Lecture 37: Malachi, Ezra, and Nehemiah
Course: Old Testament Survey
Lecture: Malachi, Ezra, and Nehemiah
I. "The Latter Days"
I want to go on and talk about a term, The Latter Days. I just want to show you this because it relates to so many things in the New Testament, yet is misunderstood when people hear it. You are certainly going to have a natural encounter with this. You will talk to a member of your Bible study, class, or congregation and they will say, “We must be in the last days.” On one hand you can say, “Yeah, we sure are, there is no question about that.”
What they are meaning by it is that they are convinced that since Israel became a nation in 1947 or since George Bush the anti-Christ or something they have figured out, whatever they are thinking, they just think now it is suddenly the last days. Here is what the last days represent.
4. False teaching, deception, apostasy.
These are just some of the references. This is really an outline here of how it all works, the notion of the last days. But wonderfully in the last days there is also the happy theme of returning to the Lord, so there is tribulation.
It is a tribulation that I think is basically ongoing. It is not some particular thing or any particular time in history, but the idea that there will be opposition to God’s kingdom is very important to appreciate. You can get the misimpression from Daniel or Ezekiel that once the temple was rebuilt everything would be smooth. Daniel is telling you, “Oh no, it is going to be very hard for God’s people.” Ezekiel and Zechariah are saying, “Things will get worse and worse, a lot worse before it gets better.” The tribulation aspect is there but it is balanced by a wonderful promise of return. That is part of the notion of the last days.
B. Return to the Lord
So whenever you hear the language in the last days, in Hebrew, in the latter days, this is the kind of thing you find and a lot of evidence of return to the Lord. Notice how many of these passages are from Daniel or from Ezekiel because Daniel is such an influential prophet in this whole area.
C. Messianic Victory
A Messiah. The last days are indicated by the victory of the Messiah. If you want, you can say, “Oh well, that means the Messiah has to come and beat Canada and has to beat Japan and so on.” You can have that attitude and many people do.
The nations of the world will all conspire against him. That is one way to read it. However, I think that when Christ talks about victory as He does, especially as he does in John 10, “Now the ruler of this world is defeated,” that that is really fulfilling these. Christ has in fact overcome all earthly powers because nobody can stop you from going to heaven. No nation of the world with any power it can assemble, military, political, or economic, can do anything to stop you from loving Christ and from Him loving you. They can kill your body but that is irrelevant to the process. It will not do a thing to keep you from going to heaven; it has no effect at all. That is where the real victory is. If you are thinking about some sort of earthly contest, I just think you are looking in the wrong place. He conquers all enemies, all opponents of God.
D. The saints are raised from the dead
The saints are raised from the dead. Clearly, that has not happened. Some would argue that that brief resurrection, the resuscitation that we have in the description of the Gospels where a lot of the saints came out of the tombs and walked around, would be a fulfillment of that. I think it is probably a little more of a sample just to remind us that Christ’s power includes power over death. I do think this is an aspect of the last days that really is at the culmination. That is why it is in the last chapter of Daniel and so on.
E. New Covenant
Then a New Covenant characteristic of the last days, the New Covenant is in Christ’s blood we are certainly in that. He says, every time you do this recognize that this is the New Covenant in My blood. You do not have to wait until now for a New Covenant, that came with Christ.
F. New Kingdom with a Davidic King
Then a new kingdom ruled over by a Davidic king. We are in that kingdom, so that condition is well established now.
G. Gentiles experience deliverance
Then many Gentiles experience deliverance. In a lot of the prophetical books, if you look for it, you will find reference in one way or another to the broadening out of God’s people. No longer just Israel, but also the various nations of the world. Sometimes it is said, as it is given in Zechariah, “In those days, all the nations of Europe will come up and worship the Lord in the Jerusalem and if they don’t they will not get any rain.” In other words, wither away and die. It is prophetic symbolic way of saying, “God will have His people everywhere and that will be the real action, to worship God and to know Him truly, in His presence. It will be among all people not just among us in Jerusalem. The Last Days. It is something to do with some combination of these seven factors: Tribulation, Return of the Lord, Messianic Victory, Resurrection, New Covenant, New Kingdom, and the Democratization of the Good News. It spreads out to all the nations. I would argue that all of those except for the resurrection of the dead have already been underway; we are in the last days, they are underway. They will be capped off by the resurrection and the final judgment and that is how history will come to an end.
