01 Introduction to Malachi

Malachi 1 v 1-5

I hope to make my reasons clear why I think it’s necessary that we hear the voice of Malachi – especially in the days in which we live in. 

The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.
2“I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob 3but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.”
4If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the LORD of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country’ and ‘the people with whom the LORD is angry forever.'”
5Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!”

Frightening words from this messenger – that’s what his name means – it means messenger. It has caused some people to say that the name Malachi is not really the name of a prophet in this prophecy, it is actually just a messenger, and they go to later on in the prophecy where he speaks ‘I will send my messenger before you’, which we know is a prophecy about John the Baptist and you’ll see that in this book, and they say the messenger he’s referring to is himself. That may have been so, but that would have made him merely a type, or at least just a picture of John the Baptist. I believe that it was his name. His name was Malachi and it means the messenger and I’m going to introduce the book to you this evening and then just open up to you some of my thoughts from the first paragraph that I’ve read to you this evening, which we will expound and listen to next Lord’s day evening. I did the same this morning with Romans that I hope will give you some traction into the book, and into your better understanding of it.

Now if we look at Malachi, I want to first of all say what I said this morning – behind me on the notice board are the six main sources. I have looked at others as well. Please don’t think I read all these books in a week okay – I didn’t. It takes a long time and I want to acknowledge these brothers who wrote these works that I found very helpful. As I said this morning, a preacher milks many cows but he churns his own butter. And I think it’s a good thing that preaches acknowledge their sources and not just present it all as their own work. And so the first one is The Minor Prophets by Thomas McComiskey – I found that the most helpful of all the commentaries. And there’s also Word Biblical Commentary on Malachi and Micah by Ralph Smith. Joyce G Baldwin’s work on Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi from the Tyndale series I found a real gem. And then this little gem by Roger Ellsworth. It’s a little work but phenomenal, and I lean on that very heavily. Then John L Mackey wrote a work on Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi – also an excellent commentary. And Pieter Verhoef – typical Dutch Insight from Pieter Verhoef – the books of Haggai and Malachi, I found that especially very helpful. So those are my sources – those are the cows I milked and I’ll begin to present to you the butter that I’ve churned for you from it.

Malachi’s prophecy is one of what we call the Minor Prophets. I don’t really believe there’s such a thing as a minor prophet in the Bible. It’s not how long your prophecy is, but how packed it is with Godly truth that determines whether it is a major or a minor prophet and I firmly believe and I think most Bible scholars will agree with me that we should rather call them the ‘briefer prophets’ than the ‘minor prophets’, because there’s nothing minor about them just because they are briefer than Ezekiel and Daniel and Jeremiah and Isaiah. They are briefer, but they are certainly not minor.

