The Prophet Malachi’s Greatest Hits

The Prophet Malachi’s Greatest Hits

The Prophet Malachi’s Greatest Hits.

The book of Malachi is the bridge between the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. He was a prophet in Jerusalem almost a century after the 2nd Temple was completed in 516 BC. Unfortunately, God’s chosen people had slipped into many of the same sins that had caused God to punish them with exile into Babylon a century previous: carelessly following the Law; arrogance; apathy in worship; a casual and mostly empty faith life; men were divorcing their faithful wives at a whim and marrying pagan women, and so their home life was a mess. Besides all that cultural and spiritual disintegration, the priests were lazy and unfaithful when it came to leading sacrifices and worshiping Yahweh. The people needed solid spiritual examples, and the priest were not up to the job. There was still a small remnant of genuine believers, so there was a note of hopefulness in Malachi’s prophecies. But God’s judgment was definitely just around the corner.

1:2 – “I have always loved you,’ says the Lord.” God’s patience and grace with all the ups and downs of His chosen people should allay any fears about His love for them. This verse reminds the Jewish people of His faithful love for them. But one would be forgiven for occasional skepticism as we look at Jewish history in the 20th Century, and even before that. When thinking of the Holocaust, for example, it seems the Lord surely demands a lot of faith from His chosen people. They have suffered for centuries, really, at the hands of hateful gentiles. It is tragic that mass murder has resulted in the loss of faith among so many Jews. On the one hand, the Lord says that He has loved them from the beginning. On the other hand, one could reasonably say at a weak moment… Could you choose someone else? Through their steadfast faith, Jewish believers are a shining light to the rest of the world, radiating trust and loyalty to a God who at times is rather inscrutable. Through all the uncertainty, we are nonetheless called to believe that we serve a God who is indeed a God of faithful love.

1:6 – If I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?” Almighty Yahweh is offended that His name is not taken seriously or reverently. He is indignant that He is not given His due as the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. What especially galls Him is that those disrespecting Him are the priests, those whose job is to maintain His reputation of holiness, to revere the Lord and lead the rightful worship of Yahweh. God is a jealous God who does not tolerate their apathy or irreverence. He is zealous to receive what He is due: honor, respect, worship, adoration, fear, love. So here He defends His honor and guards His dignity as the Almighty God.

1:11, 14 – “My name is great among the nations… I am a great king, says Yahweh Sabaoth, and among the nations my name inspires awe.” God wonders why those in other lands, who are not His chosen people, fear and respect His name and reputation. What a slap in the face from the Israelites, His chosen people! If He could depend on anyone to revere Him and defend His standing in the world, certainly it would be His treasured people.

2:3 – “I will throw dung on your faces, the dung of your festival sacrifices, and you shall be carried out to the manure pile outside the Temple.” The priests loved to celebrate empty and hypocritical religious feasts, which meant absolutely nothing to them in their priesthood role. The animal manure left behind after these feasts were done was taken outside the camp, outside the Temple, and burned. The Lord thought so little of their religious sacrifices that He thought maybe this image would cause them to reconsider their attitudes about God and the Mosaic system. How much lower can you get than having manure splattered on your face and clothing? Can there be a more forceful image of what it means to be unclean, impure, unworthy? And after the indignity of being covered in dung, to be thrown onto the dung pile? Hopefully the priests got the rather graphic message from the Lord.

2:17 – “You have wearied Me with your words.” Sooner or later God gets tired of empty promises, or ignorant babbling, or insincere God-talk, or even pointless religious debates. Who knows, maybe we even sometimes weary God with our thoughtless prayers and meaningless discussions. Let our words, O God, be thoughtful, genuine, truthful, and loving. Keep us from foolish banter. May we never weary you with our words.

3:1 – “Behold, I am going to send my messenger, and he will clear the way before me. And the Lord, who you seek, will suddenly come to His Temple; and the Messenger of the Covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming, says the Lord of hosts.”  There are two messengers in this verse… the one who will prepare the way, and the One who actually IS the Way. The messenger of preparation is of course John the Baptist (Luke 7:27-28). The Messenger of the Covenant is the Messiah, who brings Yahweh’s message of faithful love and salvation to His people. This Messenger will succeed in purifying His people and sanctifying them with His blood (Hebrews 13:12).

