Malachi: Intro to the Prophets

Why study the prophets? Who are they? Today we dive into Malachi.

Written by Mike Biolsi & David Steltz on .

Notes

Why study the prophets?

We are so glad that so many of you have stayed connected to us via Zoom during this crazy pandemic! We also appreciate the fact that many of you have been with us, studying some of the major themes of the OT since we started in Genesis in February of 2019.

It is common for the modern-day church to focus on the NT, especially since we, the church, are featured from the book of Acts to Revelation. In addition, this time we live in is referred to as the “church age”. But this journey through the Old Testament is vital to understanding the NT!

If I told you that the Lord of the Rings could be summed up in 3 statements; 

  1. absolute power destroys people, 
  2. we need others that we can depend on, and 
  3. doing what is right is hard and could be costly

Do you feel like that has given you all that you need to know about the approximately 11 hours and 36 minutes of the extended version of the trilogy?

OF COURSE NOT!

Jesus made this statement during his earthly ministry:

Matthew 22:34–40 (CSB) — 34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they came together. 35 And one of them, an expert in the law, asked a question to test him: 36 “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the greatest and most important command. 39 The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” 

Most people I talk to are OK with the condensed version of 2 commands to give understanding of the entire Old Testament, but that certainly does not tell the entire story! It is like summarizing the Lord of the Rings in 3 statements! 

There is an assumption here: that the listeners KNEW what the Law & the Prophets said. The Jews broke down the OT into 3 parts, the law, the prophets and the writings. This OT accounts for somewhere around 70% of our Bibles (based on number of words). The prophets take up a huge portion of that Old testament. 

WHY would God take such care to record the OT if it was not significant? And why would so much of out NT quote the OT if it was not significant?

After Jesus rose from the grave, he appeared to the 11 disciples and at fish with them. 

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the gathering of Jesus followers in the region of Galatia simplified it even more:

Luke 24:44–45 (NLT) — 44 Then he said, “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. 

Jesus helped the disciples see that the scriptures were the key to understanding his purpose and their mission. Those scriptures are what we refer to as the OT and Jesus referred to them as the law, prophets and writings. If we are to understand the depth of the gospel, we need to understand the message of the Scriptures – Old and New Testaments.

Galatians 5:14 (CSB) — 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. 

There is an assumption here: that the listeners KNEW what the Law & the Prophets said. The Jews broke down the OT into 3 parts, the law, the prophets and the writings. This OT accounts for somewhere around 70% of our Bibles (based on number of words). The prophets take up a huge portion of that Old testament. 

Most people I talk to are OK with the condensed version of 2 commands, but that certainly does not tell the entire story!

WHY would God take such care to record the OT if it was not significant? And why would so much of out NT quote the OT if it was not significant?

This last section of the OT that we are going to go through will focus on the prophets. As we do we will be talking about covenants, God’s faithfulness, judgement, hope and most of all, they continue to tell the story of God – that he will someday restore things back to the garden ideal through the Messiah. 

Intro to The Prophets

As People

Who were the prophets? What is a prophet? At its most basic definition, a prophet is someone who speaks to other people on God’s behalf, communicating God’s will or some other message given or revealed to them in some divine, supernatural way.

That’s a pretty simple definition, but what do you think of when you hear the word “prophecy?” Probably some sort of prediction of what will happen in the future, right? Well, prophets sometimes talked about the future, but that wasn’t usually the primary focus of their message or ministry.

Moses was a prophet. He spoke directly with God, then communicated God’s will in Egypt, led Israel on God’s behalf, receiving and communicating God’s messages and instructions during their journey to the promised land. Now, Moses did predict that things like the plagues would happen right before they happened, but the point wasn’t that he was predicting them, was it? The point was that he was delivering a message and acting as a liaison for God throughout the exodus.

Moses’s ministry was pretty unique; his role was very specific to the exodus. But it was a very significant role, because through him God established a very important, conditional covenant with Israel, and we call it the mosaic covenant because of that. And many times throughout his ministry, Moses’ job was to try to keep them on track in upholding their end of the covenant, and to address issues of doubt, rebellion, and outright disobedience.

As you study the rest of the prophets, you’ll find that their role is really best described along the lines of being covenantal whistleblowers, or prosecutors in the covenantal courtroom. NOT fortune tellers. So that’s what a “prophet” is, as a person.

As a Literary Category

“The Prophets” is not just a category or label for specific people, it also is a category of literature. In Christian tradition, we limit this to the 3 major prophets and 12 minor prophets, and we have a bunch of different categories for everything else.

