Malachi

Good morning! Malachi is our reading for today, and so we finish the Old Testament today! Malachi dates from sometime during the reign of the Persians, after the release of Babylonian captives and the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s temple. The book critiques the religious leadership in the decades afterward, adopting the voice of God to denounce the half-hearted way that the temple priests uphold God’s ways.

Malachi lines up a number of complaints against priestly leadership, all of them caused because of a disconnect between sacred words and profane deeds. For instance, though people are commanded in the Torah to give their very best offerings, Malachi complains of “polluted” food on the altar, because people are giving their worst animals instead of the best. The temple and God’s name are sullied by such irreverent, cheap behavior. A priest is expected to set higher expectations and to model better behavior, “for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts” (2:7). The prophet critiques bad behavior on the part of the religious leadership because it gives God a bad name too. Infidelity is another complaint mentioned, as is offering “cheap grace” by proclaiming that God doesn’t care whether people do good or evil.

Malachi means “messenger” according to some interpreters. Here the messenger announces God’s imminent arrival, which could frighten because it’s harsh like an astringent soap, scraping away grime. Note the return in chapter 3 of morality from Deuteronomy and other early parts of the Torah, especially concern for workers, widows, orphans and resident aliens. While I welcome this message, I have more doubts about a later theology in this chapter, which suggests that good things will come to pass if one gives appropriate offerings to God. This decays easily into the “prosperity gospel”, which calls on the faithful to “test God” by giving a generous offering, then sitting back to reap the rewards as though God were an ATM to be unlocked with just the right codes. By contrast, those who are faithful will live humble and exemplary lives until the day of the Lord comes (Malachi 4) and wipes out all wickedness from the world once more.

With the conclusion of today’s passage, we have completed reading through the entire Old Testament! We’ve considered the delightful and daunting stories of Genesis and Exodus, then fought through all the ritual codes in the rest of the Torah, heard stories of leadership of all kinds in the historical books, dove deeply into the Psalms and other wisdom literature, and have now completed all the prophets. Congratulations on completing whatever you’ve been able to keep up with throughout that arc of Hebrew Scriptures! In the three months that remain in the year, we’ll see how the life and legacy of Jesus arise from these earlier texts, but then interpret them in ways that eventually lead to the establishment of the Christian faith. Happy reading!

Read Malachi. (Note that the link here is only for Malachi 1—for copyright reasons, you will need to click the button at the bottom of the linked page to read the rest of the book.)

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Matthew 1-4. Thanks for reading!

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