Messenger of Messiah

Posted: November 6, 2015 in Malachi, Route 66

Route 66: Malachi, “Messenger of Messiah”

Nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news.  We even get hesitant to share some messages, simply because we’re afraid of how people will respond.  There’s a reason the cliché says “Don’t shoot the messenger!”  Others, however, need to be shared no matter how hard it may be to hear.  Those diagnosed with cancer need to be told immediately so that they can figure out the proper treatments.  And of course, those headed for sinful destruction need to be told, so they can repent & turn around before it’s too late.

Throughout the Bible, God shows that He was always vocal with His people in regards to His messages.  The Bible itself IS the message of God, with His will written in black & white for anyone willing to take the time to read it.  God wanted His people to know His will, and He routinely sent messengers to speak it.

Malachi is one of those messengers.  In fact, his very name translates to “my messenger.”  It’s even possible that the book that we have is actually anonymous, and that the name refers to a title given to this prophet.  Whoever this man was, he was simply a messenger of the Lord God.  God had a message to give, and this man was the person to deliver it.

Interestingly enough, this messenger delivers a message about another Messenger to come.  Actually, there are two messengers to be expected in the future.  One is someone who comes in the role of Elijah, and the other is the Lord God Himself.  The Lord Messiah will come as a Messenger of God, bringing the message of God’s holiness and judgment.  The time was coming when the Jews would have to face God for their sins, and the message they needed to hear was this: repent, before it’s too late!  God had a plan for His people, having loved His people, but He would also judge them for their sins.  God was merciful in giving them a chance to get ready, so He gave them plenty of advance warning.  This prophecy is the message in advance.

BACKGROUND:
The Jews were slipping back to their old ways.  The proverbs say it so vividly, “As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly,” (Prov 26:11).  It was sin that took them into the Babylonian captivity, and although after 70 years away the people were back in the land, they once again started falling back into old sinful habits.  God knew this wasn’t going to change.  There would always be brief periods of repentance & revival, but it wouldn’t last.  That’s just the human condition.  That’s the way it was with the ancient Jews, and that’s the way it is with us.

From a cursory glance of the book, it might be difficult to actually place a date range on it.  After all, the messages of Jewish sin and the judgment of God are nothing new – this is the same thing that God had been telling His people for centuries.  Yet a closer look indicates that the book was indeed written after the Jewish return from Babylonian captivity.  1:7 refers to ongoing sacrifices, indicating a functioning temple system.  1:8 references a “governor” rather than a “king,” and even the word for “governor” has a foreign origin – perhaps Persian.  However, the biggest indicator of chronology is the description of the sins of the Jews.  The things for which God called the Jews to repentance, are the very things described at the end of the book of Nehemiah when Nehemiah writes of the sins of his people.

Recall that Nehemiah had specifically requested permission from the Persian king to travel to Jerusalem, upon hearing that the walls of the city still lay burning & in ruins.  Although many of the people had returned, they had just done the bare minimum work of reconstruction.  Prophets had already spoken to the people about rebuilding the temple (Haggai & Zechariah), and apparently they had gotten that much done, but not much more.  Their city was still unprotected, and marauders could potentially come in at any time and lay waste to all that had been done.  What the Jews needed was leadership, and God raised up that leader in Nehemiah.

Nehemiah got to Jerusalem & got to work.  Within 52 days, the wall had been built (despite opposition), and the people rejoiced.  Nehemiah stayed on for a time as the city’s governor, and then travelled back to Susa in Persia, in order to keep his word to the king (Neh 1:6,13:6).  It was during Nehemiah’s absence that things went to Hades in a handbasket.  Corruption had set in among the priests, the people had stopped bringing their tithes to the temple, and they also began intermarrying the pagan women around them.  Once Nehemiah returned, he took the people to the woodshed (so to speak), and tried to get things back on the right track.

The message of Malachi seems to have come during that in-between time.  While Nehemiah was gone, God was still speaking…though He wouldn’t for long.  God addressed these very issues of sin, called the people to repentance, and told them of His judgment to come.  However, all of that came within a context of love.  God had chosen the Jews & loved the Jews.  He had a grand plan for the Jews and would one day personally dwell within their midst.  All of those promises were still valid, but in the meantime they still needed to walk in holiness.  So God sent this message, and along with it, the message of future Messengers to come – ultimately of the Messiah.

