This is our final week (in this series) in the Old Testament. Our passages for consideration are Ezra 9-10, Nehemiah, Malachi, and Joel.
The book of Nehemiah tells the story of Nehemiah, who was a slave cupbearer in the courts of King Artaxerxes, who gained the favor and blessing of the king to return to Jerusalem with a third group of returning exiled Jews to rebuild the wall around the city. The book mainly focuses on the efforts with the wall, but it ends on a very interesting topic. Nehemiah indicates that after completion of the wall and the reinstitution of a number of law-mandated social practices, he returned to his place in Artaxerxes’ service (Nehemiah 13:6-29). He observed a number of things happening which greatly distressed him.
While this was taking place, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I went to the king. And after some time I asked leave of the king and came to Jerusalem, and I then discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, …. I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them, …. In those days I saw in Judah people treading winepresses on the Sabbath, …. In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab….
Nehemiah returned to find a lot of rebellion and sin among the Israelites and he tried to institute reforms to change things. It is in this context which the book of Malachi was written.
Malachi writes of a series of question/answer conversations between God and His people.
- God: Where is my honor… my fear… O priests who despise my name?
- People: How have we despised your name?
- God’s answer: By offering polluted food on my altar… (Malachi 1:6-7)
- God: You cover the altar with tears, weeping, and groaning because he no longer accepts your offering.
- People: Why does he not?
- God’s answer: Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless…. (Malachi 2:13-14)
- God: You have wearied the Lord with your words.
- People: How have we wearied him?
- God’s answer: By saying “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?” (Malachi 2:17)
- God: Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me.
- People: How have we robbed you?
- God’s answer: In your tithes and contributions…. (Malachi 3:8)
- God: Your words have been hard against me.
- People: How have we spoken against you?
- God’s answer: You have said, “It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.” (Malachi 3:13-15)
Malachi and Nehemiah (and Joel) realize that the Israelites continue to prove that the human heart is incapable of following God’s commands. This is the message the prevails throughout the entire Old Testament. And that’s God’s point. He needs to provide a person (himself) who is capable of COMPLETELY living a human life in obedience to God and then who can provide the perfect, unblemished substitutional sacrifice to pay the debt of sin owed by every other human being. This is the Messiah that the Old Testament has consistently pointed to. Malachi describes his coming in this way.
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years…. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Malachi 3:1-4, 4:5-6)
Please watch this overview from The Bible Project, as a point of review of the entire Old Testament, of the Hebrew Scriptures as they have consistently pointed toward the needed and coming Messiah.
Next week we’ll begin the New Testament with Matthew 1-4, 8-9, Mark 1-2, Luke 1-5, and John 1-4.
For Further Investigation
- Malachi video from The Bible Project
- Joel video from The Bible Project