Message from Malachi
A Prophetic Warning to the Church
The Sovereign Love of the Lord
“I have loved you,” says the Lord.
I find it hard to wrap my mind around the fact the Jews, who had been redeemed from 70 years of captivity and miraculously restored to their own land, could doubt the love of God. It makes no sense to me.
It’s like you and I being freed from a death sentence for a crime we willingly committed and then having the arrogance, the ungratefulness to question the motives of the one who took our place on death row. How can that be?
But that’s exactly how the Jews in Malachi’s day, and the church today, treat the love of God all the time. We want Him to continually prove His love for us by giving us more stuff or by spoiling us more or by caving to our every selfish whim. “Come on God, if You really loved me You would do this or give me that or change this situation.” Really? But when our own children, whom we do love dearly, come to us with the same demands, we call them selfish, immature, and get miffed at them for only seeing our love as a means to their own ends.
What’s that old saying about, “If the shoe fits…?”
The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi.
Malachi has been given a burden from God to share with the people. It’s heavy, like a weight, and he thinks about it all the time. He has a mission, a divine calling, a purpose in this life that makes everything else seem worthless.
The word for burden means “a load, something to bear, to lift, to carry.” And that’s exactly what Malachi does with the Word, the burden, he has received from the Lord. It’s like the Lord told Malachi, “I want to burden you with what I am about to give you. I am going to lay a heavy weight on your shoulders, a load, that you will have to carry for Me to others. Are you ready for this?”
Obviously Malachi was ready to bear the weight of the burden that God had entrusted to him and to deliver His message. I pray He would trust more of us to do the same with His Word today.
Malachi did not begin, like many preachers today, by saying, “I’ve been thinking today, and I would like to share with you some of my thoughts.” No, this wasn’t his message— it was the Lord’s. Instead Malachi proclaimed, “This is the weight, the burden of the Word of the Lord that I’m about to obediently give to you.” Again, I pray the Lord will rise up an army of Godly men today, like Malachi, who will also boldly proclaim from their pulpits: “Thus sayeth the Lord.”
But as we all know, any message of divine judgment, repentance, sacrifice, or the consequences of sin are out of vogue in the Laodicean church age we live in. It seems the accepted, popular messages today are all about us:
How to Have Your Best Life Now!
How to Get Your Blessings From God
How to Get Rich and Love Jesus at the Same Time
Or maybe, How to Grieve the Lord and Bring Judgment Down on Your Heads
All of Israel
If you will notice, the message from God to Malachi was to be given to Israel. Note, that’s not the supposed ten “lost tribes” of the Northern Kingdom or the two tribes of the Southern Kingdom. It’s not divided Israel, but all of Israel. Unified Israel.
After the death of Solomon and the division of the empire, the Northern Kingdom, made up of ten tribes, were collectively referred to as Israel. The Southern Kingdom, made up of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, were collectively called Judah. Now that has changed. Malachi’s message was to the whole house of Israel, both Northern and Southern, all twelve tribes.
God: “I have loved you”
“I have loved you,” says the Lord.
“Yet you say, ‘In what way have You loved us?’
Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” says the Lord.
“Yet Jacob I have loved; but Esau I have hated.”
And what was God’s message to all of Israel? He loved them. How they didn’t see His love is beyond imagination.
But in Malachi’s usual style of writing, the give and take, question and answer, statement and response format, he immediately addresses their doubts about God and His love, the Jews were harboring.
Statement: “I have loved you,” says the Lord.
Question: Yet you say, “In what way have You loved us?”
Answer: “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” says the Lord. “Yet Jacob I have loved; but Esau I have hated” (Mal. 1:2).
Israel was looking at their current situation, what they have and didn’t have— money in the bank, the report from their Oncologist, the number of cars in their garage— and was judging God’s love for them on the basis of their circumstances, the temporary, meaningless things of life. I mean, how shortsighted is that?
But we do that all the time.
“God, if You loved me, You would let me get this job.”
“God, if You loved me, You would let her say yes!”
“God, if You loved me, You would allow me to buy that, wear that, drive that, watch that, eat that, think that, have that, and on and on.”
