Devotional: Malachi 1
Background: This prophecy is written to Israel specifically through the prophet Malachi [“My messenger” or “My angel”.] Some versions use the word “burden” [or “oracle”] instead of the words prophecy or message. It is written in the form of a disputation (think a trial in a courtroom). Malachi presents first a truth, then debates this with his audience, supplying evidence that, in the end, leaves the opposition without a leg to stand on.
According to the notes in my Tree of Life translation, this is the last of the post-exile messages. That means that the “Israelites” were those who returned from Babylonian captivity—actually those from the tribe of Judah. A contemporary of Nehemiah, Malachi’s message deals with exhortation to rebuild Jerusalem and to once again honor God. At this time, the sacrificial system was back in use, but there was a lack of regard for God in the manner in which the priests were going about it, and this also meant that the general population of Israel also were living with no real regard for God. They were moving back into idolatry and neglecting the One True God.
Verses 1-5: The first thing that God says is to remind the people that He had set His love on them. He had called them to a covenant relationship, what Malachi likened to a marriage relationship. Possibly these second generation Israelites (born in Babylonian captivity) had come to the conclusion that God had turned His back on them and no longer loved, valued or even remembered them. Malachi was God’s voice, telling them first off that while they felt abandoned and forgotten (unloved), He did indeed still hold to the covenant that He had made with their fathers.
So, let’s look at the first question (the first “doubt”) expressed by Malachi’s audience (the people of Israel). They are questioning God’s love for them. Instead of pointing out to them that they are still “a people” after all those years in captivity or showering them with blessings to “prove” His love, God has Malachi point to their enemies!
A little background here; Edom was the nation generated by Esau. Early on, that nation had chosen to refuse the Israelites under Moses’ leadership passage through their land (Numbers 20). 1 Samuel 14:47 lists Edom as one of the enemies that Saul had to deal with. Additionally, the Edomites worshipped foreign gods. Among other Scriptures, Jeremiah 49:17 makes it clear that Edom is destined to be made desolate as a result of its sins. Here in verse 3 of Malachi, God points out that He has in fact done this. He also says that though they claim that they will raise themselves back up and once again become the power that they once were, their efforts will only lead to more destruction. God declares that Israel will at some point see this devastation and will then recognize that God deserves to be “magnified [praised as great, powerful, important and valuable] beyond the border of Israel”. In other words, they would come to the realization that God was not like the other gods that had no power beyond the borders of the people who served them; they would recognize that He was worthy of all their honor and service. They would then start to treat Him with the respect due Him. They would once again fulfil Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “4Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love Adonai your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
So what does this say to us, today? While this is written to Israel, we the Church (members of Christ’s Body) can learn something from it that we can apply to our lives (Romans 15:3-4). First, we love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). If we question His love for us, then our love for Him will fade. God’s great love for His people—speaking of the Church now—is displayed by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross for our sin(s). There is no greater love given than a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). Unfortunately, in the USA, people have gotten the false idea that God shows His love for His people by blessing them with worldly possessions and fantastic health. God never promised that we would not face hardship in this life. Look at Paul’s life! However, He does promise that He will work through all things to bring about our transformation into the image of His Son (Romans 8:28-29). He promises that nothing we face will ever separate us from His love (Romans 8:35-39). He has promised that He will be with us in the midst of trouble (Isaiah 43:1-2; first promised to the nation Israel, but also applies to individuals today who have been redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice), supplying the grace we need to be overcomers (2 Corinthians 12:9). If we ever doubt God’s love for us, He has given us the Bible to remind us of His never-ending love for us!
Verses 6-13: God now points out through His prophet that the priests should be honoring Him as a father and fearing Him as a master, yet instead, they are showing great disregard for Him by the lackadaisical way they make offerings on His altar. Why was it so important that the offering animals be absolutely perfect? Because they were foreshadowing Jesus Christ, the perfect Lamb of God. I also think that this ties in with the first charge; they were showing a lack of love AND respect in the way they were treating the sacrifices.
