Or, The State Of Things At The End
THE law and the prophets, we read, were until John; and the Baptist indeed closed up the dispensation of which they were the expressions, inasmuch as he was the fore-runner of the Messiah Himself. But Malachi* was the last of the prophets, the last canonically (for if there were any after him, their prophecies have not been preserved), and the last morally; for he testifies of the coming of the Lord, and of the shining forth of the Sun of Righteousness with healing in His wings. His prophecies therefore have a grave and solemn importance, and on two accounts. First, as showing the state of the remnant who, in the tender mercy of God, had been brought back from Babylon that He might declare His faithfulness, and fulfil His purpose in the presentation of Messiah to His people; and secondly, because of the correspondence of the position of this remnant with that of God's people at the present moment. As there was nothing between them, so there is nothing to intervene between ourselves, and the expectation of the Lord's return. The message to them was, "The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple;" to us it is, "Behold, I come quickly." Whether there is any similarity in our moral condition to theirs, it will be for our consciences to detect as we ponder the revelations found in the book, and the instruction it affords. One other preparatory remark may be made. Though all the people addressed were the descendants of those who had returned from captivity, and all alike were in fact on the ground of, as well as actually by descent, God's people, yet a remnant is discerned in the midst of this remnant, and it is these alone who meet the mind of the Lord. (See especially Mal. 3: 14-18) The book has therefore a special voice in a day like this for those who have been brought out from the corruptions of Christendom, and for those amongst them whose one desire is to be found keeping the word of Christ, and not denying His name.
*It is interesting to note, especially in connection with chapter 3, that "Malachi" means the messenger of Jehovah. The prophet therefore, as was not unusual, had a typical character.
There is something almost sublime in the simple and emphatic way in which the book commences.
"The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi. I have loved you, saith the Lord." (vv. 1, 2.)
Whatever the state of His people, the Lord never forgets, and never hesitates to declare, His love for them. it is in this way indeed that He brings their true condition to light. We might have supposed that the first word would be one of warning and rebuke on account of their sins; but no, God's first word is one that ought to have recalled the length and breadth, the depth and height, of that unchanging love which had flowed out in the activities of His mercy and grace from the call of Abraham until now. It is so also in the epistles. The heart of God for His saints is always displayed before the needed admonitions and corrections are given. As we read in another prophet, "I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee." (Jer. 31: 3.) We are thus brought face to face with the source of our redemption, and of all the blessings we enjoy; for we cannot be too often reminded that we do not belong to the Lord because we love Him, but because He has loved us and made us what we are. (Cp. 1 John 4: 9, 10; Rev. 1: 5, 6; Deut. 7: 6-8, &c.)
With this simple declaration of Jehovah's love the state of the people immediately appears in their response, "Wherein hast thou loved us?" the expression of a moral insensibility, as well as of spiritual blindness, which is their characteristic in this prophecy. Blind indeed they must have been to question the truth of Jehovah's love; for had they not the records of the wonders He had wrought in their redemption, in the guidance of their fathers through the wilderness, in dispossessing the heathen and setting them in a land flowing with milk and honey? And was not their own position at that moment the proof of it. Ah! but they would have probably said, "If the Lord loves us, why have we suffered chastisement and judgment, and why are we now so feeble and impoverished?" This is but a common deception which souls in every age practise upon themselves; that is, these poor Israelites wanted to turn every one after his own ways, and to have at the same time the blessing of God, to please themselves and yet to be surrounded with the tokens of God's favour. (Compare Jer. 44) They had not, as so many of us have not, learned the truth, "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth."
But the Lord proceeds to give His own proofs, and puts the question through the prophet, "Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness." (vv. 2, 3.) It must be carefully observed that this is not an appeal to God's sovereignty in His choice of Jacob as in Rom. 9, where the apostle indeed cites this passage (after he has recalled the scripture which announced the divine purpose respecting Esau and Jacob) to show, not only that Israel was entirely indebted to grace for the difference God had put between themselves and Esau, but also that God's ways with the two branches of Isaac's descendants had been in accordance with His purposes. The evidence here given is drawn wholly, not from God's action towards Esau himself, but from God's judgments upon his posterity