A. God's love for a rebellious Israel.
1. (1-2a) God declares His love for Israel through the prophet Malachi.
The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. "I have loved you," says the LORD.
a. To Israel by Malachi: Malachi spoke to the exiles some 100 years after their initial return, after the days of Zechariah and Haggai. Malachi ministered either at the time of Nehemiah or immediately after his book closes.
i. We know this because in Malachi's day the temple was rebuilt (Malachi 1:13, 3:1, 3:10).
ii. We know this because the Jews were under a civil ruler (the governor of Malachi 1:8), and Nehemiah was the last civil ruler over Jerusalem.
iii. We know this because the sins that Malachi rebuked are the same sins Nehemiah rebuked.
· The priesthood was defiled (Nehemiah 13:29, Malachi 1:6-2:9)
· Marriage was corrupt in Israel (Nehemiah 13:23-25, Malachi 2:14-15)
· The tithe that should go to the Levites was kept from them (Nehemiah 13:10-11, Malachi 3:8-12)
iv. By now, the temple is rebuilt, sacrifice and feasts have resumed but the dramatic promises of the prophets like Haggai and Zechariah are still far from fulfillment. This left the nation languishing in the disappointment of unfulfilled hopes and has lulled them into a low regard for God. Israel needs an assurance of God's love and a challenge to their disobedience.
b. "I have loved you," says the LORD: Malachi will have a lot of specific correction for Israel, but before God corrects He assures them of His love. This lays a foundation for their obedience, because if they love Him, they will keep His commandments (John 14:15).
i. Morgan translates this as "I have loved you, I do love you, I will love you," says the Lord.
2. (2-5) Their first question: How has God demonstrated His love to Israel?
"Yet you say, 'In what way have You loved us?' Was not Esau Jacob's brother?" Says the LORD. "Yet Jacob I have loved; but Esau I have hated, and laid waste his mountains and his heritage for the jackals of the wilderness." Even though Edom has said, "We have been impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places," Thus says the LORD of hosts: "They may build, but I will throw down; they shall be called the Territory of Wickedness, and the people against whom the LORD will have indignation forever. Your eyes shall see, and you shall say, 'The LORD is magnified beyond the border of Israel.'"
a. In what way have You loved us? This is the kind of question rarely spoken, but often harbored in the heart. It asks, "God, if you really love me why are things the way they are?"
i. The prophecy of Malachi is built around seven questions the people asked God. These questions revealed their doubting, discouraged, sinful heart.
· In what way have You loved us? (Malachi 1:2)
· In what way have we despised Your name? (Malachi 1:6)
· In what way have we defiled You? (Malachi 1:7)
· In what way have we wearied Him? (Malachi 2:17)
· In what way shall we return? (Malachi 3:7)
· In what way have we robbed You? (Malachi 3:8)
· In what way have we spoken against You? (Malachi 3:13)
b. Yet Jacob I have loved; but Esau I have hated: God asks Israel to find assurance in His election. He wants them to understand that they are chosen and remain His chosen and favored people. When the people of Israel compared themselves to their neighbors the Edomites (the descendants of Esau), they saw that God chose to preserve Israel and punished the Edomites.
i. Obadiah promised judgment against the land and people of Edom. Apparently by Malachi's time it had happened, and God's choice of Israel assured His love for them.
ii. Understanding our election can bring a wonderful assurance of God's love. It means that God chose us before we existed and that the reasons for His choosing and loving us are based in Him, not in us. Knowing God chose us gives us a sense of boldness and confidence in our walk with Him.
iii. Understanding our election gives assurance of love but since the finished work of Jesus we have a new demonstration of love: But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
c. Jacob I have loved; but Esau I have hated: The choice of Jacob over Esau is a strong and classic example of God's election. God chose Jacob instead of Esau to carry the blessing promised to their grandfather Abraham. In some ways, Esau was a more likely candidate because though Jacob and Esau were twins, Esau was born first. Nevertheless Jacob was chosen, and chosen before he and Esau were ever born (Genesis 25:23).
d. Jacob I have loved; but Esau I have hated: How could God hate Esau? He didn't hate Esau in the sense of cursing him or striking out against him. Indeed, Esau was a blessed man (Genesis 33:9, 36:1-43). Yet when God chose Jacob, He left Esau unchosen in regard to receiving the blessing given to Abraham.