How does that apply to us today? It is sad to say, but there are a lot of evangelical Christians today that have polluted Christ’s sacrifice by deciding and promoting the idea that there are many ways to heaven. They have turned their back on Scripture as Truth and instead believe the lie that the world puts forth that love equates with tolerance, and that to claim there is only one way to God is thus intolerant and unloving. Additionally, what about those who “add” to Christ’s sacrifice, thinking that His death on the cross was not sufficient to save them. They add church membership, baptism, good works, etc., to attain or keep their “salvation”. Or, worse yet, those who have never really accepted Christ’s sacrifice because they think that by going to church regularly and doing “good” deeds that they can cleanse themselves enough to be accepted by God or that by doing those things they will in some way “pay” their own way into heaven.
Verse 14: This verse reminds me of what Ananias and Sapphira did in holding back some of the profit from the sale of their property while claiming that they were donating the whole amount they had received. They should have remembered that the God they were trying to trick/deceive said this about Himself here in Malachi, “‘For I am a great King,’ says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, ‘and my name is feared [revered, stood in awe of] among the nations [foreigners, heathen, Gentiles]!’”
Wrapping it all up: Are we guilty of either of these charges? Do we assume that God no longer loves us or that we have somehow lost our salvation if things are not going well for us? Do we disrespect Christ’s sacrifice by thinking that there is more needed for salvation than “just” receiving it as a gracious gift from God’s hand? I think that the answer to both of these issues is to read and trust what God says in the Bible. The more we understand God’s choice to love us, the more we will love Him in return, and the more we will understand and respect His means of saving us.
This week I’ve read Malachi chapter one in four different translations, several times. I also read about the book of Malachi in the book “66 Love Letters from God to you” by Larry Crabb. He points out that Malachi was the last prophet to speak God’s words before Jesus came as a human infant, so he believes this book is especially significant as God’s last message to His people before He came in person to straighten things out!I was struck by the refusal of people to believe and receive God’s words. He said “I have loved you,” (NIV), “I have always loved you, ” (NLT), “I have loved you” (NKJV) and “I love you,” (the Message.)How could that be more clear? God declared His love for His people. But, as Malachi said, the people replied, “How have you loved us?” Really? In what way have you loved us?
Larry Crabb writes about three charges that God brings in Chapter one. I have loved you, but you refuse to love Me in return. (1:2) You show contempt for My Name. (1:6) Your worship of Me is deficient. (1:7) The various translations of verse 12 are especially challenging to read as I look into my own heart and consider my attitude toward worship. Do I ever say, “What a burden?” (NIV) or “It’s too hard to serve the Lord, and you turn up your noses at my commands,” (NLT) or “Oh what a weariness,” and you sneer at it (NKJV)- or as the Message elaborates, “You profane me when you say, “Worship is not important, and what we bring to worship is of no account,” and when you say, “I’m bored- this doesn’t do anything for me.” You act so superior, sticking your noses in the air– act superior to me, God of the Angel Armies! And when you do offer something to me, it’s a hand-me-down, or broken, or useless. Do you think I’m going to accept it? This is God speaking to you!”The Lord concludes by reminding them (us) that He is a great king, and His name is to be feared! (so, listen up!) We like to water all this down and explain it away. But He is a great king, and His name is to be feared! He loves us and as Holly wrote in her e-mail, God’s great love is shown to us through Jesus’ sacrifice and the gift of the Holy Spirit who enables us to be overcomers. And we have His word to remind us of His love for us, both in exact words “I have always loved you,” and through the whole message of the Bible. I had a Christian friend who once asked me, “Where does it actually say “Jesus loves me” in the Bible?” She said that she knew the song “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” but she didn’t believe it. Well- how about John 3:16 and 17, for starters.John writes more about this in 1John Chapter 4, loving God and loving one another. These verses gave me an “Aha!” moment when I understood the importance of believing God’s love and trusting that He does indeed, really and truly love us individually. ( Read that chapter for yourself, because otherwise I will have to type the whole thing out, it is so good!) For me it culminates in the thought of verse 16, “We know and rely on (trust, believe) the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” So, instead of asking, doubting like the Israelites did, “Really? How have you loved us?” we can say, Thank you for sending Jesus to save us, and Your Spirit to indwell us! We trust and believe God’s love. It is only through His love that we can love each other and be the body of Christ on earth.
Devotional reading to be shared on June 17th: Malachi 2