Forum Class for November 14, 2004
A Mirror of This Age (Malachi 1:1-5)
END OF AN ERA: The Book of Malachi is located at a point of transition. It comes at the end of the Old Testament, but it anticipates the New Testament. Malachi returned to Judah from Persia between the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes Longimanus, about 432 B.C., and 424 B.C. when Artaxerxes died. Consequently, Malachi prophesied approximately one hundred years after Haggai and Zechariah, the two writers who immediately precede him in our English Bibles.
But Malachi is not only oriented to the past as the last of the Old Testament prophets, bemoaning the decline of godliness in Israel. He is also oriented to the future, which is what makes him significant as a transitional figure. Like the prophets before him, Malachi looks forward to God's coming. He is specific. Malachi prophesies the coming of that "messenger" who will prepare the way for God--that is, John the Baptist, who will prepare the way for Jesus. Malachi write, "See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come" (Malachi. 3:1), He ends by saying, "See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse" (Malachi. 4:5, 6).
This was the text the disciples were thinking of when they asked Jesus "Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?" (Matt. 17:10). Jesus replied by reference to John the Baptist. "To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way, the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands" (vv. 11, 12; cf. Matt. 11:11-15; 16:13, 14, 15; Mark 8:27, 28; 9:11-13; Luke 1:17; 9:18, 19; John 1:21, 25). After Malachi the voice of prophecy ceased in Israel until John the Baptist appeared four hundred years later to announce the arrival of the Messiah.
So Malachi really is the last of the old and the anticipation of the new. The transitional nature of Malachi makes the book particularly interesting to anyone concerned with the relationship between Christianity and Judaism as well as with the overall history of revelation and redemption.
THIS PRESENT ERA: But Malachi is interesting for another reason also. It is true that it is a link between the old covenant and the new, between Judaism and Christianity. But in describing the Judaism of Malachi's day the book also vividly describes the moribund religiosity of any era, including our own. We can go further. Perhaps more than any other Old Testament book, Malachi describes that modern attitude of mind that considers man superior to God and which has the audacity to attempt to bring God down to earth and measure Him by the yardstick of human morality.
This attitude is a recurring theme in Malachi, and it is expressed by a recurring word. The word is "how" as in "How have you loved us?" (1:2). This word appears seven times in this last of the Old Testament books, and in every case it expresses a state of mind that challenges God's statements, demanding that He give an accounting of Himself in human terms. It is worth previewing these seven instances.
1. In 1:2, God begins His message to the people with the words, "I have loved you." But the people reply in critical unbelief, "How have you loved us?" Behind this question is a bitter complaint about the way the people felt they had been treated by the Deity. As we read on in this book we discover that the religion of the people was formal, empty. Yet they were satisfied with it. Indeed, they considered themselves to be doing quite well, even doing God a favor by the quantity of their religious activities. God had not prospered them in return as they thought they deserved. They were still a relatively weak nation. They were not particularly wealthy. So they ask, "How have you loved us?" The implication is that if God really did love them, He would make them rich.
2. In verse 6 of the same chapter, God speaks to the religious leaders, saying, "It is you, O priests, who despise my name." But they reply, "How have we despised your name?" As we read on we find that they had been offering blind, crippled, or diseased animals in sacrifice-that is, the animals nobody else wanted. As they did they even complained about the weariness of thus serving God. "You profane it [God's service] by saying of the Lord's table, 'It is defiled,' and of its food, 'It is contemptible.' And you say, 'What a burden!' and you sniff at it contemptuously" (vv. 12, 13). This was no proper attitude for God's servants. Yet the priests considered themselves to be doing God a favor, while despising His service. What cause did He have to complain? "How have we despised your name?" they counter angrily.
3. In verse 7, after God says, "You place defiled food on my altar," the priests reply, "How have we defiled you?" The attitude behind this question is the same as behind the preceding verse. The clergy considered themselves to be going beyond what was required even though they were offering deformed animals and were performing their duties with a fault-finding and bitter attitude.
4. In 2:17, Malachi says, "You have wearied the LORD with your words." But the people reply, "How have we wearied him?" The next lines explain the problem. Apparently, the people had been faulting God for His management of the world's affairs. As they observed things, those who did good (they meant themselves) suffered misfortune, while those who did evil (they meant everyone else) were blessed. This was unjust in their opinion. Their exact words were, "All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them and Where is the God of justice?" The flaw, in this argument is not that God must act justly. Abraham expressed that view to God and was not rebuked for it (Gen. 18:25). The flaw is that the people were considering themselves to be among the righteous when they were actually acting wickedly. They wanted justice from God. They should have been thankful that instead of justice they had actually been the recipients of God's grace.
5. In 3:7, God admonishes the people: "Return to me, and I will return to you." This was the same challenge God had voiced through the first of the minor prophets, Hosea, more than three hundred years earlier: "Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall!" (Hos. 14:1), But the people had not returned then, and they do not return now. Instead they reply, "How are we to return?" The reply does not mean that they are ignorant of the proper stages of repentance and want to learn these steps so they can genuinely turn from sin and please God. They mean, "How can you say that we should return when we are already as close to you and as obedient as we can possibly be? What can we do that we have not already done?"
6. The next verse pursues this further. God declares, "Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me," to which the people retort, "How do we rob you?" They mean, "Don't throw wild charges about, God. If you think we are deficient in anything owed you, declare what you believe is owed specifically. We will defend ourselves, and you will discover that we are actually models of spiritual accountability. You will have to eat your words.' God replies curtly that they have robbed Him in tithes and offerings.
7. The last time we see this sequence of question and answer is in verse 13 of the same chapter, which is similar to Malachi 1:6. Here God says, "You have said harsh things against me." The people reply, "What have we said against you?" Apparently the people had been speaking against God all along--questioning His love, despising His name, defiling His sacrifices, attacking His justice, questioning His commands, and withholding His tithes. But so self-righteous had the people and their priests become that they considered their remarks and actions to be entirely justified and their alleged slander nonexistent. "What have we ever said against you?" is their astonished reaction.
A FORM OF GODLINESS: There is a sense in which the attitude of the people depicted in Malachi is a mirror of our present secular world, for people today also want to measure God by the standards of human justice--if they do not want to do away with God entirely. Yet Malachi hits even closer to home than this. He not only describes the secular world of our age, but also the secular church of which we are often all too unfortunate examples.
One of the most helpful writers on Malachi is the late G. Campbell Morgan, who carefully links the erroneous and arrogant spirit of the people of Malachi's day with the identical attitude that prevails in so many alleged Christian circles. "These people are not in open rebellion against God, nor do they deny his right to offerings, but they are laboring under the delusion that because they have brought offerings they have been true to him all along. Theirs is not the language of a people throwing off a yoke and saying, 'We will not be loyal,' but of a people established in the temple. It is not the language of a people who say, 'Let us cease to sacrifice and worship, and let us do as we please'; but it is the language of a people who say, 'We are sacrificing and worshiping to please God,' and yet he says by the mouth of his servant, 'Ye have wearied me; ye have robbed and spoken against me.' They have been most particular and strict in outward observances, but their hearts have been far away from their ceremonials. They have been boasting themselves in their knowledge of truth, responding to that knowledge mechanically, technically, but their hearts, their lives, their characters, the inwardness of their natures, have been a perpetual contradiction in the eye of heaven, to the will of God. And when the prophet tells them what God thinks of them, they, with astonishment and impertinence, look into his face and say, "We don't see this at all!" To translate it into the language of the New Testament "having the form of godliness, they deny the power."
That is precisely what thousands of self-righteous church-going people do. They do not consider themselves irreligious. On the contrary, they think of themselves as people whom God in the very necessity of the case must approve. But whenever they have a problem in life-if a job falls through, if a romance goes sour, if sickness or death touches someone close to them, or even if they fall sick themselves--they immediately blame God, holding Him accountable.
Moreover, people who think this way are capable of living the most corrupt lives. The last sentence of the quotation from G. Campbell Morgan refers to 2 Timothy 3:5 ("having a form of godliness but denying its power"), and it is significant that this biblical reference is from a chapter describing the most deficient morality. Paul is writing of the notorious last days of this world's history: "There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" (2 Tim. 3:1-4). We read those verses and immediately translate Paul's phrases into our terminology: the "new narcissism," materialism, arrogance, "Letting it all hang out," the generation gap, the "new morality," hedonism, and so on. It is a dreadful picture. But what makes it even more dreadful is the context in which Paul places this depravity. Paul is not writing about the world at large, the secular world of this or any other time. He is writing about the nominal church and describing the morality of those who have "a form of godliness" but deny its power.
ESAU AND JACOB: Each of the seven objections of the self-righteous religious people of Malachi's day is answered in turn in the course of this book. We will study them all in subsequent chapters. But here it is worth looking at God's reply to them first. God tells the people, '1 have loved you," and they reply, 'How have you loved us?" To this God answers, "Was not Esau Jacob's brother? Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals." Esau may express a desire and will to rebuild. But God replies to that: "They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called The Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the LORD. You will see it with your own eyes and say, 'Great is the LORD--even beyond the borders of Israel!" (1:2-5).
We remember from Obadiah that God had prophesied a future destruction of Edom for its pride and the accompanying unbrotherly conduct toward the citizens of Jerusalem in the day of their misfortune. This judgment had apparently come to pass by this time and is here declared by God to be permanent. Edom has been wiped off the map, and the citizens of that nation would never be able to rebuild it, God declares.
This striking comparison--between Jacob and Esau, Judah and Edom--is to remind the self-righteous, critical citizens of Jerusalem of the unmerited and therefore electing love of God. They have had the audacity to demand that God show how He has loved them, utterly disregarding their unique status as His elect people. This is what God now brings to their willfully negligent attention. By birth Esau was as much a privileged child as Jacob; both were twin sons of the same Jewish father and mother, Isaac and Rebekah. Yet God had loved Jacob with a gracious love.
All God's dealing with Jacob and his descendants was in love. When they were ignorant, He blessed them with a true knowledge of Himself. When they were weak and defenseless, He empowered them and shielded them from enemies. When they strayed, He disciplined them. When they persisted in wickedness, he eventually sent the Babylonian captivity, as the prophets had warned He would do over many generations. Then He brought them back to Judah, established them within the walls of a refortified Jerusalem, and had them rebuild the temple. There was blessing and judgment, building and destruction. But in all these things God had loved them and was continuing to work with them in order that they might be a precious and holy people. Edom perished utterly.
That is how God is working with you if you are one of His precious people through faith in the work of Jesus Christ. Do not ever say, as those in Israel said, "How have you loved us?" Instead, confess the greatness of God's love as well as your own paltry love for Him, and determine that you will be a mirror of His grace rather than a mirror of the times in which you live.
Curse on the Clergy (Malachi 1:6-2:9)
There are some things that are difficult for a preacher to talk about, and one of these, perhaps the hardest, is the sin of those of his own profession, the clergy. Yet that is required in any faithful treatment of Malachi. Malachi discusses the clergy's sins in 1:6-2:9, and he is not sparing in his criticism. In the first part of this section (1:6-14) he cites the priests of his day for offering defiled sacrifices on God's altar, harming the people, disparaging God's service as a contemptible and intolerable burden, and defying God. In the second part (2:1-9) he calls for repentance and warns of a curse on the priests if they do not repent.
