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DATE:  c. 435-430 BC[1]


THEME:  Against empty religion:  Fear God and prepare for the coming Messenger


The style of Malachi is unique to the prophets.  In confronting Israel’s religious indifference, Malachi employs a question-answer method.  Eight times, the Lord brings an accusation against Israel (1:2, 6-7; 2:10-13, 17; 3:7-8, 13).  Eight times Israel questions His accusation (1:2, 6-7; 2:14, 17; 3:7-8, 13).  And every time, God proves His accusations against His people.  Based on this structural clue of accusation/question/answer, the book of Malachi divides into six major parts and a conclusion.

I.           Introduction (1:1)

II.         Blindness to the love of God (1:2-5)

A.       God’s love seen by His dealings with Esau (1:3-4)

B.       God’s love seen by contrasting Esau’s destiny with Israel’s (1:5)

III.      Disservice to the Great King (1:6-2:9)

A.       Exposure of the priests’ failure to give proper honor to the name of God (1:6-14)

B.       Indictment of the priests for their unfaithfulness to the covenant of Levi (2:1-9)

1.       Penalty for failing to hear this commandment of the Lord (2:1-4)

2.       The covenant with Levi that they had broken (2:5-9)

IV.       Unfaithfulness in human (marriage) covenants (2:10-16)

A.       The indictment:  unfaithfulness to the covenant (2:10-11)

B.       The consequences:  sacrifice rejected (2:12-13)

C.      Israel’s protest and God’s reply:  Divorce, which God hates, is a breach of covenant (2:14-16)

V.         Criticism of God’s justice (2:17-3:6)

A.       Israel’s words:  God’s justice is inconsistent (2:17)

B.       God’s answer:  Wait for God’s justice which will be revealed at the coming of His Messenger (3:1-5)

C.      God’s character:  Israel’s preservation is due to God’s unchanging character (3:6)

VI.       Disobedience to the Lord’s statutes (as evidenced by Israel’s lack of giving) (3:7-12)

A.       The root problem is a failure to return to the Lord and to obey His commandments (3:7)

B.       The issue of tithing is cited as one example of their disobedience (3:8-12)

VII.    Unbelief in the value of serving God (3:13-4:3)

A.       Israel’s words:  Serving God is not worthwhile (3:13-15)

B.       Yahweh’s words:  He remembers those who fear Him (3:16-18)

C.      The coming Day: God will distinguish those who fear Him from the evildoers (4:1-3)


VIII.  Conclusion (4:4-6)

A.       Remember the Law of Moses (4:4)

B.       Look for the Messenger (4:5-6)

Malachi confronts Israel’s words (“but you say”), viewing their words as a reflection of their hearts.

The questions of his hearers are evidently sincere.  Here are worshipers of God who are ignorant of their true standing with God.  One can be religious and unaware that he is not right with God.



The previous two prophets in Judah’s history, Haggai and Zechariah, enabled the postexilic community, through their Spirit-empowered preaching, to complete the work of rebuilding the Temple.  In Malachi, the Temple is in place.  Now, the problem is not the Temple.  Malachi focuses upon worship or religion (1:6-14; 2:12; 3:3, 8).  The worship of his day was dead, formal, hypocritical, and empty—external ritual without inward heart.  Malachi’s message is a cry against this kind of empty religion.  He exposes the causes or characteristics (evidences) of dead religion and then points to its antidote. 


I.        Foundationally,[3] one of the causes or characteristics of dead religion is blindness to God’s love (1:2-5). 

Malachi opens by confronting Israel’s blindness[4] to the love of God—His electing grace and ongoing covenant faithfulness.  Israel’s blindness attests to ingratitude and unbelief.  This suggests the importance of recognizing the gracious hand of God’s providence at work in the circumstances of our lives.  For the believer, even the valleys of life flash the truth, “Grace at Work.”  Doubting the goodness and kindness of God and His loving purposes toward us will often lead to a heartless type of worship.  I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living (Prov. 27:13). 


Conversely, one of the foundational motivations of vibrant, God-honoring worship is the personal assurance of the love of God.  A heart that is full of God’s love for him will be a heart that is full of vibrant worship toward God.

II.         “Insincere worship”[5] (1:6-2:9).

A.      Blemished sacrifices (1:6-14)

Blemished sacrifices reflect the heart of the offerer.  Those who give God their cast-offs unveil the lightness with which they esteem God.  God expects what any governor or king expects—an offering worthy of His position and honor.  The great tragedy of such sacrifices is the dishonor which it gives to the name of God.  One of God’s foremost desires is that His name be revered in all the earth (Matt. 6:9).  Three times, this section mentions “among the nations” (1:11, 14).  This suggests that our worship of God and our sacrifices to Him have an impact outside of ourselves.  Contemptible sacrifices cause the heathen to look down upon our God.  Our worship affects the way people view our God.

B.      Blighted religious leaders (who had failed to fulfill their ministerial obligations) (2:1-9)

The indifference of the laity was a reflection of the complacency of its leaders.  Courageous priests would have withstood the dishonorable sacrifices being offered to the Most High.  They should have been the messengers of the Lord, disseminating the knowledge of His Law in the covenant community.  Instead, they had caused many to stumble by their teaching.  They had deliberately perverted what they knew to be true, motivated by partiality.  Perhaps their failure to speak up was also motivated by “monetary” reasons.  In the theocratic community, they were dependent upon Israel’s sacrifices and offerings.  A crippled lamb tasted like an unblemished lamb.  Perhaps a rebuke of the populace would result in a cutting off their sustenance—why bite the hand that feeds you?

