Review of Part One
The prophets were ambassadors for God that proclaimed a word from God. We see this in the phrase, “Thus says the Lord.” Prophecy is “the declaration, exposition, and application of God’s covenant word.” (Ferguson). The prophets declared, explained, and applied God’s covenant word that was delivered to Moses in the first five books of the Old Testament. The prophets spoke “for God to their own contemporaries.” (Fee and Stuart).
The role of prophecy in the life of Israel was not mainly predicting the future but proclaiming God’s previously revealed word. What the prophets said was not new in concept but new in wording. They were enforcing the covenant God entered with Israel. A covenant is a “chosen relationship in which two parties make binding promises to each other.” (Schreiner, Covenant).
Hosea 4:1-2 will help us review how the prophets used the Mosaic and Abrahamic covenant as the foundation for what they declared. Hosea makes his case for the reality of verse one in verse two. The people were known for swearing (taking God’s name in vain), lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery. They broke five of the ten commandments which means they were guilty of breaking them all.
Also, when the prophets pronounced either a blessing or a curse on the people the covenantal foundation was there. Hosea 9:3 and Leviticus 26:33 are helpful here. Hosea tells the people that they will be exiled from the land because of their covenant unfaithfulness. We see this from Moses in Leviticus. So, we see Hosea’s words were not new in concept but new in wording. The same concept is evident, exile, but the word of exile is being applied to Israel’s current circumstances.
As we continue to learn how to study prophecy, we want to look at how the prophets used poetry, five common literary devices the prophets used, and then we will conclude by studying Malachi 3:6-12.
The prophets are a mix of narrative and poetry. So everything we learned about those genres will be used when reading the prophets. The translators of our English Bibles have done us a favor so we can recognize when poetry is being utilized, they indent it. It is set off differently from the rest of the text. The prophets commonly use three types of Hebrew poetry.
- Synonymous Parallelism (Isa. 44:22). In this type of poetry, the second line reinforces the truth of the first line. It states the same truth differently. Both lines say the same thing.
- Antithetical Parallelism (Hos. 7:14). The second line operates differently in this. It will start the opposite truth to highlight the truth in the first line.
- Synthetic Parallelism (Oba. 21). In this, the second line adds to the first. The prophet will use it to further his argument, he is using it to prove his point.
Everything we learned about poetry is in play here. The language is vivid and emotional. The emotions are in play. The prophets go after the emotions to get to the mind of Israel.
Five Literary Devices
Not only do you want to be attentive to when the prophets are using poetry but as you are reading there are five common literary devices you want to be aware of.
- Covenant Lawsuit (Isa. 3:13-26). In this, the prophet uses God’s covenant word and stands before the people as a lawyer bringing God’s covenant word against them. Isaiah 3:13-26 is an example. Notice the characteristics Isaiah uses here.
- The LORD stands to judge the people: judicial language is in play here.
- The LORD enters into judgment. But why? The princes have devoured the vineyard, the spoil of the poor. They are crushing God’s people. They are not taking care of the poor.
- The Woe (Hab. 2:6-8). A woe is a pronouncement of a curse on the people. Isaiah pronounces one on himself in Isaiah 6 when he has his vision of God on the throne. Many times, this will be easy to see because the word woe is included in the passage. There are three clues we can look for if woe is missing.
- Announcement of Distress (Hab. 2:6)
- The Reason for Distress (Hab. 2:7)
- Prediction of Doom (Hab. 2:8)
- The Promise (Amos 9:11-15). There are three characteristics to look for. “I will” language is often present. God is making a promise that He will make good on. He will do it on His own.
- The future is mentioned. In Amos 9 you see this in the phrases in that day and behold the days are coming.
- Radical change is promised to the people. The fallen booth of David will be restored. The fortunes of Israel will be restored.
- We saw this in our last lesson when we looked at this passage. The people will experience abundant crops and God will plant them in the land and not uproot them.
- The Enactment Prophecy (Isa. 20:3-4). In this case, the prophet’s words are accompanied by a visual aid. The action by Isaiah visually presented to the people the judgment God was going to bring against them.
- The Messenger Speech (Mal. 1:2-5). This is the most common literary device we see in the prophets. The clues that you are reading a messenger speech will be phrases such as, says the LORD, or the LORD declares, or thus says the LORD. Here in Malachi, we see two phrases that let us know this is a messenger speech: says the LORD and the LORD of hosts says.
An Example of How to Study the Prophecy
The three-step-process, observation, interpretation, and application are always needed when we are studying Scripture. When we study the prophets there are two contexts we need to keep in mind.
The first is the larger context. While I’ve not used this wording that is what we have been focusing on already. The covenants of the Old Testament are the larger context, we will examine this from Malachi in a moment.
But there is also, second, the smaller context. “God spoke in history about history. To understand God’s word we must know something of that history.” (Fee and Stuart) This is the situation in which the prophet prophesied. This context is concerned with the date, situation, and audience. The prophetic books are one genre that you will benefit from consulting outside sources that handle these three details. Do this after you to read the book for yourself, as many times as you can, and ask the Holy Spirit to help you get a big picture view of what is going on and then study the passage and then turn to an outside resource.
The resources you could use could be endless. We are not lacking in resources today. We have no excuse. The best resource you can use is a good study Bible. Everything background wise that is in this lesson came from the Reformation Study Bible.
There are many good ones and here are a few you may want to investigate.