Puritan Richard Baxter worked among ministers who (by comparison with ourselves) maintained an extremely high standard of piety and church discipline. Yet his great classic, The Reformed Pastor, is a devastating exposure of the clergy's sins and a call to them to reestablish a high and God-honoring standard of church life. Baxter wrote,
"The great and lamentable sin of ministers of the gospel is that they are not fully devoted to God. They do not give themselves up wholly to the blessed work they have undertaken to do.
"Is it not true that flesh-pleasing and self-seeking interests--distinct from that of Christ--make us neglect our duty and lead us to walk unfaithfully in the great trust that God has given us? Is it not true that we serve God too cheaply? Do we not do so in the most applauded way? Do we not withdraw from that which would cost us the most suffering? Does not all this show that we seek earthly rather than heavenly things? And that we mind the things which are below? While we preach for the realities which are above, do we not idolize the world?
"So what remains to be said, brethren, but to cry that we are all guilty of too many of the aforementioned sins. Do we not need to humble ourselves in lamentation for our miscarriages before the LORD?"
WAY OF THE UNGODLY: If the priests of Israel, whatever their sins, had been as humble and repentant as Richard Baxter, there would have been hope for renewal. But the priests of Israel showed exactly the opposite attitude. Instead of humbling themselves before God, they tried to justify themselves and thus moved even farther from Him.
God's indictment of the clergy comes at the end of this section and is in two parts. God says that the priests: (1) "have turned from the way" and (2) "by [their] teaching have caused many to stumble" (2:8). In other words, the problem of the nation was traceable to failure in the personal life and devotion of those whom God had called to serve Him. The personal failures of the priests are detailed in Malachi 1:6-14, as indicated. There are four of them.
1. The priests of Israel were offering defiled sacrifices on God's altar. They were unwilling to admit this, of course. When God said, "It is you, O priests, who despise my name," they replied, "How have we despised your name?" (v. 6). When God replied, "You place defiled food on my altar," they answered, "How have we defiled you?" (v. 7). Whether they acknowledged it or not, this is what they were doing. The text says that they were offering blind, crippled, and diseased animals on God's altar. That is, they were offering animals no one else wanted. The Lord says ironically, "Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?" (v. 8).
We do not have literal altars today, at least in Protestant churches. But many clergymen nevertheless offer God defiled sacrifices in the way they do their work. In 1966 at the first World Congress on Evangelism, held in Berlin, Germany, Billy Graham addressed the more than twelve hundred evangelical delegates from more than one hundred countries on the theme "Stains on the Altar," suggesting that many of even these outstanding evangelical leaders had been offering God defiled sacrifices in these areas:
Their conversion. Many preach who are not genuinely saved. Richard Baxter said in the work referred to earlier, "God never saved any man for being a preacher."
Their call to service. Many preach who have no call from God to do so, and thousands more are not sure they belong in the ministry. Many (no doubt rightly) drop out each year to enter secular professions.
Their devotional life. In a recent survey conducted at a theological seminary in the United States ninety-three percent of the students acknowledged that they had no devotional life whatever.
Their message. Countless preachers offer a watered-down, man-pleasing message instead of the true and disturbing message of the Word of God.
Their social concern. We are surrounded by people with immense social needs. Many pastors as well as laymen are unconcerned.
Their evangelism. One of the great old preachers said, "I preach always as a dying man to dying men." Yet many preachers talk as if life is unending, hell is a fantasy, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is unnecessary for salvation. How can ministers of the Word of God become so unconcerned, so careless?
Their relationship to their brethren. Many preachers have allowed minor doctrinal matters and jealousies to divide them and weaken their ministries. I am particularly concerned about the sermons many preachers offer to God on Sunday mornings. Years ago a distinguished preacher who had spent a summer listening to others preach told me, "It was all pretty thin gruel." This is my judgment too, if indeed my own assessment is not worse. Where are the great themes of Scripture? You do not find them in the majority of sermon topics listed in the Saturday edition of most city newspapers. Where is the effort that is necessary to make a sermon say something worth crossing town or even crossing the street to hear? God can no doubt rightly say of many ministers today, "It is you, O priests, who despise my name...You place defiled food on my altar."
2. The priests of Israel were harming the people, according to this same section. Again, they would have denied it. They would have said that they were serving the people--taking their sacrifices, offering the sacrifices, perhaps even doing various sacrificial good deeds to help the needy among them. But God indicates that their despising of God led others (even other nations) to do so also, thus harming their people.
This is what is involved in God's reference to His name being great "among the nations," which is found three times in this section (vv. 11, 14). If God's ministers are godly, the people of God will tend to be godly also and even the ungodly will have some cause for honoring the Lord's name. If ministers are unfaithful--if they suggest by their conduct that God is contemptible and His service a burden--then the people will not be edified, their lives will not exhibit the excellencies of God's character, and God will be despised among the heathen for their sake.
Paul talks about this in the second chapter of Romans where he criticizes the nominally religious people of his day: "Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: 'God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you' " (Rom. 2:17-24).
It is a fatal mistake to break the law of God, a more dreadful mistake to do so carelessly and willingly. But it is even more dreadful to cause others to dishonor God and stumble because of your transgressions
3. Malachi suggests, in the third place, that the priests of Israel were to be blamed for disparaging the priest's office, which means holding the service of God in contempt. We have already suggested this problem in remarks above, but it is stated explicitly in verse 12: "'You profane it by saying of the LORD'S table, "It is defiled," and of its food, "It is contemptible." And you say, "What a burden!" and you sniff at it contemptuously," says the LORD Almighty."
Here is how Theo. Laetsch, one of the best commentators on the minor prophets, expresses the priests' thinking at this point. "Far from possessing the humble spirit which later characterized the great apostle (1 Cor. 2:1-6; 3:5; 15:8f.), they felt that they were shamefully underprivileged people. The 'fruit'--the food, the grain, the living we get from our job, the 'bread'--the food we receive for our service at the altar, how contemptible it is! What the people cannot sell, what they refuse to eat, all the sick, the old and defective animals are palmed off on us, and the best parts, the fat, must be offered on the altar, while we get what is left! And what a weariness (v. 13) to stand all day long and be ready whenever someone feels like bringing his sacrifice, to slay it, and skin it, and gut it, and cut it up, a filthy, bloody job, and what do we get out of it? A few pieces of tough meat, unfit for food! Dissatisfied, they fault the Lord for conditions they themselves have brought about."'
I find that condition today. I have known men who complained about how little their people cared about the church's work or services. But these same men skimped on the preparation of sermons and rushed through services as if the best blessing of a Sunday morning were to get out of church and go home. They did not seem to love God. They did not seem to love His word, His people, or His work. Some even joked about their ministry only half concealing their resentment of their calling. What a travesty! What a vivid example of the very attitude reproved by Malachi!
4. The final point of Malachi's criticism of the clergy is their brazen defying of God. It is the attitude we have already seen in our overview of Malachi, the characteristic attitude of the time. When God Says, "It is you, O priests, who despise my name," the priests reply, "How have we despised your name?" (1:6). When God replies, "You place defiled food on my altar," they answer, "How have we defiled you?" (v. 7). The priests considered themselves to be righteous at this point, but their answers are not the answers of righteous men. They are the answers of the self-righteous. The righteous do not defend themselves arrogantly when God criticizes.
Job illustrates the attitude of the righteous. In the opening chapter of job, job is called a righteous man. But he suffers the loss of his wealth, family, and health in spite of his righteousness. The bulk of the book is an account of his attempt to understand these devastating reversals in the face of the facile and cruel explanations of his "friends." At last God speaks, calling Job to account. God reminds him of his ignorance, taking several chapters to stress his own might and wisdom as contrasted with job's weakness and ignorance. When it is over job does not answer with a self-righteous "But God" Instead, he says, "My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5, 6). That is what we must do--and will do--when we truly meet with God. Like Richard Baxter, we will "humble ourselves in lamentation" for our sins.
There is one more interesting point in this section. It is the suggestion in verse 10 that it would be better in God's sight for the Jerusalem temple to be closed than for such contemptible service to continue: " 'Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,' says the LORD Almighty, 'and I will accept no offering from your hands.' " It is an interesting footnote to this text that the Qumran or Dead Sea Community later used it to justify their own rejection of the Jerusalem temple and its priests.
God's wish that someone might close the doors of the temple veils a threat that God would Himself bring the temple worship to an end, which He did forever by the agency of the Roman armies under Titus in AD. 70. Should not the same judgment rightly apply today? We are much concerned with evangelism, church planting, and church growth. But the cause of Christ would be better advanced in some instances by closing some churches than by opening them. By the existence of unbelieving churches the gospel of Christ is diluted and even contradicted in our land.
CALL TO THE CLERGY: At this point the prophet drops his rehearsal of the sins of God's priests and instead calls them to a genuine and thorough repentance. He calls them to listen to what the Lord is saying and to set their hearts on honoring Him. If they do not, He promises to send a curse on them and their descendants (Malachi 2:1-9)
What impresses me most about this section is the brief but excellent portrait of a true minister interjected into the middle of God's rebuke of the unbelieving clergy (vv. 5-7). There God looks back to Levi, the father of the tribe of priests, and notes how Levi revered God and honored his profession. The text says, "My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin. 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." It tells how a minister (or anyone else who is called to speak in God's name) should live and testify. Like the longer section dealing with the clergy's faults, it too has four divisions.
1. The first mark of a true minister is a proper relationship to God, which Malachi calls reverence. ("This called for reverence and he revered and stood in awe of my name," v. 5.) Most people are aware that the word "fear," often used in translations of Old Testament texts, actually means "reverence," so that when the psalmist writes, "The fear of the LORD Is the beginning of wisdom" (Ps. 111:10), he is actually saying that true knowledge begins with a reverential awe of God. All things spiritual begin with such reverence, and God's ministers need to cultivate it more than anything else.
2. The second characteristic of the man God holds out as an example to the false priests of Israel is personal commitment to the truth of God's Word ("True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips," v. 6). To speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, is a large assignment were it not for the written Word of God, which it is the preacher's duty to proclaim. Left to ourselves we could speak little but error or at best truth mixed with error. But when we proclaim God's Word we proclaim what is eternally truthful not only true for a particular moment of history or a particular person, but true for all time and for all people. To proclaim that Word is a great responsibility.
3. The true minister of God is to be marked by godlike character and piety ("He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin," v. 6). The essential requirement here is godliness. It is what I most appreciate in the prayers of others when they pray for me personally. I do not care much if they request that I become a great preacher or become successful as the world defines that term. I want them to pray that I might be faithful to the teachings of Scripture and that I might be godly. God honors it more than anything else.
4. Finally, Malachi quotes God as saying that a priest (or minister) "ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction" (v. 7). It is evident, I am sure, that Malachi is not talking here about the mere conveyance of information, as if the preacher were to be merely a storehouse of details about the history of the Hebrew kings, the background of the New Testament, the fine points of theology, or quotations from the giants of church history. Malachi is talking about the knowledge of God, which is salvation (John 17:3), and about the way to live a God-pleasing life. The godly minister passes this on, and the sheep look to him for the instruction and are fed.
In his commentary on this text Martin Luther stresses how important it is to do this through preaching, contrasting the spoken word with written words, which in his judgment, are more likely to produce trickery. "Certainly God could with his Spirit instruct and justify those whom he would, but it has pleased his wisdom more to instruct and justify those who believe through the foolishness of preaching. The Word is the channel through which the Holy Spirit is given. This is a passage against those who hold the spoken Word in contempt. The lips are the public reservoirs of the church. In them alone is kept the Word of God ....Unless the Word is preached publicly, it slips away. The more it is preached, the more firmly it is retained. Reading it is not as profitable as hearing it, for the live voice teaches, exhorts, defends, and resists the spirit of error. Satan does not care a hoot for the written Word of God, but he flees at the speaking of the Word...This penetrates hearts and leads back those who stray.
