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Malachi

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Introductory Material

When life is hard, we are quick to doubt God’s character and neglect our responsibilities to him and our fellow human beings. Malachi, the last writing prophet of the Old Testament, directly addresses these perennial challenges by relating six disputes between God and his people. Almost the entire book is God’s direct speech (47 of 55 verses). The disputes follow a consistent pattern: the prophet speaks for the Lord, Israel responds either defiantly or dejectedly, then the Lord counters their complaint with words of both confrontation and comfort. Malachi most likely wrote after the restoration under Zerubbabel, Haggai, and Zechariah, but before the religious and political reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah. Clues include the term “governor” (Mal 1:8), the Persian imperial officer overseeing the district of Judea, and similar religious and social problems to those addressed by Ezra and Nehemiah. Regular temple worship and sacrifice had been restored long enough for Judean worshipers to become listless in their observance. In a time of spiritual apathy and unfulfilled hopes, Malachi summons Israel to renew wholehearted worship of the God of Israel who is still unfolding his plan of judgment and salvation.

Purpose

In the face of our hardships, complaints and complacency, God reminds us through Malachi of his faithful love, universal greatness, and future judgment.

Key Verse

“‘I have loved you,’ says the LORD.”

— Malachi 1:2a ESV

Outline

Introduction: The Lord Speaks (1:1)

First Discourse: The Lord Loves Israel (1:2–5)

Second Discourse: The Lord Exposes Faulty Worship (1:6–2:9)

The Lord Deserves Honor in Worship (1:6–14)

The Lord Holds Priests Accountable (2:1–9)

Third Discourse: The Lord Indicts Faithlessness (2:10–16)

Fourth Discourse: The Lord Will Judge Justly (2:17–3:5)

Fifth Discourse: The Lord Rewards the Repentant (3:6–12)

Sixth Discourse: The Lord Remembers the Righteous (3:13–4:3)

Conclusion: The Lord Promises (4:4–6)

Introduction: The Lord Speaks (1:1)

Malachi begins abruptly and ominously. An “oracle” often foretold impending judgment (Isa 13–23). The term links Malachi with the concluding sections of Zechariah (Zech 9:1; 12:1). “The word of the Lord” is a standard way to refer to God’s words through his prophets that is especially appropriate for Malachi.

At this time, not much of “Israel” was left. Assyria conquered, scattered, and assimilated the northern kingdom in 722 BC, and Babylon decimated and deported the southern kingdom of Judah in 587/6 BC. The citizens of Judea had recently returned under the sponsorship of the Persian Empire. The territory of Judea (the administrative province within the Persian empire) covered less than half the territory of ancient Judah. But the Lord persists in referring to this remnant as Israel. They are a new Israel and inheritors of Israel’s promises.

Malachi means “my messenger” and could be either a personal name or a title. Prophetic names regularly match their ministry, and messengers appear throughout the book (Mal 2:7; twice in 3:1). Malachi as a proper name is most likely since every other use of this formula introduces the proper name of an individual. We have no biographical information about Malachi. The focus is not the messenger but the message: The Lord speaking to Israel.

First Discourse: The Lord Loves Israel (1:2–5)

1:2–3 Though an oracle normally threatens judgment, the Lord’s first word to battered Israel is “I have loved you.” Despite their shortcomings addressed later, the Lord starts by affirming his love for his people. There is great pastoral wisdom here: knowledge of God’s love comforts the downcast and often encourages a deeper and more genuine repentance.

Knowledge of God’s love comforts the downcast and often encourages a deeper and more genuine repentance.

To this affectionate affirmation, Israel retorts, “How have you loved us?” The glories of Israelite history were distant memories replaced by the everyday toil of survival. The excitement of the return from exile and the renewal of temple worship was long extinguished. Israel asks, “What have you done for us lately?”

