Where’s the Gospel in Malachi?

“I have an idea,” said Bill. “See the lambs in this pen over here? They’re no use to anyone. If we take them to market, we’ll get only a few dollars for each one. Look at them; they’re as thin as they come: speckled skin, staggering and stumbling all over the place. You know how much we can get for our best lambs, don’t you, Fred?”

Fred knew very well that the finest-looking lambs would fetch top dollar at market. They were the best in every way: perfect, even. He could see Bill’s point, all right. It seemed such a terrible waste to burn the best lambs as sacrifices. Their pay wasn’t the best, and if there was an opportunity to gain a little more money on the side, who’d say no to that?

“What do you think, Fred?” asked Bill. “Well, I’m not quite sure about this,” Fred replied hesitantly. “Oh, come on; it’s a no-brainer,” Bill said impatiently. “Think of the profit we’ll make.”

“All right; let’s go for it!” But Fred’s conscience stirred. What if what they were doing wasn’t right? he thought. If Bill and Fred had been farmers, there would have been no problem; this was something market forces could solve. But they weren’t farmers; they were corrupt priests of Israel. All would have been well in their world if it weren’t for the “thorn in their side”: Mr. Accountability himself, Malachi! He just wouldn’t let up! He kept harping on how things needed to be sorted. He even went so far as to draw up a list of charges against the priests and their parishioners, Israel. It read as follows:

  1. Offered polluted food on the altar (1:7)
  2. Offered blind, lame, and sick animals as sacrifices (1:8)
  3. Offered routine and disrespectful worship to God (1:9-11)
  4. Brought stolen animals to the temple for sacrifice (1:13)
  5. Became violent in the process of stealing the animals (1:13)
  6. Caused God’s reputation to be damaged (1:11, 14)

And those were just the headline charges! Malachi raised an additional 23 charges against Israel. The record has it that the conversation between the prophet, priests, and people didn’t go well.

The Lord:

“Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand” (Mal. 1:10).*

The priests:

“‘What a burden!’ and you sniff at it contemptuously,’ says the Lord Almighty” (vs. 13, NIV).

For Israel, it was supposed to be the best of times. They were home from Babylon. With their houses and the temple built, they had freedom, including the freedom to worship. There was just one significant problem—they had forgotten how great and good God had been to them. Led by corrupt and cynical priests, worship became routine, social justice was ignored, and the law of God was broken at will. Malachi could not keep quiet, and so he spoke truth to power against such corruption, calling out both the priests and people.

The tragedy of the Malachi story is that those in power were so far removed from God that when the Spirit spoke through the prophet, there was no sense of appropriate guilt, no confession, and repentance, no teachable spirit, no “hands up, it was us.” Rather, they reluctantly and cynically engaged in a forced conversation, wondering why they’d been challenged. The lowest point of Malachi is found in 2:3, with God angrily informing them of His plans to respond: and yet, as is His nature, He can’t help but offer a redemptive way out.

“‘For I the LORD do not change. . . . Return to me, and I will return to you,’ says the LORD of hosts” (Mal. 3:6, 7, NIV).

Israel may have changed and bought into the “I’ll do it my way” theology, but the Lord’s faithfulness is constant. That’s why He’s compelled to offer a wonderful, redemptive gospel invitation: “Return to me, and I will return to you.” This is the high point of Malachi’s story—one that is sorely needed. As I read these words again, I’m reminded of the Luke 15 story of the lost son, and Revelation 3:20’s invitation by Christ to enter our lives and “eat with us.” This is what God is really like; this is His character. He longs to restore the broken relationship, which resulted from sin.

What about Malachi 3:10? Where does that fit in this picture? Used most frequently to encourage tithe return, will this be where we also discover the gospel? Traditionally, in a Bible study context, we’ll usually say, “Brother James, God’s Word promises a wonderful blessing when we return a faithful tithe. I invite you to put God to the test, as the Scripture instructs.” Without being explicit, we’ll also gently imply that blessings will follow if a faithful tithe is returned. We also genuinely share our personal experience that this is what we practice and that the Lord has never let us down.

“Put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts” (Mal. 3:10).

In the context of Malachi’s conversation, that’s not a warm invitation; it indicates that the Lord is at the end of His tether. In other words, “If you really don’t trust Me, what else can I do but invite you to put Me to the test?” “Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord” (Mal. 3:13). That seems to me like an invitation of last resort.

“If I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need” (Mal. 3:10).

May I suggest that this is where we go on a huge adventure in missing the point? What’s the blessing to be poured out as a result of faithful tithe return? The Mercedes? The ever-upwards career path? Permanent good health? Relationships that never go wrong? If that’s what we believe, then we’re simply “buying in” to a huge heresy facing Christendom today, called “the prosperity gospel.”

The simple truth of Malachi 3:10 is that I return a faithful tithe because I have already received heaven’s blessing: no less than the personal presence of Jesus Christ, my Creator, my Savior, my Friend, my Lord, and my soon-returning King.

Back to Bill and Fred. Did it really matter if they offered a lamb for sacrifice that was speckled or perfect? Sure it did because the speckled, blind, lame lamb could never adequately represent the character of God. Only a perfect, spotless lamb was able to represent the future sinless “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). In the end, is not Malachi’s core issue about true worship? Do I worship Him my way or His way?

*All Scripture quotations in this article have been taken from the English Standard Version (Anglicised) except where otherwise stated.

The article was written by David Neal, editor, Stanborough Press.
Messenger Editorial, British Union Conference. Used with permission. https://adventist.uk/news/messenger/