Intro: Our study of the Minor Prophets brings us this month to the end – the words of Malachi. Thank Ken for beginning this series of lessons last week. I especially appreciate his thoughts on the anticipation of the Jewish nation during this period as they were waiting for their Messiah. Ken pointed out the similarities to our time today, as we wait for the coming of Christ the second time. We can suffer from the same problems as they. Malachi has a message for us.
I. Who was Malachi? – He was God’s messenger. In fact his name, Malachi, means “My messenger”. He certainly lived up to his name. Nothing is known of him from the O.T. There are some who have concluded that there was no person named Malachi, but that the use of the term messenger was not a proper name, but a description of an anonymous prophet who wrote at a later time.
A. There is no reason to reject the common view that Malachi was God’s last prophetic messenger of the O.T. He was the last voice of inspiration before 400 years of God’s silence and the coming of the John, the baptizer, the harbinger of Christ.
1. We will notice that in confronting the problems of God’s people, Malachi uses a new style of teaching sometimes called the didactic-dialectic method of speaking. He makes a charge against the people; then voices the objective response of the people to his words; and then refutes their objections. He asks several rhetorical questions. This became very common in Jewish schools and synagogues.
II. The Historical Setting: The historical setting is, once again, the post-exilic period. God’s people have returned to Jerusalem after 70 years of banishment at God’s hand. A great time of restoration and liberation had ensued.
- As we noticed in our previous studies, through the encouragement of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, and the dedicated leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua, the people completed the rebuilding of the Temple (516 B.C.)
- In 458 B.C., another group of exiles returned to Jerusalem, led by Ezra, a scribe and priest. He began a spiritual restoration of obedience to the law. (Ezra 7:10)
- About 444 B.C., a third group of exiles returned led by Nehemiah. Under his leadership, the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt. (Nehemiah 1-6) He also aided in a great revival of the people.
A. The prophet Malachi was contemporary with Ezra and Nehemiah. It had been almost a century since the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah. The Temple had been standing for nearly a century. Sacrifices and the work of the priests were common daily occurrences. How were things among God’s people?
1. Disregard for God’s Law: The writings of Nehemiah help us see this picture. Turn to Nehemiah 13; the date is 432 B.C. Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem after being in Babylon following the completion of the walls. He did not like what he found…
- Nehemiah 13:7-11 – and I came to Jerusalem and discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, in preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God. 8 And it grieved me bitterly; therefore I threw all the household goods of Tobiah out of the room. 9 Then I commanded them to cleanse the rooms; and I brought back into them the articles of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense. 10 I also realized that the portions for the Levites had not been given them; for each of the Levites and the singers who did the work had gone back to his field. 11 So I contended with the rulers, and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?”
- Nehemiah 13:15 – In those days I saw people in Judah treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and loading donkeys with wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them about the day on which they were selling provisions.
- Nehemiah 13:23-24 – In those days I also saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. 24 And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke according to the language of one or the other people.
a. Among the sins he discovered were the disregard for the sanctity of the Temple and the Sabbath, a failure to give tithes to the priests, and the marriage of the men, even priests, to foreign women. Malachi addresses these very problems and thus it seems correct to place his work at this period of time. He arose to assist Nehemiah and Ezra in the spiritual reform of the people around 430 B.C.
2. It was also a time of spiritual apathy and lethargy. Despite the restoration, there was an attitude problem in Israel. Joyce Baldwin offers this insightful summary of what appears to be the spiritual background of this book: “Whereas most of the prophets lived and prophesied in days of change and political upheaval, Malachi and his contemporaries were living in an uneventful waiting period, when God seemed to have forgotten His people enduring poverty and foreign domination in the little province of Judah. Zerubbabel and Joshua, whom Haggai and Zechariah had indicated as God’s chosen men for the new age, had died. True, the temple had been completed, but nothing momentous had occurred to indicate that God’s presence had return to fill it with glory, as Ezekiel had indicated would happen. The day of miracles had passed with Elijah and Elisha. The round of religious duties continued to be carried on, but without enthusiasm. Where was the God of their fathers? Did it really matter whether one served Him or not? Generations were dying without receiving the promises and people were losing their faith.”
a. It is easy to put ourselves in this picture. Sometimes uneventful freedom can create a lack of passion or enthusiasm among God’s people. We become settled in, and consequently many become apathetic to the cause. Religious duty becomes meaningless ritual, leading even to a disrespect for God and His word. One author called this the “the imperceptible abrasion of faith that ends in cynicism because it has lost touch with the living God” (Joyce Baldwin). It might best be described as a lack of reverence for God. This was a major element in the burden of Malachi.