In response, God invites a comparison. Often comparisons arouse envy, arrogance, bitterness, jealousy, or pride. But the contrasting fates of the twin brothers Jacob and Esau, beginning in Genesis 25, reveal God’s love for his people. God’s love is covenantal, a gratuitously established relationship that should elicit love in return (Deut 7:6–9; 11:1). God’s hatred of Esau is not an out-of-control rage but the absence of any relationship. Neither brother deserved God’s favor, and their ultimate fate depended upon God’s purposes alone (Rom 9:13–16). Though chosen and loved, Jacob endured many hardships, many self-inflicted. Meanwhile, Esau lived comfortably in his homeland and prospered materially. Israel and Edom mirrored the lives of Jacob and Esau. While Israel and Judah had been conquered and exiled, Edom had remained secure in the land. Edom even allied with the Babylonian conquerors, cheering on and assisting in Jerusalem’s destruction. In response, Psalm 137:7 prayed: “Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites, the day of Jerusalem, how they said, ‘Lay it bare, lay it bare, down to its foundations!’”

1:4–5 But Israel’s exile was not the end of the story. Oracles of God’s judgment and ultimate destruction of Edom unfolded in Malachi’s day (Jer 49:7–22; Lam 4:21–22; Ezek 25:12–14; Obad 1–21). Edom’s collapse began with military campaigns of the last Babylonian king Nabonidus. Then nomadic Arab tribes, the Nabateans, drove Edom from their ancestral homeland. “His heritage,” the same Hebrew word for inheritance, contrasts Edom’s dispossession with the restoration of (some of) Israel’s allotted tribal inheritances (Josh 13–19). Closely related to heritage/inheritance, the Lord himself was Israel’s portion whatever their territorial situation (Ps 16:5–6). Edom’s resolve to “rebuild” translates two Hebrew verbs (return and build) that echo Israel’s post-exile return. The Lord, however, will thwart Edom’s hopes for restoration. Through Zechariah, God promised that Judah would be called “a holy land” (Zech 2:12) that he would cleanse (Zech 5:5–11). But Edom shall be “the wicked country” and “people with whom the Lord is angry forever” (Mal 1:4). God’s faithfulness to Israel and humbling of arrogant nations will cause Israel to declare the Lord’s greatness (1:5).

The gospel promises restoration on the other side of judgment for those who find their shelter not in impregnable fortresses of ancestral homelands, but in God’s uniquely beloved Son.

Subsequent history further demonstrates God’s grace. In Amos 9:11–12, God promised to restore “the booth of David . . . that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name.” Displaced Edomites dwelt in Idumea, a region within the borders of ancient Israel. The geographical re-location of the Edomites into Israel’s ancient boundaries pre-figured a future spiritual absorption. Recognizing the gospel’s summons of both Jewish and Gentile Christians, James quoted Amos to describe the boundless mercy of God extended to people from among all the nations (Acts 15:16–18). None deserve God’s love. All deserve his judgment. But the gospel promises restoration on the other side of judgment for those who find their shelter not in impregnable fortresses of ancestral homelands, but in God’s uniquely beloved Son. Doubting God’s love during hardship often intensifies a believer’s suffering. But God has demonstrated a love greater than Edom’s judgment. The Son bore his Father’s anger against our wickedness so that we might share in Christ’s inheritance and the Father’s love of his Son.

Second Discourse: The Lord Exposes Faulty Worship (1:6–2:9)

Malachi’s second discourse is his longest. The first portion (1:6–14) confronts priests and public together. The second portion (2:1–9) rebukes priests specifically.

The Lord Deserves Honor in Worship (1:6–14)

1:6­–7 The second discourse begins much more confrontationally than the first. The Lord employs an analogy from human relationships. Though the Lord is Israel’s master and father (Exod 4:22; Hos 11:1; Isa 1:2), Israel has “despised” his name. God addresses priests directly but implicates all Israel. The stakes are high: the analogy appeals to the fifth commandment (Exod 20:12; Deut 5:16) which promises territorial security for obedience and implies insecurity for disobedience. The greatest fault of just-mentioned Esau was that he despised his birthright, much as Malachi’s audience now despises what God has given.

The “polluted food” was defective animal sacrifices. Israel contests the charge but their question, “How have we polluted you?” recognizes that defective worship diminishes, rather than enhances, God’s “name” (Mal 1:6), his reputation and glory among the nations. The phrase here, “the Lord’s table” (1:7, 12), is unique in the Old Testament (though similar to Ps 23:5 and Ezek 41:22; 44:16).

