Malachi 1.1 | Rhetorical God (Intro)
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Malachi 1:1–1:1
Intro: The Prophet & Malachi
Today we introduce our nine week series in the little book of Malachi. This is a real book found in the Bible; but it’s probably not the first you‘d turn to for devotions. This book, following the ever-popular and regularly preached books of Haggai and Zechariah, is relatively unknown to most Christians except for the fact it is the last book in our Old Testament. Many might wonder what a 2,400 year old book can teach us. In Romans 15.4 Paul wrote: whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Malachi is the last of what are called the 12 Minor Prophets of the Old Testament. Prophets have a very specific role in the Old Testament. First, prophets were preachers—divine mailmen. God would reveal His Word to them and they would publicly proclaim this word to the people unedited. Typically, they were chosen to admonish, reprove, denounce sin, threaten with the terrors of judgment, and call people to repentance. This made them very unpopular. Second, prophets were watchmen—divine guards. They guarded God’s honor by warning against poor political decisions, the dangers of idolatry, false worship, and the worthlessness of religiosity. Third, prophets were also predictors—divine future-tellers. In addition to preaching and watching, prophets announced future judgments, deliverance, and foretold of the coming Messiah and His kingdom. From the prophecy of Malachi, we can we expect to hear a call to repent from our sin, a warning against our idolatry, and a promise that our savior Jesus Christ saves.
The Questions & Malachi
As a prophet, Malachi was a man chosen to represent God and speak for God. The title we chose for the Malachi series is: Rhetorical God: hard answers to easy questions. Malachi’s prophecy consists of a series of easy questions He answers himself. These questions come from the minds of the people responding some of God’s judgments like: I love you. You have despised my name. You have polluted my covenant. You have wearied me with your complaints. You have robbed me. You have spoken against me. All of Israel’s questions, or arguments, begin with HOW…HOW have you loved us?, HOW have we despised your name,? HOW have we tired you out with our complaining? HOW have we spoken out against you? HOW shall we ever return to you? Malachi addresses an Israel that God has a better view of their faithfulness than God. Instead of humbly accepting God’s judgment they judge God, not with their mouths, but with their heads and hands—just like us.
The History & Malachi (1.1) The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.
Without some historical context, Malachi will make little sense—understanding the context of yesterday ensures correct understanding for our context today. It would be like coming into a novel at chapter 12 and trying to make sense of the entire story without having read the first 11. While you might be able to learn from chapter 12, you will not fully understand or appreciate it. Our faith is one rooted in history. If we don’t care then we’ll invariably focus on our own work today INSTEAD of what Jesus did 2,000 years ago on a cross. Even understanding cross requires that we understand the events that led up to it. When trying to explain the cross to his two disciples on the Road to Emmaus, Jesus gave them a lesson rooted in history starting with Moses (Gen-Deut) and all of the Prophets—including Malachi.
EDEN: The Beginning of the Story of God
The Bible is a collection of 66 books which all tell one story—a story written by God, for God, and about God. The prelude to Malachi begins in EDEN, goes through EXODUS, into an EMPIRE, which eventually results in EXILE.
The story begins with a perfect God who creates. In six days, God creates everything visible and invisible by speaking it into existence. He creates a world that is beautiful and in his own words, good. He also creates men and women whom he says are very good with whom he enjoys fellowship. All is well until men believe the lie that happiness is found apart from God and His Word. They rebel and sin comes into the world. Having been charged with the privilege of building a God-glorifying culture, men instead destroy their world, their relationship with God, and each other.
Lest they eat of the tree of life and remain in their brokenness forever, out of love, God sends Adam and Eve out of the garden INTO CHAOS with the promise of a savior who will one day be born and bring them back into the garden again. From there, we see Adam and Eve produce sinful kids, leading to more sinful people, and finally world full of sinful culture. Completely disgusted, God chooses a 600 year old man named Noah and tells him to build a big old boat, fill it with two of every animal, because it is going to rain—something that has never happened before. God wipes the world clean with a flood, only to see sin resurface in the one sinful family that God chose to save. The descendants of one of Noah’s boys then try to build a city to their own glory called Babel. In judgment, God confuses their languages and scatters them across the world. In the midst of the chaos, God proves himself also to be a God who saves.
