Day 11      Malachi 2:17-3:18 ... Crushed Hopes

Malachi is the last Old Testament voice, and his book serves as a good prelude to the next 400 years of biblical silence. From the Israelites' point of view, those four centuries could be termed "the era of lowered expectations." They had returned to the land, but that land remained a backwater province under the domination of Persia (then Greece, then Rome - imperial armies took turns tramping through Israel). The grand future of triumph and world peace described by the prophets seemed a distant pipe dream. Even the restored temple caused stabs of nostalgia pain: It hardly rivaled Solomon's majestic building, and no one had seen God's glory descend on this new temple as it had in Solomon's day.

A general malaise set in among the Jews, a low-grade disappointment with God that showed in their complaints and also in their actions. They were not "big" sinners like the people before the Exile, who had practiced child sacrifice and brought idols into the temple. People in Malachi's time went through the motions of their religion, but they had lost contact with the God whom the religion was all about. Malachi is written in the form of a dialogue, with the "children" of Israel bringing their grievances to God, the Father. They were questioning God's love and his fairness. One gripe bothered them more than any: "It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements?" Following God had 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," 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."

At least some of Malachi's message took hold. During the next 400 years, reform movements like the Pharisee's became increasingly devoted to keeping the Law. Unfortunately, many of them would cling fiercely to that Law even when Jesus, the "messenger of the covenant" prophesied by Malachi, brought a new message of forgiveness and grace.

Point to Ponder: What treatments does God offer for the Israelites' "luke warm" faith?