Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 56. Malachi
Mal 4:2,5,6 for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall….. , I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.
And so we come to the last book, the last study in this series. Within Malachi as such, there is no indication of date and so perhaps it is wise to try to piece together a context which matches the things he says. A quick historical recap.
Governor Zerubbabel completed the temple rebuilding in 516 B.C. In 458BC Ezra the priest came to bring reforms. In 445BC Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the walls (Neh 6:15) and became governor. He introduced reforms to help the poor (Neh 5:2-13), and he convinced the people to shun mixed marriages, to keep the Sabbath (Neh 10:30-31) and to bring their tithes and offerings faithfully (Neh 10:37-39). In 433 BC Nehemiah returned to the service of the Persian king, and during his absence the Jews fell into sin once more. Later, however, Nehemiah came back to Jerusalem to discover that the tithes were ignored, the Sabbath was broken, the people had intermarried with foreigners, and the priests had become corrupt (Neh 13:7-31). Several of these sins are condemned by Malachi (see 1:6-14; 2:14-16; 3:8-11). It appears likely, therefore, that Malachi speaks into the situation in Jerusalem and Judah about 430BC.
His book is essentially a catalogue of the Lord’s rebuttals of various excuses for wrong lifestyles that the inhabitants of the Land, after the Exile, some 150 years after Jerusalem had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, had been making. Our verses above are glimmers of hope for the years ahead, the coming of the Messiah and his forerunner, who we know of as John the Baptist, who both appeared on the scene about 460 years later than this time we are looking at now. They are the closing words of the Old Testament. Let’s note the setting against which our verses above are revealed.
Wrong Questions: The people questioned various truths: (i) “How have you loved us?” (1:2), (ii) “How have we shown contempt for your name?” (1:6), (iii) “How have we defiled you?” (1:7), (iv) “How have we wearied him?” (2:17a), (v) “How do we rob you?” (3:8), (vi) “What have we said against you?” (3:13).
God’s Answers: To these wrong questions the Lord answers and in so doing, reveals the wrong hearts, attitudes and actions of His people at that time: (i) He had loved them by choosing them (1:2-5), (ii) They disdained his name by the way they brought their sacrifices (1:7), (iii) they had brought defective or second-rate offerings, (1:8-14) (iv) they question whether He cared about who did good or evil (2:17b), (v) they neglected the law of Tithes and Offerings (3:8-12) and (vi) had said it was pointless following the Lord for He let evil doers get away with their evil.
In addition to these things, in Chapter 2, He admonished the priests for their lack of diligence and their poor hearts and failure to teach properly (2:1-9). He also challenged the people for their mixed religion (2:11,12) and for their false expressions of concern – tears and weeping (2:13). In reality they have “broken faith” (2:11,14). This is not about mixed marriages, it is about mixed faith (2:14-16), a faith that had originally been pure, a covenant between the Lord and the people He drew out of Egypt.
In Chapter 3 we get a glimmer of the coming of John the Baptist – “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me,” (3:1a) – and in talk of the Lord Himself coming to His temple here – “suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come.” (3:1b). When that day comes, it will be a day of cleansing (3:2-5), no doubt of calls for repentance, just as we see in the ministry of John the Baptist in the Gospels.
He follows this with a principle and a challenge: “I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty.” (3:6,7) His unchanging expectations of His people are that they be holy and faithful to Him, so they need to come back to Him.
But then there is a faithful remnant: “Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard.” (3:16) and the Lord speaks encouragingly about those in the future who will be His (3:17) and who will stand out as righteous (3:18). A day will surely come to remove all the unrighteous (4:1), to reveal those who will greet their coming Saviour (4:2), and the wicked will be dealt with (4:3), condemned by the Law they failed to keep (4:4), as the Lord’s ‘Elijah’ comes, a prophet to expose and challenge all wrongs, who Jesus identified as John (Mt 17:12).
We are reminded by Malachi that for salvation to come it must be preceded by repentance, a recognition of failure and of sin, and a turning away from it to the Lord. When the power and the word of the Lord comes, Sin is revealed for what it is, and the wise repent quickly. Malachi, like many of the other prophets, is a mixture of challenge against prevailing sin, and an offering of hope for the future for those who will hear, heed and turn to the Lord and away from their self-centred, godless, unrighteous lives.
The “sun of righteousness” is clearly the Son of God who comes to bring forgiveness, cleansing, healing, justification, redemption, sonship and glory for all who will hear and come to him. The New Testament builds out that wonderful hope that he brings, eternal life with God. Hallelujah!