Last words are important words. They can linger in our hearts for a long time, especially when they come from a good friend or loved one. Sometimes we must hear their last words and wishes in a written document known as their last will and testament.
During the long time between the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, the people of God heard no word from heaven—nothing but divine silence! The last message they heard came from a prophet named Malachi. Four hundred years later, a baptizer appeared as one crying in the wilderness and broke the silence by serving as Messiah’s messenger. John the Baptist’s arrival fulfilled Old Testament prophecies made by Malachi and Isaiah (3:1; Isaiah 40:3-5). “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” John said while pointing his disciples to Jesus (John 1:29).
Malachi’s words lingered in the hearts of the Jewish people for four centuries. His emphasis was to make great the Lord’s name. “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts” (1:11).
Malachi gets right to the point and avoids introducing himself or linking his ministry to a particular king (1:1). For that reason, we know little about this Minor Prophet. However, we can use internal evidence to approximate the date of his ministry (435 B.C.) and create a vague personal profile.
Malachi’s name means “Messenger of Yahweh.” Jewish tradition says he was a member of the Great Synagogue, which help preserve the Holy Scriptures. He used a unique question-and-answer method, where Yahweh engaged in disputes with the Jewish community that returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. Those disputes raised issues with how the ancient Jews doubted God’s love (1:1-5), dishonored God’s name (1:6-2:9), broke God’s covenant (2:10-16), questioned God’s justice (2:17-3:5), and robbed God’s tithe (3:6-12). At the end of the book, Malachi looked ahead prophetically and urged them to remember God’s plan (3:13-4:6). Let’s take a closer look.
Doubting God’s Love
Judah’s situation had deteriorated so much that they began doubting God’s love (1:1-5). Can you blame them for how they felt? The Babylonian exile plus their current weakness and poverty under Persian domination was enough to make them believe that Yahweh had deserted them. However, God reassured them of His love for Israel with a stunning statement about Isaac’s twin boys, “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert” (1:2-3).
How quickly they forgot that the Lord’s prophet, Obadiah, predicted Edom’s doom. At the same time, the Lord returned the descendants of Jacob to Jerusalem after the exile, a sure sign of His loyal love for Israel.[i] Have difficult circumstances made you doubt God’s love for you? Remember this: No truth is more established in the Bible than God’s love for us (John 3:16).
Dishonoring God’s Name
God loves Israel and us, but He expects His people to honor His name (1:6-2:9). However, worshippers in post-exilic Jerusalem did the opposite; they dishonored God’s name. The Lord begins the dispute in 1:6 by saying, “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name.”
Instead of giving their best to the Lord, the corrupt priests offered diseased and disfigured animals for sacrifice at the temple, and then they complained about their worship experience. Picture a sacrificial lamb named Lucky with a patch over his eye and a hitch in his get-a-long. “Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts” (1:8).
That reminds me of a story I heard about a woman who was getting ready to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner for her family. She noticed a Butterball turkey at the bottom of her freezer and pulled it out. She was shocked when she realized it had been sitting there for fifty years. Hesitant to thaw the turkey, cook it, and feed it to her family, she decided to call the company’s hotline and ask for their advice. The hotline operator had never received such an inquiry and put the woman on hold. A few minutes later, the operator returned and said, “I spoke to my supervisor. She said it would be okay to serve the turkey as long as you prepared it according to the instructions on the label. However, we cannot guarantee the taste.” The woman thought for a moment and then replied, “Okay, that’s kind of what I thought. I’ll just donate the turkey to my church.” Now you know why I am not a big fan of church potluck dinners.
Having no pleasure in the worship led by the remnant that returned to Jerusalem, the Lord threatened to shut the doors of the temple, “for my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts” (1:10-11). Furthermore, the priests who led the remnant favored ritualism over real, authentic worship, which became the precursor to legalistic Judaism developed by the Pharisees during the intertestamental period, whom Jesus rebuked vigorously.
Breaking God’s Covenant
The third dispute the Lord had with the Jewish remnant was in direct relation to the covenant they made with God and the human relationships they formed (2:10-16). Those who had returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity began to marry people who worshiped foreign gods, which was strictly forbidden by the Mosaic covenant. Even the New Testament instructs us not to be “unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14).
