THE BOOK of Nehemiah describes what was most likely the last great reformation among the people of Israel. As Nehemiah, with characteristic zeal, thought to purify the church from its wickedness, we are told that all Judah brought "the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries" (Neh. 13:12).
From the tone of the book of Malachi, however, it is quite evident that the selfishness of both priests and people and their general neglect of the Temple and religious responsibilities brought them to a new low in their relationship to God. Their failure in fulfilling the divine purpose is apparent in the stern messages of warning that come from the prophet we call Malachi.
Very little is known about him, and apparently even the name given to the book is not the name of the person who delivered the messages. The Hebrew name Anglicized to Malachi literally means "my messenger." Some commentaries suggest that rather than being a proper name, the term Malachi may be regarded as an abbreviation of Mal'akiyah, or "messenger of Jehovah," and thus more of a title or description of the bearer's office.
The book known by this name is generally dated toward the end of the fifth century B.C. Malachi is sometimes called the Hebrew Socrates, since he introduces what is for the Bible a new style of address, known as the didactic-dialectic method of writing. Although the messages of Malachi are a strong condemnation of the Laodicean attitude that characterized the Jews in the period before Christ came, the last four verses of the last chapter conclude with a promise of a great and final reformation to take place just before the coming of the "great and dreadful day of the Lord." With this in mind, there can be no question of the significance of this book to the Laodicean members of the remnant church.
After the brief introduction in the first verse of the first chapter, most of the rest of the book is taken up with a dialectic that consists of God's warnings on one hand and the people's self-righteous denials on the other. There are eight of these in chapters 1 through 3:15. In the King James Version six out of the eight responses on the part of the people begin with the word wherein. In the first of these God says very plainly, "I have loved you." Instead of being thrilled by God's interest and His care for them, they sullenly, and apparently without any appreciation for what should have been obvious to them on every page of their history, respond, "Wherein hast thou loved us?" How quickly they had forgotten the miracle of the return from exile and God's gracious provision for their needs.
In spite of this arrogant response, God, in His love for them, continues to press His case. As evidence of His love He points to the contrasting fortunes of the descendants of Esau and of Jacob. In a special way His care and concern is seen in the fact that Jacob's punishment is the punishment of love. It is temporary and for a purpose. But Esau suffers from the consequences of rejection and defiance against God.
In Malachi 1:6 the messenger begins his diatribe against the priests. Here we also find the second phase of the dialog between God and His people. God declares that instead of demonstrating the honor that the servant owes his master or a son his father, His people are despising His name. Of course, they were so spiritually blind and their hearts had turned so far from tenderness toward God that they were unable even to recognize that they were doing this.
With an air of injured innocence they reply, "Wherein have we despised thy name?" They seem to be totally ignorant of their weakness and wrongdoing. Patiently God replies, in verse 7, by pointing out that they have offered polluted bread upon His altar. Their answer, which we expect by now, is evidence of their spiritual insensibility. "Wherein have we polluted thee?" they ask.
God then details the specifics of their pollution. By their deeds, if not by their words, they are pointing to the table of the Lord as being contemptible. Apparently they are offering blind, lame, and sick animals for sacrifice. God reminds them that they would not even offer such to a governor. The verses that follow indicate how completely they had lost the sense of sacredness, beauty, and significance of the sanctuary service. In verse 13 they say, "Behold, what a weariness is it!"
In the first part of chapter 2 we find God accusing the priests of failing to keep the terms of the covenant that He made with them through Levi. What He expected of them was that they keep the law of truth in their mouths, that iniquity not be found in their lips, that they walk with God in peace and equity and turn many away from iniquity. They were to keep knowledge, and the people were to seek law at their mouths. They were to be God's messengers. But, He says, "Ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi" (verse 8).
Denunciations Against the People
Turning from the priests, Malachi launches a series of denunciations against the people. This is found in chapters 2:10 through 3:15. The prophet sharply reproves the people for their idolatry, adultery, infidelity, rebellion, and sacrilege. Theirs is religion without power because they are mechanically and formally following the symbols of religion without it meaning anything to them. As with the priests, the worst part of it all is that they do not even realize it.
When, as a consequence, God refuses to accept their offerings or sacrifices they challenge Him with the question "Wherefore?" In patience He replies that they have committed both literal and spiritual adultery. They have gone to such an extent that God informs them in verse 17 that they have wearied Him with their words. Even this desperate condemnation makes no impression on them, and they reply in injured tones, "Wherein have we wearied him?" God's answer is You don't even know the difference between evil and good. You don't seem to realize that I am a God of justice and judgment.
