Malachi 1

1 Malachi's life is unknown other than this prophecy. Some have suggested that "Malachi" (meaning, "My [God's] messenger") is not a real name, rather only a title for an anonymous author. However, other prophetic books contain the names of real people, and there is no reason to doubt that Malachi is the name of the man who delivered this prophecy.

The dating of this book is difficult since no datable people or events are mentioned. Verse 1:8 uses a word for "governor" that was only used during the Persian era. Verses 1:7 and 3:10 indicate that the Temple had been restored (515 BC), which was obviously after the return of the Jews from captivity in Babylon (538 BC). It seems most likely that Malachi was a contemporary of Nehemiah, who rigorously pursued reformations on the same topics discussed in this book (Neh 13:10-14, 23-30). With the clues that are given, the date of this book is estimated to be around 430 BC. After Malachi, some 460 years would go by before the next prophet, John the Baptist, would be recorded.

Malachi begins by indicating that he is delivering a difficult and important message ("burden" is translated as "oracle" in some versions). The prophecy is given from God to His people, Israel, which included not only the Jews of the tribe of Judah, but the remnants of the other eleven tribes that remained. Formerly, from the time of the divided kingdom until the exile, "Israel" referred to the tribes in the north while "Judah" included only the tribes Judah and Benjamin to the south. From the time of Ezra, the term once again applied to all of the tribes of Israel (Ezra 7:10).

2 Malachi begins by laying the foundation for the rest of this book. The theme of this prophecy is love. This is not a love based on emotion. Rather, the word here connotes action, loyalty, and kept promises. God declares that He has loved Israel. However, the peoples' overall response is summed up in the question, "How have You loved us?" It is as if Israel had completely forgotten all the wonders and blessings God had performed on their behalf. When they began to be contented, forget, and wander away from God, the blessings only available in a close relationship with Him diminished until it seemed like there were no blessings at all. Yet, God still loved Israel and they were about to see a vivid demonstration of this in the impending fates of both their country and their "twin," Edom.
3 God gave both of the twin brothers, Jacob and Esau, an inheritance. However, Esau never acknowledged or obeyed God. He gave up his birthright as the firstborn for a bowl of soup. This was apparently more than the physical inheritance, but the spiritual as well. Apparently, none of his descendants ever believed God either, and there was constant tension between the two nations that came from these twin brothers. Jacob, although far from perfect, did inherit the spiritual blessing. He learned to believe and trust in God, and this pleased Him. God also knew ahead of time that Jacob's descendants would always have at least a few people who would remain faithful to Him. With this in mind, God pronounces judgment against the nation of Edom before the end times. Their nation would be permanently destroyed. God would preserver Israel, however, thus proving His love to them once again.
4 Edom was a proud and resilient nation that would resist destruction. Indeed, it would be a long process, but the nation would eventually succumb to this prophecy and cease to exist (see commentary on Oba 1:16). Edom would lose its name, and the area would be known as a wicked land, whereas Israel would be a delightful land (Mal 3:12).
5 When the Israelites see the destruction of Edom and remember these prophecies, then they will remember that their God has power beyond their borders, since indeed He is the one and only God. Their question of God's love for them will be answered by this example of how God reformed their nation while destroying their twin nation, Edom.
6 God's people often refer to Him as "Father" and "Master," recognizing that He has made us and adopted us, and has the right to rule over us (Deu 32:6, Isa 42:8). However, since God is invisible to us and the memories of His kindnesses and warnings tend to fade, He does not receive the consistent love and honor that He wants and deserves. Both fathers and employers demand a degree of respect, and they usually receive it because these people are perceivable and the consequences for disobedience come more quickly.

God specifically focuses on the priests and accuses them of disrespect to the point of contempt. Since the spiritual leaders were teaching the people, they were required to set a good example. They had failed to do so, which endangered the eternal souls of their followers. God already anticipates that they would respond like a little child caught in the act of doing something wrong, but wanting to claim innocence.

7 This next charge is probably directed to both priests and people, but the priests had more responsibility because they were the ones performing the sacrificial ceremony. The offerings they were giving to God where defiled, that is, they did not meet the standards specified in the Law. God anticipates that the people would object as if they were innocent, but their guilt was evident in both their words and actions as is explained further in the next verse.

The use of the word "food" for "sacrifice" and "table" for "altar" remind the people that their worship is not merely about giving up something, but relating to Another. Sharing a meal with someone in their culture was (as it is to some degree in every culture) symbolic of hospitality and good relationships.

