The Gospel According to Malachi - Part 2
What we have seen already in the first two chapters of the book of Malachi is God bringing many rebukes and condemnations upon the people of Israel for their breaking of God’s covenant with them.
And what was so interesting about the timing of Israel’s sin was that it was all occurring so soon after God has just so recently and graciously brought the people out of their Babylonian captivity to bring them back to Jerusalem, their home, with a newly constructed city wall and Temple. And instead of finding the people of Israel entrenched in grateful worship to their redeeming God we find the people in a very stagnant and halfhearted state of devotion to God.
God has already in the first 2 chapters confronted Israel for questioning His love for them, for bringing defiled and blemished sacrifices to His altar; He directly attacked the Priest’s lack of godly leadership and called the people into account for their willingness to divorce their wives to marry the pagan women outside of Israel.
Although God had laid out for the people in a very straight forward and clear manner all the ways in which they have violated the covenant that God has made with them, Israel in their self deception can’t seem to understand why God is not blessing them and in chapter 2 verse 17 they actually had the nerve to ask “Where is the God of justice?”. God’s answer to that question began in chapter 3 verse 1 where He said that the Lord Himself was in fact coming, and He would come suddenly to His temple.
God with His response to their question was reminding Israel in a sense to be careful what they asked for, because the Lord was coming and His very presence would bring about consequences. God Himself then asked the questions of those looking for the God of justice in 3:2“But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? The Lord’s coming would bring about a sanctifying judgment for the people of Israel. The dross and chaff of Israel would be burnt away by His coming and the rest who survived would be refined like gold and silver now able to present to the LORD pleasing sacrifices in righteousness.
As we pick up with the text here in chapter 3:5 where we left off last week and look at the second half of the book, what we are going to see is a nearly identical format of God’s message through Malachi to the people. And that is the classical Law/Gospel presentation.
God is once again going to bring the people of Israel to their knees by exposing their many sins against Him before He once again reiterates that promise that despite all of the people’s sin, that the LORD Himself will come to them and will restore the people to righteousness and will remove the curse that has been given due to their covenant breaking deeds.
Let’s note now which additional sins the Lord is going to hold Israel accountable for….
5“Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me,” says the LORD of hosts.
God was going to respond to the desire of the people to see justice carried out but unfortunately for Israel, judgment would be coming against them. And we see from the list here in verse 5 that the Lord is holding the people accountable not only for false worship against Him such as the sin of sorcery mentioned here but the Lord is also looking to judge the people for sins against one another.
The specific sins listed here of lying to one another, robbing your workers of their wages, not caring for the widows, orphans and aliens amongst yourselves. Sins against your fellow mankind who are made in the image of God are sins against the God whose image they are made in. God is saying in a sense at the end of v. 5 that sins of the social justice order are sins of those who do not fear the Lord of hosts.
All sins are manifestations of a more basic and foundational issue, namely, a lack of fear of the Lord. I was reading through the Puritan prayers contained in The Valley of Vision the very night that I was working on this section in Malachi and came upon a very relevant line in the prayer entitled “Christ the Word”. The writer says,
“My sin is not so much this or that particular evil, but my continual separation, disunion, distance from thee, and having a loose spirit towards thee.”
I thought that was exactly what was being made manifest in Malachi, this loose spirit towards the Lord, a lack of fear of the people which undoubtedly leads to a multitude of different sins. A fear of the Lord is the beginning of right thinking and therefore righteous deeds and a lack of fear for the Lord is the beginning of rebellious thinking and therefore rebellious deeds.
And with the litany of convictions that God has brought upon Israel from the beginning of Malachi up to this point you might wonder how this people have not already been wiped out by the God of justice, but verse 6 gives us an insight into why they still endure as a people.
6“For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed. 7“From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from My statutes and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD of hosts.
