Malachi is the last Old Testament book and chronologically the last of the “minor” prophets. He writes between 460 and 430 B.C. He lives in Judah about 110 years after it returned to the land from exile. Nothing is known of Malachi’s family or occupation and he is not mentioned by name anywhere else in Scripture.
Malachi’s name means “my messenger” and he really did have a clear, unequivocal message to deliver to Judah from God Himself. He writes about the despair of spiritual winter – God’s people have grown cold in their love and obedience to Him.
Malachi is the last of the Old Testament prophets, but not the last prophet before Christ. John the Baptist has that distinction. Malachi predicts John the Baptist’s arrival by referring to him as a coming “messenger,” who would prepare the way for Jesus (ch 3:1).
As Malachi writes, the predictions of earlier prophets about the coming exile of Israel and Judah have already been fulfilled. The exiles have returned to the land in a time of godly revival described by Ezra and Nehemiah. Jerusalem and its temple have been rebuilt and the economy is active again. For over a century, Israel has been back in the land enjoying a relatively independent life. But sadly, spiritual winter has descended again over Israel. They have learned nothing from the discipline of their exile.
There are only 55 verses in this book and over three quarters of them are God’s description of Israel’s perfidy. The last quarter records Judah’s responses to God’s claims.
The dialogue is interactive. God makes six claims regarding Judah’s conduct. Judah responds with self-righteous indignation, even posing six sarcastic questions challenging God’s accuracy!
Claim 1 – Love God (1:1-5)
God begins the conversation by claiming His love for Judah (ch 1:1). The response? Disbelief. Childishly, Judah asks for God to prove that He has loved them. It reminds you of the whining of an ungrateful child to an indulgent parent. God proceeds to explain that He chose to establish a relationship directly with them so that they could enjoy His presence and receive His inheritance. He also gave Israel the best of the land, at the expense of their enemies. How easily Judah, and we, can ignore God’s love.
Claim 2 – Honor God (1:6-2:9)
Even though God established a relationship with them, Judah despised Him rather than honored Him. Incredulously, Judah responds, “How have we despised Thy name?” By way of proof, God indicates the marred sacrifices and mildewed bread offered on His altar, gifts they would not give to their political leader, let alone to God. God also describes how their service had been polluted by greedy priests and bored worshipers. Their sacrifices were neither voluntary nor heartfelt.
Claim 3 – Be Faithful To God (2:10-16)
God demands faithfulness and charges Judah with adultery. Their response is an unbelieving “Why?” As evidence, God describes how they have married wives that worshiped false gods (unfaithfulness to God) and how Judah’s men had adopted indiscriminate divorce as a tactic to satisfy their lust for younger wives (unfaithfulness to wives). God cannot abide unfaithful behavior toward Himself or in interpersonal relationships.
Claim 4 – Follow God’s Morals (2:17 – 3:6)
Judah challenges God’s statement that He has been wearied with their meaningless words. God responds by noting that Judah has lost its moral compass, even to the point of describing evil as good. They were imposing their own values on God, justifying their behavior to Him even when it was reprehensible. God goes on to promise that He will come to judge them with justice, not doublespeak. If they would not discipline themselves, God would do so. How easily Judah, and we, can be blinded by a community world-view and lose our understanding of God’s absolute truth.
Claim 5 – Be Restored to God (3:7-12)
God asks Judah to return to Him. They respond by implying that they have no need to return, since they never left. They were completely ignorant of how far from Him they had wandered. They had no idea of the extent of restoration they required. God provides proof again, displaying how they had robbed Him of tithes and offered Him inappropriate sacrifices. By withholding the best of their goods, they sought to preserve their riches. In fact, God is no man’s debtor and if they had given as they should, God would have opened the windows of heaven and showered them with even more blessings (ch 3:10). By robbing God, they were robbing themselves.
Claim 6 – Respect God (3:13 – 4:3)
God charges Judah with speaking irreverently about Him. They had blasphemed Him directly. Predictably at this point, Judah challenges God’s accuracy and asks Him for evidence. God’s proof is their statement that serving Him is futile and unprofitable. They actively chose to treat him as irrelevant, not giving Him place in their lives and worshiping in form rather than in substance.
Malachi describes the small group, the “remnant,” among Judah that “feared the Lord … spoke often one to another” about Him, and “thought upon His name.” God refers to them as “My jewels” and He will abundantly bless those who truly honor Him, both by joy in this life and reward in heaven.
God is speaking again as Malachi ends his book, warning Israel about the consequences of their actions. They have to repent, God states, or He will “come and smite the earth with a curse” (ch 4:6). These are the final words of the Old Testament. It would be 400 years before John the Baptist, the next prophet, began his ministry in Judah.
By stark contrast, the New Testament ends with words of grace. In the last chapter of the Bible, we have a description of the glory of heaven that awaits God’s people. Revelation 22:3 says that “there shall be no more curse.” What is the cause of that dramatic change? In between those two verses, we have the marvelous story of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. He has removed the curse of sin.
Let us not recreate the sins of Judah in our lives as Christians. Instead, let us love, honor, and respect God. Let us be faithful to Him, follow His morals, and always be conscious of the need for restoration. We will be classed among His jewels if we are found faithful at His coming.