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I. INTRODUCTION 1:1
This title verse explains what follows as the oracle of Yahweh’s word that He sent to Israel through Malachi. The Hebrew word massa’, translated "oracle," occurs 27 times in the Prophets (e.g., Isaiah 13:1; Isaiah 14:28; Nahum 1:1; Habakkuk 1:1; Zechariah 9:1; Zechariah 12:1; et al.). It refers to a threatening message, a burden that lay heavy on the heart of God and His prophet. "Pronouncement" and "utterance" are good synonyms.
"The word of Yahweh" refers to a message that comes from Him with His full authority. "Yahweh" is the name that God used in relationship to Israel as the covenant-making and covenant-keeping God. What follows is evidence that Israel was in trouble with Yahweh because the Jews had not kept the Mosaic Covenant. Yahweh, of course, was completely faithful to His part of the covenant.
"Malachi" means "my messenger." The prophet’s name was appropriate since God had commanded him to bear this "word" to the people of Israel. The prophet was not the source of the revelation that follows; he was only a messenger whose job it was to communicate a message from Yahweh (cf. Malachi 2:7; 2 Timothy 4:2; 2 Peter 1:20-21). As many as 47 of the 55 verses in Malachi are personal addresses of the Lord. [Note: Clendenen, p. 205.]
The Lord’s first word to His people was short and sweet. He had loved them. He had told His people of His love for them repeatedly throughout their history (cf. Deuteronomy 4:32-40; Deuteronomy 7:7-11; Deuteronomy 10:12-22; Deuteronomy 15:16; Deuteronomy 23:5; Deuteronomy 33:2-5; Isaiah 43:4; Hosea 11:1; Hosea 11:3-4; Hosea 11:8-9). Yet they were now questioning His love and implying that there was no evidence of it in their present situation in life. This is the first of seven such dialogues in Malachi (cf. Malachi 1:6-7; Malachi 2:14; Malachi 2:17; Malachi 3:7-8, Malachi 3:13-14). Yahweh had promised them a golden age of blessing, but they still struggled under Gentile oppression and generally hard times (cf. Malachi 1:8; Malachi 2:2; Malachi 3:9; Malachi 3:11). Their question revealed distrust of Him and hostility toward Him as well as lack of appreciation for Him. Israel should have responded to Yahweh’s love by loving Him and keeping His commandments (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
In replying to the people’s charge, the Lord asked them if Esau was not Jacob’s brother. The implication of the question is that these twins were both the objects of God’s elective love. Yet God had loved Jacob, the younger, and hated Esau, the older. The evidence of God’s hatred for Esau was that He had made the mountains of Seir, the inheritance that God gave Esau and his descendants, a desolate wilderness. Unstated is the fact that God had given Jacob a land flowing with milk and honey for his inheritance, which proved His love for that brother.
"It was not a question of selecting Jacob for heaven and reprobating Esau to hell." [Note: Harry A. Ironside, Notes on the Minor Prophets, p. 187.]
It is remarkable that God loved Jacob in view of the person Jacob was, and it is equally remarkable that God hated Esau, because in many ways he was a more likeable individual than his brother.
"Someone said to Dr. Arno C. Gaebelein, the gifted Hebrew Christian leader of a generation ago, ’I have a serous problem with Malachi 1:3, where God says, "Esau I have hated." Dr. Gaebelein replied, ’I have a greater problem with Malachi 1:2, where God says, "Jacob, I have loved."’" [Note: Warren W. Wiersbe, "Malachi," in The Bible Exposition Commentary/Prophets, p. 479.]
Normally in the ancient Near East the father favored the eldest son, but God did what was abnormal in choosing to bless Jacob over Esau. God’s regard for individuals does not depend ultimately on their behavior or characters. It rests on His sovereign choice to bless some more than others (cf. Romans 9:13). This is a problem involving His justice since it seems unfair that God would bless some more than others. However, since God is sovereign, He can do whatever He chooses to do (cf. Romans 9).
