December 25, 2015.
Daily Reading: Malachi 1-4.
Background: The name Malachi means “My messenger”, and there is some debate as to whether or not this was considered a proper name of the prophet or if the book is written by an anonymous “messenger” of God. Regardless, there is a strong consensus that the ministry of the prophet took place in the post-exilic Persian period, c. 450-430 BC. The prophet comes to the people during a time of religious apathy which was in need of reform. The oracle is one of rebuke and correction, followed by a response by the people (3:16-18) and a prophecy for the future detailing the day of the Lord and the coming of the spirit of Elijah (through John the baptizer) before the day of the Lord (see Matthew 11:14 and Luke 1:17).
Concepts and Connections.
The Lord’s love and the priests’ pollution: The oracle of Malachi begins with the Lord declaring His love for His people Israel (Jacob), contrasting it against the wrath that He had shown/would show their brother Esau (see Genesis 25, 27, Joshua 24:4, Amos 1:11 and Obadiah 10). Paul quotes this passage in Romans 9:13 as he is talking about the relationship between the Lord and Israel. The Lord had chosen the people of Israel to be a special possession to Him, but they had once again polluted the covenant that He had made with them. We see set up in this first chapter the rhetorical style of the oracle, where the Lord makes a statement, which is followed by a rhetorical question as a literary device to use to subsequently make His point. He also uses rhetorical questions of His own as the rebuke is laid out. There was no honor of God among the priest, as they had fell into religious apathy and spiritual adultery (see next chapter), for they were sacrificing the lame and blind animals in their sacrifices that were not acceptable (see Leviticus 22:17-33). Thus they were polluting the altar with these sacrifices. On top of this, the practice of offering these sacrifices was burdensome to them, they called it a ‘weariness’. We can sense the lethargy and apathy shown by the priests here, as they were profaning the offering. The Lord is not happy with their sacrifice or attitude here, and it would have been better for the doors of the temple to be shut up, not allowing them to offer sacrifices unacceptably. The Lord’s name would be great among the nations, and He puts a curse here on any who have an acceptable male in the flock but cheats and offers one that is blemished.
1. Rebuking the priests: The first half of this chapter is dedicated to the rebuke of the priests who had profaned the altar and would bring a curse on the blessings of Israel for their iniquity. The Lord would humiliate them for what they had done in not following in the will of the Lord for the tribe of Levi. The lips of the priest were to guard knowledge and instruct the people as the messenger of God. But the priests had despised knowledge and had rather led the people to stumble. They had departed from the way, showing partiality in their instruction, and the Lord’s rebuke was upon them. It is clear that their is a higher responsibility placed on those who teach to do so in the will of the Lord (see James 3:1).
2. Spiritual adultery: The second half of this chapter addresses Judah’s spiritual adultery and profaning of the covenant. Judah had been faithless, for they had left the Lord and married the daughter of a foreign god, which was an abomination in the sight of the Lord. It is apparent that even though they had done this abomination by divorcing the Lord, they didn’t seem to notice that they had done this. They covered the altar with tears wondering why the Lord no longer accepted their offerings, all the while serving other gods. They had not completely stopped serving the Lord, but rather were serving Him alongside other gods, which was not acceptable (see Exodus 20:3-4). The Lord hates divorce, but His people had divorced Him. A warning is sent out here that any would hear and be sure that they would not be faithless to the Lord as some were. They had wearied the Lord by calling those who work evil, good, and then wondering where the God of justice was. It was not God who left them, but rather they who had departed from Him.
1. The Lord’s messengers: When read carefully, we see that there are two messengers spoken of in this passage which is messianic in nature. The first messenger is the one whom the Lord would send to prepare the way for Him. This messenger was John the baptizer, who appeared just before the ministry of Christ to prepare the way for Him (see Matthew 11:10, Mark 1:2 and Luke 7:27). Note here that it says the the first messenger would prepare the way before Him, that is the Lord. The second messenger here is the Lord Himself, in the form of Jesus Christ, the messenger of the covenant. He would come as a refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap, purifying the sons of Levi, who were rebuked in the previous chapter, and bring salvation. Then the Lord would draw near for judgment and establish justice for those who have been afflicted by those who did not fear the Lord.
2. Robbing God: The Lord does not change; but His people had. They had turned away from the statutes and commands of the Lord, just as their fathers had in times past, and thus their rebuke. However, the Lord calls them to return to Him here by restoring their tithes and contributions. Here we get a very interesting challenge from the Lord as He asks the people to test Him and see that He would return their tithes and contributions to them with great blessings. They were His people, and He loved them as a Father loves his child or a husband loves his wife. If they would just return to Him, He would bless them richly, and all nations would call them blessed. Their mistake was not recognizing their error. They were robbing God in their contributions and they had spoken against the Lord by saying that there is no use, no profit, in serving the Lord. They didn’t find use because they were seeking the Lord amiss. The Lord’s call was for them to return.
3. Response from those who feared the Lord: At the end of this chapter, we see a response from those who feared the Lord, as they write a book of remembrance of those who esteemed His name. The Lord claims them as His treasured possession for they had heard His words and listened to them. Then once again a distinction would be made between the righteous and the wicked, no longer calling those who do evil, good. May we ever see this distinction.
The day of the Lord: As is typical of several of the prophets, the oracle of Malachi ends in the future day of the Lord that would come as a burning oven, purifying the evil from the land. Those who fear the name of the Lord, however, would go out leaping like calves from the stall. The day would establish righteousness and purge wickedness. The people of God are reminded to remember and adhere to the law of Moses. The Lord would send the spirit of Elijah (through John the baptizer) before the day of the Lord (see Matthew 11:14 and Luke 1:17) to turn back the hearts of the people.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Acts 21-22.
Have ears to hear.