That’s NOT how Hebrew scripture, or the “TaNaK” or what we refer to as the “Old Testament” was originally organized, though. It was (and still is in Jewish tradition) divided into 3 categories: The Torah (or law, or teaching, also referred to as “the law of Moses” or simply “Moses”), the “Prophets,” and the “Writings” (which is basically a way of saying “miscellaneous.”) This is how it was organized before the English, Christian ordering of the canon which you have in your bibles today.

The first category is simply the first 5 books: Genesis through Leviticus. 

“The Writings” includes the poetry and wisdom literature, and stories like Esther and Ruth and Daniel and Ezra, Nehemiah, and even Chronicles.

“The Prophets” category actually includes some of the books we would simply label as “historical” like Joshua, Judges, Samuel & Kings. Then it has the 3 big prophets, the ones we call the “Major Prophets:” Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Finally, it has what we call the “minor prophets” or what Jewish tradition would refer to as “the twelve” (I’m sure that number is purely coincidence right?): Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

Why does it matter?

Why does any of this matter? Well, it matters for a lot of reasons which we won’t get into right now, but there are a couple reasons to keep it in mind. First, when you see Jesus and other New Testament speakers mention “the prophets” or “Moses and the prophets.” Those words aren’t just referring to individual people, it’s a shorthand way of saying “the whole core teaching of Hebrew scripture and history of the Jewish people.” 

Luke 24:27 (CSB):27 Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted for them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures. 

Secondly, I think these days many of us, including us “preachers” tend to prioritize and focus way more on what we label as “history” and kind of dance around or skim over the prophets. Yet, Jewish tradition does not make this distinction; it lumps them all together and holds them all in equal priority.

Over the past couple years, we have studied through the Torah, and more recently through the narrative of Joshua through Kings (which is also covered in Chronicles). But even though those books are in the “Prophets” category, we haven’t actually looked at any of the prophets themselves, or their writings, yet. 

We have mentioned the prophets quite a bit, just to say that they warned about the exile for hundreds of years leading up to it, and then continued to play a role during and after the exile. We looked at the story of Daniel, which was like a few little snapshots of the Jews’ life in exile and how God was working among them even then. And we even mentioned how the second half of Daniel contains a bunch of prophesies; so technically, Daniel can be considered a prophet, but we didn’t even study that part of that book!

Reading what the prophets wrote can be daunting. They can be quite scary, depressing, weird, or just plain confusing. Yet, we should not be afraid to read them, and we certainly should not ignore them. So, we want to take some time studying the prophets…overall as a subject, as well as a couple of them specifically.

Intro to Malachi

Why Malachi?

A few of the prophets have some pretty crazy stories; God performed miracles through them, and in some cases had them do some really bizarre things to get his point across. However, it’s important to recognize the underlying purpose and message of those stories, and in many cases, we know very little if anything about the prophets themselves. The bulk of prophetic writing is not narrative in nature at all; it’s more like reading a speech, or a poem, or something in-between.

We’ve spent quite a bit of time going through narrative, so we thought it was a good time to take a break from that and focus on the overall message and role of the prophets. When looking at the individual books, we realized that some of them would take years to get through, and others would frankly be difficult to study in a family environment! 

We decided to tackle Malachi because it is a great archetypal example of prophetic writing. It speaks to a specific time and context yet carries broad covenantal themes throughout. In doing so, it reflects on the whole message of the Old Testament: The theology of God’s love and justice, the unfaithful sinfulness of humans, and the need for a messianic savior. Whew! And all that in 4 chapters, besides, so we figure we can get through it before Christmas! (3 chapters if you have a Hebrew OT!)

Context of Malachi

Set around the time of Ezra & Nehemiah, ~100 years after the Jews’ began returning to their homeland. 

The Jews had made it through the exile, yet life was not feeling like a return to Eden, rather a shadow of a dim reflection of the tattered remains of a hope fulfilled. This was not the future they had been looking forward to. Their understanding of the previous prophets’ messages did not line up with their current experiences and situation. They were poor and hungry and still didn’t have their messiah. So, even though the Exilic period was over, it was with a very anticlimactic end, leaving them disappointed and filled with doubt towards God. 

Many may had gone through the motions of religion and Jewish laws and customs, but in their hearts grown cold and faithless. (If you read Ezra & Nehemiah, you’ll notice a lot of the same issues show up in their narratives).

Malachi is a direct response to this climate. It does so primarily by aiming to remind and refocus their perspectives and roles in their covenants with God (and each other!)

Structure of Malachi

The first verse is a very simple, straight to the point introduction to what we’re about to read:

Malachi 1:1 (LEB):1 An oracle. The word of Yahweh to Israel through Malachi. 

