The Global Message of Malachi
“‘I have loved you,’ says the LORD. But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’” (Mal. 1:2). After the return from exile, the rebuilding of the temple, and the reinstitution of temple worship, Israel was looking around and wondering why they were still a marginalized, insignificant nation compared to the national powers of the day. What had become of God’s great promises to exalt Israel and punish the godless nations?
The global message of Malachi is that God’s judgment is indeed coming on his enemies, but God’s people must be more concerned about their own relationship to him than with anyone else’s fate. The global church must beware the dead orthodoxy that so easily sets in when church life becomes routine.
Malachi in Redemptive History
God’s promises. The long-threatened and well-deserved exile from the Promised Land had come and gone. A remnant had returned to Judah and had been eagerly expecting final restoration of all that God had promised them—supremacy among the nations, the coming of a final Messiah-king, judgment on the Gentile nations who had oppressed Israel so long, and lasting peace and prosperity. Above all, they were looking forward to the day when God himself would dwell among his people once more in glory (see Hag. 2:1–9; Zech. 1:16–17; 2:1–13; 8:1–9:17).
Yet this was not the picture of life in Israel in Malachi’s day. Instead, the people were experiencing economic adversity, poor harvests, and pestilence (see Mal. 3:10–12). Where was the abundance promised and longed for?
God’s summons. Malachi’s answer is that God will not fail to fulfill what he has promised to his people, but the time is not yet ripe for such fulfillment. Instead, God calls the people to love him more than the abundance they have so long anticipated. Israel must learn once more what it is to trust the Lord, committing themselves again to the covenant into which God has entered with them. For it is by such covenant faithfulness that the nations will be gathered in. Then God’s “name will be great among the nations” (Mal. 1:11; compare 1:14). When Israel turns to love the Lord their God with all their heart, then the Gentiles will be attracted to such a life, such a people, and such a God.
God’s provision. Ultimately, however, God could not wait for such Israelite faithfulness to blossom, for it never did blossom and never could. If his people were to love him with all their heart, something more drastic was needed. Rather than waiting for his people to love him and in that way attract the nations, God would send his own Son, pouring out his Spirit onto his people and moving them from the inside out to walk in his ways as a witness to the nations of the world (Jer. 31:31–34; Ezek. 36:22–27).
By sending his Son, moreover, God showed his people how the nations would be won—not by attracting them but by going to them (Gal. 4:4–6). With the coming of Christ the way by which his people are a light to the nations has been reversed. Disciples of Christ do not wait for the nations to come to them. Rather they determine, in sacrificial mission according to the pattern set by Christ’s own incarnation, to go to the nations (John 20:21).
Universal Themes in Malachi
The pervasive tendency toward spiritually empty religion. The key indictment against Israel is their hollow, formal, corner-cutting religion. Their sacrifices to God are manipulated so as to allow them to retain their best animals (Mal. 1:8); the spiritual leaders only pretend to honor the Lord (2:1–2); marriage is taken lightly (2:14–16); and tithes are withheld out of love of money (3:6–12). Everywhere that the church presently thrives, believers must be vigilant against allowing dead orthodoxy to set in. A sign of such dead orthodoxy is when doctrinal truth is acknowledged (“Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us?” [2:10]) and yet love for one’s neighbor is neglected, which brings God’s judgment “against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts” (3:5).
The worldwide exaltation of God’s name. Amid his indictment of Israel’s sin, the Lord reiterates the global dimensions of the worship he deserves. “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations” (Mal. 1:11). “For I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations” (1:14). In light of his people’s failure to be a light to the nations, God will bring “utter destruction” on “the great and awesome day of the LORD” (4:5–6). Yet this day will also be linked with the return of Elijah to turn the hearts of the people back to God, once and for all vindicating God’s great name and glory (see Matt. 17:12; Luke 1:17; John 13:32; 17:1).
The Global Message of Malachi for Today
God’s people around the world today have been promised great and glorious things, just as God’s people of old had been. Yet like Israel upon returning from the exile, the glory for which we so eagerly wait remains perplexingly elusive as we live life under the sun in this fallen world. Sin and sickness, abuse and maligning, discouragement and setbacks—such is the lot of those who live in a diseased world. Indeed, some suffering is unique to followers of Christ (Acts 14:22; 2 Tim. 3:12).
Yet like the faithful remnant who determined to trust the Lord no matter what in Malachi’s day (Mal. 3:16–18), we too must cling to God and his promises regardless of what afflictions befall us—physically, politically, emotionally, relationally, culturally. The curse of the fall infects all aspects of life, yet the coming final restoration will likewise redeem all aspects of life. This restoration has already dawned in Christ and is guaranteed to all of God’s children, who enjoy the down payment of the Spirit in anticipation of the coming full liberation from sin and death (Rom. 8:18–25; 2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13–14).
Joy is secure. Glory awaits. Hope stands fast.