The postexilic posture

MALACHI -Third in a series

In the previous post we looked at the beautiful ways of love elaborated in 1 Corinthians 13, and noted that love is at root a decision. I may love you in a simple or emotional way for a time, but eventually I must choose to love you despite yourself and my self. To this, we now add that true love disciplines; it is tough love.

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? … all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Heb 12:6-11)

The exile was a severe discipline:

  • WHAT A forced deportation of Jews living in Judah and Jerusalem to a foreign land, Chaldea.
  • WHY Ordained by the Lord to show his rejection of their evil behavior and heathen worship practices.
  • WHERE They were exiled in Babylon, the ancient site on the Euphrates where the Lord had confused the language so that tribes would scatter and populate the earth.
  • WHO Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the Chaldeans, only deported the prominent citizens of Judah: professionals, priests, craftsmen, and the wealthy. The simple folk were allowed to stay.
  • WHEN Various groups were deported over a period of time. The exile was prophesied to last for 70 years and ran between 605 and 536 B.C., though the last group did not return until about 432 with Nehemiah.

The probable dates of Malachi's ministry were 440-430 BC, and some suggest he was Ezra, whose surname could have been Malachi. Malachi means My Messenger, and is considered to be generic, not a personal name, in the same vein as Luke's Theophilus. (Luk 1:3; Acts 1:1)

For the Israelites, there were two times of exile. The first, of the northern kingdom, was a "diaspora" resulting in a disappearance, but during the second— of the southern kingdom— the deported Jews formed their own community in Babylon and retained their religion, practices, and philosophies. (ref) Yet their worship ceremonies in Babylon would not have enjoyed the same feeling or perception of God's presence since it was identified with their Temple and Jerusalem.

The latter returnees showed eagerness and diligence in reestablishing Jerusalem and temple worship, as we read in Ezra and Nehemiah, but Malachi addresses descendants who seem disenfranchised. Their ceremonial observances had become rote, mechanical in nature. They no longer honored the Lord in their offerings and worship, but rather, insulted him.

It is hard to maintain a sincere, lively faith. Again, Malachi speaks to us today.

Upon their return to Israel, the Jews never again practiced idolatry, yet they were in need of renewal in heart and vision, as we will see in the next post.

Debilitating doubt

MALACHI -Second in a series

Malachi 1:1-5... Malachi reproves the Jews for doubting God's love.

Do you like God? That does not matter. The Lord is looking for those who will love him. The heart that is wholly devoted is what the Lord seeks. (Rev 3:16; 2 Chr 16:9; Mat 6:33)

We like people because they are clever, fun, intelligent, whatever, and act toward them with friendliness and so forth; but love is much different and deeper. First Corinthians 13 tells us what love is, and the list is long:

  1. longsuffering
  2. kind
  3. not envious
  4. not prideful or boastful about self nor about the object of affection
  5. not ill-behaved
  6. not self centered
  7. not easily provoked
  8. not thinking evil
  9. not rejoicing in iniquity but in truth as an ideal
  10. concealing the errors and faults of the one who is loved
  11. believing all things to encourage the loved one
  12. hoping all things to inspire and support you
  13. enduring all things, standing by you no matter what
  14. never failing

Paul lists the expressions and qualities of Christian love, while Malachi in his prologue reminds us that love is an act of volition.

The burden [oracle] of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. (Mal 1:1-3)

Malachi describes his prophecy as a burden. God has shown him that his nation, those returned from exile and now settled back in Israel, doubt God's love for them despite his preferential treatment of them. Indeed, over time Esau would be removed forever. Whereas Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith the LORD of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever. And your eyes shall see, and ye shall say, The LORD will be magnified from the border of Israel. (Mal 1:4-5) A full end of Edom would arrive while Israel would revive, and why? The Lord is mindful of his own; he remembers his children, and promises they will “possess the gate” of their enemies. (Gen 22:17)

Doubting is not believing all things. It is not kind, long-suffering or never-failing. It is instead ill-behaved, thinking evil of God; not hopeful but displaying that turn of heart also known as being easily provoked.