May God give us many such ministers. May He make those He has given faithful to that task. May He give us all ears to hear what the Spirit says to us through them for the church's benefit.
God, Divorce, and Apostasy (Malachi 2:10-16)
The marriage vow is the most solemn, official commitment a person can make. What could be more serious or official than the promise made before a minister of the gospel to take your spouse as husband or wife "in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health as long as [you] both shall live"? If you are a naturalized American citizen, you have sworn loyalty to the United States of America. But you can reverse that commitment, becoming an expatriate, and no one--certainly not God--will be offended. In the army, you took an oath of obedience to your commanding officers, but only for a short period of time. Even if you make a career of the military, it is only for twenty or so years. The only thing I can think of that is more solemn than the commitment one makes in marriage is the commitment Christians make to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. But even that is not always so formal and, in any case, the two commitments are related to each other, as I hope to show.
So I repeat: no commitment you or I can make is as solemn or as official as the one we make to our husband or wife in the marriage ceremony. It is a commitment involving the other person, the state, and God. Yet here is the anomaly. In spite of marriage commencing with a commitment of this nature, marriages are breaking up at a previously unheard of rate. As a result, our society is suffering disastrously.
Do we need statistics? Almost fifty years ago the original speaker on "The Lutheran Hour," Walter A Maier, wrote the best book on marriage I have ever read. In it he deplored the increasing divorce statistics of his day, complaining that if the trends of the 1930s continued, by 1950 one-fourth of all marriages made in the United States would end in divorce, and by 1990 that figure would be one in two., It was so outrageous a suggestion for the 1930s that Maier had to be defensive. He argued that his prophecy was "no harebrained" hallucination. But today, as we look back on Maier's words, we find that he was far too sanguine. In 1920 there was one divorce for every seven marriages. In 1940 there was one divorce for every six marriages. In 1960 there was one divorce for every four marriages. In 1972 there was one divorce for every three marriages. And by 1977 (thirteen years ahead of Maier's timetable) there was one divorce for every two marriages. In that year alone there were more than a million divorces in the United States of America.
The divorce rate doubled in the decade between 1967 and 1977, and at the present rate there will soon be one divorce for every marriage!
A SIN OF EVANGELICALS: What is the cause of this problem, a problem that involves our national character and has untold evil effects on society? There are many causes, of course, depending on how the subject is treated. But like most problems the underlying causes are spiritual, and among these spiritual causes is the breakdown of faithfulness to God's teaching on the evils of divorce.
That is where the teaching of Malachi comes in! Malachi 2:10-16 contains some of the most forceful teaching in the Bible on divorce and remarriage. Not surprisingly, many contemporary books on marriage advocating a more permissive attitude in this area ignore the passage. But ignoring Malachi's teaching is part of the problem. It is our contemporary version of the very problem Malachi is writing about. In Malachi's day there were many divorces and many mixed marriages of God's people with unbelievers, which is a matter related to divorce. Worse yet the problem even existed among the priests, who should have resisted the breakups of godly homes in Israel but who encouraged them instead.
Malachi words his condemnation of mixed marriages and divorce broadly to include lay people as well as priests. But he has just been talking about the sins of the priests, and we are no doubt to assume that this (though also a sin of the people) was among their faults.
We remember from our discussion of the dating of Malachi's book that this last of the prophets was writing contemporaneously with Nehemiah's second residence in Jerusalem, at which time Nehemiah rebuked the marital infidelity of the priests. Nehemiah gives an example. In Nehemiah 13:28 the governor mentions the case of "one of the sons of Joiada son of Eliashib the high priest" who was "son-in-law to Sanballat the Horonite." This is a clear example of a mixed marriage, involving the grandson of the high priest himself. Nehemiah explains how he drove this individual away from him, concluding, "Remember them, O my God, because they defiled the priestly office and the covenant of the priesthood and of the Levites" (v. 29). This is the very language used and the charge leveled by Malachi.
The point I am making is that the priests' permissive attitude toward divorce and their own bad examples contributed greatly to the loose moral climate of Malachi's day. And ministers are doing the same thing today--even in so-called evangelical circles. They are a major part of the problem.
In preparation for this study I looked through a sizable collection of contemporary books on marriage, divorce, and remarriage, and my impression is that in all but a very few cases the overall tendency of the books is to lower the standards previous generations have set and propose that the world's contemporary low practices are not so bad after all. One writer has even gone so far as to suggest that remarriage, even when there have been unbiblical grounds for divorce, "is desirable." I think this is sinful and tragic.
Let me acknowledge that there are ambiguities in some cases. There are also cases where remarriage is permissible. Jesus spoke of Moses granting the right of divorce because of the hardness of people's hearts (Matt. 19:8). Paul recognized cases in which an unbelieving spouse departs from the marriage and nothing can be done to bring the spouse back. In that case the believer is not in the wrong and is not bound to the marriage (1 Cor. 7:15). Jesus spoke of the possibility of divorce for the cause of fornication (Matt. 5:32). I believe that in the case of a person who was married and divorced and then, subsequent to the divorce, became a Christian, it is right for him or her to marry again for the first time as a Christian, since "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has comet" (2 Cor. 5:17). Unfortunately, these few and carefully qualified exceptions have been used to excuse almost anything and open the door to remarriages that in the vast majority of cases must be judged offensive to God on the basis of Malachi 2:16 and other passages.
I am charging evangelical ministers with being part of the breakdown in our national marriage morality. I am not asking them to ignore the exceptions. But I am challenging them to limit them as severely as the Bible itself does and to let the clear cry of the evangelical pulpit be that God hates divorce and stands against it as a witness to the original contract of a man and woman in marriage.
MARRIAGE IS OF GOD: This brings us to the first point that Malachi makes. The basis of all he will say is that God has created marriage, that it was His idea. It was God, not man, who made the race male and female (Gen. 1:27). It was God who looked at the man in his singleness and judged, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him" (Gen. 2:18). It was God who brought the first woman to the first man and, as it were, performed the first marriage ceremony (Gen. 2:22). It was God who said, "Be fruitful and increase in number" (Gen. 1:28). It is to this original creation of man and woman and of God uniting them in one permanent marriage that Malachi refers: "Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? [That is, why did God not make more than one wife for Adam or more than one husband for Eve?] Because he was seeking a godly offspring. [That is, godliness is linked to marriage faithfulness. Divorce, which is itself a sin, leads to other sins.] So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth" (Malachi. 2:15).
Marriage is not only a divine institution. It is the first of all institutions and is therefore the basis of the institutions that follow it. From marriage and the relationships that exist within the home have come various forms of government, educational institutions, and medical care. Destroy marriage, as so many today are trying to do, and these other beneficial institutions will fall with it.
I quote here from Walter Maier, "Because marriage comes from God above and not from man or beast below, it involves moral, not merely physical problems. A sin against the commandment of purity is a sin against God, not simply the outraging of convention, the thoughtlessness of youth, the evidence of bad taste. The Savior tells us that, when God's children are joined in wedlock, they are united by God, and beneath the evident strength and courage and love that this divine direction promises there is a penetrating, ominous warning. Those who tamper with God's institution have lighted the fuse to the explosive of retributive justice. Marriage is so holy that of all social sins its violation invokes the most appalling consequences. Sodom and Gomorrah were burned out of existence because of the vile disregard of the holiness of marriage. David's rule over Israel was blackened by his marital follies and by the royal lust that forgot God and dedicated itself to raging passion. The Hebrew people dropped out of the family of nations largely because of the vicious practices associated with Baalim worship."
Instead of trying to find loopholes in God's commandment or trying to convince ourselves that our spouse is not a Christian or is at least not behaving as one and is therefore divorceable, we ought to be shouting the holiness of marriage from the housetops. It is better to endure much personal unhappiness than to treat as expendable the solemn vows of the wedding service.
MIXED MARRIAGES: There are two specific violations of God's word that Malachi tackles in this passage. The first is mixed marriage. It is never God's will that a believer marry an unbeliever--either in a first marriage, which is one obvious sin and error (2 Cor. 6:14), or in a second marriage, which seems to have been a frequent fault in Israel. The men had been divorcing their Jewish wives for the daughters of the heathen.
"But surely an unbelieving spouse can be saved by the consistent testimony of a believing wife or husband," someone protests. "Paul says so."
I acknowledge that is so. But notice. Paul's words are given as encouragement to one who was married as an unbeliever and then became a believer. Such a person might wonder whether he or she should divorce the unbelieving wife or husband. Paul's answer is No. God does not want divorce. Then he adds a word of encouragement. God has called the believing spouse to faith. He will most likely work in the unbelieving partner's life too. It is no promise that the unbelieving spouse will necessarily be saved, but it is an encouragement along those lines. It is not at all an authorization for a believer to marry a non-Christian.
God is gracious. We must acknowledge that sometimes when a Christian marries one who is not a Christian, God graciously draws the non-Christian to Christ. We praise God when that happens. But it is not the usual outcome. More often the mixed marriage brings great sorrow and pain to the Christian.
The marriage of Olivia L. Langdon to the American writer Mark Twain is a tragic case in point. Olivia Langdon had been raised in a Christian home by devout parents and professed Christianity. But when Twain, an open critic of religion, came calling, she eventually accepted his proposal, no doubt secretly cherishing the hope that he might in time be converted to Christ by her example. At first this seemed to be happening. Albert Biglow Paine in his comprehensive biography of Twain records that "his natural kindness of heart, and especially his love for his wife, inclined him toward the teachings and customs of her Christian faith.
It took very little persuasion on his wife's part to establish family prayers in their home, grace before meals, and the morning reading of the Bible chapter." One of Clemens's friends, who knew him to be a great skeptic, recorded his surprise at visiting the home and discovering Twain praying and otherwise joining in the family worship.
Unfortunately, in time Twain began to express distaste for this worship and told his wife, "Livy, you may keep this up if you want to, but I must ask you to excuse me from it. It is making me a hypocrite. I don't believe in the Bible; it contradicts my reason. I can't sit here and listen to it, letting you believe that I regard it, as you do, in the light of the Gospel, the Word of God."
This alone would have been a great tragedy; it must have marked the end of Olivia's hopes for her husband. But something even worse followed. Mark Twain's unbelief had a disastrous influence on his wife and Olivia gradually progressed from doubt to the death of her religion. One day when she and her sister were walking across the fields she confessed with sorrow that she had drifted away from her orthodox views. She had ceased to believe in a personal God who exercised personal supervision over every human soul, she said. Years later, in a time of bereavement, Twain tried to strengthen his wife with the words, "Livy, if it comforts you to lean on the Christian faith, do so."
She replied, "I can't, Youth [her favorite designation for her husband]. I haven't any."
If you willfully disobey God and marry a non-Christian, do not beguile yourself with the belief that you will be the cause of your husband or wife's conversion. By the grace of God that may possibly happen. But it usually does not. Mixed marriages usually end in great unhappiness or divorce. And even if that is not the case, you will certainly bring much unnecessary sorrow upon yourself by disobedience.
