The One Who Doesn’t Change
Shabbat HaGadol, Malachi 3:4–24
by Dr. David Friedman, Union rabbi, Jerusalem
One of the most compelling verses in the Prophets comes in this week’s haftarah reading: "Since I, ADONAI, have not changed, so you sons of Jacob have not been annihilated” (Mal 3:6, my translation).
This verse certainly had great meaning in its peshat (plain sense) to Malachi’s hearers in the 5th century BCE. It gave a reason for the Jewish exiles in the Persian Empire to understand why they were thriving and being treated remarkably well. It imbued them with hope for their future. Yet I cannot help but think that it reveals a general principle that has held true for our Jewish people throughout our entire history.
In Malachi’s time, the return to Israel by the descendants of the Babylonian exiles was underway. Scholars surmise that Malachi was active at the time of Nehemiah and Ezra, or just afterwards. Israel had committed idolatry, leading to the exile. Yet Malachi 3:6 relays the reason that this exile was not permanent, and why the Babylonians (and later the Persians) did not commit genocide against our people.
It is undoubtedly the same reason why the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the Eastern European pogroms, the Muslim conquests across the Middle East, and the Holocaust did not totally destroy our Jewish people. This is also some of the reason why the diasporas in Egypt, Babylon, Europe, the lands of the Middle East, Europe and the West have not resulted in the disappearance of the Jewish people. God has “not changed.” He still has promises to fulfill to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, given some 1,200 years before Malachi lived. They were still valid in his day. Looking backwards in time, God inspired Malachi to share this powerful truth with our ancestors: God will fulfill the promises he made to our forefathers. The fulfillment of these promises necessitates that the Jewish people will be alive, and be in the Land of Israel.
It is not usual to dwell on just one verse in a haftarah commentary. Yet there is so much more to say about this same verse. Malachi 3:6 is also of importance to us today, some 2,500 years after he uttered it. That is one powerful truth, to still ring true throughout such a long passage of time!
How are Malachi’s words instructive to us today?
As anti-Israel sentiment gains ground across the Middle East; as Israel-hatred and the BDS movement continue on as “popular” and “politically correct” policies in much of Europe, Malachi’s truth can encourage us. As Lebanon is home to 150,000 rockets that are aimed at Israel, and as Iran verbally threatens Israel with total annihilation on a weekly basis, undeterred from their plans by any Western powers, Malachi 3:6 has a message for us today. It meshes with the tone of the entire body of Scripture, including this verse:
And Judah will exist forever, and Jerusalem, from generation to generation (Joel 3:20, my translation).
Malachi 3:6 supports the message of Joel 3:20, among many other verses that portray Israel as being present at the time of Messiah’s return.
Our haftarah also includes Malachi 3:17, which delivers a powerful, parallel message of God’s protection over the people of Israel:
They (the Jewish people) will be mine, says the God of the Heavenly Armies. For on the day that I will make them a king’s treasure, then I will give them abundant mercies, as a father has mercy on his son, who works alongside him. (My translation)
In this verse, the Hebrew word segulah is used for “king’s treasure.” This word describes how God views the people of Israel in the times beyond Malachi’s lifetime. In this verse, we learn that God’s love, mercy, and calling to Israel have not abated. This word, segulah, is the same word that is used in Exodus 19:5: “then you will be my own treasure from among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine” (Exod 19:5b, my translation). The earth’s King is speaking through Malachi’s message, and so it is the King’s treasure that the prophet speaks about.
Our haftarah ends with a summary lesson. Our rabbis possibly put the book of Malachi as the last book of the Latter Prophets due to this very lesson. They wanted this lesson to echo in the collective memory and lives of our people until the renewal of all things, and Messiah Yeshua's return. Here it is:
Remember the Torah of Moses my servant that I taught him at Horev, for all Israel; the laws and judgments.
Look, I am sending to you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the Day of the great and awesome God.
And he will return the heart of fathers to their sons, and the heart of sons to their fathers, or I would come and strike the earth with utter destruction. (Mal 3:22–24, my translation)
This “Torah of Moses” includes the promises to our forefathers. Malachi helps us to remember the precious Torah, our Bible, through these three verses and through a verse like 3:6.
With Passover beginning shortly, let us remember that our freedom from Egypt was given so that we could follow Messiah without hindrance in our own Land. Because God has not changed (see 3:6 again), we are alive and carry that same calling that was given to Moses and his generation. We are their continuance today. And this Shabbat, Malachi is our encourager to continue on, because God is still the same God that he was 3,300 years ago, when he spoke from Mt. Sinai.
May you all have a healthy and Happy Passover.
From Jerusalem, Rabbi David