SIGNIFICANCE
The book of Malachi is both canonically and chronologically the final book of the OT.  He is the final writing prophet, and the prophetic word of God would not be heard among the Jews again for 400 years.  That’s not to say that the Jewish people did nothing for 4 centuries, but there was no word from God during that time.  God certainly was active in keeping His promises.  He kept His people alive, despite great opposition (and even a preview of Antichrist and the abomination of desolation).  God did much to act, but He did not speak…not at least anything that was recorded.  The book of Malachi leaves the people of God on edge, with a word basically saying, “To be continued…” and then they wait.  They’re waiting for the continuing word, the continuing message, and ultimately, the Eternal Messiah.  Thus, this is a short book, but it’s massively weighty in regards to anticipation. 

(In that respect, the OT ends not much differently than the NT.  The OT ended with the message that the forerunner of the Messiah would be coming, so watch carefully.  The NT ends with the message that the Messiah Himself is coming back, so we still need to watch carefully.  Watch!)

Malachi is quoted 4 times in the NT, mostly in regards to John the Baptist fulfilling the role of Elijah, as the forerunner of the Messiah.  This is one of Malachi’s most important contributions to the Scripture, in that it gave a sign from which people could look for Messiah/Christ to come.  Modern Christians today tend to downplay the significance of John the Baptist, but it would have been impossible to overstate his importance to the 1st century Church.  John was so well-known that he is referenced in all four gospels, which were written in dates ranging from the 50’s-90’s, to people ranging from Jews to Gentiles.  All kinds of people had heard of the ministry of John the Baptist, and people were still converting based on his message well into the book of Acts.  John serves as a massive signpost to Jesus – truly the final OT prophet, though he never wrote a single word.  Malachi and Isaiah both prophesied of his role, with Malachi leaving people on edge to look for him.

Malachi is also quoted by the apostle Paul in regards to God’s sovereignty.  Does God have the right to choose whom He loves?  Yes, based on what God had to say about the comparison between Israel and Edom.  From Paul’s usage of that verse has come a lot of (unnecessary) controversy regarding God’s sovereignty and election.

Beyond that, Malachi addresses such things as God’s unchangeable nature (immutability), tithing, divorce, the Incarnation, the 2nd Coming, and much more.  It may be a tiny book, but it’s got a lot to offer!

GENERAL OUTLINE
Although some scholars divide Malachi into two parts, we’re going to see three basic divisions:

  • God’s love for Israel (1:1-5). This 1st tiny section really sets the tone for everything else that is to come.  God will have much to say about His judgment of their sin, but He first affirms that He loves His people.  Messages of rebuke are much easier to receive from those you know love you…and that’s what God tells the Jews.
  • Israel’s profanity towards God (1:6-2:17).  God loved them, but He wasn’t blind to their sin.  Concentrating on three main areas (offerings, priests, marriages), God lists off the various ways they had profaned His holiness.
  • God’s message to Israel (3:1-4:6).  Once God declares what He saw, He also declares what will come.  His messenger would come to prepare His way, and He Himself would come to cleanse His people.  The time for them to repent was now, and one day the Jews would not only see the holiness of God, but so would all the world.

God’s love for Israel
Introduction (1:1)
Unlike other OT prophets, Malachi says virtually nothing about himself.  There’s no mention of any kings under which he wrote (perhaps proof that there were no Jewish kings at the time), nor is there any mention of family background.  Again, his own name might not even be his proper birth-name, but a title given him by the Lord.  One tradition ascribes the book to Ezra, but that is highly unlikely.  Based off of the pattern shown in the rest of the OT Scriptures, in that every other prophetic writing began by introducing the actual prophet, it seems only reasonable to conclude that there was indeed a prophet whose name was (most appropriately) “My Messenger,” or Malachi.  מַלְאָכִֽי

There is perhaps one additional clue as to the timeframe seen in the introduction: this word was addressed to “Israel.”  There is no indication of a divided kingdom, or even a kingdom at all.  Instead, the people of Israel are addressed, perhaps showing that those divisions no longer mattered.  God had a word for His people, and He sent His messenger to give it.

  • In regards to his name, is that not how we want to be known as well?  There’s something wonderful about Malachi’s identity being wholly wrapped up in the message God had given him for the people.  When people heard him, they didn’t hear a celebrity or anyone else – they heard the word of God.  How wonderful it would be for us to be so transparent that when people saw us, they saw Jesus!  The NT says that we are the aroma/fragrance of Christ (2 Cor 2:15) – because of our message of the gospel, everything we say and do is supposed to cause people to smell Jesus, as He effuses from us.  At the end of the day, we (especially as a church congregation) don’t want to be known for our name, but for Jesus’ name.  We just want to be His messengers. 