Again, with some prophets we get some narrative snapshots throughout their life, or their stories are woven into their message and ministry. Malachi, however, is actually more typical of the prophets in that we know really nothing about the author at all. In fact, the word “Malachi” simply means “my messenger” (Malach = messenger/angel) so it’s not even clear whether this is meant to be a proper name or just a title. But for lack of an alternative, we’ll just refer to the prophet who delivered this message as “Malachi” … ultimately information that isn’t given is information that doesn’t matter. ALL that matters in this book is the message itself, which is all that follows after the minimal introduction of verse 1. Verse one serves to say this is a proclamation coming straight from Yahweh himself, through the mouth and hands of his messenger.

In the LEB  we have “oracle”, in the CSB we have “pronouncement” and in the NLT we have “message” This is an interesting word as it is most commonly understood as a burden or something that must be carried. I think that is possibly a reflection of how Malachi, the messenger feels about this message. However, it could also be considered in the sense that there has been a heavy burden since the fall of man in the garden, a burden that will be present until the messiah will one day take away. You start the book with a burden and you end the book with the messiah. 

Dispute #1

The writing of Malachi seems to be a form of legal brief. Malachi acts as a soft of legal arbiter who states the accusations of the people and the response of Yahweh. It is very much a courtroom environment! 

Malachi consists of 6 different disputes, or arguments. The arguments follow a pretty consistent pattern, of God making a statement, Israel saying something defiant back, followed by God’s response to that. It’s not a real-time conversation between God and Israel, rather the prophet laying everything out to explain what the situation is, with God’s statements being presented to a hypothetical audience. 

Verses 2-5 then contain the first dispute:

Malachi 1:2–5 (LEB):2 “I have loved you,” says Yahweh, but you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is Esau not Jacob’s brother?” declares Yahweh. “I have loved Jacob, 3 but Esau I have hated. I have made his mountain ranges a desolation, and given his inheritance to the jackals of the desert.” 4 If Edom says, “We are shattered, but we will return and rebuild the ruins,” Yahweh of hosts says this: “They may build, but I will tear down; and they will be called a territory of wickedness, and the people with whom Yahweh is angry forever.” 5 Your eyes will see this, and you will say, “Yahweh is great beyond the borders of Israel.” 

This dispute is only 4 verses long, but there is quite a bit packed in here. 

God’s Statement

It starts off with Yahweh saying, “I have loved you.” It’s a matter of fact, absolute statement. “I have loved you,” not “I have loved you except when…” or “I have loved you, but…” it’s simply: “I have loved you,” says Yahweh. This is an unconditional love. Back in Deuteronomy, you can see the idea of God choosing Israel in parallel with the idea of God loving Israel. In this, God demonstrates that love is 🎶 more than a feeling 🎶 it is a choice, and the expression of a committed relationship—which is something that will come up again later on.

Faithlife Study Bible: This Hebrew term for “love” is a technical term in ancient Near Eastern treaty and covenant texts indicating choice or election to covenant relationship. 

Israel’s Retort

And yet Israel’s response paints a picture of their whole attitude towards God at this point: “how have you loved us?” The NLT actually translates it as “and yet you retort:” If I were to add some interpretative inflection it might read something like “pshhhhh yeah, ok God…tell me just how exactly you have loved us :eyeroll:” This response is so flagrant, so disrespectful, it reveals how calloused they’ve become. They don’t love God, they don’t fear God, and they feel abandoned by him. 

I think another way to describe what Israel was thinking might be: “Then where are all of the great blessings God has promised through His prophets?”

I think this is a common response of mankind to the perceived injustices of the world. Phrases like, “how can a loving god let innocent people die” or “if God loves me why is he making me suffer like this”. To equate love with circumstances is not to understand love very well. 

Proverbs 3:12 (CSB) — 12 for the LORD disciplines the one he loves, just as a father disciplines the son in whom he delights. 

In this case, the punishment they received is because of God’s love. It seems counter-intuitive, but our faith and God’s word must be the standard by which we measure God’s love, not the way we feel or the way we interpret our circumstances. 

God’s Response

God’s response is interesting…to argue his point, he goes straight to the brothers Jacob and Esau, Isaac’s sons, Abraham’s grandsons.

Jacob

God chose to love Jacob and is often even referred to as “The God of Jacob” …and yet, Jacob was deceptive and sinful! Furthermore, Jacob was not even the firstborn (to whom favor would normally be given), Esau was! This further goes to demonstrate that God loves people not based on merit but by choice.

Esau

So, verse 2 is nice, but then verse 3 shifts the focus to Esau and Edom.

Esau’s descendants came to be known as the people of Edom. They were constantly in conflict with Israel/Judah. So, in this example, “Jacob” or “Israel” is simultaneously referring to the person, AND his descendants the nation of Israel, and in the same way, “Esau” is referring to Jacob’s older brother, as well as the nation of Edom. 

