The Agora
Bible Commentary

1 2 3 4

Malachi 1

Mal 1:1

See Lesson, Prophet, the.

See Lesson, Minor prophets, and their messages.

See Lesson, Post-exile period, dates.

Mal 1: "With its clear insight into the real needs of the times, its stern reproof even of the priests themselves, its bold exposition of eternal truth and of the certainty of ultimate national judgment, and its vindication of righteousness, the series of prophetic books of the OT closes with Malachi in a manner not unworthy of its lofty predecessors. Contemporary with Nehemiah, the prophet Malachi brought the reality of the poor spiritual condition to the nation that had fallen into apostasy during the time when Nehemiah returned to a 'far country' (Persia) to report on the work of his first visit. Malachi speaks as though the temple was built, reproving the people for neglect of the true worship. He shows that the ecclesia had despised the love of Yahweh, and sought their own gratification rather than developing the spirit of dedication in His service. The title of Yahweh Tz'vaoth occurs 24 times in the four chapters of the prophecy, reminding the nation of the overriding authority of the Deity, and the terms of discipline for disobedience. So the book provides a divine Oracle, an urgent Warning, and an encouraging Exhortation. The prophet seems to have spoken during the approximately 12 years of Nehemiah's absence: a type of the absence of the Divine Governor at the right hand of the Father. The first chapter reveals: (1) Israel is called upon to acknowledge its privileges: vv 1-5. (2) How Israel despised the divine love: vv 6-11. (3) Israel profaned the holy things of Yahweh: vv 12,13" (GEM).

AN ORACLE: This title verse explains what follows as the oracle of Yahweh's word that He sent to Israel through Malachi. The Hebrew word "massa", translated "oracle," occurs 27 times in the Prophets (eg, Isa 13:1 Nah 1:1; Hab 1:1; Zec 9:1; 12:1; etc). It refers to a threatening message, a burden that lay heavy on the heart of God and his prophet.

THE WORD OF THE LORD: "The word of Yahweh" refers to a message that comes from Him with His full authority. "Yahweh" is the name that God used in relationship to Israel as the covenant-making and covenant-keeping God. What follows is evidence that Israel was in trouble with Yahweh because the Jews had not kept the Mosaic Covenant. Yahweh, of course, was completely faithful to His part of the covenant.

MALACHI: Which sig "my messenger". The "messengers" of Malachi: (1) Malachi himself, (2) the priests (Mal 2:7); (3) John the Baptist and (4) Jesus (Mal 3:1); and (5) Elijah the prophet (Mal 4:5).

The prophet's name was appropriate since God had commanded him to bear this "word" to the people of Israel. The prophet was not the source of the revelation that follows; he was only a messenger whose job it was to communicate a message from Yahweh (cp Mal 2:7; 2Pe 1:20,21; Heb 1:1).

Notice the similarities between the prophecy of Malachi and Neh 13. Malachi was the "messenger of the covenant" (Mal 3:1) ["Malachi" means "my messenger"!] -- who had reported to Nehemiah that the Jews in Jerusalem had forgotten the "covenant" they had made with him, and with God (Neh 10:29-39):

The "covenant"
Nehemiah finds...
1. Non-payment of tithes
Mal 3:8
Neh 10:32, etc
Neh 13:9,10
2. Temple services largely cease
Mal 1:7,12,13
Neh 10:28,29, etc
Neh 13:10
3. Violation of sabbath
Mal 3:14; 4:4
Neh 10:31
Neh 13:15
4. Marriage with aliens
Mal 2:11-16
Neh 10:30
Neh 13:23
5. Wood offering
Neh 10:34
Neh 13:31
6. Observance of firstfruits and firstborns
Neh 10:35,36
Neh 13:11,12

Mal 1:2

Vv 2-5: Yahweh's love for Israel.

Vv 2,3: Cit Rom 9:13. What was true for the brothers became generally true for their descendants as well -- for "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated" (Gen 25:23).

In this connection, by quoting Mal 1:2,3, Paul lifts the discussion from what might appear to be a purely personal one to the plane of corporate, national life. God's love for Jacob and hatred for Esau ought not to be construed as temperamental. Malachi is appealing to the course of history as fulfilling the purpose of God declared long before. Hatred in the ordinary sense will not fit the situation, since God bestowed many blessings on Esau and his descendants. The "hatred" is simply a way of saying that Esau was not the object of God's electing purpose (cf the use of hate in Luke 14:26, where discipleship is stated to involve "hatred" for one's own family and one's own life; they are simply put out of consideration when one takes on himself the responsibility of following Christ). The value of the account of the two brothers is to make clear that in election God does not wait until individuals or nations are developed and then make a choice on the basis of character or achievement. If He did so, this would make a mockery of the concept of election, because it would locate the basis in man rather than in God and His purpose. God's love for Jacob, then, must be coupled with election rather than explained by some worthiness found in him (cf Deut 7:6-8).

