I recently finished teaching through the minor prophets in my Sunday School class, and I felt that I wasn’t able to really mine these texts for all that they had. So tonight, I thought it would be beneficial, especially during this season, to spend a couple of sermons in the Old Testament book of Malachi, specifically noting the promises God makes to his people to send to them a messiah, or an anointed savior. And we have in Malachi several clear promises that are fulfilled in the coming of Jesus, which we specifically reflect upon during this Christmas time of year.
Malachi might seem like a strange text for us. Some of us may have never heard any sermons on Malachi, or heard any lessons at all on the prophet and his message. But Malachi, as we will find, is very relevant for us today. He addresses things like spiritual apathy or sluggishness, greed and selfishness, faithlessness, and marriage and divorce, among other very relevant sins. Malachi’s word to us is not only relevant because it is part of God’s holy word, but also because the same problems that he addresses are still problems for us today, both inside and outside of the church.
So, let me begin with prayer, and then we will hear what God would have us hear from the prophetic words of Malachi.
To begin, let me set the scene for us. For those whose Old Testament history is a little fuzzy, let me catch us up to speed. Most of us can remember the early pages of the old testament. God makes man, man sins and plunges the world into sin and darkness. God calls a man, named Abram, and sets him apart at God’s chosen people. That people eventually narrows to the Hebrew clan, but that Hebrew clan gets itself enslaved to the Egyptians.
God sovereignly redeems the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and carries them to the promised land in Canaan. Israel is told by God everything they needed to do to retain possession of the promised land, and how they were to remain holy. But they would not do it.
Time after time they get themselves into trouble, going after the worship of foreign gods, and chasing after the pleasures of this world. And again and again God raises up for them a savior. Eventually, God relents to the pestering of this people and their clamoring for a king like all the other nations had, and God gives them King Saul. Saul was a terrible king, and was eventually replaced with King David, a man after God’s own heart.
David was succeeded by his son Solomon, the wisest man on earth. But even that wisest man was not able to follow God as he should have, and as a result, his sons bickered over the throne, and eventually lead the nation to be split into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. And both of those kingdoms drifted into pagan idolatry and wickedness.
And thus, like the faithful Father he is, God disciplined his son Israel. The Northern kingdom was invaded and defeated around 720 BC by the Assyrians. Likewise, the Southern kingdom, and specifically Jerusalem, was besieged by Nebuchadnezzar II in 589BC, and within three years the southern kingdom fell too. The remaining Jews were deported, carried off into exile in Babylon.
However, even though thousands of Jews were forcibly taken from their homeland and placed in exile in a strange land, they also knew that God had made promises to them, that he would rebuilt their temple, restore their land, and restore his people’s fortunes.
Thus, it was with much anticipation that some of the exiled Jews were able to return back to Jerusalem. God had worked in the heart of the pagan emperor to grant favor for men like Nehemiah and Ezra and Zerubbabel to return to the promised land and rebuilt the temple after nearly 70 years of exile. They made their way back, and even with much opposition, rebuilt Jerusalem’s walls, and rebuilt the temple.
That brings us to Malachi. Malachi lived roughly 100 years after the people of God had returned from exile in Babylon, around 420 BC. His prophetic messages are aimed at the people who had been living in Jerusalem for some time now. The temple had been rebuilt, and had been standing for a while, but things are not going well.
You can remember back to the stories from the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, how God’s people were so prone to neglect the proper worship of God, to turn after the ways of the world, and to even turn toward pagan idolatry.
Plus, we read in the prophets of Haggai and Zechariah, that the people had returned from Exile with big expectations, with big hopes for what Jerusalem would look like. They remembered the temple of old, Solomon’s temple, with all of its glory, and they longed for the good old days.
Further, they remembered the promises of God about the New Jerusalem, and all of the glory that God would return to it: how God would rebuilt it, how God would place a Son of David upon the throne, and how God would rule all the nations from his throne in Jerusalem.
But as they look at Jerusalem now, in Malachi’s day, that’s not what they see. Rather than God ruling over all the nations in peace and prosperity, they see injustice. They see corruption. And so we’re faced with a question.
Did the exile do anything? Did Israel learn anything? And the answer is NO. They are just as unfaithful to God after the exile as their ancestors were prior to the exile. And the corruption of this new generation in Jerusalem is on display in the book of Malachi.
