These reflections help us look into the Bible to discover what God is saying to us today. We find Bible passages to read and questions to ponder. The themes are in the process of being listed in an index with each theme ultimately divided into seven sections. We hope to be completed soon.
“Your words have been stout against me” (v.13) says God. It is amazing how puny man can be so bold in opposing God. The Israelites were a bit taken aback when they were accused of this: “How have we spoken against thee?” They had been committing the cardinal sins of grumbling and ingratitude. They basically felt it did not pay to try to be good and to follow God. It all seemed hard work and God was not blessing them. Remember our first session in Malachi; they asked, “How hast thou loved us?” (Malachi 1:2).
The Israelites were accustomed to resenting God. Way back in the time of Moses when God had brought them out of the Red (Reed) Sea and into the Wilderness, they grumbled all of ten times (Numbers 14:22-23) over various practical issues, like food and water, so that in the end God let them rot in the desert and not enter the Promised Land. This was not so much an arbitrary punishment as the inevitable result of adopting an unbelieving and grumbling spirit. It made them incapable of entering Canaan.
Nowadays people tend not to complain to God, they simply say that because they are not blessed in the way they think they should, that there is no God. The arrogance is palpable when paltry man shakes his fist at heaven and tells God that he does not exist. But if we do believe in God then we may be guilty of finding fault with him; we may even get angry with him. Job did that, but in the end he came to his senses and had to repent for speaking so rashly (see Explore More).
The third of the Ten Commandments is: “Take not the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7). We can do this by swearing/cursing, of course. But more importantly we can do it by calling ourselves Christians and then not living up to that high calling. God is easily dishonoured by our lives. So our lives can “speak against God” (cf. v.13). Our desire should always be to bring honour to his name, and indeed to be the first to praise and thank him, even in the midst of difficult circumstances.
Thank you Lord that you never grumble about me. Help me never to grumble about you. Amen.
1 Read how Job repented after being angry with God.
“How shall we return? How are we robbing thee?” (vv.7-8) RSV
This is perhaps the best known part of Malachi: tithing! But note its context. This passage is not primarily about raising money or making everyone feel guilty. It is about repentance and returning to intimacy with God. “How shall we return?” is the question on the lips of Israel. It should be constantly on ours, for too easily and too often we drift away from our Lord. But when Israel asked the question there was a note of arrogance about it. They felt they did not need to return for they did not think that they had wandered off. Perhaps they even felt that if anyone had moved away in the relationship it was God!
God is quick to point out that of course it was they who had moved away, and the reason was that they were “robbing” (v.8) him. The Israelites were offended that they should be accused of robbing God. But as ever it was not their sins of commission that God was on about, but their sins of omission. They had not stripped the Temple of gold and silver, nor had they robbed priests of their candlesticks (see Les Miserables). No, they had not done wrong, but they had failed to do right, that was their trouble. They had robbed God by failing to give back to him a portion of all that he had given to them. The first reason for giving is not to meet need (however great that need may be), but to express love and gratitude to our Lord and Saviour. Then, and only then do we give to meet need.
Giving is then not a chore nor even an obligation, but a joy and a privilege. St Paul speaks often about giving (as indeed does Jesus). He writes not about tithing (which incidentally is not mentioned in the New Testament), but about generous and proportional giving. Above all he states that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). As we give God promises us much in return: “I will open the windows of heaven for you and pour down on you an overflowing blessing” (v.10). If we rob God, we rob ourselves.
Take my silver, take my gold. Not a mite would I withhold. All things come from you O Lord, and of thine own do I give thee. Amen.
When we weary the Lord with our words, we weary him both with what we say and with the number of words we use. Do we think we will be heard for our “many words” (Matthew 6:7)? We love arguing and justifying. God is not usually impressed with our logic, but he is much more impressed with our heart. He sees the heart and he sees our actions, for these speak to him more loudly than heaps of words.
In today’s reading the Lord is wearied not only by Israel’s endless talk but also by their defence of evil! They were arguing that “everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them” (v.17). This is not quite the same as calling ‘evil’ ‘good’. If they had done so then they would have been guilty of “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 12:31).
