The first few words of the book of Malachi catch us a bit off guard: “’I have loved you,’ says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’” (Malachi 1:2).
Why are the Israelites arguing with God about his love for them?
At the time of Malachi’s prophecy, the Israelites had returned to their land from exile and rebuilt the temple, but all was not well. Cynicism had set in. Jerusalem remained an insignificant province under Persia, a foreign government. The nation of Israel would never recapture the glory of the “old days,” as in the days of David and Solomon. So, they became bitter towards God. They no longer trusted him.
Perhaps you can relate to this experience, this emotional frustration with God. Do you feel like God hasn’t delivered on his promises? That he’s forgotten you? Your life isn’t what you hoped it would be, God doesn’t feel as near as you were told he’d feel. Malachi has encouragement—and warning—for you.
Malachi’s book repeatedly references Israel’s covenant with the Lord—three times in only four chapters (1:2-5; 2:8, 10-16). God does this purposefully. He is helping his people see that they have broken their promises to God—and therefore they’re suffering. Their life is difficult because they have turned from God and refused to obey him.
God sends Malachi to encourage the Israelites to turn back him and renew their commitment to him. In other words, it’s not that God has left his people—they’ve left him. The whole book, which includes six disputes between God and Israel, is aimed at showing Israel how they’re the ones who have forsaken God. They’ve corrupted the priesthood, been unfaithful to their spouses, neglected to tithe, or served God in vain.
In the end, the Israelites had forgotten God’s love (1:2). They forgot that he is Israel’s Father and Lord (1:6), Creator (2:10), the God of justice (2:17), who doesn’t change (3:16), and who never lies (3:13).
Malachi helps us understand that sometimes our frustration with God reveals our own neglect of God. God reminds us that our frustration with him can actually stem from having sinned against him. We blame him for sin’s consequences (Proverbs 19:3). Our frustration can also be the fruit of neglecting to remember who God really is. Through Malachi, God is calling the Israelites (and us!) back to a true understanding of him.
Malachi’s message also warns us against living in a way where we never end up turning back to God: “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 4:1 ESV). God warns of the destruction that comes to a person who refuses to repent of their sin and indifference towards God.
Malachi promises you it’s not over yet—because God is faithful to his covenant no matter how many times his people fail.
It’s important, lastly, to note that Malachi is the final book in the Old Testament in our English Bibles. It’s part of the last chapter of Old Testament history and it almost sounds like a tragedy.
But it isn’t. Through Malachi, God promises that he is coming—not another prophet, but God himself. Can you imagine better news for this cynical and jaded people? That the Lord “will suddenly come to his temple” (Malachi 3:1)? The Lord is coming back to his people? Really? These who continue to sin against and forget him?
Are you ready for the next part of the story? Malachi promises you it’s not over yet—because God is faithful to his covenant no matter how many times his people fail. The proof of his faithfulness is Jesus Christ.
Turn the page of your English Bible and you’ll see the title, “The New Testament.” Venture onward! And meet Jesus, the fulfillment of all the Old Testament promises.