The book Malachi itself is framed in a series of literary disputes, or arguments, which usually begin with God making a claim or an accusation. Then Israel will respond, usually by disagreeing with God’s assessment, and then God will respond to them with the last word. This happens over the course of 6 different disputes. In the first three disputes God exposes Israel’s corruption, and in the last three disputes God confronts Israel’s corruption.
Let’s look at The first dispute is found in chapters 1:2-5. Let’s read Malachi 1:1-5:
1 The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi.[a]
2 “I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob3 but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” 4 If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.’” 5 Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!”
God begins by saying that he still loves Israel, despite all of her failings, which is itself a remarkable statement, that God still loves Israel. But Israel responds rather rudely by saying, “how have you shown us your love?” And so God reminds them by saying that I chose you, Jacob, over and against your brother Esau. God sovereignly elected Israel, and not Edom (who was a descendent of Esau) to be the recipients of God’s covenantal love and blessings, while Esau and later Edom came to ruin. You can read more of that from the prophet Obadiah, or go back and read Genesis 25-27 and recount the story.
But for us, this dispute is a reminder of ourselves. How often do we find ourselves asking God, “how have you love me?” How have you loved me, God?
Have you asked God such a question? How have you loved me? Where is your love for me, especially in this moment, God?
It often becomes a temptation when we’re going through some trial, or some disappointment. How quickly we can quickly look at our surroundings, look at what looks like fruitlessness or oppression or trials, and can so quickly question God’s love and goodness. How have you loved me, God? Aren’t you supposed to be good? If you really loved me, then you wouldn’t make me go through this trial, and live in this hard time.
And what often motivates the questions is disappointment in this life. We’re like the Israelites, looking at the temple, which was a shadow of its former self, and we fixate on what is in front of us, forgetting what God has done in the past. We look at our circumstances, our lives, our marriages, and we despair, and fail to zoom out and remember what has come before.
We forget God’s love. We forget his prior action of electing and saving us, making us part of Israel, rather than condemned Edom. We forget God’s prior declaration, before the foundation of the world, to redeem a people, and to make us a part of that people, and to do so, with complete knowledge of the kind of people we would be.
We’re like the Israelites, failing to honor God as we should, failing to love him as we ought, looking only at our circumstances, rather than trusting in God. And yet, God chose us, not because we are faithful, but because he loved us. That’s encouraging news.
That God saves a people NOT because they are lovely, but purely out of HIS electing love. Believers, when you’re discouraged, when you look around and are disappointed, when you look at yourself and despair, don’t let doubt lead you to question God’s love. Remember that HE chose YOU, and not because you were so lovely, but in fact in spite of your unloveliness. And let that electing love warm your heart again. Let His choosing of YOU draw you back to him, and to remember HIS great love for you.
And remember that we celebrate not only the coming of Christ during this season, but also the reason WHY Jesus came. God shows his love, not only in choosing undeserving sinners to save, but in the manner in which he saves them. Remember Romans 5:8: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The Christ of the cradle became the Christ of the cross, so that a forgetful people would remember their salvation in him. When you celebrate Christmas, always remember Good Friday and Easter. God loved you not only in choosing you, but also in sacrificing the holy Son for you.
And if you are not a believer, then let this text speak also to you. You stand like Esau in this text. You’re condemned. Even though you vow to rebuild, God will tear you down. Even though you think you can build your life on your own strength, God will come. Christ’s coming at Christmas ought to startle you, because the sovereign King has come, and has proven himself all powerful and victorious, and if you reject him, you will meet him as the sovereign judge.
Come to Christ tonight, by faith, and you too can be a recipient of God’s sovereign love. Trust in this Christ, before it is too late. If you hear my words now, it is not too late for you. You’re not too far gone, not too old or too young, you’re not too sinful for God to make you the object of His holy love. For if you stand in your unbelief, you will also stand before him on the final judgement day, and will be finally destroyed just like Edom. Don’t delay, don’t put it off until later, for your end is closer than any of us might imagine. Come to Christ and taste of his love tonight.
Next, let’s move on in our text to the second dispute. The Second dispute is 1:6-2:9. Here Malachi accuses the Israelites of despising God and defiling the temple with their heartless and profane worship. Let’s read the rest of chapter 1, starting in verse 6:
“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 fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ 7 By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised. 8 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 of hosts.9 And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the Lord of hosts. 10 Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand.
