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Notes on the Prophecy of Malachi
The Failed Remnant
We know nothing whatever of the writer of this book. His name, Malachi, meaning “My messenger,” occurs in verse 1; but we read of him nowhere else in Scripture, and we get no particulars concerning him here. He was the last of the prophetic band, and his book appropriately closes the Old Testament canon. Till the advent of John the Baptist, of whose coming he prophesied, no other messenger was directly sent to Judah from God.
The conditions he describes fit in well with what is recorded of the state of the returned remnant in the latter period of Nehemiah’s governorship. So it is quite likely that he lived and ministered the word of Jehovah either during that time, or a little later.
The divisions are not very pronounced. In this first chapter, and going on to the 9th verse of the next, the prophet gives a message to the priests, while the balance of the book is addressed to the people, but includes more than the remnant, and really amounts to an indictment of all Judah. Chapters 3 and 4 tell of the coming of the day of the Lord, to be preceded by the one who, like Malachi himself, will in a distinctive sense bear the title of “My messenger.”
A striking feature of the prophecy is the eightfold controversy of Jehovah with His people. Notice chapter 1, verses 2, 6 and 7; chapter 2, verses 14 and 17; chapter 3, verses 7, 8, and 13. Again and again they are solemnly charged with gravest departure in heart from the Lord whom they outwardly professed to serve, and each time with brazen effrontery, they dare to contradict God’s testimony to their state, ask for proofs, and manifest an utterly calloused conscience.
All this has a voice of exceeding seriousness for us, particularly if in any measure we seek to take the ground they did. Almost at the end of a dispensation, there had been an outward return to God and to His word; but there was not a corresponding subjective state. They became occupied rather with place and position than with vital godliness. As a result, we have the gross Phariseeism of our Lord’s day, which was simply the outgrowth of the conditions described by Malachi.
Sad as Judah’s state had become, it is of love, not of judgment, that the opening chapters treat. “I have loved you, saith the Lord.” What could be more tender, more calculated to touch the hearts of His people, if indeed they had any heart left, and were not altogether hardened and unconcerned! Unchanging was that mighty love of His, whatever the perversity of their ways. Yet, with supreme contempt, they impudently retort, “Wherein hast Thou loved us?” They looked for temporal prosperity and worldly glory as the proof of His love. Bereft of both, they called His affection in question, utterly ignoring the prolonged course of carelessness and infidelity to Himself, for which He had chastened them. Patiently He deigns to reply to their caviling query: “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord; yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau.” And He goes on to picture the desolations of Edom, and to declare that they shall never be retrieved, for the seed of Esau are “the people against whom the Lord hath indignation forever.” On the other hand, though Israel’s blessing seem to tarry, it shall surely come at last, so that all nations shall confess, “The Lord will be magnified from the border of Israel” (vers. 1-5).
It is His dealings with Jacob and Esau after long centuries had shown what they really were that are referred to. The phrase, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated,” is quoted triumphantly by the apostle in Romans 9:13 to prove the wisdom of God’s choice made before the children were born, when He said, “The elder shall serve the younger.” Carefully observe, there is no hyper-Calvinistic question here of reprobation for hell and predestination for heaven. It is Jehovah’s inalienable right to dispose of His creatures as He will, that the apostle is contending for; and He manifests with holy joy that He wills to show mercy to those who deserved only wrath. Jacob and Esau are cited as illustrations. Before either was born, God chose Jacob to be superior to Esau, nationally. The elder was to serve the younger, and thus own the superiority of God’s choice. Then, when the whole Old Testament history had come to a close, He sums up all, and says, “I have loved Jacob, and hated Esau.” The grace which took the poor heel-catcher up at first, was shown to his seed to the very end.
But what return had He received from Israel for all this? It is clear duty for a son to honor his father, and a servant his master; but what honor had He received as a Father, or what reverence as a Master? Even the very priests in the newly-restored temple despised His name. But when the charge is brought, they superciliously inquire, “Wherein have we despised Thy name?” (ver. 6).
Solemnly He brings their sins before them, declaring that polluted bread was offered on His altar, thus failing to own His holiness, and ignoring His claims. Again they are ready to answer back, ere the reply to their former question is complete, asking, “Wherein have we polluted Thee?” On His part there is amazing patience and grace; on theirs, almost incomprehensible insensibility and levity. They practically said, “The table of Jehovah is contemptible;” for they offered the blind, the lame and the sick to Him in sacrifice, and kept the best for themselves. Would they dare to so act toward their governor, or any other earthly ruler? Yet He, the great King, they could treat in a manner so unbecoming. But He pleads with them to repent, and cry to Him for that grace they were ignoring, yet needed so much. Covetousness was the root-sin that was leading them daily farther astray. The priests would not so much as shut the temple doors save for wages, nor kindle the altar-fire except for gain. True love for Himself was lacking, and their holy office had been prostituted to a mere worldly profession, and used as a means of enrichment. Because of this, He could have no pleasure in them, nor accept an offering at their hands (vers. 9, 10).
It seems almost unnecessary to attempt to draw attention to the similar state prevailing in so many places at the present time. Is it not patent to even the least spiritual that worldliness and covetousness are the characteristic features in the professing Church, and godliness and true devotion the exceptions?
Even where there has been a measure of revival and return to what is written in the word of God, the same evil principles have crept in insidiously, and are doing their deadly work in many quarters. Nothing but a spirit of prayerfulness, coupled with careful watchfulness, will keep any from being carried away by the unholy current.
But it is blessed to know that, whatever the present failure, God shall yet be fully glorified; so we read, “From the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same, My name shall be great among the nations; and in every place incense shall be offered unto My name, and a pure offering: for My name shall be great among the nations, saith the Lord of hosts” (ver. 11). It is hardly the present work of grace among the Gentiles that is here contemplated, but rather that wonderful era of blessing which is still in the future-the times of restitution of all things spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the ages began. Then shall Jehovah’s name be honored and His word obeyed throughout the whole earth, when all nations shall bask in the sunshine of His favor.
In the next verse the prophet reverts to the serious charge made above. Judah profaned the table of the Lord, characterizing it as a thing polluted, and its meat contemptible. They declared it a weariness to attend upon its service, and made light of what should have been both sacred and precious. Their wretched thoughts were manifested by the unsuitable offerings they brought, which He would not accept, but, instead, invoked a curse upon the deceiver who brought Him that which was corrupt, while keeping the better for himself. Was it thus they would treat the King of kings, whose name was to be reverenced among the heathen? (vers. 13, 14). They who had known so much of His power and grace had proven altogether unworthy of His love. But the nations who had been passed by during the time of Israel’s special favor were yet to bow at His feet and own His greatness and glory.
They who have never learned the distinctive character of the Spirit’s work in this dispensation invariably apply such passages to the present outgoing of the gospel to the Gentiles; but while they may indeed, and do, prove that the call of the nations now is not out of harmony with the scriptures of the prophets, all these promises will have their complete and literal fulfilment in the Millennium. We wait in faith for brighter and more glorious hopes to be consummated.
Let shame be upon us if our state be in any wise like that depicted in the solemn chapter we have thus briefly gone over!
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Malachi 1". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26