“In all their affliction He was afflicted, And the angel of His presence saved them; In His love and in His mercy He redeemed them, And He lifted them and carried them all the
days of old” (Isaiah 63:9).
by Bob Gray
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In the summer of 1986 our tour group came around to the western slope of Mount Olivet, where the bus pulled off the road. We walked a short distance, paused, and our guide
asked one of us to read Psalm 122.
“I rejoiced when they said unto me: ‘Let us go unto the house of the LORD.’ (2) Our feet are standing Within thy gates, O Jerusalem; (3) Jerusalem, that art builded as a city that is compact together … (6) Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; May they prosper that love thee. (7) Peace be within thy walls, And prosperity within thy palaces. For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say: ‘Peace be within thee.’ … (9) For the sake of the house of the LORD our God I will seek thy good” (JPS
Tanakh, 1917 edition).
As we listened, there across the Kidron Valley was Jerusalem! For virtually everyone, it was our first view of the Holy City. We had already explored the Land of Israel (Eretz Israel), and now, we had arrived at its jewel — Jerusalem. Twenty-five hundred years earlier a different group came to see the city and to wonder. They were the exiles, and their children, coming “home” from Babylon. For most of them, it was their’s first ever view of Jerusalem — their first Aliyah. But their experience was so different than ours. We came to a Jerusalem rebuilt upon its own ruins (Jeremiah 30:18). They came to a Jerusalem still in ruins.
They came with a different purpose: to restore the worship of Jehovah in His Temple, in His City, in His Land. Most were born and raised in a foreign land where their families might have expressed the sentiments of Psalm 137:1-4 (NASB).
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, When we remembered Zion. (2) Upon the willows in the midst of it We hung our harps. (3) For there our captors demanded of us songs, and our tormentors mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’ (4) How can we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?”
One can only imagine those exiles giving birth to the traditional Passover expression, “Next year in Jerusalem.” Despite Jeremiah’s letter1 telling the exiles not to expect a quick deliverance, their yearning to go up to Jerusalem must have ached in their hearts.
When Malachi prophesied, eighty or more years had passed since Cyrus had issued his decree, “The God of heaven … has charged me to build Him a house in Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 36:23). Zealous Jews gathered in a new and different Exodus, not to Canaan, but to Judea. The Temple was indeed rebuilt — but not without a struggle. Jerusalem and the Temple were still in a terribly desolate condition, not a paradise as they may have hoped. Conflicts with the Samaritans and other neighbors increased their difficulties.
Following their energetic start, the people turned their attention to matters of personal, practical needs. Their chief concern became a place to live, food on the table, and protection. Slackness toward the LORD’s house prevailed. Haggai and other prophets prodded: “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this House lies desolate?” (Haggai 1:4). Throughout those first eight decades in the Land of Israel, matters did not improve.
(1) Jeremiah 29:10,11 (NASB): “When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’ ”
At the time of Malachi’s prophecy, Artaxerxes, king of Persia, had provided Ezra the Priest with financial assistance and the authority to get needed resources. Amazingly, he also turned over to Ezra the furnishings previously looted by Nebuchadnezzar from the Temple!2 Later, Nehemiah learned that Jerusalem’s ruined walls and gates left the city exposed to marauders, endangering the people. He petitioned Artaxerxes, and the king granted him the leave — sending him to Jerusalem as governor with great authority and access to resources!
Still, when Ezra and Nehemiah each arrived, they found as great a need to repair, rebuild, and strengthen the faith of the people to encourage observance of the Law and instill true reverential “Fear of the LORD” among the people and the Priests. Without these heartfelt reforms, Israel was headed backward to even greater ruin. These failings are what Malachi addressed.
Malachi: Messenger, Prophet, and Interlocutor for God
Malachi, similar to other unattributed prophetic books, provides no detail about the writer. Commentators wonder if Malachi is a proper name, or a title meaning simply “Messenger” (Malachi 3:1). Others propose the messenger was actually Ezra, whose concerns were similar. Believing that Malachi was a distinctly separate prophet, we also believe that he wrote after the efforts of Ezra and Nehemiah. At that time, further backsliding on the part of the people required a stern indictment and warning of end-time judgment. Nevertheless, the book carries hopeful words to the faithful few.