11 For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be[b] great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. 12 But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised.
13 But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord. 14 Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.
The passage begins with God saying in verses 6-7 that the people defiled their worship and despised the name of the Lord.
And they respond with, “How have we done that?”
And God responds with looking at the offerings of the people. Rather than bringing the first fruits of their possessions and the best of their flocks for sacrifice, they are bringing the sick animals, the lame, the deformed, the weakest parts of their flock. In short, they are giving God the thing that costs them nothing, and holding back from themselves the best of their cattle.
But as we move into chapter 2, we see God condemns the priests too. They not only tolerate this heartless and faithless worship, but they participate in it. They have caused many to stumble, they have corrupted the covenant of Levi and their priestly heritage, and so God promises to judge them because they show “partiality in their instruction” (2:9).
And so all of God’s people, the leadership and the laity, are all condemned as faithless before God’s people. They withhold their best, and give God the scraps. They are faithless in their instruction and faithless in their obedience.
Have you felt that temptation? To worship God with the leftovers, and hold the best back for yourself? Surely we’re all guilty of that. We spend the best parts of our time on our favorite pastimes, on our favorite pleasures. We neglect the worship of God and the gathering of the body of Christ so that we can instead go and play with worldly things. Or we indulge in entertainment, to the neglect of our own spiritual condition.
We’d rather watch TV or play on our phones, while the word of God remains collecting dust on the shelf. Or we fail to pray because we convince ourselves we are too busy, when in reality we know that if we are really too busy to pray, then we are too busy indeed. Indeed, if we’re really honest, we’re all tempted to come with empty hearts to prayer meetings at church, expecting that God’s not going to do anything anyway, and then we get out of the prayer time exactly what we expect, nothing.
We’re like the Israelites, who said of the worship of God, “What a weariness this is! And we snort at it.” What an offense to God! To say that the things of this world are more precious to us than true communion with the living God. To offer to God the leftovers, the scraps that cost us nothing, while reserving the best of our time and attention and money for the things that we prize more than Him. When we read this text, we stand condemned before God, just like the Israelites.
Praise be to God that the Lord does not treat us the same way. God did not keep back for himself his spotless lamb, while sending out some worthless animal to be slaughtered as sacrifice. Instead, God sent forth the perfect lamb, the spotless sacrifice of Christ, to be the atoning offering in the place of an unfaithful people. That’s the good news of Christmas. The holy Son of God became for us our perfect substitute.
He died on the cross for a rebellious people, and his atonement is sufficient for the worst of violators. The most egregious rebels and the most heinous of blasphemers can be forgiven because the perfect sacrifice was substituted in our place. Remember that good news. That Christ has taken away your reproach, and that God now DELIGHTS in your sacrifices, NOT because you were so faithful, but because our works have been cleansed by another.
Our acts of devotion and worship become delightful and pleasing to God because they are offered by our great high priest, at the cost of his own life. Even our feeble prayers at prayer meeting are heard because they come from us, through our High Priest, right to the ear of God himself. What an encouragement it is to know that it is because of CHRIST’S perfection that you can approach the throne of God again, even after you’ve neglected him so much, and to know that we can approach boldly because we’re assured of our access to the Father because of the perfect atoning work of the Son.
Don’t let your disappointing performance deter you from coming to Him. Come back to God, repent of your sin, and be restored to the God who calls you back. He’s like the Father who runs toward the prodigal, joyfully embracing you with His own sovereign love, because the fatted calf has already been sacrificed on your behalf.
We can worship God with full hearts because we know the best was sacrificed in our place, and because we have a faithful high priest, and we know that we are fully atoned for and completely purified from our sinful actions. Even though we have snorted at the worship of God, God has instead transformed our worship into an aroma that is pleasing to Him. Praise be to God for his atoning work through the Son, which woos us back to him, even when we find ourselves drifting and unfaithful like the Israelites.
And if you’ve never come to God, then know that no sacrifice of your own can ever make you be at peace with Him. No good works, acts of charity or acts of piety, no prayers or bible reading can ever bring peace between you and God. Only Christ, only His sacrifice can atone perfectly for your sins, so don’t linger. Come and embrace this Christ, who asks only of you to believe. Believe and be cleansed of your sins, and you too can be embraced like the prodigal son was embraced by his father.