EXODUS: The Salvation of God
By grace, God chooses a pagan named Abraham, tells him to leave Babylon, go to a land he has never seen, and God will make his family into a God-glorying nation to bless the world. God promises him a son, through which this nation will come, which makes his wife to laugh because they are both old, they have no kids, and they’re sleeping in separate beds. Abraham believes God and, after 25 years of stupid decisions, the promised Son “Issac” is born. He eventually has a son named Jacob who becomes Israel, and Israel has 12 songs who become the 12 tribes. One son, named Joseph, is sold into slavery by his brothers. But, as this is God’s story, their evil is used by God for good to save all of his brothers, and the entire nation of Egypt, from a famine. God reveals himself as the one who is never surprised, never NOT in control, using only broken people to transform the darkest of situations to advance His Kingdom. Joseph dies and his family ends up enslaved in the nation he saved for 400 years.
As a demonstration of his power, and maybe his sense of humor, God uses an 80 year-old fugitive Shepherd named Moses to lead the next chapter in the story, talking to him through a burning shrubbery. The Exodus is the story of Joseph descendants who, now enslaved in Egypt, are supernaturally saved by God. Like a Hollywood disaster film on a cosmic scale, God frees his people from slavery and brings them a huge body of water called the Red Sea. Moses leads them to the base of a great Mountain called Sinai to worship. There God meets his people, gives them the law, and officially makes His bridal nation. Unfortunately, the honeymoon ends quickly and Israel proves itself to be as sinful as ever. Unwilling to believe God has given them the land He promised land, God kills a generation of people by wandering around the wilderness for 40 years. Moses dies and General Joshua, one of the only two faithful men in that generation, leads a new generation and conquers the Promised land.
EMPIRE: The Land & the Kingdom of God
Eventually, Joshua dies and after several generations of NO LEADERSHIP, they ask for a King. Reluctantly, a man named Saul is chosen as Israel’s first King. He is publicly confirmed as ruler under THE KING, serving as the Lord’s anointed. Like Adam, he is charged with being God’s representative, spreading God’s rule and building a God-glorifying culture. But, also like Adam, he fails and God judges his rebellion by ripping the throne away and giving it to a young Shepherd who can kill lions, bears, and nine foot men with pebbles, named David. God makes a covenant with him, promising David that from His throne will come one who rules forever—the true King, the true Messiah (anointed one), ultimately Jesus.
David rules faithfully, but he also sins grievously. He has an adulterous relationship with a woman named Bathsheba, a wife of one of his warriors, which results in a cover up and the murder of her husband. All this establishes a legacy of violence which reigns in David’s home for years but also produces a son named Solomon who becomes a great King named Solomon. Solomon is the most successful and wisest man that ever lived, under Jesus. Solomon wrote thousands of proverbs, songs, and an amazing love poem. He wrote the only book of Philosophy in the Bible, declaring that all that he had (and he has everything) was meaningless and all joy comes from living in the fear of the Lord. Solomon eventually builds the beautiful first temple, a house for God, but fails to live in the fear he wrote about.
EXILE: The Divided Kingdom & Exile
When King Solomon died, the ten northern tribes refused to submit to his son, Rehoboam, and revolt. From this point on, there would be two kingdoms: in the north, Israel, and in the south, Judah. For over 250 years various kings rose and kings fell in the North and South, some reigned as little as a month, others as long as 50 years. Some were good, most were bad and led people into idolatry.
In the north, Israel proved more evil than Judah. Having been warned by prophets like Isaiah, in 722 BC the Northern Kingdom fell to the Assyrians whose capital was the pagan city of Nineveh (Jonah). The Assyrians were aggressive warriors. Though God had protected Israel before, this time he gave them over BECAUSE Israel went after false gods and did not heed the warnings of the prophets. The Assyrians scattered the 10 tribes throughout their kingdom and took over the capital of Israel, Samaria. There they set up Assyrians Gods, false worship, and cultic practices.
In the South, Judah and Jerusalem also saw good and bad kings. Eventually Judah became so corrupt that God allowed it to fall to the Babylonians (under Nebuchadnezzar) who were conquering Assyria around 586 BC. They rip down the walls of the capital Jerusalem, slaughter thousands, and destroy the temple bringing an end to glory. To destroy Jewish culture, Nebuchadnezzar deports the most prominent citizens of Judah: professionals, priests, craftsmen, and the wealthy including men like Ezekiel, Daniel, and Jeremiah, to Babylon. By 539BC, God uses the Persians under King to conquer Babylon.