 Now Malachi’s prophecy has a unique position. It’s the last book of the Old Testament era and it begins a 400-year period in which God gave to Israel no fresh revelation – 400 years after Malachi no further revelation. When God spoke again after Malachi, it was to tell us that He was only mere months away from keeping the promise that He’d made very early in our history. That promise was to send His Son, the Messiah – our Lord Jesus Christ. And the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ both vindicated and indicted us – or the people of Israel. And the vindication is not ours – it vindicates God. It doesn’t vindicate us in any way – it vindicates God alone – it vindicates His Word. In the time between the giving of the promise and when God fulfilled it in our Lord Jesus, it had been so long that it often appeared to the people that God was not going to keep His promise. That’s what they thought, and the coming of Christ in a wonderful way proclaimed the complete and utter faithfulness of God in a way that that when you and I read it and we see how it was fulfilled, we can go back to our Bibles and read every word of what God says is going to happen in Matthew 24 and the book of Daniel and the book of Revelation and book of Thessalonians and other passages that speak about the second coming of our Lord Jesus. We can look back to see how the Lord fulfilled His promise for the first coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and that can move us to believe very firmly with the fear of God in us that God will keep His promise about the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. And you and I must get ready. As he kept his promise in the Old Testament, He will keep His promises in the New Testament. And it vindicated God and it indicted us – it indicted the people in the time of Malachi, and you and I need to know that Malachi’s prophecy is not a dead message to dead people who lived a long time ago – it’s very much alive for you and I today! And it was written so long ago, it speaks to the people of God today with a power that shows that it comes from God Himself. Malachi ministered at a time when lively, vibrant, spirit filled life and worship was very rare – it wasn’t there! Faith was rare and crippling doubt has set into the people. It was a place and a time in which people were more often than not very tired in spiritual things. They’ve become lethargic and lackadaisical and slothful about it and they were eager to embrace the easy way out and that was casual and careless, denying of the Commandments of God and disobeying them. That was the time of Malachi. And if I can set the historical time at which he gave us his letter you remember that in 534 Cyrus issued a decree that permitted the Jews who’d been taken into Babylonian captivity, for them to be freed and to return to their homeland. And so, two years later in 536 the first group of Jews returned under the leadership of Zerubbabel. They went back to the holy land. Something important happened immediately after that, and you need to pay attention to that. In 516 BC the temple in Jerusalem had been rebuilt. They rebuilt the temple. They just had a captivity behind them, and now they had rebuilt the temple, probably about 22 years later. And then in 458 BC a second group returned to the holy land under the leadership of Ezra. You can read all about it in the book of Ezra. And then a third group came 445 – that was about thirteen years later – a third group came back to the holy land under Nehemiah. What began then a year later, they started rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. They actually finished it then so they’d been building it and it finished the year after the third group at returned. They finished the completion of the rebuilding of the temple. There’s something important happened Nehemiah who was a leader among the people, just temporarily went back to Babylon for some reason. And it’s just after that – a year later during Nehemiah’s absence – Nehemiah wasn’t among the people – Malachi stood up, looked around him – saw what the people were doing and not doing and how they were doing it – and the Lord used him to speak out. And we’re going to see why he spoke out and what he spoke out to. It’s a wonderful prophecy for us today – a very wonderful one. There are things that between that time and our own that we have in common and it’s easy enough to see, if we care to look. As the people of that generation were called to live on the basis of the word of God by Malachi without miraculous confirmations of the truth of that word, so we are called to the same. We are called to obey God’s Word and His Commandments and to always walk in His light. And when the enemy strikes you down, here’s what you need to do – and you need to hear me when I say: you need to get back up on your feet, stand up straight with your shoulders back, get your eyes on Christ, and go for the finish line. That’s what you do when you’re struck down, and that’s what Malachi called these people to – not the cynicism that they had lapsed into, that I will point out to you in a moment. As they awaited the promise of the Messiah’s first coming, so we await the promise of the Lord’s second coming and we mustn’t make the same mistake they made. They got lethargic. They got tired. They started doubting God’s Word and His Love and everything. I’ll point it out to you in a moment, and they got cold. They still went to the temple. They weren’t into idolatry. The people in Malachi’s day did not start living immoral lives and started worshipping Idols. They didn’t do that. They went to the temple to worship like we come to church every Lord’s day. They were faithful in that, but they were always muttering: “I don’t know why the Lord is putting us through this. I don’t know why my crops failed. Where is the Lord when you need Him?” – That kind of thing – does it sound familiar? That’s what they’d lapsed into, and I see a similar tendency in our day and age. The Lord has tarried so long 2020 years now and we’re waiting. We know He’s going to come, but we too run the risk of becoming like the people of Malachi’s day, to say to ourselves: ‘Where is the promise of His coming?’ In fact, the Lord warns us in His Word not only that we have run the risk of doing that – He warns us up front: ‘You will do it! You will say it!’ And that’s the problem of the people of Malachi’s day – their faith often flickered and their performance often faltered – and so do ours! But we don’t have to be like the people of Malachi’s time. He called his people to faith in the God who had so often proved Himself faithful to them and would do so again. You and I can stand up and hear that call and live in the faith for which He called us.

