The Revelation of God through Malachi
The Revelation of God through Malachi
The prophet Malachi (his name means ‘my messenger’) was directed by God to bring serious charges against post-exilic Israel. Although greatly blessed by the return to their land, the rebuilding of the Temple and restoration of worship, they had over a period of time so degenerated spiritually that they could be accused by God of Doubting His Love (1:2-5), Despising His Name (1:6-14), Defiling His Priesthood (2:1-9), Debasing His Covenant (2:10-16), Denying His Justice (2:17-3:5), Defaulting on His Dues (3:6-12) and Declaiming His Service (3:13-4:3). As these indictments are pressed home, various vital truths about God become clear. In 3:6 God said ‘For I am the Lord – I change not’. The problem was that Israel had changed in her view of and relation to God and needed to repent and return to Him – or suffer the consequences. Note five of these truths about God.
1. The Name of God⤒🔗
Specific reference is made to the ‘name’ of God in every chapter and ten times in all throughout the book – in Mal 1:6 (twice), 11 (three times), 14; 2:2, 5; 3:16 and 4:2. There are many distinctive names or titles attributed to God throughout the Bible and these all show different aspects of His character, purposes and will. He is called, for example, Elohim, the Creator God; El Elyon, ‘possessor of heaven and earth’; Jehovah-Jireh, ‘the Lord will provide’; Jehovah-Shalom, ‘the Lord our peace’; Jehovah-Tsidkenu, ‘the Lord our righteousness’; and many others. All of these names speak of God’s attributes and not only tell who He is but what He is like. So the name of God is more than simply a particular designation by which we refer to the Almighty; it represents all that He is in His Person. It is the revelation He gives of Himself to us in the Scriptures. We are told in Exodus 34:5-7 that the Lord stood with Moses on Mount Sinai and ‘proclaimed the name of the Lord’ declaring some of the attributes which reveal His nature. The Psalms of David are full of God’s self-disclosure of His character through His name. In Psalm 9:10 we discover that God’s name is seen in His faithfulness. Again, David parallels God’s righteousness and His name in Psalm 7:17. And when he said ‘Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God’ in Psalm 20:7, he is reminding us of the omnipotent power of God.
Now, in Malachi’s day, Israel despised God’s name (1:6). His holy reputation was at stake because of His people’s backsliding, spiritual indifference and apathy. And in this the priests, the spiritual leaders of the people, were the chief culprits. The responsibility for the spiritual health of the people rested upon them. They were to guard the sanctuary, to make sure that nothing went on within the temple of God that was unseemly or took away from the character and the reputation of the Almighty. But far from protecting God’s name, they were actually engaged in offering unworthy and unacceptable sacrifices – and they thought they were doing OK! These men had deluded themselves into thinking that when it came to the worship of God, when it came to their offerings and their execution of the ministry of the priesthood, something was better than nothing. But God’s name, reputation, character was at stake and He would rather have seen the temple closed than His name being despised and the Israelites playing at religion, honouring Him with their mouth, when their hearts were far from Him. And we have to remember today that God is jealous for His name – for His character and reputation. Slovenly, irreverent, hypocritical worship is as unacceptable from us as it was from Israel in Malachi’s day.
2. The Fear of God←⤒🔗
Here again every chapter of the prophecy contains a reference to the fear of God – or fear of His name: 1:6; 2:5; 3:5, 16 (twice) and 4:2. For the most part the people of the day had lost the fear of God. I wonder if Christians today, to a large extent, even know what the fear of the Lord is? I am not thinking of that abject dread of God that makes us tremble in frightened apprehension of Him. That should be a reality for every sinner who has no personal knowledge of the forgiveness of sins and peace with God through the reconciling grace of Christ. No! I am thinking now of that fear which is reverential awe and which leads to the honour and adoration of, and obedience to, God. But when the name of God is despised, and there is no true appreciation of His Person and character then it is inevitable that there will be an absence of godly fear.
That this was evident in Israel at the time of Malachi is shown by the priests’ acceptance of blemished sacrifices, their irreverence and their perverting the teaching of the law to suit their own ends. Following the lead of the priests, the people had also strayed from their covenant obligations into marriage with people of other religions, marital infidelity, not paying tithes and ungodly talk against the Lord.
Sadly we can see the same thing today. Like Israel in Malachi’s day, today the church, particularly in the West, has allowed the world in which it lives to squeeze it into its mould. The result is that there is now little difference between the way the world lives, and the conduct of many of those that profess to be God’s people! The authority and requirements of the Word of God in relation to worship, marriage, divorce, stewardship and social interaction are either carelessly ignored or deliberately rejected. And then people wonder why the presence and power of God seem to be absent! Paul describes the world of sinners in Romans 3:18 as those regarding whom ‘there is no fear of God before their eyes’. Tragically, that can also be said of much of the professing church today and until she recovers an awareness of the glory, holiness, might and majesty of God and bows before Him in submissive awe and reverent obedience, she cannot expect His favour. But, thank God, there was a remnant which feared His name in Malachi’s day. Let us see that we fear and serve Him.