II. Closing of the Prophetic Canon
Let me also comment about the Prophetic Canon because we are going to come to Malachi now. With Malachi we get the end of Old Testament prophecy; the closing of the prophetic canon. Malachi is the last of the prophets as far as we know. His time is right about 460 BC. What can you say about the last prophet and his circumstances? The first prophet, Amos, apparently prophesied right around 760 BC and the last prophet 460. It looks very close to 300 years; it could have been to the day but we just do not know; we simply do not have it that precisely given.
A. Restoration barely underway
One thing you can say is that in Malachi’s day when Old Testament prophecy ends, the restoration is underway but just barely. There is a restoration but things are hard. When you look at Malachi you observe the situation is not highly positive. Is there a temple? Yes. Are people worshipping at Jerusalem? Yes, but they have got a lot of things wrong. There is a lot of corruption, a lot of lack of faith, a lot of failure to keep the covenant. Malachi has to preach a lot of judgment and criticism against people who should have learned their lesson.
Secondly, the situation politically was one was one of domination. The Persians in Malachi’s day are still very much in control of everything. Yes they are benign compared to the Assyrians and the Babylonians but there is a Persian governor in place. It closes off the prophetic era. It closes off with a foreign power in charge over God’s people. Somehow there has to be deliverance from that. The interesting thing is that Christ delivers by saying, “My kingdom is not even of this world. So I’m not going to deliver you politically because you do not need it. That is not the deliverance you need. You need to get into My kingdom which does not even have anything to do with politics. That is the wonderful solution to it all.”
Economically things are tough as Haggai indicates; terrible inflation and so on. Malachi reflects some of that hardship.
B. Restoration depends upon Messianic arrival
The restoration per say, depended on the arrival of the Messiah and full restoration would require unhindered Messianic reign. So the extent of the full restoration is where everything, all the promises of God, are really given fully to His people. All the wondrous predictions from the end of Leviticus and the end of Deuteronomy and most of the end of the Prophets and so on, that is still to come. Much of it is fulfilled, but not all of it by any means. We are still looking forward to many richer blessings.
C. Restoration expected the Holy Spirit
Furthermore, the full restoration expects the Holy Spirit. That is a very big thing. God predicts that His people will truly be His and belong to Him and be close to Him and know Him as Jeremiah predicts. They will not just know the rules; they will have the rules right on their hearts. “They will know Me and My covenant. They will know me internally.” That is what the Holy Spirit does.
D. Restoration only begun by return to homeland
Finally, the opportunity to return to a homeland has occurred but it is still not everything that will happen. It is just opening up the beginning of the restoration. Israel still has much to anticipate in Malachi’s day. My point here can be summarized this way—when the prophetic canon closes with Malachi, the last prophet, some things are just great, but many things have not gone far yet. That is what Daniel said, that is what Ezekiel said, and that is what Zechariah said would be the case. It will not happen instantly. “Don’t naively expect,” they said, “that everything will go smoothly once you finish building the temple and all your worries are over.” “That is not what I mean,” says the Lord. “I will come back to you and will begin the process but it is going to be a long, slow process and many things will come much later.” That is where Malachi leaves us, in effect.
III. Orienting Data for Malachi
Let me start with some brief orienting data for Malachi.
Judgments, warnings, and promise.
When does he preach? Right before Ezra arrives. Ezra comes in 458 BC, Malachi apparently is preaching in 460 just before he comes. We cannot prove it down to the date but it is a pretty good possibility.
What is his emphasis?
1. Obedience to covenant law which needs to happen because, unfortunately, there is such moral and religious decline in Judah.
2. The promise of the Messiah.
D. Disputation Style
One of the things that happens in Malachi to convey all of this information is Malachi’s disputation style. Let me explain what we mean by those disputations. After the brief superscription, the brief title, we encounter this in Malachi. First a disputation against Edom. Then another one against the Jerusalem priests. Then another one against the people of Judah. Another one against the people for their general unfaithfulness. Another one against the people for their unfaithfulness in not providing tithes and offerings. Then a final disputation because of their failure to fear and honor God. Here is the thing, here is how Malachi works. Let me read one disputation and in the process, I hope, answer the question for you that sometimes people ask about when the see it quoted in the Book of Romans but also give you a feel for the way the structure works. Malachi 1:2. “‘I love you,’ says the Lord. ‘But you ask, “How do you love us?”
