Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com. In this week’s lesson Malachi like the other minor prophets we have studied speaks truth to power. Like last week with Micah, the religious leaders are corrupt. Malachi shows the importance of leading justly and the need for just leaders. The priests have forsaken the way of righteousness and the people are no better. It has been 1,000 years since Moses wrote Genesis. Now Malachi closes the Old Testament and the post-exilic period with the last word in this book a threat of curse. Townsend Commentary describes Malachi as “an argument between God and the people.” Like last week this is an unusual dialog between God and the people. Like last week Malachi warns Judah of coming judgement if they don’t change their ways. And like last week it is the oppression of vulnerable people that will bring God’s judgement. God is utterly disgusted with the priests and will bring them to abject shame and humiliation. If God’s own servants won’t reverence God’s name why would anyone else? In chapter one the people have accused God of not loving them and God responds. God accuses the priests of being disrespectful. In chapter two God threatens to take the priests away from the priesthood and Judah of profaning the covenant. Chapter three covers the coming messenger, how the people have robbed God of tithes and offerings, and the reward of the faithful. And the book closes with the warning of the great day of the LORD. The last chapter of Malachi reminds Judah to remember the teachings of Moses and that God would send the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD. God closes Malachi with this warning saying “so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.” Some key ideas surrounding this week’s text includes the terms:
Background for today’s text:
The book of Malachi is the twelfth of the twelve minor prophets. It is also the last book of the Old Testament. The book does not reveal any details about Malachi, the man. Nelson’s Bible Handbook notes that “Malachi was likely written about 450 B.C. which would have been about 1,000 years after Moses, the first Bible writer.” So, Moses opens the Old Testament with Genesis and the book of Malachi closes the Old Testament about 1,000 years later. Nelson’s also notes that “Malachi leaves us with the feeling that the story is not yet finished, that God still has promises to fulfill on behalf of His people. After Malachi came 400 years of silence.” So Nelson’s is trying to tell us that the story is not yet finished in the sense that Malachi speaks of a coming messenger. This messenger will prepare the way for the Messiah (Malachi 3:1). The 400 years of silence refers to the Old Testament and New Testament canon of scripture. There are no accepted Protestent writings during the 400 years between Malachi and the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. So the Christological interpretation is a prophecy that a coming Messiah will arrive in the form of Jesus Christ with John the Baptist as his forerunner. In the Protestant canon God is silent for 400 years from Malachi until Jesus begins his earthly ministry. So Malachi is the bridge between 1,000 years of God’s work and old covenants in Hebrew and Isralite life, with the New Covenant in Jesus Christ which occurs nearly 500 years later.
The New Interpreter’s Study Bible notes that “the book’s insistence on proper sacrifices and its high regard of Levi (2:4-6) fit well into the postexilic period, when the Temple took on new importance in the community.” So Malachi is on the scene about 100 years after the Babylonian enforced deportation I mentioned last week, and about 450 years before Christ. During the post exilic period Shesbazzar and Zerrubabel would have already led the first major group of exiles back to Judah around 537 and 538 B.C. The second Jewish Temple would have been rebuilt about 520-515 B.C. And Ezra and Nehemiah would have already led the second and third major group of exiles back around 458 to 445 B.C. Ezra and Nehemiah are written about 430 B.C. So the post-exilic period spans from 587 B.C. when the first Temple was destroyed to the time of Malachi, Ezra, and Nehemia with Malachi ending the Post-exilic period. The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible notes that “Malachi had to deal with the same sins mentioned in Nehemia 13 so it is likely the prophet ministered either during Nehemiah’s second term as governor or just before his return.” So the placement of Malachi in our Old Testament as the last book of the Old Testament corresponds with the ministries of Nehemia and Ezra.
Townsend Commentary explains that “Malachi voices an argument between God and the people. The people of Judah had returned from exile about a century earlier but were committing the same sins that had sent them into exile!” This argument between God and the people is a back and forth dialog with God accusing the people, and the people accusing God. Even though God has blessed them to return from exile they have forsaken the ways of righteousness and are now faithless and unjust.
