Malachi Lesson Five

Malachi Lesson Five 2:17-3:6 Judgment at the LORD’s Coming

17 You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you ask, “How have we wearied Him?” 

When you say, “Everyone who does what is evil is good in the Lord’s sight, and He is pleased with them,” or “Where is the God of justice?” 

3 “See, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire—see, He is coming,” says the Lord of Hosts. But who can endure the day of His coming? And who will be able to stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire and like cleansing lye. He will be like a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. Then they will present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. And the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will please the Lord as in days of old and years gone by. 

“I will come to you in judgment, and I will be ready to witness against sorcerers and adulterers; against those who swear falsely; against those who oppress the widow and the fatherless, and cheat the wage earner; and against those who deny justice to the foreigner.  They do not fear Me,”  says the Lord of Hosts. “Because I, Yahweh, have not changed, you descendants of Jacob have not been destroyed.

This passage concludes the second address in Malachi. Judah’s sin of unfaithfulness was widespread in the community and was primarily associated with injustice. However, Judah was unable or unwilling to recognize their corruption and instead viewed their economic and social issues as an indicator of God’s unfairness or unfaithfulness. God’s response to their grumbling was to announce the coming of a messianic messenger, who would purge and purify God’s people, including the priests.

Verse 2:17

Looking back at verse 16, we see that that injustice was widespread throughout Judah. It was because of this pervasive injustice that God didn’t bless the works of their hands. In the minds of the people, they felt they deserved divine blessings, but instead, they believed they received divine injustice. Israel believed that those involved in evil (but not them) were perceived as good in the eyes of God while they received mistreatment.

  • Deuteronomy 18:12 Everyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and the LORD your God is driving out the nations before you because of these detestable things.
  • Deuteronomy 25:16 For everyone who does such things and acts unfairly is detestable to the LORD your God.
  • Isaiah 5:20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness, who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

Verses 3:1-6

This section contains four predictions, with the first three being followed by the result and the last by an antithesis. 

  • First prediction/result.
    • God is sending His messenger.
    • The path is cleared.
  • Second prediction/result.
    • The LORD will go to His temple.
    • Who will be able to endure that day?
  • Third prediction/result.
    • He will refine and purify the people.
    • The righteous will be cleansed, and the unrighteous cast aside.
  • Fourth prediction/antithesis.
    • He is coming to judge.
    • God never changes; His promises are true and endure.

Verse 1

The divine messenger spoken about here would administer the covenant in two ways.

  • In a narrow sense, it would be the covenant made with Israel in the Sinai desert that promised judgment for unbelief.
  • In a broad and ultimate sense, the messenger would be sealing the covenant God made with Abraham that promised vindication to God’s chosen people and a blessing to all the nations of the earth.

Verse 2

This presents a rhetorical question as no one can endure His coming. The tense in the original Hebrew is a future tense, “who will endure…?”

The twin statement about refining and washing (cleansing lye) illustrates of a constant reminder found in the Old Testament of the separation between sinful man and an infinitely holy God. Thus, physical washing became linked to the need for cleansing a sinful soul.

  • Exodus 19:10 And the LORD told Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, They must wash their clothes.
  • Psalm 51:2 Wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin.
  • Isaiah 1:16 Wash yourselves. Cleanse yourselves. Remove your evil deeds from My sight. Stop doing evil.
  • Jeremiah 2:22 Even though you wash with lye and use a great amount of soap, the stain of your sin is still in front of Me. This is the Lord GOD’s declaration.

However, cleansing can only be received through the sacrifice of Jesus.

  • 1 Corinthians 6:11 And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
  • Titus 3:5 He saved us – not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy – through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
  • Revelation 7:14 I said to Him, “Sir, you know.” Then he told me: These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Verse 3

Now we see an illustration of God as a metalworker creating a masterpiece. In contrast to the previous verse where God was depicted as fire, and the process is unpleasant, here He is depicted as an artisan who will remove all of the dross, leaving only the finest components behind. This refining will lead to a priesthood that is focused and obedient to God. Thus, throughout Scripture, we read about God “refining” people with the ultimate goal being cleansing and purification for holy work.

A second point to this verse is that the cleansing when the Lord comes must begin with the temple and the priesthood. For us today, that cleansing must begin in the church and with all of Jesus’ followers (we are all priests), but especially with those in leadership positions within the church.

Verse 4

This verse describes the result of the third prediction, contained in verse three. Since the verse contains the phrase “Judah and Jerusalem,” it should be understood that the cleansing that took place in verse three extends beyond just the official priests. 

In contrast to the beginning of this passage, where God was “wearied” by their disobedience, those who have been refined and cleansed now bring offerings that please God.

Verse 5

This verse is the last prediction contained in this passage. After the purification identified in verse three, God will exercise judgment against the wicked. There are six sins listed in this verse.

  • Sorcery: Attempting to control the physical and spiritual world through incantations, charms, and rituals. These practices were why the Canaanites were under God’s judgment. 
  • Adultery: Sexual activity outside of marriage.
  • False swearing: Making an oath but not keeping it, particular oaths that defraud or harm others.
  • Those who oppress widows and orphans: Defrauding, robbing, or oppressing widows and orphans.
  • Those who cheat their employees: Practicing extortion on employees.
  • Those who don’t give justice to foreigners: Just as the lack of fear of the Lord has resulted in religious practices that insult Him (1:6-14), this has also resulted in injustice towards the helpless. 