i. In his commentary on Romans (where Paul quotes this Malachi passage in Romans 9:13) Leon Morris cites examples where hate clearly seems to mean something like "loved less" (Genesis 29:31-33, Deuteronomy 21:15, Matthew 6:24, Luke 14:26, John 12:25). Yet he agrees with Calvin's idea that the real thought here is much more like "accepted" and "rejected" more than it is like our understanding of the terms "loved" and "hated."
ii. Remember the reason why election is brought up here: not to exclude, but to comfort and reassure. "A woman once said to Mr. Spurgeon, 'I cannot understand why God should say that He hated Esau.' 'That,' Spurgeon replied, 'is not my difficulty, madam. My trouble is to understand how God could love Jacob.'" (William Newell in his commentary on Romans)
iii. Malachi isn't teaching double predestination. "Malachi is not speaking of the predestination of the one brother and reprobation of the other; he is contrasting the histories of the two peoples represented by them . . . Both nations sinned; both are punished; but Israel by God's free mercy was forgiven and restored, while Edom was left in the misery which it had brought upon itself by its own iniquity." (Pulpit)
e. Our greatest error in considering God's election is to think that God chooses for arbitrary reasons, as if He made choices in an "eeny-meeny-miny-moe" way of choosing. We may not understand God's reasons for choosing and they may be reasons He alone knows and answers to, but God's choices are not capricious. They make perfect sense knowing everything God knows and seeing everything God sees.
i. Some consider God's election as conditional, in the sense that it is based upon foreknowledge. Others consider God's election unconditional, based on God's sovereign choice. Here, it seems that the election of Jacob was unconditional. Though God knew what sort of men Jacob and Esau would become His election was not based on that.
ii. One might say, "I don't believe in Jesus; therefore I must not be chosen." That is fine, but then that person cannot blame God at all for not choosing them if they refuse to choose Him.
f. And laid waste his mountains and his heritage for the jackals of the wilderness: The idea of God's preference for Jacob over Esau also extended to their descendents. The nation descended from Jacob (Israel) was conquered by the Babylonian Empire, and so was the nation descended from Esau (Edom). Yet God restored Israel from exile and at this point Edom had not been restored. God chose to show more favor to Jacob and his descendants.
g. They may build, but I will throw down: God promises that Edom will be permanently ruined, and that their status as "unchosen" won't change. As a reflection of God's steadfast commitment to Israel, this is a comfort to God's people - once He chose Israel they stay chosen, and God will not forsake them and choose another.
B. Sacrifices dishonoring to God are exposed and condemned.
1. (6-8) Their second and third questions: How have we despised the LORD? How have we defiled His ministry?
"A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is My reverence? Says the LORD of hosts to you priests who despise My name. Yet you say, 'In what way have we despised Your name?' You offer defiled food on My altar. But say, 'In what way have we defiled You?' By saying, 'The table of the LORD is contemptible.' And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?" Says the LORD of hosts.
a. Where is My honor? Through Malachi, God asks the priests of Israel why they show so little respect and honor to Him in their sacrifices. They call God Father, they call Him Master, yet they do not honor Him and reverence Him with their sacrifices.
b. To you priests who despise My name: The priests of Israel presided over the sacrifices and it was their duty to uphold the honor and dignity of the sacrifices. Yet they offered defiled food to God, and offered animals that were blind, lame, or sick.
i. Passages such as Leviticus 22:20-23 and Deuteronomy 15:21 clearly prohibited offering blemished sacrifices.
c. In what way have we despised Your name? The priests weren't even aware that they despised God with their actions. This means that it came by degrees; they probably did not know the extent of their offense, simply carrying on "business as usual."
i. In ministry, it is easier than many people think to blindly continue in sin or mechanical indifference. God wanted Israel's priests to think about their service to Him, and He wants today's ministers to think just as carefully.
ii. Richard Baxter, a great Puritan writer, carefully considered the walk of the minister: "But consider plainly that the great and lamentable sin of ministers of the Gospel is that they are not fully devoted to God. They do not give themselves up wholly to the blessed work they have undertaken to do. Is it not true that flesh-pleasing and self-seeking interests - distinct from that of Christ - make us neglect our duty and lead us to walk unfaithfully in the great trust that God has given us? Is it not true that we serve God too cheaply? Do we not do so in the most applauded way? Do we not withdraw ourselves from that which would cost us the most suffering? Does not all this show that we seek earthly rather than heavenly things? And that we mind the things which are below? While we preach for the realities which are above, do we not idolize the world? So what remains to be said, brethren, but to cry that we are all guilty of too many of the aforementioned sins. Do we not need to humble ourselves in lamentation for our miscarriages before the Lord?" (Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor)
d. You offer defiled food on My altar: The altar was the place of sacrifice, and it belonged to God. Yet the priests of Malachi's day disgraced God and His altar by offering defiled food to Him. Ministers today must never present defiled food to God in their ministry.