Perhaps God's nation did not like to recall that their exile to Babylon was for sins they committed. Perhaps they did not care that they were special because they were the children of Abraham. Isaiah wrote, "Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him." (Is 51:2)

An aside: The language of Isaiah is rich and poetic, moving and lifting. Malachi's words are blunt and hard-hitting. Commentators point out that Malachi lived in the decline of Hebrew poetry. As nations lose their acumen and affinity for fine expression, indulging rather in blunt, vulgar and simple conversational communications, it is no use to regale them with poetry or prose. You will barely reach them with plain language, though slang or some cursing may help. Malachi relates God's message plainly: I loved Jacob and I hated Esau. (Ref unknown)

God had called Abraham and made a covenant with him which was maintained through Isaac not Ishmael and then through Jacob not Esau. Why? Perhaps in the case of Ishmael we can understand: wrong mother. But with the twin brothers we cannot. It seems to us like favoritism which we perceive as unjust or imperious. Romans 9 makes clear the distinction was not drawn based on behavior but on God's sovereign actions. (Rom 9:11-13)

We encounter stumbling blocks on the road to faith. One of these is Jesus Christ whose sacrificial death was required to save man from eternal damnation, so that man cannot recommend himself to the Lord on the basis of his good deeds.

And there is the stumbling block of election, so that man cannot recommend himself to the Lord on the basis of his decision to serve Christ. Man's decisions are important, but the choice to serve God and to love him is enabled by God first choosing and loving man. (John 6:44; 1 John 4:19) Again, this smacks of favoritism, and we cannot understand.

There is also the stumbling block of presumption. We cannot figure out God's ways. We question his methods and doubt his judgment. The result is that we also doubt his love for us and do not trust in his promises.

Reaching for Malachi, marching forward

MALACHI - First in a series

The Hebrews lived as slaves for many centuries before the Exodus. In that epoch, did they feel chosen and special? Did they consider that Abraham had really been a friend of God? Or, did memories and hearts fail?

This brings up a good question: How many years can a collective memory be retained? Or, for us today and for the Jews, a better question is: How long can we continue to believe the promises?

The question speaks to our human frame, not to the essence of God's Word which will stand forever. (1 Pet 1:23) The answer is: But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. (2 Cor 4:7) Yes, we can continue to believe as we wait for Christ to return, but only by his help.

God promised Abraham (Abram) his descendants would be afflicted in Egypt for 400 years but would emerge with treasures, so perhaps it was not too hard for them to wait, since they had been apprised how long their affliction would last and that it would end well. (Gen 15:13) Easy for us to say.

When we feel the days are stretching thin as we look for Christ's second coming, we have the written Word for help. We can read and hear Peter saying,

Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming?…But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (2 Pet 3:3-8)

About a thousand years passed from the giving of the Law to the last of the Old Testament prophets, Malachi. This "moment" for the Hebrews had been an eternity of learning, backsliding, relearning, and finally exile from their homeland and then return.

From Malachi's words to the birth of Christ, roughly 400 years would pass. Perhaps they would wonder over those centuries, Are we thinking right about God's words? Did we miss something? Or, did they think back to their time in captivity: That phase had lasted 400 years— Will this one too?

The Lord preserved them between the Testaments; the "collective memory" was maintained and communicated to their descendants. Those who met Jesus still recalled Malachi's words, and asked: What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No. (John 1:21)

And what about you? Are you looking for Elijah to return as a portent of Christ's second coming? Or, do you view Malachi's prophecy as pertinent only to Christ's first appearance? Are you waiting patiently, anxiously, or not at all for the return of the Lord?

Christ understood how it would be in the 21st century. He framed a parable to analogize to it.

There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:2-8)

The purpose of that challenging question was to stress to us how very difficult it will be in the end times to maintain faith.

Jesus predicted: And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. (Mat 24:12). He also warned: And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened. (Mat 24:22)

Can Malachi help us to keep the faith, as he did those who earnestly looked for the Lord to suddenly appear in his temple? (Mal 3:1)

In this series we will seek that help.

Attention Readers

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