WHAT GOD HATES: The Bible teaches that God hates sin, but it rarely says that about a particular sin. So it should be especially striking when we read in Malachi 2:16 that God hates divorce. The text teaches that He hates it the same way He hates violence. Why does God hate divorce so fiercely? We can suggest a number of reasons. First, it is a matter of a man and a woman breaking faith with his or her spouse. God, who is a God of faithfulness and truth, hates infidelity. The marriage vow speaks of union "in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health." We cannot guarantee anyone happiness, not even ourselves. We cannot guarantee affluence or health. But we can guarantee that we will stick by our word, that we will not break faith just because fidelity is difficult or because another way or person becomes more attractive. God hates divorce because it breaks faith, because it violates truth's standard.
Second, God hates divorce because it is harmful. It is harmful to the couple involved, generally leaving scars that never truly heal. It is harmful to society. Above all it is harmful to whatever children may be involved.
Divorcing persons generally do not want to admit this, and their reluctance is understandable. They have to raise their children, and it is difficult to do this if they are laboring under guilt that the divorce has done the children great harm. But admit it or not, divorce does harm children. Oh, some cope better than others. Many children of divorced parents get on with life somehow. But all are harmed, and some are harmed deeply and irreparably. We live in a day of 'human rights.' Everyone is fighting for his or her rights, so it seems. Even divorcing persons fight for their supposed right to be happy. What about the children? I maintain that they also have rights: a right to a mother and a father, a right to a stable home environment, a right to an actualized biblical model of what a God-blessed home should be. Divorce deprives them of that and often leads them into a self-destructive life pattern. The great majority of children appearing in juvenile court are from broken homes. The vast majority of prison inmates have the same background.
In the final analysis, however, the fundamental reason why God hates divorce is that God created marriage to illustrate the most blessed of all spiritual relationships-the union of a believing man or woman with Christ, the divine bridegroom of the church--and divorce must therefore illustrate apostasy or the falling away of a man or woman from God, which is damnation.
People in the reformed tradition are strong in insisting that the work of God in the life of one of His believing sons or daughters is never frustrated and that the one He has called to Himself will never be lost. God is the active agent in salvation: He elects, He regenerates, He calls, He justifies, He sanctifies, and at last, He glorifies. We are right to insist on such a perfect gospel, for it is what Scripture teaches about salvation from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation. But if that is the case, how then can we possibly compromise on God's marriage standard and imply that divorce (and, even worse, remarriage) is permissible or even desirable because of our merely human condition? Far be it from us! One writer declares, "I am convinced that if a strict view on divorce and remarriage were taught in our churches, there would be fewer divorces among believers. Marriage would be entered into with more caution, and marriage partners would seek to preserve that union at all cost."
I believe that as well, and I affirm that God, who "hates divorce," would bless our stand, deepen our marriages, and begin the long and difficult task of healing our sick land.
The Day of His Coming (Malachi 2:17-3:5)
Between the portion of Malachi 2 that deals with the sin of the people in divorcing their spouses and marrying unbelievers and the part of Malachi 3 that deals with their sin of robbing God of tithes and other obligations, there is a section dealing with the coming of the Lord in judgment (Malachi. 2:17-3:5). But the coming of God is not the initial thrust of the passage. It begins with the people's complaint that God's rule is not just. God replies that He is just but that His coming in justice will mean judgment for the very people who are raising this objection.
"HOW HAVE WE WEARIED HIM?"
The verses begin with an exchange that should be familiar by now to any student of Malachi. Seven times in this book God makes a statement either directly or indirectly critical of the people, and they reply by challenging the statement. Generally their challenge begins with the word "how," though in one instance the New International Version translates the same Hebrew word as "what."
In Malachi 1:2 God tells the people, "I have loved you." This statement of fact is also a veiled criticism of the people's indifference to God's love for them. They respond by asking, "How have you loved us?" God's love surrounded them in spite of their half-hearted devotion and open sin. But they are so insensitive to that love that they actually consider God remiss in His favors. They think He has not loved them to the degree that He should.
The second and third exchanges occur just verses later. There God says, "It is you, O priests, who despise my name." The priests reply, "How have we despised your name?" God answers, "You place defiled food on my altar." They reject this explanation in spite of the fact that they have been offering blind, crippled, and diseased animals, and answer God, "How have we defiled you?" (Malachi. 1:6, 7). We find this same type of exchange at the beginning of the section we are now studying, where it says that the people "have wearied the LORD with [their] words." They reply, "How have we wearied him?" (Ma!. 2:17).
How indeed? When we see the word "wearied" we think of repetitious entreaties that tire the person hearing them. As it turns out, it is not so much the repetitiousness as the nature of the complaints that bothers God. God is offended that the people accuse Him of injustice. They say, "All who do evil are good in the eyes of the LORD, and he is pleased with them." That is, evildoers prosper materially. The wicked get rich. By contrast, they imply, "We who do good [they considered themselves to have been quite good, as we have seen] are evil in the eyes of the LORD, and he is not pleased with us." They mean, "We are not getting rich. Where is the God of justice?"
We need to see two things about accusing God of injustice. First, it is horribly arrogant. It demands that the only wise, holy, omniscient, sovereign God of the universe come down to our level and defend Himself before our petty human standards of justice. God was managing the universe quite well long before we were even born. He raises nations up and brings nations down. He imposes judgment upon individuals through the inevitable outworkings of sin in their lives and the lives of those with whom they come in contact. Eventually He punishes the wicked in hell and brings the redeemed to heaven. God does all this perfectly without our help. Yet when something does not go the way we like, we immediately accuse God of injustice and call Him to an accounting. How dare we behave in this fashion? How dare we accuse God of doing wrong?
Second, accusing God of injustice is distressingly frequent. We see this at the beginning of the Old Testament. When Adam and Eve sinned and God came to them in the garden, asking, "Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?" Adam replied, "The woman you put here with me, she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it" (Gen. 3:11, 12). In a similar way, when God asked the woman, "What is this you have done?" She replied, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate" (v. 13).
On the surface these statements seem to be honest admissions of guilt. But beneath the surface Adam and Eve were doing their best to shift the blame. Eve tried to implicate the serpent. True, she had eaten, but the Devil made her do it, she said. Adam blamed the woman and then with characteristic male arrogance hinted that the whole thing was God's fault: "the woman you put here with me" is to blame. Like the people in Malachi's time, Adam was arguing that the current evil state of things, which was actually the result of his own sin, was God's fault.
Moreover, although the woman did not say so openly, she too was blaming God. Eve blamed the Devil. But is that reply any different from Adam's? Not really! We see the similarity of the two excuses when we ask: But who made the Devil? Or, who let the Devil into the garden? Every attempt to excuse ourselves is in the final analysis an attempt to blame God. It is saying, as Martin Luther in his lectures on Genesis accused Adam of saying, "Thou, Lord, hast sinned."
What do you blame for your misfortunes? Is it circumstances? God made the circumstances. Is it other people? God made them and has permitted them to come into your life. If you do not admit your own guilt in a matter (Or at least acknowledge that God may be delaying the full execution of His justice for reasons that seem both wise and right to Him), then you are saying that God acts sinfully. You are saying, as these people did, "All who do evil are good in the eyes of the LORD, and he is pleased with them" (Malachi. 2:17).
"WHERE IS GOD?" Christians affirm that God is a God of justice, but we all know that injustices occur in this life. We believe that God will judge all evil one day, but in the meantime the evil do prosper, the righteous sometimes are afflicted, and evils go unchecked. What are we to make of this?
The next verses deal with that question. They make two points. First, God is coming and there will be a judgment. Second, all evildoers will be judged including those who object to God's management of the world's affairs. The unspoken inference of these first points is that if God does not come in judgment immediately, it is because He is a God of grace as well as a God of justice. He has not come in judgment because, if He were to come none could possibly stand before Him. All would perish. All would be consigned to the lake of fire.
It is important to see what God promises to do. First, He promises to send His "messenger, who will prepare the way before" Him (Malachi. 3:1). It is interesting that in the Hebrew the phrase translated "my messenger" is actually the word Malachi, the name of the prophet. Malachi means "my messenger." But Malachi is not thinking of himself when he records this important promise of God. The words "prepare the way before me" are a clue that Malachi is thinking of the well-known prophecy of Isaiah 40:3-5, a prophecy that was extremely popular with the Jews of this period. Isaiah wrote:
A voice of one calling: "In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
This is the messenger who was to prepare for God's Messiah. And we have the united witness of the four evangelists who declare that Isaiah 40:3 was fulfilled in the person of John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Lord Jesus Christ. Each of the evangelists quotes at least part of this text (Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4-6; John 1:23), and Matthew also quotes the text from Malachi, thus linking the two pronouncements. "This is the one about whom it is written: "I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you'" (Matthew 11:10). In each case the messenger is identified as John the Baptist.
The second thing God promises is to come Himself. This is an astonishing promise, of course. It is one thing for God to send a messenger. Indeed, that is what God had been doing for many hundreds of years. He had sent messengers like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. He had sent the so-called Minor Prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, and Zechariah. Now He is sending Malachi, and He is promising to send John the Baptist too. They were all great messengers, great gifts to God's people. But they were men after all. It is not all that extraordinary that God should communicate with His people by this means. But now the truly incredible thing is that God is promising to dispense with the messengers and come Himself. "See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant [this 'messenger' is not the forerunner, but rather the Lord Himself], whom you desire, will come" (v. 1).
Surprising as this is, it is nevertheless exactly what Isaiah had declared earlier: "A voice of one calling: 'In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; Make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God' "(Isa. 40:3). It is what John the Baptist had in mind when he said, "After me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry" (Matt. 3:11). When Jesus was revealed to John on the occasion of His baptism, John declared unequivocally, "This is the Son of God" (John 1:34).
These texts are testimony to the deity of Jesus Christ! There are other things that attest to Jesus' deity, of course. There was the voice from heaven at the baptism and again on the Mount of Transfiguration: "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17; 17:5; cf. Mark 1:11; 9:7; Luke 3:22; 9:35). There were Christ's own claims: "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30); "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). There were the miracles, the Resurrection. But among these many claims and evidences, the great Old Testament prophecies stand out. Who is the messenger if not John the Baptist? Who is the Lord for whom he was to prepare if not Jesus? If Jesus is not the Son of God, then these prophecies have not been fulfilled, and the Bible (thus far at least) is unreliable.
GRACE AND JUDGMENT: At this point another remarkable thing happens, and it is even more remarkable than the prophecy that God will Himself come to His temple. To see it we have to reconstruct the reasoning thus far. Malachi began with the complaint of the people that God had been unjust in withholding what they considered their proper measure of material blessings. Even worse, they had accused Him of favoring evildoers. "Where is the God of justice?" they complained. To this God replied that although His coming had been long delayed, it had nevertheless not been canceled. "Where is the God of justice?" These verses teach that the God of justice is coming.
So what should we expect at this point? The people had asked for justice. Justice is what they should get. The God of justice who is also the God of judgment should come, destroy their land, obliterate their city, and confine every last one of them to hell for their wickedness.
It is true that God does speak of judgment. Verse 5 declares, "So I will come near to you for judgment. I will 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, but who do not fear me." But even here, although God says that He is coming in judgment, it is only to testify against sinners. And the verses that come before this speak, not of a final judgment that results in men and women being sent to hell, but of a purification process in which the priests and Levites will be refined like gold and silver and the Lord "will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years" (vv. 3, 4).
According to this image, God will be like a refiner of silver. Workers of silver can still be seen today in oriental bazaars. They melt the ore in small, portable furnaces. As the ore melts, the dross rises to the top and is then scraped off by the refiner. The workman keeps peering into the crucible, removing dross until he can see his face in the molten metal as in a mirror and knows that the work is done. In such a manner, God will apply the heat of affliction and discipline until He can see His image in His people. [Note: 'The image of the refiner also occurs in Isaiah 1:25; 48:10; Jeremiah 6:29, 30; Ezekiel 22:17-22.]