In the post-exilic Judah that Malachi was addressing, some members of the community had returned to the greed and corruption that had resulted in their exile. What is astounding is that although they had recently returned from this disaster, they were now speeding down the same path once again.

In this letter, Malachi has three main topics that he addresses.

  • Vain offerings (1:2-2:9).
  • Treachery in relationships (2:10-3:6).
  • Withholding of tithes (3:7-4:6).

A person’s spiritual health and completeness as a child of God can often be determined by three main indicators.

  • Attitude toward and relationship with God – the theological aspect.
  • Attitude toward and relationship with others – the social aspect.
  • Attitude toward and use of possessions – the economic aspect.

These three aspects form an ethical triangle and are woven together in our actions. Throughout this letter, Malachi is condemning the ethical state of post-exilic Judah (Israel). They are sliding quickly back into ethical bankruptcy. 

Verse 6

This verse is a direct and stinging rebuke of the peoples’ charge that Yahweh was treating them unfairly and was being unfaithful to their covenant relationship. If, in fact, Yahweh was being unfair and not remaining faithful to their covenant relationship, He would have already erased them from the face of the earth. Instead, Yahweh showed extreme patience and extended unmerited grace and mercy to them because of His faithfulness. Although God had punished them for their disobedience, He didn’t, and couldn’t, cut them off permanently. 

  • Isaiah 46:3-4 Listen to Me, house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been sustained from the womb, carried along since birth. I will be the same until your old age, and I will bear you up when you turn gray. I have made you, and I will carry you; I will bear and save you.
  • Romans 11:1 I ask then, has God rejected His people? Absolutely not! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.

Applications

  • Evaluate your Christian walk. Is it possible that you are “wearying” God with your words and actions? If so, repent and live in a way that will be pleasing to God.
  • What would be the outcome for you if the “Day of the Lord” came today? Are you secure in your relationship with God, or will you not be able to endure His coming? Each of us is one breath away from eternity. When you leave this earth, will your next breath be in the coolness and peace of heaven or the agony and flames of hell?
  • If you are walking in righteousness, embrace the refining that God is putting you through. He is preparing you for future and greater works.
  • Evaluate your ethical triangle and see if you need to improve in any of the three areas. None of us are perfect; it is very likely that at least one area will be identified as needing improvement.

Malachi Lesson Four

Malachi Lesson Four – Judah’s Unfaithfulness

10 Don’t all of us have one Father? Didn’t one God create us? Why then do we act treacherously against one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? 11 Judah has acted treacherously, and a detestable thing has been done in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned  the Lord’s sanctuary, which He loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12 To the man who does this, may the Lord cut off  any descendants from the tents of Jacob, even if they present an offering to the Lord of Hosts. 

13 And this is another thing you do: you cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning, because He no longer respects your offerings or receives them gladly from your hands. 

14 Yet you ask, “For what reason?” Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have acted treacherously against her, though she was your marriage partner and your wife by covenant. 15 Didn’t the one God make us with a remnant of His life-breath? And what does the One seek? A godly offspring. So watch yourselves carefully, and do not act treacherously against the wife of your youth. 

16 “If he hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord God of Israel, “he covers his garment with injustice,” says the Lord of Hosts. Therefore, watch yourselves carefully, and do not act treacherously. (HCSB)

This passage begins with a rhetorical question about Judah’s lineage. In contrast to the beginning of Malachi, which addresses a physical bloodline lineage (Jacob), here the focus is on the spiritual lineage of Judah.

Verse 10

The first two questions in verse ten lead into the passage’s focus; why do we act wrongly against each other, trampling on the covenant of their ancestors?

The terms “Father” and “creator” both refer to God in a complementary manner. In addition, the terms “us” and “we” refer to all of mankind, while the “one another” is referencing those who are in a covenant relationship with Yahweh, the people of Israel. Therefore, let’s look at the idea of God’s fatherhood from both an Old and New Testament perspective.

  • Old Testament – A unique and exclusive relationship Yahweh established with Israel by His grace in choosing them through Abraham, redeeming them from Egypt, and forming the covenant with them at Mt. Sinai.
  • New Testament – Those in Christ are sons of God. However, one significant difference is that Christians are God’s child by adoption. In contrast, Israel is God’s son because He brought them into existence as a nation. 

In this passage, the context is the proper treatment of fellow Jews as spiritual siblings. The phrase “one another” literally means “a man with his brother.” Correctly understanding the original meaning adds weight to the statement as the Bible repeatedly views the ill-treatment of a brother as a serious offense. Judah pleaded for Joseph’s life in Genesis 37:27b “For he is our brother, our own flesh.” If Israel grasped the idea that God brought them as a group into a covenant relationship with Him, they should have understood that faithfulness was not only required to Yahweh but to each other, too.

The last part of verse ten refers not only to breaking a marriage covenant, referred to in verse fourteen, but also the covenant with Yahweh, the “covenant of our fathers.” Since the charge is against the entire nation of Israel and not just the priests, it points to the Mosaic covenant, which applied to Israel as a nation. 