Israel’s priests had been unfaithful to their God-given duty (the covenant of Levi).  This oracle of Malachi is primarily addressed to the priests.  God holds leaders primarily responsible for their followers’ deviations in worship.  All those who, through a failure to courageously teach truth, allow worship unworthy of the Great King will one day give an account.

III.      Unfaithfulness in human (marriage) covenants (2:10-16). 

Malachi mentions “covenant” several times (2:4, 5, 8, 10, 14; 3:1)—covenant breaking is one of the characteristics of dead, empty religion.  [Truce breakers are also one of the characteristics of the last days (II Tim. 3:3).]  Malachi excoriates the people for their covenant unfaithfulness, manifested primarily in marital unfaithfulness.  God does not receive the worship of those who practice unfaithfulness in their human relationships (2:13).  Peter applies a similar principle to believers’ marriages (II Pet. 3:7). 

This passage is a reminder of God’s vehement opposition to divorce.  Divorce is the breaking of a covenant.  “It is not without significance that in Malachi’s day as in ours the home had become a battleground….The breakup of homes is irrefutable evidence of hearts that are not right with the Lord.  The home is always the test of how real religion is.”[6]

IV.       Criticism of God and His ways (2:17-3:6).

Evidently, Israel doubted God’s justice because of His seeming inconsistency in His dealings with them.  They were experiencing chastisement and cursing (2:2; 3:9, 11).  God was rejecting their sacrifices and offerings (2:13).  Rather than view themselves as the reason for these things, they chose to view it as an example of God’s inconsistency—God delights in the wicked and withholds justice (2:17). 

One characteristic of empty religion is an inaccurate, misinformed view of God.  “Dead, formal religion breeds a security and carnal confidence that will sooner find fault with God than self.”[7]

V.         Disobedience to the revealed will of God (3:7-12).

The key indictment of Israel here is their failure to obey God’s ordinances.  The one ordinance singled out (set forth as hard-hitting evidence to those who cannot see their fault) is that of tithing.  Is it not gnomically true that disobedience always evidences itself on the level of the pocketbook?  Dead religion is characterized by disobedience to the revealed will of God. 

VI.       Unbelief in the value of serving God (3:13-4:3). 

Israel viewed service for God as useless.  The arrogant and evildoer is blessed (3:15).  Those who serve God go unrewarded.  This suggests their unbelief in the value of serving God.  This unbelief is but the stalk; the root is deeper.  Making such an observation suggests their motive for serving God.[8]  Their eye was upon the reward, not upon the Rewarder.  One characteristic of dead religion is a serving God for self-serving motives.  It is the mentality of coming to church so God will fill my pocketbook.  It is a focus on the gift instead of the Giver.  God sets the record straight.  A day of recompense is coming.  In that day, the arrogant and evildoer will be chaff (4:1).



I.   Fear (honor) God.


Giving proper honor to the name of God is a major concern of Malachi (reference to the “name” of God occurs 10 times—1:6, 11, 14; 2:2, 5; 3:16; 4:2).  God honors and blesses those who honor Him (3:16-18; 4:2).  He despises and abases those who despise Him (2:9).

The emphasis upon fearing and honoring God’s name suggests that the root of dead worship is a failure to fear and honor God properly.  One’s view of God affects one’s worship of and relationship to God (note that one of Israel’s problems in Malachi is a wrong view of God—His love; His glory; His justice).  This is especially true of one’s fear of God.

II.         Prepare to meet the coming Messenger[9] (in the Day of the Lord).

The Day of the Lord will be the antidote for dead religion.  Malachi’s focus is on the Person of the Day of the Lord—the Messiah (3:1; 4:5).  Israel’s religious ritualism is unacceptable to God and will be severely dealt with at the coming of this Messenger.  One of Malachi’s burdens is to prepare Israel to face Messiah.  The response of the Pharisees and the Sadducees to Christ (and John the Baptist) reveals the importance of Malachi’s message.  They were scrupulously religious, yet they failed to recognize God’s Messiah at His first Advent.




Perhaps, we should end where Malachi does.  His conclusion (4:4-6) has a two-fold emphasis. 

Remember the Law of Moses (Go back to the Book!)


Look for the coming Messenger (Prepare for Christ’s coming!)

These two emphases—when coupled with the cultivation of a proper respect for and fear of God—result in the vibrant, genuine worship that is acceptable to God. 

They that worship God must worship Him in spirit and in truth.


[1] Malachi uses the Persian word for governor (1:8), suggesting that his ministry falls during the interlude between Nehemiah’s first and second governorship (ca. 435-430).

[2] Michael P. V. Barrett, “The Message of Malachi:  An Analysis of Dead Religion,” in Biblical Viewpoint (Nov 1998), 34.  Barrett notes, “Malachi meticulously examines, exposes, and identifies the causes and signs of dead religion and spiritual decay.  With a series of six cutting propositions, he penetrated to the core issues that marked Israel’s religion” (p. 34).

[3] Malachi begins his book with this oracle, suggesting that it is the “footing” upon which the rest of the book builds.

[4] “So jaded had they become that they could no longer recognize the elective grace of their God even when it stared them in the face.”  Eugene Merrill, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.  39.

[5] Barrett, 35.

[6] Ibid., 37.

[7] Barrett, 37.

[8] Barrett, 38-39.

[9] Note the emphasis on the word messenger (1:1—Malachi!; 2:7; 3:1; 4:5).

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