As with the other Minor Prophets we have studied (Amos, Habakkuk, and Micah), Malachi “cries aloud and spares not.” He warns Judah of coming judgement if they don’t change their ways. Townsend Commentary explains that “God threatens to bring swift judgment upon those who ignore His covenant and oppress vulnerable people.” Again, it is the oppression of vulnerable people that will bring God’s judgement. The last chapter of Malachi reminds Judah to remember the teachings of Moses and that God would send the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD. God closes Malachi with this warning saying “so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.” Judah has oppressed the vulnerable and dishonored God among many other sins; and the last book and the last word of the Old Testament ends with the threat of curse. The priests have abused their power and corrupted the worship of God. The people have been faithless, sinful, and unjust toward others.
In chapter one God responds to the accusation of the people that God does not love them and God accuses the priests of being disrespectful. In chapter two God threatens to take the priests away from the priesthood and Judah of profaning the covenant. Chapter three covers the coming messenger, how the people have robbed God of tithes and offerings, and the reward of the faithful. The book closes with the warning of the great day of the LORD.
The focus of today’s lesson is the call to lead justly and the need for just leaders. The priests have abused their power, corrupted worship, and the people practice idolatry. Some important terms to consider about this text include:
Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week:
In last week’s lesson the prophet Micah spoke truth to power. The religious leaders were corrupt. The political leaders were corrupt. The Northern Kingdom of Israel with its capital of Samaria had already fallen and Micah knew the same would happen to Jerusalm if the corrupt leaders didn’t change. Micah’s job was to warn the nation of Judah so they could turn from their unjust and wicked ways. The two tribes of the Southern Kingdom knew how the Northern Kingdom of Israel was brutally defeated, taken into captivity, and many deported to Assyria. Yet their headlong slide into idolatry, corruption, and injustice didn’t seem to persuade them to seek justice and righteousness. Instead they sought bribes, committed murder and told lies. The leaders were corrupt and they only cared about themselves and their friends. Micah preached a message of doom against all of Judah and he cried out against the priests, the false prophets, and the rulers of Judah. Money, greed, and power had replaced justice and righteousness and God would destroy the Holy City of Jerusalem if Judah’s leadership wouldn’t do right by the people they were oppressing. Townsend and Boyd’s Commentaries title this week’s lesson Leading Justly. Standard Lesson Commentary titles this week’s lesson Need for Just Leaders. The scripture text comes from Malachi 2:1-9 and 3:5-6.
Pay attention to how disgusted God is with the religious leaders, the priests who have left righteousness and justice and now cause people to stumble instead. God will bring judgement on the liers, the adulterers, those who oppress the poor and vulnerable, the migrant, and the immigrant.
What Takes Place in This Passage:
This lesson opens in chapter two verse one with Malachi having already opened with an inscription describing this text as the word of the LORD by Malachi. The book opens in the same way as we studied in Amos, Habakkuk, and Micah. Malachi’s inscription identifies him as a prophet from God. Chapter one begins the back and forth dialog between God and the people. The people have accused God of not loving them. God responds by reminding them of their distant past when God chose Jacob over Esau. Esau was the father of the Edomites who for much of Israel’s history were an enemy. God then tells them that the priests despise God’s name by offering polluted food on God’s altar. In fact, God tells them “Try presenting that to your governor; will he be pleased with you or show you favor?” They were bringing sacrifices that had been taken by violence or lame or sick. God deserved better. They knew their own governor would not accept substandard sacrifices so they should have done better by God.
Verse one begins with a direct message to the priests. “And now, O priests, this command is for you.” The text calls it a command, but what follows is a threat.
Verse two begins, “if you will not listen, if you will not lay it to heart to give glory to my name, says the LORD of hosts, then I will send the curse on you and I will curse your blessings; indeed I have already cursed them.” God expects these priests to honor God’s name; to give glory to God’s name. They are not to give honor that belongs to God to anyone or anything else. The KJV and NRSV use the term “to give glory to my name”. The NIV uses “to honor my name”. The result is the same whether it’s called glory or honor. God is to be respected and revered properly. Westminster’s Dictionary of Theological Terms defines honor as “Glory or respect: worship owed to God as the sovereign creator and redeemer (Ps. 96:6; Rev. 5:12-13). Also, the elevating of a person within the eyes of a community (1 Sam. 15:30; Prov. 23). I’m reminded of Romans 13:7 which tells us “Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.” The text in Romans is primarily speaking about government officials. So if we are going to respect government officials, we certainly ought to respect God.