I HAVE LOVED YOU: Yahweh had told His people of His love for them repeatedly throughout their history (cp Deu 4:32-40; 7:7-11; 10:12-22; 15:16; 23:5; 33:2-5; Isa 43:4; Hos 11:13,4,8,9).

"Malachi revealed the unfailing love of Yahweh for His people. This is the master theme that recurs throughout the book. It is like the main melody that keeps coming back in a great piece of music. We find this theme introduced at the very beginning of the book (Mal 1:1-2a). We could render it, 'I have loved you in the past, I love you in the present, and I will love you in the future.' In other words, this is a revelation of the continual, unfailing love of Yahweh for His people. His love for His chosen people was constant. This is a wonderful declaration especially when we remember that it came to the Jews when they had no king, no high priest, and no spiritual power -- only an outward form of worship in which the people trusted. Bear in mind, too, that this is the last prophetic message that came to the Jews before 400 years of silence from heaven and the provision of their Messiah.

"It is a message that God still loved His people as He always had and as He always would. The dominant theme in this book is God's 'I love you.' As we hear the sub-themes of Israel's sevenfold spiritual failures, this major theme constantly keeps coming back and reminding us of God's love in spite of His people's many sins. The mixing of these themes reveals that God was conscious of His people's sins and loved them anyway. So the book is not only a revelation of the constancy of God's love but also a revelation of the constancy of His love in view of His consciousness of their sins. The chief sinfulness of form without reality is that it hurts the heart of God because it expresses a heartless response to God's love" (GCM).

"Ezra and Nehemiah had sought to correct certain external conditions as well as certain internal conditions that characterized the Jews who returned from Babylonian captivity. The external conditions that needed correcting were the rebuilding of the altar of sacrifice, the temple, and the walls of Jerusalem. They were successful in changing these external conditions, but they were less successful in changing the internal conditions of the people. It is these conditions that Malachi addressed.

"Malachi charged the Jews with seven specific sins. In each case his contemporaries responded by challenging his criticism. They said, 'How have we done that?' (cp Mal 1:2,6; 2:14,17; 3:7,8,13). Their response indicated a hardness of heart, a resistance to deal with the internal conditions in their hearts that needed correcting. Malachi revealed the sensitivity of Yahweh to their condition and the insensitivity of the people to it. They believed that since they were serving God as He had directed He was pleased with them. Malachi said that their hearts were not right with God, and that He was not pleased with them. The people had a form of godliness, but they were devoid of the power of godliness.

"Malachi is different from Haggai and Zechariah, the other two postexilic prophets. Haggai's mission was to stimulate the returnees to finish the temple reconstruction. Zechariah's mission was the same but also to reveal the future as a hope that would inspire them to work. Malachi's mission was to move the returnees to get back into fellowship with their God. Haggai focused on the material, Zechariah on the material and the spiritual, and Malachi on the spiritual" (GCM).

BUT YOU ASK, 'HOW HAVE YOU LOVED US?': Yet they were now questioning His love and implying that there was no evidence of it in their present situation in life. Yahweh had promised them a golden age of blessing, but they still struggled under Gentile oppression and generally hard times (cp v 8; Mal 2:2; 3:9,11). Their question revealed distrust of Him and hostility toward Him as well as lack of appreciation for Him. Israel should have responded to Yahweh's love by loving Him and keeping His commandments (Deu 6:4-9).

WAS NOT ESAU JACOB'S BROTHER?: The implication of the question is that these twins were both the objects of God's elective love. Yet God had loved Jacob, the younger, and hated Esau, the older. The evidence of God's hatred for Esau was that He had made the mountains of Seir, the inheritance that God gave Esau and his descendants, a desolate wilderness. Unstated is the fact that God had given Jacob a land flowing with milk and honey for his inheritance, which proved His love for that brother.

It is remarkable that God loved Jacob in view of the person Jacob was, and it is equally remarkable that God hated Esau, because in many ways he was a more admirable individual than his brother. Normally in the ANE the father favored the eldest son, but God did what was abnormal in choosing to bless Jacob over Esau. God's regard for individuals does not depend ultimately on their behavior or characters. It rests of His sovereign choice to bless some more than others (cp Rom 9:13). This is a problem involving His justice since it seems unfair that God would bless some more than others. However, since God is sovereign, He can do whatever He chooses to do.

