The Old Testament is not merely a record of God’s dealings with ancient Israel. The Old Testament, as God’s Word, speaks to us today.
The apostle Paul, referring to the Old Testament, wrote that “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction” (Romans 15:4). Malachi, the last book in the Old Testament, exemplifies this.
The prophet Malachi ministered around 450 B.C. Some 80 years earlier, the people of Israel had returned to Jerusalem after suffering decades of captivity in Babylon. Once back in the city, they rebuilt the city walls and the temple. They expected that the completion of these projects would inaugurate a golden age for Israel. When their hopes did not materialize, disillusionment set in.
This disillusionment soon led to spiritual cynicism and moral laxity. The Jewish people grew skeptical of God’s love (1:2), perfunctory in their worship (1:6-2:9), indifferent to the truth (2:6–7), faithless in their marriages (2:15; 3:5) and stingy in their giving (3:8). True godliness was in short supply. The situation in ancient Israel is similar to that of the church in America.
It was into this environment that God raised up the prophet Malachi. Malachi’s prophecy to Israel speaks to Christians in our day.
First, Malachi reminds God’s people that though life is often disappointing and difficult, they should never doubt God’s love for them (1:2-5).
Second, Malachi condemns worship that is perfunctory, irreverent and not according to God’s instructions in Scripture (1:6-2:9). Pastors and church leaders would do well to heed God’s admonitions to Israel’s priests, who corrupted His worship.
Third, Malachi exhorts us to be faithful to our marriage vows (2:13-16) and generous in our giving (3:8).
Fourth, when we ask, as ancient Israel asked, “Where is the God of justice?” (2:17), God answers that he will come to administer judgment (3:5). As Gottfried Bachl wrote, “The stream of events will not run on forever…. God will put an end to the course of history and will make clear that there is a difference between justice and injustice, and that this difference must be demonstrated. God will seek out the buried victims, the forgotten, starved children, the dishonored women, and God will find the hidden doers of these deeds. God will gather all of them before “his throne,” so that all must see how it stands with their lives.”
Fifth, while Malachi speaks of God’s justice, he also speaks of God’s grace when he foretells the coming of the Savior, Jesus Christ. Malachi prophesied that Jesus would be preceded by an advance man. “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me” (3:1; cf. 4:6). Jesus explained that Malachi was speaking of John the Baptist (Matthew 11:10-14).
Then Malachi promised, “the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in his wings” (4:2). Shortly before Jesus was born, an old priest, Zechariah, heard news that the Messiah was to be born and sang, alluding to Malachi’s prophecy, “the sunrise shall visit us from on high” (Luke 1:78).
Malachi also foretold that when the Messiah comes, he will purify the worship of his people (3:2-5). Jesus’ purifying of his people’s worship was demonstrated when he cleansed the temple by driving out the moneychangers (John 2:13-16). Even more, Jesus purified our worship by being an all-sufficient offering for our sin. Those who trust in Him as their Savior are clothed in his righteousness and thus can approach God in worship.
Though long dead, Malachi still speaks. This short Old Testament book is well worth your careful examination.
Peter Kemeny is the pastor of Good News Presbyterian Church of Frederick, a congregation of the Bible-based denomination, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (www.goodnewspres.org).