“Keeping the Covenant:  A look at the prophecy of Malachi”

By The Rev. J. Fletcher Montgomery, Rector

St. John's Episcopal Church

Growing up as the son of a preacher, some random things got stuck my head over the years.  I can remember just about all of my dad’s sermon illustrations for example, and I definitely know all of his sermon jokes.  To be fair, some of dad’s jokes were actually amusing, though I seem to recall most of them being pretty corny.  One was:  “Malachi: the only Italian prophet in the Old Testament!”  (Dad would wrongly emphasize the second syllable, use a soft ‘ch’ and a long ‘e’ sound so that the name came out ‘Mal-AH-chee.’)   ...Ha ha ha.

However you pronounce ‘Malachi,’ the author has left us a powerful little book with a serious punch.  The prophecy is very strident throughout, and yet I come back to it time and again in my personal devotional reading.  Malachi’s premise is that the people of ancient Israel are actually questioning God’s love for them!  Their crisis of faith isn’t just theoretical, but is visibly apparent in the many ways Israel breaks its covenant with God.  This little book isn’t just a dressing down of God’s people nearly 2,500 years ago; it’s a warning to us in the 21st century church as well.  Impure sacrifices, false teachings, indifference to rampant injustice, and an unfaithful return of tithes and offerings…all these things - in very tough language - are cited in order to call Israel back to its true faith, and back to its faithfulness towards the God of their salvation.  What can we learn?

Timeless truths still speak to us through the ages:

  • Chapter 1 - We must not be satisfied to offer God our left-overs, our used-up gifts, our spare pocket change, or anything else in which we ourselves don’t see much value.  “Do not show contempt for my Name; it is to be honored and revered in your tithes and offerings.”
  • Chapter 2 - The ministers of God must teach correct doctrine so that their hearers will not stumble; the people of God must in turn be faithful to God in heart, mind, body, and spirit.  “Be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful in your relationship with me,” says the LORD Almighty.
  • Chapter 3 - We must not weary God with empty words, but back them up with our striving after justice in our land.  “I will come and be quick to testify against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress those who have none to help them, and deprive foreigners of just treatment.”
  • Chapter 4 - Those who are careful not to decide, ‘It is futile to serve God’ will make up God's faithful remnant.  “On that day when I act, they will be my treasured possession.  I will spare them, just as parents have compassion upon their own children.  Upon you who revere my Name and honor me with your faithfulness, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.”

In closing - an interesting fact:  the Book of Malachi contains the only verses in the Bible that actually tell us to test God:  “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  Test me in this and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it!”

May the Lord bless you as you strive to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.

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