In spite of the people's demand for justice, when God should come to His people in the person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, it would not be for an immediate judgment on sin-however much they deserve it-but for God's own gracious work of redemption. He would come to seek and to save the lost, to bring healing, and to purify His elect people. Only after that gracious work would the judgment come.
The Lord Himself taught this when He eventually came--four hundred years after the age of Malachi. Jesus had returned to Nazareth after His baptism by John and His temptation by Satan, to begin His ministry, and He went into the synagogue of Nazareth on the Sabbath. He was asked to take part in the service and was given the scroll of Isaiah from which He was to read the day's lesson. He unrolled it, found the sixty-first chapter and read:
"The Spirit of the 'Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:18, 19; Isa. 61:1, 2).
Jesus then announced that this remarkable prophecy had been fulfilled in Himself. He was the One who had come to do these things, as God had promised. But the most remarkable thing about Jesus' handling of this passage is what He did not read. If you look at Isaiah 61, you find that the very next line of the prophecy, indeed the completion of the sentence with which Jesus stopped, says: "and the day of vengeance of our God" (Isa. 61:2). Vengeance (or judgment) is part of Isaiah's great prophecy. One day it will come. But it did not come with Jesus' first appearing. Indeed, by His very citation of this prophecy He indicated that a day of grace would precede the final judgment.
THE SILENCE OF GOD: We are in that day of grace now, and we should be thankful that it is so. It is a day for repentance and salvation. We should use it as such before the day of
The Lord Himself taught this when final judgment comes. We should never He eventually came-four hundred say, "Where is the God of justice?" We years after the age of Malachi. Jesus should never ask for judgment.
Robert Anderson wrote one of the most original and stimulating books I have read. It is called The Silence of God. It asked why in our time, if God is as omnipresent, omniscient, and caring for us as we imagine Him to be, He does not speak. He spoke in the past through prophets. From time to time there was even a voice from heaven. Certainly we would like to hear God speak today. In a number of penetrating chapters Anderson presents how even strong believers would like a whisper of explanation in moments of personal suffering, a pointed, directing word in crisis, a shout of vindication when non-Christians seem to have the upper hand. Yet God does not speak. We refer to the four hundred silent years that intervened between the words of God through Malachi and the coming of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. But since the time of Jesus nearly two thousand years (five times the other silent period) have gone by.
Why is God silent? Why does the God of all the universe not speak? Anderson answers that God has already spoken everything that can probably be spoken graciously. Jesus is the ultimate, final word of God in that area. Not a syllable can be added. The only words that remain to be spoken are the final words of judgment. And God is silent now because, when He speaks audibly again, that judgment will come.3
Do not argue with God. Do not try to bring God down to the level of your own petty justice or understanding. On the contrary, accept that God is good, that today is the day of His grace. And come to Him through Jesus while there is still time.
Robbers! Robbers of God! (Malachi 3:6-12)
I was counseling a young man whom I had known for years. Earlier he had made a commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord that had been growing in intensity, but he had also been involved in sexual sin and seemed unable to shake it. I had told him that he needed to be obedient to Christ in this as in other areas, but the struggle went on. In this particular session he told me that several months previously he had decided to stop having sexual relations with his girlfriend to see if that would help get his life straightened out and bring the kind of blessing he expected from Christianity. "But it hasn't worked," he told me. He had done his bit-a great deal in his opinion-but God had not responded as he expected.
This was exactly what was happening with those of Malachi's day. According to the prophet, the people were guilty of many serious sins. The priests were offering blemished animals in a formal but insincere religious ritualism. Many were divorcing their wives to marry unbelieving women. Most had been disobeying God's law by withholding tithes of their harvests. And they were all accusing God of loving them only half-heartedly and of being unjust in His dealings with them-because He had not prospered them adequately. If they could have put their feelings into words other than those recorded by Malachi, they might have said, "We have been utterly faithful in fulfilling our responsibilities toward God. Never mind the divorces and mixed marriages. Never mind the tithes. We keep our side of the bargain through many things that seem important to us. The problem is that God has not kept His side of the bargain. We have been faithful; He is unfaithful. In short, obedience to God does not work. God has not prospered us as we think He should, and the fault is God's alone.
The answer, of course, is that God had not changed. It is the people who had changed, falling away from a true love for Him and from the truly righteous life their forefathers once had (Malachi. 3:4). But in another sense, the problem is that the people--we must include ourselves at this point--had changed so little. Though fallen from their original, early devotion to God, they were nevertheless exactly as they had been for much of their history. They were exceedingly sinful and self-righteous, and they needed to repent.
GOD HAS NOT CHANGED: Once when I was preaching through the Book of Malachi and dealt at length with God's indictment of divorce and mixed marriages in Malachi 2:10-16, I was approached afterward by a man who identified himself as a Baptist. He said, "I have never heard a sermon on the second chapter of Malachi, but I have heard dozens of sermons on Malachi 3." He was referring to the fact that in Malachi 3:10 God challenges the people to "bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house, . . . and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it." This is a great text for a sermon on stewardship, which is what this man had so often heard. But it is striking that the context for God's words about tithes is the teaching that God is faithful. The matter of tithes is only an illustration of that teaching.
In theology this doctrine is called immutability. It means that, being perfect, God cannot and does not change. In order to change, a moral being must change in either of two ways. Either he must change for the better, or he must change for the worse. God cannot get better, because that would mean that He was less than perfect earlier, in which case He would not have been God. But God cannot get worse either, because in that case He would become imperfect, which He cannot be. God is and must remain perfect in all His attributes.
Malachi 3:6 is a classic statement of immutability: "I the LORD do not change." But we immediately ask, "What are the specific areas in which God does not change?" And "Why does God mention this particular doctrine here?"
It would be a valid exposition of this text to list every one of God's attributes and show how God does not change in any of them, attributes like sovereignty, wisdom, holiness, self-existence, self-sufficiency, knowledge, and justice. But the relevant attributes here are His love, mercy, grace, and faithfulness. Malachi 3:6 says that it is because of God's immutability in these areas that the people have not been destroyed. At first glance this is surprising, because the theme of the preceding verses has been the people's complaint: "Where is the God of justice?" In such a context, if God replies that He has not changed, we should expect Him to mean, "I have not changed in my demand for justice, and I will judge the ungodly."
Instead, we find that the emphasis is on His grace and mercy. Even when we were looking at the previous verses we saw that God was coming, not to judge, but to save His people. The messenger was to prepare the way for Jesus, who would redeem and purify them. We find the same thing here. God emphasizes His immutability to say that He is unchanging in His faithfulness, which is why the people have not been destroyed for their transgressions.
How gracious of God! The people were accusing Him of changing, of having become unfaithful. God replies that He is unchanging precisely in His faithfulness, which is why these very people had not been cast off.
It is this unchangeableness of God that gives us a chance to change. For, of course, that is what we must do. It is why the passage goes on to speak of repentance or returning to God: "'Return to me, and I will return to you,' says the LORD Almighty" (v. 7). "How are we to return?" someone asks. That is what the people of Malachi's day asked, and God's response to them in the first instance was that they had robbed Him of tithes and offerings. The word "tithe" means "tenth." It refers to that tenth of the people's produce or income that was owed to God for the temple service and other social obligations. The basic tenth was paid to the Levites for their maintenance (Lev. 27:30-33), and from this tenth the Levites themselves paid a tenth to the ministering priests (Num. 18:25-32). Additional tenths may have been paid on other occasions (cf. Deut. 14:28, 29). That is what the people had not done. They had undoubtedly made some small contributions to the Levites and temple service as part of their ritualistic practice of religion. But they had not given the "whole tithe" (v. 10), and they had certainly not presented even what they did give with a willing and thankful heart. They had to change in this area.
Many believers today also need to change. Sometimes in question-and-answer periods I am asked whether Christians today are obliged to tithe. I suspect the questioner wants to know how little he must give to Christian causes and how much he can keep for himself. I reply with what I believe to be a proper statement of the case, namely, that the tithe was an Old Testament regulation designed for the support of a particular class of people. It was not carried over into the New Testament. Nowhere in the New Testament are believers instructed to give a specific tenth or any other proportion of their income to Christian projects.
On the other hand, I also point out that although the tithe is not mentioned, the giving of weekly offerings is (1 Cor. 16:2). And more importantly, it is generally the case that in the New Testament the obligations of the Old Testament legislation are heightened rather than lessened. That is, the law is interpreted in the fullest measure. So while we are not required to give a specific tenth of our income, it is hard to think of a normal Christian, blessed with the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, doing less. Under reasonable circumstances any true believer in Christ should give more than the tenth, for all we have is the Lord's.
I wonder how many believers today even approach that ideal. I wonder if God would not say to most today, "You rob me" (Malachi. 3:8). Why should this be? Why should we who have been blessed so abundantly be so ungenerous?
I think the reason is that we really do not trust God to take care of us. We think we have to store up the money for ourselves against the day when money may run out and God will be unable to provide. This was Oswald J. Smith's problem, as he tells about it in his classic story of his introduction to sacrificial missionary giving. He was the newly installed minister of the People's Church of Toronto, Canada, and it was the church's missionary week. He was sitting on the platform when the time came for the ushers to collect the faith promises for the coming year's missionary program. One of them, as he said, had the "audacity" to walk up to the platform and hand him an envelope. He read on it: "In dependence upon God I will endeavor to give $____toward the missionary work of the church during the coming year."
He had never seen such a thing before, and he began to protest inwardly. He was the minister. He had a wife and child to support, and at that time he was earning only twenty-five dollars a week. He had never given more than five dollars to missions at any one time previously, and that was only once. He told the Lord, "Lord God, I can't do anything. You know I have nothing. I haven't a cent in the bank. I haven't anything in my pocket. Everything is sky-high in price."
But the Lord seemed to say, "I know all that. I know that you are getting only twenty-five dollars a week. I know that you have nothing in your pocket and nothing in the bank." "Well, then," he said, "that settles it." "No, it doesn't," the Lord answered. "I am not asking you for what you have. I am asking you for a faith offering. How much can you trust me for?" "I guess that's different," said Smith. "How much can I trust you for?" "Fifty dollars." "Fifty dollars!" he exclaimed. "That's two weeks' salary. How can I ever get fifty dollars?" But God seemed to be making the matter clear, and with a trembling hand Oswald Smith signed his name and put the amount of fifty dollars on the envelope. He has written since that he still does not know how he paid it. He had to pray each month for four dollars. But God sent the money, and at the end of the year, not only had he paid the whole amount, but he had himself received such a blessing that he doubled the figure at the next year's missionary conference.
Can God take care of us? Can God care for His people and at the same time use their willing generosity to provide for Christian work here and in other lands? Of course, He can! To doubt Him in this and give little (in some cases, nothing) is to rob God and slander His sovereignty
LIVING SACRIFICES: The end of this matter is that not merely our money or time, but our whole selves--body, soul, and spirit are God's, and therefore we are to honor God wholly with all we are. Paul wrote, "You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body" (1 Cor. 6:19, 20). He said, 'Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of Cod's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-which is your spiritual worship" (Rom. 12:1). That is the essence of it. So long as we are thinking legalistically in terms of financial percentages and portions of the week we will be exactly like the self-righteous sinners of Malachi's day. We will do little and think it much. We will resent God who, in our judgment, should do more for us. On the other hand, if we give God ourselves as living sacrifices, then the most we give will seem to be little and we will be overwhelmed that Cod is willing to use us in His service.