 Now let me give you some background and a little bit of a summary of his prophecy just to set our moorings. I told you earlier on when we hear the name Malachi many of us think of the last book of the Old Testament, which it is – and that’s useful information to memorize the books. But few of us realize that Malachi has a message that is of critical importance for the church today. We see that in the ministry of Malachi. We know that when you look at the prophets in the Old Testament, they fall into three categories. I don’t know how many of you knew that. I know scholars among us – Richard, Niel and Johan and others who study the Word as Elders and so on and as scholars and preachers – they would know, but I don’t know how many of you knew that there are three categories of prophets. We call them the pre-exilic prophets – those before the exile. They’re those who have prophesied before the two exiles – to Assyria and to Babylonia. That’s Isaiah, Micah and Jeremiah. Then there are the prophets who prophesied during the exile to Babylon. And you know well about Daniel and Ezekiel. They prophesied during the exile. And then there are what we call the post-exilic prophets – those who prophesied after the return of the people, after Cyrus’s decree and Malachi is one of those post-exilic profits. I’ve told you what happened and how the exile came about. Now the Babylonian captivity came to an abrupt end when Babylon was conquered by Persia and that’s when Cyrus the king issued a decree that sent them back in about 538 BC. But just as the people of God, the Jews went into captivity at different times, so they returned and I showed to you the various returns and the two major accomplishments of this group of very special people – these people who returned from captivity. I’ve mentioned to you they rebuilt the temple and they restored the sacrificial system, and they rebuilt the walls too. And it’s in that time when Nehemiah had gone back to Babylon – we don’t know why – that Malachi prophesied.

 Now, there was the temple – there were the sacrifices taking place. The walls have been rebuilt. Many good things had been achieved in the long and torturous task of rebuilding the temple and the nation and the sacrificial system and the walls, but even though good things had happened, it was not a good time spiritually for the people in Malachi’s time. One scholar describes it as follows:
“A spirit of dull depression had settled over the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Scepticism and spiritual indifference held the people in their grasp. The flood of scepticism abroad in the land affected both the people and their religious leaders and religion became largely a matter of ritual and habit. Apathy” – and listen to this – “stinginess toward God prevailed.” That was the time of Malachi. Now how did they get into a state like that after they saw the mighty works of God? The two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah had promised that the temple would indeed be much more glorious than Solomon’s – Haggai tells us that. And the people thought when he said that that the only way for that to happen would be for the Messiah Himself to come and make the temple glorious by His presence – that’s what they thought. But then the years passed by and the people haven’t seen anything that looked like a fulfilment of the Prophecies of Zechariah and Haggai. Another scholar tells us what happened. And I quote: “The temple had been completed but nothing momentous had occurred to indicate that God’s presence had returned to fill it with glory.” That’s what was going on. And so consequently, in the words of another scholar again: “The round of religious duties continued to be carried out but without enthusiasm.” Does that sound familiar? Just about the only thing in many places that you can get out of evangelicals is not enthusiasm, but that little thing that everybody seems to like so much these days we call it excitement. Unless it’s exciting, I won’t go – and that was the people in the Nehemiah’s day. “They were without enthusiasm.” says the scholar. These people were called upon to live upon the bear word of God until He would move again mightily in their midst, personally and up close, but they were finding it to be very difficult to wait. They wanted to see manifestations of God’s power, and when the Lord didn’t show them that they became very weary of performing their spiritual duties. Now when we read about just the way in which they did that I must tell you that the book of Malachi is a shocker when you read it. To see what people can get up to when they start doing certain things and they stopped doing certain things they were supposed to do. It’s a surprise to us to see the nation of Israel in such a terrible state after the Babylonian captivity – after what they just experienced, and I sometimes wonder – you and I – we’ve been on our knees pleading God: “Lord, take away the pandemic! Our people are dying! There are those with comorbidities! Our economy is floundering! Our people are dying of depression and alcoholism and addiction to all kinds of things! Marriages are breaking up! Families are splitting apart! Lord Deliver us!” And I wonder in myself if He were to hear us and grant us that as he granted it to the people who were in captivity – how long will it take us to forget that deliverance? And that is the danger that I want to warn you against also in this series. I believe I speak for all my Elder brothers because I don’t just speak about me. I believe the Elders agree with me: We will always remind you what God has done when God has done a good thing. And already I remind you that what the Lord just did for us as a congregation during this pandemic was nothing short of a very special blessing in every sphere of our existence. You dare not forget that and become lackadaisical in your worship and do what the people in Malachi’s day did. There was a substantial period of time before they began to rebuild that Temple – almost a hundred years – a century after that. The people of Malachi’s generations were showing signs that they were forgetting and they began to disregard their special covenant relationship with God we see in chapter 1:1-5 as both priests and people just plunged into sinful behaviour. They kept the various observances – the priests and people quite obviously didn’t have their hearts in what they were doing. The priests went and brought defiled offerings and sacrifices to God and they complained about how tiresome the ministry was. I’ve heard some pastors: “The Ministry – it never ends you know…” If you can’t take it, get another job! You knew before the time – we told you at Seminary what it was going to be like! We told you that the flock is frail, that the flock is afraid, that the flock is confused, that the flock is tempted, that the flock can rise and fall and go astray! You knew that, my brother. So weep before God when you’re alone, but don’t be like the priests in Malachi’s day who whined like little babies! They sound like those SJWs in the United States of America – cry about everything! That’s how the priests got. The day you see me getting like that you’d better make sure that you find yourself another Pastor. I want to thank you for praying for me, because I feel stronger than ever. Thank you for praying for me. But that’s what the priest did. And meanwhile the people thought nothing about disregarding God’s laws regarding marriage or about withholding their tithes or about defaming the Lord’s Name or about doubting His love – they thought nothing about it. And they looked upon service to God as a vain and a meaningless and empty waste of time. And they lost their faith in the coming of their Messiah. And you and I know what a mistake that was. And so God’s answer to the condition of the people was to send Malachi His Messenger to get into a dialogue with the people. And there are at least seven dialogues in which God makes an accusation. Then the people raised an objection to God’s accusation and God refutes the objection. And I’m going to give you an example a little bit later on if you will pardon me going a little bit over my time. We need to do this.