1:8–14 The law required sacrifices free of any defect (Exod 12:5; Lev 1:3, 10, etc.), forbidding blind, lame, or sick animals (Lev 22:18–25; Deut 15:21). Both the worshipper presenting flawed animals, and the priest accepting them, were guilty. In another analogy, God contrasts such negligence with the more dignified gifts presented when seeking favor from the local governor. Why should the Persian governor receive more respect than their own covenant God who is “a great King” over all governors, kings, and emperors? Such cheap sacrifices were even presented for voluntary vows (Mal 1:14). Having pledged a sacrifice if God intervened, certain Israelites reneged on their vows by offering blemished animals after God answered their prayers favorably. These “cheats” incurred God’s curse for their ingratitude in the face of God’s mercy. Israelites may consider worship obligations a “weariness” (1:13), but the Lord is so weary with such worship that he implores someone to “shut the doors” (1:10).

The Israelites’ behavior is all the more blameworthy given God’s universal reign “from the rising of the sun to its setting (1:11). As the ESV footnote indicates, the verbs of 1:11 and 1:14 may be either present or future. On one hand, all creation reflects (Rom 1:20) and acknowledges (Ps 19:1–4) God’s glory and goodness. On the other hand, humanity fails to honor and fear his name. Nonetheless, God is always making himself known among all nations, especially now through the global expansion of the gospel in fulfillment of Malachi’s vision.

Jesus Christ is the uniquely pure offering (1:11) who is free of any moral blemish. He is the uniquely faithful worshiper who always delighted to do his Father’s will. Yet, Christ assumed the pollution of our sin (2Cor 5:21) to pay the penalty for our lethargic worship. Now, we celebrate that deliverance at the Lord’s Table (1Cor 10:21). Christians are prone to the same negligence as ancient Israelites. Through Christ, we are both forgiven for our half-hearted, wearisome worship and reinvigorated to give God proper honor. In view of God’s mercies, we present our bodies as a living sacrifice, which is our spiritual worship (Rom 12:1).

The Lord Holds Priests Accountable (2:1–9)

2:1–2 As the second dispute continues, God charges Israel’s priests with professional malpractice for their failure to administer worship and teach God’s law. “This command” recalls the priests’ responsibility to know, study, and apply his instructions to the specific experiences and questions of God’s people. Since they have misapplied his word, God announces the consequence for their failure: “I will curse your blessings” (2:2). Pronouncing blessing (benediction) was at the heart of priestly ministry (Num 6:24–27). But since the priests dishonored God’s name, he will not honor their blessings. God will frustrate the priests’ ministry and the peoples’ labor. The “if . . . then” structure acts as a warning of pending judgment that should motivate repentance, but God also reveals that this judgment is “already” upon them. When the priests invert their priorities, God inverts the result of their ministry from blessing to curse.

When the priests invert their priorities, God inverts the result of their ministry from blessing to curse.

2:3 “Offspring” is “seed” in Hebrew, which can mean either agricultural seed or biological offspring. Both are probably intended. God will reduce both their families and their resources. Shockingly, God will “spread dung on your faces.” Dung translates a technical Hebrew word for offal: the unclean internal organs of sacrificial animals, including their excretory contents. The priests would suffer the same fate as unclean sacrificial waste: “taken away” for disposal outside the camp. Those whose office required holiness and cleanness would be utterly defiled.

2:4–7 The priests’ humiliation resulted from their failure in their duties. “My covenant with Levi” refers poetically to the responsibilities that God entrusted to the tribe of Levi and the priests descending from Aaron. God calls special attention to the task of instruction (2:6, 7): teaching God’s Word to God’s people (Deut 33:10). An ideal priest is both teacher and practitioner of God’s law. A good priest “walked” with God in peace and uprightness (2:6), like Enoch (Gen 5:22), or Adam and Eve in the Garden (Gen 3:8). The good priest demonstrates integrity, and his ministry leads people to repent and to change (2:6). This ministry is “a covenant of life and peace” (2:5). Conformity to God’s law enriches life; abandoning God’s design for life results in death for ourselves and others. The Levitical covenant is also “a covenant of fear” (2:5). This fear is the profound awe, respect, and reverence for the creator God as even more holy, wise, and powerful than we can conceive, and therefore worthy of our trust. The priest should diligently “guard knowledge” as a soldier would vigilantly guard his post (2:7). The true priest is a messenger of the Lord. This rare phrase is normally reserved for the angel of the Lord, who speaks directly for God.

