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