• The Explore the Bible lesson for May 17 focuses on Malachi 1:1-11.
Introduction to Malachi
Biographical information about Malachi appears scant at best. The prophet’s name can be translated “My Messenger,” and may be a play on the words of 3:1. Some scholars identify Malachi as a contemporary of Haggai, Ezra and/or Nehemiah, but the thematic content of the book points to a later date. We reasonably can conclude that Malachi composed the book beginning in approximately the late fifth century B.C.
Malachi boldly tackled some of the most difficult issues of his day. For instance, he spoke to a corrupted priesthood and to those who paid lip service to God yet turned their backs on him. Malachi highlighted these failures in a serious and challenging rhetorical conversation between God and God’s people in Chapter 1.
This conversation, punctuated by the failure of worshippers to make right sacrifices and to respect the name and word of God, became a foundation upon which Malachi built a case for illustrating how the people broke covenant with the Lord. Notice it was not enough in this context for Malachi to say, “Thus says the Lord.” Malachi had to argue vehemently through other logical and deductive means in order to garner attention from a wayward people. Malachi desired for the people to repent and come back to the Lord.
Malachi’s argument in chapter 1 involved three primary lessons about the relationship between God and his people. First, God shows true love and is zealous for his people. Second, God requires believers to worship in spirit and in truth. Third, God defines greatness for people of all nations and races.
True love (1:1-5)
Malachi’s book begins with a superscription regarding both the content and the people to whom the book was addressed. What follows in verses 2 through 5 often is referred to as a speech unit in scholarly language and involves a dispute between God and his people. In this dispute, God noted the certainty of his faithful love for his people. We can define God’s love in this context as God’s covenantal, sacrificial and steadfast love for erring people. God asserted this love through Malachi’s initial verses.
God’s declaration of love highlighted Israel’s responsibility to reciprocate such love. God simply said, “I have loved you.” Yet, the people responded by asking, “How have you loved us?” Consider the lack of trust in such a question. Consequently, the Lord gave the people direct and irrefutable evidence of his love by pointing to the historical relationship between Israel and Edom, or Jacob and Esau. Malachi saw ongoing collapses among the Edomites as proof of God’s continuing love for Israel.
Malachi’s words in these verses provide food for critical thought among contemporary readers. For instance, we ought to be wary of reading into this text any inference that God hates a particular race or people. In fact, the word “hate” in the Hebrew means “less favored” and obviously is somewhat different in meaning than the English term we use today.
In other words, Israel was a favored nation in order that it might serve the Lord as a witness to the nations concerning salvation through faith. Edom was a less-favored nation since it had chosen to neglect God. Malachi, therefore, confronted the Jews with the seriousness of their sins against God. As God’s favored people, the Jews simply could not afford to give themselves some sort of special status or absolve themselves from the responsibility of serving God.
True worship (1:6-10)
God continued the dispute by calling out the corrupt spiritual leaders and the dishonorable sacrificial system. In fact, God illustrated his point by calling attention to one of the foundational building blocks of society—the father/son relationship. The Ten Commandments highlight the ways in which children ought to honor their parents. In the same way, the children of God must honor his name. Yet, God questioned why his people—the priests in particular—failed to respect him as the Heavenly Father. It becomes quickly obvious the people had no idea their defiled offerings and sacrifices greatly fell short of the Lord’s standard.
True greatness (1:11)
The Lord even implied the priests took their responsibilities to a local governor more seriously than covenantal faithfulness to Yahweh. In fact, other deities received better sacrifices than God at the time. Contemporary readers would do well to consider quality over quantity while reading this passage. Christians, of course, do not live under the Old Testament sacrificial system. Yet we may find ourselves just as guilty as the priests in Malachi’s time of taking the worship of God less seriously than we ought. Jesus’ teaching concerning the widow’s mite becomes especially relevant (Mark 12:41-44).
Accordingly, God declared his name would be great among all the nations of the world. This verse should not be read to support an unsound doctrine of universalism. However, it does show God’s concern for the Gentiles to know Him as Lord and Savior. While many of the Jews in Malachi’s day despised the “heathen” as they offered up lack-luster worship, God wanted to use the Jews to proclaim his name among them.