Books of Bible
The Problems of Malachi
By William S. Cline
Malachi - the last voice of prophecy before the silence that was to last four hundred years. What does this, final voice of God say) What is his message? What were the problems that he dealt with?
I will spend no time in answering the modem critics who tell us that Malachi was not a real person All of them collectively have not produced one shred of evidence, and their arguments are only at weighty as feathers. For a good synopsis of such arguments and a brief, but good introduction the reader is referred to Ellicott’s Commentary and the Pulpit Commentary.
It is almost universally admitted that the book occupies its right place in the arrangement of the Old Testament scriptures. Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets.
Malachi does not date his prophecy, but there are points that leave little doubt that the work of Malachi is closely associated with the work of Nehemiah. To better appreciate and understand the prophecy of Malachi one should first read Nehemiah.
Perhaps some, of the main dates and events which proceeded the ministry of Malachi should be listed. They are:
536 B.C. At, the decree of Cyrus, 50,000 returned to Judea, under the leadership of Zerubbabel (Ezra 1-2).
534 B.C. The foundation of the new was laid (Ezra 3), but the building was delayed.
520 B.C. The prophetical work of Haggai and Zechariah. After sixteen years, the rebuilding of the temple was resumed (Ezra 5 and Haggai).
516 B.C. The restoration was completed (Ezra 6:15).
457 B.C. The return of 1,800, plus wives, daughters, and servants under the leadership of Ezra (Ezra 7).
445 B.C. Nehemiah went to Jerusalem by royal edict, as governor, to rebuild the city (Neh. 2).
430 B.C. Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, after absence on a visit to Artaxerxes (Neh. 13:6-7). Malachi prophesied sometime after this.
I recognize the above dates are approximate, for no one standing where we stand can speak with absolute certainty regarding dates twenty-five centuries old, but these events are important for they led up to the work of Malachi. There can be little doubt that shortly after the time of Nehemiah, Malachi rose to his important office. His writing bears a divine message to the condition of things portrayed in the history of Nehemiah. Three examples are offered for consideration.
First, in Nehemiah 13:29 we read, "Remember them, 0 my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites." Now note the words of Malachi 2:8, "But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi saith the Lord of hosts." Notice that the complaint of Nehemiah in his closing years, and the pointed charge of Malachi are identical.
Second, in Nehemiah 13:23-27, divine history records that the people of God had entered into an unholy alliance with idolaters by way of marriage. Malachi speaks of the identical problem in his prophecy (Malachi 2:10-16). The problem and evil of mixed marriages troubled both Nehemiah and Malachi.
Third, in Nehemiah 13: 10 and Malachi 3:8 We see that both prophets were concerned with the fact that the people had not kept the law regarding giving.
These three, brief observations should be enough to establish that Malachi's prophecy was uttered in the time of Nehemiah's influence--perhaps not in the days of Nehemiah, but not long thereafter. The conditions described in Malachi suggest a deterioration beyond that which seemed to be extant during the work of Nehemiah. The people had fallen into the very abuses that Nehemiah set himself against, and Malachi was raised up to bear the message of Jehovah to them.
The peculiar need of the period in which he spoke and wrote was a distinct and direct message, and it was that distinct and direct message from God that he came to pronounce. Perhaps we need more than anything else today, that our preachers be messengers of God, and that the people be spoken to from the oracles of God, as did Malachi in the long ago.
God, by his messenger Malachi, leveled several, serious complaints against the formal and self-satisfied people.
These complaints showed the people to be in a horrible condition. To each of the charges the people answered, "Wherein" have we done thus and so, or "What do you mean? We don't see that we have done these things, so why should we be subjected to these accusations?" This was the spirit of the age. Mechanical, outward observance was in practice. Religious life was formal, ritual, and ceremonial, yet the people were willing to look into the very face of heaven and argue their innocence.
Though the prophecy of Malachi is stern and condemning, it begins and ends with the love of God. The book opens with, "I have loved you, saith the Lord" and closes with the promise of the coming of John to prepare the way for the Messiah. Further proof of the love of God is found in the closing phrase, ". . . lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." God loved them. He had warned them, and in the warning he had given them hope. Change would bring the approval of God, but just as sure as God exists, continual sin would bring punishment proof beyond question that he truly loved them.