Why has Israel not been entirely consumed by the judgment of God? The answer God gives is that of His immutability, the fact that He does not change. What about God not changing is benefiting the people of God here in their situation? The answer is hinted at in the way that God refers to His people here, He calls them “O sons of Jacob”. These wayward and backslidden people are descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the patriarchs with whom God has entered into covenant; a covenant that began as far back as Genesis 12 with Father Abraham. A covenant that would include the promise that Abraham’s seed would be as numerous as the stars in the sky, that his descendents would continue until from them would come one seed in particular that would bless all of the nations by bringing to fruition the eternal covenant spoken of in Genesis 17:7, a covenant whereby Abraham’s descendents would be united to God in such a way that He would be their God and they would be His people forever. Because God does not change His promises will be fulfilled and so because of this there would always be a remnant amongst the sons of Jacob and with the remnant the offer of grace through repentance.
With God’s immutability two realities then hold fast. The preservation of the people of Israel to maintain a remnant to fulfill the promise to Abraham that the Christ would come through His descendents and the reality that because God doesn’t change He will punish the unrepentant; He will not leave the guilty unpunished. We see this reality of God’s immutability carry over into Paul’s writing in the N.T. in 2 Timothy 2:11–13
11It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; 12If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; 13If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.
I think many find comfort in v.13 assuming that when it says “when we are faithless He remains faithful” meaning He will save us anyways, for He cannot deny Himself, but I think the faithfulness and immutability of God here will ensure that He is just and impartial in His judgments on that day as the parallel verse 12 describes, “If we deny Him, He also will deny us.”
In other words, the immutability of God is a good thing for those who are surely in Christ, but the immutability of God will most certainly be bad news for those who deny Him, not just in word but in deed, He will be faithful to deny them as well.
Back in Malachi….So as God extends His grace to His chosen people at the end of verse v7 by saying, “return to Me, and I will return to you,” we find this obstinate and stiff necked people respond back to God with…….
7…….. ‘How shall we return?’
In other words what they are saying back to God is that they really grasp the reality of how far they have fallen from God. By asking “How shall we return?” implies they don’t see that they are really doing that much wrong, they can’t imagine what else they could be doing to be more faithful to God. They are all but completely blind to the multitude of sins and errors that they are making on a daily basis, sins that the Lord has already laid before them and they still say, “What do you want from us?”
Well, If they have still to feel the weight of all of their transgression thus far, the Lord has another straw to lay upon the camel’s back, a euphemism that isn’t exactly appropriate as the sin that God brings to Israel’s attention is no small piece of straw, but is a log that should certainly break the camel’s back.
8“Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. 9“You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you!
Robbing God, it is a very serious crime indeed. A crime that had obviously become such a widespread issue as God says in verse 9 that the curse for this crime was upon the whole nation of them thereby implying that they were all being taken away with this crime. A little leaven had obviously in a short time run its course through all of Israel.
And to answer the apparently ignorant people of Israel’s question to God of, “How exactly are we robbing You?”, God says specifically, “In tithes and offerings.”
God in the Old Covenant prescribed set amounts for the people’s giving, and instead of giving to God what was His, they were keeping back some of the money for themselves, and in doing so were robbing God. Of course, God does not need anything from us in one sense, He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and everything that the world contains is His (Psalm 50:10&12) but God has other purposes for requiring our giving. Our giving has always been one of the means by which God accomplishes His purposes in this world through His people. This Old Covenant tithe and offerings spoken of here in our text was money that was used to support the Levitical priests who worked the temple. The tithes and offerings also went to support the needy in Israel, the widows and orphans.
Now most of you who grew up in typical evangelical churches are familiar with the word “tithe”. Tithe simply means ‘a tenth’ or ‘10 percent’. And most of us were raised under the conviction that as long as you did the math and calculated 10 percent of your paychecks and put it in the plate as it was passed you were falling right in line with all of the faithful people of God since the Mt. Sinai commandments and were fulfilling your duty to give as God has always prescribed. One small problem comes up when we take the language of tithes and offerings from the Old Covenant to simply refer to a simple 10 percent calculation from what we bring home or earn. In reality the tithes and offerings that God was requiring from His people under the Old Covenant amounted to much more than just 10 percent when all was said and done.
Let me give you a quick rundown of what all the Old Testament tithes and offerings consisted of.