i. Pastor, your sermon is filled with funny jokes, clever anecdotes, and emotional stores but it lacks God's word. You throw in a few Scriptures here and there to illustrate or back up your stories, but your sermon is really all about you. It isn't about Jesus, it isn't about His Word. Pastor, you are setting defiled food on God's altar.
ii. Pastor, your sermon is sloppy - you don't do your work in the study, and you shoot from the hip. Worse yet, you don't labor in prayer and meditation over God's word and seek His message for the people. You don't hold fast the pattern of sound words. You don't rightly divide the word of truth. Pastor, you are setting defiled food on God's altar.
iii. Pastor, your sermon is cold - God forbid you should show some concern or passion in the pulpit. Your passion is reserved for other things - like football or golf. You can pontificate or argue with the best of them, but your messages have no deep passion for God or your people. You punch the clock and put in the time, but your heart for Jesus is cold. Pastor, you are setting defiled food on God's altar.
e. The table of the LORD is contemptible: The priests weren't grateful for their ministry, for their work before the LORD. They whined about what the people gave and the trouble of being a priest.
f. Offer it then to your governor! The priests and the people tried to give to God things that the government wouldn't accept as taxes. King David had a completely different heart, saying nor will I offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God with that which costs me nothing (2 Samuel 24:24).
2. (9-11) God will be glorified but will it be by His present people?
"But now entreat God's favor, that He may be gracious to us. While this is being done by your hands, will He accept you favorably?" Says the LORD of hosts. Who is there even among you who would shut the doors, so that you would not kindle fire on My altar in vain? I have no pleasure in you," says the LORD of hosts, "Nor will I accept an offering from your hands. For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the nations," says the LORD of hosts.
a. Entreat God's favor, that He may be gracious to us: This phrase is rich with irony. Moffatt's paraphrase gives the sense: Try to pacify God and win his favour? How can he favour any one of you, says the Lord of hosts, when you offer him such sacrifices?
b. Who would shut the doors: God thought it was better to shut the doors rather than to continue worthless worship. Not everything that is offered to God as worship is accepted by God as worship. Sometimes He would prefer that it just stop and simply says, "I have no pleasure in you."
i. We are concerned with church growth, evangelism, and planting churches. Yet in some cases the best thing we could do for the cause of the LORD is to shut the doors on many churches.
ii. "I am more afraid of profanity of the sanctuary than I am of the profanity of the street." (Morgan)
c. My name shall be great among the Gentiles: Yet, God will not go without worship. If the priests and people among the Jews will not worship Him in Spirit and in truth, God will find worshippers among the Gentiles.
d. In every place incense shall be offered to My name: This is a glorious promise that the true worship of God will extend all over the earth. Jesus' command to spread the Gospel and to go to every nation is part of God's way of fulfilling this promise.
i. "It is, therefore, inconceivable that a prophet should suggest that the nations of his own day were worshipping the Lord under another name (Isaiah 42:8). Rather is he proclaiming that the nations will come to know the God revealed in the Scriptures." (Baldwin)
3. (12-14) God promises to curse shallow, selfish, false worship.
"But you profane it, in that you say, 'The table of the LORD is defiled; and its fruit, its food, is contemptible.' You also say, 'Oh, what a weariness!' And you sneer at it," says the LORD of hosts. "And you bring the stolen, the lame, and the sick; thus you bring an offering! Should I accept this from your hand?" Says the LORD. "But cursed be the deceiver who has in his flock a male, and takes a vow, but sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished; for I am a great King," says the LORD of hosts, "And My name is to be feared among the nations."
a. Contemptible . . . Oh, what a weariness! Their selfish, insincere worship was also unsatisfying to the worshippers. Because they did not meet God in their worship it was as hollow for them as it was for God. True worship is never contemptible or a weariness.
b. Cursed be the deceiver: In bringing God less than their best, they were deceivers, like Annanias and Saphira who pretended to surrender everything to God but really did not.
c. I am a great King: They simply did not treat God like a great King, one to be feared and honored. When we offer shallow, insincere worship to God we don't honor Him as a great King.