HAGGAI: The Temple & the Return
The story of Malachi actually begins in Ezra chapter 1 during the first year of Cyrus the King. As a fulfillment of a prophecy by Jeremiah, God moves the heart of a secular king to send the Israelites in exile back to their land to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. The historical books of Ezra and Nehemiah record THREE different waves of people that return to Israel—Malachi takes place between 2 & 3.
The return from exile is led by Zerrubabel the governor and Joshua the High Priest. Most Israelites chose not to return to what was a decimated land/city. But a devoted remnant of Israelites did return. According to the book of Ezra, there were 42,360 Israelites, 7,337 servants, and 200 singers left Babylon. The first thing they did was take a free will offering. Then, they worked to clear the temple area of rubble and replace the altar. Within months, they had laid the foundation; but that is where it stopped. Hostility of neighbors and other difficulties causes work to cease and they turn to their private affairs. God raises up the prophet Haggai: 2 “Thus says the LORD of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.” 3 Then the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? (1.4). They build homes for themselves and leave God’s house in ruin. In essence, they work hard at their own lives and ignore any obligations to God. Haggai encourages them to REPENT and REBUILD.
ZECHARIAH: The Return & the Worship
IF WE ONLY HAD HAGGAI we might be led to believe that the only thing that God cares about is buildings or our work. God also wants his people to be ready to worship when the temple is ready. Two months after Haggai begins to speak, a man named Zechariah also begins to speak for the Lord. Through Zechariah, God warns his people not to make the same mistake their father made who ignored Him. He also comforts his people because they are sharing cities with Persians, building a less glorious temple, and living in a land much smaller than they had before. He not only calls them to REBUILD but also to RENEW their covenant—to “RETURN TO ME”. Then, through nine visions, God explains his plan to one day return to Jerusalem, to dwell in the city, to defend the city personally, to rescue his people from their enemies, to cleanse them from sin, and to restore their prosperity forever. Zechariah is quoted 67 times in the New Testament how these promises are fulfilled in Jesus. Zechariah shows us that God wants more than just restore His house; he wants to restore His relationship with his people through covenant worship.
The Worship & The Heart: Malachi
IF WE ONLY HAD ZECHARIAH, we might be led to believe that God is satisfied only with Israel’s sacrifices, festivals, and acts of worship. Through Haggai, God says ‘I want you to build a place of worship for me”. Through Zechariah, God says, “I want you to worship me.” But through Malachi, God says, “I don’t want your religion; I want you to worship from your heart.” Malachi has a message for us.
A 100 years after returning from exile and rebuilding the temple, God’s people have grown disillusioned and doubtful about God’s promises. The HONEYMOON IS OVER. The first words of Malachi have God declaring: “I LOVE YOU”, while the people are asking, “How have you loved us?” In their eyes, they’ve done everything that God asked—but it has not resulted in the prosperity that Zechariah promised. So even though the sacrificial routines continue, genuine worship ceases because God didn’t give. God didn’t provide. God didn’t prosper; God didn’t protect; God didn’t care. What happens to our faith when God doesn’t love or come through the way you thought he should?
Malachi is going to pull the curtain back on our religiosity, and reveal whether or not we love God or only what God can give us. God is going to challenge you with some hard questions—and I would caution those who are tempted to argue by giving him a list all the things we do (See Matthew 7). The important question is never IF you go to church, read your Bible, pray, feed the poor, do good things, or avoid bad things. The important question is WHY do you do any of those things? [STONE story | “Who carrying the stone for, Peter?].
Malachi shows us that God wants more than our religion. The religious say GOD ACCEPTS ME and BLESSES ME when I do what is good (not do what is bad) and GOD OWES ME for what I have done. That is not what the gospel says. The gospel says GOD LOVES YOU in Jesus, and though He OWES you nothing, He gave everything He has to you. You don’t need to do anything; only believe in what He has done for you. I worship God not to get something, but to get Him.
Malachi is the last thing God says for 400 years. 400 years of silence is broken by an angel who visits a young woman engaged to be married and speaks a name—Jesus. It is Jesus who fulfills Haggai’s prophecy to build a place for God to dwell—he is the presence of God among men. It is Jesus who fulfills Zechariah’s promise of a righteous Priest, who on ONE DAY, makes ONE perfect and final sacrifice to cleanse men’s sin forever (13.1). And it is Jesus who fulfills Malachi’s prophecy by giving everything He has to worship God so that men might be given new hearts. God calls us to return to Him, but we can’t. So he comes to us.