In essence, “God, if You loved me, You would allow me to be You and You be me. Because I think I can do a better job at being You to me than You are.”
And God doesn’t show His love for us by giving us things we want but may not need. God doesn’t have to earn or buy our love with things. He has already done enough.
Remember what God told Paul when he asked the Lord, three times, to take some “thorn in the flesh” away from him? God said, “No.” And His reason? “My grace is sufficient for you” (1 Cor. 12:9). In other words, what you have is already enough. Salvation. Eternal life. The promises of Scripture. The Holy Spirit. Communion with God.
Does it get any better that this?
So God’s answer to the Jews was simply this: My sovereign election in choosing you to be My people shows, beyond anything else, that I love you. It is the greatest of all acts of divine love.
The example He used to illustrate His love was the story of Jacob and Esau, and it is, by the way, the same passage quoted by Paul in Romans 9. In that section of Romans, Paul is demonstrating that Israel has not been cast aside but that God has chosen them in the past, and they are still His chosen, even though they are currently rejecting their Messiah. Paul shows that God demonstrated His love for them by His sovereign choice of them and that any other demonstration of love is built on that original choice. It’s God’s grace in motion, the foundation for all God has and is doing for His people.
And God uses Jacob and Esau, quoted from Malachi and not from Genesis, as support for His love. Consider the words of Paul:
And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated” (Rom. 9:10-13).
Note the following , Rebecca had two children in her womb and God, before the children had proven themselves worthy of God’s choice in them, chose Jacob and did not choose Esau. And the text says that God’s choice was “that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls” (Rom. 9:11). In other words, God chose to love Jacob and not love Esau simply because He wanted to display His right of sovereign choice or election in bestowing His love and favor on those He wills and not based on their good or bad deeds or inherent worth. God is just exercising His rights to be God.
God chose Jacob because He loved Jacob. And He loved Jacob not because Jacob was more worthy or lovable than Esau, but simply because God is God and He can do what He pleases (Psalm 115:3).
But God, That’s Not Fair!
Our fallen sense of morality and fairness screams out saying, “That’s not fair!” It’s not right to choose one and not choose the other. That will make Esau feel bad and erode his sense of self-worth. Everyone should be equal and everyone should get a chance to be chosen. In fact, it’s wrong for God to choose to love Jacob and not Esau. He’s being impartial, judgmental and what He’s doing is hurtful and wrong.”
So Paul addresses that very question.
“Is there unrighteousness with God?” we ask. “Certainly not!” (Rom. 9:14).
Paul then goes on to give two examples to show the carnality of our human wisdom and sentiment. One example is God’s words to Moses that basically say, “Look, I am God and I will choose whom I want. I will show mercy to whom I choose and compassion on whom I choose. It’s not up to you, mere mortal, to tell Me how to be God.”
From Romans 9:15-18:
For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.”
Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.
And then, when faced with the consequences of God’s sovereign will, we struggle and stumble and try to impute to God the sin of Pharaoh and hold Him accountable for another’s actions.
“But God,” we cry out, “if it was You who hardened Pharaoh’s heart and made him do all the terrible things he did, why did You punish him? That’s not fair. It wasn’t his fault. It was Your fault for making him do what he did.”
And God responds to our question, actually our unfounded accusation, like this: “I’m not going to answer you. I will not even entertain your question since you are accusing Me of being something less than God, and even something less than you. And, by the way, who are you to even ask Me, the Lord, to justify My actions to you? Remember who the Creator is and remember that you are just dust.”
Romans 9:19-21 reads:
You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?”
But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?
Note: If you haven’t grasped the love of God in His choice of you by now, you need to spend some time reading these passages again and pray the Lord shows you who you are… and Who He really is.
But for the rest of us, we’re going back to Malachi.
God’s Love: Past, Present and Future
After presenting His very choice of Israel as His own possession (Deut. 7:6) as sufficient evidence for them to know of His love, He then graciously goes one step further and gives them additional evidence of His love to them. He shows them His love revealed to them in the past, present and future.
Past – God chose them “from the foundation of the earth” to be His children, just like He also chose each of us who have placed our faith in His Son (Eph. 1:4-5).
