Presented at Florida College on February 2, 1989
Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament. After this oracle was delivered, God did not speak prophetically to His people again until John the Baptist appeared preaching in the wilderness of Judea over four hundred years later. The message of Malachi, whose name means “My Messenger,” was God’s last word to Israel prior to the approach of the kingdom of the Messiah. A little book of terrifying warnings and glorious hope, it is just as relevant and powerful today as it was in about 435 B.C. when it was first presented. The spiritual conditions confronted by Malachi in post-exilic Jerusalem are distressingly similar to some of our own.
The famous decree of Cyrus in 538 B.C. had allowed the captive Jews in Babylonia to return to Judea to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. Those who chose to return from exile did so in several groups: the first under Zerubbabel, and later others under Ezra and Nehemiah. Against serious difficulty and discouragement, these returnees repopulated Jerusalem and reinstituted the ancient temple worship. Spurring the people on to completion of their great work was the task of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah.
Those who came back first to Jerusalem faced considerable hardship, but they had the advantage of the excitement of an important undertaking in its early stages. As the years came and went, however, disillusionment and disinterest set in. By the time Ezra and Nehemiah arrived, they found social and spiritual conditions dangerously low. The walls of Jerusalem still lay demolished — but worse, the religious life of the people had badly deteriorated and called for urgent repair. “The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi” (Mal. 1:1) addressed these spiritual needs of Israel in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, about one hundred years after the first Jews had returned from Babylonian exile. Reading the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi together, we come up with something like the following list of characteristics of the times:
- Spiritual apathy (Mal. 1:2,13; 4:6).
- Corruption of the priesthood (Neh. 13:4-9,28-31; Mal. 1:6; 2:1-9; 3:3,4).
- Degeneracy in worship (Mal. 1:7-14).
- Withholding of tithes and offerings (Neh. 10:32-39; 13:10-14; Mal. 3:8-12).
- Breaking of the Sabbath (Neh. 10:31; 13:15-22).
- Cynicism and lack of moral discrimination (Mal. 2:17; 3:13-15,18).
- Disregard of God’s marriage law (Ezra 9:1,2; Neh. 10:30; 13:23-28; Mal. 2:10-16).
- Social injustice (Neh. 5:1-13; Mal. 3:5).
Against these sins, Malachi sounds the trumpet call of God’s righteous judgment. The Lord is coming to refine and purge His people (Mal. 3:1-3), and the day of His coming will consume with a burning that will leave the ungodly “neither root nor branch” (Mal. 4:1). But to the righteous remnant, that will be a day of blessing: “To you who fear My name, the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings” (Mal. 4:2).
The expression “fear My name” is centrally important. Underlying each specific condemnation of Israel’s sins is Malachi’s basic charge: the people had simply failed to fear God. The real sickness, of which all other problems were merely symptoms, was that the Lord of hosts was no longer being honored and revered. As John Benton suggests, “Reverence is not the homage which weak minds pay to religious tradition and the status quo; it is rather the loving, sincere and practical recognition of the greatness of God” (Losing Touch with the Living God: The Message of Malachi, pp. 27,28). The trouble in Malachi’s age was not unlike that of the Gentiles described by Paul in the New Testament: “Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful” (Rom. 1:21). Thus, the little book of Malachi, with which the Old Testament closes, is a call to the genuine reverence which must ever characterize God’s true people. The prophet’s summons to reverence may clearly be seen in the context of three of the most salient sins of Malachi’s people.
Corruption of the Priesthood
When God conferred the priesthood upon the Levitical family of Aaron, He assigned vital responsibilities to them. Their various duties may be put under three general headings: officiating in the various rituals of the tabernacle and temple service (Lev. 21:6), instructing the nation in the Law of Moses (Lev. 10:11), and adjudicating disputes over application of the law to specific cases (Deut. 17:8-11). In these functions — presiding over the temple sacrifices and ceremonies, teaching what God’s law required, and judging controverted cases between individuals — the priests were to play a critical role in seeing that Israel knew the Scriptures and worshiped properly. Their ministry would be a dominant influence upon the spiritual life of the nation. In short, the holiness God desired of His chosen people would depend heavily upon the exemplary character and function of the priests.
