Malachi 1:2a, “I have loved you, saith the LORD”
The Book of Malachi
Malachi, the last Book of the Old Testament, is separated in time from the first book of the New Testament by a period of more than 400 years. Haggai and Zechariah preached during the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. In Malachi the temple is finished and the worship there has already become wearisome to the people (1:13). The first prophecy opens with a tender and sensitive word from the Lord to the people, “I have loved you, says the Lord” (1:2).
This is the underlying theme of Malachi’s prophecy, and forms the bright background against which is seen, in stark contrast, the darkened hearts and blinded minds of the people. The second prophecy (1:6-2:9), the priests and the people are rebuked for despising God’s name by sacrificing unfit animals, and punishment is predicted for the priests if they persist in ignoring their obligations. There are six distinct sections in the Book of Malachi, each in the form of a question and answer discussion.
With the aid of this unusual discussion technique, the prophet defends the justice of God to a community that had begun to doubt that justice. Malachi’s prophecy reveals an age deadened to sin, wherein the people were in a spiritual stupor with no conviction, and who were crabby ill-tempered children who pretended to know everything but were lacking in knowledge of basic Scripture (very much like today). Thus, God’s messenger, the prophet Malachi calls for:
(1) Faithfulness to Yahweh’s Covenant,
(2) Emphasizes the necessity of proper worship,
(3) Condemns divorce, and
(4) Announces that the Day of Judgment is near.
Malachi the Prophet
Malachi was the last of the writing prophets, and his personality as a prophet is entirely unknown. The writer didn’t give any of his genealogy nor mentioned by name in any other book of the Old Testament. His name means “my messenger”, and is found in the first verse where it is translated, “The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.”
The second time, it’s found in 3:1, which reads, “Behold, I will send my messenger.” Because Malachi could be translated “my messenger” in both verses, some hold that it is not a proper name at all, and that Chapter 1, verse 1 should read, “The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by my messenger.” However, it is best to take Malachi to be a personal name. All the other prophetic books of the Bible come with the writer’s name given. Although the book has no reference to Malachi’s family, Jewish tradition teaches that Malachi came from the priestly tribe of Levi. He seems to have known much about the priests, and he pointed out their sins in the first half of the book.
Malachi was not a poet, like Nahum, but he was a moral teacher. His book is well-reasoned and is based on logically presented arguments. Malachi called his message a “burden,” or a heavy message of judgment. Malachi was the messenger; however, we must remember that the message came from God, our Creator. The Book of Malachi is written in a style unique in the prophets. Malachi makes abundant use of dialectic.
The method adopted by Malachi is to quote a declaration or interrogation God makes to Israel, then he gives Israel’s answer, which is scorn and disdain. Finally, he gives God’s telling reply, which is equally biting sarcasm. An example would be “I have loved you” (Malachi 1:2, 3) and the answer “you have despised my name (Malachi 1:6, 7).
Brad Scott, a former New Ager, wrote a book sometime ago entitled “Embraced by the Darkness” regarding New Age theology. He provides an inside look at the diverse New Age movement, which he identifies as one of the most deceptive and dangerous belief systems in the world at that time. Among the numerous subjects he touches on, perhaps the one we can easily identify with would be relativism. A relativist will develop a new broad-minded tolerance and indifference toward the traditional categories of right and wrong, as long as a person is “true to himself/herself” and “doesn’t hurt anyone,” and will permit them to do as they please.
Of course, a relativist will have their own causes, such as animal rights, gay rights and abortion rights. They will avoid making judgments about others who have their causes because to do so would be admitting there might be some moral absolutes rather than just personal or cultural preferences. As I read his description of a relativist a certain individual came to my mind and no doubt someone came to yours also. How dreadfully sad it would be if the person you thought of was a born-again-believer in Jesus Christ, and even sadder if the person was a spiritual leader or pastor in the church.