Another problem that these verses raise concerns God’s love. Does not God love the whole world and everyone in it (John 3:16)? Yes, He does, but this statement deals with God’s choices regarding Jacob and Esau, not His affection for all people. When He said here that He hated Esau, He meant that He did not choose to bestow His favor on Esau to the extent that He did on Jacob (cf. Psalms 139:21). He made this choice even before they were born (Genesis 25:21-34; Romans 9:10-13). To contrast His dealings with the twins, God polarized His actions toward them in this love hate statement (cf. Luke 14:26). God loved Jacob in that He sovereignly elected Him and his descendants for a covenant relationship with Himself (Genesis 29:31-35; Deuteronomy 21:15-17), as His special possession (cf. Deuteronomy 4:37; Deuteronomy 5:10; Deuteronomy 7:6-9). Often in Scripture to love someone means to choose to bless that person. Not to love someone means not to bless him or her.
"Modern studies of covenant language have shown that the word ’love’ (. . . ’aheb, or any of its forms) is a technical term in both the biblical and ancient Near Eastern treaty and covenant texts to speak of choice or election to covenant relationship, especially in the so-called suzerainty documents." [Note: Merrill, p. 391. See also Stuart, p. 1284; William L. Moran, "The Ancient Near Eastern Background of the Love of God in Deuteronomy," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 25 (1963):77-87; and J. A. Thompson, "Israel’s Haters," Vetus Testamentum 29 (1979):200-205.]
The fact that God gave Mt. Seir to Esau as his inheritance shows that He did love him to that extent. But He did not choose to bless Esau as He chose to bless Jacob, namely, with a covenant relationship with Himself. Similarly a man might love several different women (his mother, his sisters, his daughters, et al.) but choose to set his love on only one of them and enter into the covenant of marriage with her alone. His special love for the one might make it look like he hated the others. Again, eternal destiny is not in view here; God was speaking of His acts in history toward Jacob and Esau and their descendants.
Did not God choose to bless Jacob because Jacob valued the promises that God had given his forefathers whereas Esau did not (cf. Genesis 27)? Clearly Jacob did value these promises and Esau did not, but here God presented the outcome of their lives as the consequences of His sovereign choice rather than their choices. Clendenen believed God’s love and hatred of Jacob and Esau was His response to their respective regard and disregard of His covenant promises. [Note: Clendenen, p. 251.] Their choices were important, but the choice of God before and behind their choices that resulted in the outcome of their lives was more important (cf. Ephesians 1; Romans 9).
Some of God’s choices, the really important ones (His decree), determine all that takes place to bring those choices to reality. If this were not so, God would not be all-powerful; man could override the power of God with his choices. Some of God’s choices are stronger than others, as reflected, for example, in the words "will," "counsel," or "purpose" (Gr. boule) and "desire," "wish," or "inclination" (Gr. thelema). In some matters God allows people to influence His actions, even to cause Him to relent or change His mind from a previous course of action to a different one. Yet in the really important things that He has determined, no one can alter His will. [Note: See Thomas L. Constable, "What Prayer Will and Will Not Change," in Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost, pp. 99-113.] Yet God’s choices do not mean that man’s choices are only apparently real. Human beings have a measure of freedom, and it is genuine freedom. We know this is true because a just God holds human beings responsible for their choices. How humans can be genuinely free, to the extent that we are free, and how God can still maintain control is probably impossible for us to comprehend fully.
The bottom line is that God chose to bless Jacob to an extent that He did not choose to bless Esau. This decision lay behind all the decisions that these twin brothers made. They were responsible for their decisions and actions, but God had predetermined their destinies (cf. Ephesians 1:3-5; Romans 8:28-30).
A. Positive motivation: the Lord’s love 1:2-5
II. THE PRIESTS EXHORTED NOT TO DISHONOR THE LORD (THE THEOLOGICAL ANGLE) 1:2-2:9
"Malachi’s first address is governed by the ironic exhortation in Malachi 1:10, ’Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors.’ It is directed against the priests of the postexilic temple. Despite their responsibility under the covenant of Levi (cf. Malachi 2:4; Malachi 2:8) to be the Lord’s messengers of Torah (Malachi 2:7), they were dishonoring the Lord (Malachi 1:6), particularly in their careless attitude toward the offerings (Malachi 1:8). Failing to take their responsibilities to the Lord seriously, they had become political pawns of the influential in Israel who used religion to maintain respectability (Malachi 2:9). The priests are here exhorted to stop the empty worship and to begin honoring the Lord with pure offerings and faithful service. As motivation the Lord declares his love for them (and for all the people; Malachi 1:2-5) and threatens them with humiliation and removal from his service (cf. Malachi 2:1-3; Malachi 2:9)." [Note: Ibid., p. 244.]
