Malachi was another of those prophets sent of God to speak in his name, as his voice, to the children of Israel after they returned from the long years of Babylonian captivity. The rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem was complete, the sacrifices had resumed, and the ordinances of divine worship had, to all outward appearance, been restored.
But things were not as they seemed on the surface. Malachi spoke for God in that period following the days of Haggai and Zechariah. It was an era that corresponded in many ways with the day in which we live. Among those who wore the name of the Lord and professed to be his people, men and women who were actively involved in religion, there was a terrible coldness and indifference toward the Lord God. Unbelief was evident. The Word of God was read in his house with regularity. The form of religion was maintained. But no one, neither the priests nor the people, seemed to believe God. They maintained a form of religion, but denied the power of God (2 Tim. 3:5). Religion with these people was nothing but a ritual, an outward exercise. And the way they performed their religious duties demonstrated that they were a people who drew near to the Lord with their lips, but their hearts were far from him. In Malachi’s day, as in the religious world today, for the most part the people who professed to be worshippers of God were “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God, having a form of godliness, but denying the power of it” (2 Tim. 3:4-5).
Malachi was just the man for the hour. He steps in at just the right time as God’s messenger. In fact, that is what his name means; and that is what he was ― God’s messenger. We know nothing else about him. He was a man sent of God with God’s message for his people in his day.
The book of Malachi is unique in three specific ways. First, Malachi brings the Old Testament to a conclusion. His was God’s last word to his people for four hundred years. For more than four hundred years the heavens would be silent until John the Baptist appeared as the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “prepare ye the way of the Lord.” God’s last word in the Old Testament was a call to repentance; and his first word in the New Testament was the same. ― “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Second, unlike other prophets, Malachi’s message was delivered as a dialogue. Malachi was not like the dialogue preachers of our day. His dialogue was not a dialogue between himself and those who heard him. God’s prophets are never sent to carry on a dialogue with men. They are sent to deliver a message from God to men. Malachi simply presents his message in the powerful, authoritative form of a dialogue. He asked a series of questions, and he answered them. Twelve times in the first three chapters of his prophecy, he says, “Ye say,” and shows how that what the people said was in direct contrast with what God says in his Word.
The third unique quality of this prophecy is the fact that almost the entire prophecy is written as the direct word of God. Gareth Crossley points out, “Of the fifty-five verses in this book, forty-seven are spoken by God ― the highest portion of all the prophets.”
Malachi’s prophecy begins with a declaration of God’s distinguishing love and grace to his elect, as it is set forth in the scriptures (Mal. 1:1-5). Yes, God’s love is special, distinct, distinguishing love. He loves his elect, his Jacob. Everything he does is for his elect, for their eternal salvation and everlasting good. Esau exists only because of God’s love for Jacob. The reprobate exist only to serve God’s purpose of grace toward his elect. That is exactly the meaning the Holy Spirit gives to this passage in Romans 9:11-26. Let every redeemed sinner ever remember that we owe everything we have and shall have in Christ to God’s distinguishing mercy, love, and grace bestowed upon us in Christ from eternity (Jer. 31:3; Rom. 9:15-18; 1 Cor. 4:7).
The prophecy of Malachi was given shortly after the time of Nehemiah. Read the book of Nehemiah and you will find the setting of this prophecy and this threefold description of the corruption in Israel:
1. The priesthood was defiled (Neh. 13:7-9, 29; Mal. 3:8).
2. The children of Israel had formed an idolatrous alliance with the heathen nations around them (Neh. 13:23-27; Mal. 2:10-16), which resulted in mixed marriages, a mixed language, and a disregard for God’s law.
3. The support of the house of God was neglected (Neh. 13:10-12; Mal. 3:10).
The Levites who served in the house of God were not given their inheritance in Israel as God required. These men and their families were to be supported by the offerings and tithes of the people, so that they could give themselves to the service of the house of God. But they were working in the fields to provide for themselves, and the service of God’s house was neglected.
“Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (1 Cor 9:14). One of the great reasons why those who preach the gospel are to live by the gospel, being supported in their livelihood by the generosity of God’s people, is that the Word of God and the preaching of the gospel be not neglected. When those who are responsible for the ministry of the gospel neglect prayer and study, those to whom they preach suffer.
It was at this time in these deplorable conditions that God raised up Malachi. He was not a tea-sipping socializer. Malachi was a prophet, God’s messenger. Everyone thought the prophet was old-fashioned, out-of-step with the times, and a troublemaker. And they were right. Prophets are always old-fashioned, out-of-step with the times, and troublemakers for those who despise God and his Word. But the faithful servant of God, like Malachi, cannot be silenced. He will, like Malachi, stick his finger directly in the middle of the sore spot in the hearts of men and press hard, forcing those who hear him to know their sin.
Perhaps the saddest part of the story of Malachi is that the people were not aware of their awful condition. They were insulted by Malachi’s message. This is demonstrated by seven points of dialogue between the Lord God and those who claimed to be his people.
1. “Wherein hast thou loved us?” (1:2)
Israel’s insolence in asking this question is shocking, until we are forced to acknowledge that we who are the objects of God’s great love often think of our God’s love with the same insolence (Ps. 73:2-3, 13-14). Sometimes we are so blind that we fail to see the tokens of God’s amazing grace and special love for us.
“I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. Whereas Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith the LORD of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever. And your eyes shall see, and ye shall say, The LORD will be magnified from the border of Israel” (Mal. 1:2-5).
Oh, what a great lover our God is to us! The Lord God has, throughout history, protected, cared for, and provided for us, destroying our enemies on ever side, because he is determined to magnify himself from upon the border of Israel, and determined to make us see and know his glory in saving us.
2. “Wherein have we despised thy name?” (1:6)
Next, the Lord reminded Israel that a son honors his father and a servant honors his master, but they had no fear of him in their hearts. Is that not the case with many today? Is it true of you? ― Of me? Let’s be honest. We profess that we belong to Christ, that we believe God, but where is his honor?
As I read Malachi 1:7-14, I blush with shame. How often I offer to God my Savior that which is polluted, and lame, and sick, and worthless! David said, “I will not sacrifice to the Lord that which doth cost me nothing.” But we have polluted our God by our demonstrative irreverence and indifference toward him. Have we not? Does that sting? Perhaps you ask, “Wherein have we polluted thee?” That is exactly what these people did. Look at verse 7. ― “Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the LORD is contemptible.”
3. “Wherein have we polluted thee?”
They offered animals that were lame and sick and blind for sacrifice. They offered the most contemptible things to God and called it sacrificing, worshipping, and honoring God! No earthly ruler would tolerate such action. Men would not even treat their employer like Israel treated God, like we treat him. How often I offer to God my Savior that which is polluted, and lame, and sick, and worthless! How much better he deserves than I give! I’m tired of giving God my leftovers! Aren’t you? I know this ― He’s tired of it; and he refuses to accept such “sacrifices!” May he graciously teach us to give him our best, the best of our time, the best of our labor, the best of our talents, and the best of our gifts. Let us determine with David, “I will not sacrifice to the Lord that which doth cost me nothing.” I say with Malachi (1:9), “I pray you, beseech God that he may be gracious unto us.”
Now, read chapter 2, verse 17. ― “Ye have wearied the LORD with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?”
4. “Wherein have we wearied him?”
Note the context of this question. The priests, who were supposed to keep knowledge, seek the word of God at his mouth, and serve as messengers of the Lord of hosts, departed out of the way, caused the people to stumble at God’s law, corrupted his covenant, and led the people to deal treacherously with the Lord (vv. 7-11).
Remember, Malachi was a prophet, God’s messenger. He did not speak in vague terms that might be interpreted in any way men might choose. There was no misunderstanding this man. He specifically identifies the evil into which Israel’s religious leaders led them.
