1 A Burden, a Word
1 The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi.
Malachi begins his book with both “the oracle” – literally “a burden” – and “the word of the LORD” (cf. Zec 9:1; 12:1). Other prophets use one of the two expressions. The description of prophecy as a “burden” indicates that the message is one of exhortation rather than comfort or encouragement. He carries this message as a burden on his heart. At the same time, it is not his word, but the word that God has commanded him to speak.
It is a word “to Israel”, all of the twelve tribes who have returned from exile. Malachi is a servant of God. He performs a service to the people by communicating to them the words of God.
2 A Declaration of Love
2 “I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have You loved us?” “[Was] not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob;
Malachi speaks to the people in a dialogue. The prophecy begins with the heartwarming declaration of God’s love for His people (Deu 10:15; 33:3). Before the consciences are addressed, God wants to touch the heart of His people. We see this also in the last message of John in Revelation 2-3, specifically to the lukewarm Laodicea. It is precisely to Laodicea that the Lord speaks about “those whom I love” (Rev 3:19).
But the reaction of the people, precisely on this expression of God’s love, shows the depraved state of the people. Because they do not experience that love, they raise the question how that love has been shown. The thought does not occur to them to look for the cause of this in themselves. They feel abandoned by God. They are also satisfied with themselves and that goes together with being dissatisfied with God.
The question how that love would have been shown is the root of sin. It is not a sincere question, but a rebellious one, an audacity. They challenge God to prove that He loves them, as if all the evidence they have experienced is of no meaning.
Would we dare to say something like that? We too are in danger of saying: ‘If God loves me, why does He allow misery in my life?’ If we think negatively and only see decline, we don’t know that love. We do not belong to the Lord because we have loved Him, but because He has loved us and made us His own.
In His answer to their question about His love, the LORD asks them a question. It concerns the relationship between their ancestor Jacob and his brother Esau. God speaks of Esau as “Jacob’s brother”. In doing so He places special emphasis on the relationship between their ancestor Jacob and Esau. He asks it as a question, and of course they know it to be so. But in the light of their cheeky question about His love, it must become clear to them what an enormous difference there is between Jacob and Esau in their relationship to God.
Although Esau was the oldest and as the firstborn was entitled to the inheritance, the love of God went out to Jacob. That was not because Jacob was more attractive to God than Esau, but because God chose to love Jacob. Jacob was the object of God's elective love. He showed this in the whole history of Jacob personally and in that of his offspring. The people have reacted to this love time and time again with unfaithfulness. In spite of that, a remnant of the people still lives in Jerusalem, with a temple and an altar.
3 - 5 I Have Hated Esau
3 but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and [appointed] his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.” 4 Though Edom says, “We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins”; thus says the LORD of hosts, “They may build, but I will tear down; and [men] will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the LORD is indignant forever.” 5 Your eyes will see this and you will say, “The LORD be magnified beyond the border of Israel!”
It is not about the history of two persons, but about the history of their descendants, the nations that grew out of them. In that whole history God shows His love for His people and His hatred for Esau (verse 2b; verse 3a). Esau has cause to be hated because of his whole history of rebellion against God. Therefore, this word is only spoken here, in Malachi, at the very end of the Old Testament, and not already in Genesis.
In Genesis, God does not speak about hating Esau. He only says that the older Esau will serve the younger Jacob. God is sovereign and gives each of the brothers a certain place on earth. He does that even before the brothers are born (Rom 9:11-13; Gen 25:23).
Jacob’s election has nothing to do with any merit on his part. His descendants claim this election because they are descendants of Abraham. If that were the basis of the election, Esau would also have been entitled to it. God’s election is sovereign and independent of man’s behavior, while His rejection is the result of man’s sin. God chooses people to be blessed, but He does not choose people to be lost.
We cannot reconcile that with our intellect. Our human logic is: if God chooses certain people to bless them, it is automatically so therefore, that He chooses other people to be lost. But then, with our human and therefore limited intellect, we try to check out God and deal with Him because He does not meet our method of reckoning.
The doctrine that God chooses people to be lost is a devilish doctrine, which not only doesn't do justice to the love of God, but even denies it. It is also a denial of man’s responsibility. After all, if his damnation is fixed in God’s purpose, there is nothing he can do about it and therefore he will not be saved.