- The Reformation Study Bible
- ESV Study Bible
- NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible
- The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible
- MacArthur Study Bible
Before we work our way through our passage in Malachi 3, we will answer the three context questions, notice the theme of covenant in Malachi, and then study Malachi 3:6-12.
Three Context Questions
The first context question is the date. When we look at the date we are concerned with when did these prophecies happen? When we look at an epistle we want to know when it was written. With the prophets, we want to know in what timeframe these prophecies took place.
The Reformation Study Bible said the date of Malachi was between 458-445 BC. This means Malachi prophesied after the exile. This is important because we see that the function of prophecy is the same before, during, and after the exile. This is the same timeframe as Ezra and Nehemiah. Many themes overlap in Malachi, Ezra, and Nehemiah: speaking against marriage to foreign women, condemning the neglect of the tithe, calling out the sinful priests, and criticizing social sins.
The second question is what situation did Malachi prophesy in? We know that this was after the exile, but Israel was still under the rule of Persia. They were in the land but ruled by a foreign ruler. The people were disillusioned, discouraged, and doubting. Their “experience did not harmonize with [the] glorious promise in the earlier prophets.” (Reformation Study Bible). They were skeptical of God’s love. They failed to see how God was being faithful to His covenant. They were back in the land, but things were not the same. The Temple was not the same. The priests were still unfaithful, and the people were going through the religious motions. Their lives looked more like the pagan nations around them and not God’s covenant people.
Malachi comes to the people after the exile and warns them “not to think and act like the pagan people’s that surrounded them, but instead to remember that they were God’s chosen people.” (Reformation Study Bible)
The last question is who did Malachi prophesy to? Since we know the date is after the exile, we know he is prophesying to the people of Israel after the exile. This piece of the context will help us as we study.
The Covenant in Malachi
The language of the covenant is prominent in Malachi. We see both explicit references to is and implicit references. As we go through this we want to observe, we want to see that the covenant is there.
Here are the explicit references where the covenant is mentioned:
- The Covenant of Levi (Mal. 2:5-9)
- The Covenant of the Fathers (Mal. 2:10)
- Marriage Covenant (Mal. 2:14)
- The Messenger of the Covenant (Mal. 3:1)
These are the references where the idea of covenant is there but not mentioned:
- God’s Covenant Love (Mal. 1:2-5)
- Profaning the Covenant (Mal. 2:10)
- Unless the people repent, they will remain under God’s covenant curse (Mal. 3:7, 9)
In roughly four chapters there are at least seven references to God’s covenant. The theme is there we just need to pay attention to see it.
Studying Malachi 3:6-12
With the background and foundation of Malachi in place, we turn our attention to chapter 3:6-12.
The first observation from the text is that God is faithful to His covenant promise (Mal. 3:6-7). His faithfulness is displayed in the reality that Jacob (Israel) has not been consumed despite their consistent covenant unfaithfulness. This is not new; they have been unfaithful since the days of their fathers.
Malachi then asks a question representing the thinking of the people of Israel at the time, “How shall we return?” This leads us to our second observation, Israel has been robbing God and unless they repent, they will suffer God’s covenant curse, but God desires to bless them.
God declares that Israel robs Him, and they respond by asking how have we robbed you? God answers that they from Him in their tithes and contributions. Both the tithe and the contributions were laid out in the Mosaic covenant. In the law of Moses, he said that a tenth of the people’s agricultural produce was to be given as an act of trusting God. The tithe and the contribution then are not new concepts. The people would have been familiar with this and therefore Malachi can reference it and call them to account.
- For tithe see Lev. 27:30-33
- For contribution see Lev. 29:27-28
The nation is under a curse because they are robbing God. But this is not God’s last word. Remember, God does not change. He is faithful to His covenant. God invites Israel to test Him. If they would bring the full tithe into the storehouse, they would see what God would do. God is saying, “Test me and see if I will not open up the windows of heaven for you and pour down a blessing until you need no more.” God will provide rain so that the ground will bring forth fruit. This is the covenant rhythm we noticed in our last lesson. God blesses His people when they are faithful to Him.
God will rebuke the devourer so that it will not destroy the fruits of their soil. The vine will not fail to bring forth its fruit. And to top it all off all nations will call Israel blessed and they will be a land of delight.
This comes from the LORD of hosts. This is His word. This is what He will do for the people if they repent.
What I want us to see here is that both movements in this passage are closely tied to the covenant God made with Israel.
Review of Prophecy
Prophecy is the declaration, exposition, and application of God’s covenant word. When a prophet declares God’s word into his current circumstances or about the future this covenant word is the foundation for everything they say.
From Malachi we’ve seen the importance of this covenant word for prophecy and that there is not a difference between prophecy before, during, or after the exile. The function of prophecy in Israel is the same in every period of Israel’s history.
The flow of Scripture is progressive revelation. This means that as the Bible moves forward the picture becomes larger. This is what we find in the prophets. The words of the prophets are not new in the sense that they have never been revealed before. They are new in wording. They are a new declaration, explanation, and application of God’s previously revealed word to the nation of Israel.
As you continue to study prophecy on your own ask the Holy Spirit to help and guide you. Look at the text aggressively and wrestle with it until you have found treasure.
- Review the five literary devices. Have you seen these in your own reading of the Prophets in the past?
- Why is the reality of God’s covenant with Israel essential to our understanding of the Prophets?
- How does God’s faithfulness come into play in the Prophets?
- What steps will you take from these lessons on Prophecy to grow in your understanding of them?