However, when Malachi delivered his prophecy at the end of Old Testament history, the Levitical priesthood was what it had often been since Sinai: corrupt, hypocritical, and a menace to the nation it was to have served. Malachi’s message contained a forceful rebuke to these negligent and unscrupulous priests, and a plea for them to lead Israel in a renewal of its reverence for the Lord. The sins of which the Lord’s priests were guilty are nothing less than shocking:
- Refusing to reverence the Lord and despising His name (Mal. 1:6).
- Offering the blind, lame, sick, etc. as sacrifices (Mal. 1:7,8).
- Treating the altar as contemptible (Mal. 1:7,12).
- Treating the Lord’s service as a wearisome drudgery (Mal. 1:13).
- Refusing to take the Lord’s warning to heart (Mal. 2:1,2).
- Corrupting the priestly covenant of Levi (Mal. 2:4,5,8).
- Departing from the way of the Lord (Mal. 2:8,9).
- Causing the people to stumble at the law (Mal. 2:8).
- Showing partiality in the priestly functions (Mal. 2:9).
If the priests would not repent of these sins, Malachi warned of consequences commensurate with the seriousness of their spiritual crimes. Through the prophet, God said, “I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings” (Mal. 2:2). This may mean that the priestly blessing of the people (Num. 6:22-27) would be turned into a curse, or that the priestly portion of the people’s sacrifices, on which the priests depended for their sustenance, would be cursed. Further, God promised, “I will rebuke your descendants” (Mal. 2:3). An alternate reading is “I will rebuke your arm,” i.e. the ability to perform the priestly sacrifices and blessings. In addition, God said, “[I will] spread refuse on your faces, the refuse of your solemn feasts; and one will take you away with it” (Mal. 2:3). The repugnance of the image of dung being smeared on the faces of the priests indicates the abominableness of their actions as God saw them. Finally, God spoke of a punishment that had already begun: “I also have made you contemptible and base before all the people” (Mal. 2:9). The honor in which righteous priests were to be held had been forfeited; these men deserved contempt and disrepute. Walter Kaiser points out the irony of this disrepute. Since they had shown disrespect to God in their efforts to court human popularity, God saw to it that their reward was not greater public acclaim, but public mockery (Malachi: God’s Unchanging Love, p. 64).
These final Old Testament warnings to the wayward priests of the “covenant of Levi” (Mal. 2:8) are set within the context of Malachi’s messianic prophecy of a coming day when the “Messenger of the covenant” (Mal. 3:1) would “purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness” (Mal. 3:3). Surely this is a reference to the spiritual priesthood of us today who are privileged “to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pt. 2:5). We are the very occupants of this purged and purified priesthood, having entered into it by the obedience of faith. The honor and blessings of our priesthood before the world far surpass those of the sons of Aaron before Israel. But the greater honor entails greater responsibilities, and Malachi’s message ought to probe our consciences. Are we doing any better with our priesthood than the Levites were with theirs?
Malachi describes the function of our priesthood no less than that of the Levites when he says, “The lips of a priest should keep knowledge, and people should seek the law from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts” (Mal. 2:7). Ideally, the priest is “reverent” (Mal. 2:5), the “law of truth” is in his mouth (Mal. 2:6), and “injustice” is never found on his lips (Mal. 2:6). He walks with God “in peace and equity” (Mal. 2:6), and he turns “many away from iniquity” (Mal. 2:6). An important part of the priest’s work, as G. Campbell Morgan puts it, is to tell the people the will of God, and “that not simply as one who possesses it as a wonderful theory, but as one who is himself living within the realm thereof” (Malachi’s Message for Today, p. 33). But woe to those priests, then and now, who have had exactly the opposite influence and “have caused many to stumble at the law” (Mal. 2:8). It is sobering to contemplate what must be God’s full wrath against those whose ministry it is to represent Him to others, but who, in fact, have been the occasion of others turning their backs on Him. There is no greater irreverence than that of people whose very business it is to glorify the Lord, and the warning of Malachi gives no hope to priests who, when admonished, “will not hear, and . . . will not take it to heart” (Mal. 2:2).