God’s language towards Edom is quite harsh! Verse 2 says “I have loved Jacob” then verse 3 says “Esau I have hated.” Now, just like the word “love” in verse 2 is a contractual term that is parallel to the word “choose,” the word “hate” here is the opposite, and can also be understood as the opposite of “choose” which would be “reject.” So, either way, love & hate, choose & reject, these words are presenting polar opposites, and both words represent covenant concepts more than they do emotional concepts.

By the time Malachi was written, Edom was known for arrogance, greed, and violence. So God’s rejection and destruction of them was not unprovoked, it was God’s righteous judgement against a treacherous and belligerent people…a people with whom God would be angry with forever! [READ: Jeremiah 49 if you want to read more about that punishment!]

In contrast, Israel’s recent exile was only a temporary punishment…a “time out,” if you will. Yet, Israel was really no better than Edom in their faithlessness, selfishness, and idolatry.

Neither Jacob nor Esau deserved God’s favor, and yet Israel was granted it. I think the point God is making here is that Israel is forgetting that they did nothing to deserve God’s love, and yet he gave it to them, unfailingly, and they show no more appreciation or devotion or love than their rejected neighbors, the Edomites.

And god continues to demonstrate that love in that he did NOT destroy them! He kept his promise to Jacob. If you remember the story of Jacob, he was the one who wrestled with God. 

Genesis 32:24–31 (NLT) — 24 This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. 25 When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 “What is your name?” the man asked. He replied, “Jacob.” 28 “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.” 29 “Please tell me your name,” Jacob said. “Why do you want to know my name?” the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there. 30 Jacob named the place Peniel (which means “face of God”), for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” 31 The sun was rising as Jacob left Peniel, and he was limping because of the injury to his hip. 

Jacob was a wrestler. He wrestled with Laban and his wives and throughout his life’s journey wrestled with God. In the end, his name is changed to Israel because “he wrestled with God and man and prevailed”.

It was Jacob (Israel) that the 12 tribes came from. It was the descendants of Jacob that were the special people of God. It was Jacobs descendants that were to enter the promised land. It was through Jacob that David and Solomon would come. It was through Jacob that the Messiah would one day come and provide relief from the curse. Edom will be cursed, but God’s people will be blessed through the Messiah. 

Theology

All of this is to lead to the conclusion that “Yahweh is great beyond the borders of Israel” … this theological understanding is foundational to the various negative and positive motivators to follow throughout the rest of the book. 

It also points to the universal nature of the Gospel and the mission of God:

Psalm 67:1–7 (NLT) — 1 May God be merciful and bless us. May his face smile with favor on us. Interlude 2 May your ways be known throughout the earth, your saving power among people everywhere. 3 May the nations praise you, O God. Yes, may all the nations praise you. 4 Let the whole world sing for joy, because you govern the nations with justice and guide the people of the whole world. Interlude 5 May the nations praise you, O God. Yes, may all the nations praise you. 6 Then the earth will yield its harvests, and God, our God, will richly bless us. 7 Yes, God will bless us, and people all over the world will fear him. 

God’s love is demonstrated to Israel in the fact that he chose Jacob to draw him to himself and use him to bless the nations. The Abrahamic covenant was fulfilled through the line of Jacob. 

God’s love is demonstrated to you and me in that he chooses to love you and me even though we are just as rebellious and wicked as the nation Israel. 

Romans 5:8 (NLT) — 8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. 

He sent Jesus to die for our sins – a legal case where we were condemned, much like Israel, and yet the Son of God took the punishment we deserved:

1 John 4:10 (NLT) — 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 

The burdensome message we have today is that we have all sinned. We have all disobeyed and rejected God. Yet the hope that we have is not found in our circumstances or how we feel, but in the reality that God loves us and gave his son for us. 

Have you experienced that love today? Are you still claiming that God cannot be loving or cannot love you? Are you judging God by your circumstances or feelings?

God’s love is real and eternal. He loved you and me enough to send Jesus to earth do die for our sins so that if we simply believe in him – if we will acknowledge that we are rebels and that God is loving a just, and that Jesus took the punishment for our rebellion – that we can experience life, hope and renewal as the children of God. 

John 3:16 (NLT) — 16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 

This is the story of the prophets. This is the story of the entire Bible. It can be your story today if you are willing to call out to God:

“God, I am a rebel, a sinner. Up to this point I have rejected you. But today, I come to you and ask you to forgive me and accept me as your child, not because I deserve it, but because Jesus died for my rebellion. I am making a covenant today to live to honor you and to spend my days living with you and for you. Amen”

 


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NCF was started in 1987 to minister to the growing population of Fort Drum and Jefferson County. Located in Carthage, just minutes away from Ft Drum, Lowville and Watertown, it is a blended congregation of local and military folks, single soldiers, young families and grandparents.

35206 Sayre Road
PO Box 823
Carthage NY 13619
315-493-3958
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