One’s attitude toward and his or her relationship with God determine that person’s health and wholeness as a child of God. They also determined Israel’s national health and wholeness. This first address deals with this subject particularly: the theological issue of attitude toward and relationship with God.
Even though the Edomites, Esau’s descendants, determined to rebuild their nation after it had suffered destruction by the Babylonians, they would not be able to do so. They could not because almighty Yahweh would not permit it. He would tear down whatever they rebuilt, so much so that other people would view them as a wicked land (cf. the holy land, Zechariah 2:12) and the objects of Yahweh’s perpetual indignation. The "holy" land was holy, sanctified, because God set it apart for special blessing, as He had the nation of Israel. Edom, on the other hand, was wicked because God had not set it apart for special blessing.
"Israel needed to consider what her lot would have been if she, like Edom, had not been elected to a covenant relationship with Yahweh. Both Israel and Edom received judgment from God at the hands of the Babylonians in the sixth century (Jeremiah 27:2-8). Yet God repeatedly promised to restore Israel (because of His covenant promises, Deuteronomy 4:29-31; Deuteronomy 30:1-10), but He condemned Edom to complete destruction, never to be restored (Jeremiah 49:7-22; Ezekiel 35)." [Note: Blaising, p. 1576.]
"The Judeans had Persian permission and support in their rebuilding campaign (Ezra 1:1-11; Ezra 4:3; Ezra 6:1-15; Ezra 7:11-28; Nehemiah 2:7-9; Nehemiah 13:6). That was God’s doing. The Edomites had no such help, which was also God’s doing and which sealed Edom’s fate as a people forever." [Note: Stuart, p. 1289.]
Observing Yahweh’s dealings with Edom, the Israelites would learn of His love for her and His greatness that extended beyond Israel (cf. Malachi 1:11; Malachi 1:14; Malachi 3:12; Malachi 4:6). They would eventually call on other people to appreciate Him too.
"While Edom does not have the most space devoted to prophecies against it in total number of verses (Egypt has that honor, thanks to Ezekiel), it has the widest distribution among the prophetic books. From Isaiah 34 in particular it is clear that Edom can be used by the prophets to stand as a synecdoche for ’all the nations’ (Isaiah 34:2)." [Note: Ibid., pp. 1281-82. For a list of oracles against foreign nations in the Prophets, see ibid., p. 1281.]
The point of this section was to get the Jews of the restoration community, who were thinking that God had abandoned them and forgotten His promises to them, to think again. Even though they seemed to be experiencing the same fate as their ancient enemy, the Edomites, God would restore them because He had entered into covenant relationship with them. He would keep His promises, both to the Israelites and to the Edomites, for better and for worse respectively. This reminder of the Lord’s love provided positive motivation for the priests to return to the Lord, and it should have the same effect on all God’s people who read these verses.
This pericope begins like the first one, with a statement by Yahweh and a challenging response (cf. Isaiah 1:2-3). The priests were responsible to teach the other Israelites the Law, to mediate between Yahweh and His people, and to judge the people.
Almighty Yahweh asked the priests of Israel why they did not honor Him since sons honor their fathers (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16), and He was their Father (Exodus 4:22; Isaiah 1:2; Isaiah 63:16; Isaiah 64:8; Hosea 11:1). Since servants respect their masters, why did they not fear Him since He was their Master (Isaiah 44:1-2)? Even though they were blind to His love they should at least have given Him honor.