1) The Lord’s Tithe- prescribed in (Numbers 18:21 & Leviticus 27:30) This was your standard 10 percent tithe that was given from all that you gained, whether financially, grain, or animal.
2) The Festival Tithe- (Deut 12:10) This was a tithe of all that you owned that was taken up annually at the Feast of Tabernacles. This was an annual feast commemorating the faithfulness of God to bring Israel out of Egyptian bondage.
- Now already at 20% of total giving
3) The Poor Tithe- (Deut 14:28) This tithe was gathered of all you had once every three years and was specifically stored for the poor and needy.
- Because it was a tithe given every 3 years it breaks down annually to be 3.3% of what you own bringing the new total of Old Covenant giving requirements to 23.3%
4) Now this doesn’t even include the additional givings mentioned in Leviticus 19 such as where the people were required to refrain from harvesting the corners of their fields and vineyards so that the poor could glean from them and other taxes that came up at certain times to supply materials for the temple constructions (Nehemiah 10:32) nor does this include the additional Firstfruits offerings (Numbers 18:11) or the additional Freewill offerings (Exodus 25:1) where the people were to give out of the overflow of their hearts.
And so at the end of the day under the Old Covenant the people of Israel were giving at least a quarter, probably well over 25% of their total earnings to God.
So what about us?
Well, clearly we don’t see the exact Mosaic stipulations for giving of exact tithing requirements coming over into the New Covenant. The required givings that coincided with the Festivals and Celebrations of the Old Testament obviously passed away with the coming of Christ as He fulfilled all of the shadows of those Festivals and Celebrations. But the act of worship to God through the giving of money to the church obviously continues into the New Covenant. As you survey the New Testament, what you find in the actual examples of giving that are mentioned are continued illustrations of great sacrificial giving. Remember the scene of the early church from Acts 4 where the believers where selling whole houses and tracts of land to bring to the church so that no one went without. You have chapters 8&9 of 2nd Corinthians devoted to Paul’s boasting upon the Macedonian churches for the fact that they gave to help the Jerusalem churches out of their deep poverty (8:2), even giving beyond their ability Paul says in 8:3. And it’s in the midst of this boasting concerning the Macedonian’s giving that Paul lays down a couple of enduring truths, First…..
2 Corinthians 9:6 Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
Most of your reference Bibles will refer you back to Proverbs 22:8-9 for the foundation for the truth the Paul is stating here, a truth that obviously transcends both Covenants. To simply restate the truth, your giving will directly correlate to the blessing that you receive from God. Now obviously this blessing is not as the prosperity preachers would have you believe, it’s not a guarantee that your bank account will exponentially grow if you give a lot to the church, no, the blessing is much greater than that. The blessing that you can count on is one of a more intimate walk with your God. A more real and personal Christian life as you sacrifice for your Savior and share in the fellowship of His sufferings as Paul says in Phil 4:10. As you discipline yourself to give more and more you will begin to loosen your grip on the things of this world and will begin to enjoy the reality of what the Lord Jesus spoke of when He said that we could store up our treasures in heaven where neither rust nor moth could destroy, eternally enduring blessings.
Now again we don’t have the exact stipulations of the Mosaic law to follow as our guideline but immediately following Paul’s reiteration of the truth in verse 8 that “he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” , he then goes on to make one of the most direct statements concerning how we are to determine the amount of our giving in 2 Corinthians 9:7
Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
It’s not the letter of the law by any specific blanket dollar amount for everyone but it is a heart issue. Now, dealing with our hearts is tough for us due to the fact that our hearts are deceitful above all things (Jer 17:9) and just like Israel we love our money. But just as Jesus said in Matthew 6:21 “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. In other words, Where your money, is where your heart is. So I thought one helpful and objective measure you can take to see just where your heart is, to test your heart by pulling out the little piece of paper we sent out to everyone in January (The Annual Contribution Statement). Consider that number on that sheet and sit before the Lord with that number. Better yet, pull out last years or the year before and see if you are maturing in your faith, see where your heart was last year.
Brothers and sisters, if you do not spend and invest your money on Christ’s bride, how much do you really love her and her Husband by extension? I don’t want any in our church to be found like Israel, guilty of robbing God.
