Malachi Bible Walk
Theme: Rebuke, Return, Remember, Restore
- Rebuke, Return, Remember, Restore. The Jewish people are back in their homeland, the temple has been completed, and the city walls have been rebuilt. They have many opportunities for spiritual and social prosperity, but even after all God’s warnings and object lessons they have forsaken Him and His commands. Both the priests and the people are guilty. In fact, they even question God’s rebukes. God gives them final warnings and a promise that a messenger will come followed by the Lord Messiah who will be like a refiner’s fire. The LORD instructs the people to return to Him, but they refuse. A future day of judgment is coming. Those who fear His name will be blessed. Malachi closes the Old Testament revelation with the LORD’s plea to remember Moses’ law. Elijah will come before the great day of the Lord and restore the hearts of the people.
- Malachi 2:17, You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you say, “How have we wearied Him?” In that you say, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them,” or, “Where is the God of justice?”
- Malachi 3:1, “Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts.
- Malachi 3:7, “From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from My statutes and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’
- Malachi was the human author of the book that bears his name (Malachi 1.1). This is the only place this name is used in the Bible. He was a contemporary of Nehemiah.
- See history in Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah.
- Cyrus the Great, in 539 BC, authorized the Jews to return to their homeland in Judah. By the time of Malachi’s prophecy Jews had been living in Israel for many years. These people had neglected the Lord their God and His Word. Spiritual apostasy was the hallmark of the times.
- Malachi wrote his prophecy between 435-430 BC and therefore during the Persian period and the time of Ezra and Nehemiah (458-430 BC). The Hebrew people were back in their homeland after the Babylonian captivity. Zerubbabel had led the first group to Judah in 536 BC. Cyrus was then king of Persia. The Hebrew people completed the temple in 516 BC, during the reign of Darius I (Ezra 1-6). Zechariah was a prophet to this group. Ezra had led the second group. They returned in 458 BC. Artaxerxes was king of Persia (Ezra 7-10). Nehemiah had led the third group. They returned in 444 BC (Nehemiah 1-2).
- At the time of Malachi’s ministry the temple had been completed and was again in service (1:7-10 and 3:8-10), the people were apathetic and rebellious toward the Lord and to His Word, and they were distracted by details of life. The result was that they were reaping divine discipline instead of divine blessing.
- The activities in Malachi correspond to the problems that Ezra and Nehemiah faced: the post-exilic temple was in service (Malachi 1.7-10; 2.11-13; 3.10); the priests failed in their responsibilities (Malachi 1.6-14; 2.1-3, 8); the people did not support the temple with tithes and offerings (Malachi 3.8-10; Nehemiah 13.10); inter-marriage with Gentiles and divorce had increased (Malachi 2.10-14; Ezra 9.1-2; Nehemiah 13.1-3, 23-28); and social injustice was prominent (Malachi 3.5; Nehemiah 5.4-5).
- In Malachi 1.8, Malachi refers to “your governor” (pechah). This word is used in passages about the Persian period (Nehemiah 5:14 and Haggai 1:1). Here it refers to a Persian governor. Since the Persians did not come to prominence until 538 BC, the book was written sometime after 538 BC.
- Malachi the prophet (1:1).
- My Messenger (3:1). This is used two times in Malachi 3:1. The term refers to both the herald of Jesus and to Jesus Messiah.
- Elijah (4:5), will return as a warning to Israel of God’s soon judgment.
A Few Key Words and Doctrines
- LORD, Yahweh, used 46 times in Malachi including the use with LORD of Hosts. This is the personal name of God. He is the always existent one. He clearly revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3).
- LORD of Hosts, used 24 times. Hosts is tseba’ot. The primary meaning is army, warfare, an organized body. Yahweh has his army, usually an angelic army to fight for him.
- “You say” (1:2, 6, 7, 12, 13; 2:14, 17; 3:7, 8, 13). Yahweh raises a point with the people and they object to what He says.
- Return (3:7), Yahweh’s call to Israel to return to obedience to his word and he will bless Israel.
- Law of Moses (4:4), the first five books of the Old Testament written by Moses. This section laid the foundation for the existence, purpose, and directions for living.
- God’s compassion for Israel (1:1-5).
- God’s complaint against the priests (1:6-2:9).
- God’s complaint against the people (2:10-3:18).
- God’s exhortation to Israel (4).
- Chapter 1. Yahweh’s Love, Evil People, Priests, and Sacrifices.
- Chapter 2. Judah Acts Treacherously.
- Chapter 3. Tithes, Arrogance, and Judgment.
- Chapter 4. The Day of the Lord—Judgment, Healing, and Elijah.
