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26 June. Malachi chapters 1-4.
This is the last book of the Old Testament (at least in Protestant bibles). The reason for putting it last is that it contains so many references to a coming “messenger” who would put right all wrongs. These verses have often been used in Christian writings and worship as referring to Jesus Christ: “I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple” (3:1); “for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings” (4:2); “I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes” (4:5).
As with all such application of the Old Testament to the New, we have to be aware of the context, which is God’s condemnation of those who seek privilege and recognition among his people but actually live selfishly, showing hypocrisy in their offerings and infidelity even in their marriages. They no longer even aspired, let alone reached, the ideal of a leader of the faith community: “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. But you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your instruction” (2:7-8).
Understood this way, the main purpose of the coming of the Messiah would be to sweep away the Temple system for good, for it had been so abused. Given the issue this week of the report on the way the Church of England leaders protected a paedophile bishop rather than seeing justice done for his victims, this should be a reading to strike fear into the hearts of those responsible for leadership in the Church.
Another verse from Malachi that is loved by Christian preachers is this one: “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse … see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing” (3:10). It is often quoted to encourage people to give a fixed amount (ten, or even thirty, percent of their income) to the work of the Church. But it should be seen in the context of a system in which the tithe of grain was actually the food for the workers in the temple, as part of the much wider laws of Moses. Now that we are freed from that legalistic framework, the Christian principle of giving is that of the “cheerful giver”. God’s blessing may indeed be felt more keenly by the one who gives a lot away, but that should not be out of a sense of duty, rather a response to being set free by Jesus to live more simply and without the cares of the world. Not easy to achieve, but that should be what we seek.