"Israel, I have loved you," says the Lord.This is a book about the Judgment of God but also hope for those who turn to God. This is a tough book for me and I am struggling to have a clear thought about it but I like very much what Philip Yancy writes about this book.
"But you ask, 'How have you loved us?'
... "You have worn the Lord out by what you keep saying.
"How have we worn him out?" you ask.
You have done it by saying, "All those who do evil things are good in the Lord's sight. And he is pleased with them." Or you ask, "Is God really fair?"
... "You have turned away from my rules. You have not obeyed them. ... Return to me. Then I will return to you," says the Lord who rules over all."
"But you ask, 'How can we return?'"
"Will a man dare to steal from me? But you rob me!"
"You ask, 'How do we rob you?'"
"By holding back your offerings."
... "You have spoken bad things against me," says the Lord.
"But you ask, 'What have we spoken against you?'"
"You have said, 'It is useless to serve God. What did we gain by obeying his laws? And what did we get by pretending to be sad in front of the Lord? But now we call proud people blessed. Things go well with those who do what is evil. And God doesn't even punish those who argue with him.' "
... "But here is what will happen for you who have respect for me. The sun that brings life will rise. Its rays will bring healing to my people. You will go out and leap like calves that have just been let out of the barn."
(New International Reader's Version)
Malachi is the last Old Testament voice, and his book serves as a good prelude to the next four hundred years of biblical silence. From the Israelites' point of view, those four centuries could be termed "the era of lowered expectations." They have returned to the land, but that land remains a backwater province under the domination of several imperial armies. The grand future of triumph and the world peace described by the prophets seems a distant pipe dream. Even the restored temple causes stabs of nostalgic pain: it hardly rivals Solomon's majestic building, and no one has seen God's glory descend on this new temple as it did in Solomon's day.
A general malaise sets in among the Jews, a low-grade disappointment with God that shows in their complaints and also in their actions. They are not "big" sinners like the people before the Exile, who practiced child sacrifice and brought idols into the temple. They go through the motions of their religion but have lost contact with the God whom the religion is all about.
Malachi is written in the form of a dialog, with the "children" of Israel bringing their grievances to God, the Father. They are questioning God's love and his fairness. One gripe bothers them more than any: following God has not brought the anticipated reward.
In reply, Malachi calls his people to rise above their selfishness and to trust the God of the covenant; he has not abandoned his treasured possession. "Test me in this" says God, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it" (3:10).
At lease some of Malachi's message will take hold. During the next four hundred years, reform movements like the Pharisees become increasingly devoted to keeping the law. Unfortunately, many of them will cling fiercely to that law even when Jesus, the "messenger of the covenant" prophesied by Malachi, bring a new message of forgiveness and grace."