Conformity to God’s law enriches life.

2:8–9 That is what a priest ought to be (2:4–7), but God charges the priests of Malachi’s day with dereliction of duty (2:8). Judah’s priests have turned from the way of God’s Word themselves and caused others to stumble also. The priests “show partiality” (2:9) to certain people, and to people over God. Partiality happens when fear of people displaces fear of God.

How do we avoid spiritual malpractice today? Though the Levitical priesthood is defunct since the destruction of the temple and Jesus’s fulfillment of the priestly ministry (Heb 7–8), God still holds people responsible for their instruction, so not many should presume to become teachers (Jas 3:1). The entire Christian church, like ancient Israel, is a kingdom of priests and a holy nation so that we “may proclaim the excellencies” of our Lord (Exod 19:5–6; 1Pet 2:9). Every Christian mediates the good news of grace in Christ to those around us by our words and actions and should not show partiality (Jas 2:1–14). But neither Christian preachers nor people are consistently faithful ambassadors for Jesus. We all need a true priest who perfectly fears and reveres God and who teaches God’s Word accurately, impartially, and compassionately. Malachi describes the ideal priest as a messenger/angel of the Lord, a heavenly being who delivered God’s Word. Elsewhere, the angel of the Lord appears to be God himself (see Judg 6:11–27). The Lord Jesus proves to be the ideal priest and messenger of God who is God himself. Never partial, Jesus confronted the wealthy and influential (Matt 16:1–4; 19:16–22), while being gentle and gracious to the repentant, the poor, and the outcasts (Luke 7:36–50). He always walked in fear, awe, and reverence of his Father, giving true instruction, bringing life and peace and leading many to repentance. Bearing our curse, Jesus was removed from the temple and taken outside the city gates to a place of shame, defilement, and ridicule. The resurrected and ascended Jesus is still our great high priest, teaching us through the Holy Spirit. Jesus qualifies the disqualified for the privilege of teaching his life-giving commandments to ourselves, our families, our communities, and the nations, until he returns in glory (see Matt 28:20).

Third Discourse: The Lord Indicts Faithlessness (2:10–16)

2:10 Malachi’s third dispute shifts from the ruptured relationship between the Lord and his people to ruptured relationships within families. “Father” may refer to the Lord (see Mal 1:6 above) or to Abraham, the covenantal head of Israel. The second question clearly brings God into view, and the third question unambiguously highlights Israel’s “fathers.” Despite sharing ancestry, citizenship, and the benevolence of the Creator, the citizens of Judah have been faithless with God and one another. Two forms of faithlessness are rebuked.

2:11–12 First, Israelites have entered religiously-mixed marriages. The Lord opposes marriage to “the daughter of a foreign god,” not the daughter of foreign parents. Throughout history, the Lord welcomed foreign-born men and women into Israel who devoted themselves to him. But a bride (or bridegroom) who remains devoted to a rival deity cannot unite fully with a spouse who belongs to the God of Israel. And the Israelite who yokes himself to another God through marriage profanes the sanctuary and is unfit for temple worship. Malachi prays that the Lord cut off that person’s descendants, barring children with divided religious and family loyalties from God’s covenantal people and their worship.

2:13–16 Second, Israelites have divorced their wives. The Lord laments these terminated marriages which likely paved the way for more materially advantageous marital alliances with Israel’s pagan neighbors. God created marriage for lifelong companionship and child-rearing, not economic advantage. In marriage, God unites husband and wife as one (Gen 2:24), not only physically, but spiritually. The spouses are to be covenanted “companions” from their youth on. God’s purpose for marriage also includes biological and spiritual fruitfulness. “Godly offspring” continue the covenant community in which God normally nurtures a large portion of the next generation of his people, who will themselves welcome those who repent of foreign gods to join God’s people by faith. Private marital faithfulness is better than public displays of religious fervor to ensure that one’s “prayers may not be hindered” (Mal 2:13; 1Pet 3:7). A repeated summons to vigilantly “guard” the marriage bond surrounds the condemnation of divorce.

What Does the Bible Teach about Divorce?