Disregard of God’s Marriage Law
Another evidence of Israel’s irreverence toward God was their violation of the divine will regarding marriage. There were actually two problems here. The first mentioned was intermarriage with “the daughter[s] of a foreign god” (Mal. 2:11). Many — some argue the priests in particular — were marrying Gentile women who were practitioners of idolatry, despite the clear prohibition of this in the Law of Moses (Exo. 34:12-17; Deut. 7:1-5). Both Ezra (Ezra 9:1,2) and Nehemiah (Neh. 10:30; 13:23-28) describe their distress at this situation. In calling for repentance, Nehemiah says, “I contended with them and cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair” (Neh. 13:25). Malachi is equally alarmed when he says, “Judah has dealt treacherously, and an abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem” (Mal. 2:11). He said the intermarriages had “profaned the Lord’s holy institution which He loves” (Mal. 2:11). This seems to mean that they had compromised the holiness of God’s beloved chosen nation. God was not concerned about the maintenance of a pure physical bloodline, but rather a pure religious character. True to God’s original prediction, this inner holiness had always been contaminated when Israel took idolaters for their spouses (e.g. 1 Kgs. 11:1-8), and so it was in Malachi’s day.
But another, and perhaps more fundamental, problem lay behind the pagan intermarriages. As if these were not bad enough, the men of Israel had been divorcing their original wives in order to marry the idolaters! Malachi charged, “The Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously” (Mal. 2:14). He then asked, “Did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring” (Mal. 2:15). There are only a handful of texts in the Old Testament that are as hard as this one to translate and interpret. But perhaps Kaiser is on the right track in his paraphrase:
Why did God make Adam and Eve only one flesh, when he might have given Adam many wives, for God certainly had more than enough of the Spirit, or his creative power, in reserve to furnish many partners? However, our God was seeking a godly offspring, and such plurality would not have been conducive to this result (Malachi: God’s Unchanging Love, pp. 71,72).
It is all too obvious that Malachi’s teaching on divorce is desperately needed today. Consider the sins involved in an unscriptural divorce, even when no adulterous remarriage takes place. First, a covenant is broken to which God Himself is a party. Malachi says of the unlawfully divorced wife, “She is your companion and your wife by covenant” (Mal. 2:14). Centuries earlier, Solomon had said that the seductress “forsakes the companion of her youth, and forgets the covenant of God” (Prov. 2:17). In view of the covenant involved, spouses ought to be able to rest their complete trust in the other’s dependability. When one betrays that confidence by divorce, Malachi says that he commits betrayal and treachery (Mal. 2:14-16). Further, to divorce is to perpetrate an act of injustice and violence against one’s mate (Mal. 2:16). It is an injurious harm inflicted on one who has a right to expect safety and support. To divorce one’s mate is nothing less than to back out of a God-honored covenant, to show oneself to be false hearted, and to commit cruelty in pursuit of one’s own will. It is the ultimately selfish act.
But the wrong done to a marriage partner is not the end of the matter. Malachi says, “You cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and crying; so He does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive it with good will from your hands” (Mal. 2:13). The men of Israel could not understand why God was not pleased with their sacrifices, but they were fools to think He would accept the “worship” of men busy doing treachery and violence to their wives. The wives were weeping for the injustice done to them, and “the tears of these mistreated wives stood as an impenetrable barrier between the worshipers and Jehovah” (Homer Hailey, A Commentary on the Minor Prophets, p. 416). God simply will not submit Himself to the indignity of being worshiped by those who care nothing about the wrongs they have done to others (Mt. 5:23,24; 1 Pt. 3:7; etc.). Unless repentance is forthcoming, broken relationships with other human beings break our relationship with God, and those who contemplate unlawfully divorcing a spouse would do well to consider that it will be impossible to do so and continue to worship God right along. Injustice toward the creature stems from irreverence toward the Creator — and God does not accept the worship of those who do not reverence Him.
To put it pointedly, God has said not to divorce one’s mate. In Jesus’ words, “What God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mt. 19:6). Only one scriptural exception to this is given (Mt. 19:9). Who is bold enough to add other reasons and affirm that man may with impunity do what God said not to do? Malachi’s words are as clear as they are strong: “The Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence” (Mal. 2:16). It is not without good reason that he added to his hearers, and to us, “Take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously” (Mal. 2:16).
