Today: [Malachi 1]

Today: [Malachi 1] When God Quit the Church: In the book of Malachi the scene opens upon a time of downturn and difficulty for the people of God. Their history is marching them into the 400 silent years between the Old and New Testaments. The restoration temple is a polluted place, worship of God is very marginal, and now a prophet, the final Old Testament prophet speaks up with a last gasp message of clarity to a people whose ears were deafened by their own miserable existence, unwilling to be challenged in any way. Is there any relevance in the message of Malachi to the day we live in?
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[Mal 1:1-14 KJV] 1 The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. 2 I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? [Was] not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, 3 And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. 4 Whereas Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith the LORD of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever. 5 And your eyes shall see, and ye shall say, The LORD will be magnified from the border of Israel. 6 A son honoureth [his] father, and a servant his master: if then I [be] a father, where [is] mine honour? and if I [be] a master, where [is] my fear? saith the LORD of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name. And ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name? 7 Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the LORD [is] contemptible. 8 And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, [is it] not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, [is it] not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the LORD of hosts. 9 And now, I pray you, beseech God that he will be gracious unto us: this hath been by your means: will he regard your persons? saith the LORD of hosts. 10 Who [is there] even among you that would shut the doors [for nought]? neither do ye kindle [fire] on mine altar for nought. I have no pleasure in you, saith the LORD of hosts, neither will I accept an offering at your hand. 11 For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name [shall be] great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense [shall be] offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name [shall be] great among the heathen, saith the LORD of hosts. 12 But ye have profaned it, in that ye say, The table of the LORD [is] polluted; and the fruit thereof, [even] his meat, [is] contemptible. 13 Ye said also, Behold, what a weariness [is it]! and ye have snuffed at it, saith the LORD of hosts; and ye brought [that which was] torn, and the lame, and the sick; thus ye brought an offering: should I accept this of your hand? saith the LORD. 14 But cursed [be] the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing: for I [am] a great King, saith the LORD of hosts, and my name [is] dreadful among the heathen.

The setting of the book of Malachi comes after Ezra and Nehemiah’s time, when the city of Jerusalem is rebuilt, the second temple construction complete, and the now Persian province of Yehud (Judea) is experiencing relative peace. While the upheaval and devastation of Babylonian captivity is over, and their Persian masters leaving the Jews unmolested, there is still great economic downturn in the nation. In reading Malachi, we find it to be an epilogue of the entirety of the Old Testament. After emergence from Egyptian captivity, the conquest of Canaan, the years of Davidic rule, followed by centuries of idolatry and unfaithfulness the nation suffered two brutal captivities, leaving only the southern kingdom with any cohesive group of people with any measurable heritage to link them back to the days of Moses and Joshua. In Malachi’s day a new norm is now established, with the people of God not enjoying status as an independent nation, but as a vassal state, with a struggling economy, paying heavy tribute and taxation to their Persian overlords. This is the state of Israel as the biblical timeline sputters and grows quiet during the intertestamental period, dubbed by many as the “400 silent years” between Malachi and John the Baptist.

The chapter begins with Malachi expressing the burden of the word of the Lord, as the last Old Testament prophet to speak to the children of Abraham. Malachi opens with a protestation of the love of God for His people and the tepid, uninterested response of the people, struggling economically, cold in their faith, feeling as victimized by their perception of God’s alleged abandonment of them because they wish their lives would be so much better than they were.

In verse 2 the Father expresses His love for His rebellious children, that they challenge before the words leave Malachi’s lips. They don’t feel loved. For them the definition of the love of God is one they feel they have a right to determine, taking the authority to themselves, rather than acknowledging any further the alleged authority of a prophet or anyone else to speak for God to them. The prophet goes on the make the contrast between the descendants of Esau (the Edomites) and the children of Abraham. The Edomites experienced the destruction of their nation as well as Israel, but the Edomites drew no lesson from their suffering, instead simply standing up in their self-confidence, purposing to rebuild without learning the lessons as to why they had lost their nation in the first place. The lesson is clear, Malachi is saying to his people that they should stop feeling sorry for themselves are remember once again why they went into captivity n the first place, for idolatry and centuries of rampant rebellion against God.