My beloved, God holds religious leaders responsible for how they minister His Word. The spiritual leaders (the priests) at the end of the Old Testament were relativists. They, too, rationalized away sin and disregarded the Word of God (much like today). However, God would not put up with that kind of thinking or behavior, thus in the book of Malachi, we see God’s indictment or condemnation of the priests who were leading His people astray from the truth of God’s Word.
Malachi 1:1, “The burden of the Word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi”
Malachi didn’t date his prophecy by mentioning any specific ruler. Therefore, the time in which he prophesied is determined by material within the book rather than from the opening lines of the book as has been true with earlier prophets. It is a time of careless priests (1:6-2:9), uncertainty (3:14; 2:17), and of intermarriage (2:11-16). The temple is evidently completed and sacrifices are being offered (1:7-10), and Judah is under a governor (1:8).
If we ask when these conditions existed, it seems that these problems are the same as those faced by Nehemiah in Chapters 5 and 13. Tithing was also a matter of interest at that time (Nehemiah 10:37-39; Malachi 3:8), and is therefore likely that the prophet and Nehemiah were active at about the same. We are dealing with the Persian period of history and the governor alluded to in 1:8 is a term used of a Persian governor.
The temple was complete, and sacrifices were being carried on. Lastly, the sins of the people, which Malachi exposed, are similar to those found in the times of Ezra and Nehemiah not to mention the present age of today. Malachi ministered at the end of the Old Testament period, and we may place his date at about 430 or 450 BC.
Malachi 1:2a, “I have loved you, saith the LORD”
The Lord’s Love for His people is declared in this verse. Malachi lived in an uneventful time. God’s people who returned from the captivity had rebuilt the temple, but they were living under Persian domination in Judaea. Life had settle down to the struggle of trying to make a living in hard economic times. Religious duties were being carried on, but mostly out of habit. Malachi started with a clear statement of God’s love for Israel: “I have loved you, saith the LORD”.
If Malachi were present today, he would also see that religious duties are also being carried on more often than not, out of habit or routine, from Pastors, lay-leaders and many individuals within the local church. He could also state with certainty of God’s love for you and me, “I have loved you, saith the LORD.” The immensity of God’s divine love is found in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” This is divine love: Jesus loved not only His friends but also His enemies – the God hating, Christ – murdering world. Jesus said in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
That is as high as human love can go, to die for your friends and your own loved ones. I am willing to die for my wife or my children, but to be willing to give my son to die that my worst enemy might live requires divine love. The Bible states, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:8-10).
Wonder of wonders! While we were His enemies and thirsting for the blood of His sinless Son, God loved us so much that He gave His Son, whom He loved above all else, to die on the cross, that we might be saved. We cannot understand it, but thank God we can believe it. And when we do, we find the peace that nothing else can bring, and my brethren, “It will take all eternity to measure the Love of God”.
Malachi 1:2b, “Yet ye say, wherein hast thou loved us?”
The Lord’s Love Denied (1:2b). Although the Temple was now completed and the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt, the people still weren’t enjoying the promised period of blessing and prosperity which Haggai and Zechariah had predicted. As a consequence, their reply to the Lord’s vow of love was, “How have you loved us?” The structure of the Book of Malachi is here revealed, for again and again, God declares His expectation of love from them in return for His love of them, and seven times the people reply, in effect: “How have we fallen short? We do not see any failure on our part.”
Here are a callous people who have become so indifferent and unresponsive to God that, in perfect sincerity, they can reply, “What do you mean and why do you say such things to us? We don’t see any evidence of love on your part. How do we see the same attitude today? People will say (even Christians), “If God really loved me, He would not have let this happen to me.” Psalm 91:2 states, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust”.
My beloved, when we suffer pain and loss, we sometimes ask the question, “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened?” While the Bible tells us the future of human history, it supplies no specific explanation of the events that take place daily in our lives. Sometimes when tragedy strikes we understand a little, but as a rule we are unable to fathom the mystery of disease or accidents.