Lastly, let’s move on to the third dispute in Malachi. The third dispute is 2:10-16. It begins with God accusing the men of Israel of treachery against Him, and against their own wives. Let’s read 2:10-16:
10 Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? 11 Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12 May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant[e] of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the Lord of hosts!
13 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. 14 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. 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union?[f] And what was the one God[g] seeking?[h] Godly offspring. So guard yourselves[i] in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. 16 “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her,[j] says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers[k] his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”
So in this third dispute God condemns the Israelite men of the toxic combination of idolatry and divorce. The Israelite men were divorcing their wives, marrying pagan women, and adopting the pagan religious practices of these foreign women. We this same story in Nehemiah chapter 13, if you remember back there.
Even though the Israelite men were fine with their idolatrous worship and their divorcing of their wives of their youth, God through Malachi condemns them for violating the covenant. By violating their marriage covenant, Israel was also violating their covenant with the Lord, and thereby also demonstrating that they were NOT like Yahweh.
This temptation toward faithlessness, particularly faithlessness to the marriage covenant, is a perennial temptation for all mankind. Our eyes are prone to wander, and our hearts follow our eyes. Rather than keeping our gaze on God, we let our gaze linger upon the spouse of another, and when we give into that, it’s not long after that our hearts follow.
We’ve all felt this tug. We’re discontented or frustrated with the spouse that God has given us, and so we let our eyes wander. We linger over illicit pictures, or we fantasize of what it would be like to be married to another person, freed from the prison of our current situation.
And we can even be tempted to rationalize it, and adapt our religion to fit our desires. “God wants me to be happy, right? He wouldn’t want me to be miserable, so I’ll just have a little taste.”
We’re like Eve in the garden, whose eyes were fixed on the forbidden fruit, and saw that it was a delight to the eyes. But then the gaze wasn’t enough, she also saw that it was a delight to taste. And one little taste was enough to reveal her heart had forsaken a holy God, and instead replaced it with another, the God of her own desires.
That’s the ploy of Satan, and it works, even today. To bait the hook, offer us happiness, tempt us to forget and question God’s goodness, and offer a little indulgence to us. But the taste always comes with a painful hook.
Perhaps you’re in a similar situation tonight: discontented, and letting your eyes wander. Well God would have you hear the condemnation in this text. That faithlessness in marriage is also faithlessness to God. Remember that adultery begins in the heart and involves the eyes, long before it involves the bed.
Be warned, God sees all and knows all, and he’s calling you to repent tonight. Run away from temptation, keep your feet far from the adulteress’ house, proverbs says. Guard your heart, and guard your eyes, for from it flow the springs of life.
And in the midst of the temptation and the battle, remember God. Remember that Yahweh loved Israel like a bridegroom loves his bride. And remember that the theme of God as a bridegroom is eventually picked up in the NT, isn’t it? Christ is the faithful bridegroom that defends the honor and purity of his bride, even up to and including his own death for her.
Remember Ephesians 5: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.[a] 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.”
That’s the good news of the gospel. That Christ came and died for an unfaithful people. He came and washed His bride of all of her adulterous desires and all of her illicit looks. And if you’re trusting in Jesus, then you too are washed, scripture says. You’re forgiven. You’re sanctified.
Don’t go back to the temptation, run from it. Remember Christ’s love for you, how much he gave for you, and let his sacrifice be the impetus for you to continue on in the battle for holiness in your purity and in your marriage. Don’t listen to the lies of Satan and this world that push you to pursue happiness through divorce. God hates it, and the people of God must battle against it.
And in the midst of the battle, whether you’re winning or losing, remember God’s grace, that Christ came and died for the unfaithful and for the ungodly, and that nobody is beyond that cleansing grace. Nobody is too sinful, too defiled, too impure to be outside of God’s purifying grace.
Come again to Christ, be reconciled, be forgiven, be purified of your sin, and you too can be restored to full communion with Him. That’s the offer of the gospel for each and every one of us.
**Some of the exegetical analysis is expanded from the Bible Project’s helpful overview video of Malachi: https://bibleproject.com/explore/video/malachi/ (accessed 11/4/2021).