(A short study of the Book of Malachi)
“You also say, ‘My, how tiresome it is!…” Mal. 1:13 (NASV)
In the prophet Malachi’s day, some people were tired of their religion. Some in Malachi’s time were saying that it was futile to serve God. Because they were bored with their religion, God was also becoming bored with them. God even desired that someone would shut the Temple doors so that these bored people would not continue to light useless fires on his altar (1:10).
That’s what they were doing. Now how about us today? It may be that some of us are a little bored with our religion. Is our religion tired, and are we tired of it? Malachi gives us some secrets to revitalize tired religion.
GET THE FEAR OF THE LORD BACK INTO OUR FAITH
The Bible tells us that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…” (Ps. 111:10). It seems that real faith has a certain fear and awe about it. The current “Sugar Daddy” approach to God that we see in much of Christianity is disconcerting. The prophet Malachi tells us that the first priest of God, Levi, stood in awe of God (Mal. 2:5). This awe is seen throughout the Bible. When men encountered God in the Old Testament they were almost terrified at his presence. The same is true in the New Testament. The early church stood in awe of God. This is attested to by the many times that words like “wonder” and “amazement” are used in the book of Acts. Because Christians were in awe and wonder, others soon began to be in awe and wonder, too.
God says “…where is the honor due me?….” (Mal. 1:6) If God is really our Father – if he is our Master, then he deserves this honor. The prophet tells us that God’s name is great among the nations from the rising to the setting of the sun (1:11). But is it great among God’s own people? For those who do not honor God we are told that there may be a curse upon their blessings (2:2). God may also curse their families (2:3), as he did in the case of Eli the priest. This man honored his evil sons more than he honored God. The Lord said of him, “…Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained” (1 Sam. 2:30).
GIVE GOD YOUR VERY BEST
The religion of the Old Testament was a costly religion. King David once said, “…I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Sam. 24:24). Today in our giving we strain to reach the tithe or ten percent. Old Testament religion started at this point. After the tithe, there was the Sabbatical year. When one lived in an agricultural society and did not farm his land one year out of every seven, that is effectively another 14.2 percent offered up to God. This does not consider that on the Sabbatical, all Hebrew slaves were freed and all debts to fellow Hebrews were canceled (Deut. 15:1,12). If one did not harvest the corners of his fields or go back for second pickings (Lev. 19:9), there is possibly another 5-10 percent. For those who kept the Sabbath, that lost day of production amounted to another 14.2 percent. Then there was the year of Jubilee every fifty years. At that time all property reverted back to its original family ownership and all Hebrew servants were set free. That might amount to another 2-10 percent, depending upon how wealthy a family happened to be. Of course we are already getting up into the area of 50-60 percent of total income offered to God.
All this does not count the offerings. There were the offerings of the first-born. Plus, all males were required to go up to Jerusalem three times each year (Ex. 23:17), and they were forbidden to appear before the Lord empty (Deut. 16:16). They had to bring animals from their flocks each time. Then there were the whole offerings, cereal offerings, drink offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, and trespass offerings (Lev. 1-5). All these offerings would easily total up to another 5-10 percent of a family’s income. Bear in mind also that in those days animals represented wealth. They were the only farm machinery people had at that time. Sometimes they were also a means of transportation. The offering up of choice beef cattle in that day was a little like offering up one’s car today. Imagine going out and setting fire to your BMW and offering it up to God for your sins. Well, I say that if we had to offer in that way today there would be a lot less sin! In those days you couldn’t just offer God any old thing. It had to be the very best you had.
These same concepts were carried over into the New Testament. As Christians, we believe that God gave the very best he had in sending his only Son as an offering for us. The Bible says in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” It is not surprising to see New Testament people responding to this costly grace by freely offering up their houses and lands. They, in fact, were probably giving close to 100% and loving it. They were quite confident that God would re-supply them with whatever they really needed.
