Malachi Overview

There’s that time in a relationship. Your partner or maybe your boss says “we have to talk”.

You are going to be dumped, or they have reached the end of their tether in some way. You are going to be fired. This book is sort of that talk between God and man. Yep, the old testament ends like that.

There’s lots of specific examples raised by God, of the people’s selfishness, injustice to each other and contempt for him. He finds the priests particularly toxic, because they are the people’s best hope to be taught better, but they are self serving and corrupt.

The people and the priests are so far from seeing his point of view that most of their responses are combative and belligerent. They throw God’s accusations back at him: “you haven’t loved us”, “you haven’t been fair or just to us”.

God sounds cynical, tired ‘You have wearied the Lord with your words.‘ he says at one point.

As the talk wears on, God goes from illustrating their inadequacies to saying what he’s going to do about it. Queue the searing fire and judgement. But his promise means he won’t forget them entirely still. ‘I never change’ he says, remembering the covenant.

He has a scroll with the names of the few who still have honest hearts, the little remnant of faithfulness, who are like gold to him. I thought: this is what Jesus referred to when he talked about storing up treasure in heaven.

The coming of the Messiah is both the sun that announces the change of season and the fire that burns up all that cannot stand before him. It’s like the saving Jesus and Judgement day Jesus rolled into one.

It ends with a promise of yet a further opportunity to repent: Elijah – does it refer to Jesus or John the Baptist? No wonder the disciples kept talking about Elijah. But it turns out he meant “an Elijah”.

The abiding image for me, the takeaway if you will, is not to give God shit.

This refers to God’s dialogue with the priests. For kickbacks, they allow the people to sacrifice the sick, weak animals that are worthless to them anyway. It stops it being any kind of sacrifice, it’s become a worthless animal disposal service.

Then they don’t even sacrifice them right. When God says he will rub the dung of their offerings in their faces, it’s because there shouldn’t be any. The system is supposed to have various processes to refine the offering so that God got the best, which he described as a sweet smell. The poo was supposed to be burned off already by the time it got to the final altar in the holy-of-holies.

And so with our Christianity. We don’t sacrifice animals, but God is interested in our hearts. Don’t give him shit.

1 years after the return to Jerusalem from exile, indifference has set in. The people are giving so little really to God, they may as well close the temple and give up.

2 expanding on the corruption of the priests, comparing Levi, the patriarch of the clan. They are pushing their own agenda, their own power, not servants of God. All believers are now priests.. simple application!

3 God speaks with cynicism and tenderness, like the end of a bad relationship where promises to improve can’t be believed. Jesus, the Messiah, breaks though the gloom like the sun, but the heat may be too much.

4 I rate the last chapter of the old testament 85% bleak. Uncomfortable shifts from tender to terror persist to the last verse, the evil of mankind creates an urgency we don’t often feel.

Advertisements

Malachi 4

Last chapter of the old testament. It’s not completely bleak, more like 85%. But the idea is that the people of God blew it. Adam blew it. They were made great, bought low, pruned and replanted, turned over new leaf after new leaf. Still they do not revere god in the main, just a few do. Their religion is hollow, grudging and insincere. Messiah needed.

It talks again of the day, when the fire will burn, or the sun will shine and heal, depending on your heart.

There is an encouragement again to keep the law. Then the last verses speak of Elijah coming. Presumably is some sort of Messiah prediction, or John the Baptist, who was like an Elijah.

The unsettling gentle / terrible shifts that have characterised this book continue to the last verse. On that day there will be tender healing between parent and child … heavenly or earthly, these are the ones who have kept faithful. For the rest complete destruction.

It’s easy to forget that this is in the teaching if Jesus too. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. It’s good for some, but a terrible downfall for others. He will separate the sheep and the goats.

There is an urgency, a vividness to the message which is also hard to remember as our brief span on earth starts to feel long in the living of it.

