J. B. Hewitt, Chesterfield
The prophet Malachi is introduced in the first verse of the book which bears his name. Nothing is known of Malachi beyond what we may gather from this book and some think that his name, meaning “my messenger”, is merely a title. Tradition has it that he was a Levite and a member of the Great Synagogue. Read Malachi at least ten times to grasp the importance of his ministry for our day.
This is clearly established by references to it in the New Testament (see Matt. 11. 10; 17. 11-12; Mark 1. 2; 9. 11-12; Luke 1. 17 and Rom. 9. 13). Perhaps seventy years had passed since the voice of the prophet had been heard in the land. These were years of silence, disillusion and retrogression for the nation. The temple had been finished and the ancient worship restored, but religious ardour had gradually died away.
The opening words clearly reveal his mission was of God, 1. 1. His was a heavy burden, the last spokesman to utter his soul and retire from the scene. After him the voice of God was not heard through a prophet for some four hundred years. His was a word of stern rebuke and solemn warning concerning judgment. There is an element of mystery about him as there was surrounding Elijah to whom he refers, 4. 5-6. He delivers his message, reproves the people and disappears as suddenly as he came. His burden was “the word of the Lord” and being committed to the word of Jehovah he was truly the messenger of Jehovah.
A spirit of moral indifference and even religious scepticism had crept over the nation, involving priest and people alike. The people were intermarrying with the surrounding heathen nations; they neglected worship saying “Behold, what a weariness is it”, 1. 13. The poor were oppressed by the rich; divorce was all too common; injustice, deceit, treachery and false swearing abounded. The priests went through the services in such a half-hearted fashion that it would have been better to shut the doors of the house of God, 1.10 R.V. In such an hour Malachi sounded forth his call to repentance, yet there was no trace of revival. He lived in a corrupt age and his book, especially at the first, has a tone of gloom. Later we see the light and hope of the coming Messiah, 4. 1-6.
He differs much from Zechariah, who is an encourager. Malachi is a rebuker yet both have their place in the kingdom of God. Popular preachers to the masses are often encouragers, but it demands a prophet, equipped of God, to stand out against downward trends and rebuke those who depart from God.
The book is not dated, but it bears every sign of belonging to the same period as Nehemiah. The abuses he attacks were just those common in Nehemiah’s day. A comparison of Nehemiah 13 with this prophecy would suggest that he was contemporary with Nehemiah (compare Neh. 13. 29 with Mal. 2. 8; Neh. 13. 23-25 with Mai. 2. 11-12; Neh. 13. 10-13 with Mal. 3- 8-10). The book of Nehemiah nowhere suggests the presence of Malachi, so we presume he came on the scene at some later time. The godly influence of Nehemiah had passed and the priests had become cool and formal, slovenly, deceitful and evasive, 1. 6-14; 3. 14. It was probably written between 420-400 B.C.
His is the old prophetic message like that of Amos and Micah, dwelling on the theme of the necessity of spiritual revival. His was a day of hollow, insincere, formal worship and niggardliness in giving. Does not its prophetic picture suit our times? Compare the “where-in’s” with the messages of Revelation 2-3 and the Epistle of Jude. Indifference marked Israel then and it is the hall-mark of our day. We still hear “Behold, what a weariness is it” and “It is vain to serve God”, Mal. 1. 13; 3. 14. They profaned the table of the Lord, compare 1 Cor. 10-11. Holiness of life was lacking, Mal. 2. 8, 9; the priests caused the people to stumble. Malachi was a bold man to speak thus and make an enemy of the priesthood. Our Lord did this and was rejected with the cry, “Away with him, crucify him”. Malachi called the people robbers of God and appealed to them to prove God, 3. 8-11. Our gifts to Him should be thank-offerings not investments, Heb. 13. 15-16. Paul strikes a higher note in his appeal, Rom. 12. 1-2. Only that which costs us something and is in measure a sacrifice is worthy of God and honoured of Him. The prophet’s attitude to evil is uncompromising, Mal. 2. 10-16. Would that these solemn words on divorce were heeded more today. One of the greatest needs of the Church now is for a Malachi to arise and “purify the sons of Levi”. He closes on a joyful note, looking forward to a better day when the “sun of righteousness (will) arise with healing in his wings”. As the sun is the grandest object in nature, so in Christ we have the noblest exhibition of the righteousness of the old covenant that human history has ever known. In His spotless life and exalted teaching we see the very effulgence of divine glory. G. Campbell Morgan sums up the book thus: Fundamental Affirmation, 1. 1-5; Formal Accusations, 1. 6 to 2.17; Final Annunciations, chs. 3-4.
The contents of the book may be considered profitably in conjunction with the following outline.
- Introduction, 1. 1. The message and messenger.
- The Interest of God, 1. 2-5. Unchanging Love.
- God’s sensitive love and special favour, 2. Israel’s sceptical mind and sinful folly, 2b.
- The Impiety of the Priests, 1. 6 to 2. 9. Religious Corruption.
- Profanation of His name, 6; pollution of His altar, 7-14; revelation of His will, 2. 1-7; violation of His law, 2. 8-9.
- Hypocrisy of the People and Priests, 2. 10-17. Social Corruption.
- Unholy marriages, 10-11; unlawful divorces, 12-13; unfaithful to Jehovah, 14-17.
- Prophecy of Jehovah, 3. 1-6. Spiritual Hope.
- Unexpected advent, 1-3; unending pleasure, 4; an unchanging Lord, 6.
- Robbery of God’s Tithe, 3. 8-12. Moral Corruption.
- Principle of blessing, 10; and promise of deliverance, 11-12.
- Lethargy in God’s Service, 3. 13-18. Shameful Words.
- Corruption of the rebellious, 13-15; salvation for the remnant, 16-17.
- Reality of God’s Promises, 4. 1-6. Personal Challenge.
- The coming day, 1, 3; of burning and destruction. The coming Lord, 2; with healing and salvation. The challenging Law, 3; its authority and severity. The closing words, 4-6; the man and his ministry.
Suggestions for Study.
Why are the phrases the “Lord of hosts” and “thus saith the Lord” so often repeated? Find the twenty-five occurrences.
Consider the statements of Israel introduced by “ye say”. Trace and learn the lessons of the oft-repeated “wherein”. What passages in this book may be called “Messianic”?
Is the portrait of a son of Levi applicable to leaders today? See 2. 5-7.