Malachi may be associated with the jackal, which features early in his book, for God had left Edom to jackals, yet now God’s own people were acting like jackals.
As I thought about this final prophet and what God had called him to do, I found myself wondering what he must have been like as a person. How did he deal with conflict? How did he navigate life as a godly man among those who were not as fervent as he was concerning the things of God?
Researchers have noted people tend to fall into one of four ways of coping with conflict.
- Fight! “Oh yeah, I confront issues head on! I do not like to let things slide, I give ‘em both barrels and watch ‘em go up in smoke!”
- Flee! “Oh No! As soon as I see anything angry or scary, I turn tail and run! Where can I hide?”
- Freeze! <Gulp> “There is only the sound of static between my ears, and I do not think I even blink. If I do not move, maybe they will not notice me.”
- Fawn! “Best way to deal with danger is to throw it a steak, a slice of cake, pop the champagne and ask what else I can do for them.”
I think I can safely say that all of us have had at least one painful confrontation in our lives that has left lasting memories of words that should never have been said, feelings of condemnation, unfair accusations, total discouragement.
In this prophet’s chronicle, you and I will read about a different kind of confrontation, one that begins and ends in love, that never departs from a frank appraisal of the truth—no compromises, no tip-toeing on eggshells—but also no condemnation without hope. Rather, through Malachi, God will offer encouragement with a promise of blessing and the Lord’s advent to be forever with God’s people.
It has been a while since we looked at how this last triad of prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, were associated with each other.
All three prophets, along with Jeremiah, were hauled into captivity by the Babylonians when Judah fell, and Jerusalem was leveled to the ground. They experienced the heart-wrenching destruction of their beloved holy city, stared in horror as God’s holy house was looted and pillaged, and felt the heat of the blazing inferno the Babylonians made of Zion, God’s holy mountain.
The unthinkable had happened.
Still, three prophets but three very different stories.
Haggai working in concert with the prophet Ezra, was part of the first wave of exiles who were permitted to return to the rubble of Jerusalem. He encouraged the people to rebuild the temple, despite their grinding poverty.
Zechariah, the longest of these three prophetic books, concentrated on the theme of God choosing and desiring Israel, of the Lord’s promise to dwell among God’s beloved people forever.
Malachi spoke about the immediate social and religious ills that accompanied those who had returned to Zion—neglect and misuse of the Sabbath, and their sin of intermarriage.
Malachi delivered his oracles to the people somewhere during the time when Nehemiah had gone back to Persia, and it could even be that news of this prophet is what brought Nehemiah back in 432 B.C. to institute his reforms.
I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes of Babylon I went to the king. After some time I asked leave of the king and returned to Jerusalem. I then discovered the wrong that Eliashib had done on behalf of Tobiah, preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God.
And I was very angry.Nehemiah 13:6-8 (NRSV)
Malachi means “my messenger” in Hebrew, and the people really needed a message from God. They had been waiting with expectant anticipation for the coming of the Messiah, thinking their Savior’s arrival would be any minute—imminent! The people had believed Zechariah’s and Haggai’s message that God’s glory was going to come if the temple was built, and then Nehemiah had successfully overseen rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. All the big building projects were now accomplished, and the people began to wait for the glory of God, the Messiah, and the magnificent reign of God on earth to materialize.
. . . waiting
. . . waiting
But instead, there was still oppression, famine, and drought. They continued to suffer hardships, calamities, trials, and the seemingly unrelenting, grinding struggle just to survive.
God’s people began to fray, to feel discouraged, and their low spirits led to moral and spiritual decline. Downhearted, disappointed, people became indifferent to each other and to God, skepticism set in, and God’s people lost their confident hope. They came to wonder if perhaps Messiah was not coming after all, if perhaps the prophets had merely tickled their ears and their hearts with pipe dreams.
Then came Malachi’s message, and it came in the form of what is sometimes called a love sandwich: love on top, hard message in the middle, love on the bottom.
- Love—God still loves you and the Lord is going to keep God’s covenant promises with you.
- Hard message—You are not loving God back, nor keeping your promises with God.
- Love—God remembers all the ways you show love, and the Lord really is coming back as God promised.
Malachi is written in a poetical form that is hard to discern from the chapters and verses, and translated from its original Hebrew language. There are six oracles:
- God chose the Hebrew people as God’s own. (1:2-5)
- Blemished sacrifices were polluting God’s table. (1:6-2:9)
- Marital infidelity illustrated Judah’s unfaithfulness to God. (2:10-16)
- Divorce illustrated Judah’s unfaithfulness to God. (2:17-3:6)
- Despite Judah’s begrudging worship, God would bless them. (3:7-12)
- God’s righteous judgment and faithful would be proven. (3:13-4:3)
There is not much else that is known about Malachi except his message! Even his name is simply a title, “my messenger,” God’s mouthpiece.
In a sense, Malachi becomes a model for all those who love God and are trying to navigate life with fervent faith. God can make each of us the Lord’s messenger, through our lives and our words, delivering a unique message that only you, or I, can give in our own context, in the conflicts we find ourselves in.
With many thanks to a really wonderful resource on YouTube called “The Bible Project,” let us begin our study of Malachi with this overview.