8 Lev 22:19-25 gives a few examples of what is and is not acceptable to give as a sacrifice. The people were giving sacrifices, but they were offering the worst of their flocks - the ones they would not be able to sell or use for food themselves. They knew that God demanded the first and finest, but because He is invisible they forgot the importance of their offerings. They obviously reasoned that it was a "waste" to give God the best, completely overlooking His promises to bless them far beyond their needs for doing so. Some may have thought that the demand for unblemished sacrifices was outdated or too expensive. Perhaps some had the attitude that God should be happy that they give any offering at all. The violators were giving merely from obligation, while completely forgetting that the time of sacrifice was for repentance, worship, and communing with God. By these things they despised God's table.

God contrasts this with their attitude toward giving to their earthly rulers. Judah has not had a king since the Dispersion, when the Babylonians conquered and scattered the people. At the time of this prophecy they had a governor appointed by the ruling country. Everyone knows that if you want to please a governing official that you give nice gifts to him or her. The people would not dare to give their leader a defective gift for fear of insulting him and incurring his wrath, yet they would offer it to God, who is far more important. The phrase "to lift the face" is generally translated "accept," but the idea is that the one offering the gift is supplicating the ruler and the ruler responds favorably by lifting the other's head so that they are looking at each other.

9 The New Commentary on the Whole Bible (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) puts the idea of this verse quite succinctly: "Their prayers to God were ironic; they gave him their worst as sacrifices and expected God to give them his best." When the people wandered away from God spiritually, He undoubtedly replaced some of His blessings with various forms of punishment in order to bring them back to their senses. The prophet's ironic challenge becomes, "After you have given such loathsome gifts to God, will you now seek His favor concerning these problems and expect a favorable response?" The implicit answer is no.
10 God expresses, as if it were a deep wish, that the priests would close the Temple doors and stop sacrificing rather than presenting these worthless gifts. These sacrifices were in vain because they could not please God. Of course, the quality of the sacrifice is not what mattered, but the characteristic of the heart that thought to give it. Such gifts only compounded sin offerings and negated peace offerings.
11 This verse appears to point to a time after this prophecy when there would be people among all the nations who's worship would be pleasing to God. This is unlikely to refer to the Jews of the Dispersion because "the nations" is a common way the Bible refers to the Gentiles. This also fits with one of the themes of the Old Testament that the Gentiles would learn to worship God while Israel strayed, which has been fulfilled as found from the New Testament to the present time. The universality of Christian worship also appears to fit the context of this verse better than the Jewish traditions, which were to be performed only in Jerusalem (Deu 12:11-14, 2 Chr 6:5-6, John 4:20-24).

The incense and grain offering appear to resemble the memorial offering as described in verses like Lev 2:2. In the present age where Christ is the substitute for the sacrificial offering, Christians are told to remember this act in the communion sacraments of bread and wine (Luke 22:14-20). The idea that the memorial offering does not have to strictly consist of incense and grain can possibly be drawn from verses like Acts 10:4 and Rev 5:8.

12 Continuing with the theme of verse 8, it is probably not so much in word, but action that people were showing their contempt for the sacrificial part of their worship. This was not a rare event, but a habitual practice.
13 The people were treating this as an obligation they grudgingly had to perform rather than a privileged part of their relationship with God. The people offered their gifts with heavy sighs or snorts of disgust rather than singing. Perhaps they thought something like, "Humph, didn't I give a sacrifice last month?"

Perhaps the priests allowed such sacrifices because they were afraid that people would be offended at having their offerings rejected and would stop supporting the ministry. This seems to be similar to a practice in many Christian churches that water down the message of the Gospel with the desire not to alienate anyone, but the unfortunate result is that no one is transformed either. Another thought is that the priests themselves had become so bored with the ritual that they began not to care about what people brought to sacrifice.

Besides the blemished sacrifices that the people brought, they also included sacrifices that were stolen. The Law did not explicitly prohibit such sacrifices, but their unacceptability should have been obvious. If one has gained by immoral acts, cheating, or committing a crime, they cannot hope to honor God by giving Him a tithe from it. Indeed, such a gift would mock the One who set the moral standards in the first place. The proper action that would honor God in such a case is to confess, repent, and pay back the people robbed with restitution.

14 While the previous verses cover the required sacrifices, this verse indicates that people were dishonest with their voluntary vows as well (Deu 23:21-23). The specific example given is a man who promises to give a particular fine male sheep in sacrifice but by the time he goes to fulfill his vow he changes his mind and offers a blemished female instead. This kind of activity does not escape God's notice, and He considers the man a swindler just as anyone does when an oath is broken among people. Most any human king would have executed one of his subjects who cheated him, so one who tries to cheat God, the universal King, should expect to likewise fall under His curse. God received better treatment from some in Gentile nations than He did from His chosen people (more so since the advent of Christianity). This was an especially strong rebuke against the nation of Israel.