About Jesus     Steve Sweetman

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Intro    ch.1:1-5   ch. 1:6-14

My Commentary On The Book Of  Malachi




This commentary is based on the New International Bible, 1984 edition.  Chapter titles in this commentary correspond to that of the chapter titles in the NIV which make for easier study. 


One goal in this commentary is to comment on the text of Malachi.  Another goal is to show how God felt about His people Israel, something He might well feel about the church in this 21st century.  Another goal in this commentary is to point out the nature of God that does not change.  Some Christians may believe that God has changed between Old and New Testament times, but that is not so.  These people tend to see the justice of God, His holy wrath in Old Testament times while seeing His love in New Testament times.  But this is not the case as well.  If you look closely, you’ll see both God’s love and His justice throughout the history of mankind.


What has changed from Old Testament times to New Testament times is how He relates to mankind concerning salvation, as can be seen in the New Covenant.  His agreement, or covenant has changed but He Himself has not changed.  And to say that His New Covenant has change could be misunderstood.  The New Covenant is simply part of His over-all plan of dealing with mankind. God did not have a change of heart, or a change of mind by introducing the New Covenant as one might think.  The New Covenant was not an after-thought with God. 


Many people view the book of Malachi as the end of the Old Testament. Although it is the last book in the Old Testament in actuality the Old Testament continues on a bit into the New Testament.  John the Baptist was actually the last of the Old Testament prophets.   I view the life and times of Jesus while He was on earth as a period of transition between the Old and New Testaments.  I view New Testament times beginning at the Day of Pentecost.


The name Malachi means “my messenger” and for that reason some suggest that Malachi was actually a literary name and not the real name of the author.  Some suggest that Malachi was really Ezra the scribe.  I believe Malachi was Malachi, and like all Hebrew names, they all meant something special. 


Israel in times past was divided into two kingdoms, the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom.  Ten tribes were in the north and two in the south.  (Benjamin and Judah)  The northern kingdom was pretty much annihilated while the southern kingdom went into Babylonian captivity for seventy years. Those in Babylon were allowed to return, but many didn’t.  They liked Babylon too much to return and rebuilt Jerusalem, so only about 50,000 returned. 


The book of Malachi was written somewhere between 440 and 400 B.C. during this period of time, when Nehemiah built the city walls of Jerusalem. 


These weren’t easy days for Israel.  From prophetic passages such as Ezek. 34, they expected good times, times of restoration, but this was not the case.  They had misunderstood those prophecies, as we all tend to do.  Morel was bad, and even though they were in the process of restoring Jerusalem and rebuilding their temple, they were not following in the ways of their God.  Like much of the church today, Israel was religious but not godly.  In this time of “religious ungodliness” God spoke through the prophet Malachi to His wayward people.


Jacob Loved, Esau Hated (ch.  1:1 - 5)


Verse 1 begins with the words “an oracle” in the NIV.  The KJV uses the word “burden” instead of the word “oracle”, which in one sense of the word might well be a more descriptive word due to the meaning of the Hebrew word it’s translated from. Also these prophetic words from the prophets of old were in fact a “burden” to them that they had to speak. The things they said weren’t happy or positive words.  They were normally words of warning and words of rebuke. They were negative by nature, something that many Christians today don’t consider encouraging.  In every age, the prophetic word of a prophet is necessary, no matter how negative it might be.


Anyone who has ever received a message from the Lord to speak to others understands the word “burden”.  The longer one waits to deliver the message, the stronger the sense is within the person to deliver the message.  The resulting feeling actually feels like a burden.  The burden only leaves when the message is spoken.    


Verse 1 also says that this is “the Word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi”. Notice, what God says in this prophetic book is directed to Israel.  It is poor hermeneutics, poor Biblical interpretation to suggest that these words are directed towards New Testament Christians. 


