Malachi - intro
Could we all turn to the book of angels, please? What? It is not in your Bible?! Am I teaching some heresy from some extra canonical book? No, it is in your Bible – the Hebrew for angel is מַלְאָךְ - simply a “messenger”. Malachi means: “My messenger” – although I am sure that it was the prophet’s actual name, because, without exception, every other book of prophecy is named by the messenger’s name. So, take two, can we turn to the book of Malachi. [P] Some time back, before doing a series on the sovereignty of God, one on the book of Philippians, and one on the tabernacle; I was working through the Minor Prophets. A task incomplete – I did not do Hosea because it was a bit long, and Zechariah because was a bit difficult, the only other Minor Prophet I didn’t do was Malachi, the last book written in the Old Testament. The funny thing is that the very first sermon I ever preached was from the book of Malachi. The Book of Malachi comes from some time in the fifth century B.C. after the Temple in Jerusalem was rebuilt. It is the last book in the Old Testament, and also the last in terms of books written. Right from the time of Abraham, יהוה had continually been speaking to His people, sending messengers with His word. His people were continually going astray and He kept calling them back to Himself. They had seriously departed from their God, He had to take drastic action – culminating in exiling them from the very land that He had promised to Abraham. But even there in 70 years of exile, still יהוה still kept speaking to His people. There was Ezekiel and Daniel, prophets, His messengers in the exile. But now יהוה stops speaking! SILENCE! [P] For over 400 years, there was not a word! SILENCE! It is a terrible thing when you are no longer hearing from God! The prophet Amos had foretold it – there would be a famine for hearing the word of יהוה [Amos 8:11 Look, the days are coming,” declares my Lord יהוה, “when I will send a famine in the land, not a famine for bread and not a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of יהוה!].So this prophecy is the last message that יהוה would give His people for centuries. It is like His final words. [P] You know when someone nears the end, particularly if they have been well known or important, people gather around them to hear their last words. We often have recorded a famous person’s last words – their last word is regarded has having particular significance and importance. I mean, you want your last words to pass on something of lasting worth, to leave behind something that will have lasting impact. So the last prophetic voice of the OT rings out over the years intervening till the great drought was broken by the coming of the forerunner of the Messiah: John the Baptist. The famine was over! Hallelujah! No wonder the people flocked out into the wilderness to hear him – the first prophet for 400 years! I ought to add that although this is the last book in our Old Testament and was the last word from יהוה for over 400 years, it is not the last book in the Jewish Scriptures. They divide their Scriptures up differently to us – they are called the Tanakh – which is taken from the first letters of the three divisions: “T” for the Torah, the five books of Moses that we call the Pentateuch; “N” for the Neviim, or prophets, in which they include the historical books of Samuel, and Kings, and of course this book, Malachi; and lastly “K” for Ketuvim, the writings, which includes what we would call the poetical books, plus a few others. So they don’t end with the prophet Malachi but with the writing of 2 Chronicles. Nonetheless, Malachi is יהוה’s final word, the last book written – some 400-450 years before Jesus came. [P] So here we have יהוה’s final word before he lapses into silence. A silence that lasts for over 400 years! – a silence that was broken by the messenger of יהוה who was in fact promised in this final word [P] [Malachi 3:1 “Look! I am going to send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord whom you are seeking will come suddenly to His temple, and the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you are taking pleasure—look!—He is about to come,” says יהוה of armies.] – so Malachi, My messenger, foretold the coming of “My messenger” and that messenger was John the Baptist, who prepared the way for His Son, Jesus the Messiah! Let us read: [Malachi 1:1 An oracle. The word of יהוה to Israel through Malachi.] That is probably far enough for one session! It tells us that יהוה Himself is speaking to His people, Israel! This is the word of the LORD, of יהוה Himself! The message was communicated through His messenger, Malachi. His name was “Malachi” and that is what he was – “My messenger” – he was just the messenger boy; the words, the message itself was from יהוה Himself. That is the prophet’s task: to hear the words of יהוה and communicate them to the people - faithfully, accurately. That is all a prophet is: a messenger-boy. It is יהוה’s word; therefore it is essential that it be transmitted reliably. All that is required of the prophet is that he faithfully passes on what he has heard from יהוה. This is not Malachi’s words but יהוה’s! So we should treat it with awe! It says in [Isaiah 66:2 “For My hand made all these things, thus all these things came into being,” declares יהוה. “But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.] יהוה has spoken His message! – our response should be to tremble at it – because the message from יהוה was an “oracle”, a burden – a heavy message - something lifted up, heavy to carry, a burden weighing the prophet down – it is a message of a threatening or menacing character. And it can be like that, delivering the message of the LORD, sometimes it