Will you try it God's way? Will you put God to the test? This is what God challenges the people to do in verses 10-12. The text has four parts. First, God calls for obedience: "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house." All spiritual relationships with God start with obedience. Second, God issues a challenge: "Test me in this." Third, God accompanies His call and challenge with a promise: "See if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit." Fourth, God speaks of the ultimate result: "Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land."
God's challenge in this great passage from Malachi is identical to the one we have already seen in Haggai, recorded by him approximately seventy-five years before. In Haggai's day the people had been neglecting the rebuilding of the temple, which was God's announced will for them at that period. As a result, God had withheld rain and had not prospered the crops. Much of the first portion of Haggai deals with this situation and challenges the people to take note of it and acknowledge God as the cause. Then God says, "Give careful thought to this from this day on-consider how things were before one stone was laid on another in the LORD'S temple. When anyone came to a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten. When anyone went to a wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were only twenty .... From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the LORD'S temple was laid. Give careful thought .... From this day on I will bless you" (Hag. 2:15, 16, 18, 19). Before they obeyed God the people experienced frustration and physical want. But from that point on they were to experience satisfaction and material blessings--if they obeyed God.
Are you bold enough to accept this challenge personally--as stated either here or in Malachi? Usually we try to shy away from anything as tangible as this, for we are afraid that our faith or testimony will be shaken if we try it and God does not come through. But it is not my idea to put God to the test with obedience. This is God's challenge. It is God who says, "Test me in this... and see . . ." (Malachi. 3:10).
Why not obey God in this matter? Why not put God first in the use of your financial resources, your time, above all in what you do with yourself-and see if He will not "throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it"?
Last Words of the Old Covenant (Malachi 3:13-4:6)
The books of the Hebrew Bible do not have the same order as the books in our Bible. Our Bibles end with the minor prophets. The Hebrew Bible has the prophets in the middle, its order being: (1) the law, (2) the prophets, and (3) the writings. Second Chronicles actually ends the Hebrew Old Testament. On the other hand, the Greek (Septuagint) and Latin (Vulgate) versions have our order, which is where the English order comes from. So the majority of all Bibles, whether measured by the number of languages into which the Bible has been translated or merely the number of Bibles in existence, end with Malachi.
That presents a problem! The problem is that Malachi (and therefore also the Old Testament) does not end the way we might wish it did. First, the final words of Malachi are "or else I will come and strike the land with a curse" (Malachi. 4:6). They do not seem appropriate. We like upbeat endings. We think novels should end "and they lived happily ever after." Isn't that the kind of ending we expect to God's great plan of creation and redemption? God's people will be saved. Christ will see the travail of His soul and be satisfied. God will be perfectly and eternally glorified. Why then should the Old Testament end with the word "curse"? The Masoretes, who have given us most of the copies of the Hebrew Old Testament we have and who added the vowel points to the Hebrew text, were so bothered by this that they repeated the next-to-the-last verse of Malachi after the last verse.' Similarly, the Septuagint reverses the last two verses so the Old Testament ends, not with a curse, but with a blessing. [Note: 'The Hebrew text of Malachi has no chapter 4, our chapter 4 being a part of the Hebrew chapter 3. So the Masoretic text ends with Malachi 3:23, rather than with 3:24.]
The second problem is different from this, but I suspect that it is a more basic reason why the ending of the Old Testament does not seem proper to us. The entire last portion of the book contains nothing that can really be called new material. Oh, there are a few ideas that do not occur elsewhere-the "scroll of remembrance," in which the names of the righteous remnant are recorded, and the image of the "sun of righteousness," to give just two examples. But basically the material of these verses is "old hat." It is a reminder of things said already, and we react to that the way a child reacts to a repeated warning: "Mother, you've already told me that." We do not want to be reminded yet another time. Yet that is what we need. God reminds us of five things in these verses.
A FAITHLESS PEOPLE: The first thing these verses remind us of is that the people are still unchanged. This is the theme developed in the last chapter; indeed, it is a major theme of Malachi as a whole. For hundreds of years God had remonstrated with the people. He had sent famine and plagues. Eventually He had sent armies from the surrounding nations to overthrow first the northern and then the southern kingdoms (cf. Amos 5:6-13). But there had been no basic changes. Here at the last the people are much as they had been at the beginning.
This point is vividly made by the specific complaint of the people and God's response to it recorded in Malachi 3:13-15. These verses contain the last of those seven cavils marked by the word how (or, in this case what) that provide one possible outline of the book. When God said, "I have loved you" (Malachi. 1:2), the people replied, "How have you loved us?" When God said, "It is you, O priests, who despise my name" (Malachi. 1:6), the priests answered, "How have we despised your name?" When God explained, "You place defiled food on my altar" (Malachi. 1:7), they defend themselves by retorting, "How have we defiled you?" When Malachi told the nation, "You have wearied the LORD with your words" (Malachi. 2:17), the people responded, "How have we wearied him?" In chapter three God declared, "Return to me" (Malachi. 3:7) and "You rob me" (Malachi. 3:8). They said, "How are we to return?" and "How do we rob you?"
These statements and retorts reveal six very distinct transgressions, which C. Campbell Morgan calls profanity, sacrilege, greed, weariness in service, honoring of vice, and robbery. But although Morgan gives a separate name to this last cavil--blasphemy--it is really no different from the truth and is actually a summary of all of these. The people were saying that God did not love them, that He was not worthy of the best sacrifices, that He was unjust, did not deserve a full tithe, and was unreasonable to call for repentance. The seventh and last complaint summarizes their thoughts as: "It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape" (vv. 14, 15). The people are blind to the fact that among those who had been challenging God they were themselves most guilty.
But there is another way in which the situation had not changed, and this is the first encouraging note in what is otherwise a distressing picture. There was a remnant. As in all previously grim centuries there were some who actually reverenced the Lord, and God noted and remembered them. This classic text says in reference to them: "Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name" (Malachi. 3:16).
This was true in earlier days too. We think of the faithful few during the days of the judges when the majority ignored God and did what was right in their own eyes (Judg. 21:25). The judges were themselves a remnant. God remembered them. Or we think of the seven thousand of Elijah's day who, although unknown to the prophet, had not bowed down their knees to Baal (1 Kings 19:18). God took note of them also.
Here is a contemporary example. One of the inmates of the notorious Russian prisons was a Jewish doctor by the name of Boris Nicholayevich Kornfeld. He was a political prisoner of the Stalinist era. But he was treated better than most simply because doctors were scarce. Guards got sick as well as prisoners, and no prison officer wanted to end up in the hands of a prisoner he had cruelly abused. Boris Kornfeld was filled with hate. He considered himself innocent of all crime, and he was by our standards. But he would gladly have killed all his persecutors if the path had been open to him. There was a Christian in the camp. He was another one of those nameless persons who perished by the millions in those days. But he spoke to Kornfeld, and through his witness this Jewish atheistic doctor became a believer in Jesus.
The most extraordinary changes followed. The conversion was itself astonishing, but Kornfeld now began to live the faith he professed. He began to pray for the guards, above all for forgiveness for himself for the hatred he had once had for them. He stopped signing forms that permitted the guards to confine those they disliked to dark torture cells where most died. Even more significant, he turned in an orderly who had been stealing food from the most seriously ill patients. It was the equivalent of signing his own death warrant, for although the orderly was placed in a punishment block for three days, he was inevitably released and could be expected to try to kill Kornfeld at the first opportunity.
The doctor took to sleeping in the hospital, where he had his best chance of survival. Still, having accepted the possibility, even the probability of death, Kornfeld now experienced freedom to live as God's man. Hatred vanished from his life. He did what he could for the prisoners.
One night Kornfeld began to tell a patient what had happened to him. This man had been operated on for cancer of the intestines and probably had little time to live. As the doctor talked, the patient kept drifting in and out of consciousness. He was an unlikely person to hear the Jew's testimony. But Boris Kornfeld spoke of Jesus as his Savior and confided, "On the whole, you know, I have become convinced that there is no punishment that comes to us in this life on earth which is undeserved. Superficially, it can have nothing to do with what we are guilty of in actual fact, but if you go over your life with a fine-tooth comb and ponder it deeply, you will always be able to hunt down that transgression of yours for which you have now received this blow."
It was a remarkable confession, and it touched the patient deeply in spite of his pain-wracked condition! (The people of Malachi's day who considered God unjust and themselves innocent lacked that remarkable spirit of humility and repentance.)
The patient awoke the next morning to the sound of running feet. The commotion concerned his new-found friend, the doctor. During the night, while Boris Kornfeld slept, someone had crept up on him and had shattered his skull with eight blows of a plasterer's mallet. It was the end of Boris Nicholayevich Kornfeld! Yet not the end, because Kornfeld's testimony lived on through the life and witness of that one single cancer patient with whom he had shared it. The patient's name was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. These are the remnant. They are those who fear the Lord and talk with each other, whom the Lord remembers.
GOD IS UNCHANGED: The second reminder of these concluding verses is this. Just as the situation among the people had remained unchanged, so too God was unchanged. The Lord had stated this explicitly in the verses immediately before this: "I the LORD do not change" (Malachi. 3:6). But these verses make the point again by bringing some of God's immutable attributes before us as the book closes. God is unchangeable in His knowledge; He knows the faithful and the faithless (Ma!. 3:14-17), the righteousness and the wicked (v. 18). God is unchangeable in His holiness; His standard remains that righteousness which the law embodies (Malachi. 4:4). God is unchangeable in His judgments; though postponed, the reality of judgment still looms before the wicked (Malachi. 4:1-3). God is unchangeable in His promises; He still speaks of a day of blessing in which the hearts of the fathers will be turned to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers (Malachi. 4:6).
Men and women wish that they could get God to change. They do not like Him for His godly attributes: sovereignty, holiness, omniscience, justice, wrath--even love, because it is a holy love. But they could endure these perfections if it were possible to think that given time God might change in some of them.
We could endure God's sovereignty if we could think that given a bit more time God's grip on the universe might weaken and another strong personality might take over. Perhaps we could take over. Maybe men could be sovereign. We could endure God's holiness if we could think that given a bit more time His tough moral standards might change. What we are forbidden to do now we might be able to do then. We could wait to sin. We could endure omniscience if given the passage of years it might be possible for God to forget. We could wait for Him to become senile. We could endure His justice if with the passage of time it might become more of an abstract ideal than a reality. We could even endure His love if it could cease to be the perfect and properly jealous love the Bible describes it to be.
But God does not change. God is the same today as He has always been; He will be the same in what we would call billions of years from now. God will always be sovereign. He will always be holy. He will always be omniscient. He will always be just. He will always be loving. It is appropriate that we be reminded of this in the closing pages of the Old Testament.
A CERTAIN JUDGMENT: Because God is unchanging in His holiness and justice, it follows that the inevitability of His judgment upon the wicked is unchanging also. The final chapter of Malachi virtually shouts for us to see this, for it begins, "Surely the day is coming . . ." (v. 1). The judgment of God may be postponed. For the most part it has been postponed for the long years of human history-postponed but not forgotten. Delay is not elimination. Judgment will come.
