Malachi (Overview)

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A:  YHWH is Just: He Loves the Righteous (Malachi 1:1-5)
B:  The Priests and People Have Cheated YHWH (Malachi 1:6-14)
C:  In the Past Levi Served in Righteousness (Malachi 2:1-9)
D:  Stop Being Faithless! (Malachi 2:10-16)
C′:  In the Future A Messenger Will Come and Purify the Levites (Malachi 2:17-3:6)
B′:  The People Have Robbed YHWH in Tithes and Offerings (Malachi 3:7-12)
A′:  YHWH is Just: He Will Reward the Righteous (Malachi 3:13-4:3)
Conclusion: The Day of YHWH (Malachi 4:4-6)

Timeline (c. 480 BC)

Historical Context of Malachi

Malachi is the last of the twelve minor prophets. His name means “my messenger” (מלאכי) which anticipates a major theme of the book: the future arrival of God’s messenger. We are not told when exactly Malachi prophesied, but we can infer from his criticism of the priesthood and the sacrificial offerings, that this was some time after the second temple had been completed (516 BC) and after Nehemiah’s final reforms in 489 BC. In Nehemiah 9-10, the people swear a new covenant to the LORD, promising to walk in God’s law and keep his commandments. There is special attention given to not intermarrying with unbelievers (Neh. 10:30), keeping the Sabbath (Neh. 10:31), and financially supporting the temple through tithes and offerings (Neh. 10:32-39). However, despite making this covenant, Nehemiah discovers a couple years later that the people have broken their word (Neh. 13). Jews have intermarried with pagan women, the tithes have not been brought in, and people are breaking the sabbath. It is to these covenant breaking people that Malachi is sent.

The Literary Structure of Malachi

There is a sevenfold chiastic structure to the book of Malachi. At the center (Mal. 2:10-16) is a call to repentance wherein Judah is told to stop dealing treacherously with one another (Mal. 2:10), with God (Mal. 2:11), and with the wife of their youth (Mal. 2:14-16). Around this central message against covenant breaking are two sections that deal with the sins of the priesthood (Mal. 2:1-9) and their need for purification (Mal. 2:17-3:6). Moving outward, there are then two sections dealing with the sins of robbing God (Mal. 3:7-12) and offering him lame sacrifices (Mal 1:6-14). The book opens (Mal. 1:1-5) and closes (Mal 3:13-4:3) with a defense of God’s justice, and its final verses promise the coming of Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the LORD (Mal 4:4-6).

One of the literary devices that Malachi uses is a question and response format where God puts words to His people’s thoughts and then responds to their complaints. If we survey the questions that God places on their lips, we get a glimpse into the spiritual blindness and denial they are living in:

  • In what way have you loved us? (Mal. 1:2)
  • In what way have we despised Your name? (Mal. 1:6)
  • In what way have we defiled You? (Mal. 1:7)
  • For what reason does God not accept our offerings? (Mal. 2:13-14)
  • In what way have we wearied Him with our words? (Mal. 2:17)
  • Where is the God of justice? (Mal. 2:17)
  • In what way shall we return? (Mal. 3:7)
  • In what way have we robbed You? (Mal. 3:8)
  • What have we spoken against You? (Mal 3:13)
  • It is useless to serve God; what profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, and that we have walked as mourners? (Mal. 3:14)

We can see in these questions that Israel is playing the victim, refusing to take responsibility. Israel is guilty of violating the covenant, and yet they project their own sins back onto God, as if He is the one who has been unfaithful. This reminds us of Adam in the garden after the fall, shifting the blame and saying to God, “it was the woman You gave me” (Gen. 3:12). Malachi exposes the evil and self-deception of our hearts that says we know better than God how to run the world.

Love & Hate (Malachi 1:1-5)

In the opening section, God says to Israel “I have loved you,” and their response to Him is “How?” When you think about the history of Israel, the Exodus, the miracles in the wilderness, God giving them the promised land, establishing them as a priestly nation, and causing His holy presence to dwell with them, this question of “How have you loved us” becomes wildly absurd. It is interesting then that God answers not by pointing to any of these obvious acts of Divine favor, but rather by pointing to His hatred and judgment on Esau. The Apostle Paul quotes from this section of Malachi, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated” in Romans 9:13 to demonstrate that God’s purpose in election is to “make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy” (Rom. 9:23). In other words, Israel should see that God loves them not because they are inherently special or superior to other nations, but because God chose them, and they could just as easily have not been chosen and suffered the fate of Esau. As it says in Deuteronomy 7:7-8, “The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers.” So why does God love Jacob? Because He loves them. That is the whole point of electing grace, it has nothing to do with the sinfulness or righteousness of Jacob or Esau since they were not yet born, but it has everything to do with God’s own prerogative to not give man anything to boast in but grace alone. This is a crucial truth for Christians to understand, and when we surrender ourselves to this reality, it should humble us, since God does not owe us anything but damnation. This is what Israel forgot, and because of this they became entitled and started to commit adultery, robbery, and even sorcery (Mal. 3:5). When we become ungrateful for God’s election, immorality is sure to follow.

