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Malachi (1)

John Riddle, Cheshunt, England

The Position of the Book

The books of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi deal with events following the return of God’s people from their 70-year exile in Babylon. This was a period of recovery, and subsequent decline. The rebuilding of the Temple, described in the book of Ezra, was accompanied by the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah. This was followed by the rebuilding of the wall under the guidance of Nehemiah. It is in connection with this period that we should read the book of Malachi. There is a clear affinity between Nehemiah 13 and Malachi who, it seems, preached after the era of Nehemiah, although commentators vary in opinion. Some place his ministry during the absence of Nehemiah from Jerusalem. Others place him even earlier in the period. J B Hewitt (Outline Studies in the Minor Prophets) observes:

The book is not dated, but it bears every sign of belonging to the same period as Nehemiah. The abuses he attacks were just those common in Nehemiah’s day … The book of Nehemiah nowhere suggests the presence of Malachi, so we presume that he came on the scene at some later time. The godly influence of Nehemiah had passed, and the priests had become cool and formal, slovenly, deceitful and evasive (1.6-14; 3.14). It was probably written between 424-400 BC.

Spiritual conditions had evidently plummeted in the intervening period. The backsliding in Nehemiah 13 had accelerated. Notice the following comparisons:

Nehemiah 13: The Levites were unsupported. The tithes were not given (vv 10-14).

Malachi: “Yet ye have robbed me … in tithes and offerings” (3.8).

Nehemiah 13: The Sabbath day was profaned (vv 15-22).

Malachi: “What profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts” (3.14).

Nehemiah 13: There was intermarriage with pagan neighbours (vv 23-29).

Malachi: “Judah … hath married the daughter of a strange god” (2.11).

The lesson is clear. Decline so easily, and so quickly, follows periods of recovery and progress. We need to be incessantly vigilant. About 150 years ago there was another great recovery. Men and women began to meet together, recognising nothing but the Lordship of Christ, the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit, and the sole authority and sufficiency of the Word of God. However, in many places today this recovery has been followed by decline, which makes the ministry of Malachi immensely relevant. Like Malachi, we live in ‘last days’.

The People in the Book

The Messengers

There are five messengers in the book:

Malachi himself: His name means ‘my messenger’ (1.1).

The true priest: “He is the messenger of the Lord of hosts” (2.7).

John the Baptist: “Behold, I will send my messenger” (3.1).

Messiah Himself: “The messenger of the covenant” (3.1).

Elijah: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet” (4.5).

“The Lord of Hosts”

The Lord who initiated the covenant is the central figure and chief spokesman. Out of 55 verses, 47 record, in the first person, the address of the Lord to Israel. Notice that he is “a father” (1.6), but also “a great King” (1.14). The first guards against distance; the second guards against over-familiarity. There are 283 occurrences of the title “Lord of hosts” (Jehovah Sabaoth) in the Old Testament, with the first reference in 1 Samuel 1.3. It occurs 53 times in Zechariah, and 24 times in Malachi. He is the Lord of all powers, seen and unseen, in the universe and in Heaven: “He doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand” (Dan 4.35). We must notice Psalm 24.10; “Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory.” This is none other than the Lord Jesus. We can also compare Ephesians 1.20-21 and Colossians 1.16. The same title occurs in the New Testament as “Lord of Sabaoth” in Romans 9.29 (quoting Isaiah 1.9), and James 5.4.

The Person of Christ

The Lord Jesus is presented to us in Malachi in two ways, first as the “messenger of the covenant” (3.1). As the Messenger of the Covenant, He has already come, heralded by John the Baptist, but this only partially fulfilled the prophecy; He will yet make all the covenant blessings good to Israel. His deity is emphasised: He is “the Lord (Adonai), whom ye seek”. We should also notice that He is the true priest, and as “a priest upon his throne” (Zech 6.13), He will fully answer to the description given in Malachi 2.6-7. The law of truth will be in His mouth; His lips will keep knowledge; men shall seek the law at His mouth; and He will be the true “messenger of the Lord of hosts”. Isaiah’s prophecy will then be fulfilled: “He will teach us of his ways” (2.3), and the earth will then be “full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (11.9). Second, as ‘the Sun of righteousness” (4.2), He will turn Israel’s dark night into day, and do the same for the whole world.

The Plan of the Book

The prophecy of Malachi comprises three major themes: The Complacency of the Nation; The Coming of the Refiner; The Conduct of the Remnant.

The Complacency of the Nation

God made eight charges against His people, and each of them was questioned by them with incredulity and resentment. They just didn’t believe a word of it! Such accusations were quite unjust! God therefore substantiated each charge. The questions “Wherein?” and “Wherefore?” represent the full development of Genesis 3.1; “Hath God said?”

1. They Doubted His Love

“I have loved you, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau” (1.2-3). Malachi commences by emphasising God’s covenant love for His people (see also Deut 7.7-8; Hos 11.1-12). The book concludes with a call to fulfil the obligations of the covenant as expressed in the law (4.4).

Backsliding in the last book of the Old Testament begins with Israel’s failure to appreciate God’s love. Backsliding in the last book of the New Testament begins in the same way: “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love” (Rev 2.4). This was so grave that the Lord Jesus continues “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent” (v 5). Spiritual decline is inevitable if we fail to appreciate God’s love.

In confirming His love for Israel, God cites His choice of Jacob. It has been said that it was no wonder that God hated Esau, but a thing most wonderful that He loved Jacob! Romans 9.11 comments: “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth.” To some, the subjects of election and predestination are anything but expressions of God’s love. It is, however, quite permissible to alter the punctuation of Ephesians 1.4-5, so that it reads “He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him. In love having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself.”

Do we ask “wherein hast thou loved us?” Satan will achieve a major victory if he can diminish our appreciation of the love of God. It was to a persecuted church that Paul wrote “And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ” (2 Thess 3.5). Paul prayed that the Ephesians “may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge” (3.18-19), and Jude urges his readers to “keep yourselves in the love of God” (v 21).

(To be continued …)

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