The Hebrew at the beginning of verse 16 is notoriously difficult. Many translations read “‘I hate divorce’ says the Lord.” No matter how this phrase is translated, God’s purpose is to rebuke husbands who wrongfully divorce their wives and to advocate for the mistreated women. Note that God hates the relational “violence” of divorce, not all divorcees. Jesus confronted the misuse of Mosaic divorce legislation (Deut 24:1–4) and maintained an exalted view of marriage based upon Genesis 2:24 and consistent with Malachi 2:10–16. But Jesus also recognized that faithlessness (adultery) could rend a marriage and render that marriage irreparable. Likewise, Paul encouraged Christians whose post-marital conversions placed them in a religiously mixed marriage to remain faithful to their spouse unless the nonbelieving spouse abandoned the marriage (1Cor 7:10–16). Unfaithfulness may take other forms such as abuse or neglect that violate one’s marriage vows (Exod 21:10–11). Married couples ought to guard their marriages vigilantly, seek help when their relationship flounders, and only pursue divorce after much wise counsel as a last regrettable step. In truth, we are all guilty of being faithless to one another and must all find our hope in Christ’s faithfulness alone, whether married, single, widowed, or divorced. Jesus laid down his own life for that of his faithless bride, the church (Eph 5:25–30), so that he might make us radiantly beautiful (Isa 61:10; Rev 19:6–9).

Fourth Discourse: The Lord Will Judge Justly (2:17–3:5)

2:17–3:4 If Israelites considered God’s worship wearisome (1:13), the Lord felt the same about Israel’s words (2:17). The success of evil people leads Israel to accuse God himself of injustice. The so-called problem of evil is not new, although different cultures draw different conclusions. Confronted with apparent injustice, Israel questioned God’s character, not his existence.

“Where is the God of justice?” In response, God promises his imminent arrival to administer judgment. God will send “my messenger” (Hebrew, malachi) before him like a royal herald clearing the highway for the passage and arrival of the king. Malachi speaks ironically of “the Lord whom you seek” and the messenger “in whom you delight” (3:1). When the Lord does arrive, Israel may regret her desire for justice and judgment. “The day of his coming” (3:2), frequently foretold by the prophets, will be a day of judgment. The Lord will be like refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap that produce beautiful precious metals and clean garments by separating and eliminating the dross and the dirt. God’s purification will renew human society. Purged and purified priests will lead God’s people in pleasing worship.

3:5 Culpable behaviors include faults religious (sorcery), interpersonal (adultery), judicial (false witness), commercial and political (oppression of workers, widows, orphans, and immigrants). All these activities despise and dishonor the Lord. Although God’s future judgment might frighten the rebellious, the negligent, and the oppressive, his swift coming as an infallible and all-seeing witness is good news for victims.

The Gospels identify John the Baptist as Jesus’s forerunner and herald (Matt 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 1:17, 76; 7:27). His ministry of repentance was received joyfully by the people but skeptically by entrenched spiritual and political rulers. In the future day of judgment, unrepentant humanity will beg to hide from the coming of the God of Justice (Luke 23:30; Rev 6:16). Ultimately, God’s perfect holiness threatens all without exception. Recognizing Jesus’s divine authority, Peter would cry, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). Only because Jesus himself came first to endure perfect divine justice for them, may his people look forward to that day with joyful hope.

Fifth Discourse: The Lord Rewards the Repentant (3:6–12)

3:6–8 Following the previous warning of swift judgment, Malachi contrasts the characters of God and his people (3:6). This pivot verse concludes the previous argument about justice and propels us into the next dispute. The parallelism is beautiful literature and theology. The Lord does not change; he is reliable, consistent, and honors his promises. His people are similarly and frustratingly consistent. Jacob’s name (meaning “swindler” or “cheat”) recalls his character. Like their ancestor Jacob, Israel is trying to swindle God. Only God’s unchanging goodness preserves his people from their deserved destruction. Despite multigenerational disobedience “from the days of your fathers” (3:7), God summons them to repentance: “Return to me, and I will return to you!” (3:7, see also Zech 1:3).

Instead, Israel stalls (Mal 3:7). They deflect responsibility, delay obedience, and impute blame to God. If only God had made the path of repentance clearer! Like a willful child resisting parental instruction, Israel acts as if repentance is far more complicated than it truly is. In response to Israel’s evasion, the Lord gets uncomfortably specific. How should you repent? Stop robbing me (3:8)!