weighs heavily upon you. It takes it out of you, particularly if it is a message of judgement. It is not just saying the words; it is a burden that you have to carry. So why did Malachi have this weighty message? What made it so heavy? What was the situation and background to this prophecy? That is essential to know in order to understand the heart behind this message – and feeling the heart of the message is what it is vital to appreciate – not just facts and doctrine but enter into the heart of יהוה that is being expressed here. Let’s put it this way: Have any of you had a child that has gone off the rails? Like, I mean, really bad. My family is still too young for me to know what direction they will end up taking. But there are those who are brought up in fine homes, loved and cared for, brought up in the ways of the LORD; and yet they go their own way. Sometimes they end up in desperate straits as a consequence. But the parents still love their child…. They try everything: tough love, firm discipline, punishment, mercy, forgiveness. They promise to reform, they are taken back in; but yet again they go back to their old ways. Inveterate rebellion! [P] [Isaiah 65:2 “I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts.] It tears parents’ hearts apart – that is the situation יהוה is in! Israel is His first-born son: [Exodus 4:22 Thus says יהוה, “Israel is My son, My firstborn.”]. He longs for them to come to Him, but they insist and persist on going their own way. Repeatedly He disciplined His people for forsaking Him for lifeless idols; repeatedly He had mercy. Here we are standing at the end of the Old Testament – look back over that record – again and again this had taken place. There was a consistent record of rejecting יהוה, of persecuting His messengers. Jesus Himself expressed it like this: [Luke 13:34-35 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How many times I wanted to gather your children together the way a hen gathers her own brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house has been left to you! (abandoned to their own ends) And I tell you, - until the time will come when you say, ‘Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ”] Jesus referred to this consistent rejection of His prophets, His messengers in a parable about a vineyard: [Matthew 21:33-39 “Listen to another parable: There was a man—a master of a house—who planted a vineyard, and put a fence around it, and dug a winepress in it, and built a watchtower, and leased it to tenant farmers, and went on a journey. And when the season of fruit drew near, he sent his slaves to the tenant farmers to collect his fruit. (His messengers, the prophets) And the tenant farmers seized his slaves, one of whom they beat, and one of whom they killed, and one of whom they stoned. Again, he sent other slaves, more than the first ones, and they did the same thing to them. So finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenant farmers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance!’ And they seized him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.]. What more could יהוה have done?! [P] He’d done all He could and it made no difference; they refused to respond to Him when He poured out His heart to them! Isaiah also likened the nation of Israel to a vineyard: [Isaiah 5:1-7 Let me sing for my beloved a song of my love concerning His vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. And He dug it and cleared it of stones, and He planted it with choice vines, and He built a watchtower in the middle of it, and He even hewed out a wine vat in it, and He waited for it to yield grapes— (He did everything possible for it) but it yielded wild grapes. (there was not the fruit that יהוה was looking for) And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between Me and My vineyard. What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why did I hope for it to yield grapes, and it yielded wild grapes? And now let Me tell you what I myself am about to do to My vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall become a devastation. I will break down its wall, and it shall become a trampling. And I will make it a wasteland; it shall not be pruned and hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorn-bushes. (abandoned! Left to itself! The worst thing that יהוה can do is let us go our own way! – leave us to our own ends! Because they didn’t respond to kindness, judgement would come) And concerning the clouds, I will command them not to send rain down upon it. For the vineyard of יהוה of armies is the house of Israel, and the man of Judah is the plantation of His delight. And He waited for justice, but look! Bloodshed! For righteousness, but look! A cry of distress!] That was the fruit יהוה looked for: justice, righteousness, but He found only worthless fruit: violence and distress. יהוה gave them everything, was generous, kind, good. He was merciful and patient when they erred. He faithfully taught them, He disciplined them; put them through hard times to bring them out through great deliverances and a powerful hand – all done in perfect wisdom and love. But nothing changed. Then, finally, in the ultimate punishment He exiled them out of the land that He had promised to them. The nation was taken captive by Babylon. Then, just as He promised, at the end of 70 years; יהוה brought them back again to the land. [P] Emperor Cyrus gave the decree to return, and the first group came back under governor Zerubbabel, and they soon rebuilt the altar and restored the sacrifices. But it was some time before the temple was completed – things languished and the prophets Haggai and Zechariah got the people back on track and the temple was rebuilt. But they