Verse 11

The term “detestable” actually softens the meaning of the original Hebrew, which is better understood as an “abomination.” The root for abomination is “hate” or “abhor,” often referred to as actions resulting in the most serious form of defilement, which would require destruction or death as a penalty. It was applied to various immoralities such as homosexuality, prostitution, child sacrifice, witchcraft, dishonesty, violence, and perversion of justice. It was also used to describe reprehensible religious behavior such as idolatry. 

Ezekiel rebuked the priests for committing an abomination, “When you brought in foreigners, uncircumcised in both heart and flesh, to occupy My sanctuary, you defiled My temple.” (Ezekiel 44:7a). It was also recorded in 2 Chronicles 36:14, “All the leaders of the priests and people multiplied their unfaithful deeds, imitating  all the detestable practices of the nations, and they defiled the LORD’s temple that He had consecrated in Jerusalem.

Malachi’s charges were very serious. The same abominations that condemned the Canaanites to extinction recorded in Ezra 9:1-14 and resulted in death, destruction, and exile on a treasonous and apostate Israel were now being practiced by the covenant community that had been brought back from exile.

The Israelite men were marrying women who worshipped pagan gods, which resulted in the introduction of destructive forces to the covenant family of Israel. Marriage outside the covenant community, specifically the Canaanites, was forbidden by Moses because of the danger of turning the people away from God. 

  • Deuteronomy 7:3-4 Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, because they will turn your sons away from Me to worship other gods. Then the LORD’s anger will burn against you, and He will swiftly destroy you.
  • Exodus 34:16 Then you will take some of their daughters as brides for your sons. Their daughters will prostitute themselves with their gods and cause your sons to prostitute themselves with their gods.

Israel’s pre-exilic history in the Bible records numerous examples of the spiritual dangers associated with entering into relationships with pagans. However, it is clear to see that post-exilic Israel struggled with the same issue, as recorded in Ezra 9 and Nehemiah 13:23-30. Malachi also records the continued struggles with disobedience, even among the priests.

Verse 12

This is a difficult verse, especially when looking at the original Hebrew text. However, it is linked back to the previous verses and the term “cut off” denotes a radical removal or eradication. The same term was used in the following passages.

  • Genesis 9:11a I confirm My covenant with you that never again will every creature be wiped out (cut off) by the waters of a flood.
  • Joshua 11:21a At that time Joshua proceeded to exterminate (cut off) the Anakim from the hill country.

Being “cut off” should be viewed as a divine sentence of condemnation, with the eventual result of one’s name being cut off from the family of Israel.

Verses 13-16 deal with violations of the marriage covenant and an implied breach of Israel’s covenant with Yahweh.

Verse 13

The context of this verse is that the people failed to understand why Yahweh didn’t accept their offerings or respond to their weeping and groaning. The people were pouring out their hearts from a position of selfishness and a hardened heart, but their pleas were useless as long as their actions didn’t line up with God’s instructions. 

Verse 14

Here we find the answer as to why the weeping, groaning, and offerings referenced in the previous verse were not being accepted. The men in question had betrayed and broken the covenant relationship with their wives. However, it’s even more heinous than just breaking the marriage covenant. They had divorced their Jewish wives and married pagan wives. There are three main points to consider in this verse and the charge against the men.

  • The men had acted treacherously against their wives. 
  • The treachery is that the men had broken the marriage covenant that their wives had entered into with them.
  • The men were casting aside their marriage partners, the ones they had made a vow to love and protect within the marriage covenant.

Israel’s behavior was an insult to Yahweh before who they had sworn their covenants. Their breaking of the marriage covenant oaths and their mistreatment of their wives was another way Israel was slandering Yahweh, just like the insulting sacrifices described in 1:6-14.

Verse 15

This verse contains two main parts – the first deals with children, and the second deals with the marriage covenant.

Even though the men had divorced their wives, there still existed a remnant of the spiritual bond found in the marriage covenant. Moreover, the “oneness” of the marriage covenant has as its purpose of producing godly children with the assistance of God. Thus, it is now appropriate to review biblical marriage, which often is in at least contrast if not outright conflict with our modern view of marriage.

  • To Israelite families, the concept that having children was an option would have been offensive or ridiculous. 
    • Modern families often view their personal happiness or fulfilling life goals as the primary reason to get married. Children are an option.
    • This position is in direct conflict with the Bible, which instructed mankind to be fruitful and multiply. Genesis 1:28a God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.
    • Not having children would be ignoring God’s command to be “fruitful.”  
  • God’s intended purpose for a man and woman to enter into a marriage covenant was fruitfulness. As a side note, this is also a condemnation against same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage is not able to fulfill the biblical mandate by being fruitful and having children.

The last part of the verse once again deals with the marriage covenant and the unfaithfulness that the men showed. We (husbands) must always be on guard that we don’t act treacherously against our wives. In the context of the passage, the treachery was divorce. However, treachery, in our modern world, can take on many other practices. Here are a few of them.

  • Adultery
  • Pornography
  • Mistreatment
  • Abuse
  • Neglect

The list could be much longer, but the idea is that any action on the husband’s part that in some way negatively impacts the marriage covenant could be viewed as “treachery.”

