The Prophets Envision a New Day

The last prophet in the Hebrew Bible is Malachi, whose name means “my messenger.” God sent Malachi to a small community of Jews who lived under Persian rule in the area around Jerusalem. Though Judah had returned from Babylonian exile, they had not experienced a national restoration, and it appeared the promises of God had failed. They doubted the love of God and wondered about God’s faithfulness because they were still, essentially, an exiled people living under the oppression and occupation of a hostile empire.

But Malachi envisions a new day, a time when God would return to the temple (Malachi 3:1), and before God returned, God would send a messenger to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. Malachi named the messenger—the prophet Elijah (Malachi 4:5).

Malachi prophesied that Elijah would turn Israel’s hearts back to God. He would call them to repent because many of the practices which precipitated the exile continued in Judah. For example, the messenger will confront Judah’s sexual immorality, false witnesses, economic injustice (they did not pay just wages), and social injustice against widows, orphans, and aliens in the land (Malachi 3:5).

God fully intended to restore Israel and renew covenant with them. But before this new day dawned, God would call them to repentance by sending a messenger to prepare their hearts for the coming of the Lord, the coming of God’s anointed, the Messiah.

At the beginning of the first century, Elijah showed up. We know him as John the Baptizer. In effect, John announces the coming end of the exile. The Lord is coming, and God is carving out path in the wilderness as every mountain is made low and every valley is filled in order to make a straight path from Babylonian exile to the restoration of Israel in Jerusalem.

John is a new Elijah and calls the people to repent. They want to know what they should do, and John’s message in Luke 3 is an economic and social one. Whoever has more than they need should share with others. Whoever administers government policy should treat people fairly and not charge more than what is necessary. Whoever has political or police power should not extort anyone or make false accusations.

Many responded. They confessed their sins, turned from their old ways of life, and were baptized in water for the forgiveness of their sins. Through confession, repentance, and baptism in water, John prepared a people for the coming of the Messiah.

John gathered a group of disciples who were committed to a renewed ethical vision; they were committed to the coming reign of God. And they waited for the Messiah when the Lord would come to the temple. The restoration of Israel is about to begin, and the exile is about to end, and the Messiah will soon show up. The story of God, the theodrama, is about to explode with fresh meaning.

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