“Q & A”
This morning we begin a new study from the Minor Prophets. The book of Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament and the last word from God for over 400 years. We have just concluded the Gospel of Mark last week. And from the time period that Mark has recorded we would need to rewind 400 years before the birth of Jesus. And so between this book and the events recorded in the Gospels, there is no word from God. This is referred to as the intertestamental period – the time between what we refer to as the Old and New Testaments.
Let’s look at where we find ourselves at the time of this book. As you may know, God had called out the nation of Israel to be his chosen people who would be a light to the nations – to testify to the God who called them. This began with the person of Abraham and his descendants. One of the ways that God had chosen to multiply them and prepare them as a nation was to send them into captivity into Egypt. When he raised up Moses as their leader, God led them out of Egypt in order to establish them in the land that he had promised them. As you remember, they quickly turned away from God and grumbled and wandered throughout the wilderness for many years.
Under the new leadership of Joshua, they finally entered the land beyond the Jordan River where God scattered their enemies and allowed Israel to be established. The people served under Judges and Kings Saul, David, and Solomon before they were divided against each other. There was a split in the nation and were known as the northern kingdom and southern kingdom – Israel and Judah respectively. Whereas Israel existed only under evil kings, the southern kingdom of Judah had its ups and downs with some good and evil kings as well. Ultimately, however, the entire nation did not serve their God wholeheartedly despite his many warnings through his prophets. And Israel was defeated by Assyria and scattered. And Judah was later defeated by the Babylonians and deported into their land.
But there was also a promise of restoration should the people repent. And under the leadership of such men as Zerubbabel and Ezra and Nehemiah, the people saw their nation being re-established. The people returned to their land. The temple was restored and so were the walls around the city of Jerusalem. The prophetic voice at this time came through the ministries of Haggai and Zechariah – the books just prior to the book of Malachi. The people responded favourably to their calls to repentance.
However, roughly 100 years have passed since they have returned to their way of life. And once again the people have become cold and hard-hearted and disobedient. And God now chooses to speak through his servant, Malachi. Judging by the content of this letter, the nation has become corrupt in its routine worship, its rampant divorce, social injustices and neglected tithing.
So, the contemporary significance for us is its overarching theme of proper worship of our God. How do we worship? In our families, our community, in our giving…? Let’s pay attention as we see similarities between the ancient nation of Israel and our own contemporary church culture. How do we worship?
What I think that we will see as themes in this book are the following: God’s love for his people will pervade this book. In this section and elsewhere, God continually reminds Israel of his covenant with them. And this will require an obedient faith from his people. Obedience does not derive from a begrudging sense of duty, but a response to God’s love.
Very appropriately, the book begins with a proper understanding of God and his love for his people. This is quite similar to what the Apostle Paul has done on more than one occasion. Before presenting churches with commands (or imperatives), he provides them with a correct theology to serve as the foundation – which is in the indicative. For instance, in our study of Ephesians we noted that Paul began the letter reminding the church of their calling by God before the foundation of the world in chapter 1, of their state before they were made alive in Christ in chapter 2, teaching on the nature of the church and the gospel. And then in chapter 4, Paul begins with “therefore.” “Based on this sound doctrine, here is the expectation for the saint, the believer in Jesus Christ and in his church. Walk in a manner worthy…” And then he goes on to spell out what this looks like.
One commentator made this very astute observation how this played out in the Old Testament as well. He writes, “God did not send Moses down to Egypt with the law already tucked under his cloak.” Rather, the giving of the Law is prefaced by “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Exod 19:4).” This is what we will see with God’s words through Malachi. We will see how the character of God, and his covenant with his people, will require obedience to that which he lays out as the expectations. There is a proper and improper way to worship.
We get underway this morning by looking at the first 5 verses of Malachi. Please turn there if you haven’t already. Malachi 1. I’ll read Malachi 1.1-5.
The first brief point of the message this morning is, My Messenger. The book begins with some helpful information. Some questions are answered that are usually asked in Bible study. Who wrote the book? To whom? What is being written? What we learn in the opening words is that this is “an oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi.” That’s helpful. Unfortunately, not much is known of the prophet himself other than his name means, “my messenger.” There are no other references to this individual in Scripture. However, his words are quoted by our Lord Jesus and this book has been recognized as part of the canon of Scripture.
I believe that the important thing for us to draw from this prophet is not his prominence, but his faithfulness to be used by God to declare tough words to his people. And we know that this has often been the case as the mouthpieces of God often stood in direct opposition to the majority and the most prominent. And despite the dangers faced by these prophets, they remained faithful to God and his words of warning and pleas for repentance. In the same vein, the prophet Malachi will be God’s messenger to his people as they have again strayed from faithfulness in worship to him.
