Malachi 1:6-14, part 2, The people and the priests
In 538 B.C. the decree of Cyrus ended the Babylonian captivity and allowed the Jews to return to their homeland and to rebuild the temple. “This was some 80 years after Haggai and Zechariah encouraged the rebuilding of that temple with promises of God’s blessings, the engrafting of the nations, prosperity, expansion, peace, and the return of God’s own glorious presence.
“After their seventy-year captivity, the people had arrived to find Jerusalem a shattered city, ancestral division of lands destroyed, and the temple reduced to rubble. Their ancestral homes had been demolished. All had appeared to be lost, and then they got to work, rebuilding. And yet, still, they didn’t quite know how to function as Jews in Israel, having passed nearly two generations in Babylon.
“To Malachi’s disillusioned contemporaries, those original predictions must have seemed a cruel mockery. In contrast to the glowing promises, the harsh reality was one of economic privation, prolonged drought, crop failure, and pestilence,”1. These facts set the scene.
Malachi likely prophesied several decades after the first exiles of Judah returned from Babylon. Now under Persian rule, they had returned to the minor province of Judea to rebuild the temple. Territory that had once belonged to the northern kingdom of Israel had been divided into several minor provinces.
Sometime after Ezra was a religious leader, Malachi wrote.
Malachi’s book is a wake-up call to renewed covenantal fidelity. Thirteen years after Malachi prophesied, Nehemiah returned from Babylon and led the people in rebuilding the walls of the city of Jerusalem, establishing a safer environment for further growth.
In the twelfth year, Nehemiah returned to Persia. By that time, most of the exiles had returned to Judea, the temple had been rebuilt, and the sacrificial system reestablished long enough to develop certain abuses. It was during this interim that Malachi wrote, perhaps between 458-434 B.C.
“Apathy toward the temple ritual and especially toward the law of Moses had reached such proportions in post-exilic Judah that God raised up the prophet Malachi to reprimand the people. The battle for truth and righteousness had waned because their obvious political enemies were gone.
Yet this left room for the not-so-obvious enemies — namely smugness, pride, and compromise. The people in general and the priests in particular had lost their sense of ‘chosen-ness’ (1:2). Not respecting His codes and regulations (1:6) showed they had stopped honoring God. Among them intermarriage with unbelievers was rampant (2:11). Their domestic commitment was low, and divorce was the result (2:16)(as addressed in the first post on Malachi). In 3:5 is a list of abuses and unacceptable practices they were committing: sorcery, adultery, perjury, fraud, oppression, and injustice. These were the things that occasioned Malachi’s angry indictment.”2.
In other words, they seemed to be in a state of decline regarding their faith, impacting their actions at home, at work, at the temple, and in their moral choices.
The church in American seems to be in this same place, recalling a time when faith was more prevalent and our people strove to be more like Jesus.
Do we see ourselves in these indictments? Are we here?
The same could be stated of us. How are we to function as followers of Christ in this hardened era?
“In this letter, Malachi defends the reality of God’s elective love for Israel, a love which calls for robust covenant obedience and sincere worship as its response. Instead, the people were dishonoring God by their worthless offerings and the hypocritical formalism of their worship.”3.
Again, this reminds us of the current state of the church in our nation. Are we doing the same?
“‘I have loved you,’ says the LORD” (Malachi 1:1 ESV) are God’s first words to Israel here. This fact, the most significant reality in their lives, is where they need to focus. God’s love for them surpasses all.
However the people’s anger and despair at the condition of the city and the region has caused them to harden their hearts. This wasn’t what they had expected. To deal with their traumatized emotions, they reopen the wound of this lovers’ spat.
“How have you loved us?“ they ask the LORD in Malachi 1:2.
God’s reply: “‘Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?’–and so, as far as dignity went, as much entitled to God’s favor as Jacob. My adoption of Jacob, therefore, was altogether by gratuitous favor (Romans 9).”4.
Jacob I have loved (chosen as patriarch of Messiah’s lineage). Esau I have hated (not chosen, though he was the firstborn).
They should have focused on the good that God had done for Jacob’s descendants. But they did not.
Like them, do we forget to focus on the goodness of God and of all of His blessings?
The priests despised the LORD. “Despised” means to hold in contempt, to hold in disdain, to disrespect. It means not to treat something with proper respect (Mal.1:6)(Strong’s #959 בָּזָה bāzāh).5.
In the next post, the Holy Spirit explains even more thoroughly how to honor the Lord.