The Cure for Spiritual Apathy – Hope in Messiah’s Coming
Philippe R. Sterling
The Messiah will come in judgment and with rewards to establish the theocratic kingdom.
The post-exilic community rebuilt the temple in 516 BC. Their national situation did not much improve. The great things the prophets proclaimed have not come about. So the nation became spiritually apathetic. The people offered defective sacrifices, broke covenants, withheld tithes. The priests disrespected God and misled the people. God sends His messenger (meaning of “Malachi”) to call the nation to return to Him and to announce the coming of another messenger who will prepare the way for the LORD’s coming to His temple. The book was written sometime between 435 and 410 BC after the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah. 400 years of prophetic silence follow until the coming of John the Baptist and the first coming of the LORD.
Literary Structure and Content
The book opens with a superscription: The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel through My messenger (1:1).
There follows a series of six disputes between the LORD and the nation (1:2 – 4:3).
1st Dispute: The LORD has loved his people but they doubt His love (1:2-5).
- God’s Assertion: “I have loved you,” says the LORD (2a).
God’s love hangs like a banner over the entire book.
- Disputing Question: But you say, “How have you loved us?” (2b)
What can blind us to God’s love for us?
- God’s Answer: God showed His love by choosing Israel over Other Nations (2c-4).
- God’s Amplification: Israel will one day praise God for His love in choosing them (5).
The proper response to God’s love is obedience and sincere worship.
2nd Dispute: The LORD’s priests have despised Him (1:6 – 2:9).
- God’s Assertion: “Where is My respect?” says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests who despise My name (1:6a).
- Disputing Questions: But you say, “How have we despised Your Name?” . . . But you say, “How have we defiled You?” (1:6b, 7b).
- God’s Answer: The priests showed their lack of respect by offering imperfect sacrifices but God’s name will be great among the nations (1:7-14).
The priests offer defiled food and imperfect sacrifices on the altar. God sarcastically asks why they do not present imperfect things to the Persian governor to pay their taxes. God like the governor will not accept such sacrifices. They might as well shut the doors. It would be better to close the temple than to disrespect God.
What are ways today that we offer unworthy sacrifices to God?
- God’s Amplification: God will curse the priests who corrupt the covenant of Levi (2:1-9).
Note the characteristics of the ideal Levite: He reveres God; he gives true instruction; he walks with God in peace and righteousness; he turns many back from iniquity.
3rd Dispute: The LORD’s people have broken covenants (2:10-16).
- Messenger’s Assertion: The people have been treacherous in profaning the covenant of the fathers by religious intermarriage so that God no longer accepts their offering (2:10-13).
- Disputing Question: Yet you say, “For what reason?” (2:14a).
- Messenger’s Answer: God is the witness against those who break the covenant of marriage (2:14b-15).
There is a close relationship between the marriage covenant and the covenant with God. A break of relationship in marriage can cause a break in fellowship with God.
- God’s Amplification: The LORD declares that He hates divorce – matrimonial and covenantal – and commands the people not to deal treacherously (2:16).
Why has divorce become so common in the last fifty years?
4th Dispute: The LORD’s people have wearied Him (2:17 – 3:6).
- Messenger’s Assertion: You have wearied the LORD with your words (2:17a).
- Disputing Question: Yet you say, “How have we wearied Him?” (2:17b).
- Messenger’s Answer: The people have wearied God by questioning His goodness and justice (2:17c).
How do we question the character of God?
- God’s Amplification: God will send His messenger to prepare the LORD’s coming to His temple to purify the nation (3:1-6).
The messenger will prepare the way so that the LORD can suddenly come to His temple. The first messenger is John the Baptist. The second messenger is the Messiah. He will come like a refiner’s fire. Israel will not be consumed in the refining process since God is faithful to his promises.
5th Dispute: The LORD’s people have robbed Him in tithes and offerings (3:7-12).
- God’s Assertion: “Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD of hosts (3:7a).
- Disputing Questions: But you say, “How shall we return?” . . . “How have we robbed You?” (3:7b, 8b)
- God’s Answer: The people have been robbing God in tithes and offerings and should bring the whole tithe (3:8-10a).
God commands His people to bring the whole tithe. He will bless them as a result.
What’s your attitude towards stewardship of finances?
- God’s Amplification: God will bless the land (3:10b-12).
6th Dispute: The LORD’s people have spoken against Him (3:13 – 4:3).
- God’s Assertion: “Your words have been arrogant against Me,” says the LORD (3:13a).
- Disputing Question: “What have we spoken against You?” (3:13b)
- God’s Answer: You have said, “It is vain to serve God” (3:14-15).
Is it useless to serve God?
- God’s Amplification: A book of remembrance will be written to note those who esteem God’s name and they will be rewarded while judgment comes upon the wicked (3:16 – 4:3).
Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name. “They will be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “on the day that prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.” (3:16-17; cf. 1 Cor. 15:58)
Why should we serve God? We should serve God because He notices and cares for those who serve Him.
The book closes with a summary admonition and announcement (4:4-6).
Summary Admonition: Remember the Law of Moses given at Horeb (4:4).
The admonition to observe the Mosaic covenant summarizes the focus of the first three disputations. The people and priests had been unfaithful to the covenant.
Summary Announcement: God will send Elijah the prophet before the day of the LORD to reconcile the nation so that He will not have to smite the land with a curse (4:5-6).
The announcement that God will send a prophet like Elijah summarizes the focus of the last three disputations. The LORD will come to purify His people and judge the wicked.
Theological Reflection and Application
God loves His people. God’s people at times doubt God’s love and become spiritually apathetic. God calls His people to return to Him, obey Him, and prepare for the coming of the LORD. God rewards the faithful.
The LORD (Christ) is coming to His temple. He will be preceded by a messenger who will prepare the way. The Gospels identify this forerunner with John the Baptist. The LORD will come to purify His people and establish the Messianic kingdom.
“Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me” Rev 22:12a