God is not simply critiquing a general lack of generosity. After the exodus, the Lord granted the Promised Land to Israel. The tithe (10%) of the land’s agricultural produce served as a perpetual reminder that they were tenants, enjoying the use and benefits of the land at the discretion of their sovereign King and Redeemer, to whom it all belonged. A specific obligation of the Sinai Covenant, the tithe had three particular purposes. First, the tithe supported the full-time ministry of priests and Levites (Num 18:21). Second, the tithe provided for the economically vulnerable: “the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow” (Deut 14:28–29). Third, the tithe facilitated the regular celebration of the family of God in God’s presence (Deut 14:23–26). Dodging the tithe actually exacerbated Israel’s collective poverty by de-funding the religious and social structures that God had provided for their spiritual and material flourishing.

3:9 In response to Israel’s wrongful withholding of the tithe, the Lord withheld covenant blessings and disbursed covenant curse. The whole nation (goy) was complicit, a word rarely associated with Israel. Usually, other non-Israelite nations are called goyim. But God’s people are acting exactly like the other nations that are indifferent and estranged from their Maker.

3:10–12 In response, God calls them to “test” him (Mal 3:10). Normally, testing God implies or expresses unbelief and is a bad idea (Deut 6:16). Here, faithful testing pursues obedience even if it seems counter-intuitive or foolish. Amidst dire economic straits, God calls Israel to loosen their purse-strings rather than to clench tight their fists, so that he might shower blessings such as abundant rain (Mal 3:10) and freedom from crop-devouring pests (3:11). The conditions for bountiful harvests reflect God’s covenant promises to bless obedience (Deut 28:1–14). The result would be worldwide recognition of Israel as the Lord’s most favored nation (Mal 3:12).

Our ungenerous hearts deserve God’s curse to frustrate our work. Instead, Jesus endured a life of poverty and the absolute deprivation of the cross for us. In him we share every spiritual blessing and his rightful inheritance of the new heavens and the new earth. As Paul writes, “you know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2Cor 8:9).

Should Christians Still Tithe?

The Mosaic covenant and tithe obligation are no longer in effect, but the law still reveals who God is and what he desires. Christians relate to the same God of Israel who owns and loans to us all that we have. After Jesus’s death and resurrection, we are not bound to tithe but summoned to a grateful life of sacrificial praise for our deliverance from sin and death. Christian generosity ought to be proportional (as “each may prosper,” 1Cor 16:2) and willing (“not reluctantly or under compulsion,” because, “God loves a cheerful giver,” 2Cor 9:7), even in adversity. The Macedonian church demonstrated “a wealth of generosity” despite their own “severe test of affliction” and “extreme poverty” (2Cor 8:2). The New Testament makes no prescription, but God’s even more abundant grace in Christ should prompt even more generosity. Such liberality allows the church to continue to fulfill the three purposes of the Old Testament tithe: supporting ministry, relieving poverty, and sharing hospitality. These priorities remain in effect because God does not change.

Sixth Discourse: The Lord Remembers the Righteous (3:13–4:3)

3:13–15 The sixth and final discourse returns to the themes of the fourth dispute. Israel disparages God because of the seeming prosperity of “evildoers” who escape retribution for their self-enriching actions. Here the issue is not one of justice but of reward. To Malachi’s audience, there seems to be no “profit” in fearing the Lord and esteeming his name. “It is vain to serve God,” because the righteous do not “prosper” as do the “arrogant” (3:14–15).

3:16–18 Earlier, the Lord focused on the certain and swift coming of the day of judgment. He returns to that theme here and expands it. There will be a “distinction” (3:18) between those who have “spoken against” the Lord and those who “feared the Lord and spoke with one another” (3:13, 16). The Lord hears from heaven and records it all (Exod 32:32; Pss 56:8; 69:28; 139:16; Dan 12:1; Luke 10:20; Phil 4:3; Rev 20:11–15). There is not one word or thought that escapes his notice. What is the profit or gain of serving him? God himself. They shall be his people and he shall be their God. The Lord will protect the faithful like a father spares his faithful son. They shall be his beloved children and his “treasured possession” (Exod 19:5; Deut 7:6; 1Pet 2:9).