God has chosen Jacob from Himself, despite his many failures. He hated Esau because he revealed himself as a “godless person” (Heb 12:16), as someone who has no interest at all in God. That godlessness has been shown by his offspring in an undiminished way. The prophet Obadiah gives a detailed testimony of this (Oba 1:1-15).
Already in the days of Malachi, God can point to His judgment on Esau (verse 3b). It is not yet the final judgment. That will come. What God has taken away are the mountains in which they had made their homes and where they felt untraceable and therefore safe. But for God no one can make himself untraceable (cf. Psa 139:7). Esau’s desolated land has become a home for jackals.
The godlessness of Esau, his not acknowledging of God, is also evident in his arrogant language (verse 4). “Edom”, the descendants of Esau (Gen 36:1,8), can boast that they will rebuild the ruins if they are destroyed. There is no thought present in them to humble themselves before God. A proud, arrogant attitude characterizes them. But “the LORD of hosts” answers. Here God presents Himself in His exaltation above all heavenly and earthly powers.
God’s answer is that He will break what they have built up again. The area of ruins that will then arise will be given the name in which the character of Edom is expressed: “wicked territory”. And the people who live there will forever be under the indignation of God.
What the LORD has done with Edom is presented to Israel (verse 5). They will see with their own eyes the end of Edom. That is once more a proof of God’s goodness and love for Israel. At the same time, what God does with Edom is also a warning to Israel. It should not make Israel proud, but give them the awareness that they have earned the same judgment. It also proves that God is not only the God of the Jews, but also the God of the Gentiles (Rom 3:29) His greatness is not only visible to Israel, but everywhere on earth.
6 Honor and Respect Are Missing
6 “ ‘A son honors [his] father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?’ says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests who despise My name. But you say, ‘How have we despised Your name?’
The people will have nodded approvingly to Malachi’s words about Esau. But then he turns to them. God has treated Israel as a son, but have they honored him as a Father? They are also in contact with God as a servant to a master, but have they served Him with the due respect?
True knowledge of God is always a combination of childlike trust and deep awe. Trust never leads to inappropriate familiarity and awe never leads to slavish creepiness. These two relationships are the pillars of society. If these relationships are respected, it is a blessing for society. If they are not taken into account, society is disrupted.
God addresses these questions, which are an indictment, to “you, O priests”. The whole section of Malachi 1:6-2:9 is addressed to them. God says unequivocally to them that they despise His Name. They are called to teach the people the distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean (Eze 44:23). But the priests in the days of Malachi do not care about that. They do not think about the fact that they owe their existence to God.
The name “Father” means that as a nation they owe their origin to Him. The fact that He is their Master, to whom they owe obedience, does not interest them. They think only of their own interests.
For the New Testament believer, the name ‘Father’ implies a personal connection with Him. Every believer in our time is called to priestly service. Gaining new insight into the practice of priestly service has been one of the blessings of the revival at the beginning of the nineteenth century. But if we forget that it is a gift from God and be proud of it, we become fat and our sacrificial service is an abomination to Him.
The priests react almost in an aggrieved way to the accusation of the LORD. Their insensitivity to this accusation is shown by their hypocritical question which they ask with a straight face: “How have we despised Your name?” On the contrary, they think of themselves as very faithful servants of God. No, here the LORD is very much mistaken, they think. Their question makes it clear that they completely disagree with the reproach of the LORD that they despise His Name.
God confronts His people many times with this way of reacting:
1. “But you say, ‘How have You loved us?’” (Mal 1:2)
2. “But you say, ‘How have we despised Your name?’“ (Mal 1:6)
3. “But you say, ‘How have we defiled You?’“ (Mal 1:7)
4. “Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’” (Mal 2:14)
5. “Yet you say, “How have we wearied [Him]?”” (Mal 2:17a)
6. “Or, ”Where is the God of justice?”” (Mal 2:17b)
7. ““But you say, ‘How shall we return?’” (Mal 3:7)
8. “But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’” (Mal 3:8)
9. “Yet you say, ‘What have we spoken against You?’“ (Mal 3:13)
Each time, the people in a questioning sense indicate that they do not agree at all with what God is telling them. It always comes down to them asking God why He blames them. And each time God, in His great patience, gives an answer that cannot be misunderstood. However, the answer does not penetrate them because they see themselves as faithful servants of God.
