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Malachi 2:10-4:6

09.23.2010

Malachi finishes up the rest of his disputations, on which I have a few notes:

2:17 | God tells the people that their complaints weary Him.  Specifically, He’s tired of their cynicism; they’re constantly demanding to know why evil people prosper and good people suffer. 

God helpfully points out to them that they may not fall on the side of that dichotomy that they think/want.  In other words, they’re not so good as they think they are, suffering innocently while ‘other, bad, evil’ people prosper.

I thought it was interesting that God says these complaints ‘weary’ Him.  David makes these complaints throughout the Psalms, and God called him a man after His own heart.  Also, I’ve always been taught that we’re supposed to feel free to come to God with our frustrations and even our anger, and that He will hear us and give us peace.  It’s unsettling to imagine Him in Heaven saying, ‘Ugh, again with the whining?  Leave Me alone until you grow a pair, man.’  I think (hope?) the difference is that the Jews were whining as an excuse for not being faithful whereas we can bring our struggles to God in good faith and be received with love and patience. 

3:10 | I’ve heard a few sermons preached on this verse, always in the context of giving.  Pastors say, ‘This is the only place where God says we can test Him.  Tithe, and you will find that He is faithful to fill your storehouses/bank accounts and bless you.’ 

Leave aside the worrisome Prosperity Gospel undertones of that message for now.  Is that really what God is saying?  He’s pretty clear elsewhere (Deut 6:16, Matt 4:7, Luke 4:12) that we’re not to put Him to the test, and I don’t read this verse as making an exception to that rule. 

How I read it is that God does not want us cynically demanding that God prove Himself.  We’re cautioned from the attitude of saying, ‘Oh, yeah?  Well, if You’re so powerful and loving, stop me from smacking my baby in the face!’*  In this verse, God is basically asking us to see how faithful He is to His promises.  It’s not us demanding that God prove Himself but rather Him encouraging us to be obedient and receive His blessings.

4:5 | Malachi finishes up with a promise that Elijah would come back before the Day of the Lord.  I’ve always thought this was an odd prophecy to take literally.**  What’s the big deal about Elijah?  His narrative space is relatively short, and his protege Elisha seemed to me to be a bigger deal.

There are two main points in favor of interpreting this literally.  First, Elijah appears with Moses at the Transfiguration of Jesus.  Second, Elijah did not die and was swept up into Heaven by a chariot of fire.***

However, I’m more persuaded by the argument that Elijah is mentioned here as a type of messianic prophet.  Israel, during Elijah’s day, suffered from drought and intermarriage with idolaters (including his arch-nemeses, Ahab and Jezebel), much as Malachi’s audience did.  Just like David was prophecied to return and sit on his throne (Jer 20 and Eze 34, 37), when he was really just a stand-in for the coming reign of Jesus, I can see Elijah being cited as an image of a prophet to come.

There’s considerable debate about whether John the Baptist fulfills this prophecy.  He fits the bill pretty exactly, but he does say in John 1 that he is not Elijah.  Perhaps he means that he is not the reincarnation of Elijah?  Who knows.  This is about where we reach my limit in terms of tolerance for prophetic guesswork.

————

*Hypothetically, only, of course.

** A la Messrs. Jenkins and LaHaye, et al.

*** A real one, not a pasty, English Oxonian in a dingy singlet.

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