Malachi 1:6-14

Malachi 1

Taking up nearly one third of Malachi, this is the longest section in the book. The priests are the target of this section. God asks the priests why they do not honor him as father or reverence him as master. The Lord says that they have despised his name. (vs. 6) But the priests seem to be in the dark. They think they are innocent and therefore ask God to bring proof. God brings proof by bringing two pieces of evidence into the courtroom.
The first piece of evidence is the lame offerings the priests give to God. (1:7-14) The priests think they are holy. They do not see how they have despised God’s name. But God points a finger at their mockery of his law to show how they drag his name through the mud. The priests, who are supposed to carefully obey God’s commands, offer to God lame, blind, and sick sacrifices (1:7-8). Leviticus 22:18-25 and Deuteronomy 15:21 forbid this type of offering. God says even the Persian governor would not accept this offering. Why does Israel think God will accept it? (vs. 8) Israel wants God’s favor (vs. 9), but does not want to obey God. Therefore God tells them they should shut up the doors of the temple. (vs. 10) Their offerings are in vain. Continue reading

Malachi 1:1-5

malachi

Background
538 B.C. Cyrus, King of Persia, issues a decree allowing Israel to return to the land. (II Chron. 36:22-23, Ezra 1)
538 B.C. First return to Israel takes place under Zerubbabel. (Ezra 1-6)
536 B.C. Restoration of the temple begins, but stalls.
520 B.C. Haggai and Zechariah are sent by God to encourage Israel to finish building the temple. (Ezra 5:1-2)
515 B.C. The temple is finished.
460 B.C. God sends Malachi to prepare the people for the ministry of Ezra and Nehemiah.
458 B.C. Ezra returns to the land. (Ezra 7-10)
445 B.C. Nehemiah returns to help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

The general dating of Malachi is pretty clear. He prophesied during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. This can be seen from the following facts. First, he prophesied during a time when the temple and priesthood were established and things had become routine. Thus he had to prophesy following the rebuilding of the temple under Zerubbabel, Haggai, and Zechariah. Second, he uses the term “governor” in 1:8. This is a Persian term, again indicating a period when Israel was under Persian rule. Persia ruled from 550 B.C. until around 360 B.C. Finally, Malachi addresses many of the same issues found in Ezra and Nehemiah. For example, the issue of marriage to foreign wives is addressed in Ezra 9-10, Nehemiah 13:23-27 and Malachi 2:11-16. Also both Nehemiah and Malachi address the misuse of the tithe. (Nehemiah 13:10-13 and Malachi 3:8-10) All of this is to say that Malachi probably prophesied during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. Continue reading

Violence and Divorce

Here is short post from the archives.

I was reading Malachi this morning and it struck me how the Lord says that He hates divorce because it covers one’s garment with violence. (Malachi 2:16) Today it is fashionable, especially among younger Christians, to discuss the issue of violence, especially as it relates to social justice. Many pastors and scholars call upon Christians to be people of peace, to resist violent solutions to problems around the world. America’s military exploits are placed under the microscope to determine if they line up with God’s Word or not. Exploitation of workers in both America and abroad are deplored by socially conscious Christians. Some of this is a move in the right direction. For too long, the conservative church has merely cheered on the American state instead of challenging it Biblically.

However, as I read this passage in Malachi it occurred to me that most of these socially conscious Christians would not take a strong stand against divorce. Which is odd, because the Scriptures explicitly say that divorce is an act of violence. If we are against violence, then we should be against divorce because divorce is violence. However, divorce is rarely if ever preached against. It makes one wonder whether those socially conscious Christians are making biblical arguments against violence or whether they are simply interested in going along with current fads in American secular society?

The Law and the New Elijah

Here is my last blog post on Malachi. It covers 4:4-6. You can read the passage here.