The image of a furnace, used earlier (in 3:2), reappears in this portrayal. Earlier the image was used to describe a future work of purging or purifying, as a result of which God would cleanse His people and establish a generation of those who would live righteously and worship Him in truth. It is the kind of discipline Jesus spoke of through His use of the image of the vine and its branches. He spoke of trimming the branches (John 15:2). It is a blessed thing for God's people, though painful. However, the second use of the image of a furnace (in 4:1) is quite different. Here the object of the burning is not purification but rather the destruction of the wicked: "'All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,' says the LORD Almighty. 'Not a root or a branch will be left to them'
(v. 1). This is a judgment to be feared. But even here we find the same encouraging note we saw when considering the unchanged character of the people. Most had remained unchanged in their arrogance. But among them were those who constituted a genuinely godly remnant (Malachi. 3:16). Here, even in the midst of a 'terrible reminder of God's judgment, God nevertheless also speaks of those who "revere [His] name," upon whom the "sun of righteousness" will rise with healing in its wings" (Malachi. 4:2).
The church fathers from Justin onward have almost universally understood the "sun of righteousness" to be Christ. Martin Luther in particular said, "Under the Law there is weakness and condemnation; under the wings of Christ, under the Gospel, there is strength and salvation."' This is proper theology, of course, and the earlier prophecy of God's sending a messenger to prepare the way before Him (Malachi. 3:1) does encourage us to think forward to the coming of Jesus. Still it is probably not the correct interpretation of "sun of righteousness." Carl Friedrich Keil, author of one of the most analytical and accurate commentaries on the twelve minor prophets, argues that the context does not support this interpretation and simply means that righteousness is itself to be like a sun in the day of God's judgment. He calls "righteousness" an "epexegetical genitive of apposition." "Ts'daqah is here, what it frequently is in Isaiah (e.g., Isa. 45:8; 46:13; 51:5, etc.), righteousness in its consequences and effects, the sun and substance of salvation . . . . As the rays of the sun spread light and warmth over the earth for the growth and maturity of the plants and living creatures, so will the sun of righteousness bring the healing of all hurts and wounds which the power of darkness has inflicted upon the righteous. Then will they go forth from the holes and caves into which they had withdrawn during the night of suffering and where they had kept themselves concealed, and skip like stalled calves (cf. 1 Sam. 28:24) which are driven from the stall to the pasture . . . . They will acquire power over the ungodly. They will tread down the wicked, who will then have become ashes and lie like ashes upon the ground, having been completely destroyed by the first of the judgment (cf. Isa. 26:5, 6)."
Understood in this way, the verses are not a prophecy of Christ's future work, though they depend on that work for their fulfillment, but rather of the vindication and triumph of the righteous. They refer to us, if we are God's people. They are meant to establish us and encourage our obedience.
AN INFLEXIBLE STANDARD: The fourth reminder of these closing verses of the Old Testament is of God's law, which remains an inflexible standard. The people are unchanged. God is unchanged. God's judgment is unchanged. God's law is unchanged. Because God remains unchanged in His righteousness, so does the expression of His righteousness in the law remain unchanged from generation to generation.
Moreover, not only does God's law remain unchanged, so also does our obligation to live by that standard. This is conveyed by the word "remember." "Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel" (Malachi. 4:4). In Deuteronomy, the heart of the law, "remember" is used thirteen times to bring God's saving acts before the minds and consciences of God's people. The key verse is from the Decalogue: "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm" (Deut. 5:15). In Malachi the word is used of the law itself, as the people are admonished to remember all the decrees and laws God gave through Moses at Mount Horeb.
The two go together. There are always people who want to hold forth the law apart from God's personal intervention in their lives; they become legalists. But there are others-they are more numerous and a greater danger today-who want to exalt their experience of God to the neglect of obedience. That cannot be done, simply because the God who acts is also the God who speaks. If you claim to have a relationship with God, then you must heed Malachi's warning: "Remember the law" and do it.
STANDING ON THE PROMISES: The last two verses of Malachi remind us that just as the people, God, judgment, and the laws of God are unchanged, so also are the promises of God unchanged. It is as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:20. "No matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes' in Christ. And so through him the 'Amen' is spoken by us to the glory of God." Malachi reminds us of these promises when he repeats his prophecy of the coming of God's messenger who will prepare the way before Him. This is said for the first time in Malachi 3:1-4. It is repeated in Malachi 4:5, 6, where the messenger is said to be (or be like) Elijah.
What are we to do with these great promises of God? There is only one thing to do. We must believe them and take our stand upon them. As Paul wrote, we must speak our "Amen" to those promises and thus glorify God until the day when they are all fulfilled and we see God face to face. Amen is the Hebrew for true or truth. That is why it is sometimes translated "truly, truly" or "verily, verily" in our Bibles. Frequently it is spoken by Jesus as a preface to some great saying. It means, "Listen to this; what I am about to say is important; it is very true." More often amen is used by men and women as a conclusion to some statement. On our lips it generally means, "Yes, Lord, what you have said to me is true; I believe it and will live by it." Think of some of those statements.
In Deuteronomy 27, after God had given a large portion of the law involving curses on all who dishonor their parents, move boundary stones, or commit a variety of sexual sins, the people responded by saying, "Amen" (Deut. 27:15-26).
In 1 Chronicles 16, after a great prayer of David in which the acts, laws and promises of God were rehearsed in the hearing of the people, we read: "Then all the people said, 'Amen' (v. 36). When Ezra the scribe read the law in the hearing of the people, praising the Lord who gave it, "all the people lifted their hands and responded, 'Amen! Amen!' Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground" (Neh. 8:6). Psalms 41, 72, and 89 end, "Amen and Amen." Jesus said, "Amen, Amen, I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin" (John 8:34, my translation). Our hearts echo sadly, "Amen, Amen." Jesus said, "Amen, Amen, I am the gate for the sheep" (John 10:7, my translation). We hopefully echo, "Amen." "Amen. Amen, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. Amen, Amen, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the son of God and those who hear will live (John 5:24, 25, my translation). We joyfully echo, "Amen."
We come to the very last words-not of the old covenant, which ends with a curse, but of the new covenant of Revelation, and we hear a last great promise: "He who testifies to these things [that is, Jesus] says, 'Yes, I am coming soon.'" We respond, "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus" (Rev. 22:20). The last verse says, "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen" (v. 21). Amen and Amen!
[Note: John the Baptist denied that he was Elijah when questioned by the religious authorities from Jerusalem (cf. John 1:21), but Jesus said that He fulfilled Elijah's role in preparing for His own public ministry and that John was Elijah if people were willing to accept it (cf. Matt. 11:14). In that latter passage Jesus seems to link Malachi 3:1 (in Matt. 11:10) with Malachi 4:5 (in Matt. 11:14). Luke quotes Malachi 4:5, 6 in recording the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist to his aged father Zechariah by the angel (Luke 1:17).]
James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets, (Excerpts) Kregel, Grand Rapids, 1986.
MALACHI: THINK UPON HIS NAME by Ray C. Stedman
Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, is separated from the book of Matthew by a silent period of more than 400 years, and yet, these two books tie together in a remarkable way. Historically, there was a long, long time when no voice spoke for God, no prophet came to Israel. There were no scriptures being written. There was no encouragement from God. The heavens were silent. Still, history was going on, and remarkable things were taking place in Israel and among the Jews. New institutions were being formed that appear in the opening of the New Testament, but none of this is recorded for us in the sacred history. Malachi is the last of the Minor Prophets and the last prophetic voice to speak to Israel.
The last three books of the Old Testament -- Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi -- were all written after the return of the Israelites from their captivity in Babylon. The people did not come back from Babylon in one great big happy throng. There was a straggling return in two or three groups, the first one beginning in about 535 B.C. At that time, a handful of Jews fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah that the captivity would last for 70 years and they came back to the desolated, stricken city of Jerusalem. There they began to lay the foundations of the temple and it was Haggai's ministry fifteen years later to stir them up to continue that work and carry it through. The temple was completed during Zechariah's ministry and Ezra the priest then led another group back from Babylon.
The people had changed their entire way of life by that time. While they were in Israel before the captivity, they had been sheep keepers, for the most part. But in Babylon they learned to be shopkeepers, and they have been merchants and shopkeepers ever since. So Ezra led this group back and again they had difficulties which are recorded in the historical book of Ezra.
Finally, the last return was accomplished under Nehemiah who in 445 B.C. led a group back to begin the laying of the walls of Jerusalem. The fascinating book of Nehemiah records the exciting experience of building the walls once again. Shortly after Nehemiah finished this task, Malachi appears, and it is interesting to compare the book of Nehemiah with the book of Malachi. Nehemiah is the conclusion of the historical section of the Old Testament which begins with Genesis. That is all history. Following Nehemiah are the poetic books, and then the prophetic books; in Malachi we come into the same period as is covered by Nehemiah.
This prophecy of Malachi was given by a man whose name means "my messenger." It is most suggestive that this last book of our Old Testament centers around the theme of a messenger of God and a prediction of the coming of another messenger. In this, therefore, we have a direct tie between Malachi and the New Testament. Chapter 3, for instance, begins with this prophecy:
"Behold, I send my messenger [in Hebrew that would be "Behold, I send Malachi"] to prepare the way before me, ..." (Malachi 3:1a)
And as you discover in the book of Matthew, that messenger was John the Baptist. He came to prepare the way of the Lord and to announce the coming of the second messenger from God. That second messenger is here in this prophecy in the next phrase:
"...and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant..." (Malachi 3:1b)
It was the work of the Lord Jesus on the closing night of his ministry to take wine and bread with his disciples and holding the cup up to say, "This is my blood of the [new] covenant." (Matt. 26:28) The messenger of the covenant is the Lord Jesus himself.
"...in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. [That is, 'he burns and he cleanses.'] He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the LORD." (Malachi 3:1c-3)
Now that was the trouble with the people in Malachi's day. They had forgotten the great and central message of God and, as we go back to the start of the book, we see that the prophet opens on that note (chapter 1, verse 1):
The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. "I have loved you," says the Lord. (Malachi 1:1-2a)
And that is always the message of God's prophets. "I have loved you," says the Lord. But the amazing thing is that these people answer the prophet with the words, "How hast thou loved us?" This entire book is a series of responses on the part of the people to the challenges of God. Seven times you will find them saying, "How? How does this happen? Prove it." As we go through them you can see how they reveal the state of this people's heart. Here is an outgoing God -- and God is always this way, pouring out love -- but here is a callous people who have become so indifferent and so unresponsive to God that in perfect sincerity they can say, "We don't see this. What do you mean? Why do you say these things to us?" Throughout the book, this is the theme.
Now God's answer to their question, "How have you loved us?" is to remind them that he loved them even back in the beginning of the race with Jacob and Esau. He says, "Take a look at the whole race. Esau's history has been one of continual disturbance and disaster and trouble because," he says, "I have loved Jacob but I have hated Esau. If you want to understand my love, look at one who has not been enjoying my love. Look at Esau and see how different his story is from yours, even though Jacob and Esau were twin brothers." Verses 2, 3:
"Is not Esau Jacob's brother?" says the LORD. "Yet I have loved Jacob but I have hated Esau;" (Malachi 1:2c-3a)
That troubles many people, but you find the explanation in the book of Hebrews in the New Testament. There we are told that Esau was a despiser of his birthright and therefore was one who placed no value on spiritual matters. (Heb. 12:16) He treated God with utter indifference. He viewed the things that God regarded as valuable as if they were trivial, and he treated them that way. It is because of Esau's attitude that God says, "I have loved Jacob but I hated Esau."