Israel vs. Edom (1:2-3)
Again, God had some harsh words coming for Israel, but before He gets to it, He first affirms His love for His people.  [Sandwich principle]  Here, God comes straight-out and tells His people plainly that He loves them.  The only problem was that they didn’t believe it.  God knew that they would question His love for them, if for no other reason than because so many of the promises God had made to them were as of yet unfulfilled.  God had promised a world-wide kingdom – it hadn’t come.  God had promised to personally come to them – He hadn’t come.  At this point in the life of Israel, the people were back in the land, but they were small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  They didn’t even rule themselves independently.  Where was this great love of God for Israel?

God’s answer was simple: look around you.  They were back in the land.  That itself was evidence of God’s love.  The contrast was with Edom.  Historically, Esau & Jacob were twin brothers, although only one received the Messianic covenant of God (Jacob/Israel).  Thus what happened to their descendants?  Both nations were conquered by Babylon, but only one nation was back.  The Jews had returned to their homeland, but not the Edomites.  This was proof of God’s love for them.  God had chosen the Jews over the Edomites, and it was God’s right (and joy) to do so.

It’s that issue of God’s sovereign choice which Paul picked up on in his letter to the Romans.  Speaking of God’s election of Jacob: Romans 9:13–16, "(13) As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” (14) What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! (15) For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” (16) So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy."  From this has erupted all kinds of controversy in regards to Calvinism, predestination, and the like.  The truth is that all we can say assuredly from this passage is that God chose to love Jacob, and God has the right to choose to love anyone He wishes.  God doesn’t have to love anyone.  God doesn’t have to show mercy to anyone.  This is a choice that He makes, and it is wonderful!

  • Does this mean that there are certain people in the world incapable of receiving God’s mercies?  Actually, this Scripture doesn’t address that at all.  It says nothing about the choices of Esau/Edom to refuse repentance, nor anyone else in the world.  It says nothing from the human point of view, but speaks only of God’s point of view.  God chose to love, and that alone is enough to make our minds spin!
  • Understand that we are no more deserving of God’s love than Israel…or Edom, or Babylon, or any other nation of the world.  We all deserve His judgment.  The idea that He would love us at all is amazing.  Yet He does, and all the evidence we need is in the cross and resurrection.

God’s plan for Edom (1:4-5)
God wasn’t quite done speaking about Edom.  Edom had plans for itself, to rebuild…but those were contrary to the plans of God for them.  As we’ve seen many times in the past, God is God over every nation of the world; not just Israel.  God would not allow Edom to rebuild, and this was historically proven when the land Edom once inhabited was taken over by the Nabatean empire.  What was once known as Edom became the people of Idumea, and they ended up moving into the southern areas of Israel during the years of the Romans.

So God loved His people, and the evidence was there.  However, the people did not act in love towards their God.  They engaged in profane sin, and God goes on to list it…

Israel’s profanity towards God
Profane offerings (1:6-14)
Notice the dialogue that takes place throughout Malachi.  Over & over again, God lays out a truth, and anticipates a response from the people along the lines of “How so?”  Earlier, God said He loved Israel, and the question back was “In what way?”  It’s the same thing here.  God deserved the honor and reverence of the people, but declares that He was despised by them instead.  They ask (1:6) “In what way have we despised Your name?

The answer was seen in their offerings.  Yes, the people brought offerings to a functioning temple, but what they brought was worthless.  They brought the least of the flocks: the lame, blind, and sick (1:8).  If the Persian governor showed up, the people wouldn’t think about giving him a gift of a disabled sheep – yet they didn’t hesitate to do the same with the Lord God.

Why should God accept such a worthless offering from them?  This was all vanity – all ritualism, and God declares He wouldn’t accept it.  Malachi 1:10, "(10) “Who is there even among you who would shut the doors, So that you would not kindle fire on My altar in vain? I have no pleasure in you,” Says the Lord of hosts, “Nor will I accept an offering from your hands."

  • God isn’t interested in ritualism for the sake of ritualism.  He isn’t interested in an offering that is a throw-away thought.  The people may have walked through the steps of obedience, but their hearts were far from Him.  We can so easily do the same thing as NT believers!  We can pray the same perfunctory prayers we always pray, without thinking it through.  We can sing songs simply because music is playing, without meaning the words.  That’s not true worship, but that’s so often what we offer.  God deserves something more!  If a special guest arrived at our home, we would speak to them sincerely & desire to engage with them.  How much more with our Lord & Savior?

As for Israel, God was reminding them of something important: He loved them, having chosen them out of all the nations of the world.  But they weren’t the only nation in the world.  One day God’s name would be great among every nation (1:11,14).  Israel didn’t want to lose their opportunity to worship Him now!

