Closing the book on the old covenant: Malachi

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Today’s reading: Malachi 1-4.

“Why does the Old Testament end with a curse?”

The honeymoon didn’t last long. When the exiles returned from Babylon and rebuilt the temple and Jerusalem’s walls, they renewed their covenant with God. They rejoiced with great joy. They seemed poised to advance with God, for they acknowledged the sins of their fathers and abandoned idolatry. Yet little more than one hundred years later, when Malachi prophesied, the old sins resurfaced. It was a final nail in the coffin of the old covenant.

The people lacked faith. They doubted God loved them. Why were things not better, they asked, if God loved them so much?

They lacked conviction. They practiced religion as a ritual without any devotion. They gave God whatever was available, rather than giving him their best.

They lacked compassion. They abused rather than cherished their wives. Their business practices reflected the same lack of concern for others.

They lacked holiness. They excused or downplayed the effect of sin. They thought any lifestyle was acceptable to God.

They lacked repentance. They did not repent of their failure to give their tithe to God. They kept on robbing God, to use his words.

They lacked joy. They saw no benefit, only drudgery, in serving the LORD.

God drew a line in the sand and said the wicked were on one side and the righteous on the other. The two groups were divided by whether or not they served the LORD, and Israel was failing to serve. The Day of the LORD – God’s judgment day – was coming, and his people must change their ways before that day.

“See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.” Malachi 4:5-6

And so the Old Testament ends with a promise of Elijah’s return and a threatened curse. If we know anything after reading the Old Testament, it’s that God keeps his word. Elijah was sure to come, and though it was 400 years before the New Testament renewed God’s word to his people, there in Matthew 3 came John the Baptist, in the spirit of Elijah, preparing the way for the LORD.

“See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? Malachi 3:1-2

Jesus’ way would be a different way than the old covenant. According to Malachi, God’s people will be those who fear him and honor him, who revere his name, and who serve him. As Jeremiah said (31:33), they will be people with God’s law written on their hearts. As Ezekiel said, they will be people whom God has given a heart of flesh to replace their heart of stone (36:26). As Isaiah said (42:6), God’s Suffering Servant, the Messiah himself, would be their covenant.

Now the prophet lifts up his eyes again to see the day that is coming, not only the day 400 years later when the Lord Jesus will stand on the earth, but beyond that, across the great reaches of the centuries to the second coming of Christ, when all of God’s program will be fulfilled (chapter 4, verse 1, 2): “For behold, the day comes, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall born them up, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.” Now that is one cause with two effects. The Son of Righteousness shall rise. And for those who refuse him, there is a burning. But toward those who receive him, there is a healing. It is the same Son. Ray Steadman

Image by takomabibelot on Flickr, CC by

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5 thoughts on “Closing the book on the old covenant: Malachi

  1. Someone has reckoned that there is 4262 years between the creation of Adam and Palm Sunday. There is a lot of symmetry in nature. It will be interesting to see if there is a symmetry between the Old and the New Covenants.

    • Hahn discusses Jesus’ proclamation that the Lord’s supper is the new covenant through the sacrifice of his body and blood, initiated by Jesus at the last supper and consummated on the cross. We are to “do” the Lord’s supper in order to partake fully in that covenant. I agree with that, but would say that the whole of scripture says that the new covenant also requires our faith in Jesus’ work on the cross, God’s grace extended to us because of Jesus’s sacrifice, and the regeneration of our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The new covenant requires Jesus’ blood, but goes beyond that to involve the entire trinity.

  2. Pingback: Bible Daily Devotional – Closing the book on the old covenant: Malachi | ChristianBlessings

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