1. There is an assertion by God, “I love you.”
2. Then there is an objection by the people, “What, how do you love us?” Assertion, objection.
3. Then there is a response. “‘Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ the Lord says. ‘But I have loved Jacob and hated Esau. I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.’ Edom may say, ‘Well, we’ve been crushed but we’re going to rebuild.’ I say ‘They may build, but I’ll demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord. You will see it with your own eyes and say, “Great is the Lord even beyond the borders of Israel!” So you have the assertion, the objection, and then the response and
4. The implication. Every one of these six disputations in Malachi works exactly the same way. God makes an assertion and the people object. This is Malachi’s wording their objection for them, “This is the way you are thinking,” is what he is saying. Then God responds to their objection. It is all rhetorical; it is a rhetorical device. Then he gives the implication. What is the implication? “You ain’t seen nothing yet. With your own eyes, you are going to say ‘Great is the Lord,’ even beyond the borders of Israel. I have wonderful things ahead for you, My people.” What were they worried about? We know that from the Book of Obadiah and from many other sources that the Edomites had been really very cruel in their day. The Edomites are the group that gets more oracles against foreign nations than any other group; the nation most often included in oracles against foreign nations is Edom, little, tiny Edom. Because they are so relentlessly hostile to the Israelites, always trying to grab Judah’s high territory, and always trying to give them grief God says, “I’m going to eliminate them.”
E. Language of Diplomacy: Love and Hate
A while back I showed a slide that talked about the language of the love, the meaning of love, love God with your whole heart. And I showed all those quotes of various kings who said love so and so with your whole heart or so and so does not love me anymore, he loves king so and so. The same is true with hate. Love and hate are the language of diplomacy. They are the language of international relations. In our day we say, “the United States has treaty obligations with or a special relationship with or has as one of its historic allies the nation of….” That is the way we say it. In those days they very simply would say, “The United States loves Taiwan and hates mainland China.” That is the language they would use; they use love/hate language. It is the range of meaning. It sounds strange to us, it sounds weird, it sounds funny, but that is their standard way of doing it.
Of course when God says, “I love Israel and I hate Esau”, it does not mean that God is a selective, vicious, arbitrary and capricious God. He is saying, “Look, I have chosen you as My chosen people. I am your special ally and because of what they have done they are enemies of Mine.” That is all He is saying. He is reassuring the people. “Because of all the grief you have gotten from the Edomites, you need to hear this. You need to hear that the time is coming when they will be obliterated. It is not yet. They are going to rebuild and I am going to tear down. It is not yet but when it comes you will all see that there is no more Edom.” This did come.
A group called the Navatians were an Aramaic/Arab group and they simply conquered and effectively obliterated the Edomites who then married in with them and no longer became even an ethnic group, certainly no longer a political group. This happened after about 400 BC. Within a few decades that exactly did happen. So when Paul in the Book of Romans says, “Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated,” he is not talking about the two brothers. He is talking about a quotation from the first disputation Malachi, he quotes it word-for-word. He is saying, “Look, this is what I can do. I am a chooser of a chosen people and because of that you can have confidence in me. I don’t choose everybody.” Paul’s big argument is that God chooses those on the basis of their faith in him. That is the criterion that he has always employed from Abraham on—“It’s faith, it’s faith, it’s faith,” Paul says as many different times as he can think to say it in the Book of Romans. But somehow people have tried to make that a case of individual election which Paul is actually not addressing at that point in the book. There is a question of individual election; that is a perfectly good question to ask. Just do not try to solve it by reference to the wrong passage not realizing that it is about nations rather than about individuals.
IV. Overview of Malachi
A very quick coverage, just an overview of Malachi. What is he concerned about?
A. Problems from enemies
B. The priesthood is corrupt
C. Divorce and remarriage
People are divorcing the “bride of their youth, the spouse of their youth.” It was the men who would do the divorcing. They are divorcing the “bride of your youth” or “wife of your youth,” meaning the one you married when you were young, and remarrying others. This was a problem. Malachi talked about it, but you will find both Ezra and Nehemiah also dealing with it because this was a big thing in that day. There were apparently enough situations of prosperity that people could practice the “trophy wife syndrome.” “I have made it now; I am going to divorce this person who has been with me all these years and marry some young Philistine chic.” That is what they did. God says, “No way, it is absolutely horrible.” This is one of the great passages of the Old Testament against what we call a “version divorce.” In other words, a divorce that is not legitimate. You can have a divorce for adultery and so on but this is a version divorce where you just get tired of your spouse and say, “Hey, it is not working out anymore. Let’s get divorced.” Very strong denouncing of that.
