Malachi; The Final Promises of the Old Testament
Key Text: Chapter 3:1
“Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.”
Malachi’s Name and Era
The name Malachi means my messenger, which certainly appears to be appropriate for one who was relaying the Word of God to the Jewish nation. As a prophet, however, Malachi would write about the messenger who would arise in the future. In 3:1 he speaks of my messenger (literally Malachi) preparing the way for the Lord who would “uddenly come to his temple.” In 4:5 this messenger is identified as being “Elijah the prophet”. In many respects this is a re-echoing of Isaiah 40:3 where the voice crying in the wilderness declares “Prepare yet the way of the Lord.” In the case of Isaiah’s prophecy the New Testament identifies the voice crying in the wilderness as being John the Baptist (Matthew 3:3). In Matthew 17:12-13 Christ identified John the Baptist, His forerunner, as being Elijah because the spirit of the great Old Testament prophet rested upon him. Therefore Malachi, at the close of the Old Testament canon, presented this word of promise that Elijah would come, the messenger from God, who would prepare the way for the Messiah. The Jews to this day await the return of Elijah, after which the Messiah will arrive. As they celebrate Passover every Jewish family will set a place and a goblet for Elijah, even sending the children outside to see if he is coming because they have been taught that Elijah will come first and then the Messiah. Elijah has come, inasmuch as his power rested on John the Baptist, and the Messiah has arrived, yet the Jews, as yet in their blindness, fail to recognise this. After Malachi the voice of the prophet was not heard for 400 years. 400 years of silence. That silence was only broken when that voice was heard crying in the wilderness. The one whose Malachi’s very name anticipated was born to preach and to introduce the Lamb of God to lost and dying humanity.
Malachi belongs to the post-exilic era. There are certain clues in the book which assist us greatly in pinpointing the time when he ministered:
- The temple was rebuilt (1:13, 1:1, 10). This places him after Haggai and Zechariah.
- The Jews were under a Governor (1:8). This sets him in the days of Nehemiah, the last Jewish Governor of Judah.
- The sins which Malachi challenged were the same sins which Nehemiah had to deal with; formal religion, mixed marriages and the neglect of tithing. This would place him either during or just before Nehemiah’s second residence in Judah. Therefore Malachi’s ministry corresponds to Nehemiah 13. Using this data it would seem that Malachi ministered about 100 years after Haggai and Zechariah. He supported and encouraged Nehemiah as the prophets who preceded him assisted Zerubbabel.
Malachi is very much a transitional book. His ministry finalises the Word of God to Old Testament Israel. It also, however, anticipates the New Testament, John the Baptist, the arrival of Christ the Messiah and the dawn of the Gospel Age (1:11). The formality and sinfulness which he identified in Jewish religion of his day would intensify over the next 400 years, so much so that by the days of our Lord Judaism would appear only as that which was apostate and corrupt. The times were becoming ripe for a new beginning.
A People Who Question God’s Word
The people to whom Malachi ministered were argumentative and arrogant in that they refused to accept the rebukes that were presented to them. Seven times the word “how” is used as they challenge the Word of God.
1:2 Question the love of God.
1:6 The priests question the condemnation that they had shown contempt for God by offering imperfect animals for sacrifice.
1:7 The priests refuse to accept that they had placed defiled food on the altar.
2:17 The people ask how they had wearied God.
3:7 When challenged to return unto the Lord they ask “How?”
3:8 When accused of robbing God and not paying their tithes they refused to accept that this is the case.
3:13 The people question the harsh things which God said they had accused Him of.
This gives us a clear spiritual portrait of the people to whom Malachi ministered. They were not broken and contrite when the Lord’s word was given to them. They were proud and questioning and show a serious lack of humility. They behaved as if all was well yet it was apparent this was not the case.
The Sins of the People
Chapters 1:6-2:9 Poor Spiritual Leadership
The best of the flock and herds were not being presented to God. The people were led badly and had poor examples to follow. This explained, to a large degree, the low spiritual level of the people.
Chapter 2:10-17 Mixed Marriage, Adultery and Divorce
There were some among the people who had married Gentile women (v11). Others had committed adultery dealing “treacherously” with their wives (v14, 15). The marriage covenant was not respected and divorce was common, therefore God described Himself as the one who “hated putting away”.
Chapter 3:6-12 The Sin of Robbing God
The people had not been paying their tithes. The promise, however, that would accompany correction of this sin is one of the greatest in the Old Testament, a blessing that there will not be room to receive.
The God Who Does not Change
For I am the Lord I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed
Chapter 3:6 is another great Old Testament text that is found in Malachi. The people had sinned against God. This was a reminder that God does not change. They had set aside God’s principles but they had no right so to do because God does not change. At the same time the people who had sinned by attempting to change the laws of the unchangeable God were in receipt of God’s mercy because He would never break His covenant with Abraham. How humbling this is. We too break God’s law yet He continues to be faithful to His promises.
The Coming Messiah
Malachi presents three particularly precious promises in relation to the coming of the Messiah. What is striking is that these can be interpreted both in the light of His first and second coming.
Chapter 3:2-3 He would be like the refiner and purifier of silver. The refiner would look into the molten silver removing all impurities until he could see his own reflection in the shimmering liquid. Christ came to purify, to remove sin. This work He continues to do in our lives through His Holy Spirit. One day He will finally see His own refection in us, when we see Him face to face.
Chapter 3:16-17 Christ will gather together His people as His own precious jewels. The characteristics of His people are most instructive. They fear God, they think about Him and they discuss the Lord with one another. God even writes up a Book of Remembrance to record His people and their love for Him. This was a word of encouragement for those who were faithful in Malachi’s day. It is a word for God’s faithful people in every age.
Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him that feared the LORD, and that thought upon him name. And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of Hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels…”
Chapter 4:2 When Christ comes He does so as “The Sun of Righteousness” and He has “healing in his wings.” He is the light of the world and He has the essence of spiritual life within Himself.
400 years later the light would begin to shine in Bethlehem’s manger. He remains the only source of light and life in a dark and evil world.