(365) December 31: Malachi 1-4 & Revelation 22

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read consider what God rebukes in Malachi’s hearers.

To ponder:
Malachi confronts sin in the growing post-exilic community in Jerusalem and Judea. The book opens with a rhetorical dialogue in which God affirms his love for his people. He proves this by appealing to the fact that he loved Jacob (who became Israel) over his brother Esau, whose land (Edom) he has now turned into a wasteland in judgement, and which will forever remain the “wicked land” under his wrath, despite the Edomites saying they will rebuild. In declaring he “hated” Esau, God therefore means he was against him because of his sin. And he states that on seeing him keep the Edomites down, his people will praise his greatness and acknowledge his sovereignty extends beyond Israel (1v1-5).
            What follows shows that the Jews were no better than the Edomites. God asks why the priests don’t honour and respect him as sons and servants should. Malachi anticipates them asking how they have shown contempt. God’s answer is that they have defiled his altar with imperfect offerings they wouldn’t even offer their governor. By asking if the governor would be pleased or accept the priests for this, God shows his own displeasure (1v6-8). And the same applies if we offer ourselves or our gifts only half-heartedly to the LORD.
            God urges the priests to implore him to be gracious, and states he would rather have the new temple’s doors shut so the priests would not light fires on his altar, because these fires are useless as the offerings don’t please him. Likewise, he would rather we weren’t in church than that we showed him contempt with insincerity. Yet God responds that his name will one day be great throughout the world with incense and acceptable offerings given (1v9-11). In other words, his promises through the prophets of an everlasting kingdom of righteousness after the return and rebuilding of the temple, is still some way off, but will be fulfilled.
            1v12-13 implies that the priests even scoff at the altar (Lord’s Table), calling it defiled (as if a wrong way to worship), its offerings contemptible, and their service a burden – so profaning the whole thing. Likewise, some ministers today charge aspects of worship as evil, disgraceful and burdensome – such as the call to wholehearted repentance. God is clear: Those who can give an acceptable sacrifice and vow to, yet then give a blemished one, are cursed. The reason he gives is that he is to be feared in his greatness. In other words, such flippancy denigrates his holiness with knock-on effects in the wider community (1v14). This was exactly the issue with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5v1-11). And their fate did cause God to be feared. 
            He continues that he will curse the priests’ blessing, as he had already begun to do, if they do not listen and determine to honour him from the heart. He would keep their descendents from thriving, by causing this generation to be carried off with the dung from their offerings – implying they will be discarded as unclean (2v1-3). God’s command for them to repent is therefore so that he might continue his covenant with Levi - to have his descendents minister as priests (Jer 33v21). The covenant promise was of life and peace to Levi, and its stipulations were for him to revere God, which he did by teaching the truth, walking uprightly and turning many from sin. Of course the priesthood came later than Levi, through Aaron, so this must refer to the faithfulness of the tribe in Israel’s early history (Ex 32v26-29). The LORD’s point is that priests should preserve knowledge as God’s messengers, whereas these priests have violated God’s covenant with Levi, by instead leading people into sin. This is why God says he has caused them to be despised and humiliated before the people, perhaps in the sense that the people saw them for what they were (2v4-9). All believers, and especially ministers of the gospel, can likewise be faithful to the calling of verses 5 and 6, or not.
            Malachi now changes tack, charging the people with breaking faith (ie. commitments) with one-another. His point is that just as the people were created and fathered as a nation by one God, they should be committed to each another. These truths lie behind our same responsibility to live in love for our fellow Christians. Yet by not doing so, the Jews had broken God’s covenant with the patriarchs by not living uprightly. First, they had done the detestable thing of intermarrying with women of other religions, and so desecrating the newly built temple, presumably by bringing offerings having committed idolatry or been defiled by it through marriage. This broke faith with fellow Israelites because it broke the commitment they made together before God not to do this (as Neh 10v28-30). Such people were therefore to be cut off from the community of Israel. Second, others wept at the altar because God did not answer their prayers, when this was only because he was acting as a witness to their marriage covenants, which they had broken through unjustified divorce. Echoing 2v10 we again hear God has made the married couple one in flesh and spirit because he wanted them to raise godly offspring. And for this reason he urges them to guard their spirits so they don’t break faith in such divorce, which God hates and likens to violence against the wife – no doubt because of the pain and destruction it brings on her (2v10-16). Both rebukes need to be heard by Christians in our day, as does the intent God has for believing marriage.
            Here we read that God was tired of the people for saying those who do evil are good in his eyes – perhaps those who intermarried or divorced in these ways. Yet he was also wearied by their asking where he was – no doubt because, on the basis of the prophets compacted predictions, they expected the rebuilding of the temple to be immediately followed by God judging the nations and establishing his perfect kingdom with him in its midst (2v17). God’s response is that he will send a messenger to prepare his way, and then will himself come suddenly. He seems to refer to himself then as “the messenger of the covenant” – perhaps implying he will come as the angel of the LORD who accompanied the giving of the Mosaic covenant. The point however is that, rather than bringing a time of joy and peace as the people assumed, God will bring judgement because of their unfaithfulness. So he asks who can endure his appearing, and says he will do two things when he comes: refine the Levites so they will bring the people’s offerings in righteousness, and judge those who engage in sorcery, immorality, dishonesty and oppression (3v1-5). We should ensure we are truly repentant before longing to meet God!
            Here God affirms he doesn’t change so will engage with the people as he always has. He has ensured they are not destroyed even though they have always turned from him. And as always, he promises that if they return to him, he will to them. In anticipation of the question over how they should return, he states they should stop robbing him by failing to give the full tithes required of them for the running of the temple (against Neh 10v32-39). He urges them to test him in this, by giving it in full, trusting him to so bless their land with fruitfulness and delightfulness, that all nations acknowledge it. We are called to similar faith-fuelled generosity (2 Cor 9v6-11). God then charges the people with saying harsh things against him in claiming it is futile to serve him and that they have gained nothing by their obedience and mourning for sin, as the arrogant and evildoers prosper, and those who challenge God escape. Such sentiments come all too easily when God seems slow in keeping his promises (3v6-15).
            We’re told some who heard all this then feared God, encouraging one-another to honour him. We need such one-anothering if we are to be faithful (Heb 10v24-25). It seems Malachi then recorded their names before the presence of God in the temple to signify God remembering them, to which God responded that they would be his, and would be spared, as a son by his father, when God finally makes his treasured possession – ie. the final community of the faithful (as Ex 19v5). This must refer to the final judgement, when God will separate the righteous who serve God from the wicked who don’t (3v16-18). Like these repentant individuals, if we fear God our names are recorded for that day (Rev 20v15). Indeed, it will set the arrogant on fire, leaving nothing of them. But those who revere God will experience healing and life as under a sun of God’s righteousness, and will trample the wicked like ash under their feet. In the light of this the people are called to remember and so keep the Mosaic law, and are promised Elijah to unite fathers and children in love, which was the key means faithfulness in Israel was to be passed on (4v1-6). The point is that this messenger (as 3v1) will get the people living in faithfulness so that when God comes he will not strike the land with a curse, but find faithfulness.
            No further revelation was given for four hundred years, until Gabriel told Zechariah that his son John (the Baptist) would do just this in the spirit and power of Elijah (Lk 1v17). And so he prepared the way for God to finally come to his people in Christ, with judgement and with salvation!

Praying it home:
Praise God that for his readiness to renew us so that we would be faithful to him. Pray that you would offer the best of yourself and what you have wholeheartedly to him.

Thinking further:
Well done. You’ve done it! To read an introduction to Malachi from the NIV Study Bible, click here.

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