Jehovah’s concern for Israel’s waywardness is the focal point of Malachi’s message, presented as a simulated dialogue between Jehovah and His people and His Priests. It reveals God’s disappointment and the people’s attitude toward God. God’s claim is: While I have Loved You, O Israel, you have forgotten me. To the sons of Levi, you Priests, you have failed to fulfill your covenant responsibilities — teaching what is right and being an example for the people (Malachi 1 paraphrase).
(2) Ezra 8:21-23 (JPS Tanakh): “Traveling with such treasure, the thought of having military protection occurred to Ezra. However, he suspected that the King would wonder why Ezra’s confidence in God was lacking, inasmuch as he said, ‘The hand of our God is upon all them that seek Him, for good.’ So they rather fasted and besought the LORD.”
God Indicts, Israel Reacts — God Sets the Record Straight
Short-sightedness and lack of dwelling on the Word of the Lord would explain Israel’s lack of appreciation for God’s care. “In all their affliction He was afflicted … In His love and in His mercy He redeemed them” (Isaiah 63:9 NASB). When Israel reacted and challenged God’s claim to have shown love to Israel, Jehovah reminded them of His love of Jacob (Israel) as opposed to Esau (Edom). He elaborated on how Edom (the progeny of Esau) was “the border of wickedness” (1:4). This brings our attention to the traitorous behavior of Edom when Jerusalem and Judah were under attack, as recounted by Obadiah. (See “Obadiah,” Herald of Christ’s Kingdom, May-June 2017.)
Priests, You Despise God’s Name
Priests: When did we do that? LORD: When you offered polluted bread as well as stolen, blind, lame, or sick sacrifices, and when you say the LORD’s table is contemptible. Shall I accept those from your hand? I wish that someone would lock the doors of the Temple so you cannot light the fire of my altar in vain. I receive greater respect among the heathen than what you show me. It is evident that the LORD was enraged with the priests. But there is more!
Priests, Hear This Command!
As Chapter 2 begins, Jehovah says to the priests: If you do not hear me, take these instructions to heart, and obey these commands, I will turn your blessings into curses. The very animals you bring before me will splatter you with their dung. You will be unclean and incapable of service in the Temple.
Furthermore, when you should be teachers to Israel, you have caused the people to stumble. A priest should be a messenger of God. Rather, you deal treacherously, even with the wife of your youth — putting her away and marrying the daughters of strange gods. Unbelievably, you blame God, alleging that He encourages injustice and grants a carte blanche to the workers of evil. You weary me with this behavior and with your words. Therefore, I have made you contemptible in the eyes of the people (Malachi 2 paraphrase).
The Messenger of the Covenant and the New Testament
Malachi now turns his attention (in Chapter 3)3 to the long-awaited refiner and purifier — the Messenger of the Covenant — the Messiah. But first a messenger would prepare the way. John the Immerser said: “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the LORD, as said the prophet Esaias” (John 1:23 NAS). John prepared the way for Jesus, calling upon Israelites to reform.
When the Lord (Adon, not the LORD, YHVH) would come, he would bring about the “desire of all nations” (Haggai 2:7), “the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2), and equity and justice for one and all. That Messenger, the purifier, has already made his first appearance, and Christians believe he is Jesus.
The purifying continues as a Gospel Age call. The call to be separate has been repeated by the Apostles and believers (2 Corinthians 6:17-18, 7:1). God’s desire is for us to be sanctified — “be separate … touch not the unclean; and I will receive you … and ye shall be my sons and daughters.” Paul calls us to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.” Malachi would likely not have said it any differently. Malachi specified that God’s judgment of Israel would be swift against all sinners. James echoes Malachi’s charges against those who oppress the wage earners (James 5:4), and the widow and the fatherless (James 1:27). On a higher level, we find Malachi’s condemnation of adulterers and adulteresses applied to those “Christians” who bonded in adulterous liaisons with the present evil world (James 4:4, Revelation 2:204). With these bonds the “Babylonish” Christian systems ignored their espousal to Christ (Revelation 17, 18). While nominally Christian systems still have a prophesied role to play with the governments of earth, the caution to avoid them still stands.