Verse 16

There has been some disagreement about the “scope” of divorce in this verse. Many translations portray it as a general condemnation against divorce. However, that viewpoint would be in conflict with several passages in the Law that permitted or referred to divorce.

  • Deuteronomy 24:1-4
  • Leviticus 22:13
  • Numbers 30:9
  • Deuteronomy 22:13-19
  • Deuteronomy 22:28-29
  • Matthew 19:9
  • Even God had “divorced” the northern kingdom of Israel for her unfaithfulness and spiritual adultery – Jeremiah 3:8.

It appears from the context of the passage that the issue of divorce in this passage is the treacherous actions of the husbands, which violated the marriage covenant. The men had engaged in unjustifiable divorce for their own personal reasons or convenience. Any man who divorces his wife simply on the grounds that he no longer likes her is committing violence against her. These men had divorced their wives out of hate or greedy desires. They had forgotten the responsibilities that, as husbands, they were to pursue on behalf of their wives.

  • Blessings
  • Goodness
  • Praise
  • Peace
  • Justice

The husbands were robbing their wives of these and other things.

Applications

  • If we bring our requests before God in prayer and none are getting answered, even after significant periods of time, we need to examine the situation. It could be that our prayers are not aligned with God’s will. Or it could be, as in this passage, that we are living in disobedience or have committed some grave offense against God and/or others. If it is the latter case, we need to repent both to God and the individual(s) we have sinned against. They may or may not accept our apology, but we still need to do it. Some situations/relationships may never be restored. However, as the offender, we still need to make an attempt.
  • Entering into a covenant should not be taken lightly. In this passage, we see the seriousness of a covenant and the consequences of breaking a covenant. We sin not only against the person(s) in the covenant, but we also dishonor God by our actions.
  • There is a warning here about entering into a marriage covenant with an unbeliever. At the same time, that is not a biblical reason for divorcing a spouse. 
  • Although God hates divorce and it is never the first choice in a broken relationship, there are allowances for it in Scripture. If you were the offender, refer back to the first application. If you were the victim, know that God can heal all of our hurts, even though it may not feel that way as you are going through the situation or shortly thereafter. Just because a person has been the victim in a divorce doesn’t mean they should be made to feel dirty or shameful; they are not a lesser Christian for what happened. As fellow brothers or sisters in Christ, we should never judge or look down upon them, and neither should the church. As Jesus said in John 8:11b, “‘Neither do I condemn you,’ said Jesus. ‘Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.’”

Malachi Lesson Three

Malachi Lesson Three 2:1-9 – Yahweh Warns the Priests

“Therefore, this decree  is for you priests: If you don’t listen, and if you don’t take it to heart  to honor My name,” says Yahweh of Hosts, “I will send a curse among you, and I will curse your blessings.  In fact, I have already begun to curse them because you are not taking it to heart. 

“Look, I am going to rebuke your descendants,  and I will spread animal waste  over your faces, the waste from your festival sacrifices,  and you will be taken away with it. Then you will know that I sent you this decree so My covenant with Levi  may continue,” says the Lord of Hosts. “My covenant with him was one of life and peace,  and I gave these to him; it called for reverence, and he revered Me and stood in awe of My name.  True instruction was in his mouth, and nothing wrong was found on his lips. He walked with Me  in peace and fairness and turned many from sin.  For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, because he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts. 

“You, on the other hand, have turned from the way.  You have caused many to stumble  by your instruction. You have violated  the covenant of Levi,” says the Lord of Hosts. “So I in turn have made you despised  and humiliated before all the people because you are not keeping My ways but are showing partiality in your instruction.” (HCSB)

In this passage, we see Yahweh giving a warning to the disobedient priests, telling them what will happen if they continue and reminding them of how He rewards faithful service. Their behavior wasn’t only disobedience to God; they also led the people away from true worship by their negligent behavior.

Verse 1

The beginning of chapter two links back to chapter one with the word “therefore.” God is warning the priests that if they continue with the disobedience described in chapter one, they will face the punishment described in this passage. 

Verse 2

Verse 1 gives a conditional choice to the priests. Nevertheless, God was still willing to grant mercy and forgiveness if they repented and began to act as priests. 

However, this will require a heart change on the part of the priests. The phrase “take it to heart” has a deeper meaning in the original Hebrew. It denotes the “command center” of a person’s life. A place where knowledge is collected and considered. A place where decisions and plans are made that determine the direction of a person’s life. It is not an emotional response. The phrase occurs a dozen times in the Old Testament, and in each case, it refers to determining a course of action in response to knowledge. If the priests responded to God’s call for repentance and giving Him the honor He deserved, they would be restored. Up until this point, they had demonstrated a superficial faith. God was calling on them to display genuine faith.

The term “curse” doesn’t have a hidden meaning; it is literally a curse. Deuteronomy 28:15-68 warns of the covenant curses that would befall Israel if they disobeyed God. The curses are identified in three stages in this verse.

  • Sending a curse.
  • Turning blessings into a curse.
  • The curses had already started.