7 - 8 Defiled Food and a Despised Table
7 [You] are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, ‘How have we defiled You?’ In that you say, ‘The table of the LORD is to be despised.’ 8 But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?” says the LORD of hosts.
The LORD answers their question from which it may be clear that they despise His Name. It is not a question asked in honest ignorance, but out of outright hypocrisy. Yet the LORD answers. He points out to them their actions with which and how they approach Him. In the way in which they serve God, their contempt for Him is clearly expressed.
Look what they come up with. They bring “defiled food” upon His “altar”. “Food” means a sacrifice that is accepted by God as His food. It gives Him joy when His people present sacrifices to Him. He calls these sacrifices “My food” (Num 28:2; Lev 21:6,8,17). But the sacrifices they bring on God’s altar, the burnt offering altar, are defiled.
It is not about animals that God has declared unclean and which they are not allowed to eat. These are mentioned in a list in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. No, it is about clean animals, but that have a defect. And that is also forbidden by God (Lev 22:20). They bring clean animals, but He cannot accept them because they do not meet the standard of His holiness. He has laid down that norm in His Word and the priests should take it into account like no other member of God’s people. But they don’t do that, they flout God’s Word. This is what God accuses them of and what He holds them accountable for.
For the third time, the people react wronged through the mouths of the priests. They ask: “How have we defiled You?” How can God think that they defile Him? They really have no idea, because they are convinced that they are doing very well. Isn’t God getting something from them? And does He say of what they bring, that it defiles Him? Then something must be wrong with His eyes, because they are not to blame. They put the problem entirely with God. This is how countless Christians today manipulate the Word of God. God makes it all far too complicated. He should listen to them, instead of imposing His will on them.
They are blind to the fact that they bring inferior sacrifices, something expressly forbidden by God (Deu 15:21). They bring these sacrifices on His altar, which is also called “the table of the LORD” (cf. Eze 41:22). He has to be content with what they can afford to miss. What an insult to Him!
Don’t we also quickly forget how great the work of the Lord Jesus is for God and also for us? How and with what do we go to the Table of the Lord (1Cor 10:16-21)? Some easily stay away from the Table of the Lord. Others take part in the Supper of the Lord nonchalantly, without thinking of what it speaks of. Perhaps we may not be blamed for sin, but how often do we do what we have done so many times dutifully, without it touching our heart. The appreciation of the Table of the Lord depends on our appreciation of the Lord Jesus and His work.
The table of the LORD is His table from which He eats and from which He wants to eat together with His people. Their actions express their contempt for His table. They will never say it, but their actions make it clearly seen. They do bring sacrifices, but their content is nothing. They don’t really bring a sacrifice, but something they can miss.
How far is that from the mind of David who did not want to offer a burnt offering to the LORD which costs him nothing (1Chr 21:24). Also the sacrifice Mary brings to the Lord Jesus is a great contrast with these sacrifices (Mk 14:3-5). Even the disciples do not appreciate what Mary does. They say of her sacrifice that it is a waste. With the money she paid for it, in their opinion better things could have been done.
The Table of the Lord for us Christians is the place where we celebrate the Supper of the Lord. It brings about in us sacrifices of praise and thanks, spiritual sacrifices, offerings of praise. Anyone who thinks of the Lord Jesus in all that He has accomplished can only express himself in gratitude and admiration.
What did those sacrifices cost us? There are sacrifices that are very cheap. We can think, for example, of thanksgiving that is only a repetition of what others have said, or a selection from the old box of ourselves, an inanimate repetition of what we have said so many times already. If we live with the Lord, we will have collected much and our sacrifice will have more and more content spiritually, it will be more and more worthy.
And what do we give from our material wealth for the poor, for the work of the Lord, to those who have gone out for His Name without accepting anything from the nations? Do we give the best, the first fruits, or do we give a little of our abundance, of which we do not feel that we miss it, or do we even give our worthless things?