Let’s finally address the last rebuke from the Lord to the people of Israel…..
13“Your words have been arrogant against Me,” says the LORD. “Yet you say, ‘What have we spoken against You?’ 14“You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept His charge, and that we have walked in mourning before the LORD of hosts? 15‘So now we call the arrogant blessed; not only are the doers of wickedness built up but they also test God and escape.’ ”
The people had hit rock bottom. They had come to the conclusion that it is vain to serve God, that there is no benefit to keeping his charge. In their eyes, it was the arrogant and wicked that were the ones profiting and escaping God’s judgments ‘Scott free’. I immediately thought of Psalm 73 when I read the mindset of the people described here; if you remember Asaph, who there described himself as being one whose feet came close to stumbling, whose steps had almost slipped when he saw the prosperity of the wicked. Well the difference between Asaph and all of Israel here is that Asaph’s feet came close to stumbling whereas Israel had altogether fallen. They had cast away their faith in God and come to the conclusion that serving Him is not worth it. Well, brothers and sisters that is the thinking of full out apostasy. And whether the people had actually been verbalizing these blasphemous thoughts out load or not I do not know but it matters not because all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do, God knows what they were thinking and saying in their hearts. But even in the midst of all out apostasy, just as God had promised in chapter 3:6 and in order to remain faithful to His covenant, He would not consume them all but that He would in fact keep a remnant for Himself.
Now this little periscope here beginning in verse 16 has to be my favorite part of Malachi. The reaction of this select few out of all of the people of Israel is a reaction that is every pastor’s and preacher’s dream. God through His messenger, Malachi, has for 3 chapters now crushed the people under the weight of their sins. But not only has He brought His law to bear on them but He has also already promised them as well the good news in chapter 3:1 that the Lord Himself would be coming to His temple to bring a purifying work to the people, a work that would restore their worship and right standing with God, and the reaction of those blessed elect who had just received this word from God in v.16……..
16Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD gave attention and heard it,
This is what I loved so much about what occurred here amongst the people. They reacted to the word preached to them. They spoke to one another and were assuredly stirring each other up to heed the word and prepare themselves and their brethren for the coming Day of Lord. They actively wanted to be doers of the word and not merely hearers who delude themselves and they didn’t want their fellow brethren to be self deluded either. A beautiful picture of Hebrews 3:12–13 being played out in Malachi.
Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. 13But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Not only did the people react but God did as well,
16Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who esteem His name. 17“They will be Mine,” says the LORD of hosts, “on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.” 18So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.
Contrary to those who were saying in verse 14 that it was vain to serve God, God in fact is acutely aware of those who are His and who fear His name. He even has a book of remembrance that includes meticulous records concerning His people. Not one faithful deed to be forgotten so as to go unrewarded on that day. The Day of Judgment will be a great day for those who fear and serve the Lord, a day of great retribution. And although that Day of Judgment will certainly involve our good works, the books will be opened and our deeds brought to bear, don’t think that our good deeds will be the basis for our entrance into heaven. No certainly our justification and right standing before God will be based on our faith in the Messiah that Malachi has spoken about, but the simplest way to think about he laying out of our deeds on that day can be thought of as ‘a justification of our justifications’. Our changed and righteous lives will bear testimony to the reality of God’s sanctifying grace in our lives. We will as James puts it, show our faith by our works.
And so on Judgment Day the wheat and the tears will be separated. And based on the reality that there are those who have in fact been sanctified by the grace of God and can rightly be referred to as those who fear God and there will also be those who can rightly be referred to and categorized as the evildoers and the chaff. We will read the comparison now that God gives to the fate of these two different people groups, the righteous and the wicked and I can guarantee you brothers and sisters, you want to be of the righteous on that day.
1“For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the LORD of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.”
This description here of the fire of God’s judgment leaving neither root nor branch speaks to the total undoing of those who will come under God’s judgment. Not that they will be completely annihilated from existence, because texts like Matthew 25:46 as well as other texts more fully describe the punishment of hell as eternal conscious punishment with the gnashing of teeth and the worm that never dies but the description leaves us with the reality that there will be nothing good left for those in hell. No hope, no grace, no chance of ever being relieved of their torment.
