google-site-verification: google3e8cc4742c5fd8a2.html Thursday with Tabitha - Malachi
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Malachi

Welcome to the last installment in our series about the minor prophets. Our final book is Malachi, the last book in the Old Testament. There is something very exciting about this book! Perhaps it’s the sense of anticipation contained within it. The first book of the New Testament lies just over the page! But before we get there, Malachi has serious words from God to convey to his people. The name Malachi means “my messenger” and this theme is picked up during the prophecy. It is likely that Malachi was a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah, writing in the mid 5th century BC.

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To recap the history briefly, Judah had been permitted to returned from exile in Babylon in 538 BC by king Cyrus of Persia. Haggai and Zechariah had encouraged the people to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. God had promised his people great restoration and he had promised that he would dwell among them, but the political and social environment of the day remained very difficult. Judah was small in land area and in population; the second temple was an inferior shadow of the former magnificent temple; Judah was allowed some freedom to self-rule but they were still under the ultimate control of Persia and they endured a lot of hostility and opposition from their neighbours.

The people had become cynical and disillusioned and their worship had suffered as a result. Malachi’s prophecy is a loud wake-up call to the nation, urging them to turn back to God and renew their covenant commitment to him.

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The prophecy consists of a series of charges that God brings against his people. God then anticipates the way the people will question the validity of the charges, defensively asking how they can be true. In each case, God explains why his accusations are valid.

The book opens with God’s declaration that he has loved his people. The people ask, “How have you loved us?”, showing their cynicism about God’s steadfast covenant love for them.

 

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God’s first accusation against the people is that they are the ones who have not shown love, failing to honour God and despising his name. God outlines in more detail some examples of this in their behaviour.

The priests have been offering sacrifices that are offensive to God. The only animals acceptable for sacrifice in the temple were healthy, whole animals without sickness or defect. The priests were responsible for checking the condition of the animals that the people brought for sacrifice. They had neglected this duty and compromised their standards to allow the offering of blind, lame and diseased animals at the temple. God would rather that the temple doors were shut and no offerings brought at all rather than these half-hearted, second-rate offerings be made.

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The people were trying to cheat God by keeping back the better animals for themselves and bringing the ones that were not fit for anything else to the temple. To use a lesser analogy, one way that we show our love for another person is the care we take over choosing a gift for them. How offended would your husband, wife, or friend be if you promised them a perfect gift, and they knew you’d bought it for them, and then on their birthday you gave them a second-hand, slightly damaged and rather dirty gift instead and kept the perfect one for yourself? How much worse it is to bring a defective offering to God, when the issue at stake isn’t someone’s birthday gift but the very serious issue of offering a sacrifice for sin!

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In chapter 2 God makes a second accusation, this time regarding the way the people have abused the marriage covenant. Firstly, they have intermarried with people from pagan nations, who worship idols. Secondly, they have adopted a casual attitude to divorce, with men sending their wives away simply because they stopped feeling affection towards them. The people were perplexed and distressed that God appeared to have withheld blessing from them, not accepting their worship. God explains that their disobedience in regard to his standards for marriage is a part of the reason for this.

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Another accusation follows quickly: the people have continually questioned God’s justice and doubted his ability to make just decisions. They have accused God of letting evil people get away with everything.

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In chapter 3 God announces the coming of a messenger to prepare the way before him. The arrival of the messenger will be followed by the sudden coming of the Lord to his temple. In Old Testament history, the completions of the tabernacle and the first temple had both been followed immediately by the dramatic, visible presence and glory of the Lord filling the worship place. This hadn’t happened after the completion of the second temple but God promises that he will arrive suddenly, fulfilling the people’s desire for his presence in their midst. But God warns that this will not be a day of delight for all. As in the book of Amos, God tells his people that the coming of the Day of the Lord will bring judgement. The people of Judah had assumed that they were immune from judgement by nature of their identity as God’s people but God makes it clear that they will still be judged according to their faithfulness to him. Judah will be refined and purified through judgement.

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God then accuses the people of stealing from him by not bringing him the proper tithe of their offerings. Similar to the situation with the animal sacrifices, the people were keeping back more than they should have done, causing offence to God. This charge is leveled against the whole nation, not just the priests. God challenges the people to test him, declaring that if they would only bring the whole tithe to him, he would bless them abundantly in return. The behaviour of the people in regard to their offerings demonstrates their lack of trust in God’s gracious provision. In chapter 3 verse 14 the people sum up their spiritual destitution by declaring that it is futile to serve God.

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However, God takes note of a small remnant of faithful people who continue to worship him properly with a right heart. He carefully records their names to ensure that they are preserved.

The book ends in chapter 4 with the promise of the coming Day of the Lord, when evil will be judged and destroyed and those who have been faithful to God will be restored and healed. Malachi says:

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“But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” (Malachi 4:2 ESV)

The final words of the book declare that Elijah the prophet will come before the Day of the Lord. And there the Old Testament ends. So what happens next?

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After Malachi put down his pen, there followed 400 years of prophetic silence. Seismic events occurred in the political and social landscape of the Middle East and Europe, and empires came and went. Then one day, an obedient priest called Zechariah had an extraordinary encounter with an angel of God whilst serving in the temple in Jerusalem. The angel announced the coming birth of Zechariah’s son, who was to be called John. After John’s miraculous birth to his previously infertile older mother, Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied over his newborn son. His song is recorded in Luke chapter 1. Strikingly, in verses 76-79 he says:

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“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79 ESV)

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At last the promised sunrise of salvation was coming! When John the Baptist started his prophetic ministry, many Jews wondered whether he might be Elijah, returned to earth again, as Malachi had prophesied. John declared that he was not Elijah.

However, John was the fulfilment of Malachi’s prophecy about the coming messenger who would prepare the way for the Lord. Jesus himself identifies John as the promised Elijah. In Matt 11:11-15 he says:

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Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. (Matthew 11:11-15 ESV)

In fact, this is just what the angel had promised Zechariah about his future son:

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And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1:16-17)

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Shortly after John’s birth, Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. The new parents took their little baby to the temple in Jerusalem to present him to God, as the law required for a first-born son. Mary and Joseph were quite surprised to be greeted by Simeon, a devout man who was waiting for the promised Messiah. Simeon was filled with the Holy Spirit and declared:

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“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

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The Lord had suddenly come to his temple, in the rather unexpected guise of a human baby. Simeon knew that this was the fulfilment of God’s promise.

No-one anticipated how Jesus would bring about that salvation. Even his own disciples didn’t understand it despite Jesus explicitly telling them that he would be killed and then raised from the dead and that he had to die for the sins of the world.

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The forgiveness of our sins no longer depends on us offering sacrifices of animals to God. Praise God that we can have forgiveness of our sins through our identification with Jesus’ sacrifice of himself on the cross!

But now we are called to be living sacrifices (Romans 12:1)! Our whole lives are now meant to be lived as an act of sacrifice and worship to God. Perhaps Malachi’s words about half-hearted, inadequate offerings need to stir us today! If our attitude to our service to God and our giving of resources is focused on what we can get away with keeping, rather than what we delight to give, Malachi challenges us to consider how we are honouring God.

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I really hope you’ve enjoyed this series. I’ve learned so much by reading and studying these fascinating books of prophecy and I’ve come to appreciate them in a whole new way. I pray that you’ve been encouraged to read them with me.

 

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