilled in the Lord’s first coming while others await His return. But in Malachi’s time the people felt they were overdue for fulfillment and began to doubt whether God was sincere.
By the time Malachi came on the scene this doubt had led to rampant corruption in the priesthood and a spiritual lethargy among the people. They became focused on their difficult circumstances and refused to see that their own sinfulness was the cause of their problems. Malachi’s task was to call them to account for their lack of faith. After all, it had been over 1,000 years since God had made His covenant with Abraham and their history was filled with the evidence of His faithfulness.
Most experts believe that Malachi was the last prophet of Old Testament times. After his time of service was completed a 400 year silence followed, ending when John the Baptist came on the scene to herald the coming Messiah. With that, let’s begin our study of the Book of Malachi
An oracle: The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi.
Israel Doubts God’s Love
“I have loved you,” says the Lord.
“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’
“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”
Edom may say, “Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.”
But this is what the Lord Almighty says: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord. You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the Lord—even beyond the borders of Israel!’ (Malachi 1:1-5).
God used the contrast in His treatment of Esau and Jacob as evidence of His love for Israel. No matter what the descendants of Esau did to restore themselves, He would destroy it, and they would be known as the Wicked Land. Yet He had been actively involved in Israel’s restoration in the Promised Land. Even though their sins against Him had brought about their judgment and 70 year captivity, He sent Cyrus the Persian to free them. And under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah He had brought them back to the land He had given their forefathers and helped them rebuild both their temple and their city.
Those who teach that people have no choice about being saved like to use Romans 9:13, which is a quote from Malachi 1:2-3, to justify their position. They say it proves that God can choose whoever He wants to and reject whoever He wants to, and man is in no position to object. And when Paul continued by saying, “It does not depend on man’s desire or effort but on God’s mercy” (Romans 9:16) they say it confirms their position.
But they ignore the fact that God was not talking about our salvation in Romans 9, he was defending God’s choice of Israel as His people. No one would argue that by selecting Abraham God was exercising His right of sovereign election, but that fact has nothing to do with how Gentiles become part of the Church. The Bible could not be any clearer in saying that accepting the Lord’s death as payment in full for our sins is a choice any of us can make (Matt. 7:7-8, John 3:16, Romans 10:13, etc).
And God did not always hate Esau. In fact, when Jacob and Esau split over the way Jacob got the bulk of Isaac’s inheritance, God gave Esau the land we know as Edom. We learn this from Deut. 2:1-6 where God told Moses He had given the territory they were about to enter to the descendants of Easu, and would not let the children of Israel have any of it. He told Moses to be very careful not to provoke them, and to pay them for any food and water they consumed while passing through Edom.
From Ezekiel 35 we learn that God was driven to everlasting hatred against Edom because of the way they treated Israel during the time of the conquests of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. They helped Israel’s enemies overcome them and then moved in to take possession of the promised land, all because they harbored an ancient grudge against God’s people. Notice how God said they harbored an ancient grudge. You never hear about God harboring a grudge about it. Jacob was a conniver but in Genesis 25:29-34 we see that Esau despised his birthright and brought the loss of it upon himself.
Breaking Covenant Through Blemished Sacrifices
“A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the Lord Almighty.
“It is you priests who show contempt for my name.
“But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’
“By offering defiled food on my altar.
“But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’
“By saying that the Lord’s table is contemptible. When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty.
“Now plead with God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?”—says the Lord Almighty. (Malachi 1:6-9)
There were two things wrong here. First, the offering of a lame or diseased animal as a sacrifice showed they were not honoring Him. It was a sign of disrespect. If their human governor would not be pleased with such a gift, what made them think God would find it acceptable?
Second, the sacrificial animals were intended as a substitute for the sacrifice of His Son. Jesus was the perfect example of humanity, and the animals they sacrificed were supposed to be perfect examples of their breed, without any spot or blemish. Offering less than perfect animals showed they no longer cared enough to do the right thing. They were just going through the motions and in doing so were breaking an important provision of their covenant with Him.
Only a very small percentage of Christians today give God our best. We’re admonished to present our whole being as a living sacrifice to God as our spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1-2). But multiple surveys have shown that most of us just give Him the leftovers of our lives. If we have any time or money left over from things we consider to be more important we may share some of it with Him, but if not we don’t worry about it. Are we being any less disrespectful to the One who sacrificed His life to save ours?
“Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands. My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord Almighty.
“But you profane it by saying, ‘The Lord’s table is defiled,’ and, ‘Its food is contemptible.’ And you say, ‘What a burden!’ and you sniff at it contemptuously,” says the Lord Almighty. (Malachi 1:10-13).
We aren’t even aware of the extent to which we take God for granted, and it’s only because He has made peace with us through His blood shed on the cross (Colossians 1:19-20) that we’re not under judgment. I often wonder how much richer and fuller our lives would be, and how much greater our impact on the world, if we took His word seriously and followed the prompting of the Holy Spirit more enthusiastically.
But like the Jews of Malachi’s time we’ve grown weary of waiting. Many who call themselves Christian no longer live in expectation that He will fulfill His promises to us. And the worst part is that they’re too busy with other things to even realize it. Someone once said, “If you want to know what a man’s subconscious intentions are, notice what he pays conscious attention to.” If it’s our subconscious intention to leave here soon and begin our eternity with the Lord, wouldn’t we pay more conscious attention to getting ready?
“When you bring injured, lame or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?” says the Lord. “Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the Lord Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations (Malachi 1:13-14).
Before we allocated the bulk of our resources to the things of this world we could have chosen to allocate them to the kingdom. It’s not too late to start reversing that. He is a great King and deserves our best.
From Rev. 21:4 we know that when we stand before God He will wipe every tear from our eyes. I’ve heard it said that many of those will be tears of regret. We’ll shed them when we finally see with our own eyes the amazing future that’s been prepared for us, and realize how little we did during our time on Earth to express our gratitude to the One who prepared it. Don’t wait any longer. Every day is a new beginning with God. His mercies are new every morning. Stay tuned. There’s more to come. 06-15-13