03 Sep Malachi: Because of God’s Love
Majoring on the Minors
Malachi: Because of God’s Love
Malachi 3:1-4 and 4:1-6
September 1, 2019
M. Michelle Fincher
Calvary Presbyterian Church
Eleven weeks ago, we started our summertime journey through the Minor Prophets, and today, we arrive at the twelfth and final one, the prophet Malachi. Malachi writes 450 years before the birth of Christ, and he is the last of the Old Testament prophets. Like Haggai and Zechariah, Malachi has the task of speaking to God’s people after they have been allowed to return to Jerusalem from exile. They have begun rebuilding the temple and God reiterates his promise to send the Messiah, the priest-king from the line of David who will establish a new kingdom.
By the time we get to Malachi, however, the people are disillusioned. Cynicism has gotten a foothold in their hearts. The new temple is rather shabby, especially compared to the old one. The priests are corrupt, and the people are apathetic about worship. The people have settled into disarray. Things in the city are still in disorder. Jerusalem is not what it used to be. They are still ruled by a foreign king, but now the people are used to it. They’ve grown accustomed to it, comfortable with it. They pretty much just sit around all day long in their pajamas watching reruns of the Price Is Right….and occasionally they complain to God.
There are four snapshots in Malachi that show us what is going on; two of them are things the people do, and two are things they say. In the first snapshot, the people offer polluted sacrifices to God. Now, why is this such a big deal? In the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, there were specifications on the kinds of sacrifices that were to be made. And one of the simplest, most direct details in that system was that the people were to give God their best because their offering was a reflection of their devotion. “You shall not offer anything that has a blemish, for it will not be acceptable for you” (Leviticus 22:20). Malachi puts it this way:
“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my respect? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name? When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord” (1:6, 8).
God is rebuking the people, telling them that “what you are giving me is so inferior, so shoddy, it wouldn’t even be accepted by your city mayor, and you know it.” God is exposing the Israelites’ for giving greater honor to human leaders than to God, for having so little regard for God that all God gets is their scraps.
Throughout the Minor Prophets we’ve seen all kinds of ways that the people mistreat and sin against one another, but the one that Malachi highlights next is the rampant unfaithfulness of Israel’s men to their wives. Look at Malachi 2:13-14: “And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, ‘Why does he not?’ Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.”
What’s happened is that a lot of men were abandoning their families. They walked out on their wives to go after other women which left the women no means to provide or care for their children. Women and children alike were thrown into ruin because of the men’s sin. Both of these actions, giving tarnished offerings and abandoning one’s family arise out of this situation of settled disarray, this cynical acquiescence to the status quo.
The next two snapshots move from action to speech. In 2:17 we read, “You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, ‘How have we wearied him?’ By saying, ‘Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.’ Or by asking, ‘Where is the God of justice?’”
In other words, people have gotten so used to things being in disarray that they see reality upside down. They’re so used to the injustice and brokenness around them and they’ve seen so many evil things left unpunished, that they have started to believe that God doesn’t care. Oh, they know, at least in theory, that God is righteous and opposes evil, but when it comes to everyday life, to living on the ground in real time, they look around and say, “Where is God because I sure don’t see him here?”
And we get it, don’t we? There are only so many mass shootings you can see on the news before you begin to wonder if God is ever going to do anything about mass shootings. There is but so much prosperity for the underhanded, greedy, all-about-me people that we can handle before we begin to wonder if any of it really matters. Maybe we should look after “Number One” first, too. That is where the Israelites are going with this.
The fourth snapshot is found in Malachi 3:14: “You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts?’” The people are asking, what is the point in serving God, trusting God, following God’s way? What do we get from it? What good is any of this?
We know what this feels like too, don’t we? We want things to be different. We long for change in the areas of our lives and our world that are so badly broken and messed up. But the change comes so slowly, and the bad stuff seems to last so long, and sometimes we wonder if we’re just wasting our time. We want to be more like Habakkuk, able to say with our whole being, “though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines, though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength” (3:17-19a). But the truth is that sometimes we’re just weary and worn down. We’ve settled into disarray.
And here’s what Malachi wants us to know. We settle into disarray when other things become more real to us than God. You know the reason Israel offered sacrifices to God they wouldn’t dare offer to their governor? Because their governor was more real to them than God.
You know the reason men were leaving their wives to chase after other women? Because their sinful desires were more real to them than God. Why did Israel think that God doesn’t mind evil? Because the things they saw around them were more real to them than God and what God says about wickedness and those who practice it. Why did Israel think God was just a big waste of time? Because things had accumulated to the point that everything around them was becoming more real than God.
Their hope was being eclipsed by darkness, and in the darkness, reality as they saw it no longer had any space for God. They pushed God out. They couldn’t see or feel God’s presence. And when that happens, for them and for us, the only way out is to see through the darkness, to see that actually, although it may not look like it, or feel like it, God is more real than anything. And God reminds the Israelites and us of this truth by speaking to us.
“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; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord” (3:1). And in 4:5: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
These verses are talking about the same person, a prophet whom God will send to Israel, and in the New Testament we discover that he is John the Baptist. John was a fascinating person. He was an Old Testament styled prophet, a prophet like Elijah, and he sort of passes the baton from the Old Testament to the New. It’s like he steps off the pages of Malachi into the pages of the Gospels and bridges those 450 years. And his mission was to prepare the way, to make things straight, to lay a runway for the coming of Jesus.
What is especially important about John the Baptist from the perspective of the Minor Prophets is that he is God’s grace to Israel, not God’s wrath. He calls Israel to repentance, meaning he helps them to see, helps them remember that God is more real than anything else. You can and should follow God’s commands because God’s voice is more real than all the other voices around you. You stay faithful to your marriage and all your relationships and commitments because the grace that fuels your faithfulness is greater than the sin that tries to ruin you. You are not ultimately the product of your culture because the gospel of God is more real than your culture, and it touches areas of your soul that only it can. You are not wasting your time by trusting in God because no matter what you see, no matter what happens, God really is sovereign over it all, and one day, that will be clear, so just hang on. Keep waiting. Keep hoping. Keep trusting.
The reason God speaks to his people, the reason God comes in grace in John the Baptist is because God loves Israel. God loves his people. That is the reality that hangs over the book of Malachi and over all the Minor Prophets. It’s not that God loves them because of who they are or what they’ve done. They aren’t a mighty nation or a virtuous people. God loves them because God loves them. It’s because of who God is, not because of who Israel is, that God loves.
We see the same thing in the New Testament. Paul says that God chose you before the foundation of the world. Before you were born, before you had done anything good or bad, before you were a broken people living in a broken world, before you had settled into disarray, God chose you in Christ Jesus. God set his love on you then and connected your story to God’s story.
God’s love comes from God’s own sovereign prerogative and that means something that is so important I hope you never forget it: Because God’s sovereign love cannot be deserved, it also cannot be lost. Not under any circumstances. Not ever.
You didn’t make God love you and you can’t make God not love you. God’s love is that ferocious, that stubborn. So, no matter what kind of disarray you are in, what kind of doubts you have, what you’ve broken or what you’ve done, God is not going anywhere. God is going to be right where you are, loving you.
That’s what is happening in Malachi. The whole reason God ever made a promise to Israel, and then promises on top of promises, goes back to God choosing to love them. That’s why God endures their years of recklessness and faithlessness. That’s why God’s judgement is always restorative, not punitive. That’s why God always leaves a way of hope. Because God will never stop loving them and God will never stop loving us, either.