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"The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi." Malachi 1:1
I ran across a website the other day that collected prognostications
of various prophets that the end of the world would occur before the end
of 2001. One prediction set the date for January 31, 2001 and was based
on a scroll purported to have been found in Noah's ark.
Another prediction said the Great Tribulation would start April 7, 2001
and culminate on April 8, 2008. Another prophet said Jesus would return
to earth on July 7, 2001, another one said the rapture would definitely
take place in 2001, probably on Nov. 21.
Nov. 21 was a popular date, because another prophet said that an asteroid
would destroy Los Angeles on that date and that the Antichrist, who would
go by the name, King David, would appear sometime during 2001. Still another
prophet predicted that Armageddon would start on December 12, 2001 because
China & Iraq would join together to attack Israel. (http://www.religioustolerance.org/end_wrl11.htm)
Since the clock has struck 2002, I guess all these predictions were
wrong, as were the prophets that made them. When we think of the word "prophet,"
we often think of people who make predictions about the future that come
true. And certainly that is one definition. But there is another type of
prophet, A person who boldly speaks the word of God during a critical period
of history. Malachi was that kind of a prophet. He was God's messenger
to God's people during a difficult time in Israel's history-a time that
reminds me a lot of today.
The book of Malachi is strategically located at the end of the Old Testament
canon-a fitting place for a book that summarizes the theology of the prophets
of his age. Since the word "Malachi" means "My Messenger," and since we
don't know much about about the man Malachi, some scholars suggest that
he never lived-that the book represents the work of an anonymous author.
A theory I reject for two reasons. First, "the writings of the literary
prophets were never anonymous works." (ZPEB, v. 4, p. 43) And second, because
I believe he was a messenger from God who was burdened for the people of
his time who passionately spoke and wrote from that burden. Burdened prophets
don't have to constantly give their resume to try to impress others. They
are too busy talking about God to talk about themselves.
Other scholars call Malachi "the Hebrew Socrates" because his writings
are a dialog using a Q & A format to teach. In the book, he raises
six issues and deals with each of them in the same way. He brings an accusation
from the Lord against the people, they deny any wrong doing, then he offers
the proof of their sinfulness.
Malachi ministered during troubling times. In 586 BC, Jerusalem fell.
The Babylonians carried the people away into captivity.
Those words seem so sterile. The times were anything but sterile. The
enemy sacked the city, violated the impenetrable walls, desecrated the
holy places, and forcibly relocated the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Imagine
what it would have been like to be a child and watch as the priest is bound
and drug out of the temple, beaten into submission and carried away from
the holy hill into a pagan land. It was anything but sterile, it was a
For almost 50 years, the people of God were exiled away from the land
which the Lord their God gave them. Psalm 137:1-4, captures the despair
of those years, it says, "By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down and
wept, When we remembered Zion.  Upon the willows in the midst of it
We hung our harps.  For there our captors demanded of us songs, And
our tormentors mirth, saying, 'Sing us one of the songs of Zion.'  How
can we sing the Lord's song In a foreign land?" During the years of the
captivity, Ezekiel and Daniel prophesied for the Lord.
There was no temple worship, instead, the people gathered together in
synagogues under the directions of the scribes who gave religious instructions.
The restoration period began in 538 BC where the first group of captives
returned with Zerubbabel. In 518, they began to rebuild the temple. Zechariah
prophesied for the Lord during that era. The second wave of captives returned
in 458 BC with Ezra, and the last group returned with Nehemiah in 432 BC.
Malachi wrote his book in 450 BC, between the second and the third wave-between
Ezra's & Nehemiah's return. It was a time of spiritual bankruptcy and
Certainly, leaving captivity and returning to Jerusalem was exciting,
but now, Israel was a third rate nation. Jerusalem wasn't the same anymore.
The infrastructure was destroyed. There was a lot of work to do to make
it habitable again. Later, Nehemiah would rebuild the walls and help the
nation regain some of its dignity and sense of security, but during Malachi's
time the ruins were a constant reminder of the nation's vulnerability and
But the physical ruins weren't the only problems. The nation had become
morally weak and was suffering from spiritual atrophy. They didn't respect
God as they once did and were beginning to treat their spiritual obligations
casually. Instead of giving God their best, they approached worship in
a half-hearted manner. As they lost respect for God, their values began
to decompose, resulting in unnecessary divorce and disintegrating family
values. They became disgruntled against the Lord and began blaming Him
for their problems. Their service to the Lord became drudgery and their
support of His work became almost nonexistent. In short, they needed a
Malachi, God's messenger burst on the scene with a burdened heart. Verse
1, called his message, "The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by
Malachi." As we study his writings, you will notice that his words were
straightforward, even harsh at times. Malachi wasn't angry with the people,
their conduct burdened him. He didn't mince any words with the people,
he courageously preached the truth, but he did it because he was burdened
The words weren't his words, notice that verse 1 says they were "the
word of the Lord to Israel." They weren't his opinions, theories or ideas,
as a prophet of God-God's messenger-he brought God's word to God's people.
Renewal would come. Combined with the prophecies of Malachi was the
rediscovery of the importance of God's word when Ezra the scribe read the
sacred scrolls to the people and the example of Nehemiah, a layman who
took up a troll and led God's people to rebuild the wall of security around
the city. He didn't ask anyone to do anything he wasn't willing to do himself,
he feverishly worked on the wall, not letting anything distract him. His
critics tried to get him to come down off the wall to discuss their "issues"
with him, but he would not. He continued on the wall. It didn't happen
overnight, rebuilding the wall was a major endeavor, but he persisted.
Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets. When the ink dried
on his scroll, no other prophet would speak to God's people for 400 years.
The next prophetic voice would be John the Baptist's crying out, "Prepare
ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." (Matthew 3:3 KJV)
Malachi's words would be God's final words before a protracted time
of silence. In the 55 verses of this book, God speaks to the people of
Malachi's day and ours. He tells those who read the book that He loves
them. He shows them that worship is worthwhile and should be approached
with reckless abandon. He raises the level of the family's importance and
encourages commitment. He reminds the readers that He is active in their
lives; He is not a disinterested creator, but an active participant in
eternity and history. He calls the readers to return to Him and assures
them that they will receive a blessing for what they give to His work and
joy when they serve Him.
Over the next few months, we will study the burdened words of Malachi,
and if we listen closely, we will hear the voice of God. A voice calling
His people home.