 You know, what’s interesting about Malachi – he speaks to the people in the first person. And the one scholar says about that: “A vivid encounter between God and the people – unsurpassed in the prophetic books.” He speaks to them in the first person, like He’s speaking to you! Using the dialogue method – God does that. Malachi confronts the priests and the people with the sins that they were committing and he tells them that the promised Messiah was indeed coming and they must get ready. But he warns that the Lord’s coming will not be a happy event for sinful people, as His Second Coming won’t be a happy event for sinful people.

 So we need to ask ourselves: Is Malachi’s message for us today? Of course it is! All we’ve already seen suggests to us that Malachi is a very suited topic of study – not only for those who have a morbid interest in ancient history. A prophet preaching to people who lived 2400 years ago we may say has no value for you and I now. It does! Malachi’s message is dated, but it’s not outdated. Many things have changed, but many things have not since that day – you know that! We know the very same God as Malachi and the people of faith in his day. We’ve been redeemed by the same Grace as they – by the blood of the Lamb and we struggle with the same problems that they struggled with. And we have to say that if we ignore Malachi we do so at our own peril. We need to hear and never waver in our faith, never offer half-hearted and begrudged devotion to the Lord, and we dare never ignore His Commandments. Malachi will find us out and help us out. Malachi will show us what’s going wrong in our hearts and he’ll tell us how to fix it. That’s what he’s going to do. He will tell us if we are sick and prescribe good medicine for us like a physician of the soul. And he does that – as I come to a close – just give you a brief outline of the book as we will be following it with several messages.

