Man’s Rigid Perversity the Occasion

For manifestation of

God’s Holy Sovereignty

Introduction: Malachi was the last prophet before the appearance of John the Baptist (4:5). The Old Testament closes with a continued manifestation of the results of Adam’s sin—the perversity of human unfaithfulness to God’s holy requirements, human obliviousness to the spirit of independence and rebellion that permeates the heart and actions, and insipidity of action to grasp the advantages promised in divine grace. On the other hand, God lays claim to the greatness of his name, the universality of his intention to promote his glory, the justness of his sovereign decrees, the surety of his purpose to have a people that love righteousness and hate wickedness. Because the abuses confronted so vigorously in this oracle correspond to the corrections made by Nehemiah, it is probable that  “Malachi” operated  and exhorted just prior to Nehemiah’s return to institute these reforms (Nehemiah 13:6-30). These ideas are set in the context of an ongoing dialogue between God and those that have been restored from exile but yet, except for a small remnant, show little apprehension of any the importance of the themes mentioned above. Their baffling cluelessness is seen in the use of the phrase 9 times, “But you say . . .” {1:2, 6, 7, 13; 2:14, 17; 3: 7, 8, 13]. The wall has been rebuilt, houses have been built (some of them obviously elaborate according to Haggai), the temple has been restored, there is a functioning priesthood; with all this, however, the privilege of the call to be a peculiar people, set apart to the Lord, has been lost on them (2:10, 11) and the instructions given to Moses are generally ignored (2:7, 8; 4:4). God, nevertheless, unhindered in his purpose by the perversity of rebellious man, for the honor of his name, will glorify himself in all the earth (1:5, 11, 14b). He will make a distinction between the righteous and the wicked (3:18) and will bring the “sun of righteousness” (4:2) in order to accomplish his purpose of gathering a redeemed and forgiven people to himself.

I. Verse 1 – Malachi had an “oracle” from God. An oracle is a burden that crushes and virtually incapacitates the one that has it until it is delivered (Jeremiah 23:9-11) but is a dangerous thing to claim if it be not true indeed (Jeremiah 23:33-40). For the oracle, or burden placed on Isaiah see Isaiah 13:1; 15:1; 17:1; 19:1; 21:1, 11, 13; 22:1.

II. Verse 2-5 – The first oracle concerns the love of God. There is a question concerning God’s proclamation of love for Israel.

A. “I have loved you” This is a proclamation from God of the special favor that he has given Israel far beyond those common mercies granted to all nations.

1. They were loved with a benevolent, covenantal love. Through no merit of their own, but solely through God’s merciful outreach to them, blessings came their way.  This is clearly stated in Deuteronomy 4:32-39 and 7:6-11. God had selected their forefathers and made promises to them and, thus, they were in the framework of God’s determination to bless this nation and the world through them. Their unresponsiveness to this great blessing is further demonstration of the spiritual and moral blindness of fallen mankind even when surrounded with evidences of the beauty and blessing of God. But the special revelation given to Israel and their prominent status in the covenant of redemption gave them far superior advantages to any other nation, and yet they did not improve these advantages by giving themselves to true obedience and worship.

2. In John 17:23-26, Jesus pointed to a time when his people would be loved with a “complacent” love; loved just as the Son is loved because of his meritorious obedience to the will of his Father. His merits in justification and the finally completed holiness in the saints through the work of the Holy Spirit will evoke God’s true complacency toward us as we reflect his perfect righteousness and, through his Son, we are a sweet smelling savour to him.

3. The present dilemma of life before God is that we must love God because of his surpassing excellence, but that he has a just right to hate us. This will be demonstrated in the context of this oracle. See the attitude of Ezra as he sensed both elements of this dilemma in Ezra 9:13-15.

4. Paul recognized this special love of benevolence to people in that the marks of election were demonstrated in their response to the gospel (1 Thessalonians 1:4, 5; 2 Thessalonians 2:12, 13; Ephesians 1:4, 5; 2:4, 5; 3:17-19).

B. The people respond, “How have you loved us?” This question betrays two grievous and inexcusable faults.

1. They were ungrateful.

In spite of their continuous disobedience, they had been preserved, a reality seen so clearly by Ezra – Ezra 9:6ff

God had disciplined them for their good – Moses had reminded the people of loving discipline in Deuteronomy 8:2-5; This same theme is developed by the writer of Hebrews in 12:5-11.

2. They were ignorant. Their ignorance did not arise from the lack of a source of knowledge, but from spiritual negligence and arrogant resistance to God’s truth. This resistance is seen in the very willingness to oppose God’s declarations throughout this series of queries of incredulity.

They were ignorant of their sin that deserved death, hell, eternal rejection from God.

They were ignorant of the superiority of the spiritual promises given to their forefathers and renewed to them that had caused their preservation even in exile. They preferred present physical dainties over the covenantal favor of God.

C. What is the Answer that God gives to their retort?

1. The equality of all by nature. “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” All have descended from Adam and we all share the same corrupt nature and are, as Paul so clearly established, “By nature children of wrath.” Romans 3, Romans 5, Titus 3 and Ephesians 2 as well as the entire historical narrative of Scripture shows that “all we like sheep have gone astray.” Each of us is subject to the eternal wrath of God and can utter no just complaint against God’s so consigning us (Romans 3:19, 20).