Degeneracy in Worship
From the beginning of time, God has required worship of man. He has done so not because He needs anything man is capable of giving to Him (Ac. 17:25), but because worship is inherent in the Creator-creature relationship. Man cannot survive spiritually without worship any more than he can survive physically without air to breathe. But man has not always held an accurate concept of the nature and purpose of worship, nor has he always done what God required in the actual practice of worship. Malachi was called to prophesy to a people who had greatly perverted the divine worship, and his book deals with the irreverence that was being shown at the Lord’s altar.
It is disheartening to think that, within a hundred years of the return of the first Jewish exiles from their Babylonian ordeal, their worship of God had already stagnated and become vain, but that was the case. And what God had to say about it is typical of everything else the Scriptures say about vain worship: the rebuke was blistering. The thing they were calling worship was worse than no worship at all. The Lord asked, “‘Who is there even among you who would shut the doors, so that you would not kindle fire on My altar in vain? I have no pleasure in you,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘nor will I accept an offering from your hands'”(Mal. 1:10,11). God evidently did not judge the crisis to be a minor one. The worship of Israel had become empty and futile. Whatever else their sacrifices and ceremonies might have been good for, they were no good for pleasing the Lord. He did not accept them.
Malachi addressed himself to a people who had, over time, settled down to a rather mechanical concept of worship. They imagined that performance of the bare act itself was sufficient to produce the desired results, regardless of the character, attitude, or intent of the worshiper. What is more, they calculated that even the outward act could be trimmed and reduced to a convenient minimum (Mal. 1:6-14; Mal. 3:8-12). Malachi’s people seem to have had little sincerity or genuine reverence about their worship. Even when what they were doing was what had been commanded, their heart was not involved (Mal. 1:6). Isaiah’s words, written many years earlier and quoted by the Lord in Mt. 15:8,9, are apropos: “These people draw near to Me with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men” (Isa. 29:13). Malachi was simply the last in a long line of prophets God had sent to admonish Israel for the meaningless, useless way it worshiped.
There was widespread social corruption and injustice among Malachi’s people. The Lord said, “I will come near you for judgment; I will be a swift witness against sorcerers, against adulterers, against perjurers, against those who exploit wage earners and widows and the fatherless, and against those who turn away an alien — because they do not fear Me” (Mal. 3:5). The populace seems not to have considered how offensive to God these social sins rendered their worship. They were indifferent to the vital connection between acceptable worship and godly character. Failing to understand that God was looking for obedience, purity of life, and holiness in the inner man, they evidently assumed God would be pleased with their rituals irrespective of what they were doing outside the temple precincts. But Samuel had asked Saul the pertinent question centuries before: “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22; cf. Deut. 10:12; Mic. 6:6-8).
In the New Testament, the Lord said that a certain scribe was not far from the kingdom when he said, “To love [God] with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mk. 12:33). Jesus rebuked those of His day for their confusion about what God desires from man. On more than one occasion, in exhorting the ritualistic and self-righteous Pharisees, He quoted Hos. 6:6, where God had said, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” Cf. Mt. 9:13; 12:7.
Today, we sorely need to hear these words. If we think that we can turn a deaf ear to the pleas of the disadvantaged (Jas. 1:27), indulge in secret immorality (1 Tim. 2:8), live lives of bitterness, hostility, and enmity (Mt. 5:23,24), and then come and bow our heads piously before the table of the Lord on His day, we are badly mistaken. One of the Proverbs says simply, “One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination” (Prov. 28:9). And God said through Isaiah, “I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting” (Isa. 1:13; cf. vv. 10-15). To live unrighteously and then to go through the motions of righteous worship is to make a mockery of all that worship is intended to be. It is to treat God Himself with an offhanded contempt worse even than blasphemy. God has always been more patient with hatred in His foes than hypocrisy in His friends.