D. Not giving adequate tithes and offerings
They are also generally unrighteous and unjust. More specifically not giving adequate tithes and offerings. A great passage to preach when you are trying to help teach people about how they should give to God. A lot of people do not know anything. A new convert comes into your church and does not know anything. One of the things they do not know is that it is a basic obligation to enjoy supporting God’s work financially. You need to teach them that; you need to preach on those things. Many of them will get it. They will say, “I didn’t realize that. Of course. If I give something on the order of ten percent that will be enough to shift my priorities,” and it does. It is amazing how that works. If you have to set aside ten percent off the top for God it really is a constant reminder of what your financial priorities should be. Very powerful. Do not deny it to people. Do not say, “We are doing fine financially, I’m not going to preach about tithing.” You are denying them the proper ordering of their financial relationships in this world. They will not get it unless they give enough. If they start giving enough, it will suddenly dawn on them where their money comes from. It is a great system.
E. Failure to fear and honor God
Finally, failure to fear and honor God. That is how the Old Testament ends. “Less I strike the earth with a curse.” Which way will people go? What will happen?
V. Ezra and Nehemiah
After this come Ezra and Nehemiah. I am quickly going to give an overview of the two. We have already read some sections from Ezra. I am going to wind up with some comments about Nehemiah.
1. Rebuilding of the temple
1 to 6 describes what happened between 538 and 458. That is the initial rebuilding attempt, the long hiatus because of the opposition and then finally the successful building.
2. Ezra arrives and Jerusalem is still uninhabitable.
In chapter 7, as I said, Ezra shows up. This is 458 BC now. By the time he arrives, Jerusalem is still in ruins. This is most interesting. You know after a war any city may lie in ruins for a year or two and then the rebuilding commences and so on. He comes back and he finds a city still uninhabitable. It is 130 years later and it is uninhabitable. Moreover it is morally decrepit.
3. Morally decrepit
It is not just physically a disaster with nobody living in the city except a few of the priests and families of Levites living up at the temple mount where they have cleared some land and built houses but rather it is also a moral situation. Ezra has to address this. What are the problems? There are several. One of them is intermarriage and another is divorce in their marriage, he has to address those, and he does it very strictly. He actually requires many of those people to send away their second spouse. That is not basically a recommended biblical solution. It is not generally the case. You go to somebody who has divorced and remarried and you say, “Okay, divorce again.” In that particular case those marriages were not legal at all. There were no legal grounds for those marriages, they could not do that, they were forbidden to do it, they were illegal. Ezra’s position is, “These marriages are illegal, we’re not going to continue that, it is just like living in sin or anything else, and we are not going to allow it.” These people are forced to send those second wives back to the Philistines or wherever they got them. It is a radical solution but Ezra is really worried that otherwise God’s blessing will not be seen, just as Malachi is worried. They are all inspired by God to be worried but, speaking of it from a human point of view, they are worried that God may curse them all and cut them out of anything related to all these great new blessings of the restoration era. They do not want to miss God’s blessing and they take it seriously.
Parallel to Ezra is Nehemiah. Nehemiah returns only fourteen years after Ezra. Ezra came back as a priest, not obviously the high priest. He is a priest but he does not appear to be in the lineage of the high priestly family but he functions almost like a high priest. He is given great authority to do that.
1. Nehemiah as Governor
Nehemiah comes back as a governor. He is the governor of Judah as of 444 BC. They work together. It is very much like Zerubbabel and Joshua working together back in the days of Haggai and Zechariah. Now you have Nehemiah and Ezra working together, governor and priest, in the days of Malachi. He gets an appointment as governor.
2. Safety first
He looks first at the safety. Not because he is unconcerned about the matters of spirituality but because as governor that is his appropriate assignment; that is exactly right. He wants ultimately to make things right spiritually. He wants people to be back, to be correct with God, and the covenant enforced again. But he has got to get some things settled that are long undone including the fact that when he comes back another set of years has gone by and the city is still absolutely in ruins. First thing, get the walls rebuilt. If he can get the outside rebuilt, maybe you can start working on the inside. He finds plenty of problems.
3. Social injustice
Social injustice, people lending to each other at usurious interest rates, high interest rates, and so on, as the covenant forbids.
4. Threat of neighbors attacking
Threat of neighbors attacking. They do not want to see Jerusalem rebuilt. That is a hated, old city that was a city of oppression as far as they are concerned. There is even a very substantial assassination plot against Nehemiah himself that requires him to be very, very careful and fortunately he is able to escape that danger. Also he wants to get going in the second half of the book on proper worship.
5. Restore proper worship
As governor he handles the very important matter of getting the legitimate temple workers and priests all properly lined up. They want to do things right. They do not want to offend God anymore. They want to please God. They want to do it the way it should be done, decently and in order as the New Testament says. There is a lot of question in Malachi’s day, obviously, about the priests. One of Malachi’s disputations is against the priests for allowing poor quality animals to come in for sacrifice and so on.
