Minor Prophets XVIII: Malachi
Malachi is the last of the Minor Prophets and the last book of our Old Testament. It was probably written in the mid fifth century B.C. and therefore the last book of the Old Testament to be composed. Malachi is a fitting end to the Book of the Twelve and the OT canon as he proclaims God’s love for Israel His son, calls him to live out that love, and promises to finally come and restore the fullness of love to the world.
The Text: Malachi’s prophecy opens with God’s proclamation of His sincere love for Israel (1:2-5). But despite this extreme fatherly favor, Israel’s priests offer God the blind, the lame, and the blemished of their flocks as sacrifices (1:6-14). Malachi says that God made a covenant with Levi to be the priestly tribe but they have corrupted the covenant by not keeping God’s law (2:1-9). Malachi argues that this covenant goes beyond Levi’s calling but extends to Judah and all of Israel, and this unfaithfulness is pictured well in Israel’s widespread treachery in marriage (2:10-17). God says He is sending “my messenger” which is actually the word “malachi” (3:1). This is the answer to the fact that the priests have been unfaithful who should have been the messengers of Yahweh (cf. 2:7). God’s plan is to purify the sons of Levi so that they can offer pure sacrifices again (3:2-4). But this process of purification will mean the judgment of sorcerers, adulterers, perjurers, and those who exploit employees and widows and orphans and strangers (3:5). When the people ask how they can begin doing justice again, God says that they should quit stealing from Him and start tithing (3:6-12). Some people responded by complaining that there was no profit in serving God, but those who feared the Lord renewed covenant with Him (3:13-16). As we have seen throughout the Minor Prophets, Malachi closes with a declaration of God’s love and compassion, and though He will come with fire to burn up the wicked, those who fear His name will be sheltered under His healing wings (3:17-4:6). As a man has compassion on his own son, God will spare His children and cause the hearts of fathers to be turned to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers (3:17, 4:6, cf. Lk. 1:17).
Sons, Priests, and Messengers
In order to follow Malachi’s argument, you have to understand that the whole Old Testament can be told as a story of sons. Adam was created in the image and likeness of God, and this means he was a created son of God (Lk. 3:38). Adam begot Seth in his image and likeness which was also the image and likeness of God (Gen. 5:1-3). This is the beginning of a genealogy, a family tree of the “sons of God” (Gen. 6:2). And so we need to ask: what does this mean? what are sons for? Sons are like and unlike their fathers in wonderful ways, and in this unity and diversity is the gift of continuity and progress. The problem is that we weren’t five minutes into the human race when the first son disobeyed and rebelled against God his Father. So now mixed in with the God’s design of carrying out His mission in the world is sin and guilt and death and disease and doubt and fear.
But the original design was for sons to represent the glory of their fathers and to carry on the mission of their fathers. We see this specifically in the role of the “firstborn son” who received a double portion of the inheritance, the “birthright” (Dt. 21:17, cf. Gen. 25:31-34). This inheritance had a vocational purpose: it was to take up and continue the mission of his father’s house. This is a central motif in the Exodus story: God tells Pharaoh to let Israel, His firstborn son, go free to serve Him or else He will kill Pharaoh’s firstborn son (Ex. 4:22-23). This was fulfilled in the Passover, and God says at that moment, He was not merely sparing the firstborn of Israel, He was also claiming them (Ex. 13). But shortly thereafter God announces that instead of the firstborn, He is claiming the tribe of Levi (Num. 3:12, 3:40-51). God explained again that on the night of the Passover, He claimed all the firstborn of Israel, but now the Levites have been taken in their place to do the service of the tabernacle, to work in God’s house (Num. 8:14-18). In other words, Israel as a whole was God’s son, called out from the nations to represent God to the nations, to proclaim His Words, to remember His acts, to care for His house, and to be messengers of His justice and mercy – this is what it meant for them to be a holy and priestly nation (Ex. 19:5-6). But God appointed the Levites to represent Israel in this calling, to lead Israel to be this holy, priestly nation. And this explains Malachi’s argument: Israel is God’s beloved son, called to stand with God his Father, and the sons of Levi and the priests were called to lead Israel in this. Sonship is priesthood.
Another Son, A Better Priest
While the whole Old Testament can be seen as a story of sons, it is also clearly the story of rebellious sons and failed fathers. Beginning with Adam and Cain, down to Ham and Esau, even Jacob’s sons and the idolatry of Israel in Egypt – and Noah, Isaac, Gideon, David – the Bible is filled with dysfunctional families, the failures of fathers and sons. And all of it pictures the great fracture between God and man: our hearts have turned away from the heart of our Father and because of this the hearts of fathers and sons in general are estranged. This is why the human race needed another son, but he needed to be a son descended from Adam and yet somehow a son unlike any other son of Adam. And this explains the excitement of the New Testament’s proclamation of Jesus, the Son of God, our High Priest to lead us back to God and to lead us on our Father’s mission in the world. This is why the orthodox faith has always taught that Jesus is fully God and fully man: He is descended from Adam as a human and therefore one of us, tempted like us yet without sin, but therefore also fully God in order to bear God’s image perfectly, bear the curse for our sin, and rise up triumphant over death to bring many sons to glory (Heb. 2:10).
Conclusion & Applications
In many old artistic depictions of the Ascension of Jesus there are scenes of the reunion between the Father and the Prodigal Son. And at first glance that could seem strange (Jesus, isn’t the Prodigal Son is He?). But the gospel is that the perfect, eternal Son left His Father’s house in order to go into the far country of sickness, sin, and death to take on the failures, the pain, the rebellion, and the death of all the rebel sons and then bring them all home to the glory of His Father (Jn. 3:16). You are invited home to your Father through the Messenger of the New Covenant, Jesus, and in this home, you have a place, a role, a mission to carry out.