In Malachi’s day, however, the worship of Israel had one other fault: it was a worship of mere convenience rather than of true sacrifice. God said, “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings” (Mal. 3:8). Furthermore, according the Law of Moses, each animal to be sacrificed as a burnt offering to the Lord was to be without blemish of any kind; it was to be the very best the offerer had (Deut. 17:1; Lev. 22:17-25; etc.). But those to whom Malachi preached were offering animals that were blind, lame, sick, and possibly even stolen (Mal. 1:8,13,14). In this they were doing less by God than by their civil rulers. Malachi pointedly challenged them, “Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?” (Mal. 1:8). They were actually trying to swindle the Lord. “But cursed be the deceiver who has in his flock a male, and makes a vow, but sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished” (Mal. 1:14). Indeed, “only a desire to be something in public that one was not in one’s own heart could have led to this type of showmanship” (Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Malachi: God’s Unchanging Love, p. 50).
King David, of course, had exemplified the correct attitude about offerings to the Lord. When Araunah offered to donate to David the materials for a sacrifice, David replied, “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price; nor will I offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God with that which costs me nothing” (2 Sam. 24:24). It represents no great love for the Lord to “sacrifice” to Him whatever one can easily get along without. Hence, Jesus said of the poor widow who dropped two mites into the temple treasury, “[She] has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood” (Mk. 12:43,44). Though today the Lord does not require tithes and animal sacrifices, we still need Malachi’s admonition. We are the Gentiles among whom the Lord said, “My name shall be great” (Mal. 1:11). Our offering to Him must be “a pure offering” (Mal. 1:11). Whether it is time, money, or ourselves we are contributing to the Lord’s cause, it will have to be more than the surplus we skim off our abundance. The Hebrew writer urged, “Let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28,29). He will not be mocked with our leftovers.
At the bottom of it all, the worship which Malachi condemned was wrong for one basic reason: it trifled with the greatness of God. It was of the sort described by Solomon as “the sacrifice of fools” (Eccl. 5:1). It insulted God by using Him as a means to selfish ends; it was something in which the worshipers sought maximum carnal gains from minimum spiritual investments. And they had grown tired of playing even this game. They were slouching through their rituals with the sneer, “Oh, what a weariness!” (Mal. 1:13). Their perfunctory and slovenly worship had become little more than a drudgery. Malachi warned in no uncertain terms that Israel was wasting what time they did spend in this chore. Until the day when their worship could be an expression of loving reverence for the Lord of hosts, the doors of the temple should remain shut (Mal. 1:10).
Conclusion: The Messenger of the Covenant
As was typical of the prophets, Malachi laid great stress on the covenant of God with His people and on the unfaithfulness of Israel to that covenant. Had it not been for God’s faithfulness to His covenant with Abraham (Gen. 15:18; 17:2; etc.) and the covenant He made with Israel at Sinai (Exo. 19:5,6; 34:27; etc.), the nation would long since have passed away with other peoples under the righteous judgment of God: “For I am the Lord, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob” (Mal. 3:6). Despite the Lord’s steadfast love, however, Israel had not kept the covenant. God said, “From the days of your fathers you have gone away from My ordinances and have not kept them” (Mal. 3:7). Malachi deplored the sins of the people as covenant violations. In regard to the pagan intermarriages, for example, he said, “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously with one another by profaning the covenant of the fathers?” (Mal. 2:10). Similarly, the priestly corruptions were transgressions of the “covenant of Levi” (Mal. 2:8; cf. 2:4,5).
Conditions in and around Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile did not appear to be consistent with God’s promise of blessing to His reinstated people, and the people themselves could think of nothing to attribute this to except God’s indifference. Yet certain blessings of the covenant were clearly dependent on obedience to the Law of Moses (Deut. 28), and Malachi saw with a clear eye exactly what the problem was: the God of the covenant was being dishonored in the hearts of Israel. The Lord of hosts was being cheated (Mal. 1:14), robbed (Mal. 3:8), sneered at (Mal. 1:13), insulted and treated with contempt (Mal. 1:7,12). Harsh words were being spoken against Him (Mal. 2:13), His name was being profaned (Mal. 1:12), His justice was being called into question (Mal. 2:17), and His patience was being worn thin by their words (Mal. 2:17). The people denied that God loved them (Mal. 1:2), and they had openly begun to doubt there was any advantage in serving God, complaining that God blessed the wicked more than the righteous (Mal. 3:14,15). From our vantage point, it is nearly incredible that these backsliders were still expecting God’s blessing! There was irreverence piled upon irreverence. Yet, despite all this, Israel was blindly ignorant that she had a problem. Charged with despising God’s name, the people’s dumbfounded response was: “In what way have we despised Your name?”
