Malachi — Last of the Old Order Prophets
The book of Malachi appears to have been written during the time period between Nehemiah 13:3 & 4, when the king’s cup-bearer returned to his master and then came back to govern the Jews in Jerusalem (c. 432-425 BC) [Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps & Charts, p. 283]. In a question-and-answer format, the prophet—whose name means “my messenger”—confronts some of the very issues the governor dealt with upon his return.
Malachi was the last recorded prophet between the time of Zechariah and John the Baptist. During this period, known as the “silent years,” Israel was left without a ‘word from the Lord’ for four centuries!
Malachi Chapter 1
First, Malachi contrasted Israel’s privileged status as a nation over their kinsmen and former neighbors, the Edomites. After identifying himself as the recipient of divine revelation, he started out, “I loved you,” says Yahweh (Malachi 1:2a, Names of God [NOG] Bible). Anticipating their question, “In what way have you loved us?” (v. 2b), the Lord reminded the Jews that Jacob and Esau were both sons of Isaac, “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated…” (Mal. 1:2c-3, NIV). As prophesied by Jeremiah, Obadiah and Ezekiel, God had laid waste the territory of the Edomites and was not about to let them rebuild, as He was enabling Israel to do (Mal. 1:3-4; c.f.—Jer. 49:7-22, Ob. 1-18, Eze. 25:12-14 & 35:1-13). Instead, YHWH intended to let the Hebrews see how he would pour out His indignation on Edom forever (Mal. 1:4-5).
Romans 9:10-14 refers to this passage in Paul’s discussion on election. It was not that God was judging Esau and Jacob before they ever had a chance to do any right or wrong. The language in Malachi and Paul’s letter indicate that YHWH was simply making a choice: “I’m going to be kind to this man and his descendants over the other, in order to carry out My plan.”
From our introduction to these two, while Esau and Jacob were struggling in their mother Rebeccah’s womb, the Lord identified them as nations and people groups, rather than individuals:
“Two nations are in your womb,
Two peoples shall be separated from your body;
One people shall be stronger than the other,
And the older shall serve the younger.” (Gen. 25:23)
As a nation, Israel had generally feared God and tried to serve YHWH. The Edomites, on the other hand, were constantly expressing the same envy and enmity toward Jacob’s descendants that Esau had felt toward his brother, when Jacob took hold of the blessing and honor that the Lord had promised (See Gen. 25:27-34 & 27:1-41). Because they troubled those YHWH intended to bless, He afflicted them with curses.
Next, YHWH addressed the priests and people who had ceased to honor Him. He said sons and servants honored their earthly parents and masters, yet Israel had not paid their Lord the respect He deserved (Mal. 1:6). How? They were violating God’s Law by brining animals to sacrifice that were defective—blind, lame and sick (c.f.—Mal. 1:7-8 & Lev. 22:18-24). Using the Persian word, pechach, the Lord asked how their governor would respond, if they offered him such inferior animals. God would have preferred the Jews to shut the doors of their recently reconstructed temple than to “kindle fire on My altar in vain” to burn these unacceptable sacrifices (Mal. 1:9-10).
In verse 11, YHWH stated, “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations…” (Mal. 1:11, ESV). It isn’t clear from the original language whether God meant from sunrise to sunset (as the New Living Translation of the Bible suggests), or whether He meant from east to west (as we read in the New Century Version). Either way, the Lord intended to make a positive impression on sincere worshippers everywhere. Yet how could that happen, if people from His own chosen nation considered sacrificial offerings to YHWH contemptible, and brought less-than-perfect animals to slaughter at the temple (vv. 12-13)?
Similarly, the Hebrews were violating Leviticus 27:9-10, dedicating an acceptable male from their flocks, and then substituting a blemished animal as their sacrifice (Mal. 1:14). Not only were they not taking their worship seriously, but this disregard of their “great King” was bringing a curse upon the Jewish nation.
Malachi Chapter 2
In the first part of chapter 2, God dealt directly with the unfaithful priests who had let the people of Judah stray so far from His principles. He said, “If you will not hear, and if you will not take [My commandments] to heart, to give glory to My name,…I will send a curse upon you” (Mal. 2:2). He threatened to smear the waste products of their inferior sacrifices on the faces of the corrupt priests, rebuke their descendants, and put an end to their pretentious feasts (v. 3).
God wanted to continue the covenant of peace established long ago with the descendants of Levi, when the priests feared God and spoke reverently of His character and His word (4-6). In those days, Levi “walked with Me in peace and equity, and turned many away from iniquity,” God explained (6). “For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction—because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty” (Mal. 2:7, NIV).