Part b of verse 2 tells us what God will do if they don’t honor God properly. It reads “then I will send the curse on you and I will curse your blessings; indeed I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart.” This curse refers to the blessings the priests were supposed to give to the people. The Pulpit Commentary notes “These blessings God would not ratify, but would turn them into curses, and thus punish the people who connived at and imitated the inequities of the priests.” The priests would not be able to bless the people and the people would be denied the blessings because they conspired with the corrupt priests.
Verse three helps us understand how disgusted God is with these priests and the people who have abused God’s authority and corrupted God’s worship. It reads “I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings and I will put you out of my presence.” The UBS Handbook on Malachi explains that there are four potential interpretations to “I will rebuke your offspring”. It notes that “a literal translation is “I will rebuke the seed for your sake. But there are four understandings of “seed”.”
- The first meaning is literal. So that the clause refers to the failure of crops.
- The second meaning takes “seed” figuratively to refer to the descendants of the priests.
- Some modern scholars read the Hebrew word for “seed” with different vowels and translate seed as “arm”. This makes it necessary to decide what rebuke could mean in connection with a part of the human body.
- The New American Bible translates “arm” as “shoulder” and translates rebuke to mean deprive.
The UBS Handbook recommends translators follow the Hebrew text and accept the interpretation found in the Revised Standard Version. It notes that “this interpretation means that the promise given to the priestly line in Numbers 25:12-13 would be canceled.” So if God is cancelling a promise made to the priestly line, that is another indication of how disgusted God is with these corrupt priests.
God continues, “I will rebuke your offspring and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and I will put you out of my presence.” God is not playing with these priests. They have dishonored God, corrupted the worship of God, and abused their authority. Now the priests will be dishonored, disgraced, and disrespected. The UBS Handbook on Malachi notes that “the word translated dung refers to the contents of the stomachs of sacrificial animals, not what they had already excreted.” UBS also notes “the final clause (I will put you out of my presence) is difficult to understand. Its literal translation is “one shall take you away to it”.” A translation UBS offers for this verse would be “See, I am going to punish your descendants. I will spread on your faces the dung of the animals you sacrifice, and you will be taken away with the dung.” No matter how this verse is ultimately translated the result is the same. The priests will be utterly humiliated and put to shame.
Verse four says “Know, then, that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may hold, says the Lord of hosts.” God keeps God’s covenants. God has issued this command / threat in order to maintain the covenant with the priest descendants of the tribe of Levi. The Pulpit Commentary notes “the covenant with Levi was the election of that tribe to be the ministers in the sanctuary.” The Pulpit Commentary further explains this verse as meaning “to understand God as implying that God warned and punished the priests, because God willed that the covenant with Levi should hold good, and God thus desired to have a body of priests who would keep their vows and maintain true priestly character.” It is clear that the priests Malachi identifies have lost the character God expects from God’s servant priests.
Verse five explains what part of that character involved. “My covenant with him was a covenant of life and well-being, which I gave him; this called for reverence, and he revered me and stood in awe of my name.” God gave this priesthood life and well-being and God expected in return reverence and respect on God’s name and work. If God’s own servants won’t reverence God’s name why would anyone else? These priests are supposed to set an example worthy of following, and worthy of the greatness that God is.
In verse six God further explains what God expects by describing Levi “True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in integrity and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity.” This is the example the priests in Malachi should be following. This is how these priests should be conducting themselves. True instruction not twisting the rules for their own benefit, truth not lies to get away with injustice, integrity and uprightness not dishonesty, immorality and irresponsibility, and faithfulness to God turning many from iniquity. These priests have failed. They lack the character, faithfulness, integrity, and righteousness God expects.