 There are four things – four kinds of sins that the people in Malachi’s time were guilty of and as I point them out to you, that will reveal something of the structure of the book to you too. The first thing they did – in the first five verses – they doubted God’s love. They doubted His love – they were cynical about His love chapter 1:1-5. The second thing they did from chapter 1:6-14: They despised God’s Name. That was the second cluster of sins – they did it in various ways as you’ll see – also with doubting God’s love. The third thing they did: They defiled God’s covenant – chapter 2:1-17. And the last cluster of sins: They disobeyed God’s Word – chapter 3:1-15. And then in chapter 4 we hear about the great Day of the Lord.
 But these are the things that the people did: they doubted God’s love, they despised His Name, they defiled His Covenant and they disobeyed His Word. And so we get these wake-up calls from the prophet Malachi. And we’re going to look next week then as we begin to dip into it how they doubted God’s love. That’s the first thing that we will see. And in closing, I want to just point out to you what I do see in those first five verses – what we see. We see God stating His love.

  1. God’s love stated
    “I have loved you says the Lord”. That’s God speaking – “I’ve loved you.” “How have You loved us?” they respond. That is:
  2. God’s love doubted
    We see God’s love declared first of all, “I love you” says the Lord. “I have loved you”, and just like the people of Malachi’s day, you know what always stands out in our lives? The bad things that happen to us. We don’t seem to remember the good things that happen to us so we’ll. Have you noticed that? How many of you have noticed that? When people talk and they talk about times, they always remember the bad things that happen. Those are the kind of mileposts in their life’s journey – all the bad things that happen. But God can stand up and say these words: “I have loved you” and we can become like those people who remember all the bad things and say “how have You loved us? I lost my job during the pandemic! How do you love me?” You lost the job that God gave you in the first place for which you didn’t say thank you – not all of you. But remember the job you lost was the one that God gave you. That was when God loved you. You know what? He’ll love you again. He’ll never stop loving you. And so, unlike the people of Malachi’s day, we must never doubt His love.

  3. God’s love defended
    …in a way that’s caused much controversy. Listen to the Lord’s defence of His love. He declares it – it’s doubted – then He defends it: “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” says the Lord. “Yet, I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated.” These words are quoted by the Apostle Paul when he speaks about God’s elective love. “Yet, I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste Esau whom I have hated. I’ve laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” That’s what happens to people whom God does not elect in love. “If Edom says we are shattered, but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of hosts says “they may build, I will tear it down.” – God speaking – “and they will be called the wicked country and the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.” Let every nation on this planet listen to these words! Let every nation who propounds ideologies that are in total and blatant contradiction of the mind and the heart of God Himself – let all their leaders – let all their priests – all their people pay attention! You do not want God to make you a nation with whom He will be angry forever, sir! It’s not a good place to be. Amen!? That’s how He loved us. “Your own eye shall see this” the Lord says. You’ll see this – you just put your spectacles on – you wait and get your iPhone out and get the camera ready, because you’re going to see this with your own eyes and you will say: “Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!” It’s a fearful thing to fall in the hands of the loving God. It’s an even more fearful thing to never have been there. Malachi cautions us: God is the Almighty, He is not our matey. Amen!? We will never doubt His love. Malachi will teach us how. We will not despise His Name. Doesn’t His Name have a wonderful sound to it? Lord God. Lord, Jesus Christ. Such a sound to it! How can anyone despise that Name?!

With Malachi’s help we’ll steer clear of defiling our Father’s Covenant with us. He speaks these heart-rending words. He says “If I am a Father, where is My honour?” We will not defile His Covenant – with Malachi’s help, we won’t and we will not disobey His Word.
 Please read through the prophecy of Malachi in this coming week as you prepare your hearts. It’s a short four chapters. You can read it in about probably about 10 to 15 minutes if you are a slow reader. You can read the entire prophecy – read it over and over and make your notes in this coming week and let’s come together in weeks to come if the Lord tarries – which He may not – as we come together to learn from Malachi how not to be like the people and the priests in his day.