The animal the priests bring is an illustration of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. We must realize how perfect He was in everything. We must not affect Him in any way, nor affect the Word of God. To come to God with deformed, unhealthy sacrifices is a great denial of Christ’s sacrifice and a contempt for God’s appreciation of Him.
1. We bring a “blind” animal if we believe that the Lord Jesus did not know what He was doing, had no insight in it and did not constantly have His eye on the Father. Such a sacrifice is unworthy of God. The Lord Jesus perfectly knew everything that would come over Him and did in everything perfectly the will of the Father (Jn 18:4; 17:4).
2. We bring a “lame” animal if we believe that the Lord Jesus was not perfect in all His actions, that He did not go the way perfectly. For example, we may think that He could have sinned, although He did not do it. That too is a sacrifice that God cannot accept. In the Lord Jesus there is no sin, He did not know sin and did not do it (1Jn 3:5; 2Cor 5:21; 1Pet 2:22).
3. A “sick” animal is an animal that is not internally healthy. That is what we bring when we doubt the motives by which the Lord was driven, as if He were not completely selfless in everything and sometimes did something for His own sake. When we come to God with such thoughts about the Lord Jesus, He rejects that sacrifice. Christ was perfect both inwardly and outwardly. He was “altogether that which I also say to you” (Jn 8:25, Darby Translation). He was the truth, and His speech was a true and exact presentation of Himself. His speech presented Himself, being the truth.
God tells the priests that they would not dare to offer the sacrifices they offer to Him, to their governors. If they gave such inferior sacrifices to them, they would not be very happy. No, they don’t want to irritate them, but to keep them as friends. But God, who is so much greater, they can buy Him off with something they can do without.
It is truly staggering what is being done to God by people, which those same people would never do to other people. God just has to accept everything, otherwise He can leave. This is how Christianity treats God.
9 Such an Offering on Your Part
9 “But now will you not entreat God’s favor, that He may be gracious to us? With such an offering on your part, will He receive any of you kindly?” says the LORD of hosts.
What is said in this verse is meant ironically. Let them try to “entreat God’s favor” with their inferior sacrifices. They are under the delusion that He does appreciate their sacrifices and that He will be gracious to them in response. How blind can a man, and then a privileged member of God’s people, be to Who God is and to what is His due.
Whoever adopts an attitude as described in the previous verses should not think that he can ask for something from God and then count on receiving it. If we pray for a solution to our problems without removing sin from our lives, God cannot listen to it. He cannot be favorable to us.
They should take a good look at themselves. “With such an offering” on their part and through their actions in general, they show that they have a self-willed religion and lifestyle. Do they really believe that God will be there for them? Who do they think they are dealing with? He who speaks is “the LORD of hosts”!
10 I Am Not Pleased With You
10 “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle [fire on] My altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD of hosts, “nor will I accept an offering from you.
We hear God, as it were, sighing that among the priests there was only one person who would shut the gates. In doing so, He expresses His desire that evil be kept out of His house or that the service be stopped altogether. But there is no such person. Evil has entered His house and is not removed from it. If evil were to be stopped or removed, the offerings on His altar would not be uselessly kindled. They would then be brought in the awareness of Who He is and what is His due.
The application can be made to churches and services that are not (anymore) places where people worship in spirit and in truth, but have degenerated to nothing more than places where people meet to have a good time together. It would be better for them to close the gates than to continue deceiving people who think they are doing God a favor by coming together like this.
God loathes a service if it is held insincerely and only for show (Isa 1:11-15). It is better not to receive an offering than an offering that is worthless. He is not pleased with the priest or the offering that is offered to Him. He does not accept the offering that they hold in their hands and offer Him. He cannot say more clearly how He thinks about them and their service.
11 God’s Name Will Be Great Among the Nations
11 For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name [will be] great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering [that is] pure; for My name [will be] great among the nations,” says the LORD of hosts.
God tells the unfaithful priests that He does not depend on them for the offerings He wants to receive. He will ensure that His Name will be great among all nations and not only in Israel. To His Name will be brought incense in every place, and not only in Jerusalem, and a grain offering that is pure. This will be fulfilled in the realm of peace. There will be a general worship of God by the nations (cf. Zep 2:11). At the appearance of the Lord Jesus, God will be universally honored and the universe will be full of His glory, which will fill the earth as the waters cover the bottom of the sea.