Let us now turn our attention to problems of Malachi, and as they unfold, note that many of the problems the church is faced with today are no different from those which God's final, Old Testament messenger dealt with.
Despised The Name And Service Of Jehovah
The first problem Malachi set his pen against was the horrible attitude the people had toward the service and name of Jehovah-they despised them. In 1:6-7 we read:
A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the Lord of host unto you, 0 priest, that despise my name. And ye say, wherein have we despised thy name? Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the Lord is contemptible.
The people called God "Father," yet gave him no honor. They called him "Master," but had no fear of him. They placed polluted bread on his altar and said that the table of the Lord was contemptible; and yet they boldly argued, "Wherein have we despised thy name ... Wherein have we polluted them?" They clearly demonstrated their despite for the service and name of God by what they said and what they did.
They said, "Behold what a weariness it is! . . . " (1: 13). They did not enjoy serving God. Their heart was not in their service. Their attitude was one that is often seen today. For example, how many attend the worship services on Sunday with the attitude demonstrated in Malachi? They arrive at the meeting house, take a seat, and fold their arms as if to say, "O.K., I'm here. Let's sing, pray, preach-do whatever you please but keep it short and sweet. Make me feel good, and by all means, get this over with." Such attitude problems are destructive to the souls of men, and endanger the spirit and welfare of entire congregations.
Great principles are often revealed in small things and in unexpected ways. Members of the church say, "What a weariness it is," not in actual words, but they say it nonetheless. Multitudes say, "God is weariness," by snuffing at his will, They make light of "doing this" or "not doing that" and say of some brethren, because of their strictness for obeying the will of Christ, "They worship a paper pope." And further, what has happened to the faith of our fathers? Faith that led them to worship in barns, while they sat on hard benches for hours as they studied the Bible. Instead of that kind of love for worship, we hear an ungodly cry for shorter sermons and more entertainment. Such is proof of the attitude, "What a weariness it is." The same people will sit at a sports event for hours without complaining. They will watch a movie, sometimes more than once, and never object to the time, but they will quickly look at their watch and become anxious and restless if the preacher exceeds by a few minutes, what is recognized as his allotted time.
This is a serious matter. When men tire of meditating upon the things of God, the fault lies within. We need to continually search our hearts to see if the things of God have become merely a duty and a weariness to which we hold only for the sake of appearances.
The people also showed their despite by what they did. They brought polluted bread to the altar. One writer suggested that if one could have examined the bread, he may have found it not polluted at all in the normal usage of the word. These people profaned the name of God. They degraded the sacred things of God to the common level of mediocrity, and stated, "The table of the Lord is contemptible." No polluted man can offer pure bread upon God's altar. God receives or rejects the gifts of man in proportion as he has received or rejected the giver; therefore, the "polluted bread" may have been a direct result of the polluted worshippers. Such a consideration should make us exceedingly careful how we give to God. Whatever our exact understanding of the phrase may be, let us be careful to understand that no man can remain in the grace of God while he despises the service and name of Jehovah.
Offered Inferior Sacrifice
The second problem which Malachi dealt with is found in the same chapter:
And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the iame and the sick, is it not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person, saith the Lord of host (1:8).
Here is something that goes beyond profanity. These men were actually offering the blind, the lame, and the sick for sacrifice! The law of Moses specifically required that "the lamb placed upon the altar should be without spot or blemish-the finest of the flock." But the people had lost what worship meant. They had retained the finest of the flocks for themselves and had brought to the altar that which showed contempt for the very God they claimed to worship. Mark the sarcasm of the prophet's words when he wrote, ". . . offer it now unto thy governor . . . " Through Malachi, God, with great plainness of speech, asked the people if they would offer to their governor, the man who ruled over them, the kind of offerings they were laying on his altar. The answer was obvious and should have laid like an anvil on every man's conscience. Their conduct was unacceptable and they should have known it.