First, the priests led the people to profane God’s holiness, that he loves, by wedding themselves to the daughters of strange gods (v. 11). They profaned God’s altar, the place where his holiness was displayed in the sacrifices he required. By wedding themselves to the daughters of strange gods, they said, “The satisfaction of justice is not really necessary. Christ’s substitutionary atonement is not the only way sinners can come to God. Grace is good; but grace is not essential. As long as you are sincere, come to God any way you want to, and he will receive you.” The priests led the people in the way of Cain, ran greedily after the error of Balaam, and the gainsaying of Korah.
Second, the worship of God had become noting more than superstitious froth, sentimentalism, and emotionalism. ― “And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand” (v. 13).
Malachi’s third charge proved that these people were mere hypocrites, pretending to worship God, while living according to their own brute lusts. They utterly disregarded the word of God and their moral responsibilities before him, as was manifest in their disregard for marriage (vv. 14-16).
I know that some who read these words are divorced, and some are divorced and remarried. For some, your circumstances are not of your choosing, but what another forced upon you. For some, the whole thing took place before God saved you. For others, it was a matter of utter disregard for the glory of God on your part.
I preface my next comments with this word. It needs to be understood by all. ― That which is past is past. Leave it there. You cannot correct the past. If Christ has forgiven your sin, it is forgiven. The people of God ought not hold it over your head.
Be sure you understand this, too. ― There is no such thing as a biblical divorce. Marriage is for life. And there is no such thing as a divorce that is “best” for all involved, or “best” for the children. Hear what God says.
“Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously” (Mal 2:14-16).
The marriage vow I took 35 years ago was not simply a nice phrase repeated before men, but a vow made before my God. The covenant I entered into on that day was not just a marriage covenant with my wife, but a covenant made with my God. Anyone who takes such things lightly is a fool. I hear people offer many excuses abandoning their families. They are all just excuses for rebellion and irresponsibility.
Some say, “I’m just not happy any more.” The fact is our happiness has absolutely nothing to do with our responsibility. Others seek to excuse their behavior by declaring, “I just don’t love him (or her) any more.” Most of the time that means, “I have found someone else to love.” But, even if that is not the case, the excuse is lame. It is a man’s responsibility to love his wife and a woman’s responsibility to reverence her husband. Frequently, people try to lay the blame for their own behavior on their husband or wife, saying, “He (or she) is not the kind of husband (or wife) he (or she) ought to be.” Again, the excuse is lame. My responsibility as a husband to my wife has nothing to do with the kind of wife she is. My wife’s responsibility as my wife has nothing to do with the kind of husband I am. Multitudes obtain divorces upon the grounds of “incompatibility,” declaring, “We are not compatible with one another.” That may be true, but it is far better to live incompatibly with a man or woman than to live incompatibly with God!
I repeat, “Marriage is for life.” Malachi declares that God made Adam “one,” that is one wife, and “he hateth putting away.” The Lord God made Adam one wife, made Adam and Eve one before him, and instituted the union of one man and one woman in marriage for the moral preservation of humanity (1 Cor. 7:14). For any to dissolve that union is to “deal treacherously” with their husband or wife, to “deal treacherously” with their children, to “deal treacherously” with society, and (above all) to “deal treacherously” with the Lord our God.
In verse 17, the faithful prophet declares that the religion of such people is nothing but lip service, and that it is a weariness to God. ― “Ye have wearied the LORD with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?” When men and women abandon the authority of God, despise his law, and disregard his Word, there is no standard by which to live. When everyone does that which is right in his own eyes, they call evil good and good evil, and justice is gone.
But blessed be our God, he will never abandon his own. Look at chapter 3. Here we see our Savior, in whom alone we have hope, by whose grace we are saved and kept. Christ is our all-glorious Substitute, in whom God has established his covenant, and in whom he delights (Mal. 3:1). He sits as a refiner and purifier, and he will purify all his own (Mal. 3:2-3). Our sacrifices are made acceptable and pleasant to our God in and by our Substitute (Mal. 3:4; 1 Pet. 2:5). He is the Lord our God who changes not; and “he hateth putting away.” Therefore we are not consumed (Mal. 3:6).
5. “Wherein shall we return?” (3:7)
“Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the LORD of hosts. But ye said, Wherein shall we return?” Their attitude suggests that they did not even know they had strayed from the Lord. They actually thought they were doing God a service.