 Exegesis
            Malachi closes with an odd set of three verses.  But they serve as a fitting reminder of what Christians of all times have been called upon to do.  First, Malachi tells Israel to remember the Law of Moses. (vs. 4) This word “remember” is used thirteen times in Deuteronomy.  It is a call to remember the covenant that God instituted at Mount Sinai and to obey.  True prophets, like Malachi, do not reject the Law of Moses or add to the Law of Moses. They expound or preach the Law of Moses.  Just like the great prophet Jesus, they do not destroy the law. (Matthew 5:17-20) Here at the end of the history of Israel, over a thousand years after Moses was on Mt. Sinai the command remains; remember the law.  It is worth noting that following Malachi there was four-hundred years of silence. However, during this time, Israel still had God’s word.  She still had the law.
            Second, Malachi says that a new Elijah will come who will help Israel obey the law. (vs. 5-6)  Elijah was one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament. He changed the course of Israel’s history by his ministry. But his change was temporary. Malachi, like many of the prophets, saw a coming day, when God would judge and save his people; the day when Elijah would come. This Elijah will help God’s people fulfill the fifth commandment, “honor your father and mother.”  He will restore broken relationships, especially in the home.  He will do this so that Israel will not become a curse. The word “curse” is the same term used for the nations in Canaan that God drove out by Joshua.  Elijah will come so Israel will not become like the nations.  These last verses began to be fulfilled in the ministry of John the Baptist. (Luke 1:17, Matthew 11:10, 11:14)
  
Applications
Do not forget the law of God. The Mosaic Law has change and been adjusted in the New Covenant, but it has not been discarded.  A study of the first five books of the Bible are worth your time and energy (Exodus 20-25 and Deuteronomy 19-25).
Christ came to restore broken relationships, especially those in the home.  Therefore one of the fundamental jobs of the church is to preach the word of Christ so that it builds and strengthens marriages and the bond between parents and children.  It is unfortunate that often the church tears apart the relationship between parents and children, thus undermining God’s law and the gospel.  This principle of reconciliation also extends to other relationships as well. With the coming of Christ true unity in families and communities became possible. Without Christ all we have is brokenness, separation, and war. 

There Will Be a Harvest

Here is my exegesis and application of Malachi 3:13-4:3. If you would like to read this passage, which I recommend, you can go here. 

Unquestionably, if the hope of reward is taken away and extinguished, alacrity [enthusiasm, willingness] in running will not merely grow cold, but will altogether be destroy. John Calvin

Exegesis

            One of the most discouraging things in life is when your work bears no fruit.  You go out and plant, water, and weed then a worm devours your plants. You work hard at your job putting in extra hours, trying to get the promotion and it does not come.  You work fixing up your basement only to have the water heater break and flood the new carpet. The Christian life can feel much the same way. We sacrifice our money, our time, our energy and in some cases our dreams to follow our Lord and the payback can seem meager. If we assume our labor will not bear fruit we will lose heart and become lazy in our work. However, the Bible is clear that all labor done in the Lord will eventually be harvested. We see this explicitly in these New Testament verses:

I Corinthians 15:58  Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
Galatians 6:9  And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.
II Timothy 4:8  Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
            As we come to the end of Malachi we see that fellow saints in the Old Testament also feared that their labor might be in vain.  They felt that it had been useless to serve the Lord. Like their New Testaments counterparts, God gives them reassurance that he has not forgotten them or their deeds. Those who fear God and obey his commands will be rewarded.
            Malachi 3:13-4:3 is the sixth and final disputation in Malachi. There are several key differences between this disputation and the previous ones. First, God debates not with the wicked, but rather with the righteous. These people in this section are described as those who have “kept His ordinance and walked as mourners.” (vs. 14)  The phrase “kept his ordinance” can mean generally obeying the commands of God or it can refer to priestly duties. It is possible these are priests whose lives are very hard because no tithe is being brought into the house of God. (c.f. 3:8-9) These priests mourn over the sin in the land and exaltation of the proud. These priests have honored God with their actions but are now dishonoring him with their words. They speak harshly against God.  Their service to him is unprofitable while the proud and wicked are blessed and raised up. Those who test God go free without feeling the divine wrath that they deserve. (vs. 15) This is similar to what we saw in 2:17.
            The second key difference in this passage is that for the first time in Malachi we see the people accept the rebuke and change. Verses 13-15 are a rebuke from God. God is telling the priests that their words have been out of line. The priests listen and turn from their wicked ways. Those who fear the Lord get together and talk with one another. (vs. 16) It would appear that these men encouraged one another to remain faithful to God.  While the exact words of the discussion are not recorded, Malachi does give us the result.  The result is that God hears, writes their names in a book of remembrance, promises to spare them, to be their father, and to come in judgment against the wicked. (vss. 17-18)
            Malachi then gives a more precise picture of this Day of Judgment.  On this day the wicked will be completely burned up like stubble. (4:1) Note the similar phrasing to 3:15 where words “wicked” and “proud” are also used. God is reminding the priests that even though the unrighteous appear to go free and be blessed, their end is destruction. (See Psalm 73:17-20) The fire of God’s presence, which burns up the wicked, will be a Sun of Righteousness for those who fear the name of the Lord. (4:2) God will heal his people and make them fat like cattle that have no want.  Finally, on this day God’s people will trample under the wicked. (4:3) It is an explicit teaching of both the Old and New Testaments that God’s people participate in the judgment of the wicked.  (c.f. Micah 5:5-6 and Revelation 2:26)