In his book “The Fisherman and His Friends”, Louis Albert Banks tells of two men who were assigned to stand watch on a ship at sea. During the night the waves from a raging storm washed one of them overboard. The sailor who drowned had been in the most sheltered place, while the one who survived was more exposed to the elements. What made the difference? The man who was lost had nothing to hold on to.
What a picture of the way some people, even believers in Christ, are affected by the trials of life! When life is peaceful, they seem very self-sufficient, but when the going gets rough they are swept off their feet. Because they have refused God’s help and have nothing to hold on to, they are easily overwhelmed by the storms and adversities of life. However, Christians who cling to the Lord, can weather the fiercest storms of adversity, and are often heard saying, “I don’t know what I would do without the Lord.”
Malachi 1:2c, “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? Saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob?”
The Lord’s love defined (1:2c-5). The third part of verse 2 and following denies the questioning. God’s answer to their question, how have you loved us? is to remind them that His love dated from the very beginning of the race, as evidenced in the patriarchs, Jacob and Esau: “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ says the Lord. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob but I have hated Esau’” (1:2). He goes on to point out that the history of Edom, the nation descended from Esau is quite different from the story of Jacob and Israel.
If we had known these two men we probably would have loved Esau and hated Jacob, for Jacob was the schemer, the operator, the untrustworthy rascal. Esau was the outdoor man, hearty, open, frank and strong. Of the two he appears naturally to be much the better man; but in effect God says, “I love Jacob, because in his heart is a hunger for deeper things than life affords.” Jacob wants something more than what is on the surface. That always draws out the heart of God. Esau was a despiser of his birthright and cared nothing for spiritual matters. I must add in the age in which we live, the majority of individuals care nothing for spiritual matters or even interested in God their Creator!
Malachi 6a, “A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? And if I be a master, where is my fear? Saith the LORD of hosts unto you”
In this verse we find God’s charge (6a). God’s love for Israel had been great, so He expected the honor that a son gives his father or the respect that a servant gives his master. God asked two pointed questions: “Where is mine honor?” and “Where is my fear?” Honor, is a word that is sometimes translated “glory” in the Bible. Fear, has the idea of “respect” or “reverential awe.” God, the great and glorious ruler of the universe, was not receiving honor or glory from Israel’s worship, and the people were not regarding Him with awe or treating Him with respect.
The priests, who were set apart by God to teach the people the ways of God, were singled out as the major violators. Thus, my brethren, a person’s behavior can misrepresent the message of the gospel and cause an unbelieving world and individuals to be confused. The story has been told of a pastor who was walking down the street in Long Beach, California when he met a man who introduced himself as Steven. Steven asked him what he had to show for himself in life. When the pastor referred to his confidence in the Son of God, Steven became very excited. He said he also knew Christ as his Savior and quoted several Bible verses about eternal life. As the two parted, Steven reminded the Pastor to preach the Word.
However, the Pastor had a problem accepting Steven’s admonition, for he was roaring drunk. With slurred speech, several times Steven bounced “Praise the Lord!” off the concrete around us, drawing stares from passersby. His inebriated condition shouted a loud protest to the sober truths that echoed through the streets. As the Pastor walked away, he was struck with the stark reality of how Christian credibility is lost when our behavior reveals that we are controlled by sinful desires rather than the Holy Spirit. So, how can we expect others to believe a message that is contradicted by our actions? Every day we must “put to death” those actions that would tarnish our testimony.
The Priests of Malachi’s day was setting an example contrary to what God had originally put in place and the people were beginning to follow their example. Nothing has really changed since then because the majority of Priests and Pastors are still setting an example which runs contrary to God’s precious Word. One illustration would be marrying people of the same sex; however, one day they will give an account to God Himself for their actions and they will be without any excuse.
Malachi 6b, “O priests that despise my name. And ye say, wherein have we despised thy name?”