Verse 3

Not only will the priests be cursed if they don’t correct their behavior, but their descendants will also be cursed. The word “look,” some translations have “see” or “behold,” adds urgency to the coming curse. The original Hebrew phrase indicates an event that will occur in the imminent future. Thus, we see in the Bible where descendants share in the blessings.

  • Numbers 25:13 – It will be a covenant of perpetual priesthood for him and his future descendants, because he was zealous for his God and made atonement for the Israelites.

Then an illustration is given on how God will humiliate and remove the unrepentant priests from their position. The picture of animal excrement being spread on the priest’s face and then being thrown in the same trash heap like the rest of the excrement shouldn’t be taken literally. However, it does mean that the priests would be removed from their position in such a way that would bring the greatest amount of disgrace on them. This strong imagery indicates the degree to which God was repulsed by the priest’s behavior. Just as they had treated God with contempt (verse 1:6) and defiled His altar with corrupt and useless sacrifices (verse 1:7), God would treat them with contempt and defile them, making them worthless for future service. The priests felt it was a burden to faithfully serve God (verse 1:13), so now they and their descendants would be free from the burden of service.

Verse 4

Yahweh desires to honor His covenant with Levi, that his descendants will continue to serve the role as priests for Israel. An important point to remember regarding covenants made with groups. Although the group will be blessed by God, it does not ensure that each individual in the group will receive the blessing. It still requires adherence to the requirements of the covenant, and failing to do that, as the priests here were failing, leads to being removed from the covenant relationship.

  • Matthew 8:11-12 – I tell you that many will come from the east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
  • Luke 13:28 – There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth in that place, when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves thrown out.
  • Romans 9:6-8 – But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants. On the contrary, your offspring will be traced through Isaac. That is, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but the children of the promise are considered to be the offspring.

In the same way, today, we are not Christians because our parents were Christians. Those who believe and place their trust in Jesus are Christians, regardless of their ethnicity, race, socio-economic status, or any other demographic delineation. 

Malachi considered the “covenant of peace” to apply not just to Phinehas (son of Eleazar) and his descendants or the descendants of Aaron but to the entire tribe of Levi. This understanding is likely based upon Deuteronomy 10:8 – At that time the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the LORD’s covenant, to stand before Yahweh to serve Him, and to pronounce blessings in His name, as it is today.

Verses 5-7 – This section describes how the priests were expected to conduct themselves.

Verse 5

Yahweh had blessed the priestly tribe of Levi with a full and happy life filled with shalom. Shalom should be understood to mean peace and wholeness. The twin concepts of life and peace are present in:

  • 1 Samuel 15:6 – Then say this: “Long life to you, and peace to you, to your family, and to all that is yours.”
  • Proverbs 3:2 – For they will bring you many days, a full life, and well-being.
  • Numbers 25:12 – Therefore declare: I grant him My covenant of peace.
  • Joshua 9:15 – So Joshua established peace with them and made a treaty to let them live, and the leaders of the community swore an oath to them.

God’s covenant of peace with the tribe of Levi would be an assurance of a lasting relationship and a promise to secure and protect their welfare by His grace, wisdom, and power. In return, Yahweh expected and received reverence (fear), demonstrating that the early priests, in contrast to those being addressed here, wisely feared only God. 

Verse 6

Fear of the Lord shouldn’t motivate only the priests’ moral obedience but also their responsibility to teach and uphold the commands contained within Scripture. Thus, not only were the priests responsible for conducting the sacrifices (correctly) on behalf of the people, they were also teachers of the Law.

  • Leviticus 10:11 – and teach the Israelites all the statutes that the LORD has given to them through Moses.
  • Deuteronomy 33:10a – They will teach Your ordinances to Jacob and your instructions to Israel.
  • 2 Chronicles 15:3 – For many years Israel had been without the true God, without a teaching priest, and without instruction.
  • Ezekiel 7:26 – Disaster after disaster will come, and there will be rumor after rumor. Then they will seek a vision from a prophet, but instruction will perish from the priests and counsel from the elders.
  • Hosea 4:6 – My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I will reject you from serving as My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I will also forget your sons.

Authentic instruction should be understood to mean “instruction of truth.” The priests were responsible for teaching truth to Israel, and this was done through teaching and obeying the Law. This instruction would teach Israel how they were to live in God’s covenant community and how to avoid defiling the tabernacle. In addition, obedience to the Law would determine Israel’s faithfulness to the covenant Yahweh had established with them. Because of this, the health of this covenant relationship was highly dependent on the priests faithfully performing their responsibilities. However, it is not defined just by how faithfully the priests taught the people; it also included the faithfulness of their lives. 

  • 1 Thessalonians 2:10 – You are witnesses, and so is God, of how devoutly, righteously, and blamelessly we conducted ourselves with you believers.

Verse 7

Since verse 6 focused on the responsibility of the priest’s teaching, this verse explains that the priests are messengers of Yahweh. In contrast to angels or prophets who would convey new instructions from God, the priests were messengers in the context of teaching the people what was already revealed in the Law and how it applied to their lives. A key point here, and still applicable today, is the relevance of God’s instructions to us through Scripture and the role of the priests (pastors/elders today) of faithfully and correctly teaching what is contained in Scripture and how that applies to us. That is what is meant by the term “guard knowledge” in this verse. Those today who preach/teach a false or altered understanding of Scripture are the same as the priests being condemned in Malachi. They may get away with it for a period of time, but they will be judged. 