Vivid Description of Final Judgment
To emphasize this last point, in chapter 3, verses 1-3, is portrayed a most vivid scene of final judgment. Christ is to come in judgment and righteousness and deal with their sins. Malachi describes Him suddenly coming to His temple (verse 1). Of course, the prophet doesn't make a distinction between Christ's first and second coming. Literally He came to the Temple during His first advent, but Malachi points forward to an even greater fulfillment, describing Christ's final judgment in terms of refiner's fire and fuller's soap. He will "purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver." This, of course, points forward to the work of Christ in the heavenly temple during the investigative judgment.
Along with the warning of impending judgment God pleads with His people to return to Him so that He can return to them (verse 7). How do they answer? In the way that, by now, we would expect. They blindly quibble, "Wherein shall we return?" So God gives them a specific. He asks, Can you imagine such a thing as a man robbing God? Yet you are robbing Me. Naturally they reply, "Wherein have we robbed thee?" Immediately God answers, "In tithes and offerings" (verse 8).
They have forsaken God for material things and in doing so have violated the plan by which God can bless them both materially and spiritually. Our readers, I am sure, are very familiar with the promise that God will not only bless by opening the windows of heaven but will rebuke the devourer for their sake if they will only demonstrate their faithfulness in bringing the tithes and the offerings to His storehouse.
The final dialog found in this book is described in chapter 3, verse 13. God reproves them for their boldness and rebel liousness with the statement, "Your words have been stout against me." What do they reply? As we might expect, "What have we spoken so much against thee?" Even now they cannot see the point. Notice that in former encounters God has been dealing with their deeds, but this time He deals with their words. Yet the response is the same. They still blame God for their troubles. In verse 14 they complain, " 'It is vain to serve God. What is the good of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning be fore the Lord of hosts?' " (R.S.V.). What can the Lord do further for those who refuse to recognize their wrongdoing?
Malachi turns from those who are hopeless, because they refuse to recognize their wrongdoing, to bring a message of hope and comfort to those who are still faithful to the Lord. God remembers their devoted service. He has a "book of remembrance" in which He keeps the record of their faithfulness. With a sort of pride God points to them and says, " 'They shall be mine, . . . my special possession on the day when I act, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him' " (verse 17, R.S.V.).
He drives the lesson home with these words. " "Then once more you shall distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him' " (verse 18, R.S.V.).
The Key to the Whole Book
This last verse is, I believe, the key to the whole book. As long as we allow wickedness and pride to blind us we can not discern between good and evil or be tween the righteous and the wicked. We will continually question God's fairness and His dealings with us. But when we turn to the Lord, He gives us the eyesalve of the Holy Spirit, which enables us to see and turn away from evil.
Seventh-day Adventists are quite aware of the eschatological implications of the fourth chapter of Malachi. Because of this fact and owing to lack of space here, we will not develop this aspect except to point out that the greatest period of closeness to God and victory over sin and its effects in our world lies ahead of us.
In the midst of a world that has abandoned Biblical morality and that is characterized by a severe "generation gap" the people of God will find that through full commitment and total love for Jesus the " 'hearts of fathers' " will turn " 'to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers' " (chap. 4:6, R.S.V.).
The "Sun of righteousness" shall arise---He will be seen in our hearts and lives "with healing in his wings" (verse 2). Christ's healing, restoring power will make us physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually whole, and the world will see the beauty of His character reflected in the lives of His people.
From the time of Malachi to the time when this prophecy was partially fulfilled in the first coming of Christ the prophetic voice was stilled. What good would it do for God to send additional messages to those who refused to acknowledge any wrong whatsoever? Yet the promises of chapter four were and are still there---waiting for the anointing of the divine eyesalve that will enable His people to see their need and reach out for and claim the Holy Spirit's power in its fullness.
Among the often neglected writings of the minor prophets are to be found some of the most appealing, majestic, and meaningful messages God has given in the Scriptures. The "Timely Twelve" series has been able to sketch only briefly the messages and contributions of these small but significant Bible books and has attempted to demonstrate their importance to the understanding of our times. These prophets ministered in times of spiritual and moral decay similar to those we are experiencing today. How important it is to study once again the words God put in their mouths and has preserved for us through their pens. In the writings of the "Timely Twelve" we find a clear ringing call to the revival and reformation we so desperately need today.