2. The selection of their forefather, Jacob, to receive grace and the covenantal promise, while leaving Esau in his natural state of carnality and subjection to wrath. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated.” God’s selection separates the people of the earth for specific places within the eternal purpose of God. Israel as a nation was separated by God’s love to be the carrier of divine revelation, divine law, and messianic types and promises until the appearance of the Christ. This gave them great advantages that, with the exception of a remnant that were chosen to be objects of redemption, they rejected (See Paul’s arrangement of these ideas in Romans 3:1-6; 9:4-7; 10:1-4’ 11:1-5, 28-32).

3. The outflowing of wave upon wave of divine judgment on Edom under Saul, David, Solomon, Amaziah, and Ahaz until finally forced to be circumcised and incorporated into the Jewish people by Judas Maccabaeus.

4. Paul used this Old Testament argument for divine prerogative as the indication that God’s election to salvation was also implied in the separation of Jacob and Esau and the temporal destinies of their descendants by divine purpose. Malachi is not referring to an election to salvation in his statement but of divine sovereignty as to how he executes his covenantal purpose in the world. Paul applies this principle one step further in making the covenantal purpose include the very individuals that will be brought by grace to all the covenantal blessings of full salvation (Romans 8:28-34; 9:8-18).

III.  Verses 6-14 – The Second oracle carries a denunciation of the priests for the failure to honor God either in their function as offering sacrifice or their function as teachers. In this lesson we see only a part of their faithlessness as priests of sacrifice.

A. God refers to Himself under several titles in this chapter in order to show how shoddily the priests have regarded their appointed office. He is father (6), master (6), Lord of Hosts (6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14), and great King (14). He also compares the honor due him to the deference that they show to the governor. If the priests properly revered in their heart his greatness and his holiness, then they could not possibly be slack in any aspect of their commissioned function. They would perform it gladly, with great joy, with humble submission to every requirement, and with an awestruck realization that they typified the perfect and unblemished priesthood and offering that Messiah would make.

B. God provokes the discussion through the prompt of a disturbing question. “If I am a master, where is my fear” addressed to priests who “despise my name.” This leads to a couple of the incredulous deflections that carry the literary thrust of this book. “How have we despised your name?”

1. God’s name means the substance of that which God has revealed to us concerning himself and his provision for salvation. Jesus entered Jerusalem in Luke19:38 to the acclamation “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Jesus alone is fully representative of that name, and has been given the name that is above every name (Philippians 2:9-11) a name infinitely greater than any other that can be bestowed (Hebrews 1:3, 4). It is in his name that every blessing of salvation comes in a way that is fully consistent with the glory, purity, holiness, righteousness, and redemptive purpose of God (Acts 2:37-39; Romans 10:9-13 cf 1 Corinthians 1:2).

2. Had the priests any perception of their place in God’s revelation of his gracious redemption of sinners, they would have trembled at the responsibility of accurate and obedient presentation of every aspect of their service at the altar. Their ignorance of how they had polluted his name is staggering! With their cavalier dismissal of the poignancy of his question they betray the corruption of heart, the lack of godly fear, and the undiscerning arrogance of their hearts that brings forth the curse from God of 2:1, 2.

3. God’s answer to that question revealed an even deeper perversity of heart in that they question him again when he provides an answer to their first question. He told them that they offered polluted food and they immediately resisted. Almost in an attitude of “How dare you implicate us in wrongdoing” they responded, “How have we polluted you?” The answer was simply that they had ignored the very clear and strict provision concerning the priests’ obligation in presiding over the laws of sacrifice as presented in Leviticus 22:17-33.

If Jesus our high priest were disobedient to the command that he received from God the Father, none could be redeemed.

If the sacrifice he offered of his own body on the tree had been the subject of any transgression or the slightest moral imperfection then there would be no redemption.

To be careless with the type is to despise the antitype.

4. A feigned quest for favor. With the clear establishment of their corruption of assigned office, they now “entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious.” This like the request of Simon Magus asking Peter to pray for him that the words of condemnation may not happen to him (Acts 8:24) when by his actions he had demonstrated that he was in “the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” There can be no favor in the absence of a repentant heart. When God grants eternal life it will be in the context of his granting of repentance (Acts 11:18).

5. Verse 10 – God despises the show of worship, where there is no heart-intention of obedience and true reverence for the name and humble love for the purpose of God to glorify his own name in the world (cf. Micah 6:6-8).

IV. Verse 11 – In spite of the Priest’s perversions, God will undertake his own cause and bring about a universal acknowledgement of the glory of his name.

A. God began the manifestation of his redemptive grace through the calling of Abraham and continued it through Isaac. From Isaac the promise went through the line of Jacob and expanded into the nation composed of the descendants of all his sons. Even though they did not acknowledge their privilege, continued in waves of unfaithfulness from generation to generation, God worked through a chosen remnant and sent his Son, to whom he had promised a people.

B. This people would be out of every tongue and tribe and nation (Revelation 5:9). They will worship him in Spirit and in truth in this life (John 4: 23, 24; Hebrews 12:28, 29; 13:15, 16).

C. Even the continuing resistance of the priesthood to the true understanding of the sacrificial system and its place in leading to knowledge of the true redemption would play its own part in God’s sovereign establishment of salvation for his people (John 11:47-53).

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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