Speaking for the priests, Malachi gave their response. They denied having despised His name. The "name" of Yahweh was a common substitute for the person of Yahweh from early biblical times (cf. Exodus 23:21; Deuteronomy 12:5; Deuteronomy 12:11; Deuteronomy 12:21; Deuteronomy 16:2; Deuteronomy 16:6; et al.). It became a virtual title for Yahweh by the end of the biblical period and increasingly so after that. [Note: See Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, 2:40-45.] By asking how they had despised His name, rather than saying, "We have not despised your name," the priests were claiming ignorance as to how they were doing this. However their question also carried a challenge; they resented the suggestion that they had despised His name.
"Intimate familiarity with holy matters conduces to treating them with indifference." [Note: Alden, p. 711.]
B. Situation: the priests’ failure to honor the Lord 1:6-9
The preceding section ended with a statement of Yahweh’s greatness. The second one opens with a question about why Israel’s priests did not honor Him. The theme of honoring or fearing the Lord appears several times in Malachi making it one of the major themes in this book (cf. Malachi 1:11; Malachi 1:14; Malachi 2:2; Malachi 2:5; Malachi 3:5; Malachi 3:16; Malachi 4:2). The first disputation (Malachi 1:2-5) is the simplest, and this one (Malachi 1:6 to Malachi 2:9) is the most complex.
". . . God inspired Malachi to produce an excoriation of the priests, in the same overall disputation format that governs all the passages of the book, but incorporating terminology and themes from a famous blessing closely associated in everyone’s mind with the priests [i.e., Numbers 6:23-27]." [Note: Ibid., p. 1297. On this page Stuart also showed the similarities between the two passages in a side-by-side chart. On page 1316 he did the same comparing Numbers 25:11-13 and Deuteronomy 33:8-11 with Malachi 1:6-2:9.]
The Lord responded through Malachi that the priests had despised the Lord by presenting defiled sacrifices to Him (cf. Leviticus 22:2; Leviticus 22:17-30; Leviticus 22:32). Defiled sacrifices were sacrifices that were not ritually clean or acceptable, as the Law specified. By doing this they defiled (made unclean) the altar of burnt offerings and the Lord. The Law referred to the offerings as food for God (Leviticus 21:6), though obviously He did not eat them. The use of "food" for "sacrifice" and "table" for "altar" continues the human analogies already begun in Malachi 1:6. Moreover, these terms also connote covenant relationships because covenants were usually ratified when the participants, typically a king and his vassals, ate a meal together. [Note: See Paul Kalluveettil, Declaration and Covenant, pp. 10-15, 120-21; and Dennis J. McCarthy, Treaty and Covenant, pp. 163-64.]
"What does this say to professed Christians who spend hundreds of dollars annually, perhaps thousands, on gifts for themselves, their family, and their friends, but give God a dollar a week when the offering plate is passed?" [Note: Wiersbe, p. 480.]
Furthermore the priests were offering blind, lame, and sick animals as sacrifices. These were unacceptable according to the Law (Leviticus 22:18-25; Deuteronomy 15:21). The Lord asked them if this was not evil. Of course it was. They would not offer such bad animals to their governor because they would not please him, but they dared offer them to their King. The governor in view would have been one of the Persian officials who ruled over the territory occupied by Judah. Nehemiah held this position for a while, but others preceded and followed him in it. The Book of Malachi seems to date from Nehemiah’s leadership of Israel, but Nehemiah refused to receive offerings from the people (Nehemiah 5:14; Nehemiah 5:18). So the governor in view here was probably not Nehemiah. Elnathan, Yeho’ezer, and Ahzai were evidently the governors of Judah between Zerubbabel and Nehemiah. [Note: N. Avigad, "Bullae and Seals from a Post-exilic Judean Archive," Qedem 4, p. 34.]
Anything second-rate that we offer to God is inappropriate in view of who He is. This includes our worship, our ministries, our studies, physical objects, anything. The Lord is worthy of our very best offerings to Him, and we should give Him nothing less. To give Him less than our best is to despise Him. Shoddiness is an insult to God. Shoddy holy is still shoddy.
How foolish it was to pray for God to bestow His favor on the priests when they were despising Him in these ways.
"This is irony. God will not hear the prayers of those who dishonor him." [Note: Burton L. Goddard, "Malachi," in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 915.]