Present – At the time of Malachi’s writing the descendants of Esau (Edom) were wicked people and the enemy of both God and Israel. While God brought back the descendants of Jacob (Israel) and was blessing their efforts to rebuild their lives, He was not doing the same for the descendants of Esau (Edom). In fact, His hand of judgment was still heavy on them for their refusal to submit to His lordship.
But Esau I have hated, (how much) and laid waste his mountains and his heritage for the jackals of the wilderness. Even though Edom has said, “We have been impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places,” Thus says the Lord of hosts: “They may build, but I will throw down; they shall be called the Territory of Wickedness, and the people against whom the Lord will have indignation forever.”
God was showing His love for the descendants of Jacob and His hatred for the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, by not allowing Edom to prosper. In fact, they were refusing to recognize the hand of God on them to the point that He was frustrating their efforts to rebuild and become something noteworthy outside of God’s help or sovereign will. God was taking away their hope— and for me, a place of no hope is a perfect description of Hell.
Future – But the day is coming, God is telling Israel, that you will see all the promises I have for you and the blessings I want to give you. It’s almost like the final doxology at the close of chapter three in Ephesians:
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen (Eph. 3:20-21).
All of God’s promises are true and His love for Jacob, for Israel, is shown in His faithful fulfillment of those promises. Yes, times may be rough right now. And yes, you may not understand all that is happening to you. But look up, for the Messiah is coming and “your redemption draws near.” (Luke 21:28).
“Your eyes shall see, and you shall say,
‘The Lord is magnified beyond the border of Israel.'”
Come, Lord Jesus.
Message from Malachi
A Prophetic Warning to the Church
It Was the Best of Times, it Was the Worst of Times
The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi.
We are about to undertake a study of the last book of the Old Testament, the last of the Post-Exile prophets, Malachi. This small, four chapter book holds a unique place in the Scriptures because it stands at the end, the last call if you will, of the Old Testament and also at the beginning, as an introduction, to the 400 year period where God was silent and closed the door on any future revelation to His people. The 400 years of silence, as it is known, began with this two verse warning at the end of the Old Testament: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6) and ended with the coming of John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Some people believe Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets, like Daniel or Ezekiel or Isaiah or Jeremiah. But that’s not exactly true. Jesus Himself stated that John the Baptist, the greatest man who ever lived (Matt. 11:11), was the last of the Old Testament prophets (Matt. 11:13, Luke 16:16). But we will take a deeper look into all of that, and its implications for us today, at a later date.
For now, we’ll stay focused on Malachi.
The Name: Malachi
The name Malachi, in the Hebrew, means “my messenger.” Malachi came as a messenger from the Lord. Some believe Malachi was the personal name of the prophet, like Bruce or Frank or Tom, while others feel it may be a title of some sort, maybe of Ezra the scribe, or of someone else. The weight of Biblical evidence, however, points to the fact that Malachi was the personal name of a prophet of God who spoke forcefully, almost brutally, to the sins of his day and to the sins of ours. Rest assured, there’s much in Malachi to challenge and rebuke and offend the church and the clergy today. It’s a most timely book that needs to be preached from pulpits all across our land but, unfortunately for the church, seldom is. As we dig deeper into his message, you’ll understand why this book has fallen out of favor in the Laodicean church of today (Rev. 3:16).
Not much is known about the personal life of Malachi other than what is revealed in his prophetic words, which isn’t much. Tradition tells us he was from the tribe of Zebulon and he most likely died young. After reading his words, I think you’ll agree we could learn much from Malachi, the man, in regards to his passion and boldness and especially his love for the Lord.
The Background: Malachi
Malachi ministered during the fifth century B.C., about a hundred years after Cyrus had, in 538 B.C., issued his decree allowing the Jews to return from the Exile to their own land.
Yes, you read right. Yawn.
I know, at this point, many of you will begin to glaze over as we did during High School history class. Why? Because history is boring and we, in the church today, have been constantly force fed from infancy a steady diet of lights and sounds and pulsating music and drama and dance all designed to keep us excited and entertained, but not necessarily instructed or matured in the Word. Look around at the church today— it shows.
Plus, most of us are not students of the Old Testament and especially of Old Testament history. We could pretty much care less about Cyrus and his decree and some exile from somewhere for a bunch of people whose names we can’t pronounce nor care to even try.
“Just keep telling us about Jesus and showing us the flannel graph cut-outs of the Bible stories and we’ll be just fine.”
Actually, you won’t. But that’s a conclusion you’ll have to come up with on your own.
Dates and Such
Anyway, to bring us up to date, all the prophets of the Old Testament fall into three basic categories: Pre-exile, or those before the exile or captivity (e.g., Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah); Exile, or those who wrote their prophecy during the 70 years of captivity (e.g., Daniel, Ezekiel); and Post-Exile, or those who wrote after their return from captivity into their own land (e.g., Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi). As you can see, Malachi belongs to this last group. In fact, he was the last of the last group.
Let me give you some dates to help put all of this in perspective.
In 605 B.C., some Jews were taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon. This would include, for example, Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego. This is known as the First Deportation.
In 597 B.C., ten thousand more Jews were carried away, including Jehoiachin the King of Judah and Ezekiel the prophet (2 Kings 24:1-6) in what is known as the Second Deportation.
In 586 B.C., the Third Deportation took place where Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city of Jerusalem and took all the remaining citizens, including King Zedekiah (2 Kings 25) into captivity.
This captivity was to last seventy years.
In 538 B.C., the Babylonian captivity came to an end when Cyrus, the king of Persia, conquered Babylon and issued his decree permitting the Jews to return to their land. This ushered in a new phase in the history of the Jewish people.
As the deportation took place in different phases, so did their return.
In 536 B.C., a remnant of 50,000 Jews returned under the leadership of Zerubbabel, grandson of King Jehoiachin (Ezra 1:5-2:70, Neh. 12) to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem and re-establish the system of sacrificial worship. This was known as the First Return.
In 458 B.C., the Second Return took place, led by Ezra the priest.
Thirteen years later, in 445 B.C., Nehemiah led still another group back to the land. Nehemiah was then appointed governor of the Jewish nation by King Artaxerxes of Persia. Under Nehemiah’s leadership the walls of Jerusalem were built and a spiritual renewal or revival took place. But between 432-425 B.C., Nehemiah was called back to Persia and Jerusalem was left without their governor. It was during this time that Malachi came onto the scene.
The Spiritual Temperature
You would think, after 70 years of captivity, the Jews in Malachi’s day would have remembered God’s chastisement and not fall back into the same old sins that brought about their exile in the first place. But that’s not what took place.
It seems the famous quote by George Santayana was as true then as it is today: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
The Temple was rebuilt and the people could freely worship the Lord, yet they had fallen out of love with Him and slowly drifted back into stale formalism, religion by rote, much like the church at Ephesus.
“Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Rev. 2:4).
Their passion had grown stale as they became increasingly comfortable with just “doing” their religious thing one day a week and offering a pittance of their life to Him, rather than enjoying the love of God in a vibrant, living relationship. Sound familiar?
They had grown insensitive, almost callous, to the love of God lavished upon them and, therefore, had grown cold, selfish, and egocentric in their response to that love. In fact, they now even doubted God loved them, or had ever loved them, in the past.
Additionally, they had become numb, almost anesthetized to the truth, and had lost their ability to recognize the enormity of their own sin and just how far they had drifted from His Word. It was a classic case of the “frog in the kettle” syndrome.
And, most of all, they no longer had any reverence for God. The sacred was now secular and the “chief end of man” was their own happiness and selfish pursuits.
How could this have happened to them? How could they have fallen so far? And how have we allowed this to happen to us?
For them, the answer was simple. They had unfulfilled expectations that were based on their own faulty view of God.
When they returned from captivity and began the task of rebuilding the Temple of God they held fast to the words of Haggai as their very motivation to persevere and complete a task beyond their ability and under extreme hardship and persecution. They believed these words to be prophetic, which they were, and to be literally fulfilled in their day, in their own lifetime, which they weren’t. Haggai 2:7-9 states,
“For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘And in this place I will give peace,’ says the Lord of hosts.”
