Introduction to Malachi
Malachi is a book that deserves our attention. It was written to a people who questioned the love of God, were troubled by the world around them, were apathetic in their worship, were indulging in sinful activities, dishonoring marriage, selfishly withholding their tithes and offerings, and questioning the benefit of following the Lord. In fact, in Malachi we find “a spirit that would later be expressed in Pharisaism and Sadduceeism, a spirit of outward perfunctory [half hearted] service with little inward repentance or devotion” (Link).
Malachi was a Prophet to the nation of Israel after their return from Exile. Malachi wrote his book approximately 440-400 BC. Malachi’s book is called an oracle (literally: burden) of the word of the Lord. He lived around the same time as other Biblical figures such as Haggai, Zechariah, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. At this time, Persia was the mightiest nation in the world having recently defeated Babylon. Below is a brief chronology (dates are approximate) of the Old Testament to help us understand what has happened:
- 2000 BC (Genesis 15) – God made a Covenant with Abraham to make a great nation out of him. He promised Abraham land and a son. (Later confirmed with Isaac and Jacob).
- 1400 BC (Deuteronomy 28:64) – After the Exodus from Egypt, God gave Israel His Law to obey. In the “Law of Moses” were blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. One of the curses was Exile from the Promised Land.
- 1000 BC (2 Samuel 5) – The Nation of Israel is unified under King David
- 930 BC (1 Kings 12) – The Kingdom is divided. 10 tribes in the north become the nation of Israel and 2 tribes in the south become the nation of Judah.
- 722 BC (2 Kings 17) – Israel turns away from God and is taken into Exile by Assyria.
- 587 BC (2 Kings 25) – Judah turns away from God and is taken into Exile by Babylon.
- 580 BC (Ezekiel 39:28-29) – God promises an end to the Exile and return to the Promised Land.
- 540 BC (Daniel 9:11) – Daniel, in exile, acknowledged that the Exile was punishment for idolatry and fulfillment of Deut 28. He pleads for God’s mercy and restoration.
- 537 BC (Ezra 1:2-4) – Cyrus’ decree to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple: officially ending the exile.
- 440 BC (Nehemiah 13) – Nehemiah’s second visit to Jerusalem. Temple has been rebuilt and the Law of Moses has been reestablished. Malachi writes his book.
After the exile, God inspired Malachi to call the people of Israel to remember the Covenant He made with them, to obey the Law of Moses and to fear the Lord. Malachi is structured around 6 disputations (debates) God has with His people. The disputations involve God making a statement, the people questioning God’s statement, and God proving His statement. The book closes with a promise of restoration.
Specifically, the Lord calls them to repentance for:
- Doubting God’s Love (1:1-5),
- Dishonoring God’s Sacrifice (1:6-2:9),
- Profaning God’s Covenant (2:10-16),
- Wearying God’s Justice (2:17-3:5),
- Robbing God’s Storehouse (3:6-12), and
- Testing God’s Patience (3:13-4:3).
Then, God promises to send His Messenger who will prepare the way of the Lord.
What can Christians learn from this Old Testament book? While we are not under the Law of Moses, we need to consider these six disputations in a New Covenant context.
Doubting God’s Love (Malachi 1:1-5)
The Declaration: God begins His message to His people by reminding them, “I have loved you.” God’s love for His people should not be surprising because in Deuteronomy 7:6-8. He said,“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers.”
The Declaration Doubted. In response to God’s declaration of love, the people say, “How have you loved us?” They doubted God’s love because of the hardships they encountered. If God loved them so much–they wondered–“Why do we suffer? Why were we sent to Exile to serve other nations? Where is our Messiah?” At this time, Israel was not an independent nation, but was under the authority of Persia. They had hoped that the return to the Promised Land and the rebuilding of the Temple would usher in the reign of the Messiah. In their disappointment, they began to question God’s love.
The Declaration Defended. God replied, “I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated.” God could have replied in many different ways to prove His love for them, but chose to remind them of His choice (election) of Jacob over Esau in Genesis 25. When Isaac’s wife Rebekah was pregnant with twins (Esau and Jacob), she became concerned about what was happening in her womb. She inquired of the Lord and God told her “two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” This statement is significant because it was customary for the firstborn son to inherit the birthright: the rights and privileges of the father. God told Rebekah that the younger son (Jacob) would get the birthright over the older son (Esau).
Why did God say this? Paul explains in Romans 9:11-12 that “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of Him who calls—she was told ‘the older will serve the younger.’” Paul then directly ties this with Malachi 1:2-3, “As it is written, Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated” (Rom 9:13). God told Rebekah that He was choosing Jacob (the younger) over Esau (the older). When the Lord said He hated Esau (Mal 1:3), He means that Esau was rejected. God’s choosing of Jacob and rejection of Esau had nothing to do with their goodness (or lack thereof), but on God’s own purposes and plans. In fact, God’s shows His love for Israel by continuing to reject Edom (v. 4).
In Malachi’s day, God proved His love for them by reminding them of His grace in choosing them to be His people. “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him and keep his commandments.You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today.” God chose Israel out of all the nations to be His special people. He revealed Himself to them. He gave them His law, His Temple, and His Messiah.
In the New Covenant, God also proves His love for us “as He chose us in [Jesus] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph 1:4). 1 John 4:9 says, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.” In the cross, we have God’s love demonstrated in Jesus being our Savior. Romans 5:8 says, “But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The people of Israel began to doubt God’s love because their expectations were unmet. They became disappointed and in their disappointment they began to question God’s love for them. How do you deal with disappointments? What is your response when God does not give you the answer you want when you want it? When we find ourselves in this situation, let us resolve to remember God’s love for us demonstrated in Jesus Christ. Let us have faith and not fear. Don’t doubt God’s love, rejoice in God’s love.
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