King Solomon built a magnificent temple for God in Jerusalem. It was filled with God’s glory.
King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Solomon’s temple and took away God’s people.
God is faithful. We have looked at how God brought his people back from exile in Babylon. They built a second temple. It was completed under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah.
Just 50,000 people made the long and arduous journey home. The rest, most of whom had been born in Babylon, stayed. Some were wealthy, all saw much better prospects for the future. The economy was doing well as Babylon was on a major trade route. Judah was a place of poverty and hardship. As a result it was mostly the faithful who went home, with around one priest for every seven people.
The returnees constructed their altar on the site of the altar of the First Temple. The Temple building was much smaller than before. It was not impressive. And the Holy of Holies was empty, because there was no Ark and no Cherubim.
The Temple would stand as rebuilt by Zerubbabel until the Romans tore it down in AD 70. Refurbishing was undertaken by ‘Simon the Just’ in around 200 BC. ‘Herod the Great’ substantially refurbished the Temple starting in 20 BC. The returnees to Zion had fulfilled their dream; God’s house had been rebuilt and he would continue to dwell in their midst.
One hundred years after the return, things were not going well in Judah. The city of Jerusalem was still mostly deserted. The countryside was largely barren and uncultivated. Harvests were poor and the locusts were were the only ones eating well. Life was hard. Life was miserable. Life was insecure.
The new temple was so small that it did little to raise the morale of the people. Despite the walls around Jerusalem, people felt safer near the hiding places of the countryside. There was no palace, because there was no king.
When Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt, there were 600,000 men. The total number of people was between 1.5 million and 2.5 million Hebrews. They conquered the promised land and built many great cities. Now that was a distant memory of past glory as there were only a few small hill towns and little villages. The population of 50,000 was tiny.
The people are disappointed, disillusioned, and downcast. They are starting to ask if the long journey back from exile was worth the effort. They’ve been back for 100 years, and there is no sign of the kingdom they were going to build.
Amidst this prevailing darkness, there is some light. The faithful people who returned have learned at least one lesson. They don’t chase after foreign gods. They don’t seek after new religions. This is good, but at the same time their faith has become rigid. Worship has turned into a formality. It is a dead faith in which people attend the temple because that’s what they do and who they are.
They are seeking to determine the minimum amount of time they must be in the temple. They are calculating the minimum amount they can give. The priests are like the people. They don’t worry how many people attend the temple on the services or how faithful they are. Their only concern is to get through their religious tasks and make a living. Services are not taken seriously. God is carelessly given second best.
This lack of seriousness about their religious life spills over into their moral life. From asking why they should bother with God it is only a small step to asking why they should bother to be Godly. They knew it was wrong to trade on the Sabbath, but they still did it by the trick of trading outside the city walls. As they stopped seeing any point in being faithful to God, they stopped seeing any point in being faithful to each other. Divorce was rampant.
There was no king or government to blame, so they started to blame God. ‘God doesn’t care about us.’ ‘God has left us.’ ‘Since he doesn’t bother with us, we won’t bother with him.’ ‘If God really loved us, we wouldn’t be in this situation.’ The mood of the people was that they had to look after themselves first, because God wasn’t looking after them. They said that God didn’t reward good living, and he didn’t punish bad living.
This is the situation of the time of the book of Malachi. God was so mad with these stubborn people that it was 400 years before he spoke to them again. God stopped talking.
Malachi is the name of the book, but it isn’t the name of the prophet. We don’t know the prophet’s name. Malachi means ‘the messenger’.
Malachi opens (Malachi 1:2-3) with God saying how he has always loved them and hated their enemy.
“I have always loved you,” says the Lord.
But you retort, “Really? How have you loved us?”
And the Lord replies, “This is how I showed my love for you: I loved your ancestor Jacob, but I rejected his brother, Esau, and devastated his hill country. I turned Esau’s inheritance into a desert for jackals.”
God preserved his people during the exile, and he put Edom under judgement. They are wrong to say he doesn’t care or that he ignored their situation. God is telling them to open their eyes and realise that they should be grateful. When we complain about God, we should stop and reflect. We will see how much he has actually done for us. Then we will be able to feel gratitude towards God.
Behind the message from God in Malachi is a clear principle.
Malachi portrays God as the creator in our past. Malachi views God as king in our present. Malachi understands God as judge in our future.
Malachi tells the people to stop giving God the cheapest things they can spare. God should have the best. They are giving their best to their worldly masters instead of God.
Malachi chastises the priests for preaching what people want to hear, instead of telling them what God wants to say. They should be exhorting people to Godly lives.
1 Corinthians 10:11 says, “These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.”
What happened then can happen now. We could find ourselves withholding our best from God and seeking our own comfort and pleasure first. We are under the law of Christ, and that law is far stricter than the law of Moses. We are not granted freedom to use it for ourselves, but God’s desire is for us to seek first the kingdom of heaven.
God’s final word for 400 years is a message of hope.
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says, “The day of judgment is coming, burning like a furnace. On that day the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw.” (Malachi 4:1)
“Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives. His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5)
A terrible time is coming. God says he will bring an end to the world. We may think the wicked are getting away with it, but that isn’t the case. Remember Moses and Elijah, says God. He promises that he will speak again through his prophet, and he will rescue his people.
We are not to lose hope or become complacent. We know Elijah did come again. We know that Jesus will return one day. We know that our difficulties are not because God doesn’t care. Sometimes they are a sign our faith needs to impact our lives. God says, return to me and I will return to you. We have to take a step of faith. We cannot stay in the boat. We are called to live out our faith in love so that we are ready for that terrible day when God speaks directly to us.
We have a God who seeks an active two-way relationship with us. Let’s exercise our faith by seeking an active two-way relationship with God. Let’s put love into action.