Applications
Those who are serving God faithfully are tempted to become discouraged when their service does not immediately profit them. God tells us in both the Old and New Testaments that our service to Him is not in vain. (I Cor. 15:58) However, we often think that God must fulfill his promises immediately.  We must be careful, as we faithfully serve the Lord, not to grumble when God’s promises are delayed.  Let us work to please God and let him reward us as he wishes and when he wishes. The harvest is as sure as our God’s promises. 
It is a great comfort and encouragement to have other Christians challenge us to turn back to God. We are not sure what was said in Malachi 3:16, but somehow the godly encouraged one another to remain faithful to the Lord and rebuked one another for their lack of faith. It is not enough just to be around each other. We must use our words to spur one another on to righteousness. (Hebrews 10:25)
We must remember that the difference between the righteous and the wicked is not always seen in this life, but will be clearly seen at the final judgment. (3:18-4:1-3) As we go through life, we should keep before our eyes the judgment day. This keeps us from losing heart and growing slack in our labor for God. We can say, “In this life I have trouble and tribulation as I strive to obey God. But in the next I shall be rewarded, while the wicked shall be paid back for all eternity.”
To love God is to fear God. Three times in this passage the priests are described as those who fear God. (3:16 twice, and 4:2) The fear of the Lord is not a popular subject in the modern church. But here those who fear God get a wonderful blessing; their names are written in the book of remembrance.  Joyce Baldwin says, “The thought is that not one believer will be forgotten by God.”  God knows those who fear him and belong to him. He is our Father and our names are stamped upon the pages of God’s book, from which they can never be erased.  Let us have courage, grace and strength to be faithful to the Lord. “Let us not grow weary,” Malachi says, “For our names are written by God in his book. Therefore our reward is sure.” 

Will You Rob God?

           I have been occasionally working through the Minor Prophets. Here is my exegesis and application of Malachi 3:6-12. I would encourage you to read the passage before you read my post. You can read it online here