Profane priests (2:1-9)
God moves from the offerings brought to the temple, to those who received the offerings in the temple.  The priests were just as profane as the blind & lame animals to be sacrificed.  God had made a covenant with the house of Levi for a perpetual priesthood (2:4), but this was a covenant that was being despised by the current descendants.  This current generation of priests was no different from the sons of Eli (1 Sam 2).  They did not seek the Lord, did not know the law of God, and they caused people to stumble in their worship (2:7-9).  The Levitical priests were supposed to be examples to the rest of Israel of how to worship God – they were supposed to be able to teach the people of Israel the truth of God.  As it turned out, they were incapable of either, not caring anything about God.

  • We do not have a Levitical priesthood within the Church, but ALL of us within the Church are priests.  We are a royal priesthood of believers (1 Pet 2:9), and just like the Levites were supposed to represent God to Israel, so do we represent Jesus to the world.  When our own personal walk is profane, then we are no good for the spread of the gospel.  The mission is too important for us to let our sin get in the way!
  • We’re all priests, but there definitely is special application to those in the ministry.  Those who teach the word ought to know the word.  Those who preach Christ ought to be careful not to cause others to stumble.  There is indeed a judgment coming, and those who teach the Scripture will be held to a stricter judgment (Jas 3:1).

Profane marriages (2:10-17)
The final area of profanity God points out is the defilement of marriage.  God desired purity for His people, and part of that was only possible if Jews married other Jews.  Invariably, when the men of Israel intermarried with the pagan cultures around them, it was the Israelites who fell into sin.  (Solomon being a prime example!)  The Jews of Malachi’s day ended engaging in this same folly (2:11).

Beyond intermarriage, there was also an issue of rampant infidelity and divorce.  Whether or not this was related to the intermarriage is not said, but it seems to be implied.  Perhaps many of those who married pagan women first cheated upon their Jewish wives with them, and then divorced their Jewish wives to go after the pagans.  Again, this isn’t directly said, but the text leaves open the possibility.  In any case, adultery & fornication was far too common among the (supposed) people of God, and it led to divorce after divorce.

Likewise today, divorce is far too common.  Even if some of the statistics regarding divorce among Christians are incorrect, simple observation shows Christian divorce to be rampant.  ANY divorce is sad.  ALL divorce grieves the heart of God.  Even when divorce takes place under Biblical allowances, it’s still tragic that it became necessary in the first place.  How does God see divorce?  He hates it.  Malachi 2:16, "(16) “For the Lord God of Israel says That He hates divorce, For it covers one’s garment with violence,” Says the Lord of hosts. Therefore take heed to your spirit, That you do not deal treacherously.”" Divorce destroys families, hurts children, hurts people, and rips apart covenants made with the Lord God.  Divorce is tragic…always.

  • That’s not to say divorce is unforgiveable.  There is forgiveness at the cross for even the worst of our bad choices.  We just want to be careful to hate the things God hates and love the things God loves.  God hates divorce, but He loves grace and reconciliation.

God’s message to Israel
The coming messenger(s) (3:1-5)
So God had seen the sin of His people, and now wanted to make it clear that He had a plan to deal with it.  He would do so by sending His messenger.  Interestingly, there are two messengers mentioned – both in vs. 1: Malachi 3:1, "(1) “Behold, I send My messenger, And he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, Will suddenly come to His temple, Even the Messenger of the covenant, In whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” Says the Lord of hosts."

The NKJV & HCSB indicate these messengers as being two different individuals by the way the 2nd “Messenger” is capitalized, but that’s not evident in all Bible translations (and there isn’t any capitalization in the Hebrew text at all).  So how do we know this is referencing two different people?  First, we can look at the context.  God says how He will send His messenger, who will prepare the way, then He speaks of the Lord who comes to HIS temple, and this Lord is described as the “Messenger of the covenant.”  In fact, vs. 2-3 go on to speak about how no one can endure the “day of His coming,” as He will judge like a “refiner and purifier of silver.”  That is descriptive of the judgment of the Lord God; not a mere prophet (even as great as a prophet might be).

The second way we can know this refers to two different individuals (and not only a single reference to the Lord God) is because Jesus personally interprets this verse for us.  Matthew 11:10,13-14 "(10) For this is he of whom it is written: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.’ … (13) For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. (14) And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come."  Thus the 1st messenger in 3:1 is John the Baptist – as told us directly by Jesus.  The 2nd Messenger is someone who would come suddenly to His temple – something that John never did (he ministered in the wilderness by the Jordan river), and he could never have claimed the temple as his own, even if he did minister there.