Where Is My Honor? (Malachi 1:6-14)

In the next section (verses 6-14), God addresses the sins of the Levitical priests. They have been offering blind, sick, and lame sacrifices on God’s altar, food that they would never dream of giving to their governor. This irreverent practice dishonors God’s name among the Gentiles, the God who is their Father (Mal. 1:6), Master (Mal. 1:6), and King (Mal. 1:14). Because of this, God will not accept their offerings, and yet in every place amongst the Gentiles there will be incense and a pure offering to the LORD (Mal. 1:11). This is a promise that we see fulfilled in the book of Acts as the Holy Spirit turns Gentiles into living sacrifices. There are also echoes of Malachi in 1 Timothy and Revelation, where incense symbolizes the prayers of the saints. For example, 1 Timothy 2:8 says, “I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.” Malachi 1:11 says, “In every place incense shall be offered to My name, And a pure offering.” And Revelation 8:4 says, “And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.”

Covenant Breakers (Malachi 2:1-17)

In the first 9 verses of chapter 2, God continues His lawsuit against the priesthood. He declares that He will curse their blessings (Mal. 2:1) and spread dung on their faces (Mal 2:3). Where once the holy anointing oil rested upon their heads, God will now defile these wicked priests with excrement. He then says in verse 4 that the purpose of this judgment is so that His covenant with Levi may continue. We learn later in chapter 3 that this will be the work of the Lord’s messenger, “He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness” (Mal. 3:3).

In verses 10-16, God takes aim at Judah’s sin of intermarriage with idolaters. It appears that men were unlawfully divorcing the wife of their youth in order to marry foreign women. Verse 16 is one of the more difficult passages to translate because the subject of the verb “hate” (כִּֽי־שָׂנֵ֣א) is ambiguous, and it is in the third person masculine singular, rather than the first person singular. For example, the KJV and NKJV has God as the one who hates divorce, whereas the ESV and NIV has the man as the one who hates his wife and thus divorces her. Although it is true that God hates unlawful divorces, I think the more likely translation is that it is the man who is doing the hatred and violence here. I base this off of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 which lays out a law for divorce and uses the same language of hatred found here in Malachi. Since the man is the one who “hates” his wife and thus divorces her in Deuteronomy 24:3, it seems most likely that the same thing is happening here.

כִּֽי־שָׂנֵ֣א שַׁלַּ֗ח אָמַ֤ר יְהוָה֙ אֱלֹהֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וְכִסָּ֤ה חָמָס֙ עַל־לְבוּשׁ֔וֹ
(Mal. 2:16 BHS)

For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce, For it covers one’s garment with violence…
(Mal 2:16 NKJV)

For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence…
(Mal 2:16 ESV)

Two Messengers (Malachi 3:1-6)

In chapter 3 we encounter a passage that gets quoted in all four gospels (Matt. 11:10, Mark 1:2, Luke 1:76, John 1:23) and applied to John the Baptist,

“Behold, I send My messenger,
And he will prepare the way before Me.
And the Lord, whom you seek,
Will suddenly come to His temple,
Even the Messenger of the covenant,
In whom you delight.
Behold, He is coming,”
Says the Lord of hosts.
(Malachi 3:1)

Here is a prophesy of two messengers, the first is John the Baptist, and the second is Jesus Christ, “the Messenger of the covenant.” When this messenger arrives, He will cleanse the temple and execute judgment against sorcerers, against adulterers, against perjurers, against those who exploit wage earners, widows, and orphans, against those who turn away the sojourner, and do not fear the LORD (Mal. 3:5). When we read the gospels with this verse in mind, we can start to see how the ministry of Jesus fulfills this prophecy. Jesus is the Malachi, the messenger of God.

Tithing (Malachi 3:7-12)

After this promise of two messengers, God returns to critiquing the unbelief of His people. They have been robbing God by not giving paying the tithe, and because of this the land is cursed. If we think about the lack of tithing that goes on in the church today coupled with the bloodguilt that rests upon our land, it is no wonder that sickness, disease, and barrenness characterizes our nation. When men refuse to give God what is His due, God gives us the anxious toil that we deserve. Conversely, when God’s people are generous and bring all the tithes into the storehouse, God promises to pour out blessings in abundance. As Jesus says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

Burning Like An Oven (Malachi 3:13-4:6)

In addition to blessing the land, God speaks of a day when all those who fear Him will be saved and rewarded.

“For behold, the day is coming,
Burning like an oven,
And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble.
And the day which is coming shall burn them up,”
Says the Lord of hosts,
“That will leave them neither root nor branch.
2           But to you who fear My name
The Sun of Righteousness shall arise
With healing in His wings;
And you shall go out
And grow fat like stall-fed calves.”
(Malachi 4:1-2)

Throughout Malachi, the charge against God has been that He does not love, provide for, bless, or take care of His people, but God has answered every one of these charges and shown how it is Israel who needs to reform her ways. Malachi is a final warning to the house of Israel, a final call to faithfulness before 400 years of silence. The last word of Malachi and the last word of our Old Testament is the word “curse” (חֵֽרֶם). Holy war is coming, which side are you on?