Mal 1:3

BUT ESAU I HAVE HATED: Another problem that these verses raise concerns God's love. Does not God love the whole world and everyone in it (John 3:16)? Yes, He does, but this statement deals with God's choices regarding Jacob and Esau, not His affection for all people. When He said here that He hated Esau, He meant that He did not choose to bestow His favor on Esau to the extent that He did on Jacob (cp Psa 139:21). He made this choice even before they were born (Gen 25:21-34; Rom 9:10-13). To contrast His dealings with the twins, God polarized His actions toward them in this love-hate statement. God loved Jacob in that He elected him and his descendants for a covenant relationship with Himself (Gen 29:31-35; Deu 21:15, 17; Luke 14:26), as His special possession (cp Deu 4:37; 5:10; 7:6-9). The love-hate dichotomy seems so absolute to our Western ears, but often in Scripture, to "love" someone means to choose to bless that person. To "hate", or not "to love" someone means -- simply -- not to bless them.

AND I HAVE TURNED HIS MOUNTAINS INTO A WASTELAND: But the fact that God gave Mt Seir to Esau as his inheritance, in the first place, shows that He DID love him to that extent. But He did not choose to bless Esau as He chose to bless Jacob, namely with a covenant relationship with Himself.

Did not God choose to bless Jacob because Jacob valued the promises that God had given his forefathers whereas Esau did not (cp Gen 27)? Clearly Jacob did value these promises and Esau did not, but here God presented the outcome of their lives as the consequences of His sovereign choice rather than their choices. Their choices were important, but more important was the choice of God before and behind their choices that resulted in the outcome of their lives (cp Eph 1; Rom 9).

Some of God's choices, the really important ones (His decree), determine all that takes place to bring those choices to reality. If this were not so, God would not be all powerful; man could override the power of God with his choices. Yet God's choices do not mean that man's choices only apparently real. Human beings have a measure of freedom, and it is genuine freedom. We know this is true because a just God holds human beings responsible for their choices. How humans can be genuinely free, to the extent that we are free, and how God can still maintain control is probably impossible for us to comprehend fully.

The bottom line is that God chose to bless Jacob to an extent that He did not choose to bless Esau. This decision lay behind all the decisions that these twin brothers made.

Mal 1:4

THEY MAY BUILD, BUT I WILL DEMOLISH: Even though the Edomites, Esau's descendants, determined to rebuild their nation after it had suffered destruction by the Babylonians, they would not be able to do so. They could not because almighty Yahweh would not permit it. He would tear down whatever they rebuilt, so much so that other people would view them as a wicked land (cp the holy land, Zec 2:12) and the objects of Yahweh's perpetual indignation.

Israel needed to consider what her lot would have been if she, like Edom, had not been elected to a covenant relationship with Yahweh. Both Israel and Edom received judgment from God at the hands of the Babylonians in the sixth century (Jer 27:2-8). Yet God repeatedly promised to restore Israel (because of His covenant promises, Deu 4:29-31; 30:1-10; Psa 127:1), while He condemned Edom to complete destruction, never to be restored (Jer 49:7-22; Eze 35).

THE WICKED LAND: "The border of wickedness" (AV); "the territory of lawlessness".

Mal 1:5

YOU WILL SEE IT WITH YOUR OWN EYES AND SAY, 'GREAT IS THE LORD -- EVEN BEYOND THE BORDERS OF ISRAEL!': Observing Yahweh's dealings with Edom, the Israelites would learn of His love for her and His greatness that extended beyond Israel (cp vv 11,14; Mal 3:12; 4:6). They would eventually call on other people to appreciate Him too.

The point of this message was to get the Jews of the restoration community, who were thinking that God had abandoned them and forgotten His promises to them, to think again. Even though they seemed to be experiencing the same fate as their ancient enemy, the Edomites, nevertheless God would restore them because He had entered into covenant relationship with them. He would keep His promises, both to the Israelites and to the Edomites, for better and for worse respectively.

Mal 1:6

Mal 1:6 -- 2:9: Second oracle: The priests' illicit practices and indifferent attitudes: The first oracle ended with a statement of Yahweh's greatness. The second one opens with a question about why Israel's priests did not honor Him.

The first oracle appealed to the Israelites generally, but this one is addressed to the priests. The priests were responsible to teach the ordinary citizens the Law, to mediate between Yahweh and His people, and to judge the people (Mal 2:7,8; Jer 2:8).

Vv 6-14: Their sins. A listless, half-hearted, weary, unenthusiastic "service"!