What is this saying?  It’s teaching not only of the ministry of the John the Baptist, but also of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.  For the Lord to be seen by the Jews to come suddenly to the temple is to speak of a physical appearance of God.  Right here is a pointer to the Deity and Incarnation of Jesus, seen not only as the Messiah of the Jews, but the God of Israel.

Of course the main point is that God was coming, so the people needed to be ready.  That’s why He called them to repent…

Call to repentance (3:6-18)

  • The call (6-7).  God first invites the people to repent.  God had been gracious to their forefathers in the past, and God would be gracious to them now.  God had made a covenant with their forefathers in ancient times, and God would not break it today.  Why?  (6) “For I am the LORD, I do not change.”  God is immutable, unchangeable in His very nature.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  God was just as loving & merciful in the OT as He is seen in the NT.  And the same is true in regards to His holiness & righteousness.  He never changes.  (And praise God for it!  Imagine if God was as fickle as we are!)
  • Tithing (8-12).  God already pointed out the profanity of their sacrifices; now He points out that they had stopped bringing in their tithes.  Yet this was something that they could quickly change.  And in fact, this was something God invited them to test.  They experienced hardship now because they had withdrawn themselves from God.  But what would happen if they trusted God with everything, including their economics?  God would pour out blessings upon them!  God wanted His people to trust Him, and He gave them the opportunity to do so through the tithe.
    • This verse is often taken out of context in regards to NT giving.  The principle is true; the specific commandment is not.  The tithe certainly preceded Israel (it’s seen in Abraham), but this specific tithe was commanded for Israel in regards to their national covenant with God.  What IS commanded for us in the NT is free, cheerful, abundant giving.  Ultimately, it’s an act of worship; not a get-rich-quick scheme.
  • Service (13-18).  Not only could the people repent in regards to their giving, but they could do the same in regards to their service.  At the time, they believed it was “useless to serve God” (3:14).  Like so many of us today, they looked around & wondered why it was the wicked seemed to prosper.  Earlier, they asked “Where is the God of justice?” (2:17), and now they believed that it was the wicked & proud that seemed to be blessed (3:15).  Yet God reminded them that He knew them.  He knew who it was that truly feared the Lord (2:16), worshipping Him & meditating upon His name.  The worshippers of God had their own names written in God’s book, and God promised that they were His.  They would be rewarded and made the jewels of God (3:17).
    • The point?  Trust the justice of God.  Wicked people DO sometimes prosper today, but they won’t in eternity.  One day everything is going to be made plain, and God will know those who worship & serve Him in spirit & truth.

The Day of the Lord (4:1-6)
About that day of judgment, God goes on to make it clear.  All those proud wicked people will be burned up like stubble (4:1).  They will be consumed in the day that the Lord Jesus returns in power, glory, and His wrath.  None of the wicked will be able to stand, and everything about them will be cut of (root & branch, 4:1).  But those who worship God will be upheld by Him!  They will be blessed by Him!  Malachi 4:2–3, "(2) But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings; And you shall go out And grow fat like stall-fed calves. (3) You shall trample the wicked, For they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet On the day that I do this,” Says the Lord of hosts."  This is the promise of God Almighty!  He (Jesus, the Sun of Righteousness) will heal every hurt, and He will bless His people.

In the meantime, the people needed to wait.  That day was coming, and God told them exactly what to look for.  Rather, God told them WHO to look for: the 1st messenger of 3:1.  Malachi 4:5–6, "(5) Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. (6) And he will turn The hearts of the fathers to the children, And the hearts of the children to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse."  When the Israelites saw the return of Elijah, that is the day that they would know their redemption was nigh.  When the messenger in the spirit and power of Elijah came, preaching repentance, and causing people to repent (especially in regards to their families), then they could know the 2nd Messenger, the Messiah was at hand.

And He was!  John came on the scene preaching the Kingdom of God, and the coming King – and that’s exactly Who came.  Jesus arrived as the Ultimate Messenger of God.  And just as Malachi indicated, He came once with the message of repentance, but there is still a second coming in the future, when He’ll come with power & judgment.  Are we watching?  Are we ready?

Conclusion:
At the end of 4:6, the word of God would be silent for 400 years – but when it came again, it would pick up exactly where God left off.  God told the people to get ready & watch for His Messenger, and that is who came.

In the meantime, they had the opportunity to repent, and it wasn’t one to waste.  God was well aware of their profanity & worthless worship, and He knew that His judgment of them was well-deserved.  But that’s not what God wanted to do.  God loved His people, and He wanted them to repent…so He gave them every opportunity to do so.

Thankfully, He gives us the same opportunity!

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