The Priest’s Denial (6b). The priests boldly asked, “Wherein have we despised thy name”? Instead of repenting, the religious leaders in so many words said, “Prove it.” They were insensitive to their sin. Israel had despised God by not giving him the honor due to a father or to a master. In particular the priests are guilty of offering defective sacrifices rather than the unblemished ones demanded by the law as stated in verses 7-14. (Deut. 15:21; Lev. 22:20-24).God answered the priests’ question by listing two ways in which the priests were dishonoring Him.
(1) The first way was in defiled sacrifices. “Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar.” Bread in the context is referring to the meat of the animals that the priests were using for sacrifices. Instead of repenting, the priests came back with another question, “Wherein have we polluted thee?” God’s answer was that they had defiled Him by saying the table of the Lord is disgraceful and appalling. The “table of the LORD” most likely speaks of the altar of burnt offering where the animals were sacrificed.
The priests were offering blind, lame, or sick animals. They knew from Leviticus 22:20-25 and Deuteronomy 15:21 that such animals were not acceptable. Even their Persian governor would not be pleased with such animals. How could they expect God to be pleased? This oracle of Malachi will never go out of date as long as the world has people who feel that though nothing is too good for our homes, just anything will do for the Lord.
The policy of the priests of Malachi’s time was to offer blind, lame, and sick animals and even torn animals. The torn animals were lambs or kids that had been retrieved from the mouths of wild animals. These animals weren’t worth much, so the people were bringing them to the priests as sacrifices, and the priests were accepting them and offering them to the Lord. However, the best animals were kept “down on the farm” or were sold at premium prices. Thus, the Lord got the leftovers. God asked the priests, “Offer it now to thy governor; will he be pleased with thee?” Of course, the answer is NO. He would not accept such pitiful animals as a gift.
Any person acting in such a disgraceful way could not expect a favor from the governor. So why would the priests have thought that God would be pleased with such offerings? My brethren, God demands our best, and He has every right to do so. Sacrificing one’s best to God is a matter of honoring Him and showing respect. The animals used in sacrifices were to be unblemished, as types of Christ, Who is sinless. As pictures of Christ, the sacrificial animals were also to be spotless and blemish free. Here are some questions for your thoughtful consideration:
(1) In what ways do believers today offer God less than their best?
(2) What excuses do they use to try to justify their actions?
(3) What is the actual underlying attitude that causes these actions?
(4) How can that attitude be changed?
(2) The second way was being weary in well doing. “Ye said also, Behold, what a weariness is it! and ye have snuffed at it” (1:13). The priests, instead of rejoicing in the fact they were set apart to officiate in the offering of the sacrifices, found it to be burdensome and distasteful. So, what are some kinds of service that:
(1) Believers grow weary in doing today?
(2) What are some causes of growing weary?
(3) How can we help each other not grow weary in well-doing?
Galatians 6:9 states, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not”. To further illustrate this point a young child asked his Grandpa why he was throwing away nice potatoes. Grandpa was planting potatoes in his garden, and the boy thought it was a waste to bury them. Thus, the Grandpa had the opportunity to explain to him that only as we give the seed away can we receive the harvest. A few days later, the boy was in the garden again, looking at the ground. He complained, “Grandpa, they’re not coming up.” So his Grandpa spoke to him about patience.
My beloved, we too can become impatient when our service for the Lord doesn’t appear to bear fruit. Sometimes we may feel like giving up because we do not see immediate results. A dying soldier asked a chaplain to write to his former Sunday school teacher: “Tell her that I’m a Christian because of what she taught me in Sunday school.” He sent the message and received the following reply: “Last month I resigned my Sunday school class, for I felt my teaching had been fruitless. And then came the message from my former pupil.