If you had known these two men, you would probably have loved Esau and hated Jacob. Jacob was the schemer, the big time operator, the supplanter, the usurper, the untrustworthy rascal. Esau was the big outdoor man, hearty, open, frank, strong, boasting in his exploits as a hunter and as a man of the out-of-doors. Of the two, he appears much the better man, but God says, "I loved Jacob because in the heart of Jacob is the hunger after the deeper things of life; Jacob wants something more than what is on the surface." That always draws out the heart of God. And this is characteristic of the nation as well.
God goes on to charge the Israelites with specific problems and each time their response is, "What do you mean?" (verse 6):
"A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name." (Malachi 1:6a)
That is God's charge. You despise my name. They said, "How have we despised your name? We don't see this. What do you mean?" And the Lord answers (verse 7):
"By offering polluted food upon my altar." (Malachi 1:7a)
"Your attitude and your actions toward me are shoddy. You are content to give me just the trash, the defiled things." But they pursue it further:
'How have we polluted it?' (Malachi 1:7c)
And again God makes it very clear. Whenever you ask God how, he will tell you. God says (verse 8):
"When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that no evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that no evil? Present that to your governor; ..." (Malachi 1:8a)
"Will you get by with that?" God says, "You people that are content to be shoddy about your religious experience, try living that way in your business life and see if you get by with it. And yet you say you are honoring my name. You are claiming to worship me and to be my people." The God of reality always cuts right through all the excuses and all the flimflam of hypocrisy right down to the real issue.
You see it again in the charges that he lays against them concerning their attitudes in worship. They were being professional about their worship. They were utterly bored (verse 13):
"'What a weariness this is,' you say, and you sniff at me, says the LORD of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering!" (Malachi 1:13a)
Now what is wrong here? Where has all the excitement gone? Well, these are always the symptoms of a people who think God will be content with something less than love. The great commandment is, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind...and your neighbor as yourself." (Matt. 22:37-39) Nothing else will satisfy God. But here is a people who have been surrounded by God's love and the recipients of his grace for centuries and yet their hearts have become so blinded that they cannot even see how they are offending him and insulting him with what they do. The reason this is so is that their own love for him has died. The death of love is always reflected in a callous attitude and this is what you see here.
As you continue. you see that they were being hypocritical. God lays that charge against them in chapter 2 and says that their hypocrisy was actually malignant. Their influence was turning others astray (verse 8):
"But you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your instruction, ..." (Malachi 2:8a)
"You are telling them things that are wrong because you do not even know that they are wrong." This is the horrible aspect of this kind of living. Then God charges them with having failed in their moral standards. They had begun to intermarry with the tribes around them and forgot that God had called them to be a special people. Divorce was prevalent throughout the land (verse 13):
And this again you do. You cover the LORD's altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards or accepts [the offering] with favor. (Malachi 2:13a)
And they ask, "Why does he not accept this?" Verses 14, 15:
Because the LORD was witness to the covenant between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Has not the one God made and sustained for us the spirit of life? And what does he desire? Godly offspring. So take heed to yourselves, and let none be faithless to the wife of his youth. "For I hate divorce, says the LORD the God of Israel." (Malachi 2:14b-16a)
Sounds modern, doesn't it? Malachi had to minister to a nation in which divorce was widespread, and more than that, to a society in which moral confusion and cynicism was rampant. The prophet says (verse 17):
You have wearied the Lord with your words. (Malachi 2:17a)
They are amazed at this charge. They say (verse 17):
"How have we wearied him?" (Malachi 2:17c)
The answer comes right from the shoulder:
By saying, "Every one who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD," (Malachi 2:17d)
Just recently I picked up an article that suggested that obscenity, pornography, the free expression of toilet language and filthy words (and so on) is good to have out in the open, that it is wrong to suppress this kind of language or to censure it in our literature. Another article said that parental discipline is an evil thing. that it does harm to children and destroys their incentive, and takes away their ability to develop properly.
All this sort of thing clearly reflects the moral confusion of our own day. And this is always the result when people offer anything less than a fervent love for God, when they think that ritual and religious hocus pocus is going to satisfy the heart of the Eternal. These people were asking (verse 17):
"Where is the God of justice?" (Malachi 2:17f)
Where is the God of judgment? Why, anybody can get by with anything! What do you mean? There aren't any standards. Everything is relative. There is no God of justice who says what is right and wrong. You see, we think all this is new, but even four hundred years before Christ, it was already old.
Then comes the great prophecy we have already looked at. Malachi lifts his eyes and sees that the heart of these people was so hardened that they could not be awakened even by these charges from God. They were utterly unaware that these things were happening. They had nothing to measure them against. So the prophet, looking across what turned out to be four hundred years, says, "The Lord will take care of this. He will send one to you who will wake you up, one who will tell you the truth. He will be a refiner's fire; he will burn through all the hypocrisy and the outward perfunctoriness of your religion and cut right through to the very heart of it. He will be like fullers' soap to those who are willing. He will cleanse them and set things right. You will be able to recognize him because a messenger will go before him to prepare the way, and then he will suddenly come to his temple." And of course, all of this is beautifully fulfilled in the New Testament.
Then comes another series of charges in which the Lord speaks again about their lives. He says to them (verse 7):
"Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts." (Malachi 3:7b)
And the people say, "How shall we return? We haven't gone anywhere. What do you mean return? We are serving you in your temple; we are bringing the proper sacrifices and offerings and we are going through the ritual, just as you outlined it. What do you mean, return to you?" In this response, they indicate the utter blindness of their heart. They did not realize that though the outward form is right, the heart is far from God.
Then God said, "You are robbing me." They said, "How are we robbing you?" God's answer was, "In your tithes and offerings. The whole nation of you is robbing me. You are using the money that I had blessed you with for your own purposes. Bring the tithes into the storehouse that there may be food in my house." Now that verse is often wrenched from this Old Testament scripture and used to establish a legalistic pattern of bringing in all the offerings into the church as the storehouse. Well, that is a distortion. This verse is addressed to Israel, within the limits of the system under which Israel lived in the Old Testament, and yet the principle is exactly true of the church. We should never take all that God has blessed us with and use it for our own advancement.
And God says, "When you do that, you are robbing me. You are robbing me of my right to use you to advance my cause." That is what man is here for. It is quite possible for all of us as Christians to be quite perfunctory about fulfilling our religious obligations within the church and yet to live our lives out fulfilling nothing but our own self-centered goals. We may even achieve them and rise to the very top, but someday we will have to stand before the one who says, "All your life you have robbed me of my right to be myself in you." That is why the appeal of the New Testament is to present your bodies as a living sacrifice unto God; that is what we are here for. That is what we are called for, and anything less is robbing him of his inheritance in the saints. He goes on to charge them with still other offenses (verses 13, 14):
"Your words have been stout against me, says the LORD. Yet you say, 'How have we spoken against thee?'" (Malachi 3:13)
The answer comes:
"You have said, 'It is vain to serve God.'" (Malachi 3:14a)
"What is the use of serving God? He does not do anything for me. I do not get anything out of this. What is the good of keeping his charge or of walking in mourning before the LORD of hosts?" This sounds familiar, doesn't it? "Why, I have been trying to serve God; I have been a Christian now for ten years and I haven't gotten anything out of it." This betrays the philosophy that God exists for man, not man for God, which is really blasphemy. Now that is one side of the picture.
But beginning with verse 16 of chapter 3 there is a wonderful little spotlight turned on a remnant, a group within, who were pleasing God. Thank God these are always there and God's searchlight can always find them. They are described this way (verses 16-18):
Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another; the LORD heeded and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and thought on his name. (Malachi 3:16)
Then this beautiful verse:
"They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, my special possession on the day when I act, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him." (Malachi 3:17-18)
Notice the two things that mark those who are faithful in the day of apostasy. First, they spoke with one another. This does not mean that they just talked to each other. It means that they opened up to each other. They shared with one another. They encouraged each other. They confessed their weak points and prayed for one another. They let others see what they were like. Ah, yes, but that was on the horizontal level, wasn't it? But there was also the vertical: they thought on his name. That is always the great resource of the people of God.
The name of God stands for all that he is, just as your name stands for all that you are. You sign a check and all that you are is laid on the line to the amount of that check because of your name. They thought on his name. There is not a week that goes by that there is not a flood of propaganda crossing my desk, telling me what is wrong with the church, analyzing its weakness, and presenting some gadget or gimmick that will take all the blood and sweat and tears out of living as a Christian. We are being assaulted today with solutions for the problems of the weakness of the church that are not solutions at all.
Here is the answer to the weakness of the church -- "to think upon his name," to reckon on the resources of God. You can take away all the props of the church, its buildings, its visual aids, its committees, its programs and everything else, and if you have a people who have learned to reckon on the name of God, you have not lost a thing. That is what this age needs to hear again.
Someone suggested recently that if we would introduce some of the electronic marvels that are available to businesses today, the job of preaching the gospel could be done electronically, and in just a few short years the whole world could be converted and our job would be done, electronically. I have also heard the suggestion that what we need to do is to take the words of the hymns and put them to popular, or rock music, and that is what the church needs. Now I know that many people would agree with this approach. They say we need to capture the spirit of the age and move with it and get modern -- that is the missing element. Oh! No. God is the missing element. We are to think on his name, reckon on his power. The church is never so strong as when in utter weakness it casts itself back upon the resources of God and moves in dependence upon him.
Now the prophet lifts up his eyes again to see the day that is coming, not only the day 400 years later when the Lord Jesus will stand on the earth, but beyond that, across the great reaches of the centuries to the second coming of Christ, when all of God's program will be fulfilled (chapter 4, verse 1, 2):
"For behold, the day comes, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall born them up, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings." (Malachi 4:1-2a)
Now that is one cause with two effects. The Son of Righteousness shall rise. And for those who refuse him, there is a burning. But toward those who receive him, there is a healing. It is the same Son. (Verses 2-6):
You shall go forth leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 4:2b-3)
"Remember the law of my servant Moses... (Malachi 4:4a)
"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse." (Malachi 4:5-6)
You will recall that it was the last verse that was troublesome to the disciples and they said to the Lord, "How is it that the prophecy says that Elijah the prophet must first come?" And the Lord's answer was, "Elijah has already come and you did not recognize him." He saw the look of astonishment on their faces and he made it clear that it was John the Baptist who came "in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17) and fulfilled his ministry in the initial coming. But he put it in such a way as to leave the clear inference that Elijah the prophet would still come before the second coming. (Matt. 17:10-13) Many identify the two witnesses in the eleventh chapter of Revelation as Elijah and Moses. How true this is, I will leave to you to decide. But at least there is the suggestion here that in some remarkable way, God intends to supply a ministry like Elijah's before the second return of the Lord Jesus.
Now notice this last thing. It is not without significance that at the end of all the literature of the Old Testament, the last word is "curse." It is not a definite prediction, however, but a warning. This prophecy begins "Behold, I have loved you, says the Lord," and it ends with the warning that if the message of love is not received, the result is a curse. Now compare that with the last word of the New Testament. Leaving out the final salutation, it is the name of Jesus, the Lord Jesus. "Come, Lord Jesus!"
That is God's answer to the curse, isn't it, his answer to the curse of the law? He has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us. Thus the full answer of God is grace and love that pours out even more blessing, bringing us into the light and the knowledge of Christ. All the blessing that is wrapped up in that name is to be ours, and that is why the task of a Christian is to learn to think upon his name. -- Ray C. Stedman, http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/adventure/0239.html, Date: September 25, 1966.