In contrast, priests in Nehemiah’s day (at least while he was absent) had “departed from the way” and “caused many to stumble at the law” (v. 8a-b). They had so “corrupted the covenant of Levi” and become such bad examples, God had given the people a low opinion of the immoral and inequitable priests (8c-9).
The next issue addressed by Malachi was the intermarriage of the Jews with foreigners. Although Ezra the priest had formerly dealt with this matter upon his arrival in Jerusalem (Ezra 9-10), it did not take the wayward Israelites long to be lured into this sin again. Although the prophet acknowledged that we all have one Creator, YHWH (Mal. 2:10), yet God’s holy people profaned themselves in the institution of marriage, when they joined themselves with pagan men and women (v. 11). He declared a curse against any man who thus allied himself with idols, and then came to present an offering to YHWH Sabaoth (12).
The Apostle Paul applied this same principle to believers in Christ. In 1 Corinthians 7, he explained the challenges of being married and serving the Lord—especially when a person was joined with an unbelieving spouse (vv. 7-35). He urged unmarried persons to stay that way, if at all possible (7-8). However, if they felt an uncontrollable desire for the opposite sex, they were free to marry, “but only in the Lord”—meaning to fellow believers (9, 25-28 & 38-40).
In 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, Paul gave an explanation for this, saying, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers…” Just as two oxen who will not pull the same direction can accomplish nothing, so two people who do not serve the same deity cannot please the Lord. “For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” (14). Believers and unbelievers have no more business being together than Jesus would’ve enjoyed fellowship with demons (15-16)! We are the new “temple of the living God,” who dwells within us by His Spirit (16). He commands us to separate ourselves from what is unclean and uncommitted to Him, so He can be our Father and we His holy offspring (17-18).
That is why Nehemiah was so incensed at the men of Judah, when he learned of their unfaithfulness (Neh. 13:23-27). He warned that, by marrying non-Jewish women, they were setting themselves up for the same apostasy committed by Solomon under the influence of his pagan wives.
Was God advocating divorce by demanding these people separate themselves from foreign spouses? No. That’s why He told the children of Israel not to intermarry in the first place (See Ex. 34:11-17 & Deut. 7:2-4). But, when we disobey God and enter into an “unequally yoked” situation, we bring painful consequences on ourselves and others.
This kind of situation is emphasized in the last third of Malachi chapter 2. YHWH talked about how the men of Judah often “cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and crying,” while He disregarded their sin offerings and fellowship offerings (Mal. 2:13). They couldn’t get close to God, “Because the Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously…” (v. 14). Since He didn’t approve the marriages of Israeli men to Gentile women, these wives must’ve been Jewish women who were forsaken or neglected by their husbands, when they were attracted to foreigners instead. Another clue that this is the case appears in the latter portion of verse 14: “Yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant.”
God makes men and women “one flesh” through the bond of marriage (c.f.—Gen. 2:24, Mal. 2:15, Matt. 19:4-6 & Mark 10:6-9). Malachi 2:15 tells us this is for the purpose of raising up “godly offspring.” The Apostle Paul affirmed this idea in 1 Corinthians 7:14.
“Therefore take heed to your spirit,” YHWH warned men in Malachi 2:15, “And let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth.” Otherwise—as the previous verses and 1 Peter 3:7 indicate—their prayers and worship of God may be hindered by this sin against their wives.
Why is this? “For the Lord God of Israel says That He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence” (Mal. 2:16). The tearing apart of a man and woman is a violent, traumatic experience that hurts both the spouses and their children. It is the breaking of a vow and a treachery that misrepresents the honesty and integrity of our promise-keeping God. Therefore, He warned men to guard their hearts against marital unfaithfulness.
The final verse of Malachi chapter 2 leads into chapter 3. God indicated He was tired of people saying that the wicked seem acceptable in His eyes, or that His justice was absent (Mal. 2:17).
Malachi Chapter 3
In the first part of this chapter, YHWH deals with the priesthood. Malachi assured them that justice was imminent—in the Person of His Messenger, who would come to the temple and “purify the sons of Levi,” so they would present offerings in righteousness that would “be pleasant to the Lord, as in the days of old” (Mal. 3:1-4).
The Lord also intended to deal with the rest of Judah’s population. He promised to “come near…for judgment” and “be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice” (Mal. 3:5, NIV). He said people who do these sorts of things show that they have no fear, or respect, of God. It’s only by the grace of God and His enduring commitment to Israel that they were not all wiped out for their sins committed “from the days of your fathers” (vv. 6-7a).