But verse 2 begins with one of those infinitely contrasting conjunctions……BUT
2“But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. 3“You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,” says the LORD of hosts.
What a contrast, there is no greater polarity than the destiny of the wicked verses those who have had the sun of righteousness shine upon them. We on that day will be given a triumph over all our enemies and the description given for our reaction on that day, “we will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall”, gives me the image that we will be so enthralled with ecstasy that we will be dancing for joy!
Malachi’s prophetic word to Israel begins to draw to a close as he leaves Israel with these vivid descriptions of the only two options, the only two fates that lie ahead for mankind, eternal punishment or eternal bliss.
But before he wraps up his prophesy completely, Malachi gives one last word to the people. It is a perfect summary of everything he has been saying to them over the last 4 chapters. In a sense, you can gain a picture of the whole book of Malachi by looking at just these last 3 verses. I would say even a picture of the whole Old Testament by looking at these 3 verses.
4“Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb (Mt. Sinai) for all Israel.
Malachi ends by pointing the people back to the Law of God. The Law that God has just reproved them over and over for breaking. Now, why is this a helpful reminder for the people? Is Malachi simply telling Israel to just keep trying harder and be better people so that they can reach the point of gaining God’s acceptance? Let’s remind ourselves of the purpose of the Law. The two texts that I want to reference on the function of the Law are vitally important texts for having a proper Biblical theology concerning God’s Law. After all, the giving of the Law and the expounding of the Law makes up the majority of our Bibles, most of our Old Testaments, so it is crucial that we have a proper understanding of what God intends for us to learn by looking at and remembering His Law.
Romans 3:19–20 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; 20because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.
Galatians 3:24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.
For the true Jews, for the Israelites who were circumcised in their hearts, the Law was a helpful tool by which God’s holiness and righteousness was revealed and conversely their unrighteousness was also revealed. The Law of God leaves man guilty and in desperate need for a Savior, and a Savior is just who God was going to provide.
But someone was to come first……
5“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. 6“He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”
Well this prophesy here is surely parallel and complimentary to the prophesy given in 3:1-4. In chapter 3:1 the preparatory forerunner for the coming Lord is called “My messenger (Malachi)” and here in chapter 4:5 the forerunner is referred to as Elijah the prophet. Now again, it is so good to be on this side of the completion of the canon of Scripture because we don’t have to wonder or guess at who would fulfill this prophesy of the coming Elijah, our New Testaments tell us that John the Baptist fulfilled this prophesy of the coming Elijah.
The angel that appeared to Zacharias, John’s Father, confirmed this in these words as he prepared Zacharias for the calling that his son John would have on his life….
Luke 1:17 “It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
So John as the angel says is not actually Elijah, but came in the spirit and power of Elijah and thereby fulfilled the prophesy concerning Elijah. This is probably the distinction John himself was making in the gospel of John chapter 1:21 when the Jews asked him if he was Elijah and he answered no. He wasn’t actually Elijah but he was one who like Elijah and all the prophets before and after him in that he prepared the way for the coming of the Lord. And what was John’s primary message for the people of Israel, what was it that John called the people to do, what is the fitting response for knowing that the Lord Himself is coming? Repentance!
John preached repentance to prepare the way for the coming Christ and when Jesus Christ appeared He likewise preached repentance.
Why do we need to repent and trust in Christ? There are many reasons actually, but the main reasons that Malachi has given us are…
1) Because He deserves our worship. God’s argument in Malachi 1:14 for why we should worship Him rightly…….
Malachi 1:14 “For I am a great King, says the LORD of host”
2) We need Christ because of the last word of this book. “the curse”
We have been cursed since Adam because of our sin and rebellion to God and the greatest curse that there will ever be is still to come…
Revelation 20:15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
But brothers and sisters, God has not left Himself without a witness. Heed the warning of Malachi and find your hope and protection in the prophesied Messiah, Jesus Christ.