How one as a Christian views the Old Testament is one of the most misunderstood things in Christian circles, or so I believe.  It’s my thinking that what is said to Israel was said to them, not to New Testament Christians.  I will not state my reasons for this here because I have written extensively on this elsewhere.  This is important because some of the things God speaks in this book are taken to be directed towards Christians by some.  Tithing is one of the things God speaks to Israel about in Malachi.  He does not speak the exact same words  to Christians.  Still, there’s lots we can learn about God, and how He deals with mankind in this book, and that is what we will learn. 


Once again, to be clear, you cannot substitute the word “church” for the word “Israel” here in verse 1 or in any other verse in the book of Malachi.  Yet the principles behind what God says to Israel apply to Christians today because we have been grafted into the people of God as Paul so clearly states in his discussion on Israel in Romans 9 through 11. 


Verse 2 begins with the words “I have loved you, says the Lord”.  Malachi repeats these words from the Lord.  They are positive words, and probably needed to be spoken right up front because there’s other words that don’t sound all that encouraging, but would bring great blessing if responded to in a positive way.


God has always loved Israel.  He always loves us as well today.  He loves both the sinner and the saint.  God’s love is foundational to His relationship to mankind, but His love does not overshadow His justice, and that is clear from this prophetic book.  If God’s love overshadowed His sense of justice, most of this book would not have been written.  Because God loves us, He rebukes us.  His rebuke stems from the fact that God is love and that He wants the best for us.  Yet if we fail to obey Him, He will judge us, and He will dispense punishment according to what we have done.  This too is the nature of God that we see in Malachi.


The next phrase in verse 2 says, “but you ask, how have you loved us”?  We note here the style in which this prophetic book was written.  It was not written like the other prophetic books.   The style is conversational.   God says something, and Israel responds, or at least Israel responds in the way God knows they would.


So Israel’s response to God saying that He loved them is, “how have you loved us”.  The reason why they ask this is because they are in a state of despair. Fifty thousand Jews left Babylon to return to Jerusalem.  They had great hopes.  They read other prophecies, as in Ezek. 34 that suggested to them that when they returned, they’d be blessed by God.  They were not being blessed at the time, or at least did not appear to be blessed as we think of blessings.  Things were tough upon their return.  So they wondered just how God really loved them.


This is often the case with us in New Testament times as well.  Things go bad and we wonder where God is.  The age old question is always asked by the skeptics, “if God is a god of love, why does He allow such suffering in the world”.  This is the same question that Israel asks God.  They ask, “if you love us, why are we in such a mess”.  That’s my paraphrase of their words. 


Man’s response to this question of suffering is normally to reject the existence of God.  Our response should take into consideration that we really don’t understand God, and in this lack of understanding is the answer.  Just because man has no answer to this age old question does not mean God does not exist.  


Still in verse 2 God answers Israel’s question.  He says, “was not Esau Jacob’s brother?  But I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated”.  This sentence is one of the most discussed sentences in the Bible. God says that He loves one person and hates another.  What is this all about?


First of all, some language scholars tell us that the Hebrew word for “hate” here can easily be translated as “love less”.  If this is so, God loved Esau less than He loved Jacob.  But whether this is the case or not, this still doesn’t really solve the mystery of God loving one person more than another.  It might lesson the problem from hate to love less, but the question remains, “why would God love someone less than someone else”?       


Both in Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek, the word "hate" means "hate".  There is no getting around this.  To help us understand the word "hate" in the passage we should understand the eastern people group that God was speaking to and that from which Malachi was from.  There is a vast difference in the approach to life between eastern and western people groups.  Westerners traditionally think and thus live more logically than easterners.  Eastern people groups think and thus live more from an emotional basis.  Because of this exaggeration is often used to make a point.  Easterners understand what is meant but our western intellect struggles with such exaggeration.  So, I say this.  In comparison to God's love for Jacob, it makes one think that God hated Esau.          


We’ve taken God’s words here to be very negative, but really, God was saying them for a positive reason.  His reason was to point out to Israel that He actually loved them more than others.     


