As we come to the end of our studies on the Minor Prophets, I have been looking back at some notes on Malachi which I took at a conference some years ago. It was one of the few occasions when I have heard the book expounded. The speaker was a well-known and respected Irish Evangelist, Mr Norman Turkington. In opening the book, he described the sad message of Malachi, “Losing ground that had been gained”. He spoke of a people, going wrong in heart, at the altar, and in the pulpit! The headings on that occasion were, God’s Windows (3:10), God’s Writing (3:16), God’s Wealth (3:17), God’s Wings (4:2), God’s Word (4:4). I trust then that by the help of God we may be exercised in our day to hold the ground that has been gained by a previous generation, as we seek to further assembly testimony in these challenging to the name of the Lord Jesus.
Some background details for the setting and study of Malachi:
Just to get the setting of Malachi, keep in mind the return from Babylon. After seventy years of Captivity, God has brought His people back to the land, back to the building of the Temple, back to the building of the walls of Jerusalem. It is worth noting that God did not return His people to what they had lost! They never got back the glory of Solomon’s Temple, but had the Temple that Zerubbabel built. As far as the Monarchy was concerned, they never had it returned to them either. For those who did return, they were less than half-hearted in building the Temple. The laying of the Temple foundation (Ezra 3:10-13), provoked two responses. Some wept as they remembered what they had lost, while others shouted for joy in the enjoyment of what they had. With the foundation laid, enemies opposed the work of God and the people got discouraged. This caused a delay in building for fifteen years. The attitude of the people at this time was, "…the time is not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built" (Haggai 1:2). This earned a sharp rebuke from Haggai (Haggai 1:3-5), along with encouragement from Zechariah, (Zech 1:16). In Malachi, with the passing of time, spiritual decline has set in. A few comparisons with Nehemiah will give us the conditions of the day and the time of Malachi’s writing.
“Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites” (Nehemiah 13:29). “But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the Lord of Hosts” (Malachi 2:8).
“In those days also saw I Jews that had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab” (Nehemiah 13:23). “Judah hath dealt treacherously… and hath married the daughter of a strange god” (Malachi 2:11).
Holding back the tithes!
“And I perceived that the portion of the Levites had not been given them: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field” (Nehemiah 13:10). “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of Hosts…” (Malachi 3:10).
Although Malachi is never mentioned in Ezra or Nehemiah, it certainly seems that he followed Nehemiah as to time in bringing a message to a people who had fallen back into the sins that Nehemiah had sought to address. As you read the book take a note of the following recurring expressions:
Wherein (translated wherefore and what) … always questioning!
"Wherein hast Thou loved us?" In relation to God’s love (1:2). "Wherein have we despised Thy name?" In relation to God’s Name (1:6). "Wherein have we polluted Thee?" In relation to the altar (1:7). "Wherefore?" In relation to holiness (2:14). "Wherein have we wearied Him?" In relation to judgment (2:17). "Wherein shall we return?" In relation to God’s invitation and promise (3:7). "Wherein have we robbed Thee?" In relation to their tithing (3:8). "What have we spoken so much against Thee?" In relation to their service (3:13). "What profit is it…?" In relation to their observation and walk (3:14).
And ye say… always had something to say!
"Yet ye say" (1:2). "And ye say" (1:6). "And ye say... in that ye say" (1:7). "In that ye say" (1:12). "Yet ye say" (2:14). "Yet ye say... when ye say" (2:17). "But ye said" (3:7). "But ye say" (3:8). "Yet ye say" (3:13). "Ye have said" (3:14).
MALACHI. Prophecy of Propriety – A book for the heart! Outline Introduction (1:1).
Doubted His Declaration of Love… no thankfulness: Chapter 1:2-5. For the expression, “And I hated Esau…” (Malachi 1:3), see previous notes on Obadiah, where Genesis 25:23, Malachi 1:2-3, Romans 9:11-14 and Hebrews 12:16-17 are fully discussed. Note: A love they did not Merit, A love that remained Unchanged, A love that will never End!
Despised His Worthy Name… no honour: Chapter 1:6-14. Going wrong at the altar. Offering the blind, the lame, and the sick. God challenges them to treat the governor, their earthly superior in the same way and see if he be pleased. They had reached the point where anything would do for God. Note: Offering the Unacceptable, Giving that which was Unworthy, Presenting that which Cost them Nothing!
Defiled His Levitical Covenant… no fear: Chapter 2:1-17. A message for the priests (2:1-9). Because they were to be an example to the nation is this why they are specifically addressed here? Had their sin and departure as spiritual leaders of the nation (Nehemiah 13:28), caused others to go astray in the same sin of mixed marriage? A wider message to the people (2:10-16) in their dealings with each other, marriage, and divorce. Questioning, v 17, that God would move at all in judgment.
Disregarded His Warning of Judgment… no repentance: Chapter 3:1-6. “Behold, I will…” is the note struck at the opening of this chapter. The ministry of John the Baptist is the fulfilment of this opening statement. See: Matthew 11:10. Then we have the Lord introduced. Although in the gospels He did visit the Temple, and did judge wrong practises, His coming here is in judgment. Notice, "refiner, and purifier". Notice the persons dealt with, sorcerers, adulterers, false swearers, oppressors of the hireling and the widow and the fatherless. Awaits a future fulfilment.
Diluted His Lawful Demands… no tithes: Chapter 3:7-12. Return unto Me. Sadly, many today are content with a return to Conservatism, Denominationalism, Brethrenism or Traditionalism. All of these are a step short. The Divine appeal is unto Me. Not only did they offer the blind, the lame, and the sick. There was also a great deficiency in their tithing obligations. A “tithe” a tenth was the minimum demands of the law, with the Levites/Singers also getting their portion over and above that!
Despised His Righteous Character… no service: Chapter 3:13-4:6. Vain to serve the Lord. There was still a remnant that feared the Lord, and as in Ezekiel (9:4), the Lord has taken note. A discerning between those that serve the Lord, and those that serve Him not. Notice in chapter 4 the references to the “Day”. This is the period of the “Day of the Lord” and the unfolding of the prophetic programme. The verses certainly describe a day of coming judgment, with a promise for those that fear God’s name. The call to remember the Law of Moses is a clear reference to the Word of God in every aspect. With reference to Elijah, the reader is asked to consider if this has been partially fulfilled in John the Baptist, or is awaiting a future fulfilment? Certainly the language of Gabriel to Zacharias (Luke 1:16-17) and the words of the Lord Jesus to His disciples after the transfiguration (Matt 17:10-13) make it clear that John the Baptist answers to this prophecy with regards to the Lord’s first advent.