Verse seven shows the importance of what the priest says “For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.” These priests have a responsibility. They are supposed to be the intermediaries between God and the people. The people look to them for knowledge and instruction because they are supposed to be messengers from God. Instead they are the messengers of their own desires, their own injustice, and their own unrighteousness.
Verse eight begins a description of what these priests are like instead of what they should have been like. It reads “But you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts.” The Pulpit Commentary notes “by their example and teaching they had made the Law a stumbling block, causing many to err, while they fancied they were not infringing God’s commands.” These priests have broken covenant with God. These are religious leaders who have failed to lead justly and Malachi denounces these religious leaders.
Verse nine continues the same thought. Here God says “and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you have not kept my ways but have shown partiality in your instruction.” Standard Lesson Commentary notes “this verse makes the case that the problem is not one of mere negligence;” So this is a wilful disobedience and defiance. Standard continues “the phrase but have shown partiality in matters of the Law points to conscious, intentional disregard of God’s ways. Showing partiality in the Law is abject injustice. The people had a right to expect justice from the messengers of God but instead some were treated better than others. The text then skips to chapter three verse five.
Verse five outlines a long list of sins and violations of the covenant with God. In summary it lists sorcerers, adulterers, liers, corrupt employers. It describes injustice to the poor and vulnerable, oppression of the poor, the migrant, and the immigrant. Townsend Commentary explains, “God threatens to bring swift judgment upon those who ignore His covenant and oppress vulnerable people.” I continue to say God cares about how we treat people. We are all created Imago Dei. We are created in the image of God. That means Christians are created in the image of God. That means Muslims are created in the image of God. That means Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Mexicans, Chinese, and any and all other faiths and nationalities. HUMANS are created in the image of God no matter where they’re from or what they worship or don’t worship. And if you can’t treat other humans right (no matter where they are from), you can’t treat God’s people right. God cares about how we treat people.
Verse six closes the lesson with God speaking again, saying “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished.” Townsend Commentary notes this as a description of God’s immutability. It notes God’s immutability “provides a foundation for the faith and hope of those who believe. God does not change, remaining faithful even when subjects of the kingdom of God do not (see 2 Timothy 2:11-13). Westminster’s Dictionary of Theological Terms defines God’s Immutability as “God’s freedom from all change, understood to emphasize God’s changeless perfection and divine constancy.” These priests and these people had changed but God had not. God chose Jacob and created from him a great nation. God delivered the people of Israel from the bondage and injustice of Egypt’s Pharaoh. God has favored these people, delivered these people, and provided for these people for over 1,000 years. Yet here in Malachi’s time they have left righteousness, faithfulness, and justice for their own ways in injustice and faithlessness.
With the onset of the worldwide pandemic of covin-19 Coronavirus, things have had to change. Churches meet on-line, restaurants are closed, and people practice good hand washing and social distancing. We live in what seems like an ever changing world. Winds change, seasons change, people change, minds change, feelings change, bodies change, prices change, trends change, technologies change, fashions change. The serenity prayer tells us “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” James Baldwin reminds us “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” and Angela Davis tells us “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change, I am changing the things I cannot accept.”
One thing that seems to remain constant is change. In a changing world that can often be cruel, harsh, and unforgiving, It’s good to know that the immutable God does not change.
Immutability – God’s freedom from all change, understood to emphasize God’s changeless perfection and divine constancy
Injustice – The ethical wrong of not rendering to another that which is due. It is condemned by the biblical prophets (Isa. 58:6, Jer. 22:13, Hos. 10:13).
Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas:
Speak truth to power. (Malachi confronted the corruption of the priest and called out the sin and injustice of the people. These corrupt religious leaders and faithless people disgusted God. Malachi warned them of the judgement to come.
Malachi saw the sin, injustice, and faithlessness of the priests and the people, what did he do about it?
Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:
Next week’s lesson is Palm Sunday. Next week we continue in the Old Testament but we switch from the minor prophets to one of the major prophets. The lesson for April 5, 2020 comes from Isaiah 42:1-9. Next week’s lesson is titled God’s Just Servant and A Just Servant.
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