Malachi 3; 4: Preparation for the Lord's Coming
Captives had come back from Babylon to Jerusalem, and with many troubles had built again the temple and the city walls which had been in ruins. Two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, encouraged them in the work.
A little time has passed, and another prophet is speaking in Jerusalem. He is called Malachi, "my messenger." The temple had been built, but the people and the priests were neglecting the sacrifices and the worship. They had grown tired of them. They called them wearisome, and said they were of no use. Malachi rebuked them and called on them to be faithful in their tithes and offerings. (The tithe was the tenth of increase which was the Lordís.) "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in Mine house, and prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it." (Mal. 3:10)
A still greater interest in Malachi is that this last book of the Old Testament looks forward so clearly to the New Testament and the coming of the Lord, and to John the Baptist who would come before the Lord, calling the people to repent of their evil ways and to be ready for Him. The Lord when He should come, the prophet said, would be like one who purifies gold and silver in the fire, and like one who washes cloth with soap. Some who heard the prophet began hoping for the Lord, and when the Lord came there were some people expecting Him, who were made glad by His coming. "But unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in His wings." (Mal. 4:2)
Which is the last prophet in the Old Testament? Malachi, which means "my messenger." The background of this prophet is nearly the same as of Haggai and Zechariah, but the time is a little later. What was the special message of Haggai and Zechariah? When Malachi spoke, the building was done, but the people were neglecting the worship. Malachi rebuked their unfaithfulness and urged them to be honest with the Lord. Look through the chapters of Malachi and see some of the ways in which the people and priests were unfaithful. They offered to the Lord animals diseased and lame and blind. (Mal. 1:13-14) They polluted their offerings by their spirit of irreverence, calling them contemptible, wearisome, worthless. (Mal. 1:12-13; 3:14-15) They robbed God of tithes and offerings. (Mal. 2:8-10) What were the tithes? (Gen. 28:22; Lev. 27:30-32) They were guilty of many sins (Mal. 2:5), and especially of putting away their wives, which is displeasing to the Lord. (Mal. 2:11-16) This also made their offerings unacceptable. They loved evil, their heart was not in their worship. The Lord would come to purify them, as with fire and soap. Compare Luke 3:16. (There are interesting descriptions of the refiner working at his furnace.) Then their offerings would be pleasing to the Lord, and great blessing would be poured out to them from heaven.
"Then they that feared the Lord." Who at the Lord's coming were waiting and expecting? The shepherds? The wise men? Simeon and Anna, and others like them. (Luke 2:25-38) "Burn as an oven." (Mal. 4:1) We remember Luke 12:28, and think of the earthen oven in which a fire was made with brush and stubble to make it hot for baking. "The healing wings" is a beautiful name for the beams of the rising sun. For "grow up" the Revised Version reads "gambol." The law of Moses and Horeb is especially the Ten Commandments. How shall we understand this promise of Elijah's coming? Who preached repentance, preparing people for the Lord? Yes, John the Baptist. John was not the man Elijah come again (John 1:21), yet the Lord said of John, "This is Elias which was for to come." (Matt. 17:12-13) The mission of Elijah and John the Baptist was the same, to teach people to keep the Lord's laws. The angel announcing the birth of John said, "And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." (Luke 1:17) The angel was quoting this prophecy of Malachi.
There were about four hundred and fifty years between the prophecy and the fulfillment, but the last words of Malachi are like a bridge across the years, connecting the Old Testament with the New, the prophecies with the coming of the Lord and of John the Baptist.
(Zechariah and Zacharias are two writings of one name, but it will help us to keep separate the prophet of the Old Testament and the father of John the Baptist to remember one as Zechariah and the other as Zacharias, as our Bible calls them.)
It will be useful now that we have reached the last of the prophecies to glance over the names of all and see how many of them awaken distinctive recollections in connection with their prophecies. There is first the stern shepherd prophet Amos with his unrelenting condemnation of the children of Israel. Then comes Hosea with his severe indictment modified by expressions of pity and mercy for the sufferers. Next follows Joel who emphasizes the nature of the impending judgment and describes its horrors by the plague of locusts. Obadiah's short message concerns only the judgment of Edom. And Jonah turns the thought to the needs of the ignorant Gentiles. How shall we describe the prophecy by Isaiah? Two things at least rise into prominence immediately when his name is mentioned. The one is his teaching regarding the remnant, and the other the promises regarding the coming Savior, of the root and stem of Jesse. Micah pronounces judgment on Samaria and on Jerusalem. His name also recalls that beautiful passage beginning, "Wherewith shall I come before the Lord?" Nahum takes us eastward to the judgment awaiting Nineveh. Habakkuk raises and at the same time answers the great question of the Lordís providence in permitting evil, in particular the evil about to befall Judah. The prophet Zephaniah emphasizes that dreadful day, that day of wrath. Then comes the sad martyr Jeremiah, rejected and finally carried captive into Egypt. Ezekiel reminds us of the captivity in Babylon, and the great vision of the temple. Daniel's experiences and visions in exile are not readily forgotten. The words of consolation and the bright promises of the restoration at hand by Isaiah bring the full light of a new morn on the same. Then come Haggai and Zechariah with their instructions to rebuild the temple, with added visions of the future from the latter prophet. And what now is the chief characteristic of Malachi? Since the rebuilding of the temple the services there had again become corrupt. The people also were marrying "the daughters of a strange god." Malachi condemns priests and people for their profanity and infidelity. He has also a special word regarding "my messenger, who shall prepare the way before me." "Who may abide the day of his coming?" The word Malachi means "my messenger."
