If you grew up in an average American church, you may know only one verse from the small, Old Testament book of Malachi. Malachi 3:10 is the stuff of church building campaign legend: “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (ESV). This is often interpreted as a clear-cut transaction between the faithful parishioner and God. Money donated would equal a blessing. Rightfully, faithful people realized that giving with the right motivation was meant as a test of faith in God’s sovereign provision and was not an effort to earn God’s grace. Yet, in isolation, the verse lost its rich contextual meaning, and over time, the value of the whole book has continued to evade most Bible readers.
Like all self-serving humans, Christians are apt to use particular Scriptures to further their own causes, and Malachi has become sadly typecast as a result. However, the book is so much more than this one liner. God wasn’t needing money and calling His prophet Malachi to start a capital campaign when He revealed what became the final book before the long, dark night of the souls waiting on redemption.
Malachi is a book about corruption and justice. It begins with the people’s hopeless state of sin and the consequences of it. By the time we get to the famous verse about bringing all the tithes into the storehouse of God, we realize that giving was only one of the things they had forgotten. Godly institutions like marriage and sacrifice had become shams of their former redemption.
We hear similar calls to end corruption all the time today whether in a government or in corporate settings. Malachi makes it personal. He calls on God’s people to end corruption in their own lives. Reformer John Calvin uses Malachi 2:4 as backing to purge and purify the clergy of this same cancer of corruption in the sixteenth century.‘Don’t give up on your devotion. Don’t become stained by the world. Hold onto purity and holiness in a dying, secular age.’ These are the messages of Malachi (yes, even the “tithe verse”). Yet, not everyone was ready to hear the message in the post-exilic world. Their troubles had ended in previous generations. They had little need for God now, so they thought.
In Malachi 3:14, the people have questioned the value of being humble and broken before God when they ask: “What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts?”
“Why follow God’s rules?” they ask. And, “Why humble yourself, submit, and give up the wrong you carry?” How does God answer these questions of “why bother following Him?” After all, so many people don’t and they seem to be doing okay? (see Malachi 3:15) The prophet knows that following God doesn’t work if we don’t get these two things right from verse 14. We are told in the Bible that God’s way is the way. We also know that you cannot put God first if you are already sitting on the throne.
The end of the book answers the questions of Chapter 3 and offers God’s rebuttal to corruption and injustice. In his 1979 book All Nations in God’s Purpose, theologian and Baptist missions leader H. Cornell Goerner (1908-1998) wrote about the special relationship of Malachi and Matthew as the bridge between the old and new covenants.
Only those who were spiritually prepare could endure his coming. This is what it means to close the Old Testament and open the New Testament. Jesus knew that the covenant made at Sinai had been broken again and again by a disobedient people, and after a long line of prophets sent to win them back had failed, God’s patience was approaching an end. A new covenant was to be sealed with a faithful remnant of Israel, who would then call the Gentile nations to repentance in the name of the Messiah, the judge of the living and the dead. Judgement must begin with the house of Israel. It then must be proclaimed to all the nations. This was the note of urgency with which Jesus began his ministry. Matthew fulfills Malachi!
The fourth and final chapter of Malachi declares this coming judgment in its opening verses:
1For 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, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. 3 And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts. (ESV)
The “day of the Lord” is a phrase used throughout the Bible talking about the day that Jesus returns to conquer and restore the whole creation. Here it is used with the double weight of the first incarnation promising to bring a spiritual sword to the root of a distracted people. In God’s answer, we hear encouragement for the remnant: stay hopeful through the darkness, but on that day—look to east as your hope descends. Be ready at night, at dawn, the King is coming.
When He shall come with trumpet sound, Oh, may I then in Him be found
We serve a “now and not yet” God. He is hope for today and the promise of hope tomorrow and forevermore. The fourth chapter opens with “Behold!” (a word sometimes translated as “Look!”), there is coming a day when the people that thought they could do it on their own will realize their mistake. There is coming a day when the oppressors are punished. There is coming a day when those who feel like they are defeated by the world because they honored God will “leap like calves out of a stall” and high-tail it into the Kingdom of God. There is hope today because Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Not you, and not me.
In his three-part allegorical poem, Calvin Miller (1936-2012) tells of the scarred world caught in the tyranny of evil. In the closing chapters, a group of the faithful remain imprisoned awaiting either rescue or ruin. In the darkness of the long night, hope rides down in furry:
Three hours before dawn,
the stone face of the prison house
crumbled. The roof blew away.
The prisoners stood at once to their
feet. Through the devastated walls
they saw the starry sky. One star
began to grow, flooding the
sleeping city with its light. It
settled ever closer until it came
into their very midst.
“He is here!” shouted Dreamer.
Malachi offers the same combination of promised destruction and hope. Today’s believer must heed the warning. Don’t give up on your devotion. Don’t become stained by the world. Hold onto purity and holiness in a dying, secular age. These are the messages of Malachi (yes, even the “tithe verse”).
Carl F. H. Henry offers this same call for renewal in The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. Like the biblical prophet, Henry recognizes that God desires a unified and singularly focused life that seeks to bring a spiritual voice to situations of injustice:
If historic Christianity is again to compete as a vital world ideology, evangelicalism must project a solution for the most pressing world problems. It must offer a formula for a new world mind with spiritual ends, involving evangelical affirmations in political, economic, sociological, and educational realms, local and international. The redemptive message has implications for all of life; a truncated life results from a truncated message.
Corruption still lives today as we find ourselves standing on the brink of forgetting the final covenant between God and mankind. We must learn from the last precipice as the prophet of a dying age leaned over his own Nebo to glimpse the coming Messiah. Today’s church still needs Malachi. Your church still needs Malachi.
*Cover Photo by Nathan Shipps on Unsplash.
See: Peter A. Lillback’s chapter in Matthew Barrett’s Reformation Theology (Crossway, 2017), 696,and Calvin’s Commentaries, 15, 520-521.
Reprinted in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement(William Carey Library, 1999), 96.
Calvin Miller, The Finale (Intervarsity Press, 1979), 144.
Carl F. H. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (Eerdmans, 1947, 2003), 65.