Why was the conduct so serious? For one thing, the offerings placed upon the altar were valueless to the souls who placed them there, and God always values the offering by what it costs the individual who brings it, and never by its intrinsic worth. Have we learned that lesson even today; a lesson which Jesus emphasized when he sat and watched the people of his time putting their offerings into the treasury? His measure of every gift was determined by its cost to the soul who offered it. Rich men gave of their abundance. He saw every gift and recognized the value of each. Then along came a woman who was a widow. She dropped into the treasury two mites. Jesus then commented as to the value of the gifts. He said that she had given "more than they all." In other words, Jesus said, "Total all the gifts given today and this widow's two mites would outweigh them all on the balance scale of God." He measured the gift as God has done from the beginning of time--by its cost to the giver. There was no self-denial in the giving of the rich men. They did not miss what they gave. It was nothing to them, for they were rich, but to the widow, two mites was all of her living. She sacrificed when she gave. This kind of giving reveals the soul's estimate of the God to whom the gift is given. Such love and devotion was not present in the hearts of the men to whom Malachi spoke. They knew nothing of sacrifice. They were selfish, stingy men who considered sacrifice to God a contemptible thing; therefore, they offered unto him the blind, the lame, and the sick.
Man has always considered breaking into a church building to steal among the worst of crimes. From time to time someone actually steals from the collection baskets, and such conduct is so ghastly that it is spoken of in tones of outrage and disgust. But lest we fail to notice, there is something worse, and that is going into the church building and putting "something" into the basket. Do not forget that. Sacrilege is centered in offering God something which costs nothing, because such giving shows that the giver thinks of God as nothing. Without doubt, there is much sacrilege in giving and men should carefully examine their offerings. Thankfully, there is also much sacrifice in giving, for there are multiplied thousands who love the church as much as they love life itself and they give accordingly.
May we never be guilty of offering to God that which we would be ashamed to offer to our governor. Let us learn what it means to give as Christ would have us to. The apostle Paul plainly stated what our goal should be in giving to God:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service (Romans 12: 1 ).
If you ask, "How could the brethren in Corinth give so liberally, when they were so poor?", the answer is found in the fact that they first gave themselves (2 Cor. 8:2-5). And so it is with all of us. We will give--not grudgingly or of necessity, but freely in joy and happiness--when we first give ourselves to God. Until we make that decision, we will always have the problem of offering to God inferior sacrifice.
Caused Many To Stumble At The Law
The second chapter begins "And now, 0 ye priest, this commandment is for you." The seventh verse reads, "For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts." That is God's concept of the priesthood. The priest should have the knowledge of the law. Not only should he know it, but he should also keep it; walk in it; obey it; faithfully practice its precepts. That is the ideal, but it is not the way things were when Malachi prophesied.
Ezra had set an example that all priests and prophets should have followed. Inspiration tells us:
For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and do it, and to teach in Israel statues and judgments (Ezra 7: 10).
In proper order of importance, we are told that he learned, lived, and taught the will of God. Every preacher, every Christian should follow Ezra's example. But the priests to whom Malachi spoke had not followed the law of God. Malachi said:
But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the Lord of hosts (2:8).
Thus we learn that at the back of the corruption of the people is the corruption of the priests, and the corruption of the message to the people. The people had failed in their concept of God and their service to him because the priests had tampered with ("corrupted" is the word Malachi used) the very covenant of God.
Note a statement in Nehemiah concerning the corruption of the priesthood:
And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib, the high priest, was son-in-law to Sanballat the Horonite: therefore, I chased him from me. Remember them, 0 my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood and of the Levites (Neh. 13:28-29).
Here we have an example of the very thing that Malachi was concerned with. The priests caused people to stumble at the law by what they did. They did not "practice what they preached." They said one thing but by their conduct they led the people to do another. Not only did they corrupt people by their example, they also caused men to stumble by what they said. By their speech, they corrupted the word of God. They should have been guarding the articles of the covenant, but instead they were breaking, tampering with, and corrupting it.
The church is continually faced with such problems. One of the reasons Austin McGary began the Firm Foundation one hundred years ago was to wage war against a major problem in the church which he referred to as "shaking in the Baptist." That battle was not the first enjoined nor will it be the last. As it was in the days of Malachi, so it is today. Behind the corruption of the people will be the corruption of the will of God, led by corruption among the teachers of his word.
