Summary: The priests and people of Judah had grown slack and queried God’s love and how they had Despised God’s Name, Defiled God’s Altar and Defrauded God’s Treasury.
GOD’S LOVE - AND OUR RESPONSE
Some people are never happier than when they’re having an argument - especially over religion! The people that Malachi was addressing fell into that category. The prophet had found it necessary to take issue with the people of Israel. He’d been inspired by the Spirit to pronounce a word from their God, "I have loved you." Any reasonable person would think, "Now who could take exception with that?" But it happened. The people of Israel were so out of sorts with themselves and their relationship with God that they immediately queried that true and wonderful statement - "I have loved you." "How have you loved us?" (1:2), they countered.
The book of Malachi falls conveniently at the end of the Old Testament and so its name, if not its message, is well known! The prophecy was spoken against the background of a decline in Israel’s history, both national and spiritual. It was several generations on from when the nation had its freedom restored after a long exile in Babylon. The Jews had returned to their homeland full of enthusiasm. After some setbacks they had finally rebuilt the city of Jerusalem and most important, the temple. But then a new generation had arisen who knew nothing of the renewal of spiritual life that had come to the nation on returning from exile. There had been a marked deterioration in the conduct of the priesthood. Widespread apathy and cold formalism now marred their religious life.
But God hadn’t given up on his covenant people. It was to meet this depressing situation that he sent the prophet Malachi to minister to the nation. Sadly, the people’s appetite to hear a word from the Lord was so small that they were reluctant to accept the statement that Malachi made in God’s name. "’I have loved you’, says the Lord. But you ask, ’How have you loved us?’" The impertinence of the question is astounding!
The people may have thought they were just rebuffing Malachi, a fellow Jew, but really they were demonstrating their utter disbelief in God - and they thought they could get away with it! I read of a student who made a similar mistake. He was in the college chapel and, looking at the order of service, groaned aloud. The middle-aged lady next to him asked what was the matter. The student replied, "It’s the preacher. He’s my director of studies. I have to go to his lectures and he’s the dullest man alive, utterly boring." "Oh," said the woman, "Do you know who I am?" The student looked at her and said he didn’t. "Well," said the woman, "I’m the preacher’s wife!" The student said faintly, "And do you know who I am?" "No," said the professor’s wife. "Hallelujah," said the student!
The young man got away with his indiscretion but the people of Israel weren’t so fortunate. They were dealing with God. Over the years the people of Israel had allowed indifference and carelessness in their relationship with God to build up a kind of insulation to the word of the Lord. Is there a lesson for us here? Sunday by Sunday we hear his message, but are we listening to his voice or does it pass harmlessly over our heads, hardly noticed and totally disregarded? Like the people of Israel it’s possible for us to become "Gospel hardened" with the result that God’s word has little or no effect on us.
Drastic action was now called for. God chose a courageous man to deliver a stern message. The name "Malachi" simply means "messenger" and certainly he was a man with a message. It can’t have been easy for Malachi to stand before such a people and systematically reveal their shortcomings and show their insincerity and disloyalty to God. Was it ignorance? Surely not, because there’d been a succession of faithful prophets delivering God’s message. It was more likely indifference or even an outright show of independence from their covenant responsibilities. When the people were confronted with the truth they refused to accept it and challenged Malachi’s statement. They retorted, "In what way have we committed these alleged wrongs?" Malachi charged them with having:
DESPISED GOD’S NAME
"How have we despised your name?" (1:6). It was to the priests of Israel that this word was specifically addressed. How did they, how could they, and how can we, despise God’s name? It’s a question of honouring God for whom he is. Jehovah is described in Scripture as the Father of Israel. This speaks of a very precious relationship but it carries responsibilities and obligations. Israel wanted the benefits - freedom and prosperity - but wouldn’t accept their part of the relationship. They felt they were a cut above the surrounding nations and proud that Jehovah was their Father but were unwilling to recognise his lordship. If he was their Father, where was the respect due to him? It was conspicuously absent. The relationship was all one-sided. We have to ask ourselves, "How do we measure up on this scale?"