It is interesting that the word “oracle” is used here. Some have noted that the Hebrew word here can also be translated as “burden.” If the source of the message should come from God, it would not be too difficult to see how it is a weighty matter – a message that needs to be delivered. Why else would the prophets and many others risk persecution and martyrdom unless it was a burden to be communicated? In our text, it is clearly a message from the Lord that needs to be communicated to his people. And for this task, he assigns Malachi as his messenger.
And the message is to Israel. Israel, beloved by the Lord has once again grown cold to her God. And in his mercy and love will not abandon her, but will send yet again another to call them to repentance.
The second point is Message of Covenant Love. We find this in verses 2-5. As we noted, the book begins with the character of God. And here it is his love for his people. The book begins in the indicative with God saying, “I have loved you.” This does not suggest that he once loved Israel but does so no longer. Rather, his love continues to exist for them. The rest of the book and Scripture would confirm this. Apparently they do not believe this and they challenge God. “How have you loved us?” I think it is possible that Israel had expected to participate in the fulfillment of the promises that were made by the prophets – not realizing that some would not be completed in their lifetime. Perhaps this contributed to their rebellion and apathy.
We might expect God to list the many times he bailed them out of trouble and protected them. Or maybe remind them of the many blessings and provisions. He delivered their enemies into their hands. But God says, “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” Huh?? “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated.”
In this way, God has cut to the chase. He is not messing around. God has reached back to the beginning of their existence; back to covenant promises. By naming Jacob and Esau the reader would be thrust back to the book of Genesis. The Lord said to Isaac’s wife Rebekah that two nations are in your womb – represented by Jacob and Esau. It was here that God revealed that it was the younger son Jacob who would be favoured over the older Esau to establish his people. In eternity past, God chose the nation of Israel. And he determined that this people would be derived from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The love-hate language that is used here may seem unnecessarily harsh to contemporary readers. However, this is not language that communicates emotion. This is covenant language. This is the way that God communicates his sovereign election of his people. This is spelled out more thoroughly by the Apostle Paul in Romans 9 when he reiterates what is going on with God’s choice of Jacob over Esau. He writes in verse 9 and following: “9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” The point is not God loved Jacob more than Esau but that he loved him rather than Esau.
Essentially, what God is saying is that the fact that he has sovereignly chosen Israel over any other nation demonstrates his great love for them. This, and this alone, should evoke faithfulness in worship to God.
The descendants of Esau become the nation of Edom that is referred to in verse 4 and elsewhere. They become the epitomy of those who despise God’s grace and a symbol of God’s enemies. It began with the time that Esau himself despised his birthright. They become known for their pride, treachery, greed and violence. They were proud because they had a seemingly impenetrable geographic territory.
Their judgment was foretold throughout the prophecies of Isaiah (34.5-17), Jeremiah (49.7-22), Lamentations (4.21), Ezekiel (25.12-14; 35.1-15) and Amos (1.11-12). Here the Lord points out that he has fulfilled these prophecies by laying waste his land and his heritage. They were decimated and there was nothing left. Should they try to re-establish themselves, the prophecies will hold true and God will destroy them again for they are a wicked country. And then he adds that they are ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.’ And this refers to eternal punishment.
And see now this is where the doctrine of election becomes contentious. And this is where human sensitivities interfere with our interpretation of Scripture. Based upon this text, and many others, we run smack dab into teachings that God has elected some to salvation and allows the rest to suffer in hell. Some even go so far to say that the latter are predestined to eternal punishment. The problem, I would suggest, is rooted in the starting point of our interpretation of such texts. I am not trying to minimize any struggle with the doctrine. The teaching of eternal punishment is troubling for sure.
I will not be attempting to remove all ambiguity with the teaching for a couple of reasons. First, I cannot. The church has been arguing over such things since it was established. Second, I don’t think that it is the emphasis of the passage. God, through Malachi, is focusing on the positive aspect of election for the nation of Israel.
You may have even noted that in the Romans 9 passage, Paul indicates that neither one of them had yet been born and had not done anything wrong. And yet this shows that God’s purpose in election resides not in works but God’s calling. Some may cry “unfair” at this point and fail to understand that all are born in sin before they even have a chance to do anything sinful. We all enter the world condemned already because of Adam’s sin in the Garden. Listen to how Paul continues this line of thinking. He writes in verse 14 and following, “14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”
All are deserving of eternal punishment because of our sin. And it is God’s mercy that saves any. God is under no obligation to save anybody. But in his grace and love he has chosen to bestow on some eternal salvation from sin! That is amazing! If this becomes the starting point in our thinking, our perspectives on everything else should change dramatically! And I believe this short introduction is intended to shock Israel back to their senses.