III. A Call for Reverence: Although Malachi rebukes several distinct sins among God’s people, irreverence is behind them all. Recognize that Malachi’s rebuke was directed toward the “religious” people. These were the ones who were offering the sacrifices and claiming to be righteous. In fact most of Malachi’s condemnations were specifically addressed to the priests. In Malachi’s message several different expressions describe the people’s failure to reverence God.
A. God deserved to be reverenced: Malachi 1:6 – “A son honors his father, And a servant his master. If then I am the Father, Where is My honor? And if I am a Master, Where is My reverence? Says the Lord of hosts to you priests who despise My name. Yet you say, ‘In what way have we despised Your name?’ The problem rested in their recognition of who God really was. To take their gifts to His Temple and call Him their Father implied that He was due honor and respect. He charged the priests (of all people they should have respected Him) with having “despised My name“.
1. In Malachi 1:11-12 He said, “For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; In every place incense shall be offered to My name, And a pure offering; For My name shall be great among the nations,” Says the Lord of hosts. 12 “But you profane it, In that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is defiled; And its fruit, its food, is contemptible.’
2. In Malachi 2:2 the Lord further rebuked the priests for having refused to “give glory to My name“
3. In Malachi 3:5 he spoke against those who “do not fear Me”
4. On the other hand, in Mal. 3:16, he commended those who “feared the Lord” and “mediate on His name“, and said they shall be Mine, and I will spare them as a father spares his son.
5. In Malachi 4:2 God speaks of those “who fear My name” who will be healed by the Sun of Righteousness.
B. What does true reverence look like? To reverence God is to “hallow” Him, to treat Him as holy. It is to understand and honor His authority and sovereignty over us. It is more than being quiet in a worship service or bowing our head when we pray. It cannot be produced by dimming the lights.
1. The Hebrew word most often translated as reverence is Yare, which literally means dread or fear. But it often denotes more than just plain fear. Vine’s says… This is not simple fear, but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect. In fact it is often viewed as worship itself. This is the word Malachi uses to describe those whom God will come against in swift judgment – “because do not fear Me”
a. Those who fear God speak and act according to the truth. After condemning the corrupt priests at the beginning of chapter 2, Malachi describes the ideal, reverent priest in the image of Levi – Mal 2:5-6 – So he feared Me [yare] And was reverent before My name. 6 The law of truth was in his mouth, And injustice was not found on his lips. He walked with Me in peace and equity, And turned many away from iniquity. .
b. Those who reverence God are never indifferent towards Him or His words. He is viewed as the center, and His words and thoughts are what matter most.
1) True reverence demands that our relationship to Him be more important than any other relationship. Matt 10:37-38 – He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.
2) Reverence means taking God very seriously when He says He will punish sin – Gal. 6:7, 8
c. Those who reverence God never attempt to accommodate God to themselves. They do not attempt to justify God’s words with the current culture or thinking of the day. We want to make God likeable and amiable to the world around us. But there are many times when God’s words are not politically correct, and it is a sin to attempt to make them so. God condemns all sin. We want God to fit our practice (what is comfortable for us), and often interpret scripture so as to support what we already do.
d. Those who reverence God make an unconditional commitment to be obedient to His will – Col. 3:17 -” Whatever you do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord”. Luke 6:46 – 46 “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say? Reverence is the root of all true obedience.
C. Irreverence, such as Malachi describes, may be imperceptible and hidden from our eyes. One’s attitude toward God has become commonly accepted and rationalized to the point that we do not view our actions as disrespectful or sinful. This is illustrated in the objection of the people to God’s charges:
- Malachi 1:8 – you say, ‘In what way have we despised Your name?’… In what way have we defiled You?’
- Malachi 1:12 – In that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is defiled; And its fruit, its food, is contemptible.
- Malachi 2:9 – You… wearied the Lord with your words; Yet you say, “In what way have we wearied Him?
- Malachi 3:8 – Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’
- Malachi 3:13 – “Your words have been harsh against Me,” Says the Lord, “Yet you say, ‘What have we spoken against You?’ They could not see themselves in the words of Malachi. What did I do? “I don’t see anything wrong with that? How do you react when God’s words condemn your actions or attitude?
Conclusion: I am hopeful we can look closer at the specific admonitions of Malachi – How the irreverence of the people toward God evidenced itself. If we doubt the centrality of reverence in doing God’s work, we need only look to the life of Moses. His commission began in a call to reverence God –
- Ex 3:5-6 – Then He said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” 6 Moreover He said, “I am the God of your father — the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God. (the word is yare). The call to obedience began with a call for reverence.
- But then we remember that Moses failed to enter the land of Canaan because he disobeyed God and struck the rock to bring forth water, rather than speaking to it as God commanded. In his anger he failed to respect God’s words, and even put himself in the equation with Him – “must we bring water for you out of this rock“… Num 20:12 – Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.”
- Moses’ entire work for God was rooted in a call for reverence. So is ours. Do you fear Him? Will you obey Him?