"Over the years, I’ve participated in many ordination examinations, and I’ve looked for four characteristics in each candidate: a personal experience of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ; a sense of calling from the Lord; a love for and knowledge of the Word of God; and a high respect for the work of the ministry. Whenever we’ve examined a candidate who was flippant about ministry, who saw it as a job and not a divine calling, he didn’t get my vote. Whether as a pastor, missionary, teacher, choir member, or usher, being a servant of God is a serious thing, and it deserves the very best that we can give." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 481.]
C. Command: stop the pointless offerings 1:10
The Lord ironically wished the priests would shut the temple gates and stop offering sacrifices since they had so little regard for Him. He was displeased with them and would not accept any offerings from them. They might continue to offer them, but He would have no regard for them. Obviously the Lord had ordained the offering of sacrifices under the Law, but He preferred that the priests not offer them rather than offering them when they were meaningless, simply as an obligation. "I am not pleased with you" is the opposite of "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:21).
This verse is the chiastic center and the heart of the first hortatory discourse dealing with the importance of the priests honoring the Lord (Malachi 1:2 to Malachi 2:9).
It was particularly inappropriate for Israel’s priests to despise Yahweh because the time would come when people from all over the world would honor His name (i.e., His person; cf. Isaiah 45:22-25; Isaiah 49:5-7; Isaiah 59:19). Incense accompanied prayers (cf. Revelation 5:8) and grain offerings were offerings of praise and worship (cf. Hebrews 13:15-16). In that day people from many places would offer pure offerings. This refers to worship in the Millennium (cf. Malachi 3:1-4; Isaiah 11:3-4; Isaiah 11:9; Daniel 7:13-14; Daniel 7:27-28; Zephaniah 2:11; Zephaniah 3:8-11; Zechariah 14:9; Zechariah 14:16).
"Others argue that this verse legitimizes sincere pagan worship as really being directed to the one true God. However, such a notion is antithetical to the militant monotheism that permeates Israel’s Yahwistic theology." [Note: Robert B. Chisholm Jr., Handbook on the Prophets, p. 478. See also Baldwin, pp. 227-28.]
D. Situation: the priests’ worship profaning the Lord’s name 1:11-14
This is the second section that describes how the priests were dishonoring the Lord’s name (cf. Malachi 1:6-9). It is one of the bookends that flanks the central command to stop the pointless sacrifices (Malachi 1:10).
The priests of Malachi’s day were treating Yahweh’s reputation as common. The proof of this was their statements that the altar was defiled and the offerings on it were despised. Their attitude and their actions were wrong.
"Whenever we disregard or circumvent the Lord’s instructions and requirements, such as his requirements for elders and deacons, we profane his name and desecrate his worship." [Note: Clendenen, p. 281.]
They were also saying that it was tiresome and distasteful to worship the Lord. Their worship should have been passionate and joyful instead of boring and burdensome (cf. Colossians 3:16-17). They were sniffing at it as something they despised and were bringing as offerings what they had stolen as well as lame and sick animals (cf. 2 Samuel 24:24). Did they expect Him to receive such sacrifices from them? How could He?
"God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him." [Note: John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions, p. 26.]
The people also were playing the old bait and switch game; they were swindling God. They vowed to offer an acceptable animal as a sacrifice, but when it came time to present the offering they substituted one of inferior quality. How totally inappropriate this was since Yahweh was a great King, the greatest in the universe, really the ultimate royal suzerain. His name would be feared among all the nations, yet His own people and their spiritual leaders were treating it with contempt.
"Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever." [Note: Ibid., p. 11.]
"All of history is moving toward one great goal, the white-hot worship of God and his Son among all the peoples of the earth. Missions is not that goal. It is the means. And for that reason it is the second greatest human activity in the world." [Note: Ibid., p. 15.]
Lack of true heart for the Lord and His service marked these leaders of God’s people. They evidently thought He did not notice their actions and attitudes, but Malachi confronted them with their hypocrisy. The prophet’s words should also challenge modern servants of the Lord and leaders of His people to examine our hearts.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Malachi 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany