by Rev. David A. Moffat
The last book in the Old Testament is the prophecy of Malachi. It is relatively short (only four chapters), but important nevertheless. The Hebrew word, “Malachi” means “my messenger”. This brings about some uncertainty as to whether it was written by a man called Malachi, or whether the word is merely a title, a job description. In the end, it doesn’t really matter – the title of the book serves to introduce us to its subject.
It is thought that Malachi was the last of the Old Testament books to be written. It is set in the time after the end of the exile in Babylon (as were Haggai and Zechariah). The people had returned to their land with hopes of re-establishing their nation – its government and religious institutions – but they were never able to reclaim the glory of former days.
The book clearly anticipates the incarnation of the Lord:
“Behold, I send My messenger, And he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, Will suddenly come to His temple, Even the Messenger of the covenant, In whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” Says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 3:1; see also 4:5)
It’s position is quite appropriate as the last book of the Old Testament. It is pregnant with expectation. Just as an interesting aside, have another look at Malachi 3:1 quoted above. You will notice the words “my messenger” (“Malachi”) – in this context a clear reference to John the Baptist, whose task was to proclaim the coming of the Lord (Luke 3; John 1:6). The Baptist’s father was Zechariah (Luke 1:5) – also the name of the second last book of the Old Testament. Zechariah – John the Baptist (Malachi) – Jesus Christ: I think this progression is indicative of the anticipation associated with the Lord’s coming.
One of the distinctive features of the book is a statement of the Lord, followed by a question from the people. The New International Version Study Bible says: “Frequently the Lord’s statements are followed by sarcastic questions introduced by ‘But you ask’. In each case the Lord’s response is given.” (p. 1424) I disagree that these questions are sarcastic. I think they are genuine indications of the spiritual ignorance of the time. It seems that the Jews of Malachi’s time could not distinguish between good and evil – which introduces the other theme of the book – judgement.
Let’s look particularly at chapter 3. I would break it down into three sections: verses 1-7, 8-12 and 13-18.
Verses 1-7 introduce the theme of judgement. It is worth discussing what judgement is. It is simply the process by which we tell the difference between good and evil. It is a sorting – which can only take place when the qualities or persons being judged are seen in their true light. Sometimes we can sort things easily. At other times it takes a great deal more effort, and sometimes that effort is painful. But why is that so important? Because true self knowledge is essential for discovering our spiritual home. It would seem that the people of Malachi’s time could not make that judgement for themselves – the Lord’s entry into the world was imperative, and eagerly awaited. This section ends with one of those statement-questions:
“Return to Me, and I will return to you,” Says the LORD of hosts. “But you said, ‘In what way shall we return?’” (verse 7)
The following two sections go on to explore the answer to that question.
Verses 8-12 begins with yet another statement-question:
Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ (verse 8)
How do we rob God? It is simple, really. We rob God when we claim for ourselves the goodness we find within: when I say, “I am good”. In order to return to God we must become humble. But what difference does that make? As we explore the chapter further, we discover that by giving to the Lord what is rightfully his, we are given blessing beyond our imagination. This is what is called “influx” – the Lord’s inflowing life and inspiration. Humility opens us up to receive from the Lord what he longs to give us. Of course, what the Lord gives is most often NOT physical goods, because we are so easily misled by them. But we can certainly count upon the Lord blessing us with clear thinking, new thoughts and the ability to face the challenges of life. The 12 step programme is a good example of this. It is founded upon humility – our dependence upon a higher power than ourselves. In Spiritual Recovery, Grant Schnarr quotes the woman who said, “I know there is a God, and it isn’t me.” Without this humility, the 12 steps cannot work.
Verses 13-18 introduce the second big hurdle of the spiritual life:
“Your words have been harsh against Me,” Says the LORD, “Yet you say, ‘What have we spoken against You?’ You have said, ‘It is useless to serve God; What profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, And that we have walked as mourners Before the LORD of hosts? So now we call the proud blessed, For those who do wickedness are raised up; They even tempt God and go free.’”
How do we speak against God? When we look at the world around us and say, “Why bother?” It is true that if we remove God from the picture, life is pretty bleak. Who hasn’t despaired about the state of the the world on the odd occasion? But we should always remind ourselves that God is in control, that his Providence is working to bring good out of every situation, no matter how desperate things may seem. Divine Providence paragraph 235 tackles this kind of thinking head on – the way we justify our Godless thinking by looking at the natural half of the picture, and dismissing the spiritual. But the real problem with this is its effect upon our life – it can stimulate us to give up, to substitute the short term ease for longer term spiritual benefits.
Effort is another of the principles which forms the foundation for the 12 step programme. Not that we “save ourselves” – that would deny humility – but that we co-operate with God.
The denial of God is what Jesus spoke against when he said: “Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God. But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” (Luke 12:8 & 9) We deny God when we make ourselves out to be the source of good. We deny God by the reasonings which negate our need of obedience to His Word. To confess is to acknowledge our need of God, and obedience, and to look for God’s power, even when we can’t see it. Why is that so important? It is through our humility and obedience that we forge our connection with the Lord, and this leads to lasting peace and happiness – salvation.
Malachi chapter 3 encapsulates the fifth point in the statement we call the “Faith of the New Church”: [Good] actions should be performed as if they were our own, but we must believe that they are done by the Lord working in us and through us. Effort (obedience) and humility. Without them, our spiritual life can only stall. And it is only through the presence of the Lord in the world and in our lives that we are able to recognise their importance.