4:1–3 The experience of the coming “day” (3x in 4:1–3) will be starkly different for evildoer and God-fearer. For the arrogant, that day will be like a blazing oven utterly consuming discarded brush. For his own people, the Lord’s coming will be like a beautiful sunrise. Depicting the sun with beams of light like wings was a common image at that time. Malachi appropriates the image for God himself whose righteousness will enlighten, heal, and vindicate his people. They will skip like young calves freed from the stall to prance in open pasture. God will reverse the fortunes of the prosperous wicked and righteous poor. No longer will evildoers trample those who esteem God’s name, but the reverse. The wicked and their earthly profits will be ash blown away in the cleansing breezes of a new creation.

The heat of God’s judgment consumed Christ so that God’s Son and Spirit might enlighten (2Cor 4:6) and equip (Acts 2:3) his people. The vision of future glory for believers is residence in an opulently decorated city of gold, silver, and precious gems. But most precious in that city is God’s own presence. A presence of such life-nourishing light that no sun or moon is necessary because he will be our sun and moon and stars (Rev 21:1–22:5).

Conclusion: The Lord Promises (4:4–6)

The end of Malachi also concludes the Minor Prophets or “The Book of the Twelve.” Together, Moses and Elijah represent the entire biblical revelation of law (Moses) and prophecy (Elijah). Remembering the law is a summons to personal faithfulness and generational continuity in the present. Elijah points to the future. God promises to send Elijah (or someone like him) as a forerunner of judgment before the great and awesome day of the Lord. Uncomfortable with the concluding threat of utter destruction (which recalls Sodom and Gomorrah, and Joshua’s conquest), some ancient versions rearrange the final three verses of Malachi. But Elijah’s future ministry will restore rather than condemn. His work will repair broken human relationships beginning within the family, between fathers (parents) and children. Healthy family interactions recall the fifth commandment (Exod 20:12) with its promise of prosperity and security in the land. In Malachi, the restoration of familial relationships mirrors that of the restored divine-human covenantal bond which has repeatedly been likened to a father-child dynamic (Mal 1:6; 2:10).

In the New Testament, Malachi’s final prophecy is fulfilled both figuratively and literally. Though John the Baptist himself humbly denied the association, Jesus identified John as the royal herald like Elijah (Matt 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 1:17, 76; 7:27). In addition, Jesus met Moses and Elijah in person on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:4). There, they discussed Jesus’s impending “exodus” (Luke 9:31) when Jesus would experience on the cross the judgment of “the great and awesome day of the Lord” (Joel 2:31; Acts 2:20). To reconcile rebellious children with God the Father, Jesus would be struck with the “decree of utter destruction” (4:6). Jesus would be treated like Sodom and Gomorrah, or the rejected Palestinian tribes so that his inheritance might be shared with all those who become sons and daughters of God through faith in Jesus’s name. That inheritance includes not merely the ancestral land of Israel but the eternal heavenly city and entire new creation.

Bibliography

Baldwin, Joyce G. Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1972.

Duguid, Iain M. Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. EP Study Commentary. Darlington UK, Evangelical Press, 2010.

Duguid, Iain M. and Matthew P. Harmon, Zephaniah, Haggai, Malachi. Reformed Expository Commentary. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2018.

Hill, Andrew E. Malachi. The Anchor Bible. New York: Doubleday, 1998.

Hill, Andrew E. Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012.

Stuart, Douglas. “Malachi.” In The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expository Commentary, edited by Thomas Edward McComiskey, 1245–1396. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009.

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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright © 2000; 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This edition (version 1.0) was published 07/2/2021 and may be cited in print works as follows: Harmon, Matthew P. Malachi. TGCBC. Austin, TX: The Gospel Coalition, 2021.

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Malachi 1

ESV

1:1 The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.1

The Lord’s Love for Israel

“I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the LORD of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the LORD is angry forever.’” Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!”

The Priests’ Polluted Offerings

“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the LORD’s table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts. And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the LORD of hosts. 10 Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. 11 For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be2 great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts. 12 But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised. 13 But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the LORD of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the LORD. 14 Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.

Footnotes

[1] 1:1 Malachi means my messenger

[2] 1:11 Or is (three times in verse 11; also verse 14)

(ESV)

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