However, their wrong belief was that people who do evil things are nevertheless good in God’s sight. In other words God is not troubled or offended by evil behaviour. He winks at it and continues to pour out his love and blessing on such evildoers. This attitude robs God of justice and morality. God hates sin and evil behaviour even if he continues to love the sinner. But even that love cannot bring blessing or benefit to the evildoer. God does not have the wool pulled over his eyes, for as St Paul says: “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” (Galatians 6:7).
That’s life. Call it karma or what you will, evil has its inevitable consequences. We cannot appeal to God to ignore our deeds and bless us. There is only one way to open ourselves to his blessing and that is to admit our evil and to cry for his grace and mercy. We deserve nothing; we merit nothing except judgement. But we can be assured of God’s loving kindness and his desire to forgive.
Lord, forgive me when I weary you with many words and wrong ideas. May I come in humility and trust. Amen.
The fourth question that God answers through Malachi concerns divorce. The men cannot understand why God is not accepting their offerings. They pray, they plead, they carry out their religious observance, and yet the heavens are as brass. Why does God not answer? Why is he not pleased with them?
Maybe we too would want to ask: “Why does he not?” (v.14). Once again the answer is clear and it may catch us off guard. We don’t find a perceptive truth easy to accept. God’s answer to their question was that they were not being faithful to their wives. They were using the Law of Moses as an easy get-out clause for their marriage vows.
Many years later Jesus accused the Pharisees of a similar misuse of the Law. Some, under the school of Hillel, were very liberal and said the man could divorce his wife for more or less any and every reason e.g. burning the cakes. Shammai’s school of thought was tighter but gave ‘indecency’ (pornea) as a valid cause for divorce. However both of them gave some reason that justified a man divorcing his wife. In other words he bore no guilt. Jesus corrected this by saying that divorce is always against the way things were meant to be, and so there is always guilt and regret.
God therefore said, “I hate divorce” (v.16). Hopefully everyone hates divorce. It is hurtful and it is destructive. However, it does not mean that God does not allow divorce. He manifestly does, and for some it can be release into a new and more fruitful future. But even if that is so, it does not justify divorce or make it less than hateful. Divorce always comes about because of human sin. This sin is not just confined to the couple but may arise because of a badly arranged marriage, or in-law pressures or financial constraints. Whatever the reason(s), the cause is summed up by Jesus as “hardness of heart” (Matthew 19:7-8).
If we want God’s blessings to flow and want to be in a fruitful relationship with our Lord then we must look to our human relationships, and especially the marital one.
Save our marriages, O Lord, and bless us. Amen.
1 See how Jesus taught divorce was not God’s original plan.
“How have we despised thy name? How have we polluted it?” (vv.6-7) RSV
We have so far considered the sin of Israel, and how they were woefully unaware of God’s goodness to them. We now turn to the sin of the priests. Their job was to offer sacrifices to God on behalf of the people. As far as they are aware they have done nothing wrong: “How have we despised thy name?” Once again we note that pained, self-righteous tone.
God answers them fairly and squarely. They have been offering substandard sacrifices. They have given second or even third best to God. They obviously did not think it mattered if they offered blind, lame or sick animals to God. After all, they probably reasoned, the sacrifice is going to be burnt so what’s the difference?
However, God is not impressed. They have “polluted it” (v.7). The offering of a sacrifice is not an opportunity to bribe God or impress him, but it is an opportunity to show gratitude and love. It is also a unique chance to fulfil God’s contract for the forgiveness of sins. The terms that God has laid down are that the sacrifices should be perfect.
These perfect sacrifices are, as we know, a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Christ “who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God” (Hebrews 9:14). Jesus was, as Peter puts it, “a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19).
Jesus gave himself for us, so that we in our turn might give ourselves (all that we are and all that we have) in response to him. We should give nothing less than the best we have. We give the cream not the skim. We give the first fruits not the last fruits. Let our giving (in whatever form that may be) honour our Lord; may we not “despise his name” (v.6).
Lord, you have been so generous, patient, forgiving and giving to me. Help me O Lord to respond in like manner. Forgive me when I became mean. Amen.
1 Who would not offer to God that which cost him nothing?