  • James 3:1 – Not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment.

Verse 8

Here Malachi returns to address the sinning priests, accusing them in three different areas.

  • They had turned from the way. Their failure started with themselves; they were solely responsible for their actions.
    • Judges 2:17 – But they did not listen to their judges. Instead, they prostituted themselves with other gods, bowing down to them. They quickly turned from the way of their fathers, who had walked in obedience to the LORD’s commands. They did not do as their fathers did.
    • Exodus 32:8 – They have quickly turned from the way that I commanded them; they have made for themselves an image of a calf. They have bowed down to it, sacrificed to it, and said, “Israel, this is your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.”
    • Deuteronomy 9:12 – The LORD said to me, “Get up and go down immediately from here. For your people whom you brought out of Egypt have acted corruptly. They have quickly turned from the way that I commanded them; they have made a cast image for themselves.”
  • Instead of turning from sin, they had caused others to fall into sin. The word “stumble” is often used in Scripture to identify sin and its consequences.
    • Isaiah 3:8 – For Jerusalem has stumbled and Judah has fallen because they have spoken and acted against the LORD, defying His glorious presence.
    • Isaiah 8:14-15 – He will be a sanctuary, but for the two houses of Israel, He will be a stone to stumble over and a rock to trip over, and a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Many will stumble over these; they will fall and be broken; they will be snared and captured.
    • Hosea 14:1 – Israel, return to Yahweh your God, for you have stumbled in your sin.
    • Proverbs 4:19 – But the way of the wicked is like the darkest gloom; they don’t know what makes them stumble.
    • Leviticus 26:37 – They will stumble over one another as if fleeing from a sword though no one is pursuing them. You will not be able to stand against your enemies.
    • Luke 17:1-2 – He said to His disciples, “Offenses will certainly come, but woe to the one they come through! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to stumble.
  • The third and most prominent charge was that the priests had violated the covenant with Levi. As we consider the seriousness of this, we need to remember that a covenant was a relationship between two parties and made effective by an oath of obligation. If one side failed to live up to the agreement, the covenant was considered to have been broken (violated). The offended party could forgive the offender and restore or renew the covenant. This is the situation here. The covenant was broken but not destroyed. Yahweh is showing mercy by allowing the priests to repent and return if they will follow the Law.

Verse 9

Divine judgment had already begun, but it was not irreversible. The original Hebrew word for “despised” used here is the same one that describes the priest’s despising Yahweh in 1:6. Yahweh doesn’t tolerate pride and will overturn those who are prideful and lack humility.

  • 1 Samual 2:1-10.
  • Isaiah 2:11-17.
  • Isaiah 57:15.
  • Ezekiel 17:24

The reason for their humiliation is that they failed to be loyal and obedient servants to Yahweh. This is a timeless message and warning for today’s church and church leaders. Whenever those who teach God’s Word sacrifice the truth of the message, change it, alter it for their benefit, try to “soften” the message, so they don’t offend anyone, or try to be politically correct, they have betrayed the position that they are filling and the flock entrusted to their care. At the least, this could involve the loss of respect from the flock entrusted to their care. At the worst, it could be the type of punishment Jesus mentioned in Luke 17:1-2, where the offender is thrown into a sea attached to a millstone.

In reviewing this passage, there are four characteristics of a pastor/elder/shepherd leader.

  • The first is a proper relationship to God, which is referred to in Malachi as reverence. True knowledge begins with a reverential awe of God. Spiritual leaders need to cultivate reverence more than anything else.
  • A faithful shepherd will stand true even when confronted by false teachers and heretics. When shepherd leaders faithfully preach God’s Word, we speak absolute truth that applies to any point in history. Teaching God’s Word is a heavy responsibility.
  • They are marked with a godlike character and holiness. The key requirement here is godliness. Church leaders should pray for godliness and ask their congregation to pray for godliness in their leader and faithful teaching from Scripture
  • Knowledge of God, which is salvation through Jesus and living a life of obedience to God and His Word. When church leaders do this, the sheep are fed, and they look to the leader for instruction.

Applications – Although this passage was directed towards the Levitical priests, there are application points for all of us in the passage.

  • If we are in a church leadership position, are we faithful and obedient to what God’s Word requires of us? We need to make an honest assessment of this question, and if we aren’t following God’s Word, we need to repent and get back on the right path. God will extend mercy and grace if we are genuinely repentant about our disobedience.
  • If we teach and preach, do we hold true to what Scripture says, or do we put our own spin on it or twist Scripture to advance our personal agenda? This is a dangerous practice and will ultimately result in judgment against us. Just as in application point one above, we need to repent and be faithful as we teach God’s Word.
  • If we have been involved in false teaching and we have caused others to stumble, we need to repent of that and go to that person(s) or congregation and correct the mistake, as well as ask for forgiveness. Doing just the first part is not enough.
  • Teaching God’s Word is a great responsibility. We can’t do it on our own or through our “head knowledge.” We need guidance from the Holy Spirit. At the same time, it is a wonderful experience to preach God’s Word and see lives changed and souls added to the spiritual family of God.