But year after year dragged on and nothing like this ever happened. The Temple they built was not as glorious as Solomon’s Temple and the “shaking of heaven and earth ‘ never took place. They understood this prophecy was to be fulfilled by the Messiah, which was true, but the Messiah never came.
And these unfulfilled expectations gave way to disillusionment, and disillusionment to anger, and anger to apathy, and apathy to sin. The people of God, especially the priests, stopped believing in the faith, the hope that had carried them through their 70 years of suffering. And now, back in their own land, they forgot and no longer needed the God who had brought them there.
We look at the book of Acts and see the vibrant, dynamic lives of the early church who were willing, at a moment’s notice, to jettison all their earthly possessions for just the hope, the slim, outside chance of being used by God (Acts 2:44-46). Then we compare what we read in Scripture to the selfish, materialistic, narcissistic, self-promoting, always “about us” attitude of the church today and we wonder what happened. We experience out own unfulfilled expectations regarding the “abundant life” Jesus promised (John 10:10). Jesus spoke of true, Spirit-filled, eternal life as “abundant” and the church then redefines “abundant life” as being a life filled with trinkets and toys to enjoy: cars, money, houses, fame. And these unfulfilled expectations gave way to disillusionment, and disillusionment to anger, and anger to apathy, and apathy to sin.
Again, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
Before we plunge into the text, can you see any parallels with the Jews in Malachi’s time and the church today?
Both have lost their fervency for God. In fact, we spend our time in corporate worship trying to artificially counterfeit a move of God simply because we’ve never seen God move in our midst and have no idea what it would look like if He did.
That’s beyond sad. It’s tragic.
So we fill our senses with loud music, aerobic worship, spandex clad dancers, rock bands, R-rated movie clips, rotating lights, Starbucks, and the like hoping to satisfy the masses with an experience, something that will “keep ’em comin’ back” — but not a move of the Holy Spirit. Whenever we “feel” something in church, whether it’s goose bumps, a tingling up our spine, happy or sad emotions, laughter or tears, we immediately attribute it to the Holy Spirit and can’t wait until we can come back and “feel” it again. And in doing so, the church creates a congregation of adrenaline junkies who pile in Sunday after Sunday to get their next fix. And if the church doesn’t deliver the high they crave, then they’re out the door to try to find something or someone that will.
A sure recipe for failure and hurt.
Malachi’s message to the Jews of his day is the same as his message would be to the church today.
One, their suffering was linked to their sins and the judgment of those sins was to begin with the house of God and with the priests (1 Peter 4:17). As we see our society crumble and implode all around us and scratch our heads and wonder what happened, it may be the unraveling of our society is the direct result of sin in the church. The sin of omission, not doing what God has called and saved us to do, and the sin of commission, the flagrant disregarding of the holiness of God, both on a personal and corporate church level.
Two, how can you say the Lord doesn’t love you, or has never loved you? The continued, unselfish and forgiving love of God was manifested to them in His very choice of the Jews as His own people, the apple of His eye (Deut. 7:6-8). Therefore, they are without excuse. For the church, the oft-debated, maligned and rejected doctrine of election also shows the depth of His divine love in His choice of those who make up His church (Eph. 1:3-6). We, for no other reason than God’s “good pleasure” (Eph. 1:5), have been chosen to be adopted as “children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). Does it get any better than this? What more could God do to show us His love that what He has already done?
Finally, Malachi tells us the Day of the Lord is coming (Mal. 3:16-4:6). Make no mistake, that Day is on the way. Therefore, understanding what the Day of the Lord means, what are we do to? How are we to act? How does this coming reality change us today?
Peter asks and answers that very question. I’ll let him take it from here.
Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, (question) what manner of persons ought you to be (answer) in holy conduct and godliness. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, (answer) be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless (2 Peter 3:11, 14).
Are you ready to explore Malachi? Then you’d better fasten your seat belt and get ready to be confronted with the Word of God from the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi.
Because a prophet of God is about to speak in our midst today.
Note: Image is from Ellsworth, R. (2007). Opening up Malachi (p. 9). Leominster: Day One Publications.
Coming Next – The Sovereign Love of God – Malachi 1:1-5