Regarding the qualifications and responsibilities of elders, Paul wrote:
For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, especially they of the circumcision; Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake (Titus 1: 10-1 1).
A sad commentary on many elders in spiritual Israel is that they do not possess the qualifications nor the will to fulfill their responsibility in stopping the mouths of false teachers who subvert the faith of God's children. With great anticipation, we look forward to the day when leaders of the church, yea when Christians everywhere, will seek to correct, and if that fails, oppose anyone who would cause men to stumble at the covenant of Jesus Christ.
Showed Respect Of Persons
The priests had caused people to stumble at the law, and in their administration of God's covenant they had shown partiality. Through Malachi, God said:
Therefore have I also made you contemptible and base before all the people, according as ye have not kept my ways, but have been partial in the law. Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers? (2:9-10).
Such conduct is an outgrowth of an attitude that God abhors, and should never be named among his children. This Old Testament problem was also a problem in the New Testament church. James wrote:
My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou here, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? (James 2:14).
It is a sly seduction and one that works well for the father of evil. Men seem to be naturally prone to "respect of persons" in ways that are contrary to God's will. Men often hold the faith of Jesus Christ with respect of racial background. Some have gone so far as to argue that people of certain races do not possess a soul. In various parts of America, people of different national backgrounds are looked upon as half-rate human beings. When such attitudes exist among members of the church, it must be a fire that burns continually in the nostrils of Almighty God.
But racial prejudice is not the only form of respect of persons we are plagued with. There is respect of persons with regard to social standing, economic status, educational attainments, etc. Is it not easier for a man to be appointed an elder or deacon who has social standing, money, and a good education than it is for one who is an ordinary citizen, with little money, and a poor education? There is nothing wrong with possessing each of the above, and more, but it is a tragedy when these things are of major concern when leaders of the church are selected. And when prospects for conversion are discussed, who do we place the most emphasis on? Are we not like those to whom James wrote? Do we not court the rich, the influential, and the successful and leave the rest to "what will be, will be"? Have we forgotten the common man in our quest for converts? We must always guard against showing respect of persons in the Lord's church. It is productive of no good and it runs contrary to every aspect of Christianity.
Did Not Obey God's Marriage Law
The altar of God had been covered with the tears of the divorced wives, and he would not receive the offerings placed there by the priests who had dealt treacherously with the wives of their youth (2:13-14). Malachi further said:
... yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one? For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away (2:15-16).
The priests, the ones who set the example before the people, had put away their wives and married foreign women. God was calling them to account for their evil deeds. Surely we can learn a valuable lesson here. God's marriage law is: one man for one woman for life (Matt. 19:4-6). That does not seem to be hard to understand, but the weakness of the flesh, emotional reasoning, false teachers, and other influences have resulted in multiplied millions disregarding this law. From the beginning, God intended for man and woman to leave their parents and become one flesh for life. He gave only one exception unfaithfulness to that union by one of the marriage partners.
We have reared a generation that has little respect for the marriage bond. Today marriages are built on the standards of society rather than the standard of God, and the divorce rate that once was so alarming in the world, is now very alarming in the church. We may blame many things for the problem, when in reality, those of us who teach our young people-preachers, teachers, and especially parents-are to be blamed for the poor concept they have of marriage. We have not properly taught our young people on the subject of marriage; therefore, their conduct in marriage has not been in keeping with God's word. We have taught, with zeal, the exception to God's marriage law (Matthew 19:9), but have failed miserably in teaching the rule one husband for one wife for life. So, it is no wonder that many marriages among members of the church end in divorce. (For a thorough study of this subject see the chapter on God's Marriage Law).
Praised And Supported Those In Error
Still in the second chapter we read:
Ye have wearied the Lord with your words, Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment? (2:17).