The first thing we should note here is this.  Israel specifically asks God, “how have you loved us”.  God answers by saying “I loved Jacob and hated Esau”.  The nation of Israel was the direct descendent of Jacob.  The Edomites who we will see in the next verse were the descendents of Esau.  What God was saying here to Israel that He’s loved them all along, way back to the days of Jacob.  He has loved them more than the Edomites that were often an enemy to Israel.  God was basically saying, that I love you more than others.  You are the one my love is directed to.  You are the nation  I have chosen from every nation on earth.


Before leaving this sentence we should turn to Romans  9:10 and to get a New Testament perspective on this sentence.  Paul quotes these words.  Paul tells us that God, before Jacob and Esau were even born chose Jacob to be more important.  The seed of Abraham would flow through Jacob and not Esau.  The descendents of Abraham would be traced through Jacob. 


What Paul says here in short is that God is sovereign and He can do what He wishes with those of His creation.  Normal procedures back in Jacob’s day were that the oldest son would inherit the special blessing and would take over once the father died.  But God chose not to follow this tradition. Jacob and Esau were twins but Esau was born first, making Him older.  Also, Jacob was a deceiver, and even though we was such a person, God still chose Him.  Paul says that this shows that God’s choices in all things pertaining to mankind has nothing to do with any goodness that we may or may not have.  It’s all God’s choice, as it was with Jacob.  God is Creator.  He can do what He wants with what He has made.


John 3:16 tells us that God loves the whole world.  I don’t believe that God hated Esau in the strict  since of the word.  The word “hate” might well be directed more towards God’s calling of Jacob and not Esau, meaning, that this hatred was more a thing of calling than of personal dislike.  Although one might argue with that point because of the next few verses here in Malachi.


Some have suggested that the mystery of all of this is not in why He didn’t love Esau, but why He actually loved Jacob.    


To prove that God loved Israel more than Edom He says that He has turned Edom’s mountains into wastelands and has given their inheritance to the desert jackal.   A jackal is a general term for one of a number of small desert animals found in Asia and Africa .  They normally have long legs, bushy tales and large ears.  


Here we see God’s dealing with two nations,
the nation of Israel and the nation of Edom.  We’ve seen that God
had judged Israel and banned them to Babylon for 70 years.  Here
we see how God has dealt with Edom.  The question is, “does God
still deal with nations today as He did back then”?


It’s my thinking that God still deals with nations in the same way.  The New Covenant is all about personal salvation, not national salvation.  So God may deal somewhat differently with the individual, but not necessarily with nations.  Therefore, it is my opinion that God still causes nations to rise and fall.  We just can’t see Him do it.  And it is clear that the world and the nations don’t see it either. We therefore should keep this in mind with our present day western nations.  God can, and might well be in the process of bringing judgment to our nations.


In verse 4 God anticipates the response of Edom by saying that Edom will rebuild what God destroys.  This is the tendency of man, not just Edom.  We rebuild after disaster strikes us.  I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, because it isn’t.  It is a God-given characteristic of human beings.  We are creative by nature, as God Himself is creative.  Therefore when disaster strikes, we recreate, as God Himself has recreated.


The last part of verse 4 shows God’s response to Edom.  God says that even if Edom rebuilds, He will destroy again.  God calls Edom that “Wicked Land”, and that Edom will always be subject to the wrath of God.  This is not the modern concept of the character of God, that is, being all loving and accepting of all things.  God clearly states that His wrath will always be on the nation of Edom.    


The question is this.  “Has God changed in New Testament times”?  I say no.  His covenant with mankind has taken on a new meaning, but His very nature remains the same.  God still demands holiness and His wrath is still on those who do not live according to His wishes.


God, in verse 5 tells Israel that they will see these things with their own eyes and will confess, “great is the Lord, even beyond the borders of Israel”.   We should remember that all of what God has said here was to support His claim that God still loves Israel.  He’s doing this by showing how He has and will treat Edom.  The comparison should be clear to the people of Israel.


