Lessons from Malachi

Our exhortation this month is centered on the book of Malachi whose ministry was some 80 years after the return of about 42,000 persons from exile. During that time, Haggai and Zechariah had prophesied, the temple had been rebuilt on a much smaller scale, and a second wave of exiles had returned under Ezra. There had been periods of great rededication and celebration, but by Malachi’s time the spark had diminished and the zeal died out.

A message of no compromise

Sacrifices were still being presented by the people and offered by the priests, idolatry was not in evidence, but little care was taken by the priests and the sacrifices were useless and absolutely of no effect.

With these deplorable conditions, Malachi, the messenger of God, sent a stern appeal, first to the priests and then to the people. The prophet was unwilling to accept a compromising attitude on the part of the nation. He was unwilling to adapt the principles of truth to the particular circumstances of the day. Whatever the situation, they must honor the word of God and change their way of life to conform to the requirements of God.

Priests & people disdained God

As we read in Malachi 1:6, the prophet first brought his message to the priests who showed contempt for the name of God. While a son honored his father and a servant his master, they showed no reverential fear for God.

“Wherein have we despised thy name?” was their plea. In direct violation of the law of Moses (cf. Lev. 1:2-3,10;22:19-22), they offered imperfect and flawed animals for sacrifices. God told them plainly, they wouldn’t offer second-rate merchandise to their governor, why did they think God would accept it?

The people were also to blame. They were bringing imperfect animals from their flocks. Obviously an animal without defects or blemishes would be more valuable in the market place. If they could pass off one of their less valuable animals as their offering, they would be money ahead. After all, they were still offering an animal from their flock, weren’t they?! The carcass had some blemishes, but when the offering was burnt, who would know? God would know! He had said, “Ye shall not offer unto the LORD that which is bruised, or crushed, or broken, or cut…they shall not be accepted” (Lev. 22:24-25).

Priests and people treated the whole ritual with contempt. “Ye said also, behold, what a weariness is it! and ye have snuffed at it, (NIV – sniffed at it contemptuously), saith the LORD of hosts…Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king, says the LORD Almighty, and my name is to be feared among the nations” (Mal. 1:13,14).

A caution to ourselves

These words of God through the prophet Malachi were primarily a message to Israel. But certainly they are words to believers of all ages. We are not required to bring animals to the priest as a sacrifice. We have redemption available through our Lord Jesus Christ, who was the perfect sacrifice and gave his life that we might have our sins forgiven and be granted salvation.

But we do need to be aware of the kind of service we give to God. We can be guilty of not giving our best to God, of keeping quality time for ourselves and giving God what’s left over. We need to review these terrible indictments that God pronounced on the Israelites and see if they could possibly be directed to us.

God said, you honor other people, but where is my honor. We honor our boss at work; if we didn’t we might lose our job. We honor our teachers and professors at school, our mothers, fathers, the ruling authorities, but do we honor God first in our lives? Do we praise His name in our hearts and lives, living a life in which we ask for His guidance in all the things we undertake? It’s a matter of giving God our best in everything we do, as well as doing our readings, studying His word, attending Bible classes and Sunday worship and being instant in prayer.

And we know how some of these things go. The daily readings, for example. Perhaps after dinner we look at our watch — it’s 6:30. We think, “Let’s get the readings done now because there’s a television program I want to watch at 7″ Some days it’s as though we have this obligation to do the readings and if we get them done, well and good; we can go on with the things of the evening.

Another example is our prayers, perhaps in the morning. We know we should pray, but we’re running late so we run through a brief recital of things, only half thinking of what we’re saying.

Sunday mornings may suffer the most as far as not giving God our best — not all Sundays, but some. We may come on Sunday morning with all kinds of problems or things in our daily life that are troubling us and need solutions. We just don’t seem to be able to concentrate that particular Sunday. Our minds are a thousand miles away. If that’s the case, our worship is no better than the Israelites to whom Malachi directed his message. We don’t want it ever to get to the point where we say, “What a weariness it is to go to meeting. There are so many other things I could be doing.”

How to help ourselves do better

In reading the word, we need to focus on the message, not just reading a chapter without paying attention to what we’re reading. We can ask as we’re reading, “What does God want me to learn here?” We need to concentrate on the content of the chapter.

In our prayers perhaps, before we start, we should first think what we are doing, to whom we are addressing our prayer and what we want to accomplish. More importantly, we should ask ourselves what God wants us to accomplish in this life. Our prayers don’t have to be formal. They can be spontaneous prayers offered on the spur of the moment while we’re going to work or school, or washing the dishes or weeding the garden. Perhaps this would bring us a little closer to the admonition to pray without ceasing.

On Sunday mornings we should think about how we approach the memorial service. We must put aside the things of our everyday life, just let them go for a few minutes, and concentrate on the importance of giving God our best.

We hope to be priests

In reading the admonitions directed at the priests of Malachi’s day, it’s important to remember we hope to be kings and priests in the kingdom of God. If found faithful, we will be among God’s immortalized saints whose job it will be to lead the mortal population of the earth to the knowledge of God. We should be preparing now for our role; in fact, in many ways we are acting as priests now as we try to show people God’s purpose with the earth and lead them to the hope of the Gospel.

As future priests, we must heed the words through Malachi: “The priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth” (Mal. 2:7). And as verse 8 goes on to say, we should never depart out of the way or cause others to stumble at the law.

Return to God

There are many other things we could consider in this short book, but as a final consideration look at 3:7 and the appeal, “Return unto me, and I will return unto you.”

We may say that any appeal to return to God doesn’t apply to us as we have already come to God. We have put on Christ in baptism and are now in Christ. But perhaps we still need to return — to turn from the world completely and get closer to God.

Have we robbed God? We may ask, “Wherein have we robbed God?” He responds, “In tithes and offerings.” Are we guilty of doing this? Have we stopped bringing tithes and offerings? When we think of tithes, we think of monetary tithes, of giving some percent of what we earn to the ecclesia or to other needs in God’s service. But perhaps we can extend this beyond a monetary tithe to the amount of time that we give God each day. What if we gave God 10% of our time? Ten percent of 24 hours is about two-and-a-half hours a day. Is it possible to do this, to give God this much time per day? On Sundays we have it covered but what about during the week? How can we spend 2 1/2 hours a day on the things of God? There are many things we can do: Bible readings, prayers, Bible class, Bible study, phone calls or letters, correspondence course teaching, listening to Bible school tapes, showing kindness, forgiveness, being compassionate, etc. If we do bring tithes to God, He says we will be blessed. As we read in chapter 3:10, God is ready to bless us if we will turn to Him.

A message of hope

The message of God through the prophet Malachi is certainly a stern one. God could have written them off, they were so corrupt, so uncaring about their service to God. But the message of hope is that He didn’t. He says to Israel, “I have loved you, saith the LORD.” And thus He pleaded with them to return to Him and He would shower them with blessings.

That’s the message to us. God has loved us, having given His son as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. He wants us to return to Him; to bring Him our tithes and offerings. “And prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out such a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Mal. 3:10).

Bill Collister, Verdugo Hills, CA