By Sam E. Stone
During the past three months we have seen how various Old Testament prophets took God’s demand for justice to the people. We have considered Amos, Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah. Though their careers spanned several hundred years, they preached a single message: the nation’s relationship to God called for faith and obedience.
When the prophet Malachi came on the scene, a remnant of the Jewish nation had returned from captivity and rebuilt the temple. His name means “messenger,” and his book concludes the Old Testament. After Malachi, 400 years passed with no prophet from God until the coming of John the Baptist.
Malachi warned the people, “You have wearied the Lord with your words.” Specifically he corrected their false view that those who do evil are still good in God’s eyes (Malachi 2:17). The people seemed to have lost faith in the promises of God because he had not acted in the way they had expected nor as quickly as they had wanted. At the same time they saw that their wicked neighbors continued to prosper.
What to Expect
“I will send my messenger,” the Lord promised. “Suddenly . . . (he) will come.” God had not yet set up his kingdom because the people were not properly prepared for him to do so. Later Jesus explained that the “messenger” preparing the way was the one who came in the power and spirit of Elijah—John the Baptist (Matthew 11:10-14). After John’s ministry, then the Messiah was to come, the messenger of the covenant (Isaiah 42:6).
Who can endure the day of his coming? the prophet asked. Malachi spoke elsewhere of “the day of the Lord” (see 3:16-18; 4:1-6). This term seems to include the entire Christian dispensation, with special emphasis on the end time. No one can stand before God’s righteous judgment (Joel 2:11). He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver. Like a smelter purifies gold or silver by fire so, when the Messiah came, he would remove all corruption and impurities from God’s people. They would be made clean, like clothes bleached white by a launderer’s powerful soap (see also Mark 9:3; Revelation 3:5).
Then the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem would be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by. The Levites were to serve at the altar, representing the people before God. Judgment must begin there. Once they had been cleansed of their sins, then their sacrifices would once more be acceptable to the Lord (see 2:1-5). The former years could refer to the times when Moses, David, and various godly kings encouraged the people in sincere, faithful worship. Today Christians are considered priests in God’s kingdom (1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6).
The Lord will do just as he has said: “I will come to put you on trial.” God will judge not only the Levites, but all of the people. He is concerned about personal morality, not just formal worship.
Malachi lists sins that are especially serious, some punishable by death. Sorcerers and adulterers are clearly condemned (Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22). Perjury and the abuse of servants will also bring God’s wrath. Throughout the Bible, people who mistreat widows, orphans, and aliens are viewed as deserving God’s judgment. Those who commit such sins prove by their actions that they do not fear God.
How to Prepare
God calls sinners to repentance. He promises them, “Return to me, and I will return to you.” Jesus taught this principle when he described the patience of the waiting father longing for the return of his son (Luke 15:20). James said, “Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8).
The people in Malachi’s day seemed oblivious as to how their rebellion was viewed by God. In their eyes they were just fine. The prophet described one specific way in which they needed to demonstrate repentance and contrition. They had been robbing God of the tithes and offerings that were due him (Numbers 18:21). They were to give the firstfruits of all their crops and livestock to the Lord.
God assured them that, when they obeyed this command, he would “pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” Similar generosity is commanded for God’s people today (2 Corinthians 8:1-15).
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.