A SON HONORS HIS FATHER, A SERVANT HIS MASTER. IF I AM A FATHER, WHERE IS THE HONOR DUE ME? IF I AM A MASTER, WHERE IS THE HONOR DUE ME?: Almighty Yahweh asked the priests of Israel why they did not honor Him since sons honor their fathers (Exo 20:12; Deu 5:16), and He was their Father (Exo 4:22; Isa 1:2; 63:16; 64:8; Hos 11:1). Since servants respect their masters (Isa 43:10; Neh 1:10), why did they not fear Him since He was their Master (Isa 44:1-2)?

Here is the lesson for us, since we are truly God's children, and He is our Father (Mat 6:9-13).

BUT YOU ASK, 'HOW HAVE WE SHOWN CONTEMPT FOR YOUR NAME?': Speaking for the priests, Malachi gave their response. They denied having despised His name. By asking how they had despised His name, rather than saying, "We have not despised your name," the priests were claiming ignorance as to how they were doing this. However their question also carried a challenge; they resented the suggestion that they had despised His name.

"Intimate familiarity with holy matters conduces to treating them with indifference" (EBC).

Mal 1:7

YOU PLACE DEFILED FOOD ON MY ALTAR: Cp Lev 22:2,17-30,32). Defiled sacrifices were sacrifices that were not ritually clean or acceptable, as the Law specified. By doing this they defiled (made unclean) the altar of burnt offerings and the LORD. The Law referred to the offerings as food for God (Lev 21:6), though obviously He did not eat them.

THE LORD'S TABLE: The use of "food" for "sacrifice" and "table" for "altar" continues the human analogies already begun in v 6. Moreover, these terms also connote covenant relationships because covenants were usually ratified when the participants, typically a king and his vassals, ate a meal together (cp Jer 34:18).

In fact, "table" may sig the whole of the Mosaic system of sacrifices and offerings (cp Eze 44:6; Psa 69:22 with Rom 11:9. For us, it suggests the memorial table: 1Co 11:29; cp 1Pe 2:5.

Mal 1:8

Vv 8-10: Disqualified sacrifices.

WHEN YOU BRING BLIND ANIMALS FOR SACRIFICE, IS THAT NOT WRONG? WHEN YOU SACRIFICE CRIPPLED OR DISEASED ANIMALS, IS THAT NOT WRONG?: These were unacceptable according to the Law (Lev 22:18-25; Deu 15:21). The LORD asked them if this was not evil. Of course it was.

TRY OFFERING THEM TO YOUR GOVERNOR! WOULD HE BE PLEASED WITH YOU?: They would not offer such bad animals to their governor because they would not please him, but they dared offer them to their King. The governor in view would have been one of the Persian officials who ruled over the territory occupied by Judah. Nehemiah held this position for a while, but others preceded and followed him in it. It is impossible to tell whether the governor in view in this verse was Nehemiah, though the book seems to date from his leadership of Israel.

"Anything second rate that we offer to God is inappropriate in view of who He is. This includes our ministries, our studies, physical objects, anything. The LORD is worthy of our very best offerings to Him, and we should give Him nothing less. To give Him less than our best is to despise Him. Shoddiness is an insult to God. Shoddy holy is still shoddy" (Const).

"Throughout the time the Bible was written, the people of Israel brought sacrifices and offerings to the LORD at the tabernacle or temple. God required the offerings to be perfect animals or the very best the person had to offer. Today we are not required to present sacrifices and offerings to the LORD, but when we do give, the principle of giving the best that we can give, still remains.

We give offerings to God of our time, our attendance at meetings, our devotion, our intellect and our love. But just like the sacrifices that Israel brought, it is easy for us to bring second grade offerings. Maybe we give God our 'leftover' time -- times when there is nothing better to do, instead of devoting an offering of time to Him. It is easy to feel that going to attend meetings of believers is a burden -- and thus to go with a bad attitude as well. When we give Him our attendance at ecclesial meetings it must be wholeheartedly or we will be guilty of giving second grade offerings. If we are devoted, it must be complete -- not just sometimes! If we study the word or expound it, it must be with all our powers; and if we love, it must be with all our hearts" (RP).

Mal 1:9

"NOW IMPLORE GOD TO BE GRACIOUS TO US. WITH SUCH OFFERINGS FROM YOUR HANDS, WILL HE ACCEPT YOU?" -- SAYS THE LORD ALMIGHTY: How foolish it was to pray for God to bestow His favor on the priests when they were despising Him in these ways. This lesson comes powerfully to us today, since we are a sort of "priests" who serve God in the "temple" of His ecclesia: 1Pe 2:5; 1Co 3:17,18.