Malachi 3

You can’t fool God

Compared to chapter 2, the mood turns a little bit happier, but I still keep getting wrongfooted by the tone. It’s like a bad relationship, it’s the end of the old testament and God sounds tired.

The book is structured like a series of conversations between god and his people. But they are bad conversations, the ones when a relationship is under strain.

The prayers of the people sound to God like the unrealistic promises of the partner who has failed too many times.

He promises good things but even his covenants are turned to cynicism and futility, because people won’t be capable of benefiting from them.

Through all that there is hope, but only for a faithful few.

So it starts talking about the Messiah, like a ray of sun breaking through the clouds of the last chapter, but the sun can also burn… who can stand it’s heat? The dross will be burned away. Some will remain and be acceptable to God, but gods coming will be a terrible day of reckoning for many, the defrauders, the oppressors, the adulterers. Gulp. Hooray?

Then God accuses them if robbing him. “How?” they ask. By cheating on the tithe. A lavish promise follows of how abundantly overflowing the blessing will be if they test out faithful tithing. But they aren’t doing it.

He then accuses them of arrogance because they resent their religious observances when the irreligious keep prospering.

God is saying “I know you. Do you think I don’t see these things? You may be able to fool each other, even yourself, but you can’t hide your empty selfishness from me with fake religion and hypocritical respectability”

And there are some who respond, who accept the word. In the fullness of time it will be clear who they are, even if it’s not obvious now.

I keep visualising God here like Humphrey Bogart in those cynical film noirs. Femmes fatale and wise guys keep trying to put it over on him, but he always calls it out. Just when you think there is nothing but cynicism, there is exceptional tenderness for the real thing. All the more precious because it is so rare.

 

Malachi 2

This chapter is primarily addressed to corrupt priests. In christian theology everyone is a priest, so this should be a way of learning what God values – and despises – in us.

A priest is a bridge to god, proclaiming his blessings.  We are our own bridge to god, and we are his voice here is this world.  God says that if its not real, if we don’t sincerely recognise him, the blessings we claim and proclaim are like shit, literally, referring to the least pleasant part of the animal sacrifice, which was never supposed to make it to his presence. In the sacrificial system it was burned off prior to coming to the holiest place.

Turning to a more positive model, God holds up the ideal of the priesthood, the covenant of levi, the patriarch of the priestly tribe.  In life he was upright, with integrity. His words were full of instruction and knowledge.  His fruit were people turned from evil.  In contrast the corrupt priests show partiality in instruction, their own agendas.

The corrupt priests’ relationship to god is compared to faithlessness in marriage.  I’m not sure if Gods complaint was literal faithlessness, jewish priests trading in their wives for younger, less jewish models; or its an analogy, or a bit of both. He shows you how cynical he feels about insincere prayers “why have you abandoned me” and “where is God’s justice” when we have abandoned and betrayed him. What justice does the author of life deserve?

Its a mirror with an ugly sight in it. In the era of grace we can forget that we are offending and betraying God if we lie to ourselves about his lordship, don’t live it or speak to truth of it to others. God has not given us grace for this.

Help me stay focussed on you father, and not yield to the temptation to betray you.

 

 

Malachi 1

Malachi is the last book of the old testament and last chronologically. Israel has been great, then exiled, broken and scattered; and then with great rejoicing was miraculously bought back and Jerusalem and the temple rebuilt.

If the opening chapter sets the tone, this book is a downer, it’s the “but…” after the happily ever after. The honeymoon is over and cracks are appearing.

God has done big things, God has been generous in grace, but the people have been small in response. They give the diseased and the useless animals for sacrifice. God gets the left overs.  They have a show of caring about God, a show of gratitude and praise, but it’s hollow. They actually don’t care, and God says it would be more honest if they just closed the temple and gave up.

For me this is practical. How much do I give to God? I live a life that is mostly work, time wise. It feeds and clothes my family but it chews up so much of my time on earth.

Help me learn as I read this lord what is really important. May I be open to seeing my faults.