As the Old Testament narrative winds down, there is a clash of darkness and light reflected in the climactic cymbal crash of the book of Malachi. God’s people are once again mired in disobedience and disregard for his name. They have profaned his covenant. The priests bring polluted offerings. Judah’s worship is halfhearted, lazy, dry, weary. They are greedy and dishonest (3:6-9). Even in their emotional outpourings, God sees through to the sins they keep trying to sweep under the rug (2:13-14). Their demands for justice don’t evince a passion for holiness so much as a doubt of God’s oversight (2:17).
For all of this and more, God through his prophet Malachi issues one of the most terrifying warnings in the Scriptures. In Malachi 3:2-3, God promises his fiery vengeance. But to the diligent eye, in the midst of looming condemnation sparkle gospel promises. Malachi’s prophecy itself begins with God’s affirmation “I have loved you” (1:2). Notice the past tense—“I have loved.” Why? Because God wants his people to obey him out of awe of historic faithfulness. Because he wants them to honor and glorify him out of remembrance of his covenantal love and blessings. This is the root of all worshipful obedience in the present: belief in God’s historic love.
For us today that historic love is the gospel of Jesus Christ. For God’s people in Malachi’s day, it was the covenant made with Abraham, the Exodus event, and many other ensuing evidences of God’s faithful provision for his children. Interspersed with warnings in the book of Malachi are promises of deliverance and blessing, but as the book comes to a close, so does the prophetic vision for God’s people.
The end of this book will mark the beginning of 400 years of God’s silence. No prophets in all that time, no inspired Scripture. It’s as if God is closing a door on his people. But perhaps not all the way. It is cracked a bit, a little light peeking through. The day of the Lord is coming, a day that will mean judgment for the wicked but healing, joy, and victory for those who fear the name of God. Elijah will return to announce that day, and the Lord himself will come, bringing reconciliation with him. Four hundred years later, a wilderness prophet will arrive to declare the dawning of the Lord’s favor and the good news of restoration between man and God, man and man, and creation and God. The door swings wide open then.