Mal 1:10

OH, THAT ONE OF YOU WOULD SHUT THE TEMPLE DOORS, SO THAT YOU WOULD NOT LIGHT USELESS FIRES ON MY ALTAR! I AM NOT PLEASED WITH YOU... AND I WILL ACCEPT NO OFFERINGS FROM YOUR HANDS: The LORD wished the priests would shut the temple gates and stop offering sacrifices since they had so little regard for Him. He was displeased with them and would not accept any offerings from them. They might continue to offer them, but He would have no regard for them.

This may be a prophecy of Jesus' overturning the tables of the moneychangers, and driving them out of the Temple. Moreover, it may be looking forward to the ultimate "closing of the doors" of the Temple, by the Romans in 70 AD!

Mal 1:11

Vv 11-14: Disdainful attitudes.

MY NAME WILL BE GREAT AMONG THE NATIONS: It was particularly inappropriate for Israel's priests to despise Yahweh because the time would come when people from all over the world would honor His name (or person; cp Isa 45:22-25; 49:5-7; 59:19).

Ironically, when the Temple doors were finally closed (v 10), then was the time -- especially -- when God's Holy Name would be praised among the Gentiles (cp John 4:21; Mat 28:19,20)!

IN EVERY PLACE INCENSE AND PURE OFFERINGS WILL BE BROUGHT TO MY NAME: Incense accompanied prayers (cp Psa 141:2; Isa 60:6; Luk 1:10; Rev 5:8; 8:3,4) and grain offerings were offerings of praise and worship (cp Heb 13:15,16). In that day people from many places would offer pure offerings, in contrast to the "polluted" ones offered by Israel (v 7). This refers to worship in the Millennium (cp Mal 3:1-4; Isa 11:3,4,9; 56:7; 60:7; Dan 7:13,14,27,28; Zep 2:11; 3:8-11; Zec 14:9,16).

Mal 1:12

BUT YOU PROFANE IT BY SAYING OF THE LORD'S TABLE, 'IT IS DEFILED,' AND OF ITS FOOD, 'IT IS CONTEMPTIBLE': Yet the priests of Malachi's day were treating Yahweh's name or reputation as common. The proof of this was their statements (whether made openly, or merely thought, in their hearts: cp Psa 14;1; 53:1) that the altar was defiled and the offerings on it were despised. Their attitude as well as their actions were wrong.

Mal 1:13

AND YOU SAY, 'WHAT A BURDEN!' AND YOU SNIFF AT IT CONTEMPTUOUSLY: They were also saying that it was tiresome -- troublesome, bothersome -- to worship the LORD. Their worship should have been passionate and joyful instead of boring and burdensome (cp James 4:17). They were sniffing at it as something they despised (the Heb sig "to blow", as to blow away chaff, which is lightweight and worthless).

WHEN YOU BRING INJURED, CRIPPLED OR DISEASED ANIMALS AND OFFER THEM AS SACRIFICES, SHOULD I ACCEPT THEM FROM YOUR HANDS?: They were bringing as offerings the lame and sick animals (cp 2Sa 24:24) -- which were apt figures for their own spiritual state (cp Rev 3:17)! Did they expect Him to receive such sacrifices from them? How could He?

"God will have no regard for those who forget Him or neglect His commandments: those who sink into a state of self-service, who live exclusively for their own comfort and well-being, who let God slip from their practical recognitions; His word from their studies; His honour from their concern; His commandments from their lives, will awake to find that where life and death, and men, and angels, and heaven and earth, were powerless to interpose an obstacle between them and the friendly regard of the Almighty, their own folly has done it without further remedy. God is love; but our God is also a consuming fire. He will not be mocked; He will not be put off with fag-ends of our service. He demands the whole heart and the whole life; and he is not his own friend who refuses the call: for there will come a time when the man who has served himself will find he has served a master who can only pay him at last with tribulation, and anguish, and death; while the man who obeys the Divine call will at the same period discover that in making God his portion he has secured the joyful eternal inheritance of all things" (SC 72).

Mal 1:14

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: The people also were playing the old "bait and switch" game; they were swindling God. They vowed to offer an acceptable animal as a sacrifice, but when it came time to present the offering they substituted one of inferior quality.

Since the sacrifice in some sense symbolized the giver thereof, they were presenting themselves in the presence of God as blemished, diseased, and corrupt -- which they were spiritually! Cp Lev 22:22; Deu 15:21.

Lack of true heart for the LORD and His service marked these leaders of God's people. They evidently thought that their actions and attitudes went unnoticed by Him, but Malachi confronted them with their hypocrisy. The prophet's words should also challenge modern servants of the LORD to examine our hearts. We should always see that we give our "best" to God, and not the "left-overs": Mal 3:10; Hag 2:18,19; Pro 3:9,10.

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