3:2 – “Who will endure the day of His coming?”  “God’s coming is both a delight and a difficulty. It’s a delight because He comes to us. It’s a difficulty because He comes to us in order to cleanse. Using the strongest of soap, He’ll scrub us like dirty laundry. Washing us. Rinsing us. Wringing us out. Then repeating the cycle over and over again until we’re clean. Which raises a question: “Who can survive His coming?” And there’s only one answer to that question: The one who submits to the soap and the suds and the scrubbings.” (Eugene Peterson).

3:6 – ‘I am the Lord, and I do not change.” He is the same yesterday, today and forever. In a world where everything seems to change, He is the one stable point. We can count on Him to be faithful, merciful, righteous, compassionate and just. We can’t count on mere people, but we can count on God. He is eternally the same, and we can trust in that truth. If you return to me, says the Lord, you can rely on the fact that I will return to you. In His faithfulness, He is solid as a Rock.

4:2 – “For those who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.” This prophecy clearly points to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. For believers who revere the name of the Lord, who deeply respect and honor and adore Him, who are fully aware of His power and glory, they will experience the Messiah as a righteous healer. This beautiful picture has been translated a few different ways… Some versions note that the term translated “righteousness” can also mean “saving justice” in Hebrew, and implies triumph and power. The Jewish translation, the Tanakh, displays these words as the “sun of victory,” implying a powerful triumph over brokenness and suffering. The Tanakh also says that “wings” can be literally translated as “the folds of its garments.” This isn’t as far-fetched as it might look, for certainly Jesus’ garments played a major role in His healing ministry. ‘They sent out into all the surrounding region, and brought to Him all who were sick, and begged Him that they might only touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched it were made perfectly well.” (Matt. 14:36). The particular garment referred to is Jesus’ prayer shawl, and when His arms are outstretched, the shawl is said by the rabbis to have “wings.” Of course, the sun’s rays are often poetically called wings as well. So this verse could be articulating the beautiful image of the rising sun, the Messiah, radiating healing to the wounded and the afflicted. Jesus, the light of the world, the sun of the universe, the rising sun who victoriously radiates healing wherever He goes.

4:5 – “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the awesome and fearful day of the Lord.” This verse was taken quite literally by the Jewish scholars. The rabbis taught that, since Elijah never actually died but was simply transported to heaven, he would return bodily to earth to prepare for and announce the coming of the Messiah. So Jewish tradition held to the literal return of Elijah when it came to preparing for the Messiah. John wasn’t literally the bodily return of Elijah, as John himself said in John 1:21. And then there is the angel who announced to Zechariah that his son John will go before the Messiah “in the power and spirit of Elijah.” (Luke 1:17). Just to make sure His disciples understood this, Jesus confirmed that John fulfilled Malachi’s prophecy about Elijah in Matthew 17:11-13.

4:6 – “And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” The Jewish faith is God-centered and family-oriented. In the Hebrew Bible, God can observe how the family is functioning and then judge from that if the faith is being lived out. Abraham was chosen by God largely because God saw a responsible father, an effective father who would hand down the faith from one generation to the next (Genesis 18:19).  The heart of the Jewish faith, the shema, instructs each parent to do just that, and to have the home as the central place to disciple their children in the faith (Deuteronomy 6). So God knows that repentance results in reconciliation in the home between parent and child. Estrangement starts in the home, so does reconciliation through repentance. A sure sign of genuine repentance is when there is a desire to reconcile with family members. It seems clear that a parent who seeks peace and harmony and faith in the home is someone who is seeking to walk humbly with his God. And a rebellious child who seeks reconciliation with his parents is showing signs of an earnest faith in the making. John the Baptist threw his overwhelming stone of repentance into the pond of faith, and the first ripple in the water was inevitably reconciliation in the home.