We’ve made it to the end of the Old Testament! I hope this journey has been a blessing to you. I’ve learned a lot along the way and feel like I have a better sense of what God is doing in the world and what His intention is for the church. I look forward to our break to examine the OT themes in Gospels and NT with you this summer as we prepare for the rest of The Story. I know Ethan will do a great job this Sunday. Here are my reflections on Malachi. I hope they are a blessing to you and your studies.
I want to focus our attention on the book of Malachi. We’re 100 years after the return from exile. The Temple has been rebuilt and is fully functioning but one thing is missing. God’s presence hasn’t descended on it like at the end of Exodus (Tabernacle) and 2 Chronicles 7. The prophetic hope is in a New Jerusalem where God’s presence will be with them and there will be a king on the throne who will last forever. The people are corrupt and injustice is taking place all around Jerusalem. The people feel neglected by God and voice their frustrations. Malachi is structured as a series of disputes between God and the people. God makes a claim and the people respond. The first three disputes (ch1-2) is God exposing Israel’s corruption and the final three are God confronting Israel’s corruption. The basic summation is that the exile fundamentally didn’t change anything in the people and their hearts are as hard as ever.
God begins by reminding the people that He loves them. He STILL loves them! But the people dispute this because the people around them seem to be doing better than them. God reminds them that He chose them. He chose Jacob and not Esau. “Jacob I loved and Esau I hated” is a poor translation in English because “love” and “hate” are too strong of words. The word used is one of choosing. God chose to bring about His promises through them and not Esau’s family much like Jesus chose some for his work and not others. This doesn’t mean that God hates them but that He chose Jacob.
The second dispute has to do with Temple sacrifices. The people are bringing sick and lame animals for sacrifice and the priests are allowing it. The question I want to pose here is, to what extent should the leaders of the church hold its members accountable to bringing right worship to God? This is a much debated question, especially in a culture that has privatized worship to a “personal walk with God.” How can we as leaders better challenge you to bring proper worship?
The third dispute has to do with idolatry and divorce. A lot has been done with these passages to be harsh towards divorcees and divorcers. When the text says that “God hates divorce” we need to remember that He does love those who have had to go through this horrible experience. The issue in Malachi is more of marrying foreigners and bringing their gods into their homes. They are divorcing their wives for “no good reason” which leaves women and children marginalized in society and on the streets. Divorce is a horrible thing. I think anyone who has had to go through one would probably agree. The image we should be reaching for is one of faithfulness to God. Faithful relationships to one another in marriage is a small embodiment of God’s relationship with us.
The fourth dispute has to do with God’s justice. The people complain that justice isn’t being served, asking where God is in all of this. His response is one that needs to be heard. God reminds them where His justice will begin. He will come like a refining fire for Israel and bring judgement on all who are creating injustices. The problem the people neglect to see is that they are the ones who are causing the injustices. Asking for God’s judgement to come is a dangerous thing when you are not ready for it yourself. God’s judgment is coming and that is a good thing. It is coming to set the oppressed free, to lift up those who have been beaten down, and to give honor to those who have been marginalized. The question we have to wrestle with is, are we already working with God to bring reconciliation to people who are suffering from injustices?
The fifth dispute is about robbing God. They people are neglecting their tithe and the Temple has fallen into disrepair. I don’t want to spend too much time here because no one loves a preacher who talks about tithing. But, the question we have to ask is about Marriage. What kind of person are you if you only take from the marriage and don’t give anything to it?
The final dispute is the people complaining that bad people are succeeding in life (more or less). This time, God tells a story about the faithful remnant in Israel who are holding close to the Torah. A “Scroll of Remembrance” is written to remember God’s character and promises. This is the divine gift of scripture. They point us to the past to inspire hope for the future. The conclusion of the book points to the Day of the Lord coming where God’s purifying judgment will come to remove the wicked from among His people. But, the conclusion adds a picture of the faithful remnant who do not fear the coming of the Lord because it is not a threat for them but a cause for joy.
The last three verses ends as a type of appendix for Malachi…and for the Old Testament. It is a call to remember the Torah of Moses and points to the coming of the Prophet Elijah before the Day of the Lord, who will restore the hearts of God’s people. This summarizes the Torah and the Prophets as a unified story that points to the future…when God will send a New Moses and Elijah to restore God’s people. Remember these images as we get into the story of Jesus. Matthew presents him as a New Moses. As you begin to read the Gospels, have your eyes open as you look through the story of Israel as a lens to recognize what Jesus is doing and what God has called His Church to do.
The same message is laid down before us that was set before God’s people 2400 years ago with Malachi: Will we be faithful to God’s call “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Eph 1:10) who replaces the Temple with his body, the Church. Will we be the Israel, Israel failed to be?