Doubting God's Love (Malachi)
Have you ever forgotten something? We forget our keys and lock ourselves out of the house. We forget to call someone back and make them angry. We forget the things we have learned in school. But, how easy is it for us to forget significant events in the past? September 11, 2001, is a date that almost all of us remember because it was a significant event in our lifetime. Will we ever forget that day? But the next generation will more easily forget that day. Much like my generation does not remember significant events like the Kennedy assassination or the events of Vietnam. I imagine none of us remember Pearl Harbor from 1941 because we weren’t living. Without someone reminding us of these things, we are prone to forget about them. When we open our Bibles to the book of Malachi, we see that Israel has forgotten something foundational.
We have been studying the exile period and seeing how God interacts with his people during a difficult time in Israel’s history. The Jews are living in a time where they are not popular. They are living in a time where the king that is over them is not their king. God has not fulfilled his promise to set up a new David yet. All of this waiting has made them impatient, and now they are starting to question God. Malachi is a unique book because it gives us ten questions from the people. These questions probably aren’t questions that the people would have asked. However, they represent the people’s attitude toward God, and they reveal people’s hearts. I divide this book up into four sections: The people’s Sins (1:1-2:17), God’s Response (3:1-15), God’s Promises (3:16-4:3), and God’s Final Warning (4:4-6).
The People’s Sins (1:1-2:17)
In Malachi 1:1-6, we read something startling.
Malachi 1:1--3 (ESV) --- 1 The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi. 2 “I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob 3 but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.”
God starts this book by stating what should be evident to every exile everywhere by saying, “I have loved you.” In response, people show their current condition. They have forgotten the wonder of God’s love for them. Daniel saw that love. Ezra and Nehemiah also saw that love. However, this generation has wholly forgotten the love of God toward them. As we continue throughout this book, we see that this is the primary problem that leads to the sin of the people: They do not understand or see God’s love for them. In response to that, God says, “I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau.” Esau’s land and people are destroyed and will remain that way, not so with Israel. God is painting a picture for Israel to see what it looks like when he does not love a nation.
A. Despising God (1:4-2:9)
Next, he tells them that forgetting God’s love has resulted in the people despising God. This is the first of two major sins that the nation has committed.
Malachi 1:6--8 (ESV) --- 6 “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ 7 By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised. 8 When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts.
1. The People Despise God
They have despised the Lord by offering lame animals as sacrifices. They are unwilling to give God the best of what is theirs because they don’t trust that God is worth that much. Instead, they give him the animals that they would not give to the king. We see how the people doubt that God knows any better. They do not believe that God even cares about him. He goes on to say in verse 13, “But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it.” They cannot stand to worship and serve God right now. They are offering up what is lame and sick because they are tired of serving God. As times get tough, they start to question whether serving God is worth the effort, and they begin to regret all of the work they are putting in. Worshipping God is getting old and stale. There are so many better things they could be doing.
2. The Priests Are Responsible
Then, in Chapter 2, he hammers on the priests for letting this happen. God blessed the priests with the responsibility of teaching the people so that they would not offer such lame sacrifices, but they failed to do it. The people see this as a weariness. Why? The priests haven’t shown them the importance of what they are doing. They are not showing the people who God is and what God has done for them. Instead, the priests are showing partiality in their teaching and allowing the people to do what they want. It’s no wonder that they say, “How have you loved us?” They haven’t been taught it.
3. How does God feel?
Do we ever feel like worshipping God is a weariness? Have any of us ever come to worship services wishing that we could be anywhere else? As a result, have we offered to God less than our very best in singing, praying, and focusing on the word? It is an easy thing to do, and the people are acting like it is no big deal. They are angry because God has not shown his love for them by giving them everything that they want. They have been forced to wait on the Lord to deliver his promises so they say, “If God’s not going to give us the best life now, why should we give him the best things in our lives?” They think that this is so wearying. They would much rather be at home enjoying a hobby, but they got to do this and offer this lame offering to be pleasing to God. They do not love God with all of their hearts. Worshipping God can become a weariness to us. How does God feel about that? God knows that he is worthy of honor, and he wishes that they would have the heart to serve him.
To this, God says in verse 10, “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain!” God does not want our half-hearted sacrifices. After all that he has done to bring this temple back and to beautify it, he now says he wishes they were not allowed inside. From our perspective, we think, “Oh, it’s just not a good day for me to serve God.” However, from God’s perspective, we are despising his name. He expects the best we have to offer regardless of how tough life gets. It is easy for us to let things go when we forget God’s love for us. The priests were the ones responsible for sharing that information with God’s people. Instead, they were seeking to be popular rather than trying to speak the truth in love. God tells the priests in verse 3, “Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it.” Also, in verse 9, he says, “And so I make you despised and abased before all the people, since you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.” These priests were failing and allowing God’s name to be despised. The irony is that God turns around and lets the priests feel how he feels. Now, people will despise them.
B. Faithless Toward Others (2:10-16)
The second sin that is a result of forgetting God’s love toward them is being faithless toward their spouses by divorcing their wives to marry foreign women.
Malachi 2:13--14 (ESV) --- 13 And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.
They seem to be going through some hardship and difficulty, and it is evident that they are suffering the covenant curses. But as they are going through that, they are starting to mistreat others in an attempt to make themselves happy. Do you mean God is taking into account the way they treat their spouses when he determines whether someone is faithful to him? That is right; the way we treat our spouse has a significant impact on the way God views our faithfulness to him. The Israelites were rejecting the arranged marriage covenants they had entered into to go after “true love.” The way they treat each other is a big deal to God. He wants to see faithfulness toward him because he is a jealous God, but he also wants to find loyalty in his people toward one another because they have made a vow before him to be faithful.