Malachi Lesson One

Malachi 1:1-5 – God’s Covenant Love

Malachi Lesson One 1:1-5 – God’s Covenant Love

An oracle:  The word of the Lord  to Israel through  Malachi. “I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you ask: “How have You loved us?” “Wasn’t Esau Jacob’s brother?” This is the Lord’s declaration. “Even so, I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau. I turned his mountains into a wasteland, and gave his inheritance to the desert jackals.” Though Edom says: “We have been devastated, but we will rebuild  the ruins,” the Lord of Hosts says this: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called a wicked country and the people the Lord has cursed  forever. Your own eyes will see this, and you yourselves will say, ‘The Lord is great, even beyond  the borders of Israel.’ (HCSB)

Author: There is widespread disagreement on who the author is. The word “malachi” in Hebrew means “my messenger.” In the Septuagint, the name is translated as angelou autou, or “his angel/messenger.” If “Malachi” is used to designate a function and not a person, then the book is anonymous, an easy position to support as there is no information given about the writer. On the other hand, some scholars believe the writer may have been a priest or Temple prophet and witnessed the corruption of the priesthood from a first-person vantage point.

There is an early Jewish tradition recorded in the Talmud that the book was written by Ezra, and there are many similarities in the content of the two books. In addition, one Aramaic Targum manuscript adds after “Malachi” the words “whose name is Ezra the Scribe.” In contrast, Jewish tradition has personalized the name and considers it a proper name just like the other prophetic works. However, we shouldn’t let that distract us from the message of the book, where forty-seven out of fifty-five verses are personal addresses of the Lord.

Date: The book contains no specific facts that allow accurate dating; the contents of the book and its position in the canon argues for a date during the Persian empire but after the rebuilding of the temple in 515 B.C. The majority of scholars prefer a date prior to the writings of Ezra and Nehemiah.

Form: The book is in the form of speeches by Yahweh to His people through the prophet. 

Message: The book is an indictment against the religious leaders of the period and chastises God’s people for their spiritual apathy and their cynicism about God’s plan for their future. It calls for the people to correct their wrong attitude concerning worship by trusting God as the living Lord. It also warns the people of their sinful behavior toward each other and calls repentance so they won’t be fearful of the coming of the Lord. The message weaves together three main ideas.

  • Situation: The failure of the priests of Judah to fear the Lord and serve the people faithfully. This ushered in, again, a period of apathy toward Yahweh by the Israelites.
  • Command: Malachi commands them to return to Yahweh by following His instructions and restoring worship that honors Him.
  • Motivation: Yahweh’s love (verse 1:2), spiritual and covenant unity with God and each other (verse 2:10), assurance of the coming of the Lord that brings final redemption and judgment, blessing those who fear God and casting out the wicked (3:1-6 and 3:16-4:3).

Verse 1

The phrase “to Israel” may seem somewhat unusual as the letter is dated around the beginning of the post-exilic period, and one could argue that “Israel” no longer existed as a nation. However, Judah’s leaders knew that God still recognized them as the remnant of His covenant people, as well as the continuation of God’s redemptive plan. Therefore, the remnant of the Israelites to whom Malachi wrote were still recipients of God’s promise to Israel and was obligated to obey the regulations of the covenant.

Verses 2-5

These verses contain the first exchange between Yahweh and Judah focused on the issue of God’s love for His people. However, Judah does not grasp the truth of the statement. In both pre and post-exilic Israel, the people had turned from God but for different reasons.

  • Pre-exilic – The abundance that Israel experienced resulted in forgetting that they depended on God for their blessings. 
    • Deuteronomy 8:12-14 – When you eat and are full, and build beautiful houses to live in, and your herds and flocks grow large, and your silver and gold multiply, and everything else you have increases, be careful that your heart doesn’t become proud and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.
    • Hosea 13:4-6 – I have been Yahweh your God ever since the land of Egypt; you know no God but Me, and no Savior exists besides Me. I knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought. When they had to pasture, they became satisfied; they were satisfied, and their hearts became proud. Therefore they forgot Me.
  • Post-exilic – The people allowed their difficulties to rob them of God’s loving presence.

Verse 2

Starting in this verse and following in other places through the book, the Israelites display an “attitude” with Yahweh by repeating His statements or questions and countering with their own questions. Malachi reminds the people of God’s love for them as a rebuke against those who were questioning whether God loved Israel. It would appear that the people had a short memory regarding God’s love and faithfulness.

  • The remnant who returned from exile in Babylon must have been awestruck by God’s faithfulness to the Abrahamic covenant. 
    • Nehemiah 9:8 – You found his heart faithful in Your sight, and made a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and Girgashites – to give it to his descendants. You have kept Your promise, for You are righteous.
    • Nehemiah 9:17 – They refused to listen and did not remember Your wonders You performed among them. They became stiff-necked and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But You are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in faithful love, and You did not abandon them.
  • But the sense of being awestruck didn’t last long, and they soon returned to their pattern of sinful behavior. 
    • Like self-centered children, they started to take Yahweh’s love for granted and became blind to it.
    • They responded to discipline with an attitude of, “you don’t love us anymore.”
    • Their misunderstanding of Scripture had skewed their understanding of the experience of the exile.
      • God hates evil.
      • God hates idolatry.
      • God hates hypocritical worship.
      • God will, sooner or later, reject the wicked.
      • God loves righteousness.
      • God welcomes the upright.