Israel’s response in verse 5 states that the Lord is great, even beyond the borders of Israel.  This greatness that Israel sees is not a positive type of greatness.  It’s a demonstration of God’s wrath.  So in thinking of God’s greatness, we cannot limit it to His acts of love alone. 


Also, we should note that Israel ’s words, which God would agree to,  state clearly that God is active in nations beyond the nation of Israel.  I don’t believe that God’s dealings have changed since Old Testament times.  He works behind the scene.  The non-Christian can’t see it, but God is working to causes nations to rise and nations to fall.  He still judges nations, and will complete this judgment at that great and last day of the Lord.


Beyond God judging nations, He judges the church as well. The church is God’s people, as Israel was God’s people in Malachi’s day.  How God feels about His people has not changed from Old Testament times to New Testament times.    


Blemished Sacrifices (ch. 1:6 - 14)                               


In verse 6 God Himself quotes a common Israeli proverb of that day in age.  He says, “a son honours  his father and a servant his master”. Sons honouring their father and servants honouring their masters is just the thing that should be done, and this is what the Jews stated in one of their own proverbs.  So Israel understood the nature of honouring those who needed to be honoured.


The problem from God’s stand point was that they weren’t honouring Him.  He says that “if I’m your Father and Master”, which He was, then why don’t you honour and respect me.  We learn something about God here.  We learn that He is both our Father and Master and therefore He wants us to honour and respect Him.   We will see later how Israel did not honour and respect God.  It was basically because they did not give their best to Him, both in their offerings and their way of living. Israel did not represent their God as they should have, thus bringing dishonour to God, something that can be seen in the church of today.


Continuing on in verse 6 God puts the blame solely on the priests of Israel, the Jewish leadership. I believe God views leadership is somewhat of a different light than the people leaders lead.  You can see this clearly with Jesus’ relationship with the Jewish leaders of His time.  He called them hypocrites, and was very displeased with them. 


Leaders are to lead, and Christian leaders today are to lead in the way in which our Lord would have them lead, but when this is not the case, He is just as displeased with them as He was with the Jewish leaders in Malachi’s days.


God says that the priests “despise His name”.  What does this mean?  Anytime we see “the name of the Lord”, or “the name of God” in the Bible it has to do with the following.  We as God’s people represent Him.  We’ve taken on His name.  He has a good and highly respected name, so we should act in such a way that we bring honour to His name.  We should not act in such a way that we disgrace His name.  But the Jews, and especially the priests in Malachi’s days were living in such a way that it brought disgrace to God’s name before the rest of the world.  So many times the Christian church as done the same over the years. 


You can recall the Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Baker scandals of the late 1980’s.  All that was associated with these scandals brought disgrace to God’s name.  Non-Christians mocked and made fun of God’s church and even God Himself because of how these two men acted in a very public manor.


In the last sentence of  verse 6 God speaks what the Jews  would say in response to what He has just told them.  They ask, “how have we despised your name”.  You can see here how the Jews had gotten to such a place that they didn’t know how they were despising their God.  They were so far away from what God wanted that they didn’t have a clue about the state in which they were in. 


Many Christians today really don’t know how they are despising God and His name because they have not taken the time to know their God.  They are walking in their own ways and not paying any attention to what God would have for them, thus they have no clue they are despising God, but despising God they are.  We need to understand that ignorance does not seem to be a valid excuse with God.  They are under His judgment despite their lack of understanding.  Maybe they’re under God’s judgment because they have put no effort into attempting to understand what God would have for them.  And it is for this reason that they are ignorant.  Their ignorance is not based on not being able to understand, but it is based on them not wanting to understand, much like the church today.


This is the situation with many church people today.  They fail to look into the Bible to see what God would want for them.  Because of this failure, they don’t understand the ways of the Lord.   Because they don’t understand, they simply live in their own humanity, according to a man-made humanistic way of thinking. Like the Jews of old, God is not pleased with such ignorance.