Exegesis

          Statistics can often be manipulated and thus are not always trustworthy. However, they can give us a general overview of where a society is at.  So when we hear that the average tithe in America is around three percent that should give us pause.  If the average tithe was eight percent we might shrug it off and say that is close enough. But three percent is nowhere near the pre-gospel tithe of ten percent. If those in the Old Testament were required to give ten percent, how much more should we in the New Testament age give? The failure of the tithe has led to many churches being hip-deep in debt. Debt can cause churches to focus on making money to pay off the debt, which diverts them from the main task of preaching Christ. This can have a tremendous impact on the spread of the Gospel, the discipling of the nations, and the glorifying of God in this fallen world.  It is no surprise that Jesus spoke about money so much.  How we use our money shows our character and priorities. 
            But this is not simply a 21st century American problem.  Over 2,000 years ago the Israelites had a hard time bringing their tithes into God’s house.  They were pinched for money and felt that they could not afford to give to God.  In this section of Malachi God urges Israel to bring in the tithe and see how he would bless her.
            At the beginning of this section, the Lord urges Israel to return to him and repent of their sins. God begins the debate by telling Israel that He is unchanging. (vs. 6) God is reminding Israel of His mercy. We need this reminder. Repentance comes quicker when we realize that God is merciful. God does not change therefore Israel is not destroyed. (Isaiah says something similar in Isaiah 1:9.)  Israel can repent and turn because God’s mercy is always present.  But then Israel says, “In what way shall we return?  What kind of repentance do you want from us, Lord? What sign can we show that our repentance is sincere?” God follows up their question with a question of his own, “Will a man rob God?” Israel replies, “In what way have we robbed you?” So this debate includes two questions by Israel instead of one: How shall we return and how have we robbed you? The main point of this disputation is now brought front and center: Israel has robbed God by failing to bring tithes and offerings into his house. Israel can show sincere repentance, a true turning to God, by tithing once again.  
            The tithes and offerings supported Israel’s priesthood. Tithes were a tenth of all produce, crops, and flocks. (Leviticus. 27:30-33)  These were given to the Levites to support them in their temple work, since their tribe did not have any specific plot of land in Israel. Every three years a tithe was taken to support a feast where not just the Levites, but the poor were invited as well. (Deuteronomy 14:28-29)  “Offerings were the portions of the sacrifices set apart for the priests and the voluntary gifts for a special purpose.” During Malachi’s time Israel was neglecting the house of God and the men appointed to oversee the house of God. Haggai addresses this same problem in Haggai 1:2-4, where Israel was building their houses, but refusing to build the house of God.
            The Lord invites Israel to test him and see if he will not bless them with great blessing when they bring the tithe into his house. (vss. 10-12) During the flood in Genesis 7:11 the windows of heaven were opened in judgment to destroy the earth. But here God says, he will open the windows of heaven and pour out blessing upon Israel. He mentions two specific blessings. First, the ground will once again be prosperous. (vs. 11) Second, the nations will call Israel blessed. (vs. 12)

Application

There is always room for repentance because God does not change. (3:6-7) It does not matter what sin has been committed God invites us to return to him.  The Lord does not change therefore we are not consumed. The Lord mercy’s is everlasting.  The Lord does not change and therefore we can always repent.

It is a great sin to neglect the care of God’s house and those who minister in it. There have been some changes in tithes and offerings with the coming of Christ. None the less, the principle in this passage remains the same. God expects his people to use their funds to support the ministry of the Church, his house. This would include paying the pastor’s salary, upkeep of the facilities necessary for worship, providing for missionaries, and care for the poor. Those who refuse to tithe rob God.

Tithing is one of the central ways God blesses his people. It seems odd that giving results in getting, but the Scriptures are clear that this is the way God made the world to work. Proverbs 11:23-24 gives us the same principle. When we faithfully tithe God promises to bless us. This does not mean luxury and wealth, but it does mean that God will sustain us and his church.  

The nations will bless the Church when she tithes. It is hard to know exactly how this works, but here is a possibility. When the people of God tithe, the poor are cared for.  The world sees how the church cares for the poor and glorifies God.  Another possibility is that the tithe money is used to send out missionaries.  As the nations receive the Gospel they bless the Church and her Lord. However it exactly works out, the passage is clear: When we tithe the nations will see and bless God’s people. 

The God Who is Patient

  • God does allow the wicked to prosper and sin to go unpunished for a time. (2:17) It should not shock us when this occurs. He rarely judges quickly.  For this we should be grateful because it gives men time to repent.  But we also must not forget that God will not be patient forever. Men who flaunt their evil will be judged by God either in history or at the final judgment.   
  • God comes to his people with two purposes: purification and judgment.  (3:3 & 5)These two things go hand in hand. Today God does not come visibly to his temple as he did when Christ appeared, but he still comes to us, especially in worship.  Therefore two purposes of worship are to purify us of our sins and to judge those who refuse to repent.         
  • The phrase “who can stand” in 3:2 is a military term meaning that no one and nothing will be able to stand against God’s advance.  We should find great comfort in this. We see the number of people set in battle against God. We see the money they have at their disposal. We see them sitting in places of power and we are tempted to think that God’s hand will be stopped, his purposes thwarted. But Malachi reminds us this is not the case.  The hand of God cannot be stopped by the rank, wealth, or the strength of men and nations.
  • Only a pure people can offer a pleasing sacrifice to God. (3:2-5) Those who worship God must be clothed in the shed blood of Christ and must live a life of confession and repentance. This is why we confess our sins in worship and throughout the week. We cannot offer to God an acceptable sacrifice if we are not clean. Those who continue in sin, but still want to worship God, will find that he will come and be “against them.” They will be judged.