What did they mean by such statements? They were saying, "Our God is a God of love; there is no judgment. The man you say is evil, is really good and God surely delights in him." Such statements are beyond snuffing at the will of God-they are treason in its worst form. They are a countenancing and an excusing of sin. They are an attempt to gloss over evil and treat it lightly, as if it is not important. When man begins to excuse sin, and says that it does not really matter to God, that there is no judgment; evil has a holiday; every demon in hell rejoices; and high treason has been committed.
This, also, is a peculiar sin of our day. There are many who are tired of a strong Christianity and cannot stand to be told of the judgment of God. They seek to lower the standard of the government of God, and the moment a man in the church is guilty of that, he is guilty of treason against God. The idea that a God of love passes lightly over sin is founded in a false concept of what love is. The love of God is the sworn enemy of sin, and if God ever excused sin, as we often do, it would prove that he does not truly love man. God hates sin, and all sin not covered by the blood of Christ will be brought into judgment.
There is no way in which a child of God can excuse, praise, and support a man in sin and not sin in so doing. The New Testament plainly warns against such conduct:
Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds (2 John 9-1 1).
Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple (Romans 16:17-18).
If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; ... from such withdraw thyself (I Tim. 6:3-5).
Also, Paul referred to false doctrine as "profane and vain babblings" which "increase unto more ungodliness." He stressed that false teachers' words "will eat as doth a canker" (another word for canker is gangrene), and will "overthrow the faith of some" (2 Tim. 2:16-18).
An entire volume could be written on the attitude we are to have toward false teachers and false doctrine. For the present, suffice it to say that we must love the souls of all men and always do everything possible to correct those in error; at the same time we should never, in any way, encourage those who have departed from the truth. We must have a clear vision of sin and understand that it is not to be excused. Praising the person in error, using and encouraging the false teacher, excusing the one who does evil, and belittling the judgment of God is sin. One of the needed lessons of Malachi's time is a much needed lesson in the church today.
In the third chapter and the eighth verse, we have the seventh problem which Malachi dealt with:
Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation (3:8-9).
How had they robbed God? By not responding to the divine claim he had on the people. They owed God more than the tithe. That was the bare minimum, and there was more than one tithe. They were carelessly giving to God what they considered to be the minimum, legal amount, and in so doing had failed to give as the covenant really demanded. There is much more to giving than putting something into the treasury.
What about the giving in Christianity today? God has nowhere taught the Christian to give a tithe. Some carefully give ten percent of their income, and for them that may be correct. But, we are to give, not governed by a strict percentage but by the love of Christ and the blessings of God. There is no doubt that the church would have millions more if every member gave ten percent of their income; likewise, there is no doubt that many members of the church are robbing God by only giving one tenth. God does not deal with Christians in percentages of material things. Rather he makes his claim on all. Everything is his. We are simply stewards of all that we possess. How we give to God depends on our ability and our love and appreciation for all that he has done for us. Determine your giving upon these standards and not upon, "How little can I give and still get by with it."
Malachi taught the people a lesson that all Christians should learn:
Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it (3:10).
That same lesson is emphasized by Paul in 2 Corinthians 9:9-12. When men put God first in their lives, he will bless them. I have a sermon from the restoration period that well expresses the thought. The pioneer preacher titled his lesson, "YOU JUST CAN'T OUT GIVE GOD." And that is the summation of the matter. God said to the people that if they would put him first and give as they should-that included amount and attitude-he would bless them beyond anything they ever dreamed of. God is truly a gracious God, but his grace extends only to those who live in harmony with his will.
Spoke Against God
It is not uncommon for men who serve God to think that everything in life should run smoothly, and if problems arise, blaming God is much in fashion. Thus we read:
Your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against thee? Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts? (3:13-14).