This is already the case for the church, although the church does not bring literal, but spiritual sacrifices (Heb 13:15; 1Pet 2:5). Since the church is on earth, this happens everywhere on earth (1Cor 1:2). Worship is no longer linked to and reserved for a geographical place. It is now about spiritual characteristics (Jn 4:21,23).
12 - 13 Once More the Attitude of the Priests
12 “But you are profaning it, in that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is defiled, and as for its fruit, its food is to be despised.’ 13 You also say, ‘My, how tiresome it is!’ And you disdainfully sniff at it,” says the LORD of hosts, “and you bring what was taken by robbery and [what is] lame or sick; so you bring the offering! Should I receive that from your hand?” says the LORD.
In verse 12 we return to the raw reality of those days. How awful it is when people who confess to belong to God’s people dishonor His Name through their speaking and their behavior. They dishonor His Name especially by doing their sacrificial service in a way that shows their contempt for God. They do not say it, but their dealings with the table of the Lord and the sacrifices show their contempt for it.
And that’s not all. They find the service of the LORD but a tiresome, difficult occupation (verse 13). They disdainfully sniff at that service, so little does it mean to them. In another translation it says that they frown at it. That is an indication of their contempt for the service to God. The LORD presents Himself to them again as “the LORD of hosts”. They feel sorry for Him!
Don’t we see this same tiredness regarding the Lord’s things in our days? Are there not Christians who were once active in the service of the Lord, but are now tired? They have grown weary, tired of praying, tired of reading the Bible, tired of thinking of the Lord, tired of preaching the gospel, tired of the things of the Lord and tired of the people of the Lord. A confession without practice and a service without devotion lead to tiredness in the things of the Lord. And when people get tired of something, they will finally despise it.
The LORD also holds up to them with what nice sacrifices they bring to Him. They “bring what was taken by robbery”. A robbed sacrifice is the sacrifice stolen from another person and brought as if it were their own sacrifice. Thus we can use the words of God’s Word in our thanksgiving without having made them our own. Then we steal or rob God’s words (Jer 23:30). We should not adopt expressions because we like them and want to make an impression with them. God wants us to be honest and not pretend that we are more than we are. He wants us to tell Him in our own words Who the Lord Jesus is.
The LORD also repeats the bringing of what is “lame or sick” (verse 13; verse 8). This shows how deeply He has been touched by their contempt. They should not think that He will accept their offering from their hand. Their hand is not pure, their actions are not clean. That is why He does not take anything out of them. The grain offering speaks of the perfect life of the Lord Jesus. We may be able to tell God a lot about it, but if our actions are unclean, He does not accept our thanksgiving. He does not listen to us.
What do we give to the Lord? Do we give Him the best of everything we have, or only what we don’t need? For example, how do we spend our time? Is He at the front and at the top when we start the day? In this way we can look at our possessions and our capacities. Do we serve Him with that or ourselves and should He be content with the leftovers?
14 The LORD Is a Great King
14 “But cursed be the swindler who has a male in his flock and vows it, but sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord, for I am a great King,” says the LORD of hosts, “and My name is feared among the nations.”
The people act just like the priests. There are people who make a vow that they will sacrifice a healthy male animal to the LORD, but they sacrifice to Him “a blemished animal”. Malachi calls someone who acts in this way a “swindler”. It is a conscious, deliberate ‘switcheroo’. Promising something but not doing it is an abomination to the Lord. With a powerful “but cursed be” Malachi expresses his deep indignation about such an act.
It can be compared to the sin of Ananias and Saphira. They want to give the impression that they are giving all their money, while they secretly withhold a part for themselves (Acts 5:1-11). It is the hypocrisy of pretending to be pious, but acting for one’s own benefit, both financially and in prestige.
God stands up in all His greatness. He presents Himself to them as “a great King”. How dare man oppose or despise Him! He is “the LORD of hosts”. He is above all heavenly and earthly powers. His Name cannot but inspire awe, not only among His people, but among all nations. There is no greater authority in creation than His. There is also nothing in the universe that is not under His government and authority. If Israel were aware of this, they would realize how foolish it is to swindle Him. The same goes for us.