Be Amazed (Malachi)
The name Malachi means "My messenger" (3:1). He was the last of the writing prophets but wrote nothing about himself. We have no biblical information about his ancestry, call, or personal life. But the important thing about messengers is the message they bring, not who they are or where they came from.
In 538 B.C., Cyrus issued a decree that the Jews exiled in Babylon could return to their land and rebuild their temple (2 Chron. 36:22-23; Ezra 1). About 50,000 of them accepted the challenge, and in 515, after much delay, they completed the temple. Ezra visited them in 458, and in 445 Nehemiah became their governor and served for twelve years (Neh. 5:14).
While Nehemiah was back at his post in Shushan (Neh. 13:6-7), things began to fall apart in Jerusalem; and when he returned, he had to take some drastic steps to reform the nation. It's possible that the Prophet Malachi was called at that time to expose the sins of the people and call them back to God.
The conditions described in the Book of Nehemiah are the very things Malachi deals with in his book: poor crops and a faltering economy (Mal. 3:11), intermarriage with the heathen (2:11), defilement of the priesthood (1:6ff), oppression of the poor (3:5), lack of support for the temple (vv. 8-10), and a general disdain of religion (v. 13ff). It was a low time spiritually for Judah, and they needed to hear the Word of God.
Malachi was the last prophet Judah heard until John the Baptist came and the prophecy of 3:1 was fulfilled. His messages against "the sins of the saints" need to be heeded today.
"A church member scolded her pastor for preaching a series of sermons on "The Sins of the Saints."
"After all," she argued, "the sins of Christians are different from the sins of other people."
"Yes," agreed her pastor, "they're worse."
They are worse, for when believers sin, they not only break the Law of God, but they break the heart of God. When a believer deliberately sins, it isn't just the disobedience of a servant to a master, or the rebellion of a subject against a king; it's the offense of a child against the loving Father. The sins we cherish and thing we get away with bring grief to the heart of God.
Malachi was called to perform a difficult and dangerous task. It was his responsibility to rebuke the people for the sins they were committing against God and against one another, and to call them to return to the Lord. Malachi took a wise approach: he anticipated the objections of the people and met them head-on. "This is what God says," declared the prophet, "but you say..." and then he would answer their complaints. The Old Testament prophets were often the only people in the community who had a grip on reality and saw things as they actually were, and that's what made them so unpopular. "Prophets were twice stoned," said Christopher Morley, paraphrasing Matthew 22:29-31, "first in anger, then, after their death, with a handsome slab in the graveyard."
In this chapter, we'll study what Malachi wrote concerning three of their sins, and then we'll consider the remaining three in the next chapter. But don't read Malachi as ancient history. Unfortunately, these sins are with us in the church today.
Like Nahum (1:1) and Habakkuk (1:1), Malachi called his message a "burden." The prophets were men who personally felt "the burden of the Lord" as God gave them insight into the hearts of the people and the problems of society. It wasn't easy for Malachi to strip the veneer off the piety of the priests and expose their hypocrisy, or to repeat to the people the complaints they were secretly voicing against the Lord, but that's what God called him to do. 'The task of a prophet," writes Eugene Peterson, "is not to smooth things over but to make things right."
The first sin Malachi named was the people's lack of love for God. That was the first sin Jesus mentioned when He wrote to the seven churches of Asia Minor (Rev. 2:4), and perhaps it's listed first because lack of love for God is the source of all other sin. For centuries, the Jews have recited "The Shema" as their daily prayer: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might" (Deut. 6:4-5, nkjv). But the people Malachi preached to doubted that God even loved them, so why should they love Him?
The prophet presented several evidences of God's love for Israel, the first of which is God's clear statement of His love (Mal. 1:2a). Malachi was probably referring to what the Lord said through Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy, particularly 7:6-11. When God gave the Law at Sinai, the emphasis was, "Obey My Law because I am a holy God." But when Moses reviewed the Law for the new generation, the emphasis was, "Obey the Lord because He loves you and you love Him." Both motives are valid today.
The second evidence of God's love that Malachi presented was God's electing grace (Mal. 2b-3). As the firstborn in the family, Esau should have inherited both the blessing and the birthright, but the Lord gave them to his younger brother Jacob (Gen. 25:21-23). The descendants of Esau had their land assigned to them, but God gave the Edomites no covenants of blessing as He did to Jacob's descendants.
The statement that God loved Jacob but hated Esau has troubled some people. Paul quoted it in Romans 9:10-13 to prove God's electing grace for both Israel and all who trust Jesus Christ for salvation. But the verb "hate" must not be defined as a positive expression of the wrath of God. God's love for Jacob was so great that, in comparison, His actions toward Esau looked like hatred. As an illustration, Jacob loved Rachel so much that his relationship to Leah seemed like hatred (Gen. 29:20, 30-31; see also Deut. 21:15-17). When Jesus called His disciples to "hate" their own family (Luke 14:26), He was using the word "hate" in a similar way. Our love for Christ may occasionally move us to do things that appear like hatred to those whom we love (see Matt. 12:46-50).
Someone said to Dr. Arno C. Gaebelein, the gifted Hebrew Christian leader of a generation ago, "I have a serious problem with Malachi 1:3, where God says, 'Esau I have hated.'" Dr. Gaebelein replied, "I have a greater problem with Malachi 1:2, where God says, 'Jacob, I have loved.'" We certainly can't explain the love and grace of God, nor do we have to, but we can experience God's grace and love as trust Christ and walk with Him. The Lord is even willing to be "the God of Jacob."
Malachi's third evidence for God's love is God's evident blessing on the people of Israel (v. 4). Like other nations in that area, Edom suffered during the Babylonian invasion of Israel, but the Lord didn't promise to restore their land as He promised the Jews. The proud Edomites boasted that they would quickly have their land in good shape, but God had other plans. He called Edom "The Wicked Land" (v. 4, niv), but Israel He called "the holy land" (Zech. 2:12). Zechariah 2:12 is the only place in Scripture where Palestine is called "the holy land." Malachi 3:12 calls it "a delightful land" (niv); and it is also called a "beautiful land" (Dan. 11:41, niv: "glorious"), "the Lord's land" (Hosea 9:3), and "the pleasant land" (Zech. 7:14). Keep in mind that the Edomites were indeed an evil people (see Obad. 8-14) who deserved every judgment God sent their way. To the Jews, the Babylonian invasion was a chastening, but to Edom, it was a judgment.