The question we might ask ourselves, are we in America, a nation founded by the providence of God? This was certainly true of Israel. While our nation is not comprised of a chosen people, it is not a foreign sentiment among us that America was established at her time in history by the sovereign hand of the Almighty. If this is indeed true, and our national fervor for the things of God has waned as it most certainly did in Israel’s history, what can we learn from the timeline of their captivities? In Solomon’s glory days, it was certainly unthinkable that the nation of Israel would ever depart from the earth, yet that is exactly what happened. Could America, or the western world ever experience the decline that Israel experienced, from the lofty days of Solomon’s kingdom to the lowly suffering of this vassal kingdom under the brutal yoke of Persian taxation?

What Malachi is seeking to do is remind the people who they were, and from whence they had fallen. The people in Malachi’s day were living for today, not looking past the meager rations and financial privations of the immediate problems. Malachi is seeking to establish context, and to draw the hearts of the people out of self-interested victimhood, to a deeper understanding of their plight, with a hope that they might recover themselves through humility and contrition. In v. 6 the Father speaks through Malachi, asking if a father expected to be held in high esteem in their culture, where is the now missing regard for the God of their fathers. There is no fear of God in their midst, and even the priests despise the name of God by their lukewarm practices of false piety and hypocrisy.

The financial and economic difficulty of the times Malachi prophesied in had impacted the service of the Lord greatly. The altar and the sacrifices that were to be laid thereon were very compromised. Rather than bringing of their best, the priests allowed the people to offer sacrificial animals as offerings that were considered too contaminated for human consumption. The rationale was, that their own human need had to come first, and it was acceptable that offerings to God were only superficial tokens. Does this sound familiar? My late father often preached a message titled “Giving God the Leftovers”. I remember as a young pastor a couple in the church who reverently explained to me their deep financial commitment to God. They would pay their bills, take care of all their expenses, buy their groceries, have a date night for the sake of keeping their marriage strong, and then if there was any money left in their budget they would take a tenth of that and give it to God as a holy oblation and sign of their deep fidelity to God. Does that sound right to you? This was the temper and the tone of the people in Malachi’s day.

In verse 10 we see the heart of God exclaiming in tones that chill us to the bone, asking is there anyone in this tepid religious climate that would do Him a divine favor but simply shutting the doors of the temple, extinguishing the fire on the altar and just leaving God in peace, rather than plaguing Him with their half measured, lukewarm so-called fidelity to God? I pastored a church in the deep south, that upon taking the position offered to me, I labored for years with a people very much like those that Malachi is speaking to in the book of Malachi. I will never forget the moment, in deep prayer over the congregation and the church when the Father spoke to me that He hadn’t brought me there to build the church up but to shut it down. That was almost impossible for me to hear, but in studying the book of Malachi, I came to understand that God would rather have no worship at all than to have His altars polluted with the offerings of casual and lukewarm believers. Out of His love and mercy, there were times of great revival and 100’s of people touched by the hand of God, but ultimately the day came that that particular church would no longer exist, just as in Malachi’s day the temple that so many had labored for so long to build would one day be destroyed as Solomon’s temple was, because God will not accept the leftovers of our lives, He demands all or nothing.

In response to Malachi in verse 12 the people absolutely do not understand how God could consider their offerings polluted, or their service to God contemptible. After all, weren’t they doing their best? Malachi points out that their worship of God had devolved from a vibrant joy to a weariness and a drudgery. In verse 14 we see that they maintain the language of fervency and sacrifice but the reality was something quite different. In giving their sacrifices, they would claim that the lamb or the kid they would bring was the best they had, a first born from the flock, a male without blemish, but in fact they were known simply to bring carcasses of animals that had died in the field, in order to get as much benefit out of their decaying bodies, by offering them to the priests to be given as an outward sign of devotion to God that did not in reality exist in their hearts.

Have you ever been a part of a church like this? A demoralized, sleepy little congregation, going through the motions, espousing lofty ideals and deep piety when in fact something very different was lurking under the surface that grieved the Father’s heart? Perhaps we should ask ourselves where do our sentiments lie? With a struggling people, enduring economic downturn maintaining just the faintest outline of devotion to God, or do our hearts rather join to the heart of God who would rather the church house stand empty, and the parking lot vacant than to receive such contaminated and polluted worship?

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