Friday, July 16, 2010

Malachi--Introduction and Chapter One

Introduction to Malachi--As with many of these "minor" prophets, we know nothing of this man beyond what is in his book. And that really tells us nothing, not even who his father was. Some think he might have been a contemporary of Nehemiah, and that's possible if Malachi was born early enough and Nehemiah lived long enough. Regardless, this book is no doubt the last written in the Old Testament, probably between 420 and 400 B. C. It closes with a promise of a better day, and that's something we will look at when we get to chapter 4. All of these prophets we've studied so far wrote books that were shorter than Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, but there was nothing "minor" about their work.

Chapter One

Jacob exalted over Esau (vs. 1-5)--Malachi had a unique way of writing, sort of a "call and answer" approach. After simply stating in verse 1 that the word of the Lord came to him, the prophet has Jehovah saying, "I have loved you," but the people responding "In what way have You loved us?" (v. 2). This is obviously a literary device, and one which Malachi uses frequently in the prophecy. It is shocking for Israel to ask God how He had loved them, but that was the general disposition of the people of Malachi's day. The Lord responded with a simple example: He chose (the younger) Jacob over (the older) Esau, and sorely punished the descendants of the latter (Jacob's offspring were every bit as worthy of punishment but had been spared the fate of their cousins). The "Jacob I have loved, but Esay I have hated" (vs. 2-3) must be understood in a comparative sense. God doesn't hate anyone; He simply chose Israel for His purposes. The Edomites thought they would be able to rebound (v. 4), but whatever they built, "I will thrown down" (v. 4). Israel would then know that they should magnify Jehovah (v. 5). The point of this section is to remind Israel of all that God had done for them--and no one else, not even their nearest kinsmen. How could they say that He didn't love them? It gets worse, if possible.

"In what way have we despised Your name?" (vs. 6-14)--God is due every bit of respect that man can give him--the respect a son owes his father and a master his servant. Well, God is worthy of more than that, but it was a suitable comparison at the moment (v. 6). Yet, "where is My reverence?" (v. 6). I wonder if the Lord isn't asking that same question of many of His people today. He spoke those words directly "to you priests who despise My name." Yet, they asked, "In what way have we despised Your name?" They weren't aware of having done so. But the Lord responded that when they offered inferior, unfit sacrifices to Him, such was "despising" His name. A point worth considering. If our worship today is not what it ought to be, then does the Lord consider us as "despising" His name?

The problem with Israel here was simple apathy in religious service. They didn't go back into idol worship; they had learned that lesson from Babylonian captivity. But now, by Malachi's day, they cared so little for their religion, that they were offering "the blind as a sacrifice...the lame and sick" (v. 8). "Is it not evil?' Indeed, it was. "Go offer it to the governor of Persia and see if he'll accept it," (v. 8, paraphrased). If it wasn't good enough for a pagan bureaucrat, then it certainly wasn't good enough for the God of heaven and earth. The one escape was the one He had always offered them: "But now entreat God's favor, that He may be gracious to us" (v. 9). In verse 10 we learn, however, that there was not even one honest priest among them, who would do the most simple task ("shut the doors" of the temple) without getting paid for it. The sacrifices of such people were vain. Better no sacrifices than vain ones (see Isaiah 1). The Gentiles, the pagan, heathen nations who did not have God's written law, would someday exalt the name of the Lord (v. 11), but Israel profaned His name (v. 12) with their useless, tawdry sacrifices. Worship was wearisome to them; they gave God the leftovers (v. 13). ”Should I accept this from your hand?" No, there would be a curse upon such people, "For I am a great King," (v. 14), and no monarch would accept this kind of service at the hands of his people. A great chapter in which we learn the crucial lesson that improper, listless worship is despising and profaning the Lord and His name.

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