Love Wholeheartedly

Explore the Bible Series

August 12, 2007

 

Background Passage: Malachi 1:1-14

Lesson Passage: Malachi 1:1-2; 6-14

 

Introduction: The Bible does not reveal much information about the identity of the Prophet Malachi.In fact, the name Malachi, which means ďmessengerĒ, may be a title rather than a proper name.Some ancient sources link this book with the scribe Ezra.While Bible students should avoid dogmatism at this point, Edward J. Young points out that no other Old Testament prophecy comes to us as an anonymous writing, and it seems unlikely this book breaks that pattern

 

While we know little about the authorís life, we may make several observations about the time of composition.It appears, for instance, that the prophet wrote after the rebuilding of the Temple, and he had some access to the internal workings of the priesthood.Furthermore, Malachi addressed several of the same problems that surfaced during the work of Ezra and Nehemiah (alien marriages, corruption in the priesthood, abuse of the sacrificial system, and neglect of the tithe).These thematic similarities point to the Mid-Fifth Century B.C. for the date of the work, during the ministries of Ezra and Nehemiah and prior to the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah.Young speculates that Malachi preached during Nehemiahís visit to Susa (c. 433 B.C.).

 

The Reformation Study Bible gives a helpful summary of the content of the book.It points out that Malachi preached to a disillusioned, disappointed, and discouraged people.The promise and zeal of the early years after the return to Jerusalem had degenerated into grave doubt and spiritual lethargy. If we dated the prophecy correctly, the people had managed to reconstruct the Temple, but Jerusalem had not fully recovered from the devastation of Babylonian and Persian oppression.Former prophets had promised a glorious restoration of the city, and, as of yet, the situation remained glum.The people, disappointed by their struggles, had settled into a pattern of spiritual and moral compromise.Apparently they flourished in their personal prosperity, but their perfunctory religion did not please the Lord.Cynicism and doubt diminished their joy and confidence in Godís goodness, and these struggles in faith caused the people to compromise their religious practice, family relations, and expectations of godly leadership from the priests.

 

This book, therefore, acts as a great correction and encouragement to those who find themselves in discouraging circumstances.Malachi confronted these circumstances in a dialogical style; that is, he raised questions that revealed the heart-sins of the people.After raising these problems, Malachi offered corrections to their errant thinking.This wonderful book provides a masterful example of the importance of theology.Moreover, it also describes well the connection between theology and behavior. The way people think influences the way they behave, and theology, rightly held, always affects the way people act.The Prophecy of Malachi has great practical and pastoral value, and we should approach this study with great anticipation of Godís help and blessing.

 

 

Lesson Outline:

 

I.                   A Dismal View of the Love of God (1:1-5): ďHow have you loved us?Ē

A.    doubt concerning the love of God (v. 2a):In this bleak circumstance, the Jews had come to question the love of God.The prophets promised great restoration and renewal of his people; yet, the people remained in discouraging circumstances, and no help appeared on the horizon.They made a horrendous charge against the Lord, a charge that grew out of their doubt and discouragement. These things seem evident:

1.      The Jews were not exempt from the common sufferings of the human race.

2.      The Jews had experienced a severe chastening because of their persistent idolatry and moral indiscretions.

3.      The Jews had, for some time, endured the ridicule of their enemies.In particular, men like Sanballet and Tobiah had mocked and threatened them. Godís people will, according to teachings of Christ, experience these things.

4.      The Jews were immersed in self-pity, and this attitude had twisted their theological understanding.

5.      Above all, the Jews were not enjoying the presence and glory of God.Their poor doctrine, as we shall see, produced a joyless, inadequate, heartless formalism in worship.

B.     Godís answer to Judahís charge (vv. 2b-5): The prophet answered thier charge with sound theology and history (these two things complement one another). God did, and does, love his people, and Malachi confronted their inappropriate thinking by reminding them of Godís election of his people.The Jews traced their linage to the Patriarchs, and the prophet reminded them of Godís gracious choice of Jacob.Before Rebekahís twins were born, God set his saving affection on Jacob, and the course of Jewish history demonstrated the Lordís redemptive affection for his chosen people.Furthermore, God did not pour out his blessing on the reprobate Esau.As descendents of Jacob, Israel enjoyed the wondrous blessings of the Lord: the Abrahamic Covenant, the Mosaic Law, the leadership of godly leaders, the Davidic kingdom, and the divine revelations of the prophets.Also, God had graciously chastened his people, and he invited them to come again into his kind presence. As we consider the history of Israel, these evidences of the love of God seem quite clear.

1.      God had shown great grace by choosing Israel as his people (See Romans 9:6-26)

2.      God had remained faithful to his covenant despite the spiritual and moral failures of Israel

3.      God showed great mercy to Israel, a mercy that extended even to the dismal circumstances of Malachiís day.

4.      God invited these failing people to return to him and repent of their sins.

 

II.                A Distressing Pattern of Perfunctory Worship (1:6-14)

A.    Godís cross-examination (v. 6): In this section, Jehovah went on the counter-offensive.Judah had charged the Lord with a failure of love; now, however, God turned the tables.He had fathered his children for generations, but they had brought dishonor to him by defiling the worship of the Lord. The text begins with a general accusation against all of the people, but the focus quickly centers on the corruption of the priesthood.The religious leaders feigned ignorance of their transgression (See v. 6b).

B.     The nature of Judahís sin (vv. 7-14): both the priests and the people bore responsibility for this disgraceful worship.The laymen brought injured and infirmed sacrifices to the Temple, and the priests willingly offered these blemished animals on the altar.

1.      the motive for their sin (v. 7): They despised the Lordís table by bringing infirmed animals.This transgression proceeded from a heart full of hate.How ironic?They had accused God of failing in his love, but Judahís love had soured toward the Lord.Make no mistake, the sins of the Temple arose from hearts that had turned away from the Lord.

2.      the effects of their sin (vv. 8-9):

a.       They gave greater honor to men (the governor) than they did to God.In a sense, they recreated the idolatry of their fathers; that is, they gave honor, due to the Lord alone, to a man.

b.      They offered ďleftoversĒ to Jehovah, and kept the best for themselves.What a spectacle this must have been.The Mosaic Law demanded that the people bring the first and best of their flocks for sacrifice to God, but these people brought whatever they did not want or need.In fact, good husbandmen would not want these informed beasts to reproduce.What better way to enrich themselves and strengthen their flocks than to offer these animals at the Temple?

3.      The Lord invited Judah to repent of her sins and reform their worship (See vv. 9-14).Jehovah said he would not accept the sacrifices of the Temple.Their worship was vain, and God told them to close the doors of the sanctuary rather than continue in their transgressions.The Jews needed to recognize the grandeur of God and bring honor to him among the nations.

 

 

 

Questions for Discussion:

  1. The Jews seem ignorant of their sins, but the Lord did not accept their claim.Their ignorance was no excuse for their sin.Discuss the importance of proper self-examination in areas where we may have ďblind-spots.Ē
  2. How do you offer second-best to the Lord?
  3. How should this passage affect the way we worship the Lord?