As I have walked with students through a season defined and shaped by two, significant cultural moments – a global pandemic and a rising movement against racial injustice – I find more and more of them are asking one, simple question, “where is the God of justice?” Or, as I try to remind them of the love of God in the middle of suffering, I am often met with, “but how has he loved us?”
Yet, there is strength in remembering that our students’ generation is not the first generation to cry out to our God with questions like these. And if God chooses to tarry longer, they will likely not be the last. What better way to walk through unprecedented times with our students than to help them realize they really not unprecedented at all?
This is why I have loved studying the book of Malachi, especially in this time. As a short, prophetic book in the Old Testament, Malachi can be easy to skim or overlook on our dash to the New Testament. However, as the final book of the Old Testament, the words offered in these brief four chapters are actually the concluding declarations of our God to his people before 400 years of silence. These words bore the weight of hope for the people of God as they prepared for the advent of their savior. To say they are important is probably an understatement.
Another reason I love studying the book of Malachi with students is its literary design. This book is actually series of discourses and disputes between God and His people. Malachi is a beautiful picture of a conversation between God and His people, as they seek Him and question his promises – a place all of our students either have found, or will find, themselves. When my students are afraid to admit their doubts or questions, I believe Malachi helps to show them they are not alone.
You see, at the time of Malachi’s writing, God’s people had returned from exile and were back living in the city of Jerusalem amidst the rebuilt temple of God. Yet, they were also living in a time of great injustice, corruption, and poverty in Jerusalem. They felt as if God had forgotten them. And every day, as they looked at the temple of God, they were reminded of the promises God spoke through Haggai and Zechariah. These prophets had encouraged Israel to rebuild the temple with the hope that God would bring their nation prosperity and peace, and that His presence would dwell among them. Yet, nearly a century after their return, and with the temple rebuilt, Israel was still overcome by injustice and corruption, while they witnessed the nations around them seemingly prospering.
All of this led them to question the promises and love of God. And through the prophet Malachi, over and over again, God responds to their disputes. When God tells Israel, “I have loved you” and they question, “how have you loved us?” He responds by reminding them that they are chosen. God’s people had forgotten that His love is not dependent on their actions, and it is not changed by their circumstances, but it is rooted and grounded in Him alone. The same is true today. God loves us because of who He is, not who we are. It is this truth our students need to hear. And just as God reminds His people in Malachi, our hope is found in the truth that God’s love never changes, “for I the Lord do not change…” (3:6).
As we are faced with uncertain but not unprecedented times, Malachi is a great place to turn with our students. Because, not only does Malachi teach us of the unchanging character of our God, but it also leaves us with a final hope of future glory. Malachi ends with God promising His people that, “the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings” (4:1). Not only was this promise fulfilled in the first coming of Christ, but this promise will find its completion in the great Day of the Lord as He returns to bring final justice and peace.
This was the hope for God’s people in the time of Malachi, and it is the same hope for our students today.
Check out Kendal’s curriculum on the book of Malachi over on Rooted Reservoir.