Nevertheless, Malachi called Israel to seek Him. Israel asked: How? Jehovah responded: Should a man rob God? You rob me. Israel asked: When and how did we rob you? Jehovah: In tithes and offerings. Bring the whole tithe to the storehouse and test me and see if I do not open the windows of heaven and pour out blessings, protect you and provide for you. But you, O Israel, your words are against me, because you ask, what is the use of serving God (Malachi 3:7-10,13-15, paraphrase).
Much as Job struggled to understand why evil prospered, Israel was drawing the conclusion that they were not prospering while “we call the proud happy” and “they that work wickedness are built up” (3:15 JPS Tanakh). Job had come to believe that somehow God was allowing the evil to prosper (Job 21:7-9 NAS).
“(7) Why do the wicked still live, continue on, also become very powerful? (8) Their descendants are established with them in their sight, and their offspring before their eyes, (9) Their houses are safe from fear, and the rod of God is not on them.”
Based on the promises to Israel, many Christians have concluded that if they have enough faith they will prosper in temporal possessions and health. However, such a promise was not made to the followers of Christ. Rather, Christians were assured of a struggle with this world similar to their Master, Jesus Christ. Neither wealth, nor health, nor temporal power, were promised here. The Apostle Paul affirmed this suffering in Romans 8:17,18. There was no guarantee of special temporal favors in this life — except as a matter of spiritual benefit.
Making the Worship of God a Priority
Malachi (3:16-18) encourages Israel to gather together in the name of the LORD. (5) “They that feared the LORD, spoke one to another; and the LORD hearkened, and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before him” (JPS Tanakh).
(5) Perhaps those who were being commended are like the “Minyan” of ten faithful Jewish men Rabbis traditionally gather together — to enable them to conduct
their religious services.
Faithful Christians take these words to heart. Jehovah is making up His “treasured possession” (verse 17, KJV “jewels”). We seek to be “more and more transformed by the renewing of our minds and approach nearer and nearer to the glorious likeness of our Lord and Master, being changed from glory to glory, inch by inch, step by step, little by little, during the present life” (Manna March 5, Reprint 3129).
(3) Chapter 3 of Malachi in the Hebrew Scriptures includes both Chapters 3 and 4 of Christian Bibles.
(4) Revelation 2:20 (NASB): “But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.”
The Day of the LORD — But Not Before Elijah Comes
“The day comes, it burns as a furnace” (Malachi 4:1 WEB —World English Bible). That “Day of the LORD,” and the Apocalypse associated with it, have been painted as a picture of doom, death, and a fiery end to the world. Many Christians have leveraged this fear to gain converts — missing entirely the purpose of the Day of the Lord and the object of Christ’s return — the “Restitution of all things” and the “healing of the nations.”
Thankfully, Malachi interjects a saving grace. Jehovah will send Elijah the prophet to “turn the heart of the fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with … utter destruction” (Malachi 4:6 ESV). This statement is recited at every Passover Seder, and a place is reserved for Elijah, a cup poured for him, and a door opened mid-Seder to see if he is waiting to come in. Tradition has kept this promise alive.
However, judging by the divisiveness in every quarter of the globe, Christians have been unable to truly change the hearts of this Satan-blinded world. Thus, we have come to “the time of the end.” Though the trouble has begun, much still lies ahead. But eternal doom and gloom, no! Rather, Jehovah says, after that time of trouble, “Then I will turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve Him with one shoulder” (Zephaniah 3:9 JPS Tanakh). The anarchy of the end-times will be reversed so that humanity will then be able to join together — with one shoulder — to serve the Almighty forever.
Let us take the words of Malachi to heart. God’s love for all creation will soon provide for the “healing of the nations!” Malachi himself, no doubt, will be one of the “princes in all the earth” (Psalms 45:16) who will lead all to righteousness and perfection.
Categories: 2018 Issues, 2018-May/June, Bob Gray