More so, divorce had become as common as a wildflower in the fields of the Negev. Because the Lord created marriage as a covenant, not a civil contract that one can easily dispose of, He expressed strong words toward those who divorced, associating their actions with violence. The New American Standard translation of the Bible renders 2:16 this way, “‘For I hate divorce,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘and him who covers his garment with violence,’ says the Lord of armies. ‘So be careful about your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.’”
Questioning God’s Justice
The fourth dispute begins in 2:17, “You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?” Can you hear the echo of Isaiah’s woe years earlier? “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). The Lord does not change.
Yahweh promises to send His messenger to “prepare the way before me” (3:1-4). Yes, justice is coming! “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” Like a refiner of fire and a purifier of soap and silver, the Lord will cleanse the worship practices of His people. Furthermore, His justice will fall upon those who oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, workers, and more (3:5).
Robbing God’s Tithe
The Lord’s aimed His fifth dispute with the Jewish remnant at their giving practices (3:6-12). Through Malachi, the Lord rebuked them for following in the footsteps of their disobedient forefathers and implored His people to return to Him. “But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions” (3:7-8). The Lord said the whole nation was cursed, not blessed, because they had withheld the tithe. The prophet Haggai rebuked them with a similar message about their misplaced financial priorities. Then the Lord said pointedly through Malachi,
“Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” 3:10
The Lord told the Israelites to put Him to the test financially! In other words, if you cannot trust God with your money, test Him by giving ten percent of your next paycheck, and then see what He does. God promised to not only pour out a blessing from the windows of heaven until He meets your need, but also “rebuke the devourer for you” (3:11).[ii]
Much debate exists about whether tithing—the practice of giving at least ten percent of the money you earn to the Lord—is for today’s believers in Jesus Christ. My personal study of the Bible on financial stewardship has led me to the conviction that tithing is the biblical starting point in our giving. We are also encouraged to give free will offerings in addition to the tithe (2 Chronicles 29, 2 Corinthians 8-9). Nobody in the Bible was ever considered generous who gave less than ten percent, and many gave more, including the widow and Barnabas (Mark 12:41-44; Acts 4:36-37).
Tithing was a lifestyle practiced by Abraham four hundred and thirty years before Moses introduced the Sinai law, which included tithing and expanded it as a way of funding the theocracy the Lord established for His people.[iii] As New Testament believers and disciples of Jesus Christ, we do not tithe because we are under the law of Moses, any more than Abraham did for that same reason; rather, tithing is an act of worship. By tithing, we walk by faith, honor the Lord with our wealth (Proverbs 3:9), and acknowledge that all we possess belongs to Him (Psalm 24:1).[iv
Remembering God’s Plan
Malachi completes his ministry, ends the time of the prophets, and closes the Old Testament Christian canon by encouraging the Jewish remnant to compile a book of remembrance (3:13-18). He does this in response to their complaint that “it is vain to serve God.” The Lord said otherwise by showing them “the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.”
Through His prophet, the Lord goes on to talk about a day when arrogant evildoers will “burn like an oven” before the Lord and become “stubble” (4:1). On the same day, He says, “You who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings” (4:2). In other words, serving the Lord is not vain but valuable. Big, bold, and bright will be the blessing of the Lord on those who fear Him.
After a final encouragement to obey the Mosaic law, Malachi closes with an enigmatic reference to the prophet Elijah appearing “before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes” (4:5). Is this a reference to John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah and one of two witnesses who appear at the end of the age? (Matthew 17:12-13, Revelation 11:3-12).
This last word from Malachi would linger in the hearts of the Jews for at least the next four centuries. With or without them and us, God will make His name great on this earth.
[i] The descendants of Esau were the Edomites. The apostle Paul quotes Malachi 1:2-3 in Romans 9:13 to show that not all of Abraham’s physical descendants are part of the true Israel, which is something to consider when examining the conflicts in the Middle East today.
[ii] The devil will mess with your finances until he has you in financial bondage. However, tithing puts you on a God’s pathway to financial freedom I believe the Bible defines financial freedom this way: Free of debt (Proverbs 22:7), free from the love of money (Hebrews 13:5), free to give generously (2 Corinthians 8-9), and free to have fun.
[iii] Abraham gave ten percent of the spoils of war to King Melchizedek of Salem, which became Jerusalem (Genesis 14:20). According to the writer of Hebrews, King Melchizedek was an Old Testament type of Christ (Hebrews 7).
[iv] We are stewards of the Lord’s wealth, not owners. I view tithing as a floor, not a ceiling, for New Testament believers who are always encouraged to grow in the grace of giving.