Malachi (My Messenger) is the Scripture reading from the Jewish Bible this week.
This short book ends the Christian Old Testament and is the final book of the Prophets in the Jewish Bible (to be followed by “the Writings” which includes the wisdom literature and various other books). It is brief and probably set in the time after the Babylonian Exile, after the Temple was “rebuilt.” At this time, the Jews lived in the land of their ancestors, though many were still dispersed throughout the ‘nations’ (among Gentile). The once great kingdom of David had been reduced to a province in the Persian Empire. A nothing populated by nobodies…
The book is written as a dispute and contains many questions by both people and God. The fundamental problem is that for these Jews, God is apparently inactive. Herein lies the connection for contemporary readers. “Where is God? Does He even care? What is the point?” But however painful our laments, and however sincerely our abandonment issues are felt, in the end, they stir up a response from God which is, to say the least, uncomfortable!
1:1-5 The book begins with the chosen people asking, “How have You/God shown us love?” The knowledge that there is a history of salvation does not generate covenant faithfulness. “What have you done for me lately?” the People ask. [Do we not share such sentiments? How does the cross and resurrection of Jesus and the hope of eternal life inform our daily choices? Are we any different than those who have no hope? Are we noticeably more patient, joyful and peaceful?] The enemy who aided in Judah’s demise was Edom, but now Malachi says that God declares that this rival has been decimated, never to rise again as a nation. Edom, to become Idumea (where King Herod was from), is reduced to living in a desert waste and God declares they are never to rise again. [Judgment is rescue of God's people and destruction on God's enemies. Keep that in mind while you are choosing your affiliation.]
1:6-15 is concerned with ancient priests and animal sacrifice. The plain reading is difficult for us in the 21st century. But a spiritual reading provides numerous insights. The People have asked where God’s love is. God responds, do not a father or a master deserve honor? Am I not your Father and Master? Where is my honor? [Remember, this is an honor culture. It is central to social interactions.]The dishonor is manifest in priests accepting blemished animals for sacrifice. In every age people are tempted to give God “the left overs” because God is not physically present. “Would you give this to your governors?,” He asks rhetorically. Of course the answer is no.
When Christians toss ten bucks in the basket after spending ten times that amount on a dinner the night before, is that not similar? Are our self-offerings to God not usually determined by other demands first? We skip church or Bible study, but go to work because “we have to.” The disrespect for God is something to which we have grown oblivious. God is first, said Jesus. For many of us, He does not even receive votes for the top twenty!
2:1-9 contain a remarkable image, God threatens to throw dung in the face of His priests. Ponder that one! The two pronged demand (“obey and lay it to heart”) is a core of the Judeo-Christian Covenant. God, in gracious mercy, has chosen people to enter covenant. It is a grace, which requires a response: obedience. Since the Garden of Eden there have been expectations, not to earn salvation but to live in right relationship with the Savior. Malachi 2 speaks of the covenant God made with Levi in establishing a priestly line. But they violated God’s trust by misleading people (James also says teachers are held to a higher standard in another reading this week). When priests (pastors, bishops) go bad; it is very bad. In our own age it is no different from previous times, humans abuse their positions of authority (be it a churchman or an autonomous Christian individual) because God can seemingly be disregarded and despised with no consequence. What does that abuse consist of? Many things, one of them is a lack of orthodoxy! Get it right, God says, and teach the truth.
2:10-16 If the previous section poured judgment on churchmen/priests, the next verses strike at the heart of the laymen. Suddenly the speaker is the Malachi the prophet: “Have we not all one Father?” In other words, aren’t the Jewish people united in the same faith? If our commitment to God were primary, instead of other loyalties, then loving God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves would produce justice and peace. By profaning God and profaning worship the People have broken the first commandment, so is there any surprise that they would then break the second? Infidelity to God (idol worship) is then duplicated in infidelity to human wives. The men of Judah exchange the wife of their youth for a new (and apparently pagan) model. Taking on these wives is compounded by embracing their gods as well. There is no escaping the connection of religious and secular lives. Even if, like them, we cry tears all over the altar (faux repentance) God is not fooled. “I detest divorce,” strong words from God and they refer both to human marriage and the divine covenant with His people.
2:17 This loan verse has haunted me for years. The people are condemned for saying good is evil and evil is good. This is a variation of the unforgivable sin (claiming the work of the Holy Spirit is demonic). Why do I say this? Because God is good. His Christ is good. The anti-christs (the world, flesh and devil) is evil. To equate evil with good is to be unreachable by good. In any age where “men follow their own hearts” (see Judges 21:25) this is the ultimate destination. And the loss of faith in God’s Justice is the fruit.