slipped into old ways and Ezra had to bring them back into line after they intermarried with the surrounding peoples. Some 15 years later, like Ezra, Nehemiah urged the people to keep the Sabbath and avoid intermarrying with pagan neighbours. After a 12-year term, Nehemiah returned to Persia and the spiritual condition of Judah deteriorated. They kept slipping back, away from יהוה. Perhaps discouraged by their lack of political power, tithing became sporadic, the Sabbath was not kept, intermarriage was common, and even the priests could not be trusted. When Nehemiah came back to Jerusalem, he had to take firm action to straighten out the situation. And here we are again, evidently some time after Ezra’s and Nehemiah’s correction of their abuses, for decline had set in yet again – probably a date about 433-425 B.C. is perhaps not far afield. Even after the reforms of Haggai and Zechariah, of Ezra and Nehemiah the people yet again are drifting. Sure, they are still religious, but it is religion, not a vital relationship with their God. It was ritual and mere ceremony, going through the motions. They have become jaded – it has all become a dreary ritual. Is there a message here for us? We don’t turn our back on God and abandon Him; but it is easy for what we consistently do to deteriorate into just something we do – it can lose its meaning and vitality and freshness. What did Jesus say to the Church in Ephesus?: [Revelation 2:4 But I have this against you: that you have left your first love.] Have a read through the book of Malachi and it is like listening to your teenager! Forever answering back! [P] It drives you to distraction! יהוה was patient and reasonable but they just kept answering back: [Malachi 1:2 “I have loved you,” says יהוה, but you say, “How have You loved us?”] [Malachi 1:6 “A son honours his father, and a slave his master; but if I am a father, where is My honour, and if I am a master, where is My reverence?” says יהוה of armies to you, O priests, who despise My Name. “But you say, ‘How have we despised Your Name?’] [Malachi 1:7 You are presenting defiled food on my altar! But you ask, ‘How have we defiled You?’ By saying that the table of יהוה is despised!] [Malachi 1:13 And you say, ‘Look! This is a weariness,’ and you sniff with disdain at it,” says יהוה of armies.] Can you hear your teenager saying: “I’m bored!”? [Malachi 2:13-14 And this you do as well: you cover the altar of יהוה with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favour from your hand. But you ask, “For what reason?”] [Malachi 2:17 You have wearied יהוה with your words, but you ask, “With what have we wearied him?” You have done so when you say, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of יהוה, and in them He delights,” or “Where is the God of justice?”] [Malachi 3:7 Return to Me and I will return to you,” says יהוה of armies, “but you say, ‘How shall we return?’ ] [Malachi 3:8 Will a human dare to rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! And you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In the tithes and the contributions! ] [Malachi 3:13 “Your words have been harsh against me,” says יהוה. “But you say, ‘How have we spoken together against you?’] Always answering back, never accepting the word that is spoken. Forever justifying themselves and coming back with the smart aleck reply. Just like a rebellious teenager. It is a dangerous thing when people argue with God and try to defend their sinful ways. So here we have this rebellious child who has been lovingly raised; at the point of being let go, out of parental guidance and control. יהוה’s final word before he goes off alone. All His nurture seems to have availed nothing. What is the situation in Israel?: [P] It is clear that there is laxity and corruption in the life and worship of God’s people. Although the temple has been rebuilt for some time, the worship has become half-hearted – their heart just wasn’t in it. There was no reality, no meaning behind the ceremony. So יהוה directs his first message to the priests, and then he turns to the people collectively. The priests are setting a bad example by offering second-rate sacrifices. [P] They are just going through the motions, it is tedious and meaningless. There is no reality, no relationship with God – just a religious ceremony to perform. They carry on the ritual but they have forsaken the covenant – the loyal relationship with יהוה. Then He moves on to the people who are following that example. The priests are not faithful to their covenant with יהוה, [P] and the people are not faithful to their covenants either – their covenant to their wives The Jewish men are marrying outside the faith—mixing their pure religion with the more exciting aspects of paganism. There is a rising divorce rate, as first marriages are abandoned. Unfaithfulness is rife! [P] Could that be said of us today! We laud ambition, and the one who pushes ahead moving on, breaking new ground – but loyalty, faithfulness? They are not esteemed as virtues any more – that is staid, stick in the mud, regressive. We want the new and the exciting rather than commitment to that which is good and worth preserving. God’s people have lost their enthusiasm and their verve. They are not sure that serving God is worthwhile, as proud, ungodly people seem to get on much better without Him. They are offering defiled sacrifices [P], they are neglecting paying tithes [P]. This is unfaithfulness to יהוה and it overflows into their other relationships: there is marital unfaithfulness, divorce [P] and marrying foreign wives [P]. If you abandon God that unfaithfulness spreads everywhere – there is cheating and lying [P] and taking advantage to the vulnerable. The sins described in this