6. “Wherein have we robbed thee?” (3:8).
“Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.” “Will a man rob God?” It is almost as if they respond, “Preposterous! A man will not even rob a fellow man.” But God said, “Ye have robbed me” in tithes and offerings.
In Malachi’s day the people of Israel robbed God of his honor as God in their half-hearted worship. Therefore, it is not surprising to learn that they robbed him in tithes and offerings. The tithe was one tenth of a person’s income. It was devoted to God, to his worship and service, by the requirement of the law in the Old Testament for the maintenance of the tabernacle and temple and for the livelihood of the priestly families (Lev. 27:30-32; Deut. 14:22-26; Num. 18:21-32). Even before the law was given requiring it, Abraham and Jacob voluntarily tithed as a response to God’s goodness, acknowledging that they belonged to him and owed all to him (Gen. 14:20; 28:22).
As a display of repentance, the Lord calls for Israel to bring their tithes into the storehouse (the temple), and promises to pour out his blessing upon those who honored him in such an act of worship (Mal. 3:9-12). It is his promise that he will honor those who honor him (1 Sam. 2:30; Pro. 3:9-10).
The tithe is mentioned only eight times in the New Testament (Matt. 23:23; Luke 11:42; 18:12; Heb. 7:5, 6, 8, 9). In each place the passage refers to the Old Testament practice. In the New Testament that law is never applied to believers in this gospel age, not even once, because we are not under the law but under grace, and grace has nothing to do with the law. The gospel teaches believers to give, give generously and willingly, both for the support of the poor (particularly poor brethren) and for the support to the gospel ministry ((Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-37; 2 Cor. 9:6-8).
The example we are to follow for such free generosity is Christ himself. As he proved the sincerity of his love for us by freely giving himself to redeem us, we prove the sincerity of our love for him by giving in his name (2 Cor. 8:7-9).
The Old Testament tithe was, in principle, an act of faith. The tithe was given as the first fruits. As such, it declared that the tither trusted God for the full harvest. The gift of the tithe asserted that the tither acknowledged that he and all he possessed was God’s property. Our gifts in this gospel age express the same thing. By honoring God with our gifts, we express the same faith, acknowledging that all we are belongs to our God and that all we possess we possess as stewards, into whose hands our Master has entrusted that which he would have us use for his glory, his people, and his gospel. Let us be faithful stewards, honor God, our Master and Savior in all things (1 Cor. 16:1-3; 2 Cor. 8:1-9:15).
The promise is still true, “Them that honor me I will honor” (1 Sam. 2:30; Gal. 6:6-10). A. M. Hodgkin wrote, “The tithe was the outward recognition that everything belonged to God. We are to bring him our whole selves, body, soul and spirit, all that we have and all that we are, all that we know about in our lives, and all that we do not know about yet. If we thus honestly keep nothing back from him, we may be certain that he will accept us and will open the windows of heaven, and pour us out such a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it, but it shall flow out to all around. ‘All nations shall call you blessed, for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of hosts.’”
7. “What have we spoken so much against thee?” (3:13)
(Mal 3:13-14) “Your words have been stout against me, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against thee? (14) Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the LORD of hosts?”
The context in verse 14 indicates that they had spoken against the Lord in both word and action. Though they had kept up their religious ceremonies, they did not worship God in their hearts. All the while, they were bringing torn, lame animals for sacrifice. And they were trying to outdo each other in making money, procuring divorces, and indulging their lusts.
The Faithful Remnant
In the midst of all these people with an empty profession of faith there was a faithful remnant that feared God. They “spoke often one to another; and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name” (Mal. 3:16).
Then Malachi leaped the centuries and saw the time when men shall be rewarded. A remnant of Israel, the “hidden treasure” of Matthew 13, God’s elect, will experience the fulfillment of Jehovah's words: “And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him” (Mal 3:17).
Chapter 4 of Malachi speaks of that day of Christ’s coming when the proud and the wicked shall be like stubble. But to those who fear his name, the appearing of Christ will be the “Sun of righteousness” (v.2), arising with healing in his wings.