It is evident throughout scriptures that God is not okay with us hating our neighbor. The wife is the closet neighbor. He hates divorce. The ESV says that a man who divorces his wife, “Covers his garment with violence.” There is no difference between the two. God hates those who are violent toward their neighbors. He desires love. The New Testament lays out the same principle. Jesus wants us to love one another as he has loved us. John said, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20) Peter said, “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct,” and “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:1, 7). As husbands and wives, we have made a solemn vow before God that we would love, honor, and cherish in sickness, in health, in good times and bad times as long as we live. God expects the joining of two people together to mean something. Breaking that vow is a treacherous betrayal that he will not accept. Faithlessness to our spouse is equivalent to faithlessness to our God.
How do we treat our spouses? Do we keep our vows? God expects us to.
C. Summary of Sins
To end this section, God summarizes the heart of the people and transitions to the next section in verse 17.
Malachi 2:17 (ESV) --- 17 You have wearied the Lord with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?”
This is utter rebellion as they accuse God of delighting in evil. There is a progression from not knowing the love of God to completely hating God. This verse shows us how people have refused to trust God, and he is tired of it. This reminds me of a teenager. As teenagers, we didn’t understand the love of our parents as they are restricting us from doing what we want. We forget all that the parents have done for us in the past and we treat them like they don’t love us. Notice how the people are weary of serving God when they shouldn’t be. However, now God says that he is weary of serving them as they always rebel against him. They are seeing evil and injustice around them and saying, “Where is the God of justice?” They go from saying that God doesn’t love them to say that God is unjust and loves evil people instead of them. To this, God responds in the section that follows.
II. God’s response: “I am coming” (3:1-15)
In answer to the question, “Where is the God of justice?” God responds by saying that he will send a messenger to prepare the way, and then he will come suddenly to his temple. It seems like great news until we read in verse 5, “Then I will draw near to you for judgment.” Their questioning of God’s ability to be just has resulted in unfaithfulness. So they are asking for something that they don’t realize they don’t want. God is only bringing his blessings on those who love him, and they have shown that they do not love him. But even now, he tells them that if they return to him, he will forgive them.
In verses, 8-12 he says that they have robbed God. To which they again question God by saying, “How have we robbed you?” How could anyone ever rob God? God says that they have done this by holding back his tithes. We know that it is not like God needs the tithes. He is not stingy. But the people have been refusing to give to the Lord. When they do that, and when they act against the covenant, they are robbing God of his ability to be glorified through them. He has to curse his people instead of blessing them. They are handcuffing him by rebelling against him. So he encourages them to give and says that they can put him to the test.
Malachi 3:8--12 (ESV) --- 8 Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. 11 I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. 12 Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.
He will respond to their giving by overflowing them with an abundance. They are robbing God of joy. Now, let’s read verses 13-15
Malachi 3:13--15 (ESV) --- 13 “Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ 14 You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? 15 And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’”
God ends this section by spelling out the heart of the people. They aren’t getting anything out of serving God, so they want to abandon him and look for other gods to worship. But God says, “You aren’t actually serving me.” How easy is this for Christians to do? To many, being a Christian means that God will have to bless me. But Job thought the opposite. The question for God about Job was, “Does Job really serve God for nothing?” This book and these people are showing themselves to be the exact opposite of Job. They are arguing their case against God, but they base it on their expectation for God to provide them blessings for them to serve him.
In this text, we find the message of Malachi. The people get impatient and conclude that it is vain to serve God. So they start looking for fulfillment anywhere they can find it. They offer God a little bit to make him happy. Meanwhile, they throw away their wives and throw away anything that doesn’t make them happy because it is their right to be satisfied, and God certainly won’t help them. Is this not a picture of our unbelief? They start out doubting the Lord’s love for them, and this becomes a defiant rebellion.
III. God’s Promises (3:16-4:3)
Malachi 3:16--18 (ESV) --- 16 Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. 17 “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. 18 Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.
In this section of the book, we see a remnant of people who fear the Lord getting together and talking. God sees them doing this and writes their names in a book of remembrance. In 3:17 he says, “They shall be mine... in the day that I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.”
Then, in Chapter 4, he says that he will come in judgment against the wicked, but listen to what will happen to those who fear him.
Malachi 4:2--3 (ESV) --- 2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. 3 And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.
We see this fantastic picture of rejoicing and joy at the working of God to restore and exalt those who fear him. Picture a calf jumping and bucking and playing as he comes out of the stall. We will go our way rejoicing over what the Lord does for us, and God will give us the power to tread down those who oppose us.
IV. God’s Final Warning (4:4-6)
Now, at the end of this book, let’s read God’s final appeal to his people before 400 years of silence.
Malachi 4:4--6 (ESV) --- 4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. 5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
Remember the law which reveals God’s, steadfast love. Listen to the Elijah I’m about to send or else I will come and utterly destroy you!
This is a fantastic book to turn to for illustrating how people’s sin comes about because they forget God’s love. We do the same thing. How do we solve this? How do we avoid the progression of God’s people from ignorance to rebellion? God has loved them, and he loves us in a way that is beyond our comprehension. We must never forget the one event that demonstrated this love for all time. We must never stop growing in our understanding of the historical realities of the cross of Christ and the love of God that was shown. He sent his messenger to prepare the way for him. Then, he came to die for those who fear him. We do not come together to regurgitate the past. We come together to see the love of God in the cross of Jesus.