The Expository Files.

  Malachi: A Century After the Return from Captivity 

The Minor Prophets, #12 (Final)  

The final book in the Old Testament is the book of Malachi. Malachi prophesied about 445 - 432 B.C. The main focus of the book is to encourage faithfulness to the Lord. Malachi was among the third generation of the returnees from Babylonian captivity. A lot can change from one generation to the next. Accounts that grandpa gives of the events of his day often seem far removed from the present generation. Old struggles and hardships seem distant and unimportant. It is also very easy to take for granted things for which previous generations struggled and have been easily inherited by the present generation. We see it in our own day, and Malachi saw it in his as well.

One of the results was that worship had become outwardly formal without inward zeal for many. The people were quite content to give God the leftovers of their lives. The priests, who had the responsibility to insure that only the best of the flock was offered to God, had also grown careless and permitted even the most unhealthy specimens to be used as offerings to God.

Also, divorce was becoming commonplace. The society itself was reeling under the consequences of broken homes as God's will concerning the marriage relationship was being all but ignored. Our nation would do well to heed what the Lord says to them about this, because unfortunately their problem has become our problem.

"The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi." (MALACHI 1:1).

"Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire upon My altar! I am not pleased with you," says the Lord of hosts, "nor will I accept an offering from you." (MALACHI 1:10). The Lord begins by reminding Israel how He had loved them. He had been true to His promises concerning them. He reminds them about how a son honors his father or a servant his master and then asks, "If I am a father, where is My honor? If I am a master, then where is My respect?" (MALACHI 1:6).

Instead of honor, the priests had despised their God. They ask, "How have we despised Thy name?"

The Lord responds by giving multiple examples of the lax way in which they were rendering worship of God. It was no longer a special thing to them, but a weariness. They were giving the minimum amount of effort to get by. But they were not getting by at all! In fact, the Lord flatly rejected such worship as unacceptable. He would rather they shut the gates of the temple and entirely quit than to continue with the halfhearted efforts they had grown accustomed to giving.

They were bringing the lame and sick of their flocks to offer unto God. The Lord said that they wouldn't even consider offering such to the governor as a gift, but they were quite satisfied to offer it to God (1:8). It is not enough to go through some motions and call it worship. If we are not dedicated enough unto God to give Him the best, then can our worship be any more acceptable unto Him than theirs was? If we are content to give God what we consider the minimum necessary, will God also be content with that? Malachi says, "No!"

"And now, this commandment is for you, O priests. If you do not listen, and if you do not take it to heart to honor My name, then I will send the curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings; and indeed I have cursed them already, because you are not taking it to heart." (MALACHI 2:1,2). I suppose that every age has seen its share of religious leaders who were perhaps respected by many people and yet faithless unto God. The priests of Malachi's day were quite willing to let anything pass as worship without saying a word. They were much like their modern counterparts who will only preach what people want them to preach; they won't mention hell if you do not want them to, they will not stress obedience; they will allow their church to become a social organization dispensing fun, food and frolic if that is what the people want, they will advocate a departure from Biblical doctrine concerning moral issues if the people want to live without moral restraint.

These priests should have been serving the peoples needs instead of the people's desires. In refusing to do so, they not only failed the people, they failed their God. "But as for you, you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by the instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi,' declares the Lord of hosts." (MALACHI 2:8).

"For I hate divorce," declares the Lord, the God of Israel, "and him who covers his garment with wrong,' says the Lord of hosts. "So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously." (MALACHI 2:16). There was another thing pervading the land that caused the Lord to reject the worshipers' offerings and prayers. Many were divorcing their wives and marrying foreigners. Marriage was becoming cheap and the most important of all human relationships was being despised.

First of all, such behavior was strictly forbidden by God's Law. In other times, intermarrying with idol worshipers had led to apostasy. Therefore, the Lord had forbidden such intermarrying. At the very least, the message to Christians today is to be careful about who you marry. Many have married out of the faith only to regret it later. In fact, sadly, that is the way it most often happens.

Adding to the sinfulness of these marriages is that many were divorcing the "wife of your youth" (2:14). The Lord says that such behavior is treacherous, to divorce a lifelong companion and a sharer in the covenant to marry an idolator. They have dealt "treacherously with (their) brothers so as to profane the covenant of our fathers." (2:10). Though we live in a different century, the same is true: The Lord hates divorce!

"Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,' declares the Lord of hosts." (MALACHI 3:1). All four of the gospels state that the promise to send the messenger to clear the way before the Lord's own arrival was fulfilled in John the Baptist (MATTHEW 3:3; MARK 1:3; LUKE 3:4; JOHN 1:23). This passage also clearly identifies the One who is to come as the Lord of Hosts. This certainly shows the Deity of Christ. The Lord will come in justness and righteousness. He will purify His people, redeeming a righteous remnant and casting off the faithless (3:2-6). The Lord was faithful to Israel, but Israel was not faithful to the Lord. Jesus would establish a new kingdom of priests. In spiritual Israel, His "Levites" (those of the spiritual priesthood) would be pure.

The Lord further describes His redeemed ones; "And they will be Mine,' says the Lord of hosts, 'on the day that I prepare My own possession ... So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him." (MALACHI 3:17,18).

That day will also be a day of judgment. The physical nation of Israel will cast off for unbelief. Jesus announced that those days had arrived and wept when He considered unbelieving Jerusalem's fate; that of destruction. But there is also assurance given to the faithful; "But for you who fear My name the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings... (MALACHI 4:2). And thus, the final prophecy concerning the Messiah was made, and the people waited. It was four centuries later that the infant born in Bethlehem began the fulfillment of these and other promises.

By Jon W. Quinn  
From Expository Files 4.12; December 1997