Can we now work out the approximate dates in which these sixteen prophets delivered their messages? First, however, let us recall the dates of the most important events to which prophecy largely pointed. Can anyone tell what took place in 732, 722, 607, 586, and 538 B.C.? These dates indicate the fall of the five great cities of the East. We may place Amos, Hosea, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah as prior to the first two; Nahum as immediately connected with the third; Isaiah, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Jeremiah as particularly associated with the fourth; Ezekiel, Daniel, and Isaiah as leading up to the fifth; and Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi as bridging over the period down to the coming of the Lord in 5 B.C.
All the prophets addressed conditions of their day and promised deliverance, near at hand. But their words also looked forward to the great deliverance in the coming of the Lord. "The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." (Rev. 19:10) Of none is this more true than of Malachi, so that the last words of the Old Testament join it closely with the New.
Prophets and Psalms shows many indications of the spiritual condition rebuked in Malachi, a state in which hearts are evil and worship is profaned. There is contempt and loathing in the worship where there should be the soul's deepest joy. Instead of strong and pure affections, those that are diseased and lame and blind are brought as offerings. With other evils named is especially the putting away of wives, which represents unfaithfulness in the soulís deepest obligation to the Lord. Yet from all this they may be cleansed and the worship of heart and mind may again be pleasant to the Lord "as in the days of old and in former years," as in the innocent days of the Most Ancient and of the Ancient Church. (E.433; A. 10248)
This is to be at the coming of the Lord. The refining by fire and the cleansing by washing suggest purifying of heart and mind, of affections and thoughts.
The tithe is the Lord's part in any experience of life, what there is in the experience of eternal value to be laid up in the treasury of the soul. If there is in our days, in our work and pleasure, no thought of the Lord and nothing of eternal value, we are robbing Him of tithes; He cannot give His blessing. If we will cease to rob God and will in all things remember His tithe, each thing, each experience so used is an open window to His blessing. (A. 3740)
"Then they that feared the Lord." A beautiful picture is given. The close drawing together of those who fear the Lord is suggested. The books of life are opened, and the preciousness of these lives appears. There is separation between the righteous and the wicked. The judgment is marked by fire, the revealing of the heart's love, the Lord's healing love with the good, and their own selfish love with the evil. Compare Matt. 13:42-43; A. 9141; E. 279.
The keeping of the Lord's law, especially the Ten Commandments, is declared to be the needed preparation for the Lord and for the blessed life which He brings. The statutes are especially laws of worship, and the judgments are civil laws. The Divine law in its letter is personified in Elijah and in John the Baptist, for their character and mission are nearly the same. As to the relation of Elijah and John, compare John 1:21; Matt. 17:12-13; Luke 1:17. Those who listened to John received the Lord. Those who rejected John did not receive Him. (Luke 7:29-30; 20:2-8) As explaining the "great and dreadful day of the Lord," we are told that because John's baptism represented repentance, it was the means of associating with people an influence of heaven, without which they could not have borne the Lord's presence. Turning the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to their father means also the turning of love toward truth and of truth toward love. To a divided mind, the Lord's presence would bring torture. To a mind thus united, it brings blessing. (E. 724)
The study of the prophets has taken us through as it were a wonderful succession of days. Their messages depict the successive states of the church. And each individual is a church in miniature. Sometimes the days opened with bright sunshine: "Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God" (Isa. 40:1); and possibly continued bright throughout. But often they became dark and cloudy. "That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress." (Zeph. 1:15) Frequently the angry clouds would break and let the sunlight through. "Who is a God like Thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? He retaineth not His anger forever, because He delighteth in mercy." (Micah 7:18) But occasionally the storm burst forth, and it seemed as if total destruction awaited the inhabitants of the earth. "Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers." (Isa. 1:7) Yet the night passes away, and the morrow, though gloomy, brings more hope. "Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom." (Isa. 1:9) "It is of the Lordís mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning." (Lam. 3:22) So day succeeds day. Thus passed also the days of the Lord's life; sometimes dark, sometimes stormy, and sometimes bright. (T. 104) And this is the pattern of our lives. The knowledge of this fact brings us out of the dark states through which we must pass into the brightness of His Own Loving Presence. "The Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in his wings." (Mal. 4:2)
This is the great lesson of the Prophets. Evil may disturb our peace of mind and drag us down into the depths of despair, but it cannot conquer, if the Lord be on our side. Israel's enemies shall all finally be vanquished. The Assyrians and Babylonians may destroy Samaria and Jerusalem. They cannot stamp the nation out of existence. Jerusalem shall be rebuilt, but Nineveh and Babylon fall never to rise again. The returned remnant in Jerusalem may desecrate the temple and prove unfaithful to the Lord, yet this final test is but a preparation for the fullest reception of the Lord. It is the complete and perfect refining and purging of the sons of Levi, "that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness." (Mal. 3:3)
The trials depicted in the prophets are necessary to lift a person out of the sloughs of selfishness and worldliness to "keep back his soul from the pit." They are the sole means of healing the soul of all its diseases, and redeeming the life from destruction. And this health and redemption are synonymous with salvation, which is the subject of the prophets. The name of the first prophet describes the message of them all. Isaiah means "Jehovah is my Savior." It is the same as the name Jesus: "He shall save His people from their sins." The end or purpose of suffering, in whatever form, is salvation. (P. 281) "The Divine Providence of the Lord has for its end a heaven from the human race" (P. 27), and all things are made to contribute to this end. Not everyone is saved. But "man himself is to blame if he is not saved." (P. 327) Therefore, we ought to cooperate with the Lord, bear our trials in patience, shun whatever is evil, and so be prepared to abide the coming of "that great and dreadful day of the Lord" (Mal. 4:5), pass through it uninjured, and rise victoriously with the risen Lord to live with Him in the place prepared for us by the Lord forever.