In verse 7 God answers how Israel has discredited His name.  It’s by placing “defiled food on God’s altar”.  The Law of Moses demanded the best sheep, the best lamb, the best of whatever sacrifice was to be given.  Israel was not giving her best.  People were offering second best offerings on the altar of God, and this was in direct disobedience to the Law of Moses.  Whether these people new it or not,  God was angry with them for this.  It might well have been the case that the ordinary person did not know the Law of Moses’ requirements and that is why the ordinary people were offering second best offerings.  This is why the blame was being placed on the leaders.  They were to teach people the way of God, but they didn’t.


Once again God anticipates Israel’s response.  Once again they ask how they have defiled God in verse 7.  They still don‘t get it.  They are so far removed from God’s way that they don’t even know the basics.  How true this is with parts of the so-called church today.


God then answers these people by saying they are making the Lord’s table contemptible.  This means that they are despising God’s table, meaning, the altar.  In verse 8 He tells them just how they are doing this. 


Verse 8 says that the Jews were bringing blind, diseased, and crippled animals to the Lord’s altar for offerings.  These would have been animals that had no value, so why not bring them to the temple.  They’re only going to be burned anyways.  The problem is that God’s Law demands Israel’s best.  God even says that if you brought such sacrifices to a civil governor, “he’d not accept you”.  Notice that God doesn’t say that the governor would not accept a second best animal sacrifice,.  He says that the governor would not accept “them”.  The governor would both reject the sacrifice and the one doing the sacrificing, and that is the same with God. 


In verse 8 God just says that “this is wrong”.   How often do we as Christian give Him our second best.  We claim that attending a Sunday morning church service is very important, but if we sit back and think of other things during the service we’re giving our second best.  If our meetings are structured in such a way that we don’t allow people to participate, but only sit and listen, we’re offering God our second best.  God is not happy with this.


In verse 9 God says, “now  implore God to be gracious to us”.  The word now suggest immediately coming before God.  he word “implore” means to pray or ask with much earnestness. 


Verse 9 continues by saying, “With such offerings from your hands, will He accept you”.  The question to be asked here is, “who is speaking these words”?  The next phrase says, “says the Lord”, which suggests that God is saying these words.  But the sentence structure itself does not indicate this.  It seems like someone else is actually saying these words, most likely Malachi.  To date in this chapter Malachi has been speaking, but He has been speaking as if he were God speaking.  Here he is speaking as if it is his own words that he is saying, but attributes them to God.


The words “will He accept you” are in reference to the words in verse 8 where the same words are used.  In verse 8 the words refer to the governor.  In verse 8 the thought is implied that the governor would not accept you if you offered him damaged sacrifices.  Here in verse 9, as the governor would not accept you, so God would not accept you either for such sacrifices.


Once again we note, that God does not just reject the sacrifice, but He rejects the one doing the sacrificing. There are two problems in the eyes of God.  The sacrifices that second rate is only a result of a more fundamental problem and that is the heart of the one doing the sacrificing.  If the individual was right with God, his sacrifice would be right.  These Jews were hypocrites.  They went through the motion of worship, but their hearts weren’t in it.  There worship was pure tradition.  Jesus said the same of the Pharisees many years later when He told them that they worship God with their mouths, but their hearts were far from them.


Because of this, in verse 10 God wished that someone would actually shut and lock the doors of the temple so no one could come in and offer second best heartless offerings.  This is amazing.  God would rather have no offerings, no worship, and worship that is merely routine.  The same would apply for us today.  God has not changed.  If whatever we do in the service of the Lord is simply routine, without our heart felt affections, it means nothing to God.  It may make others feel good, or even yourself feel good,  but it doesn’t make God feel good.   A Sunday morning meeting that is strictly routine and traditional is not acceptable to God.  You might as well stay home as God told the Jews in this verse.


The last part of verse 10 simply says that “God will accept no offerings” from the hands of these Jews.  They’re going through the motions and they’re going through the motions in vain.  It’s all worthless.


