Summary: Malachi reminds us who it is we worship. We need to approach him with reverence and awe.
Some people have asked me why I chose Malachi as our next series. Well, there was no special reason, but one thing I’ve discovered as I’ve begun preparing this series is that it’s a great book to be studying right after looking at the letters to the seven Churches in Rev 1-3. Why? Because what I’ve discovered is that many of the themes that are present in those letters are also present here. It’s as though the Old Testament and the New have both ended at the same point, with the people of God in a similar situation. Well, you can think about that as we look at Malachi 1 today and then as we move through the rest of the book over the next few weeks.
The book begins with a title: It’s an Oracle; literally a burden. This is the word of the Lord given to Malachi to pass on to Israel.
But before we read what’s in this burden that Malachi carries it might be good to understand the context. Although it’s the last book in our Old Testament it’s probably set just after the building of the Temple following the people’s return from exile. So what’s happened seems to be this: They’ve come back from Persia, they’ve rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, then after a bit of a delay they’ve finally got around to rebuilding the Temple and now it’s all finished things are just going along like clockwork. And it’s all become a bit humdrum. Nothing exciting is happening. The Priests are doing their bit but it’s all the same, day in, day out.
I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but when the exiles returned from Persia they set out to make sure they didn’t make the same mistakes as their predecessors. That is, they wanted to ensure that never again would they fall into the sort of idolatry that had caused God to send them into exile. So they set out to fill out the law in such a way that they could be sure that they were keeping it. This is where the Pharisees came in. They were the group who broke down the various laws into their constituent parts. So if the law said you were to tithe, they’d list all the things you had to tithe. If the law said you couldn’t work on the Sabbath they listed all the things that constituted work. And so forth. And the purpose of all this was to make sure that everything they did pleased God so God would bless them.
But now it seems that maybe it was all a waste of time. They’re not particularly blessed. Life has become just as mundane as it was when they were in exile. And every week they have to provide a sheep or a goat to the priests for the sacrifice.
So here’s what’s happening: they’re going through the motions of religious observance, but their heart isn’t really in it. Their attitude is summed up by v13: "What a weariness this is."
Do you remember the judgement of God on the Church in Ephesus, from Rev 2? "4You have forsaken your first love." And so, it seems, have the Israelites here. The return from exile was a time of great rejoicing and excitement, but now they’re back to the everyday experience of life as God’s people.
I know people who are like that today. You may be one of them. People who are a bit bored with church; people who only come because it’s expected of them; people who go through the motions but all the time are thinking about something else, perhaps wishing they could have slept in, or gone off to play golf or sit in a coffee shop and talk to their friends; people for whom the notion of gathering with God’s people each week has lost its gloss. Well if you’re one of those people this prophecy may have something to say to you.
So what does God do for these people? He sends his prophet, his messenger (which is what Malachi means by the way), to remind his people that he loves them.
Have you noticed how sometimes you need to be reminded that someone loves you? You actually need to hear the words. Do you remember the scene in Fiddler on the Roof where Tevye, the father, asks his wife Golde "Do you love me?" So she proceeds to list all the things she’s done for him day after day for the past 25 years. But what he wants is just to hear the words. So too, the Israelites need to hear the words.
But, they’re playing hard to get. In a display of passive aggressive behaviour they stubbornly refuse to understand what Malachi is telling them. In fact all through the book we find the same systematic attempt to deflect criticism or avoid responsibility by not understanding what they’re being told.