Yahweh now goes on to prove His love by referencing Esau, which is expanded on in the following two verses.

Verses 3-4

The contrasting concepts of love and hate attached to Jacob and Esau need some explaining to properly understand how the original hearers of the message would view these two words. The words “love” and “hate” are not referring to emotions in the context of this message. Those emotional words would have been understood by the Israelites as actually referring to a covenant relationship. In the context of the passage, it refers to the covenant relationship that Yahweh had with Jacob (love) and the lack of a covenant relationship with Esau (hate). Jacob and his family line were chosen by Yahweh, while Esau and his family line were not, becoming a side note to the story of God’s activity in the Bible.

The contrast between the two is the fruition of what Yahweh had told Rebekah.

  • Genesis 25:23 – And the LORD said to her: Two nations are in your womb; two people will come from you and be separated. One people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.

The same idea was used in the context of marriage.

  • Genesis 29:31 – When the LORD says that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb; but Rachel was unable to conceive.
  • Genesis 29:33 – She conceived again, gave birth to a son, and said, “The LORD heard that I am unloved and has given me this son also.”
  • Deuteronomy 21:15a – If a man has two wives, one loved and the other unloved.

As we reflect on this concept, we need to remember that Yahweh was not imparting complete abandonment on all of Esau’s line (Edomites). Therefore, it was possible for individual Edomites to enter into a covenant relationship with Yahweh.

  • Deuteronomy 23:7-8 – Do not despise an Edomite, because he is your brother. Do not despise an Egyptian, because you were a foreign resident in his land. The children born to them in the third generation may enter the LORD’s assembly.
  • Amos 9:12a – So that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that are called by My name.

We also need to remember that Ruth, a Moabite, was not prevented from entering into a covenant relationship by swearing allegiance to Yahweh, as well as Rahab.

Although God is troubled by the sinful nature of people regardless of them being in or out of the covenant relationship, His response is different.

  • Those inside the covenant relationship face discipline. Judah’s devastation by Babylon was temporary.
  • Those outside the covenant relationship face wrath. As a nation, Edom faced complete and permanent destruction.

The message here is more than an example between Jacob and Eau. The judgment that Edom received is a message that evil will face justice. The passage in Isaiah 34:5-17, although it references Edom, is actually a message against all the arrogant nations who oppose Yahweh, clearly stating that they will receive divine judgment and destruction.

  • Isaiah 63:1-6 – Who is this coming from Edom in crimson-stained garments from Bozrah – this One who is splendid in His apparel, rising up proudly in His great might? It is I, proclaiming vindication, powerful to save. Why are Your clothes red, and Your garments like one who treads a winepress? I trampled the winepress alone, and no one from the nations was with Me. I trampled them in My anger and ground them underfoot in My fury; their blood spattered My garments, and all My clothes were stained. For I planned the day of vengeance, and the year of My redemption came. I looked, but there was no one to help, and I was amazed that no one assisted; so My arm accomplished victory for Me, and My wrath assisted Me. I crushed nations in My anger; I made them drunk with My wrath and poured out their blood on the ground.
  • Ezekiel 36:5 – This is what the Lord GOD says: Certainly in My burning zeal I speak against the rest of the nations and all of Edom, who took My land as their own possession with wholehearted rejoicing and utter contempt so that its pastureland became plunder.

When Esau despised his birthright and sold it for one meal, it was the equivalent to despising Yahweh’s promises.

Hebrews 12:16-17 – And make sure that there isn’t any immoral or irreverent person like Esau, who sold his birthright in exchange for one meal. For you know later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected because he didn’t find any opportunity for repentance, though he sought it with tears.

Covenantal, committed love serves as a model to the church today. Jesus calls on us to love one another.

  • John 13:34 – I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another.
  • 1 John 4:7 – Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

As fellow members of the body of Christ, we don’t exist in a sentimental and fleeting type of love. On the contrary, the love that believers have for each other is based on the mutual need and benefit of all participating parties. At the same time, this type of love must be subject to discipline when necessary. This is true even if the discipline removes the offender from the relationship for a period of time, just as Israel was removed from the promised land, only to return later.

Verse 5

The point of this verse is that someday a repentant Israel will witness God’s judgment on all of His enemies, and they will praise God for His greatness and His covenant faithfulness and power. Yahweh is the God of all creation and the one to whom everyone must answer. Unlike other books of the Bible, Malachi is not one of universal acceptance of all people (which is true) but of  universal lordship over all creation.

Applications

  • Do we fear God in a way that acknowledges that He is the creator of everything?
  • Do we understand that if we are in a covenant relationship with God (faith in Jesus), we will face discipline for our sinful behavior, but we won’t face eternal destruction? In contrast, those outside a covenant relationship with God (no faith in Jesus) will face eternal destruction?
  • We are called to be in a loving covenant relationship with fellow believers in the church. Do you pursue these relationships, or are you lukewarm to fellow believers?
  • Don’t worry over the supposed lack of judgment against evil or evil people. God will judge them in His time.