May God forgive me for my impatience and lack of faith? I will ask my pastor to let me teach again, and I promise by God’s grace not to quit.” My brethren, let’s faithfully serve the Lord, depending on His power and strength, and leave the results to Him. We must always remember discouragement is one of the devil’s most effective weapons. 1 Corinthians 15:58 states, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”
Malachi 2:1-3, “and now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you. 2 if ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my Name, saith the LORD of hosts, I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings: Yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart. 3 Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your solemn feasts; and one shall take you away with it”
In addition to despising Jehovah, the priests were guilty of disregarding the covenants. God had made a number of covenants with His Chosen People. The Israelites should have lived according to the covenants, and the priests should have led the way. The first three verses of Chapter 2 give a warning. If the priests would not heed the Lord, He would send a curse upon them.
(1) How do we have similar promises from God?
(2) What kinds of consequences do we bear from disobeying God’s Word?
Malachi 2:4-7, “and Ye shall know that I have sent this commandment unto you, that my covenant might be with Levi, saith the LORD of hosts. 5 My covenant was with him of life and peace; and I gave them to him for the fear wherewith he feared me, and was afraid before my name. 6 the Law of truth was in his mouth and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity. 7 for the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts”
The priests had a special responsibility as messengers of the Lord of hosts, to model and to teach, the covenant to others. The people would have life and peace as they knew and lived by the covenant. The Priests treated the sacrifices with utter contempt. In the Mosaic system, the animals brought for sacrifice were divided after they were slaughtered. Part of the offering went to the Lord, and part of it went to the priests. This system provided food for their families. Since the people were bringing sick, lame, or torn animals, the Lord was not honored. But the priests’ portions were not good either. The problem with the priests was not only they themselves had no respect for God, but that they had also failed to teach the people to have a respect for God. Consequently, they reaped the harvest of their neglect.
God declared that He would curse the priests’ blessings if they would not repent (2:1, 2). This is a grave warning to all pastors, Sunday school teachers, and others who serve in leadership in the local church. It also should be a warning to the congregation, God wants our best. When we fail to honor Him and give Him our best, we should not expect His hand of blessing upon our lives. I submit to you some questions for your consideration:
(1) Are we responsible to teach God’s Word and to whom?
(2) What are some practical ways we can carry out that responsibility.
(3) What are some obstacles we face in seeking to teach God’s Word?
(4) How can we overcome those obstacles?
Malachi 2:8, 9, “But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the LORD of hosts. 9 therefore have I also made you contemptible and base before all the people, according as ye have not kept my ways, but have been partial in the Law”
The Levites not only failed to keep the covenant themselves, but they also led the nation astray (2:8). The priests had lost the respect of the people of Israel. The Old Testament closes with a statement of God’s love for Israel and the New Testament opens with the four Gospels, which demonstrate God’s love for sinners. You can be assured my friend that God still loves you as stated in John 3:16. We who believe on Jesus Christ must beware lest we fall into the preoccupation with self that marks our culture. Our calling is to love with all our being the God who first loved us, and to love others as ourselves. My beloved, this is the pathway to a joy-filled and satisfying life. The New Testament letter of 1 John states, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love … Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another”. 1John 3:18 states, “Let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” My friend, the Bible says love can be seen and touched … it’s tangible. It may be as big as the Good Samaritan’s care for an injured man (Luke 10:30-37) or as small as a cup of cold water given in Jesus’ name (Matthew 10:42). It has been said that, “You may give without loving, but you can’t love without giving.”
(1) In the book of Malachi we see God’s concern for how people lived. Does it please God how you are living? If not, what do you need to change within your life?
(2) The book of Malachi indicts the priests for failing to teach the people what God wanted. Whatever your position is in your local church, make sure you fulfill your task for the Lord.
(3) God required the Israelites to bring their best animals as sacrifices. He also wants us to give our best to the Lord this day and every week to come.
(4) Lastly, are you putting God first in your life? If there’s an area you have been keeping for yourself, turn it completely over to Him, and above all let His will, His pleasure and His Glory be your first priority and all other things will fall into place.
Love for God will cause you to live for God.