Once again, they seem to have their eyes on themselves and question God’s love to them. And God responds with an “Ahem. Remember Jacob and Esau.” One thing should be noted at this point. Old Testament election differs from New Testament election at some points – most notably regarding salvation. Romans 9 will also confirm this. ALL Israel is not saved and ALL Edom is not lost. Faith is still the requirement. The nation of Israel enjoyed special blessing from God that other nations did not. And we know that there were those outside of Israel that demonstrated faith in God – like Ruth and Rahab. The New Testament speaks of those who are elected that will demonstrate faith in Christ. We’ll explore some more of the implications as we investigate application of the passage.
There is a bit of a contrast that we see in our passage here. The distinctions between Jacob and Esau, Israel and Edom, those who are chosen and those who are passed over, demonstrate the difference between divine discipline and eternal judgment. In other words, Edom represents those who are enemies of God who will incur the wrath of God forever. Israel, on the other hand, has repeatedly rebelled against the God who called them. But God has established an eternal covenant with them and so disciplines them whenever they turn from him. Throughout their history, he has handed them over to enemies, destroyed some of their own, put them into slavery, etc. But he never abandoned them. God’s electing love preserves them and continues to manifest itself in discipline. Like a parent to a rebellious child, the Lord still loves them. The book of Hosea demonstrates the relationship well when Hosea marries a wife of whoredom to show how Israel has treated her husband.
We too fall into the same patterns as the Israelites, don’t we? How often do we question God’s love or goodness when we lose a job, experience difficulties in relationships, struggle to manage hectic lifestyles, get sick as soon as the weather breaks… We gripe an awful lot. At least I do. God, why me? Why do I have to…?” Why can’t you…?”
Allow this hard teaching on God’s election to challenge your own walk with God. As we ponder the concept that our salvation is not contingent on any good that we have done, but only on the sovereign choice of God, this should cause us to tremble a bit. As I become more aware of my sinfulness and the grace that was shown to me, it causes me to shutter a little. Do you know what I mean? Consider that if you are trusted in Christ, God has determined from before the foundation of the world to save you from your helplessness. You have no ability to help yourself. But God reaches down from heaven and pulls you out from your depravity so that you can enjoy him forever.
There is no place for pride in election, only humility. How is it that we can think more highly of ourselves than others when it is only by the grace of God that we are not still lost in our sins?
Perhaps Israel had become presumptuous in their relationship to God. You know, “Hey God… remember the blessings your promised?? Ummm… when are they coming? We’re waiting…” God’s electing grace eliminates presumption.
God’s grace eliminates self-reliance. Western culture thrives on self-reliance. I know. I am a product of this. My continual struggle is to do just that – struggle. I need to daily learn more of the grace of God in my life. It is God’s grace that has saved me and somehow I think that it is my works that keep me in his good favor. Now I don’t say this. My actions often do. It is God who saves us and it is God who will sanctify us.
I want to challenge you to regularly think deeply on your salvation. I’ve begun to do this a bit more lately. It should overwhelm. I don’t think that it can be taken lightly. The more that we focus on the grace that brought us to Christ, the more our lives should respond. One commentator notes that “The knowledge that one has been chosen by God for an intimate relationship and that God will always act in accordance with that relationship should make a profound difference in the way we handle obstacles, failure, disappointment, strife, and human antagonism.” This is the message to Malachi. God wants us also to respond to his grace in our lives so that we serve him with joy and with proper worship.
The last point this morning is For His Glory. In verse 5, God says that “Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, ‘Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!”
Like us often, the people of Israel were focused on themselves and had forgotten the greatness of their God. With this statement, God is indicating that at the end of time, they will witness the eschatological judgment of God’s enemies. Though they may not personally enjoy all the blessings that have been promised in their lifetime, they will see the ultimate triumph of their God.
The statement indicates that, yes, God is the Lord of Israel. But he is so much more! He is the God of all creation who will call out people from all the nations. Israel was short-sighted. They thought it was all about them. They thought they were special. God reminds them that it wasn’t because of anything they had done, but his sovereign choice alone. But God’s plan of redemption was much larger than one nation, it encompassed the world.
God’s grace in election does demonstrate his love for us. But ultimately, it brings him glory. God, the Creator of the universe has chosen to save sinners who deserve judgement and transform them into people who become like his Son Jesus Christ and proclaim to the world, “Great is the Lord!” Let’s pray.