Trace the Theme of Malachi
- Malachi 1, Evil People, Priests, and Sacrifices, The Hebrews were back in their homeland from exile because God keeps his word and is gracious. The temple has been completed. The city walls rebuilt. The people question God’s love because by their own disobedience they do not experience prosperity and happiness (1.2). God rebukes the spiritual leadership (priests) for failure to teach God’s word and failure to properly serve in the reconstructed temple. The priests dishonor the temple and the altar. They offer sick and injured animals for sacrifices (1.7, 8, 14). God rebukes the people for not following the LORD their God.
- Malachi 2, Judah Acts Treacherously. The priests do not listen to the Lord’s instruction (2.2, 8, 9). The people mistreat each other (2.10). The priests do not teach God’s Word to the people (2.7-9). The people welcomed idolatry into the temple (2.11). Divorce was commonplace (2.14-16). The people call evil good (2.17).
- Malachi 3, Tithes, Arrogance, and Judgment. There are two messengers in 3:1-2. The first “my messenger” refers to John the Baptist. Luke 1:17 says that John the Baptist will come “in the spirit and power of Elijah…to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” The second messenger is Jesus Messiah: “the Lord whom you seek,” “to his temple,” “messenger of the covenant,” “who can endure the day of his coming?” The only permanent solution to the people’s rejection of God will be the Lord’s Messiah messenger. The LORD’s Messiah messenger will come and when he does he will purify the priests and make right the sacrifices (3.3-4). The LORD’s messenger will swiftly judge sin (3.5). The LORD calls the people to return to Him, yet as in their past history they will not return to Him (3.7). Their return should include support of the temple and priests by tithes and offerings (3.10). If the people return to Him and support the temple, He will bless them (3.10-12). Yet, the people’s arrogance stands in the way (3.13). A small number listened to Malachi’s rebuke and did fear the Lord (3.16).
- Malachi 4, The Day of the Lord—Judgment, Healing, and Elijah. The day of the Lord is coming (4.1). Those who fear the LORD at that time will experience God’s blessing (4:2) and in some way participate in the judgment of the “wicked” (4:3). Malachi tells the people to remember and follow Moses’ law (4.4) because it alone can keep them from apostasy and idolatry. God will send Elijah before the great judgment and restoration of Israel (4.5-6). This may have been fulfilled with John the Baptist or will be fulfilled prior to Jesus’ return to earth (possibly Revelation 11:3). When the Lord comes, he will judge and restore the nation to right relationships with each other, including removing the many social sins that are tolerated in Malachi’s day (4.6). Here compare passages such as Deuteronomy 4:39-31. God keeps his word and will restore Israel to blessing.
Lessons from Malachi for Us
- The people of Malachi’s day had experienced God’s protection and blessing, yet they became very apathetic and cynical about God, God’s word, and God’s delegated ministries. Let’s maintain enthusiasm and loyalty to God, to God’s word, and to the ministries and opportunities that God gives to each of us.
- The people of Malachi’s time questioned God’s evaluation of their way of life. They were apathetic and disobedient. God evaluated them and found them lacking. They continued to question him as to how and why? This was simply not admitting that God was right. Let’s accept God’s word in its evaluation of us and correct what we need to correct.
- The Jews of Malachi’s time questioned whether God loved them. Of course he loved them. They were his people and he keeps his promises. We may question God’s love for us when circumstances turn against what we want or like. God’s love never changes. Let’s not question God’s love and care for us, ever.
- The “professional ministers” promoted bad doctrine and set bad examples. Today we are all in the ministry. God’s word is our manual and authority. We all should do what we do for the Lord with genuine love for him.
- The priests and people observed the sacrifices and offerings contrary to God’s instructions and purpose. We can allow communion and baptism degenerate into a meaningless ritual if we are not careful. Let’s appreciate baptism and the Lord’s Table and honor God through it.
- The nation gave up giving. God had commanded that the people were to support the priesthood and the temple. They failed. God has given the same kind of opportunity to church age believers. But there is not set amount such as the Old Testament tithe. In the church age grace giving is the principle, yet under grace giving many give up giving to God’s work. Let’s not fail in this service.
- Marriage was under attack. The beginning of marriage was corrupted because Jews married pagans. The end of marriage was corrupted because divorce was commonplace. This is a social sin of our time also. Christians should not marry unbelievers. Divorce should only be a last resort. Today, marriage among Christians is almost as bad as for unbelievers. Let’s work on having good marriages.
- Inconsistency in fellowship with God marked the time of Malachi. This included inconsistency in attending the temple, inconsistency in listening to God’s word, inconsistency in giving, inconsistency in service, and inconsistency in family and community relationships. Today we live in a time when Christians are inconsistent and not dependable.
- The people of Malachi’s day questioned the value of following God. They asked what was in it for them instead of realizing that they were not following God and therefore pushing off his blessing. Let’s not blame God for problems we bring upon ourselves by our own disobedience and faithlessness.