3. The Love of God←⤒🔗
At the very outset of the prophecy God’s love for His people is questioned – ‘wherein hast thou loved us?’ And so God, through His prophet, clearly shows how His love was revealed in His choice of Israel (1:2), His making with them a covenant of life and peace (2:5), His unchanging commitment to the nation in spite of its sins (3:6) and His delight in His treasured possession of those who feared and honoured His name (3:16,17). Thus God’s love to Israel was shown to be unconditional, sovereign, electing and everlasting love. And they had lost sight of this, which led to the problem of spiritual degeneration – of living faith deteriorating into empty formalism, doubt and unbelief. So the first step of renewal that Malachi gave these people was to get them touched again by the eternal never-changing love of God.
Do we not need that same touch? It is so easy to drift into a careless formality in worship, a coldness of heart towards God, a forgetfulness of God’s goodness and an apathy of affection towards God. We can become so familiar with the glorious gospel of God’s saving grace in Christ that we don’t thrill to its message and reality as we should. The edge goes from our spiritual lives and a lack of reality stealthily creeps into our Christian experience. And we need to be overwhelmed afresh by His love for us – that He chose us in grace, that the Saviour died for us and shed His blood in love for us, and has drawn us to Himself, and one day will make us perfect, so much so that we will be like Him, seeing Him as He is! Surely that must deliver us from dead orthodoxy into a renewed, living, vital, loving relationship with Jesus Christ!
4. The Wrath of God←⤒🔗
The Wrath of God is as real an attribute of God as His love, but, by and large, it has become a taboo subject today. And yet the Bible emphasises the reality and terror of God’s wrath. A W Pink says in his The Attributes of God: ‘A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury and wrath of God than there are to his love and tenderness’. In Malachi, God’s wrath is illustrated by His attitude towards Edom (1:4), His threatening to curse the priests for their irreverence (2:1, 2, 9), and Malachi’s warning of the coming Day of Judgement (4:1). In the latter, Malachi gives a very graphic description of what it will be like in the Day of the Lord and its ultimate fulfilment when the Lord Jesus Christ will come to judge this world. ‘Behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven’. The oven is a picture of the fierce heat, the swift destruction that God will administer in that Day. Hell-fire and brimstone preaching is not popular today, but this fire that is spoken of concerning God’s wrath is a greater fire than the world has ever seen. So fierce and terrible it is, that Isaiah (2:10-19) in his day urged people, in light of that day, to flee. Revelation says that the kings of the earth, the great men and the chief captains will cry for the rocks and the mountains to hide them from the wrath, the fiery indignation of the Lord. It is the day of the Lord’s vengeance. The stars of heaven will be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll (Is.34:4). And that day is coming! And all unbelievers – who are ungodly and wicked in refusing to believe the truth as it is in Jesus – will be separated from believers and cast out to be burnt like straw! The doctrine of eternal punishment is totally Scriptural, and you ignore it at your eternal peril. The Bible urges you to ‘flee from the wrath to come’. And the only refuge from that wrath is in Him who fully bore it at Calvary for all those who trust in Him – the Lord Jesus Christ.
5. The Grace of God←⤒🔗
Malachi’s message contained both encouragements and warnings. He presented the facts of God’s wrath and God’s love to his contemporaries in an attempt to move them to repentance. Being alive to the goodness and love of God and the wrath from which they have been saved will always lead true believers to seek God afresh. But those who can look upon the love of God and presumptuously go on in their sins only betray the counterfeit nature of their profession of faith. And arrogant religious hypocrites, who shed no tears over sins, are warned of judgment to come, so that they might be brought to true repentance, casting themselves upon God. And one of the most encouraging, yet challenging, verses is 3:7: ‘Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of Hosts’. Of course, to return to God involves repentance. But repentance is always specific and practical. Malachi exposed and dealt with concrete issues and definite situations. Offering of blemished sacrifices had to stop. Mixed religion marriages had to stop. Adulterous thoughts had to stop. Their tithing practices had to change. Their cynical language about God had to cease and be replaced by the language of faith. Repentance means specific, practical changes born of the fear and love of God. So Malachi laid before his people every encouragement to turn to God afresh. As they repented and started living as they should, the surrounding nations would begin to see something of God in them and Israel would begin to fulfil that purpose of being a light to the Gentiles for which God chose them (1:11; 3:12). As they heard God’s rebukes for their sins and His calls to repentance, they ought to see in them God’s gracious purpose of seeking to refine them and do them good (3:2).When God stops speaking to us, to leave us to our own devices, then we are in an awful situation.’ My Spirit shall not always strive with man’. That spells disaster! Thus Malachi encouraged Israel by his assertion from God that sincere obedience would lead to God’s pouring out His blessing upon them. To those who whole-heartedly sought God, He would ‘open the windows of heaven, and pour out a blessing, that that there shall not be room enough to receive it’ (3:10). He encouraged his people further to renew their obedience by his description of those who, with all their failings, nevertheless responded to God’s Word sincerely. He called them God’s sons and a treasured possession (3:17). Such people could have assurance in the face of the coming day of the Lord (4:2).
No one serves God and loses, just as ultimately no one tests God and escapes. Rather, they miss out on the true and eternal rest that is the inheritance of the saints. Those who mock the gospel will go to eternal destruction, but those who fear the Lord receive what they most desire – eternal life in His presence forever.
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