In verse 11 God says that “my name will be great among the nations”.   God’s name would be great in two senses among the nations, a positive sense and a negative sense.  The negative sense has already be seen in Edom.  God would destroy them.  This destruction would show how great God is.  In the positive sense the Gentile world would also be granted the opportunity to become the people of God as the Jews were meant to be.


God speaks of the greatness of His name throughout the world in verse 11.  I don’t believe that this has come about as yet.  Restorationists believe that this will happen before the return of Jesus.  I believe it will take place during the thousand year rule of Jesus on earth.   If so, this verse suggest that there will be some rituals, burning of incense and sacrifices made during this time period.  This has been a divisive thought.  Some suggest that this can’t be, because Jesus’ sacrifices ended all sacrifices.  Others suggest that if there are to be sacrifices made in this thousand year rule of Jesus, it’s more like our Lord’s Supper.  It’s not an offering made for sin.  It’s an offering made to remember what Jesus did because of our sin.  Also, it’s possible that this  sacrifice is only to be made by Jews, not Christians.   


The words "pure offerings" are used in verse 11 in the NIV. Many translations and commentators say this is the "grain offering" due to the wording in the Hebrew.  This means that the pure offerings spoken of here are not animal sacrifices.  This might well relieve some of the controversy over the idea that animal sacrifices would be offered to God during the thousand years of peace.   


There might be a certain segment of Christian thinking that says verse 11 is speaking of the age of grace where the Gentiles have opportunity to be joined into the people of God.  In this God’s name will be spoken of as great throughout the whole world.  In the Old Testament when you see the word “nations” it is in reference to all the Gentile nations.  So in one real way, because of Gentiles coming into God’s family, God’s name is seen as great throughout the world.  Yet even after saying that, you need to ask, “has God’s name really become that great because of Gentiles becoming Christian”?   


Verse 12 says, “but you profane it…”  The word “it” refers back to the previous verse where God is speaking of His name.  The Jews, and many Christians do today, “profane the name of God”.  This is not merely saying bad words or swear words. People profane God’s name by misrepresenting Him.  The Jews back then, and Christians today, are to be good representatives of God to the rest of the world.  But when we half-heartedly represent Him, the world does not see God as they should.  We are giving the world a false representation.  God has never, and will never be pleased with this. 


In the rest of verse 12 and verse 13 God points out the fact that because the offerings are polluted, the table of the Lord, and the food on the table has become polluted.  As a matter of fact, all that is associated with temple worship has been polluted because the Jews have profaned it all with their bad offerings and their bad hearts.


Verses 12 and 13 read as if it were the Jews that say the table and the food are contemptible.  I’m not quite sure what to make of this.  I’m not sure that the Jews might be beginning to think that God is right in this dialogue. 


In the second half of verse 13 God asks the Jews again.  He asks them if He should accept their second best offerings.  The answer is clearly seen in verse 14.


In verse 14 God says, “cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord”.  The word “cursed” means that the one offering a blemished sacrificed should be cursed, or cut off from and His people.  God calls such a man “a cheat”.  He is cheating God. When we give God our second best, we are cheating Him.


One of the problems we see here with the Jews, and with many Christians today, is that both Jews and Christians have promised God their best, but in reality they give far from the best.  


Why should we all offer our best to God.  The last sentence of this chapter tells us why.  It’s because God is a great King.  He is the greatest of Kings, and all nations should know that His name is to be “feared”.  I don’t think we should lesson the word fear by interpreting it as “reverence”.  Fear and reverence are not the same.  God’s name should be “feared”.  Man cannot stand in the presence of God.  As the writer of Hebrews says, “it’s a fearful thing to fall in the hands of the living God”.  (Heb. 10:31)  Too often we take God and Jesus for granted.  We act as if we’re great buddies, and in one sense of the word we are.  God is both our Father and the one we fear.  Jesus is both our brother and our Lord.

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