book are the same as those found in Neh. 13:10-30. Priests and people are cheating God by not giving him the offerings that are rightly due Him, and by not living according to His teaching. If they carried on this way judgement was inevitable. יהוה will come to judge and purify his people, sending ahead of Him His messenger to prepare the way and to proclaim His covenant. That is why it was a heavy message – an oracle, a burden. Here is יהוה’s final appeal. [P] The prophet’s main concern is to call priests and people to renew their faithfulness to their covenant with God. [P] I said that the world does not esteem faithfulness – but יהוה does! Because that is who He is! It is an essential part of His character – loyalty and faithfulness. Can you feel יהוה’s heart in this message? – the heavy burden? Here is this son that He loves and has raised, yet has so determinedly and consistently gone astray despite all that He has done. Here is His last word – He has raised him but now is the time to let him go on His own. These are His parting words intended to put Him on the right path. He is going to leave him to his own devices, no longer be speaking to him for a long time. He wanted to leave them with a message of lasting impact and importance, just like the apostle Peter did: [cf. 2 Peter 1:13-15 But I consider it right, for as long as I am in this habitation, to stir you up by a reminder, because I know that the removal of my habitation is imminent, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will also make every effort that you are able at any time, after my departure, to recall these things to mind.] What is the big thing to remember, the big message that you want to leave in their ears? FAITHFULNESS – a warning of imminent judgement to keep them from straying and a call to loyalty, faithfulness. [P] Faithfulness with be rewarded, will be blessed by יהוה. There is coming a day of judgement when faithfulness will received its reward but those who are not, the wicked, will be condemned. Despite the consistent waywardness, still there is a hope held out – hope that is looked forward to – they had to wait 400 years before it came. And then, true to form, when the Beloved Son was finally sent, they rejected Him! And what is the consequence of that?! What is the last word that יהוה has to speak? [P] Here are the last two verses of the message of Malachi, taken from a Jewish translation: [P] [Malachi 3:23-24 Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome, fearful day of יהוה. He shall reconcile parents with children and children with their parents, so that, when I come, I do not strike the land with utter destruction!] Utter destruction! [P] That is יהוה’s last word! A heavy message indeed! So heavy that do you know what the rabbis did? They did not end the prophecy there, they decided to repeat the verse before: [P] [Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome, fearful day of יהוה.] They could not bear for יהוה’s last word to be A CURSE! [P] יהוה’s final word is a curse! יהוה could not have been more dramatic, more ominous in His final word. It is as He said through Moses: [Deuteronomy 30:15 “See, I am setting before you today life and prosperity and death and disaster; Deuteronomy 30:19-20 I invoke as a witness against you today the heaven and the earth: life and death I have set before you, blessing and curse. So choose life, so that you may live, you and your offspring, by loving יהוה your God by listening to His voice and by clinging to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days in order for you to live on the land that יהוה swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them.] That same choice is set before them. It is a message of יהוה’s love for His sinning people. Malachi stands like a beacon at the end of the Old Testament, the last prophetic voice of the OT rings out over the years intervening till the coming of the forerunner, John the Baptist, and the King, the Messiah. But Malachi’s prophetic emphasis is on the Day of the LORD – with its judgement of the wicked and the deliverance of a righteous remnant from the sinful mass. He shines for God’s truth at a dreary and dispirited time in Israel’s history. Perhaps you can look back to a time when your faith was more vibrant – perhaps the heady days of the “March for Jesus” movement with the excitement and fresh love for Jesus? Today, despite all the hype and loud music, there is a similar downturn in vibrant real life in Christ. Jesus said [Matthew 24:11-12 many false prophets will appear and will deceive many, and because lawlessness will increase, the love of many will grow cold.] – formal and meaningless – it is the time just before the end! The appeal of יהוה through His messenger Malachi, is just as relevant today – a call for faithfulness and loyalty [P] – not just going through the motions but a reality and vitality in our relationship with יהוה. For 400 years יהוה was silent – then He sent His messenger, and His own Son! Do you know what? - in that 400 years nothing had changed! What did John and Jesus encounter? – religion! That was where the opposition was – He longed for them to respond to Him but they “honoured Him with their mouths but their hearts were far from Him”! The Pharisees were very concerned to be correct and meticulous in their observance – but there was no heart for God! And we can be likewise consumed with doctrinal correctness rather than Jesus Himself. If you take the heart out of our faith you are left with cold religion. The love of many will grow cold! May our hearts remain true to our LORD, faithfulness and loyalty from a heart of love for Him. The messenger longed for their hearts to turn back. Could that be what we need to do too?