This is the sin of blasphemy. Blasphemy means to speak injuriously, to say something that will hurt the one against whom the words have been spoken. Here the people were saying things that would injure or hurt God and his cause upon the earth, and theirs was the worst form of blasphemy. The man who openly blasphemes, who, standing under the sun, looks toward the heavens and says, "I hate God and all that is holy and righteous," is far less dangerous in his influence than the man who says, "I love God" and then criticizes and disobeys him. The worst form of blasphemy-the blasphemy which we should be truly afraid of-is found in the person who serves God with zeal and enthusiasm, then when something goes wrong in his life, he blames God for it. I have heard, "How could God do me like this after the way I have served him. I've been faithful for years, and for him to let my wife die is not fair. I quit." I have seen some like that quit serving God and go to eternity in such condition. This terrible attitude grows out of the belief that if we faithfully serve God, he will see that we have no problems. Of course, just the opposite is true. If we put God first in our lives, we will suffer persecution, and in the routine of daily living God has never promised that everything would be smooth, good, and positive for his children. We live in a world filled with evil, sickness, and problems. Tragedies will occur. Sickness will come. Men will lose jobs. Fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc., will destroy property and lives. Being a Christian and faithfully serving God is not protection insurance against any of these calamities, nor any other problems we encounter as citizens of this world. Faithfully serving God is the Christian's anchor in the sea of trials, troubles, and turmoil, and he can know that no matter what happens, he has something far better than this world-a home which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
But the devil is never content to let the child of God rest. He (the devil) operates on the premise that man serves God for material reward, and by his methods he has caused multitudes to forsake God when things go wrong. His method did not work with Job and the example of that faithful patriarch should always encourage us to remain faithful to God, no matter what the circumstances. Job was a rich man and Satan surmised that Job served God because God had been so good to him. Satan said,-, "Doth Job fear God for naught?" In other words, "Doesn't Job receive much reward for his service?" You recall the story. Job lost everything he had, but he still served Jehovah. May his life be a lasting lesson to us. Let us never blame God for the problems in our life. When things go wrong, don't blaspheme God by saying, "It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance ......"
Earlier it was noted that the prophecy of Malachi, though stern in its content, begins (1:2) and ends (4:5) with the love of God. Actually, the last two verses are a strong expression of God's love:
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse (4:5-6).
After that phrase "with a curse" there is no more prophetic utterance for four hundred years. I think it interesting and important that the last word in the Old Testament is the word "curse." Every period of Bible history had ended in failure. The Garden of Eden, the time of the Judges, the Kings, the period of the Prophets-all had their problems. Now God looks to the people whom he had called and created for a special purpose - a people through whom the whole world might be blessed-and says for them to turn to him, "Lest I come and smite the earth with a curse."
God did not desire to send the curse. A phrase of hope is found in that last sentence in Malachi--"Lest I come..." Hope was not forever past. The curse had not been pronounced. It had only been threatened. These words are an appeal of love and stress that the curse could be avoided if the people would turn from sin.
The Jews understood the threat of those final words, "...smite the earth with a curse." From that time they read the sixth verse as the fifth and the fifth as the sixth. They did not want their Bible to end with a threatened curse. Some early editions of the Septuagint made a further change. They lifted the fourth verse and made it the sixth, thus it read in this order verse five, six, and four. Evidently the early translators/producers of the Septuagint did not want their Bible to end with a curse either. Such reveals the way the Hebrew nation understood this message. They understood the threatened curse, but they also understood the message of hope. The final word then, is a word of warning, a word of love and hope, coupled with a declaration of the possibility of escape from the threatened curse, and a statement of the condition of such escape. It promised the coming of Elijah who would turn the hearts of the people marking the condition by which the curse could be avoided. They had turned from God, but they could return and he would accept them. That was and is the gospel of love.
The Elijah of Malachi was fulfilled in the person of John the Baptist. In Matthew 17:12, Jesus said, ". . . . Elias is come already. . . " In speaking of John, the angel said to Zacharias:
And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord (Luke 1: 17).
The similarity of language in Luke 1:17 and Malachi 4:5-6 is striking and demonstrates divine explanation of prophecy.
Malachi's message ended. He had dealt with numerous problems (we have noted only a few of the major ones), told the people of the love and sternness of God, and made the final announcement that God was not abandoning the world, for the day would come when another prophet would be sent.
Between the time of Malachi and the coming of John, four hundred years ran their course, but in the fullness of time God sent his messenger and the way was prepared for Christ. And so it is, that all who will turn to Christ and learn of him, and obey him can return to the Father. They can bask in the sunshine of the remission of their sins, and anxiously await that day when all the faithful will be united with God for evermore.