Do you see yourself in that list? Do you depend on or push drugs or medications? In the Septuagint, the Greek term for sorcerers is pharmakeus—from which we get the English word “pharmacy.” This referred to a druggist, a poisoner or a magician. Do you cheat on your spouse—either physically or in your heart, as Jesus said (Matt. 5:28)? Do you tell lies or withhold fair payment from those who work for you? Are you unconcerned about the poor, lonely, fatherless and foreigners? Then God is just as likely to deal with your heart as He was with the Jews.
In the second half of Malachi 3:7, the prophet introduced God’s sixth contention with Israel. “‘Return to me, and I will return to you,’ says Yahweh Tsebaoth” (NOG). Again, anticipating the people’s reply, the prophet wrote, “But you said, ‘In what way shall we return?’” The Lord answered that His people had been robbing Him, by withholding their tithes and offerings (v. 8). As we read in Nehemiah 13:10-11, the people not only deprived God of His due, but they made it impossible for His servants—the priests and Levites—to continue to do their jobs. This brought a curse on the Jewish people and their nation (Mal. 3:8-9). Just as Nehemiah later admonished the leaders and the people of Judah (Neh. 13:11-13), God urged, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house…” (Mal. 3:10, NIV). That way God’s ministers would be provided for, as described in Numbers 18:8-32.
In Malachi 3:10-12, we find a rare invitation to put God to the test:
“And try Me now in this,”
Says the Lord of hosts,
“If I will not 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).
YHWH promised that if His people were faithful to bring their tithes and offerings, He would “rebuke the devourer,” so that they would not suffer loss in their fields or fruit trees (11). This renewed productivity would be a testimony to surrounding nations, which would recognize God’s blessing on this once-more beautiful land (12).
Are you suffering constant lack and shortfall in your personal resources? This may be an indicator that you are withholding something that the Lord requires for Himself. I have talked to so many people who voice such a complaint. Almost without fail, when I ask them, “Are you tithing?” the answer is, “No, we can’t afford to tithe.” Take it from someone who USED to be thousands of dollars in debt: No matter how little income you have, you can’t afford NOT to tithe. If you want to enjoy blessing and abundance, you must apply biblical principles of giving to gain God’s protection of your assets. It is an act of faith and trust which God is happy to reward.
Finally, God confronted the negative attitude among His people, who muttered, “It is useless to serve God,” and deprive themselves in order to keep His laws (13-14). They actually went so far as to praise the proud and admire the wicked, who “even tempt God and go free” (15).
The Lord said He was keeping a record of those “who feared the Lord and esteemed his name” (Mal. 3:16, ESV). Those who value YHWH will themselves be valued—treasured and preserved like precious gems or beloved children (v. 17). Furthermore, He promised to grant them the ability to tell the righteous from the wicked and fellow servants from rebels (18).
Malachi Chapter 4
Malachi again discussed the ‘Day of YHWH,’ when the proud and wicked will be burned like stubble, left with no surviving trace (Mal. 4:1). “But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings…” (v. 2a). So beautifully was this promise fulfilled in Jesus, that people needed only to touch the hem of His garment [called ‘wings’ in Jewish tradition], and they would be cured of their diseases (e.g.—Mat. 14:35-36, Mark 6:56 & Luke 6:17-19)!
God promised that faithful people would prosper “like stall-fed calves” and trample the wicked like “ashes under the soles of your feet,” when He brought about this righteous judgment in Israel (Mal. 4:2b-3). The Apostle Paul promised something similar, when he wrote in Romans 16:20, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet…” (NIV).
Malachi’s closing admonition was to “Remember the Law of Moses…” (Mal. 4:4). He promised that God would “send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes” (v. 5, NIV). Jesus later indicated that this verse was fulfilled in John the Baptist—whom the Jews did not recognize and Herod executed—but also gave a clue that someone later might come to “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers…” to prevent yet another curse (Mal 4:6, NIV; c.f.—Mat. 17:10-13, Mark 9:11-13 & Luke 1:17).
Like a skilled metallurgist, God desires to bring out the very best in His people. He will not settle for compromise or apathy. When we fall short of His standards, very often He will turn up the heat and melt off the impurities from the hearts of His servants, until we shine like pure gold or silver. The Lord oversees this process, refining us through difficult circumstances. Sometimes it can be hard to endure, but it is worth it to be the representatives of Christ that we need to be. He values us more than rare gems and precious treasure, and He will do whatever it takes to reveal the beauty of His character within us.
Those who resist this process only hurt themselves and give God a bad reputation. If you want to experience His blessing in your life, you will cooperate with His Messengers, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and follow the pattern of godly living set forth in Scripture.
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible—© 1982, by Thomas Nelson, Inc.