The priests were supposed to reject any poor quality offering of any kind. They were supposed to examine every offering and see that it was good. It would be just like putting counterfeit money in the offering plate in church. What are you doing? Who is thinking that they are getting away with something? The priests did not do it. Why? Here is the deal. Suppose you are a priest. You should let in only unblemished lambs and goat kids. They should not have a broken leg or anything, they should not have an overbite or anything else that is improper. There are a lot of things to think about if you raise goats or sheep, as unfortunately I sometimes do. We have a couple of goats at home right now. There are all these things that make a goat or a sheep right and good for breeding and good for generation after generation, and if you see any of those weaknesses you really do not want to breed them. So the farmers would say, “Great. I will bring this goat in for sacrifice.” Remember the deal is that the priest gets part of any offering. That was the temple system. You got most, some is given symbolically to God, and the priest gets the rest. The priest gets part of any offering. So if the priest is strict, he says, “Wait a minute, let me check that goat.” You can bring a goat with a broken leg, it would taste just as good, it is just as good a goat for eating, but God does not want the leftover stuff. He wants to teach His people that He comes first. That is the only way they will get it right and really focus on where their salvation comes from.
A really strict priest would reject a very great amount of what came his way. He would say, “Nope, sorry.” He would make the parishioners mad. “Aw come on. The leg is still sort of wobbly, look, I’ll make him walk. See how he can, kind of, limp on all three. It is just a sprain.” “No, sorry.” Or you would come in holding a goat with your hand over the wound. “How do you like this goat?” “Move your hand. No.” A strict priest would not have as big of an income. He gets a cut. He will not get a cut of any animal that he rejects. What happened by Malachi’s day is that the priests relaxed their standards down to nothing so the farmers brought in more stuff. The farmer says, “Great! I’m getting my quid pro quo from Yahweh. It is the old idolatry mentality creeping back in, the more I sacrifice, the more He will bless me. The farmer thinks he has got a good deal. Furthermore, he is getting rid of bad animals that he cannot breed anyway so it is not much of a loss. The priest gets a much bigger share and can feed his family very nicely. So it is a great system but with one flaw; God does not like it.
Like so many systems of worship and the way church is run and so on; everybody loves it except God. That is the real question you have to ask. Is my church growing? The question is why is it growing. Is it because we offer pizza with every worship service? It that what we have done as a gimmick? Is God pleased? That is really the question. So much of church growth theory, so much of what certain pastors are running around the country saying, “I got a method and it will work for you.” Almost nowhere in there is the statement, “We first try to please God.” Almost always it is, “Hey, here is the method. It worked for us. Built our church up. You ought to use it.” That is going on in that day as well. A lot of problems. Nehemiah is trying to counter it by reestablishing legitimacy even among the temple workers and priests. Get out some of these characters who are allowing the corruption in the worship system.
6. Covenant renewal
Nehemiah and Ezra gang up together and have a great covenant renewal. It is a wonderful story of covenant renewal starting in chapter 8. Ezra preaches the word and Nehemiah is there with a lot of leaders and they get the people, they translate it for the ones who do not know Hebrew much anymore, plenty of those around and so on.
7. Resettling Jerusalem
He actually resettles Jerusalem. They have sort of a lot system so that one out of ten people draw a lot and have to move into Jerusalem and they begin to repopulate it because nobody wanted to do all the work of fixing up the ruined houses and rebuilding so they enforce it. They make it happen.
8. Problem with intermarriage again
At the end of the book there are still serious problems. Nehemiah has to beat people and pull their hair out because, once again, even since the reform just a decade and a half earlier of Ezra, marrying foreigners and bringing them into Jerusalem with all of the problems that represents. Remember now that religious intermarriage is the problem. It is not ethnic. It is not a question of the fact that these people are from a different ethnic group. That is not it at all. The problem is that they believe something different and thus the great burden, the great urgency to get God’s people back is threatened every time some foreign idolater is brought into the home. Who is brought in? It is the women. The men stay put, the women leave their homes and come live with the men so, of course, the problem is going to be men marrying foreign women because it is the women who move. When they come from these Philistine places they bring with them all of their idolatrous beliefs and practices and as a result they threaten once again to pollute the religion of Israel and to cause all of the curses to come back upon them. It is a very deep concern. Not that you are marrying someone who is not ethnically Jewish, but that you are marrying someone who will bring idolatry back into Israel. That is the great threat. The challenge is always religious intermarriage; the challenge is never ethnic intermarriage per say.