But the men in Malachi’s times were cheats and they were cursed because of it (1:14). They gave God crippled, injured, diseased, and blemished animals (1:13b). When one of them saw a sick or half dead lamb he probably said, “Oh Lord, I feel like its time to make another offering!” On top of this, these men were robbing God with their regular tithes and offerings (Mal. 3:9-10). It is interesting to see in Malachi, how curses and blessings always have a way of following disobedience or obedience in these areas (v.9).
The concept of sacrifice has not passed away. Real religion still demands it. There is the sacrifice and sanctification of time (Eph. 5:16). There are the sacrifices of prayer and praise (Heb. 13:15). Fasting might also be considered a form of sacrifice that may be of great use for us today in our spiritual struggles. Then there is the concept of the whole life offered up to God as a living sacrifice in Romans 12:1-2. If we want to know how meaningful our religion is, we should count up what it is costing us, and that will be a good indicator. Expensive religion holds our interest and devotion, but cheap religion quickly becomes tired religion.
GET BACK ON THE STRAIGHT AND NARROW
Malachi calls us all to get back on the straight and narrow way, and he indicates several things we can do to accomplish this. We can quit our complaining for starters. Malachi’s men were saying of the Lord’s table, “It is defiled,” and of his food, “It is contemptible” (1:12). They were moaning about God’s service and saying of it, “What a burden!” (1:13). By their attitudes and teachings they were turning people away from the paths of God and causing many to stumble (2:8). God’s people should be messengers of the Almighty and be able to turn others to righteousness (2:6-7). Their lips should preserve knowledge, and people should be able to come to them for instruction? Is that true with us today? Or are we turning people away from the paths of righteousness by our attitudes and actions?
Malachi’s men were breaking faith with one another (2:10). We must realize that faith and faithfulness are one in the same. When we make a promise we need to stand by it even when it hurts (Ps. 15:4). These men were also casually breaking the marriage covenant (2:14). God made marriage to be a beautiful and lasting thing. It can be said with great biblical certainty that God hates divorce (2:16). Divorce works destruction with God’s plans for the human race. He desires that marriages continue and that godly seed be produced by these unions (2:15). Unfortunately what many have produced today is a great deal of destruction and blood-guiltiness by not heeding God’s commands in this area (Ps. 51:14). God says, “…I hate divorce… and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence…” (2:16).
These men were calling evil good and good evil (2:17). There is certainly much of this going on today even in religious circles. Yet, God says to them and to us, “I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me…” (3:5). It really doesn’t matter what innocent names we give to sin. God always calls it what it is.
GET READY FOR THE TEST
The inescapable message of Malachi is that the day is coming that will try our lives. Quite simply, it seems that God in his wisdom has a plan to burn evil out of the earth, while at the same time leaving the good (4:1). God’s prophet asks in Malachi 3:2-3, “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire …he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver….”
Yes, it seems that God is planning to destroy the world while leaving the righteous in it, and while purging them. This was exactly what happened in Noah’s day. Along this line, he assures us that the righteous will never be removed from the earth (Prov. 10:30). Gods end-time plan may be much like the pressure cookers we use in home canning. When the heat and pressure mount, the bacteria are destroyed and the jars are sealed. What destroys the one, preserves the other. It seems that much of the Bible is written to prepare God’s people to survive this “evil day” that will come upon the earth for the purpose of rooting out and destroying evil men.
Well, after the heat of the end days, God’s faithful people will go out into a new and purified world like calves released from the stall. In that day the wicked will be but ashes underneath their feet, and they shall trample them down (4:3). For these the Sun of righteousness will arise with healing in his wings (4:2). God says of these faithful ones in Malachi 3:17, “‘They will be mine, ‘ says the LORD Almighty, ‘in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. ‘”
In light of these things, the prophet Malachi issues an invitation to all of us. The invitation is one of the clearest and simplest in the whole Bible. God says, “…Return to me and I will return to you,”...(3:7).
No matter how long it took to leave God, it takes only a moment to get back. Then we will not be troubled with tired religion anymore. In Isaiah 40:31, that great prophet adds, “but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
This updated article is presented courtesy of Bridges For Peace, Jerusalem.
Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0