It is crucial to note that these covenant-breakers in Israel were not in open rebellion against God. To read the horrible ways in which God said they had shown disrespect to Him, we might easily think of them as blatant sinners who had departed from the Lord altogether. But that was not the case. From God’s perspective, they were worse than blatant sinners. These were men and women, perhaps not totally unlike ourselves, who, to borrow Paul’s words, had “a form of godliness” (2 Tim. 3:5) but denied the power of it. If they were shaving the corners a bit, still they were continuing to go through most of the outward motions of the public worship of God. Their sins were religiously “respectable,” and their problem was on the inside, where only God sees. Is it not possible that God at times sees in us the same shallowness of faith, the same selfishness, the same compromise, the same weariness with worship — in short, the same basic lack of reverence that plagued Israel? If so, we need to hear Malachi’s warning.
There were those in Malachi’s day, as there have always been, who had such a grossly inadequate understanding of their own sins that they looked forward to the day when God would pour out His vengeance on “the wicked.” And Malachi left no doubt that a day of reckoning was ahead: “Behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up” (Mal. 4:1). But if Israel welcomed this punitive aspect of the Messiah’s coming, they might be surprised to find themselves among those burned up.
And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming . . . But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness (Mal. 3:1-3).
For those who had trifled with the awesome holiness of God, the coming of the Messiah would not be a joyful event.
But, God be thanked, there was also in Malachi’s day a righteous remnant. For these, the Messiah would bring joy.
Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name. “They shall be mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “on the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him” (Mal. 3:16,17).
The Lord continues, “To you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves. You shall trample the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day that I do this” (Mal. 4:2,3). To those who knew what true reverence meant, the coming of the Messiah would be as the morning rise of the life-giving sun with healing in its rays.
Malachi showed, however, that another figure must come before the Messiah. Through the prophet, God said, “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me” (Mal. 3:1). And at the very end of the prophecy, God foretold, “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” (Mal. 4:5,6). No Old Testament prophecy is interpreted any more clearly in the New Testament than this one, which is a prophecy of John the Baptist, whose work it was to proclaim the repentance from sin without which Christ and His kingdom could not be received (Mt. 11:10-14; 17:10-13; Mk. 1:1-4; Lk. 1:17,76; Jn. 1:23; 3:28).
Thus we come to “the end of the end” of the Old Testament. God had brought Israel into nationhood and entered into His covenant with her. He had sustained her, blessed her, preached to her, punished her, and restored her. After all this, Israel persisted in irreverent sin. Through Malachi, God issued one last call for repentance, announced the coming of one who would prepare the way for the Messiah, and proclaimed the advent of the Messiah Himself. There was nothing more that God could do or say to Israel until “the fullness of the time had come” (Gal. 4:4,5) four hundred years later.
Malachi’s prophecy ends with this threat of the Lord, “Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (Mal. 4:6). The Gospel of John says, “The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:14). Placing the law of the Old Covenant over against the grace of the New Covenant, many commentators point out that Malachi, the last book in the Old Testament, ends with the word curse, while Revelation, the last book in the New Testament, ends on a note of blessing. It is surely not coincidental that this is true. Even so, we had better be careful not to underestimate the relevance of Malachi’s curse to ourselves. In this age of grace, it is just as necessary for us to reverence God as it was for the Jews of ancient Jerusalem to do so. If we do not hold God in our hearts with genuine godly fear, Malachi’s curse will fall on us as surely it did on those of his own day. God requires that we honor and respect Him, not only in word but also in deed. He seeks from us a worship that is truly worship, one that heeds His instructions, and one that springs from hearts of love and faith. He requires that we fear His name. As in Malachi’s day, so in ours, God’s words roll thunderously down from heaven: “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is My reverence?” (Mal. 1:6).
- Benton, John. Losing Touch with the Living God: The Message of Malachi. Hertfordshire, England: Evangelical Press, 1985.
- Hailey, Homer. A Commentary on the Minor Prophets. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972.
- Kaiser, Walter C., Jr. Malachi: God’s Unchanging Love. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984.
- Morgan, G. Campbell. Malachi’s Message for Today. Reprint. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972.